It all started when my partner wanted to acquire a camera because she wanted better pictures for her art. I thought she was being picky, and that her iphone took pictures fine. She kept telling me that her iphone (SE) has a wide angle lens, and that makes her art look distorted. I couldn’t see the distortion, and I still can’t.
I did some research for her – we looked at youtube videos together on different types of cameras and sensors, and eventually settled on a basic Panasonic micro four-thirds (m43) camera with interchangeable lenses. Prior to this I had no idea what is APSC or m43 or what does a mirrorless camera even mean. I have been happy taking pictures with my iphone ever since I’ve gotten my first, and they say the best camera is the one with you. I dislike weight, and I could not imagine carrying a camera around. I do take a lot of photos, but that’s because I am obsessed about documenting my life, and capturing memories.
(Yes, I spent over 20 years as a professional designer but I work with text, colours and shapes, I place photos as part of my work, but I have never been into the actual photos themselves.)
My partner likes tight crops and the bokeh effect, so we had to look for another lens on top of the kit lens. I am embarrassed to admit: I had no idea what is the f-stop, neither did I know why it affects the depth of field. But I picked it up along with the research process of buying a new lens. Our new 7artisans 35mm (70mm equivalent) f1.4 manual focus lens arrived, and it was while tinkering with it that I first sensed the gradual widening of my curiosity. This was one of my first photos I took with that lens:
So it is quite funny: my partner wanted a camera to get better photos, I made fun of her for being picky, and it turns out I became the obsessed one. I discovered the world of prime lenses, zone focusing, exposure metering, sensor dusts, etc. When my partner first introduced the concept of a prime lens to me I was thoroughly confused – why limit yourself to one focal length when you can have zoom? (It is interesting why I felt confused because the iphone had a fixed focal length for a very long while, discounting the digital zoom.)
Thanks to youtube and multiple blog posts, I learnt why people use prime lenses, but my personal favourite reason is the creative constraints that come with it. Instead of thinking whether a subject is better zoomed in or not, we let our body and intuition do the work. It restricts the spectrum of pictures we can take on one walk, but that restriction forces us to be more creative with the possibilities and potential of the frame. (I was astounded that people are willing to pay $7k SGD for a Leica Q2 that has a fixed 28mm lens.)
My partner asked me which focal length is my favourite, and what type of photos do I see myself taking. I was really glad to tell her I do not know. I like being part of a mystery that is still in the process of being uncovered.
What makes a photograph? What makes a good one? Of everything that we can capture, what makes us capture that particular frame? I think we can tell a lot about a person by observing the photos they choose to take, and I am constantly in the process of discovering who I am with the photos I am taking.
I don’t know whether my photos are any good in an objective sense, but I do feel like I’m looking into a rorschach test of myself. Every photo has reasons why I think they are interesting, beautiful or meaningful, but I can’t articulate them with words. It is a sensation I feel in myself when I look at them.
I have been publishing words online for multiple decades, and the written word has been such a huge part of my personal expression. Using a camera not as a documentation tool but as a medium to express myself feels strangely foreign and yet enlivening. I go through phases so I am not sure how long this phase is going to last but that does that really matter as long as every journey I go through brings me closer to knowing who I am?