Although I recently wrote a sob story about how I've temporarily lost interest in photography, the last two nights I made myself go out to do some long exposures and stuff. I don't want to get all cheesy about it because I don't think it's really helped my recent temperament but it did feel nice to be outside and to have something to work on.
I've been really isolated lately and I've accepted the fact that I have a really hard time shooting anything when other humans are around. Especially if I'm alone. If I had a buddy with me it might relieve some of the tension, but the frustrating thing about my schedule is that when I do wind up with free time, it's always in the middle of the night when no one's around. But my anxiety is something strange, that comes and goes in different forms. I don't know why I'm afraid of simply being near other people, but I wander into the darkness by myself with no hesitation.
I have a habit when I shoot at night to just assume I'm the only person around. I don't find that frightening; I find it relaxing. A couple nights ago I was walking down a dirt road to get to a boat ramp/overlook park of Mt. Sinai Harbor and I could hear people noises and I became terrified. I took my sandals off to walk silently until I was sure who was out there, but it wound up just being rowdy drunk people on a boat. Cranking Cat Stevens super loud lol. So no humans were anywhere. I did see a deer, though. And some rabbits. But it's quiet and serene and dark and once I'm sure I'm alone I feel fine.
Night shooting is a slow process with a lot of downtime. You set up, you try to focus in the dark, you meter, and you wait. You fix the focus if it was wrong, because it's too dark to tell. You try again. You wait. You tilt the tripod, you try to focus again, you wait. It's a process that forces you to slow down and for me it's a very relaxing ritual.
And I'm never afraid. Somehow, I feel confident that I'm the only person around. I feel like I have the harbor to myself, that it's a personal safe space, the way my own house would feel. I can come out of myself, I can be creative. Sometimes I wonder, casually, if I should be afraid, if I'm being naive. I try to imagine my escape plan if danger comes. I think of my tripod as a powerful defensive weapon, and I think of my ability to make myself scarce at the first sign of human intervention. I remind myself that if there were real danger, if there was an attacker, and if there was a real weapon, I might not have the ability to wield a tripod in self defense. No one who is attacked just allows themselves to be attacked--surely everyone thinks they have an escape in the last few moments. I am being silly to think I'm safe, but for some reason I am not bothered.
Last night/this morning I decided I wanted to shoot the sunrise. I also decided I wanted to shoot Port Jefferson Harbor, maybe from Belle Terre/Pirate's Cove. I wasn't sure if there were any overlooks from the bluffs above the cove but I took a drive up there to be sure. The drive up through the woods is creepy and dark, no streetlights, and I was driving so slow out of caution. I was listening to old Behemoth for atmosphere. I parked at the top even though there are no parking signs everywhere; I figure at 4:30am no one cares. I break rules all the time. No one ever has to know. I saw a fox before I turned my headlights off but once I got out it was too dark to see. Before I tried to explore to find a view of Port Jeff, I noticed Mt. Sinai Harbor to the east. I shoot Mt. Sinai Harbor all the time. It's one of those places, that, for some reason, transcend my bitterness about everything relating to Miller Place. It's always been one of my go-to places when I need inspiration and don't know what else to shoot. But I never shot it from up there in Belle Terre.
I set up my tripod, I tried to focus. I took a test shot. Readjusted. Thirty second exposures. It was too dark to see the plants in the foreground until after the photo was taken. I began to move down towards the fence, extend the tripod legs--maybe if I made it tall enough I'd see over the plants.
But then I heard noise, and I looked and saw the lights, and a truck was coming up the road. I wasn't immediately panicked, I just felt silly and embarrassed like my creativity had been violated. When they pulled up to the bluff the headlights passed over me for a moment and there I obviously was with my camera and my tripod. Whenever I run into people when I'm out taking photos I usually just think "please, please ignore me, please don't ask me questions, please keep driving, keep walking, I'm just a photographer, I am not an exhibit, don't patronize me, don't stare."
So the truck turned around and I wondered if it was someone on a joyride. It slowed down, suspiciously slow, by my car, and that's when I started to panic. For some reason I wondered if, somehow, I'd triggered someone's suspicions, if they were going to try to tow my car for parking illegally. I was ready to turn on the charm and try to say "Sorry! I've been here for like, three minutes, taking pictures, I'll go!" and I knew it was ridiculous because I know that no one cares if I'm parked up there. But I was already packing up. My heart was racing and I was fumbling too much to get the third leg shortened on my tripod. I didn't even bother putting my camera away in the bag, just threw the strap around my neck. I kept touching my keys in my hoodie pocket.
There were three men getting out of the truck. One of them lit a cigarette. I could sort of make out where they were in the dark, and I wondered if it was only because my eyes had adjusted already. They were wearing light colors but I was wearing black. I wondered if they could see me.
I heard them asking each other where Pirate's Cove was, and I think they said "maybe she knows". I tried to calm down and breathe. I wanted to be able to act normal and chill, and I wanted to be helpful if they needed directions. But they didn't ask me. My hands were shaking when I opened the back door of the car to put my tripod away. The back door doesn't turn on the interior light so it was still dark. They were close to me. They seemed like regular dudes, young. I didn't get any indication of why they were up there. My rational side knew that they were relatively unthreatening. But I couldn't focus, I couldn't breathe. I felt terrified when I got in the driver side and the lights came on, and they could see me. They obviously knew I was there but I didn't like being in the light. I wouldn't look over towards them. I couldn't. When I finally drove off I turned Behemoth louder to be aggressive, but by the time I pulled away they'd walked off towards the trees and I couldn't see them anymore.
I went down to the Cove. My nerves were on edge so instead of seeming serene, I only felt like it was sketchy and dangerous. I got out of the car, I walked towards the water. I felt like eyes were watching me. I couldn't shake the idea that I wasn't alone anymore. I wanted to get some photos of the cove itself before heading towards the west side for photos of the harbor. I heard rumbles in the distance. I thought "They were really looking for the Cove, they'll be here soon. They'll see me again. It will be strange and awkward." I couldn't get into a rhythm because I couldn't stop wondering if the guys would come back. I felt exposed and embarrassed. I never even set up my tripod, I just went back to my car and left.
I wound up returning to Mt. Sinai Harbor and took photos of the sunrise from Cedar Beach. I remember thinking that maybe sometimes I should invite someone to come on these journeys with me. I feel safe, again, maybe even naively so, but although I feel physically safe, I wonder if having someone there would diffuse the psychological tension I feel when strangers invade my creative space. It's a returning cycle that reminds me I wind up in these isolated positions because I'm up in the middle of the night, when everyone is asleep. I could ask Steph, but she doesn't stay up that late. I could try to drag Whyle sometime when he's over. Those are my only real options. But the darkness still doesn't scare me. How many times can I explore it before I meet a disaster? Will I ever look back on myself with disappointment at how reckless I was? How many bullets can I dodge?
I said the other day that lately, even when I've felt motivated to shoot, that I'm so unhappy with my camera that it ruins some of the fun. This is somewhat true. It has such trouble focusing (the ring on my 35mm gets stuck) and the photos wind up being so grainy that I'm unhappy with them. To me these new ones are just photos I took to get some fresh air, just some night exposures for no real reason. They will never amount to anything. They will collect dust, buried deep in my hard drive, until I break them out for LJ or Tumblr or something equally silly.
Sometimes (most of the time, let's be fair) I only see flaws when I see my own work. I will be happy, and maybe even proud, of a shot for long enough to process it and share it, and once it's out there I slowly lose touch with it. I look at my own photos and only notice the tiny details that no one else sees but that ruin it for me. I've always been like this. When I'm happy with a photo I have to tuck it away so that I don't destroy it for myself. Sometimes if I dismiss a shoot or a set for long enough, I can look at them again in a year or two and enjoy them. If enough time passes, I find the flaws endearing, and I see them as rookie mistakes of my younger self. But in the present I'm too harsh and critical and disliking my own work has a power over my mood that I can't overcome.
When I see this photo of the harbor, I don't feel too bad about the technical stuff because it was one of my test shots. I hadn't had the opportunity to properly set up. I find the foreground plants annoying but I'm not trying to pretend it's a piece of art; I know it was a set-up throwaway shot.
But when I look at it, I think about how invaded I felt, and how terrified. It's like a murky dark piece of evidence of the panic I feel and isolation I often need. That same isolation also makes me feel detached and inhuman and unlovable. It's a trigger for all the bad things in my soul that I can't overcome. I look at it and feel disappointed that I didn't have time to get the shot I wanted, and when I realize why I gave up on the shot I wanted, I just... wilt.
I don't think it's abnormal for me to have reacted the way I did. I think it was probably the healthier of many of my weird latenight habits. I should be alert when I'm alone in the dark. But it's all a piece of a the bigger puzzle about my life and the way I am and how much it gets me down that I'm like this.