Knocking About and Other Things / by Sohail Mamdani

When you step away from doing something you love, you end up feeling a bit punch-drunk when you come back to it. 

I stepped away from photography for more than six months to work on something else - and because I thought that video and filmmaking was what I wanted to do as my primary creative outlet. While my interest in the moving image hasn't vanished, I've since come to recognize that walking away from photography is about as foolish a thing as I could have done.

The cascade of creative calamities that befell me over the past year has been linked directly to the fact that I haven't had the cathartic creative outlet that the shutter of a still camera used to give me. That was brought into very stark relief in a conversation with a friend. Here, edited for length and privacy, is that conversation:

ME: I'm gonna start doing more portrait sessions man. I fucking love photography and trying to branch out into video is costing me that.
ANDREW: You definitely have that "joy" while shooting portraits, I'll tell you that.
ME: Explain please?
ANDREW: Quote: Joy explaination-- I feel like it gives you life? Definitely a spark in your eye when you set up a shot, set up a scene, set up the lights/gear. Talking to the MUA, model, about your vision. Even if you don't get the shot, you definitely get energy and give energy into portrait sessions.
Just saying this having assisted you on a couple of shoots.
ME: Why have you never told me this?
ANDREW: Because I'm a terrible communicator. I'm a literal fly on the wall. Just swatted away.
ME: That would have really helped me. I've felt like my portrait work has been a lot of work for no reciprocal reward.
Knowing that someone took note of the energy in the shoot might have helped me somehow
ANDREW: But in all honesty, I thought you knew that about yourself.
ME: No, I did not.
But that's not unusual.
ANDREW: Which is kinda why I was a little shocked that you dove so hard into video.
Figured that was your true obsession.
But doing those videos for <REDACTED>, I could tell that there was no spark like portraits for you.
ME: What about when I shot the video for <REDACTED>?
ANDREW: That, too.
You were happy, but it wasn't "joy".
ME: Hmm. 
I felt I enjoyed that a bit more than the <FIRST REDACTED> video
The <FIRST REDACTED> video was laaaaame
ANDREW: I mean this in the best way possible, but you would not shut up about Xela's portrait. Which was amazing, but you'd talk about it weeks, months later. That whole shoot, you were giddy.
ME: Ha! That's the best portrait I've ever shot
ANDREW: Yeah, I know. But even on <SECOND REDACTED>'s video, you weren't as giddy.
Did you catch any of the Warriors games last season?
ME: True
I did, a couple
I feel like an analogy is coming up...
ANDREW:  When they're at their very best, ball zipping around, Steph Curry dancing, the bench going nuts. That's the joy I'm talking about. I think I felt that during that session and clips of that on previous sessions.
It's the perfect combo of photo geek talk, the right pace for your leg, and the camaraderie of the crew... I think that's when you're the most joyful. Video is heavy, fast (sometimes).
ME: True that. 

That was one of those "hits you link a ton of bricks" conversations for me. The portrait of Xela Gaerlan that Andrew was talking about is this one: 

Xela Gaerlan for a new portrait series.

I do think this is one of the best portraits I've ever taken, possibly THE best. I know it's not going to be the best I'll EVER take, though, because I'm back in the studio. 

Xela's portrait, with the flag scarf draped across her, has given me an idea for a portrait series I'm currently working on. I've already shot three subjects for it, and will shoot for it again next week (once I have a working camera again). I'm even tempted to shoot on film for it while I wait on said camera. More on that to come...

Outside the studio, I'm photographing as well. My interested in landscape photography has waned somewhat, and is slowly being replaced by a series of "studies" that I'm posting to Instagram. I'm finding that working in this "series" format is giving me a focus I'd previously lacked, and it keeps me moving forward where I might have otherwise waned. 

In other news, I shot for Veronica Levy of Lombard and Fifth again. That's where I met Hannah Harden of Vogue in Vines, whom I've had the pleasure of working with on a solo shoot for the aforementioned series. I've also gotten back into the website end of things, helping Veronica revamp her website (if you go to lombardandfifth.com now, scroll to the bottom and you'll see a small link directing you back my way). That was a lot of fun, and it's given me the impetus to move off Squarespace for my own site and onto Wordpress. More to come on that too...

Hannah Harden for the L&F shoot

For now, I've put a camera back into my hands. There have been a few false starts with the Fuji X-T2 I bought; I had to send back two lenses and the body due to various malfunctions, and nearly decided to ditch the whole platform and go Olympus, but stayed because I love the images I can make with that camera. Waiting for the body to come back in stock is excruciating, so I might grab a used X-T1 and pass on re-buying one of the lenses I returned to make it work for my budget. 

In the meantime, I'm also shooting film again. Dusted off my Instax Wide and began playing with it, and dug up the Polaroid back for my Hassy so I can use that platform for shoots. Seriously considering moving the portrait series to film as well. We'll see...

Andrew had some other pearls of wisdom for me yesterday; those I have to mull on before I can react to them. It feels weird taking advice from a kid 17 years my junior, but one takes and accepts wisdom where one finds it. Only a fool would place his ego ahead of his growth.