The internet is a big strange world. There is so much information out there and so many people sharing that information. I love that through hashtags, @ symbols and this blog, we have gotten to meet so many interesting, talented and dedicated people, embracing what the world has labeled a dying medium of photography. One such person is Scott Southall. Twitter connected us and today he shares a shoot and his thoughts on the blog. Stay tuned for an Artist Spotlight on Scott and check out the following links to learn more about him in the meantime.
Sometimes, it looks like I know what I’m doing.
This, I have learned, is a great thing. People want you to know what you’re doing. They might not even care WHY you’re doing what you do, as long as you’re skilled at it. I used to get the question, “what are you taking pictures for?” and I didn’t have anything better than “I like taking pictures”. Add a dash of experience and a decent portfolio, and suddenly people are secure with the idea that I make lovely art and that I’d like to photograph them.
I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s no ultimate goal or artistic statement. Here’s all the technical information I know: I have a Polaroid SX-70 Sonar that was made in October of 1979 (thank you serial number) which makes it closer to getting social security than I am, and I use The Impossible Project’s PX70 Color Protection film which, honestly, is a miracle of science. No one told me how cool Polaroid cameras were growing up, so when I finally got one two years ago I was shocked to learn that you used to be able to buy packs of the stuff AT THE STORE. Once I got past the fact that I had to order film online, I got to marvel at watching a moment you were just living, with a stranger who through conversation is becoming something closer to a friend, develop right in front of me. And, this may actually be my favorite part of this latest incarnation of IP film, I love when an Impossible ‘roid is halfway developed. People look remarkable when they are opacification blue, and when it starts to crack like a Rembrandt and the colors start to show up, you forget anything you’ve ever liked about a digital photo.
To give credit where it’s due, my camera and by extension instant film pulls its weight in our relationship. There’s a degree of good will that you’re given when you shoot film, and that goes up a level when it’s a Polaroid. People make up their mind that you’re serious about photography a lot faster when they know that you learned the hard way, that every mistake you’ve ever made with a camera cost you time and money. And when you ask to take someones photo and they’re hesitant, then you pull out a camera that transforms like an Autobot and shoots out one of a kind pictures, you find that very often that hesitancy evaporates. There is a lot of wonder wrapped up in the thought of a Polaroid, and that is never a bad thing.
So…you probably wanna know stuff about these photos huh? This is Erin and Rose. They knew each other a while back, went to school together. The interesting thing is that I didn’t know either one of them before I met up to take their pictures. The Internet is a large, weird place where people can see photos I take and decide that I’m legit enough to meet for coffee and to shoot Polaroids with. And that is amazing and wonderful, because I love meeting strangers. To be honest, that’s probably my process: not knowing anything about my shoots other than the fact that I’m taking pictures of someone someplace. That vagueness stops people from planning too much, like practicing poses and matching their wardrobe to the location. I want who they are, their personal style when it comes to clothing and a fresh, spontaneous conversation. Photography is going to happen, who cares about that. Pictures take care of themselves; what am I going to do if I’m bored because we just stand around awkwardly talking about the weather? I want to get to know the person I’m photographing.
At least in my opinion, my random process tends to work out for me. These shots of Erin? I got bored on a Friday, texted her to see if she was busy, and then we shot in the waning sunlight of a strip mall parking lot after I bought her a dress for the simple fact that she doesn’t own anything white. I’ve know Erin for almost a year, and we just clique when it comes to photography. She climbs a tree in a dress, I’ll scramble up there in a suit and have a random bystander toss me my camera so I can get the shot. We just try whatever ideas come to us, and have a good time burning through expensive film.
Rose, on the other hand, is brand new. She’s where Erin was nearly a year ago, just meeting me after a brief exchange on Facebook and setting plans to meet for coffee. We moved from nervous introductions and the introductory information you give to new people in your life when you make small talk, and on to USC’s campus to find good spots to shoot while the kiddies were out of class for the summer. We just looked for whatever was interesting while we talked, and I learned about her. We found an ivy covered wall, I find out she’s an opera singer; I see some cool light that shines through the shadows just right as she looks up, and we watch a storm roll in. The sky burst on us for a while, and she does some dancer stretches and performs a small dance number on the back porch of an empty dorm while I try to figure out how to document motion, and I find out that I absolutely adore her and I’m already thinking about the next time I will see her. That’s how my shoots go, and this one ended with a more comfortable feeling between Rose and I, because we just created things together. We collaborated on the shots that popped into our minds, and captured them on film.
It’s more about the journey I guess, as cliché as that might sound. We find out things about each other, we take photos, we have fun. And once that’s all done we look at these pieces of the journey that I’ve thrown on the ground to develop (you’ve got to shield Impossible Project shots from the sun to get the tones to look better), and they reflect the what we just experienced. They aren’t stiff and businesslike, a photographer shooting things because it’s his job. They are pieces of a lovely afternoon.