Thoughts on how to live and the flower sellers of Chitchecastenango, Guatemala. 1983

My new lens has just arrived. It’s a 50mm to 150mm f2.8 and it’s the closest lens I could afford to my old 135mm f2.8 Nikkor lens that I loved and used so much back in the days when I shot film. I’m going to Europe for three months in 9 days and I’m particularly looking forward to using my new lens to take photos of people on the street like I used to, years ago.

A very wise old friend of mine, the composer Edward Arteaga, once said to me, “if you want to kill your love for something, study it”.

I first took up photography when I was about 14 and for years I had dreams of working in the photographic industry. Years later when I was 30 I went to Art College for 4 years to study photography and then I went on to be a photographic assistant for 2 years to one of the best commercial photographers in Australia.

I got to see what it was like at the top of the game. Lot’s of grinding work, long hours, high stress and frightening overheads. After a while I realised that I was being turned off photography and of trying to make a living from it. In the early 1990s, I totally lost interest in photography and in particular, commercial photography. I’d come to the conclusion that it was a cosmically worthless profession and I didn’t want to be involved with it any more. I put my cameras down and didn’t take any photos for about 15 years. It’s only recently that I’ve returned to photography.

I was talking to a friend of mine, Mark, the other day about the cabinet that I made recently and he said, “why don’t you become a cabinet maker?”

I replied, “I don’t want to do that because it would take all the fun out of it and turn it into a grind”.

Mark then said to me, “you are such a waste of talent, you’re good at whatever you turn your hands to (flattering but untrue), but you choose not to continue on with things”.

I explained that the only reason why I do any thing is because it’s the only way I can get what I want at a reasonable cost. If want a schmick cabinet, I have to make it myself.

If I want nice food, I have to cook it myself and the same goes for photography.

People are constantly saying to me, “why don’t you do, such and such for a living, you’re so good at it”. The trouble with me is that I can quite easily visualize where such things lead. In short, I know it would kill my love for whatever is that I like doing. 

I don’t want to specialise, I’m a generalist.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is actually important in my life and how do I want to live to be happy. I keep coming back to Epicurus.  Epicurus thought that there were three types of desires.

  1. Natural and necessary: Such as, freedom, friendship, food shelter and freedom from pain.
  2. Natural but not necessary: A big house and other luxuries.
  3. Not natural or necessary: Fame and power.

 If you’re interested in what Epicurus has to say about happiness here’s some a good video (in three parts) by Alain de Botton.

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Swiss woman in Mexico. Palenque, Mexico. 1982

With a tip of the hat to Ruth Orkin, here’s a photo of a Swiss woman I met in Palenque, Mexico, on “sabatical” from her family.

This sort of street photography is one of my favourite types of photography.

When I used to shoot film, one of my preferred lenses was a 135mm f2.8. The 135 is perfect for this sort of shot because it’s small and fast. Since I’m going to Europe very soon, I ordered a 50mm to 150mm f2.8 lens so I could take photos of people on the street unobtrusively.

I didn’t want to buy a zoom (I hate them because they are big and slow) but nowadays one is almost forced to, because the average punter wants a lens that does everything and doesn’t give a damn about quality. Nikon makes a 135mm f2 prime lens but it’s a monster (front element 72mm) and costs a small fortune. Another reason why I didn’t want to buy the Nikon lens was because it has a built-in soft focus control that’s aimed at portrait photographers with no taste.

I can’t tell you how much I detest those schmaltzy and sickly soft focus shots ones sees in some portrait photographer’s displays. 


I took the shot above on Kodachrome 64