If I were to choose a superpower it would be this: to capture photographs with my eyes.
To be able, with a blink, to adjust the aperture and shutter speed, the crop and the composition, and to record an image as magnificent as it is my imagination. I’ve missed too many wonderful photographs while fumbling in my camera bag to want for anything else.
Photojournalist Don McCullin, known for his war images, once said that the key to great photography is no huge mystery. “F8 and be there,” he’s often quoted as saying. Good advice – but when, as you’re switching lenses in a dark Fez alley that ends as an elaborate black arch framing a sun-lit terracotta wall, two burka’d woman step from the left into the perfect composition, being there is not enough. By the time the lens clicks in, that moment is lost.
It will always be pegged up in the darkroom of my mind, that image I didn’t capture: portrait format, a curved black border echoing, against a rich terracotta backdrop, two women flowing in black, one striding just far enough in front of the other to give both bodies shape, and with enough sunlight on their heads, backs and shoulders to give volume to their form. Since the moment those women stepped across that archway, I’ve wished that I could record and share images with the blink of my eyes.
When I travelled Morocco again last year, I had two camera kits: a Nikon, tripod and three lenses for the magazine story I was working on, and my iPhone. The two kits fulfilled completely different needs: the Nikon to capture super-high-res images for glossy pages, and the iPhone to record Morocco for me. As I wanted to remember it.
All through Morocco I shot with Hipstamatic. At first it was because I liked the treatment of the images, but the more I shot with it, the more I enjoyed the challenge of working within the app’s restrictions: a lens, film and camera body you choose before you shoot (unlike Instagram, where you choose an effect once the image has been taken); a square format (which I love); and no way to zoom (or maybe there is, but I haven’t figured it out yet). The challenge, with Hipstamatic, is to make the boundaries work for you.
Wandering through medinas, I’d switch my phone onto silent, hold it casually and literally shoot from the hip, capturing moments that would have been destroyed had anyone been aware that I was photographing. I wasn’t trying to sneak portraits without the subjects’ permission; I was simply clicking on the move, taking snapshots of time.
It was liberating shooting like this. Without the bulk of an SLR, the baggage of carrying lenses, and the awareness that lifting a camera brings, I was shooting with an incredible sense of freedom. And creativity. Within the hundreds of images from that trip, there are a few captured moments that, had I been able to photograph with the blink of my eyes, are recorded exactly as they would have been in my imagination. Sure, they’re not sharp and technically aren’t great at all. But they capture something special. Something I wanted to remember. And I wouldn’t change a thing.