Our experience is influenced by many different things: Who you are with; who is not with you; what the weather is like; where you happen to be; what music you have on your iPod; even what you last ate. Any number of factors determine how we perceive and interact with our environment. Considering that array of variables, it’s no wonder that each of us has a unique photographic interpretation of the world around us.
Because of recent influences of some friends who shoot amazing grunge images, I found myself on a search for Urbex in the area in which I live, which is decidedly rural. Here in the south, unused commercial buildings quickly become flea markets and antique (junque) stores. A small, empty metal building becomes yet another church. We have no abandoned asylums or penitentiaries that I know of. Finally, I found a target that met certain requirements: It was solo, with no other active buildings around. It was a real pile. There were no dogs roaming free. It was ‘right close’ to the road, and the front door was already open… That’s not trespassing then, is it?
As it happened that day, I was alone, which is unusual. Though my radar was up, I was more relaxed and less rushed than I sometimes feel. I had my headphones on — another unusual move, as I usually listen for barking dogs and irate farmers. Perhaps this change of factors caused a shift in my awareness, influencing my perspective. As I looked into the building, rather than just pointing the camera and firing off the brackets, I found myself wondering, “How would my friends see this scene, and what would they do with it?” I wasn’t alone after all! All the friends whose work I admire were influencing the moment every bit as strongly as the other factors. I decided to move into that feeling.
Rather than staying safely ‘behind the lens’, which is where many photographers seem most comfortable, I wandered further into the environment while the Promote Control was doing its thing. I considered the old building, its history, and the lives of those who had once lived there. I stopped to smell the musty air coming through the boards. I looked at details with curiosity, wondering who would have left their boots in the hallway like that. I took a deep breath to connect with what I was feeling, and how the building itself was influencing my experience there. I realized that the experience I was having was just another passing moment in the long history of that building, in that field. I tried to imagine what it was like coming down the stairs for breakfast before going out to work on the farm, or how I might have dropped my muddy boots in the hallway after a long day, or what the farm was like before the highway off in the distance was built, or if I could have imagined a day when a photographer would wander in uninvited.
My perspective became less that of a photographer out looking for a neat shot, and more about being part of the ongoing experience of the house and its people, even if I was there for just a few moments. Further, the differences between that day and an “ordinary” shooting day helped me to understand how the images I see and the people I communicate with on a daily basis can influence how I perceive an experience.
It seems to me that this awareness is one step toward being able to effectively communicate that experience to others through photography.
More on this later, I’m sure.
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8 lens at 23mm (34mm), f/9, 13 exp. 1/125 – 2s. HDR Express merge, multiple tonemaps, Nik Color Efex Pro