LOOK3 Guest Series: Communicating the Incommunicable

As I try to evolve as both a person and an artist, I realize that one of the largest obstacles in my path is acceptance. I’ve come to realize that the way I’ve built photography around my life is perhaps not the best way. When I close my eyes and think of how photography looks, I see a large, heavy mechanism wrapped around my body covering my eyes, an abstract steam-punk tuba with big goggles emitting light, miniature antennas and mechanical breathing. I see things other people don’t see, but I also stumble, bump into walls and trip over thoughts when speaking. With or without a camera, like an imaginary friend, this mechanism is almost always on me, I am its owner.

What is the purpose of photography? Firstly it is a method of communicating the incommunicable, but more importantly it has played a role in my life as a conduit for disassociation. It allows me, at my will, to always be outside and floating above what is happening. In this respect it is a defense mechanism against life and reality. No matter how beautiful or tragic the sights I witness the experience is fed through a separate pair of eyes, to be examined, understood and shared at a later point. Everything is therefore distilled for justification. I am a photographer, this is journalism, this is art.

I think at times in our life our craft can take the lead and instead of our camera following us, we follow our cameras. This is where my big imaginary machine starts to own me. I came to photography because I saw things I wanted to cherish and remember that I had no other way to describe – things I was afraid of losing. But now, there’s a distortion in the way I see the world when I photograph. In the way a hunter might place priority on his ability to hear or smell in the woods, my eyes and my intuition are at a burning pace when I shoot. I am looking for what’s in me – distorting the shapes around me and heightening my sensitivity to things that trigger reactions in me.

After approaching photography this way for a few years, I’ve found that I remember things only after I photograph them. I remember streets and directions to places by photos I’ve taken. I compress the memory of important events into one particular image taken during the experience. I don’t remember people’s faces, only how their expressions made me feel. I have built and become reliant on an abstract mechanism that allows me to capture the glimmers of something mysterious, yet it keeps from being connected to the pulse of life around me.

This is something I’ve been quietly thinking about and it has been bothering me. Is photography rewiring my brain, my memory? Is it slowly removing me from reality? As I grow as an artist, I am confronted by the fact that the photographer I am is based on the inability to accept, on the need to immortalize life as I see it and as I wish it to be. So I question, is this the nature of photography or photographer?

I will admit that using an M9 has streamlined the way I photograph and made the experience much more simple and intimate than before. A positive change in physical and mental space that assists me in feeling the beauty as well as seeing it. Do you ever feel as though being a photographer is a barrier to your experiences with the world and how has using a Leica changed this experience?

–Peter McCollough

Peter Earl McCollough was born in Billings, Montana, in 1982 and grew up in Davis, California. Shortly after turning 18, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps where he served from 2000-2004. After being honorably discharged he began studying photography in Sacramento. In 2008, after transferring to Ohio University, he received a Bachelor of Science in Visual Communication with an emphasis in Photojournalism.

He is currently a freelance photographer and aspiring cinematographer based in San Francisco. In his off time he likes to paint, especially watercolors, and work on his street photography. More photos can be seen on his website: http://www.petermccollough.com/.