I’ve taken somewhere around 12,000 photos since I started shooting with a real camera.

I remember feeling very uncomfortable with all the numbers on screen when I first got my camera. I just put it on an automatic setting for the first few months or so.

During that time, I read a little to grasp the basic concepts of aperture, shutter speed, etc. But for the most part, I discovered how those factors affected images simply by taking them.

I have always loved movies—and over the last 8 years or so—increasingly for their visual artistry. I loved the way that certain shots were composed and lit, but I had never tried to actually create images myself.

So when I first started, there was a certain freedom in trying to take photos without having been taught. I knew what I was trying to do, but I didn’t have any idea how to get there. The joy came in not worrying about what I was doing wrong.

So much of my life has been the opposite. Skills without a sense. Working to find vision by virtue of experience, rather than developing the skills necessary to capture a vision. It’s the difference between doing something because I knew how and doing something because I wanted to.

As a result, I put no real filter on my work. I wasn’t taking photos for class. I wasn’t taking photos for work. I was doing it just to do it.

Failure was irrelevant. These photos didn’t really matter. They were like doodles in the margins. I look back at most of my early pictures and can see what I was trying to do, but also see how far off I was. But that didn’t matter. I wasn’t taking them for that reason at all.

I think the reason I take pictures now is because they offer the chance to capture little moments that bring me joy.

I recently took a picture of a dumpster while scouting a location for work. I was so excited by the shot that I was basically skipping as we walked back to the car. I showed my coworker the shot because she wanted to know what had me in such a good mood.

Her reaction was basically a polite, but baffled acknowledgment: “ah, yes, that is a dumpster.”

But there was something about how the light hit it, how the tools were placed, how the lines shaped out a space. There was some small holiness in it. Something magic in that I might be the only person to see it.

I feel like all my favorite pictures have been this way. Little moments that most don’t see. These photos never get the most likes on my Instagram feed and they are never the photos that make people pause when they flip through albums. They’re just little moments that matter to me.

These moments only account for a miniscule fraction of the pictures I’ve taken, but they’re the real reason I take photos. Sure, it’s cool to capture a crashing waterfall or a sprawling landscape. But other people have already photographed those things—and they’ve got the skills, experience, and equipment to blow my take out of the water.

I realize now that I really aspire to “snatch a moment from eternity” like Doisneau or “simultaneously recognize, in a fraction of a second, the significance of an event” like Bresson.

Sometimes you can see a small smile, or a strange little twist in the river. You can catch the goat laughing or the grass glowing in the sun. And it makes it worth it.

I know that I’m not the best photographer, but there’s all sorts of beauty around us. I think there’s a joy in looking for the small.

 

(Note: if you’d like to see some of my photos, including the full resolution of the dumpster shot, you can do so at jackfromeeltown.com)

Jack Van Allsburg

Studied psychology and writing, works at a design firm. Film junkie, amateur photographer. (’16)

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