Yesterday, I did some modeling for my friend, Quincy, who’s practicing his portraiture. It was a special session for a lot of reasons. Quincy’s dad inspired me to take photography seriously, and seeing that desire to tell stories click in Quincy is super cool. I also loved watching how he worked: what caught his eye, how playful he was in how he framed his shots, and how he engaged with me, which is probably the most important (and hardest) part of portraiture.
Quincy asked me two questions that surprised me, and I’ve been mulling them over ever since. First, he asked me what I loved about making photos. Believe it or not, I think that’s the first time anyone has asked me that question.
One reason I got into photography in the first place was regret. When I went started college many eons ago, my parents gifted me a point-and-shoot film camera so that I could capture some of the good times. I took maybe two rolls of film in my entire time at school. I just couldn’t be bothered. I basically have zero records of my good times in college, which is a bummer. It didn’t take long for the regret to settle in, and I got good at making sure I captured things shortly after graduation.
I’m so glad that I did. I love having a journal of my life that required very little effort to make. (Digital, then smartphones, have been a godsend in this regard.) Looking over old photos does something for me inside. It doesn’t matter what I take photos of or how good the photos are.
But I only started taking photography seriously seven years ago, and that process has been a revelation. I loved how it felt to be new and bad at something in my late 30s. I feel like I’m growing every time I make photos. I love the different part of my brain that it activates. It’s also calming. My friend, Yi (another person who inspires me to make), recently gave a talk on creative practices and the difference between activities that fill you up versus drain you. Perhaps the simplest way for me to answer Quincy’s question is that making photos fills me up.
The thing I love the most about photography is that it’s taught me to slow down and see beauty. I constantly notice things today that I know I never would have noticed before, and it always gives me a jolt of delight and satisfaction, even if I’m not holding my camera.
Quincy also asked about the favorite photos I’ve taken. I don’t have too many favorites. I have a lot of photos that give me a deep sense of satisfaction, not necessarily because they’re good, but because they remind me of something. But the photo that immediately came up for me when he asked this question was this one I took of my partner while we were exploring a farm together last year:
First and foremost, it stirs up good memories. Coincidentally, we were on our way to meet up with Quincy’s family and other friends to camp and feast. The land beyond the fence is Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, including olive trees they harvest to make and sell olive oil.
I also like the composition. I like the lines from the tire track and the tall grass. I like the tree in the middle. I like how the color of my partner’s dress contrasts with the rest of the scene. I love her reflection in the puddle from recent rains. It feels so representative of how much she loves nature and how curious and comfortable she is when she’s outdoors.
I also like the complexity of the photo. It’s not just a beautiful picture out in nature. Human impact — from the tire tracks to the fence to the torn plastic tarp — is clear and evident. It’s jarring, and it stirs up complex feelings.