The above photograph is blurry. The angle is wrong. The composition is off. The colours are stale. In a word, this is a “bad” photograph.
But you try telling that to 12 year-old me.
In 1996, I was in Grade 6, an important year of my life. It was the final year of elementary school. As a way of showing the Grade 6 grads a good send-off, we were sent off to Camp Edphy for a few days. Amid my various camping clothes, toiletries, and miscellany, were several disposable cameras. At that age, I was consistently haranguing my poor mother for film. It was usually wasted on bad sunset photos and blurry pictures of my dog.
These disposable cameras held promise for me. I would capture all my exciting camp adventures on them and maybe a few scenic images – photographs I would treasure! Photographs I would admire! Photographs I would affix to my door at home using copious amounts of blue sticky-tac.
While on a biking tour of Camp Edphy’s surrounding countryside, we stopped by a lake shore and looked out across the water. It was a cloudy day and there was a strong wind. As I stood there ready to take a picture of the lake, a little yellow butterfly fluttered past, landing on the sand to take refuge from the wind. I tiptoed up, wound the plastic wheel on the back of my camera and snapped a shot of the resting butterfly.
When the prints came back from the lab, I was overjoyed with this photograph. I was sad that it was a little blurry, but I didn’t mind enough to dismiss the picture. In fact, I liked it so much, I declared it “art” by signing the back of the print – because that’s what artists do.
When I took this photograph in 1996, I thought it was one of the best things I had ever done with my life. Looking at the whole of what photography has brought me, I guess I wasn’t wrong.
Thousands of photographs later and many, many legitimate pieces of art produced and sold, I can safely say that butterfly photograph was not art – but it was a footstep in the right direction. It was an attempted to create something beautiful and it meant the world to a 12 year-old girl.
In the end, that photograph launched a career.