Tuesday, February 05, 2008

You asked...

I asked for questions and you obliged.

Kyla asked: What is your favorite person/place/thing to photograph? What draws you in the most?

I try not to have favourites, per se, although I am most drawn to people in the street. I love Henri Cartier-Bresson (well, who doesn't?) and that sort of street photography. Mostly I just try to find images that would make interesting photos.

I try not to think about what kinds of images to look for. If I go out shooting with too much intention, I come back with nothing. I try to shoot instinctively because it's when I think, when I wonder why I want to shoot a particular scene or person that I trip over myself and stop pressing the shutter. It's much better to have actual images to look at with hindsight, to read meaning into, to see themes in or to reject outright than it is to imagine photos never taken. In the past I've worried that I'm most drawn to the Other in some postcolonial sense, but I try to trust in my compassion for other human beings and I hope that comes through in the images. I never let myself shoot (anymore) if I'm internally laughing at someone. Laughing at bad grammar in signs or ironic juxtapositions of things (without feelings) is fine though.

Oh - and favourite place? Definitely Langa Township in South Africa so far... I'm hoping that the next time we go, I can find some friends to take me to some other townships.

Ewe asked: How many shots do you generally take to get 'the shot' you're looking for? And how long do you work with a particular photo when you sit down to edit?

I don't know, sometimes I never get the shot I'm looking for. Sometimes I get it in one or five shots. Sometimes I think I got it and I get home and something went wrong and it's not what I expected. Sometimes I get compulsive and just keep pressing the shutter with the same composition and exposure over and over again hoping for some kind of insurance. This happens when I'm shooting Swee'pea a lot, and I've found it's a good practice because invariably there are 29 shots with his eyes half-closed or something and one good one. Sometimes I just get 30 or 40 boring pictures of a wave breaking or some such stupid thing.

As for time spent editing, I've never timed myself but it feels fast, like 10 or 15 minutes, especially if I have a clear idea in my head of what I want it to look like. It takes longer if I don't know what I want it to look like, I only know it's not working as it is. And sometimes it could take months. On the first edit, it's ok and I post it to flickr but it's not one of my favourites and something's missing. Then I learn a new technique somewhere and think maybe that will help that one image that I'm attached to but doesn't quite do it for me. So I post that one. Then weeks later I'll discover something new again and then finally I'm happier with it.

Mad asked: Do you have a birthmark?

No. Just many, many freckles from the sun.

asked: If you could live anywhere (no worries about safety, work, etc.) where would it be?

I'm pretty sure it would be Cape Town, except that I wouldn't want to be that far away from my family forever. And I wouldn't like its winter, which is like a UK winter with no central heating. So it would be ideal if we could spend like January to May there, then come back here for summer and fall. I hate winter. And I love the architecture in South Africa... houses built for warm climates are just so much more interesting than the houses here.

Jennifer asked: How did you and Sugar D meet?

This one's easy because I've already blogged about it... go read it, because I LOVE the story of how we met.

Christine asked: who do you like better, rolling stones or beatles and why?

Rolling Stones fer sher, although I have to clarify that I feel no attraction for Mick Jagger... the Beatles were just too clean. I like the rawness of RS I think. Plus "Beast of Burden" is one of my favourite songs, and sort of a theme song for me and Sugar D: despite all his protests he is totally my beast of burden. ;) Oh yeah!! And many of my fondest, foggiest memories involve Sympathy for the Devil on the Albion's juke box (my friends and I had a regular playlist that included Primus's Jerry was a Race Car Driver, Billy Idol's Hot in the City, and, um, other songs I can't recall at the moment).

Bon asked: since i think (from a post awhile back) that you are a bit of a fellow Bowie fan, my first question is...
a) which era/incarnation of Bowie would you most like to spend the evening with? (not necessarily romantically or anything)
my other less dweebie questions...
b) what's the loneliest period you've ever gone through, and what got you through it?

a) I do enjoy David Bowie but I'm not sure it's fair to call myself a real fan because I don't actually know that much about him. I just know I like his music. Really, it would be neat to spend an evening with him any time before he got that really bad plastic surgery.

b) I know I must have suffered loneliness in my life, but somehow I can't remember a lot of it, even less so what brought me through it. I remember feeling lonely when I subletted a bachelor apartment and realized that it would take days for anyone to discover me if I died. But I also thrived in the solitude, it was only the occasional morbid thought. Probably the worst loneliness was the winter I turned 16 (see Dani's question for a link to a post I wrote about that time). I hated my body and myself, and felt like no one understood me or felt as miserable as I did. Then spring came, I decided to lose weight, which made me happier for a while, my friend got her driving her license and things just got better.

Cloud asked: How did you first get into photography?

My third year at uni was a bad year, as I mentioned in this post. I ended up taking a year off school, which I kicked off with a minimym wage job at a local brake pad factory. I think I lasted about six weeks, my shortest ever stint at a crap job, before I got a part-time job at a futon shop. I'd had some fascination with the idea of photography for some time. I think it came from some movies, especially one about a woman healing from some psychological wounds in the US South (maybe South Carolina)... I can't remember its name. Anyways, the woman starts making pictures again in her old darkroom and I loved the black and white images of the big oaks draped with Spanish moss and loved the way the images appeared bathing in the gently moving developer under the red light. Mostly, I thought it would be cool to try to do that, so I bought my first camera with my first paycheque from that dirty, hot and dark brakepad factory. It was a fully manual, all-steel Yashica FX2 from the pawn shop. I spent the summer learning about exposure and metering and composition, then in the fall I decided to try to get a job at a camera shop. Within weeks of distributing my resume, I had a job at Black's (where I met Sugar D a year later). That fall I took the Photography I course at the university, and learned processing and darkroom techniques. I even made some good photos. My sister lent me her 30-year-old Pentax Spotmatic, which had a fabulous 50 mm lens and a more reliable light meter than the Yashica.

I got out of photography after I finished my degree and started working full-time in a government office (and after I met Sugar D). I started to spend less time doing it so I lost my eye and got discouraged and that was it, pretty much until a few months I started this blog. Now I know how important it is just to keep picking up the camera, and keep pressing the shutter, and to keep believing in my eye.

Dani asked: First, do you and Sugar D have one of those lists where if some hot celebrity decides they want to sleep with you, you're allowed to do so? (Beloved's is Nicole Kidman, mine includes - but is not limited to - David Bowie and Ewan McGregor.) If so, who is on your list, and who is on his?

We don't really have one of those lists, but it is fun to think about hot celebrities. My list would have had Heath Ledger on it, and Lenny Kravitz and... oh, Brad Pitt ... crap I can't think of any more. I'm quite certain Sugar D doesn't have a list (do you have a list Sugar D?) because he could never remember anyone's name. And in reality, I wouldn't really like it if Sugar D slept with a hot celebrity just because we'd agreed in theory before. I'm possessive that way.

Second, what would you of today say to you at your most challenging teenage stage? Or, more succinctly, what advice would grown-up Sin give to teenage Sin?

You know, I sort of already did this, when I wrote a letter to myself. Mostly I would tell myself that my mom didn't know what she was talking about when she said high school is the best time of your life, and it's ok to be miserable in high school. It doesn't mean you'll be miserable your whole life.

Janet asked: If you had an entire day to yourself, no work, no mothering, no chores or errands, what would be your favourite way to spend that day?

I want to say curled up engrossed in a great book and a box of Farmer's Market oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but as much as I love reading a great book, I tend to feel pretty sluggish after doing it all day. I think I'd really rather be wandering the streets of a city I don't live in making pictures?

Slouching Mom asked: Is life as a redhead really any different? Do you fit the redhead stereotype (quick to anger, vivacious, etc.)?

Well, I don't really have anything to compare to, so I don't know if life is different being a redhead (maybe just all those strangers commenting on it?). I'd say for me, yes I fit the redhead stereotype. I'm definitely quick to anger, although also pretty quick to cool down once I've exploded, and I'd love to think I'm vivacious.

And finally! Remember that flamer? He came back and clarified his question thus:

Answering with a question just mean you can't answer. I mean, there are loads of photos like this one. So my question is : Why one more ? I just want to know why you felt like doing one more ? It's a real question, not an attack. The matter is not what I would prefer, I didn't shot a homeless as you did.

I responded rather longwindedly, but I was kind of glad he asked because it really helped illustrate a point I didn't know I was trying to make. My response, unedited for honesty:

Actually, answering with a question meant I didn't understand your question and wanted some clarity. I wanted to treat it as a real question and not an attack (although I can't help but feel a little defensive because I'm human and want everyone to love me), but first I need to understand what you're asking.

I suppose I feel the need to shoot more homeless people for the same reason that anyone shoots a portrait. I don't mean to turn him into a trope, rather I want to show him as an individual human being. I think it's dangerous to lump homeless people together as a single "them," separate from "us." He's a person just like you and me and as worthy of having a portrait made as anyone else.

And really, why shouldn't I shoot just one more? Photography is a funny thing... different photographers will shoot the same scene in as many different ways as there are photographers shooting. If I held myself back from shooting "just one more" anything - bicycle, ladder on its side, canoe, crumbling brick wall, graffiti, whatever (and those are all things that keep cropping up in image after image of mine - I'd never shoot anything, and that would just be stupid. Although maybe that's why you haven't posted anything of your own?

I love shooting people, anyone, not just street people although their faces tell a lot more stories than others, but shooting people is much more challenging than shooting inanimate objects or scenes. Some people say they hide behind the camera but for me it feels like exposing myself. It's scary to ask for someone's picture, and I feel self-conscious shooting, but I make myself do it because I don't like not doing it.

And of course, there's the political angle. I believe it's wrong that there are people in this wealthy nation (or anywhere for that matter) without enough food to eat and no home and I know personally how easy it is to become homeless and hungry. It's too easy to deliberately ignore street people, and I want to challenge people to see them, to see this problem in our society and to take some measure of responsibility for their wellbeing. I remember once reading that you can tell a lot by how a person treats their dog, similarly you can tell a lot by the way a society treats their mentally ill. Maybe that's why you seem a bit threatened? Because you'd rather not think about street people as people like you and me?


Mad Hatter said...

Good answers, Sin.

Bon: Ziggy Stardust even though that Bowie kinda scares me. I guess mid-70s Bowie is probably a better reflection of the person I would be most comfortable hanging with. My id, though? It is singing Suffragette City and 5 Years.

Sin, did the flamer respond back to your response?

Beck said...

Ah, the lonliness of the bachelor apartment.
I finally DID think of a great question for you and then I forgot to come back and ask it. And then I forgot the question itself. In conclusion, I suck.
Yours truly, anonymous.

Kyla said...

Good answers. Especially to your flamer.

cinnamon gurl said...

Not yet, Mad...

Anonymous said...

This is my first visit here, and what a great post to get to know you!


Jennifer said...

These are great and I love the How We Met stories. It's so funny how so often "How We Met" includes at least one party acting contrary to their usual character. *cue the mushy music* Now I'll need the proposal story, of course!

ewe are here said...

Thanks for answering all these great/fun questions! Always nice to learn a little more about people we read. :-)

flutter said...

the trolls are out in full force today, I see. You handled yours gracefully

kgirl said...

great answers :)

DaniGirl said...

Oh hurray, I can finally read this! (Yesterday, I kept trying to read and Internet Explorer crashed each time I opened your blog -- glad you switched to full feeds!!!)

Brad Pitt would be on my list, too, and yes, I would likely in all honestly be too jealous to share Beloved with Nicole Kidman, if it came right down to it.

Loved all your answers -- I'll likely steal this idea one of these days!