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Part 2 in a series of 5 weekly posts about discovery and the creative process


“There’s an important difference                                .

                                   between giving up and letting go.”

                                                                                                                 ~Jessica Hatchigan

As I said as I ended the last post, while beginning to explore the iPhone’s potential as a creative tool, I had noticed an intangible benefit that I found intriguing.

oil pumper pumping oil

Holga image shot on assignment for The Atlantic Monthly

When I had worked with the Holga back in the late 90’s, I had a similar experience with this intangible.  One quickly came to a recognition that you neither had any real control over those front end, technical decisions photographers covet (just a couple of approximations)  nor could you control how the image might be modified, or even ruined, by the camera itself.  Light leaks, under or over exposure, lack of focus, image overlap etc were all common issues with this camera. Once I realized these things and that I had to release from the expectation of result that I had been accustomed to, I could feel a shift in how I started working with it.  My only real control was what I chose to photograph, I was only in control of my ability to see and then, what I chose to work on and show people.  Certainly, the actual success of the image coming out of the camera was decent, but it was also not uncommon for images to be ruined—not just have some cool artifacts.  The more I worked with the device, the better the success, but it was still significantly less predictable than one experienced with higher end cameras.  And I should say, it was fun and that there is something to be said for letting go of control from time to time.

Land Rover Defender 110 among Aspen trees in Utah

Holga image shot in Utah

Although I think that anyone who pursues photography as their creative outlet knows that only a small fraction of their images will be keepers anyway, the “failure” introduced by things like the Holga or smart phone is something completely different psychologically.  Those other “failures” are just part of the process of pushing oneself creatively–you expect and value them for what they reveal.  They really aren’t failures at all and most don’t really look at them in that way–they are stepping stones.  Some are actually very good photographs but they just don’t quite measure up to others we have done.  But the fact that one has mastered their craft and has control of the process when using “better” equipment, insures that those few keepers—and even the lesser images—will be usable and could be converted into the prints one envisioned if desired.

people lying nude, on their stomachs, in mud bath at burningman festival

Holga shot as part of Burningman series

All that is wiped away with these low tech devices, or a smart phone, and you are at the mercy of what IT decides to spit out at you.  The focus might be off, the highlights and/or shadows totally blown and there are many other elements that can render an image useless.  If one can allow for this sort of release, and fully accept it, it has to change the way one works.  To me, it is this lack of, and particularly one’s ability to release from, expectation as to result that is the game changer when using these devices.

(My comments here might be construed to suggest that luck is being substituted for skill, but that is not the case.  The point here is what this process of release allows us to discover, even in the outright technical failures, about our way of seeing and what we are attracted to on the most basic level.  We always have a choice as to what to present and how we present it.  The results we do get, especially those images that show us what is within and was previously hidden, are the reward for our efforts.  But our skills beyond the purely technical, front end decisions, are still fully utilized.)

Electrical tower base shot with Holga

Electrical Tower in Columbia Gorge shot with Holga

The smart phone is certainly high tech, but when it comes to image making, it takes away a lot of that control photographers cherish.  However, anyone can use it and it will, in most cases, fill the needs for which it is used.  But in more critical situations, it has serious limitations and introduces that lack of assurance as to outcome into the equation. Adding an App into the mix introduces more uncertainty that one will have a usable image.  Just as with the Holga, you are only left with absolute control over your vision and ability to see with a camera.  You don’t even have any pretense of being able to set focus or exposure as with the Holga, but can only point and shoot.  Also unlike the Holga, you are freed from running out of film or having to reload the camera, which was often tedious if you wanted to minimize light leaks and other issues.  This ability to keep shooting, uninterrupted, allows more freedom to stay with and move more deeply into your process of seeing and creating. (I would carry 10 loaded Holgas with me just to be free from having to deal with them except as to my shooting.)

These are the factors I found intriguing and so different than most of the work I do.  The ability to work so spontaneously—just point and shoot at what I see before I think about it—and yet be totally detached from result.  I saw a way to use this as a creative tool to explore a different way of working, a sort of “stream of consciousness” shooting that was fully in the moment—and maybe a more pure way of seeing.  I always have considered myself a very intuitive shooter, even when using the large format camera, but this would be very different.  I was interested in what I might discover about myself.

With this new process in hand, I decided to go out and spend a day using my iPhone exclusively (although I hedged and carried my dSLR, I never used it other than to get a very sore shoulder).  I would completely suspend judgment and just shoot what I saw.

image of tree with berries and undergrowth

Early landscape image with iPhone



Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5


The Series, “Lotus”