The Online Darkroom Store

Wednesday, September 10

More thoughts on the doldrums

When I wrote Monday's post about being in the photographic doldrums, I didn't expect such a thoughtful response from readers. It would seem to be a clear sign that, far from being alone, there are lots of photographers out there with similar problems.

The quality of the replies leads me to think that many have given this problem far more thought than I have. My approach, as I wrote, has sometimes been to just keep shooting until better days arrive or splash out on a lens or camera to shock me out of my doleful reverie. I'll give the matter some more thought and ponder over the various "cures" left in the comments. I'm sure that something will get me going again.

In the meantime, here's something else to consider. My pal Phil Rogers has written in the past about his art college mentor Joseph McKenzie whose advice to students when out with a camera was to take photographs of whatever caught their eye. It's simple advice on the surface but conceals a deeper meaning: if we don't photograph those subjects that catch the eye then what are we doing out with a camera in the first place.

I've sometimes gone off on a wee urban exploration with just that aim in mind. The experience is very enjoyable and liberating, freeing me of the need to try to make every photograph something special. There are no preconceptions and no pressure to produce anything particularly worthwhile.

When walking in an urban environment I find there are usually lots of things that catch my eye but photographing all of them would be a considerable waste of film. Each eye-catching subject has to be given careful consideration and the wheat separated from the chaff. That in itself is a useful exercise if one is feeling a bit short in the creative department.

However, even with this self-editing-on-the-fly it's often the case that when I develop the negatives I'm presented with a strip of quite modest images - like those on this page that resulted from my last exercise - but that's OK. The object is to loosen up a little, burn some film and just enjoy the whole photographic process. So, regardless of what's on the negatives, the goal is always achieved.


Jen Nifer said...

Amen! You articulated my very thoughts.

Derek said...

Hi Bruce
For Better Photographs, Don't Think Big, Think Simple

Take a look at this article on might provide some inspiration for you. The comments you make about GAS ring true with me having just splashed out the princely sum of £22 for a immaculate OM2N body on Ebay with a 50mm 1.8 lens at £17.00 in the post. A small sum to spend on my hobby and a camera system I am sure will give immense pleasure to use.

Anonymous said...

I've got an old Olympus Pen that I use for 'wandering'. There are no controls except viewpoint and you get 72 shots per film. And it fits in a jacket pocket. Perfect.

Clark Savage said...

Inspiration has been hard to come by for a few years. The answer, for me, is to look back through 40+ years of negatives with 'fresh' eyes to interpret them differently. The process has made me see old subjects that deserve to be photographed in new ways.

Dr. Elliot Puritz said...

"Photo Doldrums" is a recognizable syndrome that affects all photographers! Part of the cause is that we often set unrealistically high goals for ourselves: Every image should be a prize winning photo that is headed for the collection at the Met!
As others have ably expressed, the cure for The Doldrums is to simply go out and photograph whatever seems interesting. When "photographing with abandon" the fun of using the camera returns and inhibitions and unrealistic expectations fall away.


David M said...

Your pictures in this post show that your eye has lost none of its cunning, so don't despair.
Something I strongly recommend is to make a book of your work. Blurb is the one I've used, but there are others.
Somehow, holding an actual, physical "body of work" is very satisfying. It enables you to look at it as though it's somebody else's work. The making of it gives you a fresh view of what you are doing and sometimes, it can tell you that there's more work to be done, or that you've said all you can on some particular subject. Both are useful things to know. Both will motivate you. Your Christmas present problems are solved, too.
I'll end with a link to a Blurb book published by a friend. His day job compels him to use digital cameras (which he does without regret), but all the images in this book are film-based. It's the sort of imagery that might appeal to you.
Here's the link:

Joe Iannandrea said...

Whenever I'm in the midst of photographer's block I feel the same way - that I've shot everything within an easy driving distance and the only solution is to bite the bullet and do a bit of travelling. When I emerge though it always seems there are fresh images to be had within that same easy driving distance.

Doug H said...

We traditional photographers wear two hats. When bored with taking pictures, put on the darkroom hat and print the backlog of negatives. Unless you've followed Dorothy Lange's advice and print the same day you take (or you're a digital photographer whose end goal is digital display), you've most likely accumulated several negatives that have yet to be printed. I have at least a couple dozen rolls of MF film I've processed in last couple of months but have yet to print. Older negatives also need re-evaluating. From this effort you are liable to re-think and therefore wish to re-shoot past subject matter.

MartyNL said...

For me at least, just shooting images isn't enough it's what we do with them afterwards that's important. A photo isn't finished in my view until it's hanging on the wall.

I miss your darkroom antics Bruce and while holding a real, tangible printed photograph isn't a cure for everything, it sure beats holding rolls of film or a stack of negatives.

Bruce Robbins said...

You're right, Marty. The blog has slowly morphed into something like The Online Scanner. I'm determined to get back into the darkroom but it's quite time consuming producing prints for a blog whereas it's quick and easy scanning film. That's my defence anyway, such as it is.

Kenneth Cooke said...

Having suffered with depression and anxiety state for a good many years I know all about the doldrums, or apathy. The answer, I believe, is not to go out and buy another camera or lens because that is only masking the real issue. I haven't been in my darkroom for over 2 years, in fact my film, chemicals and paper will shortly be out of date. I am hoping my medication will allow me back behind a camera lens but who knows. I have taken photographs in one form or another for 52 years, maybe that's me done with photography, but I don't plan to make rash decisions

Regards- Kenneth- Yorkshire- UK

Bruce Robbins said...

There's no easy answer, is there Kenneth? If you're not in the right frame of mind then it's difficult finding the desire to pick up a camera. Sometimes it's difficult to shrug off the "why bother" feeling. I'm feeling a bit like that myself, just now.

One way of looking at it is to recognise you have free time that you have to fill by doing something and that something might just as well be photography. It gets you outside and is much better for your mental health than sitting at home all day.

Why not sling an M6 and 35mm lens over your shoulder and just go for a walk. Don't expect too much: just accept whatever comes along. If you end up not taking any pics then that's OK. There's aways tomorrow.