We just moved our offices and my new office has become a bit messy as I untangle some 20 years of old office life and reorganize it in our new and cool space. In between sorting out my artwork, I also find myself looking back at the photos I have collected over the years. They resonate with me more than ever during these strange times. I discovered a box of slides with a scrawl of countries written on the outside of the box – Africa, Egypt, Italy, Anguilla, The Soviet Union, Morocco – all stacked in dated boxes alongside an old projector and a few carousels. All of those memories stacked into these boxes. Strange. I promise myself every year that I will get these slides developed into a collection that I can store digitally. My kids bought me something one Christmas so that I could do that but it seemed so time consuming that I never got around to it.
Those were the days of my Nikon Nikkormat, my first foray into real photography. I pretty much stayed with Nikon over the course of my SLR career. Lugging the camera wherever I went and loading in ektachrome, kodachrome, or tri-x for black and white. In those days, you couldn’t see what you just shot and you didn’t want to waste too much of your 36 exposures so you became incredibly disciplined when taking photographs.
It’s difficult to recall when the camera got left behind (metaphorically I mean). Although I can still remember losing my Nikon in Morocco in a marketplace. At least I only lost 36 exposures and the camera itself. Then one day, I moved to a tiny, point-and-shoot camera that stored photos digitally. I never really liked it, and I remember it was so slow when you needed it to be fast, but it was easier to travel with. Then in between my Blackberry and the IOS revolution we have today, I got my first iPhone. And that changed my world.
How peculiar to think we no longer travel with a giant camera and a couple of huge lenses. Somehow I miss those days. The precision of changing the ASA or the aperture, loading in a new roll of film, and storing the old. The excitement of developing the images. Some good, some to be tossed, some become framed and hang on the wall in the house. Memories of a holiday and a place in time. A sphinx, a camel, a faraway place captured forever and hanging on the wall by the kitchen.
I was thinking about this because in my office, amidst the rubble and confusion, I have a collection of photos by Robert Doisneau – a French photographer who took more than 325,000 negatives over a career that spanned 60 years. He was based in Paris and most of his photos were of Paris life and its personalities which he often observed as a result of spending hours on a street corner.
His photography hung around a phrase in French: “un pêcheur d’images.” A fisherman of images. He felt this best described what he did. In order to get what he needed, he had to immerse himself in the life of that moment. As he said, “Il fallait que je me mouille.” He had to get wet to feel the moment. It’s the essence of “being there” versus not. If it’s raining, walk out and feel it. It’s the power of travel. Getting wet when it rains.
In these days, it is what I miss the most…Ironically for a Brit, getting wet when it rains! The curiosity that takes me on mysterious journeys, leads me to observations, and like a fly on a wall, enables me to see things differently without getting in the way of the moment. Looking through Doisneau’s collection, I felt like I was almost there. Sort of traveling and sort of time traveling. All from my office in the Fort Point area of Boston.