Peter McKinnon’s recent YouTube video entitled The Valley really struck me. It was highly relatable, and not just because it was filmed in Arizona and Utah. There were several interesting takeaways, and a lot that could be discussed. For now, I want to focus on one thing in particular: the wrench.
I think it’s important to feel a little uncomfortable sometimes. “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations,” Orson Welles famously stated. Oftentimes restricting ourselves in some way will propel us forward or allow us to achieve what we otherwise could not, as we have to approach the situation differently than we are comfortable doing. That perspective shift is where growth happens. Wrenches are good.
If you haven’t yet seen the video, go ahead and watch it now.
“I mentioned I’ve been shooting for 20 years,” Peter McKinnon states at about the eight-minute mark. “Digital gets a bit—maybe not even digital, it’s not even the way to say it—just photography itself just gets a bit monotonous after two decades. There’s a formula that you can follow, and it works—you’ve got a style and you’re used to it and you’re used to everything. So it’s nice to throw a wrench into that mix, and that wrench—for me—that’s film. Really needing to understand what feels like an entirely new craft in so many ways with so many facets to it—it really puts you on your toes. It takes you out of the comfort zone and forces you to see the world through a new perspective.”
“There’s something that connects you with nature,” he continues. “There’s something that connects you to the landscapes you’re standing in when you’re out there loading a roll of film that you’re going to shoot [but] that you can’t see after. There’s something that just feels like true photography. And that feeling I plan on chasing for as long as I can.”
Initially, I saw this through the eyes of a long-time film photographer. Yeah, there is something about loading the roll of film and not knowing what you’ve got until much later that connects you with the scene. But then I saw it through my eyes when I neared the 20-year mark (there’s something about that date…), which was a handful of years back. I desperately needed a wrench, as I was feeling burnt out and uninspired. That wrench for me was Film Simulation Recipes. Shooting straight-out-of-camera was the limitation that I needed to be propelled forward. It’s what rejuvenated and inspired me (still does!), and what I plan to chase as long as I can. For Peter it’s film, for me it’s JPEG Recipes—which, incidentally, do have some similarities.
Of course, Peter McKinnon still edits his film photographs. He spot-removed the horse poop, for example. He very obviously used masks to brighten up the subjects. Nothing wrong with that, as it’s his art. For me, though, post-editing just sucks the life out of me. It’s just not my thing anymore, after having done it for so long without any enjoyment. Thankfully, using Film Simulation Recipes allows me to not worry about editing, and focus more on capturing.
I also saw Peter’s video through my current eyes. For several months now I have been feeling that I need some new limitation—a brand new wrench—to force myself to see through a new perspective. And this video was the aha moment. I grabbed my Fujifilm X100V, turned off the EVF so that it was just the optical viewfinder (no image preview), and turned off the rear LCD. Then I determined not to review my pictures until later, sometime after I was done photographing. This would emulate to an extent that film experience Peter talked about, and that I kind of miss (now that I don’t shoot much film anymore). Doing this, I load the Film Simulation Recipe that I want to use into the camera (or, choose one of the seven that I already have saved), capture some photographs, and then I don’t know what I have until sometime later. It’s definitely a different approach than what I’ve been doing, but so far so good. I think I’m going to appreciate this new wrench.
I just started doing this. Below are a few of the first handful of exposures captured using this technique. The Recipe is one that’s not yet been published, but is coming soon, so stay tuned for that. I can only do this on my X100V and X-Pro1, and not my other models, since it requires an optical viewfinder. Maybe this will be a good excuse to buy the X-Pro4 whenever Fujifilm decides to release that someday in the future. In the meantime, this is how I will approach photography whenever I’m out with my X100V. I think it’s the wrench I need right now.