One of the first pictures created was said to have been taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, which shows Boulevard du Temple, in Paris. Susan Sontag in her classic 1977 criticism On Photography said “to collect photographs is to collect the world,” and as a photographer I often ask myself, hasn’t the entire world been collected yet? Why does the world need one more photographer taking one more photo?
The inventory started in 1839 and since then just about everything has been photographed, or so it seems. This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world.Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977.
The answer often seems much more complicated. What is amazing about Sontag’s words from almost 40 years ago is we actually haven’t yet photographed Plato’s cave, our world. Today we upload over 2 billion images a day to social media sites, and just trying to figure out how many images may have been taken in the world is basically impossible. How, with billions of photographs being taken each day, has the entire world yet to be fully photographed? Because time is always moving forward, and the world is always straining under the constant change that time provides. If constantly changing, the art of photography an always ever changing medium, showing the world we live in 1/250th of a second at a time. A small point in time, but one that will never happen again.
For the past 25–30 years or so I’ve had this long standing love-hate relationship with photography. Mostly love, for the art itself, mostly hate for the business side of photography, never quite able to conquer it’s depths. I’ll shoot non-stop for years. Then comes the demands of life. The experience of skilled knowledge, equipment needs, changes in the industry, copyright issues, lack of funding, unrealistic expectations (from others and myself), lack of focus, busyness of schedules, doubt, lack of “paying” customers, drive, will, desire, on the list goes, until one day I say enough is enough, I don’t need you anymore photography. Then, inevitably, eventually, I come back once again, sad that I’ve been away for so long. I guess everyone needs a break now and then. And realistically, I really never did leave you, I just prioritized you to my back pocket and a phone. I’ve still managed to take at least one image a day for years on end now (half a million images and counting). There is just something special about having that DSLR in my hands that makes it official, to say, I’m serious about you, it’s a photograph with purpose, intent, where you have my full attention.
I could say I’ve been intrigued and fascinated with you going all the way back to my first camera (an eternity ago back in 1982), the Kodak Instamatic. Of course I had to give you up when Polaroid sued Kodak and won. That taught me some valuable lessons in photography I still remember today. The joy of seeing those instant results, the disappointment of when you were taken from me, before I was ready. I so fondly remember that first “serious” film SLR (a Nikon N70). You were so kind, but often so unforgiving. Then that first DSLR (the Nikon D100)… once again being able to see instant results just like I did back in 1982. Since 1982 some type of camera has been in my hands practically every day, so see, I never really left you. I have, however, taken a break now and then when you’ve been too much for me to handle.
Our longest separation from “serious” work came in May of 2013, and ended today, with the fragrance of wisteria and azaleas blooming in early spring as they do down here. The seductive pinks and purples of spring arriving in the South, beaconing for someone to see them and take note, to capture their brief beauty. You could say it was like a long lost romance returning after many years apart. That familiar look and feel, but refreshed from being gone for so long. Exciting, alluring, the same, yet new once again. Like the past had been forgiven, perhaps forgotten. Together again, present at long last, ready to move on with life, a little older, and hopefully a little wiser.
How does one keep alive, rekindle, redefine, a 25–30 year old relationship that’s been confined to the back pocket of my jeans for a few years? How did it take this long to be ready for a lively conversation, living life together, discovering new things once again. Why do the eyes see things new and fresh that have been right in front of them day after day after day without notice. Complacency, or maybe just familiarity?
This time around it feels different. There is more purpose, more direction, perhaps more intentionality not to delay anymore. A longing to forego negative opinions and detractors, to follow the will and the call to use the gifts so graciously given. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead. To collect the world once again with purpose and intention, a sliver of time measured in fractions of a second. To find those things, and places, and people that have yet to be confined in a photograph, in Plato’s Cave.
On a practical note… I am creating an actual portfolio over on http://scottfillmer.com, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Head over there for a place to let the photography speak for itself, and stay tuned here on my blog for a more casual commentary on photography.
This post was originally written in April 2016, then slightly updated in April 2017 and 2018, and now it’s April 2019, and I’m still struggling with this, still fighting with myself on why photography won’t let me go, won’t leave me alone, why it keeps pulling me back in year after year. This time I think I’m here to stay. I’ve put 30+ years of my life into photography at this point, I’m ready to embrace it.