Bear with me, this is going to get pretty abstract and introspective. Feel free to skip to the weirdo picture instead.
When I got to Ethiopia in January, I was pretty clear (as I've already written) about what I wanted to convey: I wanted to photograph how Lalibela feels to me, not how it looks. There were a number of ways I could have approached that, one of which was the dark, surreal, blurry black and white approach I ended up with. But as I was discussing my project idea with David, one concern I had was that the whole blurry black and white thing was becoming a style, something I could just apply to photos to make them look interesting, and had stopped being a tool for exploration, for interrogating the world around me.
Ultimately, of course, I did photograph Lalibela in that dark, surreal direction, and it was everything I wanted it to be - I was going deeper, I was working hard, I was pushing my perception and technique and emotional connection.
However, when I got home, I didn't take any photos. For weeks. A snapshot here and there, but no actual capital-W "Work". What I realized eventually (sparing you the introspective agonizing) was that it felt like the work I did in Lalibela was, if not the end of that style of work, at least the end of a chapter of that work. I knew that if I kept doing that, at least for now, it was going to become a style, and it was going to rot from the inside out like a spawned-out salmon. Pretty on the outside, but not really good for anything but dumping nutrients into the stream.
(OK, that metaphor fell apart at the end... bear with me)
(Because bears eat salmon? Anyone? No? OK.)
Historically what I've done when I felt stuck was to go towards the opposite of whatever groove I felt like I was stuck in. Shooting very simple images with shallow depth of field? Spend some time shooting complex images with deep depth of field. Shooting empty spaces with no people? Approach people on the street and ask to shoot their portraits.
So this work? Black and white, 50mm, slow shutter speed...
As I texted to David, the morning I realized what I needed to do:
Here's the problem: I have been working towards this surreal black and white style for, oh, over 20 years. For context, here are a few from the 90's:
So shooting like this - slightly wide angle, color, deep depth of field, fast shutter speed - feels exactly like I'm trying to learn to see all over again. Like I've picked up a camera for the first time. I don't even know how to shoot like this, let alone what my aesthetic is.
The stage I'm at feels just like when I took Nancy LeVine's "exploring your vision" seminar at PCNW. The way the seminar worked is that we would meet, I think, every two weeks. Between sessions we'd shoot like hell - at least ten rolls of film on the project. The first time I came back with proof sheets, Nancy spent quite a bit of time going over them with a loupe, and eventually pointed to one frame: "This corner, of this frame, is starting to have something good happening."
So that's where I'm at. Shoot like hell. Throw most of it out. When something kind of sort of almost starts to look like something I might like... save that. Put it up on the wall. Look at it for a few days. Throw most of those away.
To be clear, this doesn't mean I expect to shoot this way forever; these are just the first, stumbling steps towards however it turns out I'm shooting ten years from now. But I have to start somewhere.
Said another way: I can't put sentences together yet, because I haven't even learned any words. What you're going to see is me trying to form words.