At this point I have now prattled on to sickening lengths on this blog about my existential ruminations in relation to taking photographs. Of all of the things to be pre-occupied with, it’s hardly the most pressing, though perhaps the entire point is my lack of pre-occupation with an activity that for so long was such a central part of my identity; reduced now to a bit part that I occasionally return to in despair.
Taking pictures in Glasgow, more than anywhere else, has become emblematic of this particular internal tussle of which I am now boring even myself. It is a fascinating city, and one which I genuinely and ardently love; a place with character and intrigue; soaked with charm and contradictions. However, despite all of my best efforts, I find it an incredibly difficult place to take pictures.
I have spent an indordinate amount of time mulling over this quandary, and come up with a variety of different conclusions, which shift and blend over time. One of the earliest of these theories was that people in Glasgow are hard, and not afraid to ask you what the fuck you think you are doing if they suspect that you might be up to something untoward.
Thing is, whilst Glaswegians are far quicker to engage than folks would in places like Japan (for example), they are often also just genuinely interested in what you’re doing, and so long as you are up front and straight with them, there are rarely any issues. Given that I’ve lived here pretty much my entire life, and spent a good chunk of that time working in nightclubs where I’ve had to fine tune the art of winning people over, that concern really is probably a bit of a red herring, or a foolish excuse.
Another theory I’ve had is that Glasgow simply isn’t as big or as busy a place as other cities where I enjoy taking pictures. People aren’t in as close quarters to each other to allow you to shoot with a discreet wide angle lens like on the Ricoh, and there are only so many times you can walk down the same streets over and over before you wear through the rubber on your shoes – only to find that you’ve barely shot anything worthwhile.
Thing is, that’s probably bullshit as well. A pathetic excuse that does nothing but cover up my own failures. Glasgow is positively hoaching with sights. Everywhere you look there is something weird and wonderful going on, and it’s part of the reason that I used to love living in the city centre and walking for an hour every day to get to University. Soaking up those scenes and being part of them was of endless mystique.
In which case, the logical conclusion would appear to be that my pictures just aren’t very good. Whether through a fear of being caught up in conflict, or an over reliance on cameras like the Ricoh GR, or a general malaise towards quality composition… maybe I’ve just lost my touch. Maybe I never had it in the first place.
I’m not sure that is the answer either though, as I have plenty of evidence in my back catalogue of times where I have shot collections of images that I have been – and remain – happy with. That includes this black and white 35mm set from Japan, a large compendium from Athens in 2018 – all shot on digital (including the Ricoh), street shots from Belgrade in Serbia, wild times in Las Vegas, and more recently – pictures from Girona in Spain, and a whole bunch of sets from NYC. So maybe I’m not total shite after all.
Thing is, all of my favourite sets are from travels abroad. They are all taken in places where I’ve wanted to soak up the atmosphere and feeling of a place like some kind of optical sponge and reflect back some of what I experience. How do you do that when it comes to a place that you’ve lived for your entire life? How can you tell or represent its story in a way that remains interesting, and doesn’t become simply an exercise in mundanity?
Perhaps I’m asking the wrong question, as the principles and components that make travel photography great by its very nature cannot be directly applied to the place where you live. This is not just because it is extremely difficult to see your hometown with fresh eyes, but also because the narrative structure is entirely different, and you can’t simply wrap the entire experience up neatly in a single blog post.
I’ve dwelled upon the fact that even though I am intimately familiar with the streets of Glasgow, not everybody will be, and what may be unremarkable to me, might be of interest to others; much like how American street signs make everything endlessly more exotic in my eyes.
That’s probably the crux. For me, the reason I like street photography in particular is because it allows you to build up a picture of a place and its people. I am less beguiled by the idea of seeking out a single image of a particular compositional excellence that apparently tells a story – and more interested in collections of images that have their value as part of a whole. When I’m unable to articulate or give words to accompany such an anthology – it leaves them adrift without a unifying purpose.
Why do I even take pictures in Glasgow? Is it something more than just a base level compulsion, built up over years out of habit? I mean, given the amount of strife it causes me then clearly there’s something deeper going on there. Ultimately, I do it largely because I still find the people and scenes that I come across to be mesmeric – or at the very least – worthy of some closer attention. If I am going to continue to document my expositions in the city in future, maybe I simply need to get better about finding the words to go along with them.
and if not, there are always the geese.