I had an epiphany today. It’s been building in my mind for several days now, but it was only today that I believe I fully understood it: photograph wherever you are. Whichever place it is that you find yourself, capture it with your camera.
When I was 16-years-old, my family moved to a small unincorporated community in Texas called Culleoka, which is north of Dallas near Lake Lavon. At that time it was in the middle of nowhere—and it still is—but the city has been inching closer and closer, and is now at its doorstep. I finished high school while there and enrolled in college. I studied photography for two years before leaving home—and Texas—at 19. That was a long time ago; however, my parents still live in the same house in Culleoka.
I bring up all of this because I realized that, despite learning photography while I lived there, and despite all of the times that I’ve visited over the years, I’ve never photographed Culleoka. I never thought this place was photographically interesting. I always traveled elsewhere with my camera, whether it was McKinney, Plano, Dallas, or any number of other towns in the region. I never photographed where I lived.
Visiting my parents now, for some reason—maybe because I’m older—I find Culleoka to be a much more interesting place. Yes, there’s still not much to see. If you blinked while driving through you’d miss it. There’s a gas station. A Dollar General, which is a fairly new addition. An auto body shop. A fireworks stand. A couple of churches. Maybe a couple hundred people live in Culleoka, many in mobile homes. There’s access to Lake Lavon at the far edge.
I regret now not photographing where I was, because there’s actually a lot of opportunity, if only I had had an open mind. I didn’t see it before. I just thought it was a boring place. Those “other places” were much more fascinating. I had to drive somewhere else to capture interesting pictures. Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you believe that wherever it is you are isn’t worth your camera’s attention, and because you see it day in and day out it is difficult to view it with fresh eyes.
How do you view a highly familiar location with fresh eyes? For me, I think it was just being away for a few years. Actually, I saw some interesting sunlight on the gas station, and a lightbulb went off in my mind. I was reminded of Wim Winders book Written in the West, which inspired me to photograph Culleoka using my Fujifilm X-E4 programmed with the Kodachrome 64 Film Simulation Recipe. Some ideas are to envision yourself as a tourist experiencing the place for the first time, simply keeping a photographic eye out for interesting light, or reading photography books where some pictures are similar to your current location.
Just because you believe that where you are is uninteresting, doesn’t mean there aren’t things worth photographing. You have to keep a constant eye out. Maybe you need to view it through a fresh perspective. Perhaps you just need to get out with your camera on a regular basis and keep at it until you finally “see it” as some new inspiration hits you—I think just getting out with your camera is the best advice that I have.
Don’t be like me and fail to photograph where you are. Just because you don’t think it is worthwhile doesn’t mean that it’s not worthwhile—with a fresh perspective, you’re likely to find things that actually are interesting, things you maybe passed by hundreds of times and it never caught your attention. You have a great opportunity, and perhaps an interesting series of pictures will emerge from it.
It’s an easy trap to think that you have to go someplace else in order to capture interesting pictures. I certainly believed that for awhile, even though I used to say that the job of a photographer is to find the extraordinary in the mundane. I didn’t always practice what I preached—I assumed that where I was wasn’t interesting enough—but my statement was correct: it’s my job to find what others overlook in the places I find myself, and create compelling pictures with my camera. I hope that I’ve accomplished that this time around.
Some of the pictures that I captured in Colleoka, Texas, over the last few days:
Find this Film Simulation Recipe and over 200 more on the Fuji X Weekly App, available for both Android and iPhone.
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