What is it about photography?

(In praise of printing….one from the vault)

The thing I associate most with photography is terror.

Not that I’m in any danger, far from it. It’s just I’m a rotten traveller. The destinations are usually wonderful, but the getting there…..

Yesterday on the way to Motuara Island I found myself in what’s laughingly called a “water taxi”. It is a reinforced steel cage with a boat built around it and it does about 30 knots, which is roughly half the strength of the southerly blowing just out past the Tory Channel. Our pilot may be aware of this, but he just doesn’t care. He’s got a timetable to stick to. The Queen Charlotte Sound is a gun barrel and we’re a bullet rattling down it. At the island the jetty is about chest height and covered in building materials and the only way to get onto it is leap and roll.

There is no shelter, toilets, mobile coverage or other human beings and I’m alone and the light drizzle is slowly soaking everything and the South Island robins are so close it’s hard to photograph them and not include my shoes and the forest is full of bird song and it’s bliss. I’m a child in a new sandpit. I’m that boy on the beach building sandcastles with his dad.

And other side of actually being there and photographing is: printing.

Posting to the web or projecting is just not right. Not actually a mistake but not what the Good Lord intended. Web images are only there to make you wonder what they would really look like printed. An ersatz art while saving up for the real thing.

Though it has been some forty years, I’ve never forgotten the sight of an image appearing in a tray of developer under a red light, and tension when a print emerges from an inkjet printer is just the same. You can count the pixels on the head of a pin, have monitors that reach into ultraviolet and then softproof, profile, calibrate, duplicate, saturate, all the “ates” you like but until the print actually come out you just don’t know. This is the point I often have to leave the room. What will happen to the shadows? How will the image make me feel? And if I can see the sharpening there will be another ten dollars into the bin.

Opening a pack of baryta paper. I remember that smell. The way I remember smoke from an autumn fire on a dawn hillside and the other things now gone. It’s strange how what is past is made new again.

I surmise without music and photography I’d probably have money in the bank and be sitting at home twiddling my thumbs and enduring the slow death of the terminally bored. And writing this on the inter-island ferry also saves some grief. I’m not tempted to go into the bar and load 30 continuous plays of “Stand By Your Man” into the juke box to see how long it takes to empty the place. Patrons can get quite cross about that. Is it my fault I have a short attention span? And it is harder to hide in the theatrette now I have a backpack full of camera gear.

My mobile is running out of juice and the laptop is not far behind. Here’s a wee birdie.