In search of a booster shot of photo mojo, Steve Thomas heads out into the new normal of a masked world with his X-T2.
These past two years have been something of a photographic passion killer for me and I guess for many other photographers out there too. When will it end? Will it ever strike any resemblance to the old world we knew and complained about so often? The same old world that most of us would now give our right arm to have back.
Yes, we all have different takes on what we’ve been living through, and hold different hopes and beliefs. But most of us have suffered in at least one way or another through the pandemic. I know that my own photography has been greatly impacted during this time – for the better in a few ways and for the worst in most others.
Being a travelling photographer who makes (or made) his living by combining the two and then by weaving them together with words, well, I guess you can imagine how it’s been. Two whole years of not being able to travel and two very long years of not being able to shoot new work.
Getting up to speed
Things have moved in very different ways and at a completely different pace around the world during this time and in some regions, we’re still pretty much grounded – unable to travel or, at least, practically or viably unable to return if we do.
Attitudes and opportunities have been slightly evolving in recent weeks and local markets and other venues here in Southeast Asia have slowly begun to re-open. These can be crowded and bustling places, and so even entering them as they did start opening was something of strange and daunting thing to contemplate.
In the good old days before the ghost town, these markets were places I would visit regularly, not just for the shopping; they are great natural photo studios. Asian markets are packed with vibrant colours and characters, and much of my favourite travel work comes out of them.
I’ve been out and about shooting through most of the pandemic and have seen things here all but shutter up for much of that time. The whole persona and outlook of the place has changed. My photographic interactions have been of the distant kind and usually have not included people or the action that I’m used to shooting. As life drizzled back to the streets, I was curious to polish up my fast-moving and impromptu photo skills again, and to try and get a little photo mojo back, just to see if I could still do it. Braving the fresh produce markets seemed like the re-baptism of fire that might just give me that booster shot of photo mojo.
Outstanding or standing out?
When out shooting people and scenes, I had noticed that I had lost much of my confidence. When I say this, that’s not so much the confidence to actually capture an image, more so in having the confidence to strike up the human contact that is almost inevitable in order to shoot what I want. In recent times it somehow seemed inappropriate to do so and an invasion of the new personal space we now have – a space that is hard to gauge from person to person.
Whenever I came into sight I noticed a reaction. At first, I figured this was down to the fact that people were naturally cautious at this time and also that there are comparatively very few of them around these days, which was true. Then I started to add things up.
At the start of the pandemic, there was a great deal of apprehension towards foreigners and outsiders in general, something which resonated with me. But with the passing of time and the fatigue from the pandemic, that has largely faded away. However, it was only once I started going into the more crowded areas that I realised why people were somewhat surprised to see me and why I could no longer wander around stealth-like capturing real-life images. Of course, I’m a six-foot-tall foreign guy – something of a dodo-like rarity in these parts nowadays.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve made numerous market and street visits, just shooting and re-acquainting myself with the evolving and confusing world of what was once termed “the new normal”.
It’s different out there, perhaps far more so here than in western countries. Naturally, there’s the fact that there are fewer people to shoot and the majority of them are now masked. This is not only telling of the times, but it also changes the way I have to shoot things. Facial expressions are hard to capture now, although I do find myself far more drawn to the eyes of a subject. To try and capture those masked smiles does mean having to have those personal interactions that I’ve been avoiding for so long.
No fixed intent
For my first couple of outings, I stuck with the XF35mmF2 on an X-T2. In the past, I would mostly shoot this kind of stuff with my XF18mmF2, but getting that close-up these days is not my preferred option. To cover all bases, I’ve since reverted to using the 18-55mm, which is more versatile and has eased me back into things by knowing that I can keep more of a distance if and when needed
It’s an ongoing project and I am rewiring myself to the slightly faster pace of shooting again, and of course with the camera and its quirks, all from behind a very hot and sweaty facemask.
Getting back on the streets may not have given me the mojo back, at least not just yet, but it’s certainly been an interesting re-education and re-evaluation experience, which was much needed.
There are signs of hope or maybe even resignation out there. Hopefully, I’ll get to shoot some real action before the X-T5 comes around.