Bittersweet Art – Closing Out A Photo Project.


If you’ve read some of my more recent posts, you’ll have read about my sports photography. Well, this Sunday I took my last sport shots for the foreseeable future.

Since October of last year, on a more or less weekly basis, I’ve headed down the hill from the University’s main campus and through the gates of the playing fields. Across the rutted dirt where they park the team buses and past the concrete blockhouses with the changing rooms and the groundsman’s offices and the sheds where they keep the tractor, the riding mowers and the other kit. Then onto the turf, and keep walking until you reach the right set of sidelines and haul out the camera. I’ve watched a lot of games. Some of them the home team have won, a few more they’ve lost. I’ve seen a few people get hurt – never anything serious, but it’s added a little drama. I’ve gotten some good shots, and probably missed a few, just like the guys on the pitch.

The rugby season’s over now, and the American football season. With the end of the University’s year in sight the players are sweating over exams not sports, and hitting deadlines rather than tackling dummies. The last games were played this Sunday, in the annual Varsity challenge matches with our neighbouring University. I’ve taken the last sports photograph of my MA course.

In some ways that’s a good thing. The deadline is a solid one – there’s no more holding on now, no waiting to see if there’s a better picture waiting somewhere over the horizon. Every picture for this project that I can take I have taken and now there’s no excuse to keep me from the curation process.

That’s another world for me. Give me photography. Give me 400mm lenses and numb fingers, give me bad light, hard shadows, rain. Give me freezing wind and ankle deep mud, and the backache from bags full of kit and long-lensed cameras slung around my neck – they’re all sensations I can welcome like an old friend. What’s new for me, what’s different, is curation. Board mounting. Framing. Time spent shuffling the pictures around like a deck of cards, trying to figure out what works with what. That’s not something I’ve had to deal with before, and it’s slowly sinking in that it’s what I’ll have to deal with now.

I’ve spent plenty of time in the last few months under red lights in the darkroom. Like photography making a print is a mix of art and technical skill. Unlike photography it’s not one you can perform out in the fresh air. It’s satisfying when it works, frustrating when it doesn’t, and leaves you something that (if you’re lucky) you can look at with a feeling of pride. Is it fun though?

There’s magic to – no denying that. Watching images come to life in the developing trays is something special. But it’s not the same as capturing the image. The best way I can explain it is to say that print making is like studio photography – you’re constantly striving after perfection in an imperfect world, with nowhere to hide and only pure technical skill to guide you. Capturing the image – well that’s street photography. It’s whatever you want it to be. It takes place out in the real world, and you know going in that getting a “perfect” image is as unlikely as hell. So you attack the limitations of what you can do, you push back and you’re satisfied with the best image you can get. It might be because I’ve spent altogether too much time trying to get usable pictures from the back of a theatre, or across a smoke filled bar or on a street corner in the small hours of the morning. That might say more about me than it does about the medium. On the other hand that probably shows my natural approach to photography, which in turn explains why I’m finding curation to be a  strange new world.

That said, it’s one I’ll have to get used to before I can get back to taking pictures.

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