Returning to Play

I sometimes take what I do with a camera too damn seriously. There are moments that allow a feeling of earnestness to introduce itself into my process. And when that mindset walks over the threshold, any amazing cadres of fellows make their way in as well, including self-doubt, anxiety and fear. I soon lose sight of the fact that I first picked up the camera because of the joy it provided me.

It’s an easy thing to do with all the adult responsibilities not the least of which is having a roof over my head and food on the table. Compound that with reasonable and unreasonable expectations of where I should be creatively and financially and suddenly that process which used to be as simple as raising the camera to my eye and pressing the shutter release button becomes more complicated.

Photography is both an art and a business but it’s easy for the latter to dominate my thought and concerns, particularly with the challenging economy we face today. And when it does, criticalness can invade my thoughts to the point that the weight of the camera increases exponentially and it sits there like some expensive novelty item.

And surprisingly, I often find that the thing that allows me to shake off this rut is my phone, or more accurately the camera in my phone.

It lacks the resolution of my film and digital cameras. It doesn’t have the capability of interchangeable lenses. It certainly doesn’t the tonality or vibrancy of my other gear. But what it does provide me is freedom from the idea that I have to always produce great work whenever I throw the camera over my shoulder and walk out the door.

When I raise my phone to make a snap, I’m free of the burden of the “shoulds”. This should be a good picture. This should be something that I can market and sell. This should be better than the last image I made. This should be something worth photographing.

When I pick up the phone, I return to the place of simply photographing something I’m responding to. I see something interesting and I make a picture. The judgment of whether the scene in front of me is worthy of a photograph or not is excised from the equation and I simply get out of my own way and make the picture.

While working on a project for the Boys and Girls Club of Hollywood this summer, I handed my camera to a girl who had assigned herself as my assistant. After hanging the camera around her neck and showing her how to make an image, I watched as she wandered around the club, making photograph after photograph. There was an eagerness and enthusiasm in her as she posed the other kids or captured images of the different elements in the room. As I watched, I was reminded of the fun and joy that was so much of my early years as a photographer.

It’s not that I’ve completely lost that experience. I often experience it when I’m alone walking the street, camera in hand, observing the light and the way it interacts with the world around me. Those moments of discovery when light, color and gesture converge for a beautiful and captivating moment are priceless. And in such moments, it’s not so much that I made a photograph, but that I recognized the moment in the first place.

The beauty of photography is the discovery. For me, that’s more at the heart of my process than the mechanics of the camera or the computer. As a street photographer, it is the witnessing of the convergence of randomness and chaos and managing to capture that in one single photographic frame that’s just magic.

And watching that young girl reminded me that the fun and joy that I often have with photography has more to do with the seeing. The photograph allows me to capture that thrilling moment and share it.

There is a certain degree of seriousness that is necessary with photography, particularly when it comes to business and satisfying the needs of the client. But for me, I occasionally need to remember why I decided to pick up the camera in the first place.

Whether it’s a camera phone or a little girl, it’s good to be reminded that pictures provide this grown-up the perfect excuse to regain my youthful eye and explore, discover and play.

Ibarionex Perello is the producer and host of The Candid Frame: A Photography Podcast, a bi-weekly program that features interview with the world’s best established and emerging photographers. You can find episodes by visiting the website at or by subscribing to the show via iTunes.

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