Can you always press the shutter?

Marie Smith, current The OGC mentorship winner, tells us about the story behind a picture, from her series 28/09/2017, which she made while on a trip to Berlin where she had gone to find time to reflect on the anniversary of her mother's death.


This photo doesn’t truly reflect how I was feeling at time but I’m always drawn to the light as it radiates optimism. At the time, I was depressed, physically exhausted and desperate for a bit of quiet. I didn’t get much of that. I had been up since 5am and felt sweaty and unprepared for the warm autumnal glow that greeted me when I arrived in Berlin.

Climbing up the stairs to the top flat was the last thing that I was prepared for, but the architecture and light felt very welcoming as I came across this silhouette on the second to last staircase to my friend’s flat. I was immediately drawn to the precise, constructed silhouette. My brain went into overdrive and the impulse to capture this composition felt instinctive, but my body was too detached to engage with the concept of taking an image and, besides, my camera was buried in the depth of my bag.

I had brought with me a very simple point and shoot camera, a Minolta Riva, which I got from a charity shop in Clapham. It was basic, but this basic camera had taught me a lot about the cognitive structures of my brain and about myself as a photographer. My instincts had been crafted with this camera and I trusted that everything that I shot on it would come out okay.

The next day, I went past this same composition again. I was glad that I was being given another opportunity to capture this image, but I still didn’t feel the frantic need to take the photo. I became hesitant and felt that maybe I should leave it alone, enjoy the composition for what it was and keep the moment private, after all, I was on holiday!

On the day before I was due to leave, I was sat in my friend’s kitchen watching her potter around the house - she had a new housemate moving in and I’d been left to my own devices. I was feeling awkward and slightly anxious in the flat, so I went outside as I had nowhere to else to go, to be honest. The silhouette appeared on the stairs again, the warmth felt comforting and the silence was much needed. The combination of the light and silence made me feel less anxious, and that I had found a space that I could call my own.

I went back inside the flat, found my camera and came down the stairs to take the photo. I took one shot. I didn’t think it was necessary to make any more. When I pressed the shutter and heard the noise of the film winding to the next frame, I felt a sense of closure and I was able to enjoy the light on the stairs.

I didn’t feel any less depressed as I was still knackered, but in that moment, I was able to focus on the activity of taking a photograph. I’ve always found that photography can remove me from my consciousness. It is temporary, but the action of taking a photo, especially on film, cognitively effects my engagement with my environment. The shift is not only mental, sometimes I feel a physical release of tension, it’s a strange sensation to try and define.

When I got the film developed, I was pleased that the photo had come out so well. It was clear and crisp and the contrast was sharp. It’s a beautiful photo and it’s funny to go back to it now as I was feeling so bleak. On reflection though, I did get some relief. This photo has no negative connotations for me.

Words and images by Marie Smith.

You can find Marie Smith on Instagram here

Find more of her series 28-09-2017 here