My initial thoughts were to buy a small digital camera (‘spy’ camera), wear it on my clothing and set it to take pictures while I walk around. I found a number of possible cameras to buy, however, the specifications were not clear about whether they could be set to take still images at an interval or were only suitable for video. Although I could take screen shots from video I felt it was important that the images I took were stills rather than selections from moving pictures – although randomness is an important feature of the images I want to capture, it I important that they are also stills – I am not sure selections from videos even count as photographs. There is also the practical consideration of how to select images from the large number of possibilities that screenshots from video would create.
Before buying something new it seemed a worthwhile exercise to experiment with my existing equipment to see how my concept worked and understand whether to pursue further. I found my Nikon D700 could be set to take pictures at an interval so I programmed the timer to take shots every 30 seconds. I used a 50mm lens as a single focal length and one lens is a part of the brief. My initial thoughts were that I would set up the camera at a fixed point while it took photographs, the benefit would be sharp and steady images, however, the chances were that they would also be quite dull and static – I was keen to try and capture some energy and movement in the pictures in the way a street photographer might. To achieve this I wore the camera around my neck and walked around, and, while this would hopefully give some dynamism to the pictures it would also increase the chances of unorthodox compositions, there was the possibility however that this strategy could yield interesting results and add another element of interest. The images would most likely suffer from blur and unusual point of focus and rather than trying to mitigate this I decided to make this outcome a deliberate strategy and set a large aperture to create a small depth of field. This would clearly mean a large amount of the images would be unusable, however, there was also the chance of strange and interesting results which would justify the increased levels of experimentation.
The first thing that was apparent when I started the camera was how noisy the shutter seemed. Of course, this would have seemed much louder to me with the camera around my neck than anyone I was passing, but it did make me feel uncomfortable. It is one thing taking a street image when it is clear what you are doing, but if anyone thought I was taking pictures covertly this could lead to a troubling situation and even confrontation. Despite this, psychologically the sound of the shutter somehow made me feel I was being more open about what I was doing than if I was using a ‘spy’ camera that would surely be silent. Wearing the camera around my neck with the lens facing forward was uncomfortable as the camera swung around, also there was a temptation to turn myself to face things that caught my eye and I wanted to be as unconscious of taking pictures as possible. Moving the camera with the strap over my shoulder was much more comfortable and also meant that I was never quite sure what was in view of the lens. Viewing the images after returning home gave me confidence that the project had possibilities that were worth pursuing and I decided to continue with this approach with the equipment I already own rather than becoming sidetracked with buying a different camera.
The second time I went out I made a couple of important changes to my approach. I reduced the time between shots to 5 seconds – this seemed counter intuitive for my aim of creating random images but I found it much easier to forget about the shutter tripping at this setting rather than at 30 seconds where I found myself trying to guess when the next image would be taken – something that was totally at odds with what I was trying to achieve. I also brought another camera and took pictures with this conventionally – a strategy that had three elements to it: firstly, this helped distract me and allow the automated camera to do its thing, secondly this gave my wandering a purpose, and lastly, this made it clear to everyone that I was taking photographs and helped me with ethical concerns I had.
After downloading the images, I made my first selects in a purely intuitive way – picking photographs that stood out to me on an instinctual and not analysing my choices. I tried to disregard my normal criteria of composition and technical quality that would normally guide my selection process. The most important consideration now was when to stop taking images – at this point something I am unsure about, however, I knew that when I decided the time was up good or bad my final choices would need to come from the images I had and I would not take more. Until then, I decided not look at the pictures further – I would make my final selections when I was in a position to view everything together. In the meantime I need to think long and hard about how I will eventually make these final choices and what, if any, post processing I will apply – potentially these will be the most difficult choices – I have tried so hard not to influence the way the pictures have been taken that the editing and final selection decision this could potentially negate everything I have tried to achieve up until this point. How do I continue with the strategy of randomness into post production and is this even possible?