Making a Photographic Difference

Legacies. Making a mark on the world. The reason for being here. The point.

What’s yours?

Mine’s obvious to me. Like Eugene Atget’s goal of documenting old Paris before it changed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which he knew was his life’s goal, even if no one else knew about it while he was doing the work–shooting large format photographs for his collection–he knew.

Similarly I know my work is to document life as it is in America today, both through my Street Photography and my Roy Stryker photo projects, and to document as many wise elders as I can for future generations with The Wise Photo Project, which by the way has tripled in size with two additional photographers joining me in making seniors’ portraits: Mark Smith in Denver, Colorado and Jeff Botts in Lexington Kentucky.

I don’t see my street photographs as arbitrary and being made for decoration or Instagram “likes”, but as necessary documentary work as important and influential as Garry Winogrand’s and Joel Meyerowitz’s photographs in the 1970s. That’s how serious I take it and how hard I work to make it. As I build more gallery shows and eventually museum shows, I hope the work is collected in similar ways as these photographers who preceded me. That one day, Howard Greenberg will be featuring my work on his wonderful gallery walls.

This isn’t a photo made for “likes”, but one that documents street life, both good days and bad.

The Wise Photo Project is just an incredible undertaking that, as it takes on more energy, I truly believe we (the other photographers and myself) are changing the world of those future generations who will have large portraits of their distant ancestors. I print some of my “Wise” portraits 12×18″. These are incredible portraits of people, living in the homes where they’re displayed. Not tucked in a shoe box, or placed in a folder, but a part of the room.

They’re not insignificant department store studio pictures made on the cheap and thought of as valueless by the family, but true artworks of these people, portraits that capture their personality. The black and white adds an artistic quality. The well-matted and framed large prints bring significance to the work.

This isn’t an insignificant throwaway photo, but a document of the life of a couple that’s priceless to one family.

Like Atget, making the work is all I can do. And continuing to make it. Creating a legacy not by working on making a body of work, but by making one photograph today. All I can make is one photograph at a time. That’s all any of us can make. But one can be made. One is doable. One today.

Multiply that one today by a lifetime, and I’ve created a strong body of work. A reason for living. The point for me.

I have to laugh when Instagram tries to get me to promote a photograph, because some post is doing some percentage better than my other photographs. They don’t know me very well as that’s never going to happen. I’ve never posted photographs based on what I think viewers will like, but only what I’ve made lately for my projects. I’ve never cared about my follower count. Working for “likes” and how much that model must have influenced photographers’ work is something I think is probably detrimental to what work has been produced.

We have to make our life’s work. Regardless of who likes it. No one can make art or see the world like we can. The world doesn’t need us to be a copy of someone else, they need, us, our unique vision.

A few years ago, someone posted on my street photography gallery that they found all my work poor and that they didn’t like any of it. I was glad to hear they have a strong point of view about what they like, and told them so. I said I appreciate not everyone is going to like everything I make. And I wished them well finding other work that was more to their liking. And added, “But I like it, and that’s why I put it out.”

But if I were to change my style or interest based on someone’s comments, or hearts or like-counts, I can’t think of anything less inspiring for working artists. To always be chasing the “hit”. To work tailored to the audience. If you’re in the art business or movie business, then sure, make what’s most sell-able, sunsets and action flicks, grizzly bear photographs and romantic comedies. But if you’re working as an artist for yourself, as I do to document my world, show the moments in public that I find interesting, and savor those faces that I find truly wonderful, there’s only the audience of one that needs to be satisfied–myself.

I feel fortunate that in a world where photography has been reduced to a four-inch pocketable screen, and most photography is seen for a split second at best, I am keeping photographic printing alive, promoting the importance of printing the images you would like to last, and making a difference in the way photographs are made and seen. Maybe not by millions of people, but by some, as they do make some prints.

Some things just last, once we assign value to it, like this timepiece from the late 1800s. And photographic prints.

All I can do is try to impress upon people one at a time. One today.

It adds up over a lifetime.

I’ve met many people who wanted to get rid of their old film camera, that I suggested keep it and load one roll of black and white 36-exposure film in, and shoot one frame a month, on the first of the month, just for fun. I explain the roll will last three years after which they will have a time capsule of photographs that they took care to make and then forgot about. (That’s the beauty of film photography, the non-immediacy of it, the ability to relive a memory of a moment unseen on the day it was created). Three years later, how much fun will that be to see those photographs?

Now those people are using their camera once a month. That’s huge. That’s part of my legacy.

Mention it to one person. One at a time. One today.

The hardest part for most creatives is fighting The War of Art which is a wonderful book by Richard Pressfield which describes the recurring inability to get started. The big mistake is to think that the inspiration comes after you are at the canvas. The truth is ideas come when you are at the canvas.

Inspiration, the Muse, exists, but she has to find you working!

So, I go out everyday “looking for a picture”. My partner MaryLee knows when I go out, I don’t always or even usually have a destination. I’m out looking. Back in my newspaper days (as a staff photographer for a large NJ daily), I was often sent out looking for a roamer–a photograph of someone doing something interesting for the front page to put a weather report under. I, and the other photographers, “roamed around” looking for something newsworthy.

I still do that. Every day. I can’t think of a day in the last 30 years that I didn’t make a photograph. If I’m nothing else, I’m prolific. Last summer during the first months of the pandemic, I worked on numerous photo projects including this one making four 4×5 photographs a day. Whether the work will stand the test of times, that’s for time to tell. I have no control over that. But for now, I do the work. Today and everyday.

One at a time. One today.

It falls into different categories. Photography. And writing, like this blog. And talking to other photographers. And sharing stories. And offering encouragement. And showing photographs in gallery shows. And creating a gathering place for local photographers. And making videos about photography. And producing a daily photography podcast. This isn’t a something I can choose not to do. It’s passion for the art that keeps me going. The wonder of “What will I find today?”. If I don’t go out, I won’t know what I missed. A person could spend their whole life never missing those photographs.

And there wouldn’t be this.

A motel pool photo that in 50 years may look nothing like it does today. But it will only be seen if I make it.

This is what I do. Photography defines me. Photography is my life.

What do you like to do?

Your answer is more in your response to this question: What DO you do?

Want to support my shows? You can, just visit this link at Paypal, or go to SupportKenneth.com to add your monthly contribution to keep the lights on!

Check out my YouTube Channel of Photography Talks: my 6×6 Portraits Blog (you’re here) and my Daily Photography Podcast. Thanks!

2 thoughts on “Making a Photographic Difference

Add yours

  1. I like to photograph the built environment along the roadways, especially historic roadways. I’ve been doing it for long enough that things are changing and my photos show things as they used to be. I want to record those memories so they are not forgotten. I will be pleased after I die, if I can be pleased when I’m dead, if people find my work and are excited to see places as they were.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you’re documenting a changing landscape. That often isn’t valued until it’s gone. I photographed a Colorado town, every business and restaurant, when I first moved there, and made a tourist website. After 4-5 years, it wasn’t getting much use so I pulled it. Then 10 years later, I came across the folder with the business photos, and posted them to facebook and people went crazy for them, they brought back so many memories. It wasn’t the photography per se, but rather the moments they were remembering. Similar to when I was in a cover rock band, I always said, “They’re not coming to watch us as musicians, they’re coming to relive these old songs and their memories with them, and dance and have fun”. Thanks for your comment, Jim. Glad you are making that photography collection.

      Liked by 1 person

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