I feel like I should preface the below observations by saying that I tend to be a (possibly overly) sensitive person in general, in mind, body, and spirit, and that the things I talk about here, in my own tiny insignificant nook on the internet, are nothing more than personal observations, thoughts, opinions, etc. So, please: don’t take it too seriously.
In the relatively brief amount of time that I’ve been involved with the visual arts, I have perceived (possibly erroneously) that there’s an unspoken hierarchy embedded within them. (As I write this I realize that in fact I have been exhibiting work over a broken timeline of 10 years. Dang. I guess that’s not so brief but whatever.) I perceive this in the same way that I perceived it when I was a dancer: I was a concert dancer - dance for dance’s sake, mostly contemporary - and I certainly felt in my bones the unspoken difference between that and, for example, musical theater. I gazed across the yawning gulf that separated us from ballerinas. It’s a real thing; you can feel it when certain topics arise in the dressing room, in rehearsal.
In the same way, I feel the pecking order when I’m hanging around in galleries wondering if anyone wants to talk to me about the pieces I have hanging on the wall. There are the painters, the sculptors, the printmakers, and then way, way at the bottom, there’s the photographers - specifically, the documentary style photographers. I get it: after all, “everyone” is a photographer these days (thanks, iPhone), and heck I know people in my own genre who don’t consider what they do to be art. Personally, I don’t think labels really matter. They are limiting. I prefer not to have a stamp on me that people think they can use as some kind of filing system to identify and subsequently dismiss me. But I digress. . . .. . .
In the same way - again - I have perceived in the realm of film photography a certain unspoken thing that seems to give the people who use fully manual, older cameras, the highest badge of honor. I myself have, with a sense of pride, told more than one person in relevant conversation that most of the cameras I use don’t even take batteries. This is a bonus, to be honest, because it’s just one less thing to worry about; my Dad is absolutely correct when he says that batteries poop out at exactly the wrong moment.. . . . for example when you have just loaded the Noblex for a special roll of double exposures and you are way too far from anywhere that sells double A’s.
For the sake of this sense of pride, and because for some bizarre reason using autofocus makes me feel like less of a hard core photographer, I have suffered the profanity-inducing frustration of out-of-focus results for years. The annoyance factor and likelihood of having sub-par, fuzzy results from a manual focus camera increases exponentially in low light, especially when I am using my favorite camera (Nikon F) who just happens to have the World’s Most Irritatingly Terribly Dim focusing screen & viewfinder. I love that camera - its lenses are like nothing else - but dangit I have had it UP TO HERE with ruined shots of my family when we are indoors doing great things like having Thanksgiving dinner.
Enter stage right the realization that I never had this problem when I started out, using the Canon Rebel and 50mm lens my Dad gave me in 2002ish. Enter in the realization that this camera, along with the T2 body he gave me later, plus a whole host of lenses, is sitting in my closet, waiting with baited breath for the slightest glance. Enter in the similar realization that the reason I enjoy using my DSLR (oh the film guilt) is not because of the results (although I can’t argue with the beauty of full frame): it’s because it’s autofocus.
So I have made a quick hop skip & jump back to my beginnings - well, adult beginnings. I started out with an Olympus RC whose rangefinder doesn’t even work anymore and Amy doesn’t mess around with zone focus in low light. I’ve been to two festivals in the past month or so with autofocus cameras, and you know what? It was a lot more fun. I felt free, like I had been running with ankle weights for years. Having one less thing to worry about was fabulous!
This doesn’t mean I won’t use my Nikon, or any of the other wonderful manual cameras that I am fortunate enough to have in my toolbox. It just means that right now, autofocus is feeling like the right thing, and it’s happy to be back on the menu. To bring it home even more, after 16 years of waiting, last week I finally managed to make another photograph of nuns - by chance, (chance?), after emerging from an amazing experience at St Mary’s Cathedral Austin. Back to my beginnings, back to where I started, bringing things full circle in the happiest way, bringing my life back into focus.
All photographs autofocus cameras and Kodak Tri-X