On Giving Up

Dead Trees, New Zealand, 2008 © Emily Shur

I am pretty disappointed in myself right about now.  I just watched the Stephen Shore video over on APE, and it made me realize that I have kind of given up on some things lately that are very important to me.  First of all, for those of you who know me, you know that Stephen Shore is, for lack of a better word, my photogod.  His work has meant so much to me in so many ways.  I’m not going to go into the specifics of his photographic genius right now because that will take too long, but I am truly grateful that he and his work exists.  It has changed my life immensely for the better.

Lately, I’ve been pretty lazy about shooting large format.  With Kodak Readyload and Polaroid being no more, my way of photographing has been forced to change.  I think I kind of swept those feelings of betrayal by those two companies under the rug and just plainly moved onto Fuji without acknowledging my grief.  Don’t get me wrong; Fuji is fine, and I will shoot it.  I do shoot it.  It’s what this shift represents that’s more upsetting to me.  I gradually started to feel like, ‘What’s the point? Why am I still bothering seeking out things like the Fujifilm 4×5 Instant Film holder when this format is obviously dying a slow and painful death?’

I took my 4×5 to New Zealand last November, and I did use it…not as much as my Mamiya 7, but I did make a point to bust it out a few times and make the effort.  The above photo is one example of said effort.  I also took my 4×5 to Tokyo a couple weeks ago.  I did not even take it out of the bag once.  I did take a lot of pictures, but they were all with my Mamiya 7.  There were times when I thought, ‘This would be nice with the 4×5′, but that would require me to go back to my hotel, get all my shit together, get back on the train, set up, and take the same picture I just took with a perfectly good camera.  I know – totally lazy, right?!  

Watching Stephen Shore hoist that 8×10 on his shoulder woke me up.  I know that he doesn’t shoot 8×10 all the time now, for every single shoot or picture, but the fact that he still shoots it at all illustrates that his love for the format overwhelms the logic and reality that it is not a practical way to photograph.  Stephen Shore, I hear you loud and clear and again, thanks for showing me the way.

Oh and by the way, I did pick up one of those Fuji 4×5 Polaroid backs in Tokyo.  It was 130 bucks.  Money well spent.

6 comments to On Giving Up

  • Michael Sebastian

    You’ve doubtless heard the old saw that the best camera is the one you have with you; there’s a lot to be said, as a corollary, for not letting the process impede the realization of the image.

    My principle camera, like yours, is the Mamiya 7. Light weight, superior lenses, and huge negative mean that this system can do nearly anything in capable hands. 80% of the time it’s the one I reach for. I use a hybrid workflow, and I’m able to get exhibition-quality large prints from its images.

    By contrast, I own two 4×5′s, including one I’ve had only a month. If I were optically- or contact-printing I’d be golden; but in a hybrid workflow I’m left with inferior flatbed scans; with expensive and inconvenient outsourced drum scans; or with trying to buy a used Imacon or similar to match the quality I get with MF via the Nikon. Looking at the totality of the situation, for the way I work, 6×7 trumps 4×5 simply because it’s doable.

    So you can put down that flail and rub some salve on those stripes…. ;)

  • John Autry

    I imagine everyone who shoots large format goes through these apathetic periods- I go through it at least 6 times a year. I only recently added a 4×5 to my collection, before that I was all 8×10. The 4×5 is so much faster than 8×10, it’s daunting! In any case, you should stick with your format- large format is not dying by any means! My only gripe is that I can’t afford to shoot 8×10 C-41.

  • Allan

    Thanks Emily for pointing to this video. This time around I had different ears on, maybe I do progress as a photographer after all.

  • Terence Patrick

    Love the irony of the forest/trees photos. :-)

    Do you feel like more of a “real” photographer when you’re under the cloth looking at the ground glass instead of peeking through a viewfinder like the rest of the world? I sort of felt that way after I stopped using some of my film equipment and went digital.

    What if you printed by hand what you shot on your Mamiya 7?

  • Emily Shur

    @ Michael Sebastian: You and I have essentially the exact same process. Shooting film, then drum scan, some color correction, and then digital prints. I do go back and forth about the process becoming more important than the picture. I would never want that to happen, although sometimes it’s the format that inspires me to take the picture in the first place.

    @Terence Patrick: I don’t necessarily feel like “more” of a photographer shooting 4×5, but I do feel that way when I shoot film in general. Digital makes me feel like a monkey pushing a button sometimes with a bunch of people chiming in with their opinions. I feel more in control of my work with film…more like I’m taking my own pictures.

  • Anonymous

    this is tangential perhaps but, i was kind of thinking about this the other day and your thought spurred it.

    The process IS more important than the picture…or at least the result….Think about it…what sticks with you most about taking pictures? For me it is the experience with the place or person and camera at that moment or wondering around for hours just looking….i don’t need that fucking sheet of film or digital file except to get paid at the end of the day…all those pictures are engrained in my head already. seriously…i could walk around with an empty camera taking pictures and i think i’d be just as happy. i mean i like to have the keepsake of the photo but, really, the experience of the process is why i take pictures and what keeps me addicted to it…..i hate printing/scanning/etc stuff even though i spend hours upon hours doing it….but, I feel like bresson…let someone else print ‘em i’ll be out there on the street w/ my camera…