“Not the one we are intended to see but the one we glimpse from the corner of our eye”
For those that can, cast your mind back to the film days when at long last we picked up that paper envelope and hastily flipped through the prints to see what our efforts from days ago would now reveal. Great looking shots gave us that lovely little rush of happy dopamine, and the blurry or poorly composed shots were a gut-punch of disappointment. It’s a mistake I see in retrospect that I didn’t respect my errors more than I did at the time. It was thanks to the new perspective that digital post-processing gave me that I was finally able to appreciate an entire world of potential lurking in the places my ego dared not let me venture.
When I first moved to Las Vegas I was on the run from a crippling barrage of depression and lament as I ruminated endlessly over my decision to quit my career of 18 years, my divorce and other puzzles of the mind that I couldn’t resolve. Here I was in this iconic wonderland of sensory joy feeling so very unembraced by any of it, and because of this inability to see the place as it was intended by its designers, I felt very out of place. One evening I managed to force myself out of hiding to pick up my camera from its lonely bag. I knew fully that this is one of the most heavily photographed and iconic cities on the planet, and while I still had no idea of how to break through this creative barrier, I knew that simply taking ‘nice’ shots of the same signs and scenes wasn’t going to get me anywhere.
I was many miles from the strip, way in the Northeast edges on a hill with a sweeping view. I set up with a telephoto lens and tripod trying to see deeper than the typical shots a reasonable photographer would take. I waited for the sunset to be just right, stitching together panoramas, etc but I just didn’t feel it. As the light faded and my shutter speeds dropped into the multiple seconds I lamented bumping my tripod during an exposure, then my morbid fascination seeing the results through the little LCD screen. The distorted interpretation immediately appealed to me. I began to experiment by tapping the lens with various small objects such as my key fob as I took several extremely experimental shots.
That night the switch happened. Mistakes gave way to revelation and my evolution had begun again.
In the years since I’ve been refining my style incorporating various interactive techniques as they occur to me. This style of shooting is not efficient as I will often shoot over a hundred images keeping 1 or perhaps none, but I am driven to press on.
This is the parallel Las Vegas hiding in plain sight. Not the one we are intended to see but the one we glimpse from the corner of our eye, the one we see in the deepest contrast between glaring artificial lights and inky darkness, this land of distorted reality further distorted by my incessant zooming, panning, and tilting. This elusive glitch in the Vegas Matrix frozen in time for us to study and in turn challenge our perceptions.
Technically speaking, what I’m doing is a form of “kinetic light painting” wherein artistic effects are captured in long exposures as lights are typically moved around in the scene. In my case though I am the one moving. To modify a quote from The Matrix: it is not the city lights that move, it is only myself. I am effectively turning the entire night sky into a giant etch-a-sketch.
The meaning of the word perfection is now lost on me and I couldn’t even point you toward it. I’m not running anymore, instead, my process is ever inward to the challenging introspective darkness as I recklessly explore these precious anomalies.
When people learn that I’m a photographer one of the first and now predictable talking points they raise is how frustrating it must be for me to live in a time where almost everyone has a mobile phone with photo capabilities. They assume perhaps that this is somehow cutting in on my business or that I should be offended by the millions of wanna-be’s that think their shots of an IHOP breakfast are worthy of broadcast across the planet. So what am I ‘up against’ exactly?
Approximately 2 billion mobile phone pictures are recorded every single day. I’d venture to guess that most of them aren’t terribly memorable and they get lost quickly in this cyber ocean we all navigate the best we can. Others are deleted immediately or simply lost to some forgotten storage system. Some of these shots are however truly stunning in one capacity or another and stand proudly with images captured with gear even more expensive than my full-frame DSLR. Folks growing up with mobile phones in their hands but with little knowledge of “real” photographers may not realize that all of us poor saps with these larger, more expensive devices offer the same experience to the world. Our shots are usually not spectacular and most are discarded sooner or later with little fanfare. Regardless the technology utilized, those with artistic aspirations and the discipline to pursue the art will grow and blossom in their skills gracing us with the images and videos that make up the internet and the visual world as we know it.
It is then left to the observers to decide if these works are artful.
So obviously it is the mind of the creator that dictates the real qualities we appreciate in photography and not simply the pro gear. Yes of course there are many advanced techniques I can utilize with my DSLR that aren’t options for phones such as the ergonomic layout of a multitude of tactile controls, much larger lenses and the ability to exchange lenses, remote integration with strobes etc. so perhaps that’s a note of distinction for those of us who choose to haul around our bags of “pro” gear. Regardless, I’m fascinated, not afraid of the advances in mobile photography and recently found myself upgrading to a frightening expensive iphone 11 Pro Max precisely for (you guessed it) it’s remarkable photo and video capabilities. This has appealed greatly to the gadget freak that I am and I’m now experimenting with an assortment of accessories to make the most of this little gem. An assortment of brackets/mounts, a new lightweight tripod just for mobile usage, tiny LED light panels, directional microphones and even a robotic gimbal are now part of my ongoing learning and creation processes.
Prior to the digital and mobile photography revolution traditionally photography was fading in popularity. Mobile photography has in fact ensured that photography as a hobby, an artistic discipline, and an industry will never go extinct and I’m grateful.
If I have one complaint about the genre of mobile photography as I see things it’s that because these devices are so incredibly handy, easy to use, and there’s no film to buy or develop, that many people tend to take shots without much consideration or care, almost expecting their results to be mediocre. The next time someone asks you to snap a pic, just take that extra moment to really consider that opportunity. What’s in the background? What if we rotate and experience a different light angle? Where should I focus for this shot?
Just take that extra moment and really “be with” your shot.
And please clean that little lens once in a while. 😉