Letting Go of Technical Precision in Photographs

julius motal the phoblographer two weeks in new york 08

As the plane touched down in JFK, I felt something stir. There was an inexorable push to jet out of the plane, camera in hand, to photograph my city, despite my exhaustion from a 12-hour flight. I’d spent nearly half a year living abroad, which is just a blip in the grand scheme of things, but it was enough time to reframe my mind visually. I couldn’t necessarily anticipate how I would see New York, but I had a feeling that the images I would be making would be different than the ones I made before I moved to Istanbul.

Living abroad has freed me from technical precision in my personal work. Before I left home, my camera was like a ball and chain around my ankle. If I left the house without it, I’d have a panic attack, and I’d usually backpedal home to fetch it, fearing what happen if I missed a photograph because my camera was elsewhere. This was before I realized the photographic potential my phone had. Back then, if I didn’t make it with my camera, I wouldn’t keep it because I felt it wasn’t serious enough.

What I found in New York was both familiar and unfamiliar because it felt strange to be a visitor at home. My trip clocked in just under two weeks, and I’m writing this in the last few days of my time here before I return to Istanbul. My approach would, I imagine, be different had my return been permanent, but such a short stay means I can only see New York in a rush. Photographing here is collecting memories to archive and revisit while I’m away from home. Memories for me aren’t the sights. The Empire State Building, 1 World Trade Center, Statue of Liberty, those are the New York that most people know, but it’s not the New York that moves me. My New York, the memories I want to collect, are the people.

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My phone is particularly suited to this task of memory collecting because of its technical limitations. Files aren’t terribly big and the sensor can only resolve so much detail, particularly when shooting quickly. It’s been said that when you’re remembering something, you’re recalling the last time you remembered it. Memories then get lost and distorted within themselves, and I find that mobile photography is good at capturing that.

What I’m left with, then, is a collection of pictures from the inside of my mind. Photographs are in essence the physical manifestation of memories, a slice of time from the continuum, and two weeks are a very tiny slice of time. The fractions of a second I’ve captured are even tinier. The photographer I was before my move would have been heavily invested in clear images with clean composition, but to me those images aren’t suited for my personal work right now. The New York I want to take back with me is grainier. I can hear some of you saying that I could achieve this with film, but I’m on a budget. I’ll get back to it. For now, I’ve got two weeks’ worth of images from home to carry me through until my next trip back.