The Importance of Friends

by ajamess on 19.Aug.10

in Friends,Photographic Musings,Photos

How many of you carry a camera with you everywhere you go?  Not just a cellphone, but your DSLR, or really anything that allows you to express yourself within the fullest means of your capabilities.  I used to do this.  I had my DSLR with me _everywhere_.  It helped that I had convenient storage, but really, not much would have stopped me from lugging even my old 30D with the "xbawkz is hueg" 24-70 attached to it.  Recently, however, this behavior has changed.  For a long time after moving to Seattle, I was not carrying my camera with me on a daily basis; I was not looking for photographs in the world around me; I was not engaging as I once had.  I've thought about this pretty hard recently, and have come to the conclusion that it was not any sort of waning interest in photography that caused me to stop living and breathing the hobby, but rather the fact that I had moved away from the best shooting buddies that I will ever have.

Matt on the number 43-#11

Canon EOS 30D
Matt on the #43Map
An example of the shit we'd pull in crowded places.  Yes, that is off camera flash…

First, a story.  I started attending the University of Michigan after I graduated high school in May 2004.  Around this time, I also started to get into photography pretty heavily, having just shot my cousin's wedding with some of my Dad's old Pentax gear (that's another blog post).  For those of you who have had the good fortune to visit Ann Arbor, you'll know that it's a damn fun town to hang around in, and holds endless photographic opportunities.  As you can imagine, the timing was divine: I was learning f/stops and shutter speeds while being surrounded by lots of inspiring things to point the camera at. 

Lurie Reflection #2.

Canon EOS 30D
Lurie BuildingMap
Taken walking back from class one day.

Fast forward about 2 years to the beginning of my 5th semester at Michigan.  At that time, I had decided that I wanted to major in comp sci, and was getting absolutely slammed by the computation theory and hardcore programming classes that were the "weeders" of the engineering department.  Truth be told, I was enjoying myself, but had made the mistake this particular semester of scheduling 19 credit hours (including a 5 cr Mandarin course).  My advisor was beating me over the head for the decision, and I knew I had to cut back for my own sanity.  I ended up dropping 4 credits and had some free time on my hands, so, with 15 credit hours, I decided it was a good time to check out getting a job.  I started searching and found an interesting posting working for the engineering school's HPC group.  I decided to go interview, and ended up getting a part-time that involved monkeying around on a *nix console all day, something which I enjoy thoroughly.  I remember being really happy that I got the job, because Matt, Andy, and Brock are certified Unix bad asses, and certainly intimidating for a nooblet like me.

Shower curtain

Canon EOS 30D
Something I noticed while brushing my teeth.

Being that I brought my camera with me everywhere, I invariably showed up with it at work.  Of course, a DSLR is an instant conversation piece with any set of self-respecting nerds, and these three were no exception.  None of them were into photography at this point; I think Matt may have had some experience in days past, but I don't think any of them counted it as a hobby.  We were having a pretty standard conversation about the capabilities of my particular camera, how fast it could shoot, what kind of lenses there were, etc, when Andy asked a question about action photography.  I think he said something to the effect of "I hate how long it takes to focus using my P&S; I always miss the moment."  This was the point where I began to grin, because we all know that if there is one thing a DSLR can do that a P&S can't, it's action photography.  I asked Brock, who was standing nearby, to throw his glove up in the air, and proceeded to machine gun it on its way down to the floor.  I turned to Andy and showed him a few photos of the glove in flight, and one in particular where it appeared to "float" upright on the ground, and he IMMEDIATELY said he was going to get a DSLR.  You see, his wife was having a baby later that year, and this apparently convinced him of the capabilities a DSLR would provide him as his child was growing up.  Sure enough, Andy picked up a Rebel XTi around christmas time, and Matt followed suit with a Nikon D40 shortly thereafter.  I assert that that single moment sealed the deal for both Matt and Andy to get heavily involved in photography.

The Moment

Canon EOS 30D EF50mm f/1.8 50 mm 1/320 f/1.8 ISO 1600
The MomentMap
I wonder if Brock still has these gloves…

As time went on, the entire CAC staff was talking about photography several times a day (sometimes at the expense of doing work!).  Matt, Andy, and I would travel with our cameras everywhere, and would shoot photos constantly.  Of course, this was all much to the chagrin of Brock, who ended up being our model countless times (he was a really good sport).  We all looked up to Chris Peplin (another CAC student employee), who was always taking better photos than us, but was totally humble about it, and eventually, even had a sort of community develop around commenting on Flickr and supporting one another as we took what were probably objectively pretty mediocre photographs.  When time permitted, we'd go out shooting on weekends, and indeed, those were some of the most memorable times of the 5 years I spent in Ann Arbor.  Really, if it wasn't for these guys in my life as I was learning what it meant to be a photographer, I don't know if I'd still be into it today.

A2 Cycling Classic (#77 of 115)

Canon EOS 30D
The First Annual Priority Health Ann Arbor Cycling Classic.

So what does this all mean?  What is it about other people that spurs us to action in anything we do?  Why can just chatting with someone face-to-face for 5 minutes a day about something you love keep the fire going?  Honestly, I don't know.  Sure, there's always a feedback loop when you get involved in any sort of community – you contribute, you get feedback, you want more feedback, you contribute more – but this was different.  This was something personal, and probably wouldn't have developed if Matt, Andy, Brock, and Chris weren't all great people anyway.  The fact is that once I moved 2,000 miles away, despite being in an absolutely amazing setting for the type of photography I enjoy, the fire started dying.  I didn't have other people around to nerd it up with, to carry 3,000 dollars worth of camera gear with to lunch "because we might miss a shot," to hold my flash as I tried (poorly) to become the next strobist.  It was now up to me to keep the creative juices flowing, and to keep carrying the camera with me wherever I go.  It's a hard transition, and I think I'm still making it, but I have the feeling that I'm not alone in having this experience.  I've been helped immensely by the Microsoft Photography alias and some of the *ahem* fucking phenomenal photography its members put out, and by a very supportive girlfriend.  But…

I'm still looking that the people who will fill the void left behind once I moved away from Michigan.

Keep on shooting.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Klee August 19, 2010 at 09:44

Good post Adam. I’ve always enjoyed the collaborative process that happens when you have a bunch of “like-minded” friends working on a photo project. I tend to shoot with a photo team (MUA, hair-stylist) and find that the concepts are much more creative and frankly the results are better when than working solo.

I’ve gone out on shoots with other buddies that were into photography as well. We always had a blast and came away with interesting images that we wouldn’t have been inspired to try if we were alone.


ajamess August 19, 2010 at 11:31

Hey Michael,

Thanks for the insightful reply! While I have never worked collaboratively on a single shoot, I, too, find that having someone to bounce ideas off of _as im taking the shot_ is a huge win. Not only that, but when you take that “awesome shot” and you just HAVE to share it with someone, having a good friend there to show off to makes you feel great.

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