In elementary school, I played piano and basketball. My mom, even with a stretched budget, always made sure we had money for piano lessons, and the fees for the elementary basketball team. I remember enjoying them both a lot, but lost some of my passion when the emphasis was on practice rather than play.
Play is something we all need more of, no matter our age. For me, photography is just that, play. Photography is something I long wanted to do, but felt shy and intimidated by it. Despite having people that I could have asked questions of, and perhaps even borrowed a camera from, when I was in high school and college, I stayed quiet about my closeted photography curiosity. It wasn’t until my purchase of a digital SLR well into adulthood that I felt freed up by the auto mode and all of my mistakes with the forgiveness of digital. It took years before I got off auto mode, but in play, I didn’t really care. I still enjoy the play, even as my knowledge base slowly grows.
I still talk about playing with cameras, rather than shooting or taking photos. Playing gives me permission to try things out. Playing allows me the space to go beyond the easy and permissible and to not care about my skill. I now play with instant film, 35mm film, 120 film, digital, infrared, and toy cameras and even a couple of toy lenses. It’s fun to experiment and to see what happens.
I can stop in the middle of a boring Tuesday and play with panoramas on an old film point and shoot during a break from work. I teach online from home, so a break can include a quick walk outside in the neighborhood with a camera. I recently played with a small digital point and shoot camera that had been converted to infrared that I scored cheaply on an auction site. It’s perfect for taking out on a day where the light is supposedly too harsh and I get to see the world in bizarre pinks or trippy contrasted grays. I have a couple of fun “special effect” cameras that I want to play with soon.
It’s not really, though, about having a bazillion cameras, although collecting a few cameras can be fun, too. I really just like taking out a camera and making a mundane walk into something a little bit more magical. Over the last three years, where I have felt trapped by not having a car in the urban and suburban sprawl of the US and limited in movement both from the pandemic and my budget, photography has freed me up to play. I find ways to play even when the world feels heavy and my heart is sad.
Playing with photography makes me get outside to see what adventures are around the corner. Photography has inspired me to play with shadows as they bounce through the house on an ordinary day. I take photos of bright yellow leaves in the fall and see the colors mimicked in the safety stripes painted on the steps outside of my building. I play with a Holga camera during Holga Week in October. I sign up for a free online photography class and fancy myself a landscape photographer for a bit as I take my camera out for the assignments. I pull myself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and stumble into my clothes, pour coffee into an insulated mug, and walk out into the dark two miles to a nature preserve on the edge of town to get a glimpse of the sunrise, and see what might pop up in my viewfinder. I wait for the bus and take photos of a cute house that could be from another century. At the library, I sneak snaps of colorful book spines and the lovely floor-to-ceiling window right next to the study carrels on the second floor. In the summer, I lower my camera angles to get a peek at the produce in the neighborhood community garden.
I am pretty sure that photography will be a lifetime of play for me. I have much to learn about lighting, infrared, portraiture, action shots of toddlers, summer fireworks, star trails, nightscapes, architecture, macro images, street photography, and food photography. I want to play with cyanotypes and more instant film. I want to learn about intentional camera movement, and try my hand at a long-form project. I think about trying to document New Mexico and the places I love. I look forward to experimenting more with video and multiple exposures and pinhole cameras. I want to play with developing film and trying film soup. I hope to take more shots of sandhill cranes (my favorite bird) and the balloon fiesta in Albuquerque. I plan on hikes, runs, and vacations with a camera nearby and within reach. I want to be present for photos of family moments and quiet solitary ones.
I crave more play and photography provides many ways to get there.
If I sound all over the place, photographically, I am. I have no yearning for specialty, or profession. I like keeping my view of photography wide, just like I enjoy a wide angle lens. For now, I possess a very shallow knowledge, no, make that appreciation, of a lot of types of photography, just as many use a shallow depth of field. I look for photography puns just as I look for light and shadows. Writing for 35mmc has added to my enjoyment, and sense of play.
Photography can be a form of self-expression, a vocation, a consuming hobby, but often we can be quite serious about it. If you are a bit more serious about your knowledge and practice of photography, I invite you to find a way to play. Experiment with a lens or try your hand at a film swap with a friend. Take photos of something you have never taken photos of before. Grab a camera and go on a photography adventure, even if it’s walking around the block or aiming out the window. Give yourself permission to play, and go wild!
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