Seattle, the Fuji X-Pro2, street photography, a chance encounter

“Is that a film camera?”

That’s how it started, asked as I was taking a photo of a gentleman walking down the street by Pike Place Market.

“Sort of”, I replied, showing him the photo that I just took on the back of the camera. “It’s the Fujifilm X-Pro2.  It’s all digital, but it has the soul of a film camera.”

“Nice pic, that looks just like Acros film”.

“It is”, I replied with a smile.

His name is Steve.  He is in his sixties and shoots street photography with a film Leica camera, in full manual of course.   I told him he looked just like the actor Sam Elliott.  He told me he got that a lot.  He had a hilarious mix of dry sarcasm and “crankiness”, but clearly was a man with decades of experience looking through a viewfinder.

We talked for about 20 minutes, during which he said so many pearls about photography and life that I can’t remember them all.  He spoke a lot about the “young kids” who are out shooting today and how they complicate photography.  There was a bit of the “back in my day” tone, I definitely didn’t agree with everything he said, but he shared his ideas with such conviction and passion that it was enjoyable just to listen.  At one point he said:

“Photography can be as simple or complex as you chose to make it”

and

“Photography can be intellectual, instinctive, or both”

I asked him what he meant by these statements and he told me that he has gone through many different phases in his life.  When he was new, he instinctually took photos for fun because he “didn’t know any better”.  Then he went through a phase where he over thought everything.  He got obsessive, he read every book on photography he could find, he over analyzed photos, he shot relentlessly, etc.  He said that in hindsight he was glad he went through this phase because it helped him grow, but then quickly added, “I was a total ass to be around though”.  He followed that up by saying he just shoots instinctively now;  he loves walking in “his city”, he loves meeting people and he is happy if he occasionally makes a frame that he really likes.  It’s like he went full circle.

Right around that time my phone announced that I had a new message, which launched us into a conversation about “kids and their damn phones”.

(For the record:  I’m in my forties, but it was nice to be called a kid)

I can’t remember his exact wording, but it was something like this:

“The problem with the internet and many of today’s photographers is that they worry way too much about what other photographers are doing.  Just worry about what you are doing.”

This stood out to me, as it speaks to the obsession that some photographers seems to have with other photographers.   It sometimes feels like pluralism is dying in the photography industry:  People have strong beliefs on what makes for a good photograph or a good camera, but it seems harder and harder to find people who realize that those strong beliefs are merely that:  their beliefs, their opinions, their points of view.

Steve’s whole point was that we should stop worrying about all of that and just spend more time making ourselves happy by taking photos.  I’d love to say that we were really bonding by this point in the conversation, but this actually when things turned against me.  Steve asked me what I spent most of my photographic time doing, to which I replied “I shoot, edit, process, share, talk to other photographers, teach, write, blog, Instagram, Tweet, etc”.

(Crickets chirped for a minute… and it is usually only my wife who looks at me with such disapproval)

He thought for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and finally said:

“Well, just make sure you’re focused on your own art.  Make yourself happy… the rest is all bullsh*t.”

I’m not sure what he meant by “the rest”, but with that he moved on down the street and so did I… just another one of those chance encounters that happen when we spend time on the streets.

Now, do I agree with everything he said?  Of course not.  Clearly I love social media and can say, with absolute certainty, that it has been instrumental in my success and even more importantly it has brought me many new friendships that I truly value.  But, hidden in his strongly worded opinion was an important message:  Do YOUR thing.  Make YOU happy…. whatever that looks like.

For the rest of the day I took a few good photos, stumbled across (and into) a Black Lives Matter rally, met a few new friends, booked two new clients via the magic of the internet, ate some good food and spent some time sitting by the water. It was very much a Ferris Bueller kind of day for me (look it up kids), which also served as a reminder that we can either get carried along by life or we can learn to set the pace.

I thought a lot about Steve’s messaging that day.  More and more I am coming to believe that the main thing stopping people from being happy and living the life they want to live is fear, which reminds me of this quote from Steve Jobs:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

As depressing as this quote is there is so much truth to it. I look around me at the people who are truly living their lives and they all, to the last person, took conscious control of their own destiny. They don’t argue about the little things, they don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, they simply value the important things and are consistently and mindfully living the life that they want to live.

I went to Seattle for some photos and food, but came back with my mind racing with new ideas.  Life is funny sometimes.

And, to wrap this up, why did this conversation even happen in the first place?  Because Fujifilm took a chance six years ago and brought us the amazing X100… the camera that changed everything for so many of us.  Years later, Steve saw an X series camera around my neck and asked me a question about it.  So, with that said, I think it is fitting to end this post with a new series of images I made that weekend, all shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro2, the 23mm f/2 and the new 50mm f/2.

Cheers,

Ian

20 new Fuji X100F street images (and a quick word of encouragement)

I am blessed to be an educator for many reasons, not the least of which are the amazing conversations I have had with my students over the last 20 years.  Recently, one student told me that they were struggling because they didn’t feel inspired to go out and shoot.  To phrase it exactly like the student did:

“I have been waiting and waiting for inspiration to strike.”

This immediately reminded me of two quotes.  The first is from Chuck Close and the second is from Pablo Picasso:

“Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

There is a lot of truth in these quotes.  Indeed, it is a commonly taught concept in psychology that motivation does not come first, action does.  What does this mean?  It is the belief that action will lead to a sense of accomplishment and through that sense of accomplishment motivation will follow.

Hopefully the tie in here to photography is obvious:  Sometimes there are times when the logistics of photography act as a barrier to going out and shooting.  We have chores to do, emails to respond to, income tax that hasn’t been filed, kids to take to dance classes, etc.  Just the thought of organizing our gear and driving an hour to get somewhere to shoot can seem overwhelming…. even more so when we don’t feel “inspired”.

The thing is though, once you are out in the field shooting you almost always remember why you love it, why you do it and why there is nothing better than holding a camera in your hand.  It’s a little like going to the gym:  you may hate doing it, but you always feel better after (until the next day, anyway).

I honestly believe Zack Arias summed up the best course of action when he said:

“Get off your ass!”

I can say with absolutely certainty that once I push through that initial inertia and find myself on the streets exploring, wandering and shooting, I remember exactly why I love this art form so much.

Here are twenty new Fuji X100F street images taken in either Vancouver or Seattle, all captured because I prioritized action first and went out with my camera.  The colour images are in Fuji’s Classic Chrome film simulation, while the black and white ones use the Acros film simulation.

So, I encouraged my student to push through that inertia we all experience from time to time, to grab his camera and to go out and shoot.  I never regret it when I do!

Until next time,

Ian

On photo walks, friendships and not clicking the shutter

Last Sunday I helped lead a photowalk in Vancouver for Fujifilm Canada, our first one since November.  Spencer Wynn, one of my fellow Official Fuji X Photographers, has embarked on a cross country trip with the new GFX-50S medium format camera to celebrate both the launch of the camera and Canada’s 150th anniversary.  This walk was an opportunity for Vancouver based Fuji photographers to support the trip, chat with Spencer and get some hands on time with the new camera if they so desired.  I have long been a fan of Spencer’s work, so I was very excited to chat with him about this journey.  You can follow Spencer’s trip here:

gfxcanadianjournal.ca

… and view his main website here:

spencerwynn.com

When the group started gathering at the Vancouver Public Library, the weather was perfect:  the sky was blue, the sun was shining, early morning golden light was bouncing around the city creating beautiful pockets of light and shadow and it was warm by early spring standards.  Our Vancouver meet ups have been quite large in the past, but this one was intentionally kept low key to give people ample opportunity to try out the GFX and to ask questions.  It was great to see people I knew from previous photo walks and workshops, and also to finally meet people who I only knew through social media up until now.  Everyone chatted informally until my friend Gord Webster, one of the Official Fuji Guys, gave the high sign to kick off the walk.

We headed west on Robson street, paused to shoot around the Vancouver Art Gallery, then continued northwest until we reached the waterfront where there are commanding views of the Olympic Torch from the 2010 winter Olympics, of beautiful Coal Harbour and of the Vancouver Convention Centre / Canada Place.  Our walk took us from there through Gastown, into the western border of Chinatown and back to the library to wrap up.  Throughout the walk there were lively conversations, a lot of questions, shared experiences, discussions about future projects and occasionally, a photo or two was taken.  It was an enjoyable morning.

When we got back to the library someone asked me how many photographs I took during the walk.  My answer:  zero.  Ironically enough, it was also one of the most enjoyable group photo walks I have been on in a while.

That may sound strange, so let me explain…

A year ago I wrote an article about how photography almost ruined one of my vacations.  Go ahead and give it a quick read, I’ll wait:

https://ianmacdonaldphotography.com/2016/03/28/the-night-photography-almost-ruined-my-vacation-a-cautionary-tale/

That experience, amongst others, made me significantly re-think my approach to photography.  Artists can get pretty “intense” at times, and I truly believe that having an obsession with creating one compelling image after another runs the risk of preventing us from enjoying the process of our art, from spending time with like minded artists and from the pleasure that comes from a walk in a beautiful city on a sunny day.  If I was intensely focused on image acquisition during this walk, I would have missed out on so many other things.  The reality is that we can always find time to click the shutter, but there isn’t always time to talk with friends (both old and new).  To quote myself from the article linked above:

“I create art because it is fun, it is joyful, and because it brings pleasure to my life.  Being an artist is such a gift.  I create because I love the process.”

“I love the process”

This, completely, is how I chose to approach this photowalk.  I prioritized enjoying time with my peers on this beautiful morning over intensely looking for the next image.  It was the proverbial “slow down and smell the roses” approach.

After the walk I had lunch with some friends and then I went out to shoot on my own for a few hours.  I enjoyed the afternoon sunshine and made several frames that I really like (which I will share in a future blog post).  When I was done at the end of the day I drove home to have dinner with my girls.  As Charlie Sheen would say, it was all “win”.

It can’t be said enough:  happiness is a choice.  It can be so easy to focus on negativity;  our brains are actually predisposed to think that way, but it is much more rewarding to focus on whatever it is that brings us joy.  I know that I see better, and I shoot better, when I relax and enjoy the process of photography as much as I do the final product of it (the images).  This doesn’t just apply to my personal work either, my client work has also improved significantly since I adopted this approach.  Life is short… we should enjoy every damn minute of it and not get so wrapped up in ourselves that we miss out on the little things.  For me, on this day, that meant enjoying the company I was with first and then shooting a little for myself later.

Thank you to everyone who came out for the walk.  It was a great morning and I know a lot of you took some great images.  I encourage everyone to follow Spencer on his epic cross country journey, and to check out his GFX images that are both beautiful and inspirational.

Until next time!

Ian