Nestling underneath my spasmodic impostor syndrome, I am told I have the particular affliction of being far too hard on myself. The practical upshot of this, of course, is that photographs good enough to make my edit, don’t. I see this as net positive as it weeds out weaker photographs. My family and friends are less keen as it does so to a fault, and some good work is left on the cutting room floor. Reviewing past work is a valuable step to include in a workflow as it has benefits that stretch beyond finding one or two missed photographs.
Hidden Gems and Untold Stories
A rewarding, comprehensive rummage through the archive of negatives of old can offer a mine of potential hidden gems or stories left untold. When shooting on film, it is common to make a photograph that heightens the anticipation of developing the roll, only to be disappointed by the result afterwards. Our immediate emotional response to the picture threatens to shroud what is good and only show the imperfection. With the benefit of time, reevaluating old photographs allows the frame to be looked upon with fresh, less critical eyes, and we can then avoid the perfect being the enemy of the good.
Over time, the personal, societal, or political significance of a picture may evolve. An ironic visual comment on the pandemic thought of as too close to the bone in 2021, may now in 2023, with temporal distance, seem more wry and appropriate. Time can lend new context that breathes life and a renewed affection to a once discarded photograph.
Artistic Growth and Learning from Past Mistakes
When I look at my first film photographs, shot on Tri-X with a Zenit TTL in the snowy Warsaw winter of 2021, two things are apparent. I was rusty after more than a decade’s absence from serious photography, and it was clear I didn’t appreciate the technical differences set between digital photography and making photographs on film.
In poking around those early folders of negatives and photographs, it is remarkable to see my journey from a film newbie to the photographer I am now. Recognise that artistic growth is of particular use when in a rut. We find the gutters from the past and accept that we fall into them for a while, but then we overcome them in a new burst of creative energy, and that is heartening. Measuring pictures from months or years ago with those of more recent times is also an active way to learn from past mistakes. Honest criticism of past work shows what to avoid in the future.
Gaining a Fresh Perspective and Inspiration for New Projects
Early in 2022, I began a long-term project directing my camera at the fans and subculture of motorcycle Speedway. My initial trips to the UK to photograph Speedway meetings were a mixed bag, and my time spent in the pits at the Warsaw Grand Prix was strong experience but photographical mediocrity. As the project was not progressing the way I had hoped, my enthusiasm waned and the Speedway season came to an end. In 2023, my life changed. I left my job, returned to school, and out of necessity, I placed the project on hiatus.
Since the pause, I have taken time to retrace my steps and see what was successful and what didn’t work. My time in the pits photographing the riders, crew, and track marshals, that was successful. My photographs of the supporters around the race grounds were less so, in particular those at the Grand Prix at Warsaw, with less opportunity to walk among the fans. A review of these photographs has shown those that work as stand alone images, and has given fresh perspective into the possibilities of such a project, and what I need to do, to make it successful. In much the same way, a recent return to photographs from 2007/09 has pointed me in the direction of a possible new long-term project, one that I may not have considered without the trigger of past work.
Appreciating the Journey
As a street photographer, taking the time to rest and revisit older photographs allows a valuable beat to reflect and appreciate the work made so far. Taking a moment to consider the changes in our creativity, our process, and in how we now see, is integral to enjoying the creative journey we are on. Moreover, looking at past work engenders a sense of nostalgia for the situations we found ourselves in, evoking the contemporaneous state of mind, and memory of what sparked the desire to make the photograph. With distance, reviewing past work allows us to evaluate how all of this has informed the photographic path we now take.