Archive for the ‘family’ Category

We are at a crossroads, now more than ever.  At first it was just digital technology as a new way to capture light and make a picture. We all embraced it because it was no cost, no worry, shoot shoot shoot and delete later, or don’t. (Because let’s face it, we don’t delete, we just get more hard drives or up our iCloud plan.) There, done!

Then we filled computers with images like there was no tomorrow.  Thousands of photos downloaded from our digital cameras.  DSLRs.  Point and shoots.  All kinds of cameras shooting more and more megapixels.  Win!

More is more.  More is good.

Then phones got really good at shooting and sending a pic, and even if the form factor wasn’t very good, and the photo wasn’t as good as a camera, ah well, so what, it was good enough, and it had the added perk that it fit in our pocket and we could be sent now.  No need to download to our computers. Score!

Sure, the phone manufacturers charged quite a bit for these, not to mention that computer or laptop upgrade, hard drive purchases and Photoshop software licenses, but we still felt like it was free. Yay!

And we became video producers at concerts, shooting and posting whole songs to whole shows so our friends could hear Elton sing, too. Because we can.  And look where we are. Too bad for the people behind us–we’re working here. Impressive!

More is more. More is good.

And then we got computers to compute.  Computational photography, we can make everything work, and everything perfect.  We can fake blur the background in ‘portrait’ mode, no need for a real photographer. It’s not like they do anything more than our phones–good thing Avedon isn’t working today, that chump would be out of a job.  Loser!

We can even fake videos and make it look like people saying things they never said.  We have technology.  We win again!

It used to be the news was a good source if information, but then we got the internet and things got a bit cloudy, lines were blurred.  News outlets and not-so-trustworthy news outlets  We have fake truths, alternative facts.  No one knows what to believe anymore.  Sucks!

So, this crossroads we’re at. Which way do we go, now?  Keep heading down the same road we’ve been on since we stopped shooting film and making actual photographs? You know, those paper representations of the pictures on our phones.

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The ones of grandma and grandpa that don’t need a computer to enjoy? The ones that are authentic, storytelling.  That aren’t digitally altered and perfected, but just…  Real!

We used to have fewer pics and we enjoyed them more.  Now we have more and, oh no…

More isn’t more.  More isn’t better.

We have become inundated with images that they don’t even matter.  They don’t matter! Who cares? It’s not like we look at them for more than a half-second anyway. Instagram double tap–scroll, scroll, scroll, double tap, scroll, scroll.  That’s what photography is now.  Lame!

Phones are note-takers, and notes don’t need to be saved.  Photographs used to be historical family documents, not anymore.  Now, it’s where we ate, where we parked, what we drank and never see them again.  Sucks!

Professionals don’t make our portraits anymore. We shoot everything ourselves, even for our businesses, since we’ve adopted a mentality that good enough is good enough.  Even if it’s not, it is.  Because it doesn’t cost us anything.  Cheap!

What will it take to hire a pro to photograph our family?  Maybe they do have something to offer that we can’t do ourselves.  But the lure of free is so strong.  Why pay for anything? We can put that money into more cloud storage and new phones.  Score!

We’re standing at the crossroads.  Which way we go will very seriously impact what photography is, what value it holds and purpose it serves.  It may be the biggest challenge in its history, what it will be for. Decisions!

I know which way I’m headed–I’m photographing my family and friends on film, printing their photographs and living with them on the shelves of my home.  Call me old school, I know where my photographs are and I get to see them for more than a swipe-second.  Dinorsaur!

Maybe, but maybe it’s the digital photos that that will go extinct.  Gone!

In the history of photography, now may be the most important time to be a photographer.  To document our world, our life, our family.

Because as a photographer, we are in a unique position.  For one thing, there’s a sense that there are more photographs being made now than ever.  That’s not true.  For one thing with more photographs being made, that means more photographs are being lost now than ever.

Think about the millions of people who lost family photographs today.  It’s true–it has to be millions, based on the number of lost phones full of photos and dead hard drives.

Those photos won’t be back. They’re just gone. And tomorrow it’ll happen to millions more.

That’s not our world. We are in a place that’s unique–we print our photos and that makes them last.  In a box under the bed or in a frame on the dresser, it doesn’t matter, they are real.  Physical photographs.

(And I would suggest that a photograph is a printed image, so if anyone is making images for a screen, they’re not even photographers, but something else–pixelographers.)

It’s difficult when you see a lot of something to imagine them being gone.  But where are the photos you made just 10 years ago?  Unless you printed them, they’re probably buried in some digital storage that’s not reachable.  That’s why what we are doing, and why we, are so important.

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Because 10 years turns to 20 years, then to 30 years.  And all these photographs are being lost. People aren’t doing the triple backup to offsite hard drives, it’s too time-consuming and difficult to do.  So, they’re doing nothing.  I have dozens of examples among my family and friends who don’t cloud backup, and haven’t unloaded to a hard drives because they don’t know how to.

You and I are the ones who are saving the family photographs.  One print at a time, we’re creating something that has the ability to last.

We may be long gone, and the future generations may never know it was us and our dedication that made these photographs, but ours will be the only photographs they see.

Our photographs are the only ones they will know us by.

So make up some good ones.  Our great-grandchildren will thank us.

Anyone who wants help, I can get your photographs printed for you.  Check out FamilyPhotoAlbums.net.

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I traveled across the U.S. last month to a photo shoot in Washington D.C. (drove so I could bring a full studio to the conference) and on the way back, I photographed my partners’ Mother and brother at breakfast during a stop in Cincinnati.

When I sent them the photographs, her Mother said…well, I’ll let you read what she said:

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Mirrors lie.  Every day.  All we’ve ever seen of ourselves is a misrepresentation–our hair is parted on the wrong side, we look exactly opposite how we really look. 

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Because it’s a mirror image.  Our face is flipped.

And so, our perception is that we look odd when we see ourselves in photos.  Ever notice our friends look okay, because we’re seeing them the way we always see them, but we always look wrong somehow?

Because the camera sees us right, not flipped.

It’s a simple thing to flip the image so that the person sees their photo as they’re used to seeing themselves.  To make it so they like their photo better.

But the bigger lie is that a face, as it ages, needs to be retouched.  Needs to be Photoshopped.  It doesn’t.

It goes for you and me–“You’re better as you are than you think.”

I just finished a big shoot for The Wise Photo Project, a national project where I photograph seniors at senior centers–the elderly wise ones, not the newly graduated.  I photographed over 60 people.  Beautifully aged faces and there’s not a wrinkle I would change.

A couple portrait from a 2017 photo shoot at a senior center in Boulder.

The photographs capture their amazing faces as they are.  They are truly beautiful as they are.

Tell yourself, you’re better as you are than you think.  You really are.

I went to my photo lab this week to pick up some black and white and color prints of my Dad and me sitting at a pub and restaurant on my last trip to Philly.  I always pick up small black and brown wood frames at yard sales and thrift stores whenever I find them to keep on hand, and these photos I framed and hung in my house to keep him close since we live 2000 miles apart.

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Then I did a Costco run for some groceries and there were all these people buying 5TB and 8TB hard drives, and signs for ‘backing up your photos’, which got me thinking, “What if the backup fails?”  Say you have everything saved in duplicate, but then tragedy strikes–twice!  Ok, triplicate–doesn’t that sort of guarantee you won’t lose the photos?  Well, perhaps.  But…

Do you actually have anything?  What is with all these hard drives?  Where are the photos?

The other hot items at Costco were a three-camera home security system, and a doorbell-cam, and I watched people spend hundreds of dollars to create surveillance for their homes and shook my head.

What are we doing?  Are we obsessed with all this surveillance?  Digital images that go nowhere.

New tech is enticing, but I don’t need technology to have a photo of my Dad and me in the house.  I don’t need terabytes of storage to make sure I don’t lose it.  It’s right there, on the wall.

It’s technology right out of the 19th century, and it still works to this day!

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As you may know, I’m a professional photographer and I photograph families and individuals and consider portraits the most important work I do.

But to get people to order a family portrait, or a portrait of their parents or grandparents, frankly, it’s difficult.  Only some of the more affluent folks choose to spend for the quality that I can create.  The rest, they figure they can shoot some with their phone, save the cash, then never bother to print anything.   Why spend on photography?  Why print?

So it’s a phone snap.  I guess after a while it’s ‘fire up the next hard drive, time for another backup’.

What are all these backups good for?

When is anyone ever going to use these backed-up files and print a photo?

Do families really gather around the computer to look at photos of Grandpa and Grandma?

I don’t think so.

Those phone snapshots are like film negatives that were made and never processed or if they were developed, never printed.  They’re a step toward a photo, but not a photo.

They’re essentially nothing.

Maybe just quit taking the snaps and backing them up–they’re useless.

I think about how many Americans there are, and how many households are full of these high-tech gadgets.

Hard drives–backups and backups of backups full of images never seen.

Surveillance systems tracking our homes like a police state.

Alexa and Google listening to our every move.

But people refusing to spend on an artist who can create a lasting portrait of a family member who may not be with them much longer.  Dismissing the importance of quality family portraits that are printed and displayed.

“I’ve got my phone.  Which reminds me, I need a new phone–I heard they have a new camera…”  What good is it?  You never make a photograph?

Family photographs are historical documents.  Printing your photographs is the one way to keep family members alive after they pass, and keep them in our homes, living with us, with printing that is done with a very old technology that is guaranteed to last.

Without the need for electricity or Siri to access.

It’s a real photograph.  It’s so simple, somehow people miss it.

Those were the words I heard from someone recently, in regard to having an idea that you’re passionate about, that people don’t seem to be responding to.  That it’s worthwhile to keep at it.  To grow it.  To find an audience, even if it’s a niche audience, because what you’re doing is eventually going to go.

I remember meeting one of the Zucker brothers (who produced the Airplane movies) when I was a New Jersey photojournalist at an event in Princeton, and when I told him I wanted to work in film, he said you can make it, but you just can’t quit.  Everyone who sticks with it makes it.  The problem is, very few do.  Most quit.  Actually almost all quit.  So, don’t quit.  His words of advice to making it in the crazy tough world of Hollywood.

I would say that’s true for all of the arts, and certainly anything that seems impossible to do.  It takes tenacity, and that’s not only a great gift, it’s a rare one.  Not because it’s difficult to keep at it, but more because it’s difficult to be so passionate about it that you want to keep at it.

I am a writer in addition to being a photographer.  I love to write.  I work at home in my office as a photographer, editor, and sometimes web guy.  I work alone.  When I get done work for the day, I love to go out to a pub and write.  That’s what I’m doing right now.  I’m at a place in my town called Pizza Bar 66, there’s a guitar singer/songwriter belting out some tunes, it feels like Thanksgiving is already here, and I’m writing.

My Father asks why I don’t take a night off.   I explain it’s not work for me.  I love to create.  I love to write.  To him, writing is a chore–there’s no passion for it.

For me, writing is creative.  Fun.  Exhilarating to have created something, whether it’s a scene for a movie, or a blog post like this.  It exists.  It didn’t before I got here and wouldn’t if I didn’t show up.  (Plus they have good craft IPA beer, and $4 cans all the time!)

I’ve often mentioned to friends who say they want to write but don’t, I’ve suggested maybe they don’t want to write.  Maybe they just like the idea of being a writer, but really don’t like to write.

Butt in chair.  That’s where writing happens.  Not walking around, thinking about writing.  Not staring out the window.  In front of a computer, or typewriter, if you’re old school.  (I can relate, I wrote the first draft of a novel this year on a typewriter, an Olympia SG1!)

It’s not a chore to do what you love to do.  In fact, I say if you want to do something, no one can stop you.  Because you will practice, or create, or study–nothing can stop the passionate!

That’s how it is for me and writing.  And photography.  You’ve heard me go on about how important family portraits are.  You can expect more, because that’s not just a marketing line, that’s what I believe.  Family photographs are my passion.  They’re historical photos for future generations, and they’re important to be made now, so family members know how important they are to us.

I have a portrait session with a family tomorrow.  That is the ultimate Thanksgiving gift–to care about creating lasting photographs when family is gathered.

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I sometimes wonder how much we are gaining as technology progresses.  Without printed photos, I doubt very many people are going to see Grandma’s photos on that folder on their K: drive where they backup all their photos.

It’s difficult to save a TV show or a video and display it in an art gallery since it’s a form that requires another device.  Which is why a photograph, printed and framed, can be displayed in a museum or gallery–it doesn’t need another thing to show it.

It just is.  It’s a piece of art.  It exists free of electricity and devices.

The beauty of photography is quality images of our family members, and how we get to keep them forever with us, even though they may not be here with us next Thanksgiving.

But on our walls, they will always live with us!  Create family portraits.  It’s the most important thing you can do for your family. (Because we don’t last forever!)

And if there’s something you’re passionate about, keep going.  You’re one step closer today.  And with constant forward motion, there’s no stopping you!

There’s a couple next to me at the bar where I’m sitting–I’m writing at Ted’s Montana Grill in Boulder.  The guy is eating his dinner in silence because his spouse is on her phone. Occasionally he picks his up, too, because he looks bored. But for the most part, he eats alone, one bite of his steak at a time. They are doing things as everyone else, and maintaining the status quo.  Nothing wrong with that, they are like everyone else, consumed by news of someone else rather than the one they’re with.

It reminds me of a podcast by Seth Godin I listened to today about marketing new ideas to people–people who would rather maintain the status quo.  Because people really don’t like change.  It could get better but it could also get worse.  Better to not choose, risk it, and just leave it alone.

So, the woman stares at her phone between bites of her burger.  And the guy eats alone.  Again, nothing wrong–it’s what everyone else is doing.

But jump forward to 2038.  Twenty years.  Then when they’re 20 years older and all that time has passed, will they be glad they spent those dinners in silence? Consumed by the news of the day, other people’s, perhaps friends, maybe just acquaintances.   Time keeps moving, and in this moment, it’s easy to see it as never-ending.  Plenty of time to waste.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
  ~Pink Floyd, “Time”

Seth Godin talks about sticking to your plan if you have a product or service you believe in, especially if it challenges the status quo.  He says we are in a different world, one where niche-marketing is the new paradigm.  And there are people who are willing to take that risk and try something new.  That’s our audience.

So, that’s where I am with my photography projects, like The Wise Photo Project, where I photograph older family members, often on film.  I’ve recently started offering the photo sessions and photographs for free at senior centers, because it is that impossible to get people to deviate from the status quo: “We never shoot family photos anymore, and nobody we know does, so oh well.  We have phone pics.”
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My Mother, printed and with me in my home.

But I see it differently.  We don’t live forever, and high-quality studio portraits aren’t just for celebrities and to illustrate magazine articles.  They’re family history.  They’re vitally important.  I live with photos of my Mother and Father in my house, on the wall next to me.  My Mother is no longer here, but it’s not a low-resolution phone snap on my computer that I get to have and live with to remember her, but a real portrait that I made, printed and framed–a real photograph.
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I photograph older people because they matter, they’re a big deal, and no one treats them like a big deal.  And no one else is photographing them, so if I don’t, the photographs won’t exist. Made on a 4″x5″ negative.  I brought a print to him for his family.

We have come so far and advanced so much technologically, and somehow art has become “convenience first,” which I don’t quite understand.  Quality can be sub-par, but if it’s easy, we seem to accept that.

I don’t.  Simple as that.
Who said art has to be easy, or that easy art is the best art?

Because Grandpa can look amazing if we add a little quality, and make his portrait with something better than the phone in our pockets.  And 20 years from now, when he’s long gone but we still have that beautiful portrait to remember him by, we will be glad we didn’t worry about maintaining the status quo.

It takes vision.  Just like it takes vision to put the phone down and talk to your spouse at dinner.

I was working last week on a photo shoot for a client in Philadelphia, and I traveled across the country so I could bring a full portrait studio, and also so I could stop in towns across the U.S. and make photographs for my Roy Stryker photo project.

In my travels, I met a couple in a town where I was staying and we were talking about photography and how people don’t make photographs now, just visual notes for likes and swipes.  I gave them my thoughts that it’s important to make family photos and print those photos.

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My brother, Anthony, on Polaroid 600 B&W Film

On this trip, besides my film Leica and my digital cameras–I was working after all–I carried a Polaroid 660 Autofocus camera and some black and white instant 600 film. That way I could make prints right away–immediately–and they’d be ready to display when I returned home. I photographed several members of my family and the couple were interested in seeing them, so I showed them to them.

The woman had a story for me–she told of her family growing up, and how the boys, her two brothers, got all the attention and accolades, and that the photos of herself that were up on the walls and in picture frames in the house, how they made her feel like she belonged, too, while in so many other ways she felt left out.

Photographs matter. Phone snaps aren’t photographs. They’re not really anything other than notes on a life. Glimpses that will never be seen for more than a few seconds, if that long.

So, you can put off making family photographs, but we all get older and we aren’t here forever.

And, like many people, you’ll end up having no artful family photographs.

Or, you could schedule a photo with a photographer.

But really, it can’t be with just anyone.  It has to be with me. Because it’s not the camera. It’s not the software.

There’s no magical camera that takes good photographs.

It’s the photographer.

And if it’s a photo made by anyone else, well, it’s not a Kenneth Wajda photograph.  Simple as that.

See, I’m not easily interchangeable with just any photographer. And, yes, you’ll pay a little more. But you’ll get way more than you paid for!  That’s my promise.  I’m a pro and I guarantee it.

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