Archive for the ‘fine art photography’ Category

Unless they can see the difference.

Many people cannot see the difference.

So, many people don’t care what camera you use.

The camera doesn’t define you, or make your work.  You do!

You define your work.  Here’s proof.  This photographer shot 100 different cameras, and yet the work all looks similar.  Because it’s not the camera.  It’s the vision.  It’s the person behind the camera.

Photographers tell us as much about themselves as they do the subject they are showing.  For essentially they are saying, “This is what I photographed, this is what I made.  This is what I like, what I value.”

Look at the photos, ideally on a big monitor and hit full screen at lower right.  It’s such a great display.

When I show my street photographs, they are a reflection of what I see and think are storytelling images.  To you, they may mean something entirely different or nothing at all, based on your life experiences, what you like and what you relate with.

We all get to finish the art for ourselves.

At a talk about a book, someone commented to the author their take on what the book meant to them, and the author corrected them, saying that’s not correct.  The person commenting protested, “Who are you to say what it means just because you wrote it?”

Another good collection of photographs is by Jason Lee, who I recently found out about online.  I knew him as an actor from My Name is Earl, but not as a photographer.  He shoots several types of film, from 35mm up to large Polaroids.

 

From the work I see, I’d suggest he’s a romantic, into nostalgia, and maybe a bit of a historian.  He likes things that are incongruous.  The work certainly has a theme.  Many of the images share a similar look–do you agree?

I see a big difference in the look of film versus the look of digital.  And I get lulled at times to just use the Nikon DSLR and a 20mm–I feel I can do anything with that, it’s quick and easy.  It’s always ready to make an image.

Except it can’t make film images.

And what I make–that also defines me.  And you.

This spring, I will be shooting more film than I have been this winter.  Both 120 and 4×5. Because that’s what I like.  That’s something about me.  And you’ll be able to notice that about me in the work.

Or maybe you won’t.  But I will.  And some will.   Regardless, it all comes down to the story I’m telling–what is it I did with that film medium.  Photography is a vehicle to take someone somewhere.

We have to take them somewhere interesting, while revealing a bit about ourselves.

I have a secret.  I’m going to share it with just you.  Okay?

If you want to get inspired to make photographs (or to write, or to paint, etc.) there’s one trick that you must know.  One little trick that is so mind-blowingly amazing, it’ll change your creative life.

Once you know it, you’ll have the key to inspiration forever.  It’s something you cannot forget.  It’s simply unforgettable.  But it is truly the key.

So, this is the secret.  It’s a very elusive thing, something that most people don’t know, so don’t share it, unless you want to let them in on it like I’m doing for you.

Just you.

This is it.  Are you ready?  D’you have something to write with?  You might want to write this down.

It’s so simple, that must be the reason that so many creatives miss it.  It’s sooooo simple.

Here it is.  The secret.  Two words.  I’ll print them lightly, so as if to whisper them.  It is a secret after all, the secret you were seeking.

[Show up.]

That’s it.  Have a good day.  Now go to it.

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Wait, let me expound on that.  Give you a little about what I mean.

I was listening to an interview with Bob Dylan, and he was asked how he wrote some of his early famous songs, and he said he didn’t know, they just came to him.

They just came to him. 

But he had to be there.  Ready for them to come.  He showed up and was ready to receive the song and create it.  He was sitting at his typewriter and had his guitar or piano and he was in the process of working to write songs.  That was his sandbox and he was sitting in it, sand up to his knees.

Related imageThe photograph above is me working at my typewriter.  I write as well as make photographs and some writing I do on a typewriter, in this case, a very lovely Olivetti Lettera 32, which by the way Dylan also wrote with.  So, I wanted to make a photograph of me at the typewriter because I wanted to experiment with some new strobe lights and portable lighting setups.

To do it, I had to show up.

I had to assemble the lights.  Set up the light stands.  Power the lights.  I had to place them and set the exposure.  Get the camera on the tripod.  Once I had them all set up, the playground was there.  The sandbox was ready for me.  All I had to do was anything I wanted.  Now it was time to play.  So, I made several photographs.

I like the look.  The lighting.  That was a fun shoot, and it got me to see how much I could do with my own space, it gave me the chance to work with smaller lighting fixtures, and it was a creative outlet.  I usually use large AC-powered soft-boxes and this was a new tool, these small battery-powered strobes, in my lighting arsenal.

So, I can rephrase the secret: If you want to be inspired, go play.  Take your tools.  For a writer it can be a laptop, a typewriter or a pen and paper and go sit outside at a park under a tree, or a coffeeshop or a pub, wherever you can go to stay in the playground.  For a photographer, set up the lights where you are or grab the camera and go.

Whatever it takes.  The muse will deliver the inspiration when you have the game set up, but often not before.  She’s funny that way–she doesn’t always come around before we show up.  But once we’re there, get ready to write your own Blowin’ in the Wind.

We. Just. Have. To. Show. Up!

I get a lot more street photographs when I go to town and walk the pavement than when I sit at home thinking about what to shoot.  To shoot street, you have to go to the street.  A couple hours at a time.  Wear comfortable shoes.

There’s no such thing as “thinking about it”.  There’s nothing happening when we say we’re not quite ready, we’re still pondering the idea.  That does nothing.  We haven’t arrived to play.

So, there’s the secret.  Wanna write a song?  Grab a notebook and pencil and your instrument and start.  Show up, see what comes from it.

The inspiration comes after you arrive.  Not before.  You can go with no ideas, and they’ll come then.  When you’re ready.

Really.  Go with no ideas.  Go uninspired.  It’s fine.  Just go.

Wanna make photographs?  What do you need to get started?  Lighting?  Go pull out the stands and start setting them up.  As you are doing that, the ideas will come.  At first, try anything.  That something will lead to another thing.  That’s the muse at work!

Large format?  Go load the film holders and put them in your camera bag and warm up the car–you’re going shooting.  Go out and look for a subject.  Maybe the weather looks like it’s not perfect, so what, go anyway–maybe you’ll find it’s exactly right where you go, when you get there.  But you’ve gotta show up.

Now you know, that’s all you have to do.  So simple.  Just two words.  The muse is waiting to work with you.  The creativity happens when we’re in the playground.  Not before.  Not when we’re “thinking” about it, while feeling un-creative.  She arrives when we are ready to be creative.

She waits until we’re up to our knees in sand!  So, go.

Show up!  The muse is waiting.

I was recently at an gallery opening of photographs with the theme of portraiture.  And there were walls full of beautiful portraits in many different poses and situations in a well-lit gallery show.

Some natural, documentary style.  Some set up, posed, created.

The show was phenomenal.  A beautiful representation of many different styles of portraiture.

Silhouette of Person Sitting on Bench

BUT..   There were no street portraits.  So, if you made portraits on the street, submitted your work and weren’t accepted and took it personally, figuring your work wasn’t up to standards of the work that was accepted, you’re wrong.

The juror said that she had considered some street portraits but they didn’t fit in with the other portraits in the show, so she ended up excluding all of them.

Excluded “all of them”.  They didn’t fit in with the look of the show.  With the other portraits.  So, none of them were included.

Now, if you’re a photographer who sent in your fee and submitted your photograph, your portrait, you were disappointed as you weren’t accepted.  Figured it was just you who was left out.

But the truth is, you had no chance as it turns out.  The juror had decided on a different look. So, it wasn’t just your portrait, but all street portraits that were excluded.

You were 5’6″ and red-hair and never had a chance.

You had no way of knowing that.  (Just like if you don’t get an invite to a friend’s annual party, you think maybe you’re off the list.  You don’t consider maybe there isn’t a party this year.  Yes, we think it’s all about us.)

So, you received your rejection, you weren’t included in the show and you weren’t at the art gallery opening to hear about how no street portraits were included.  That yours never had a chance.

A different show, a different juror, different results.  Contests are subjective.  Don’t take it personally.  Believe in your work and keep making it.

As photographers, we’re storytellers.  We create images to show our world, our view, to other people.  It’s a fascinating art form, capturing moments of life and freezing them to have and study and remember.

Like any art or skill, the people who are at the top of their game and who are the best at it are the ones who do it a lot.

A lot.

That’s key.  When you love something, when you have a passion for creating, no one has to prompt you to create.  You can’t stop creating.  It’s not even work, it’s just living to you.

Doing something a lot makes you good at it.

You don’t have to prompt an Olympic gymnast or ice skater to practice for eight hours a day.  Things we say we want to do but never do, that’s telling.  That shows what we really want to do.

Writers write.  If you’re wondering if you are one, but never write, you’re not.

Musicians live for music.  They practice, they play, they go to get-togethers to play with other musicians.  They write music.  The live it.  If you’re wondering if you are one, but never practice, you’re not.

That’s the way I approach photography.  I have projects that I work on, and I see other photo opportunities in my comings and goings, and I always have a camera in hand.  It’s not a choice whether to bring a camera–it’s in my hand and I’m photographing what strikes me.  Capturing life’s little moments.  I’m a documentary photographer.

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A moment between friends, Odell Brewery, Denver CO, January 21, 2019

The camera helps me bring my attention to my world.  And it’s ready to go.  Always.

No case.  No cap.  Powered on, ready to shoot. 

Because making photos is what photographers do.

You, too, can be one.  But no one has to talk you into it.  It’s not about waiting for the right gear.  It’s not about, “Today’s not a good day for it.”  Every day is a good day for photography.  Any gear you have you can use.

What’s your project?  Where’s your camera?  What are you working on?  What is your next project?  What did you see today?  What did you create?

Photographers make photographs.

So, what do you do?  What do you find yourself doing a lot?

That’s what you are.

 

What is a photograph? An actual photograph?

What are those compared to phone notes?  (For surely, images made on a phone for instant sharing, while quick, aren’t photographs.)

Sarah Meister, curator in the photography department of the Museum of Modern Art, made this distinction and I quite agree with her–a digital image is one that exists, but is different from a photograph, which is physical.  A photograph can be held in the hands and displayed in a gallery or museum.  She said she seeks photographs for MOMA, not images.

So, what is a photographer?  Simple: One who makes photographs.

Who does that anymore?  Where are all these photographs that people are making?  I suspect they don’t exist.

So, then, neither are these folks photographers.  The world of digital imaging made a new platform for showing photos: the internet.  It is certainly a viable way to see a picture, but it is not a photograph.

It would be like calling a PDF file a book.  Or an email a birthday card.  They’re just not.  They’re something completely different.

Related imageI was looking at a book of photographs of Norma Jeane Baker (before she was Marilyn Monroe) made by Hungarian photographer Andre de Dienes starting in 1945, and the photographs are spectacular.  It appears he was using both 6x6cm and 4×5 view cameras.  The images are technically and aesthetically amazing (and I don’t use that word very often to describe things, as I find most things less than amazing and the word overused.  These are not.)

His photographs have been exhibited in gallery shows.  What has been exhibited?  Photographs.  Printed photographs displayed in frames that you can see and touch and hold.

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It’s what a photograph is.

Which got me thinking: What is a photographer nowadays?  In this high-tech, digital world.

For me, photography doesn’t stop at the making of the image on a recording medium–film or digital.  A negative that isn’t printed is not a photograph.  A slide is not a photograph–it’s a slide, of course.

And likewise, a phone image or even one made with a DSLR, isn’t a photograph unless it’s printed.

Which again, as far as my circle of friends and family, no one is doing.

EXCEPT…  Except the film photographers–because they know that they are working to make a negative in camera, and without a print, they don’t have a photograph.  They are expecting to take their negative to the next step, the positive print.

So, I would posit that only people using film to make photographs are photographers (assuming they print their work.)  And digital shooters could be photographers, if they print their images.

The rest?  Call them: 1) imagers, 2) digishooters, 3) capturers, 4) screeners, 5) phoners–I know, 6) pixelographers.

Just don’t call them photographers.  It’s the wrong word for what they do.

Why does this matter, what they’re called, or if it’s incorrect?  Why do we care if they’re mislabeled?  Because words matter.

It would be like interchanging the words chef and cook.  There’s a difference.

A person with a garden hose isn’t a firefighter.   So, a person with a camera isn’t a photographer.

I am a photographer.  Even when shooting digitally, I make photographs, including this gallery for a client, made up of images created at their events over the past 10 years.  It’s a physical gallery of nine framed photographs.

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Likewise, I delivered photographs of a senior portrait session to a client today.  I include photographic prints with all my packages because it’s important that photographs made today are printed and kept for future generations.

And I gift photographs all the time.  Small framed photographs of the people I meet and photograph.

Because photographs matter.  They are our history.

And words matter.  They are precise for a reason.  I am a photographer.  Not everyone is.

My work more resembles Andre de Dienes’  than the latest photoshopped, Instagram-filtered sensation of the week.  Andre was a photographer.

The other name, whatever we decide, is not a bad word.  It’s just the accurate description of what is going on today in the image-taking world–pixels captured, and images shared on screens.

Wim Wenders, a renowned photographer and filmmaker (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club, Paris Texas) recently made a similar point.  “The trouble with iPhone pictures is nobody sees them,” he said in a recent BBC interview. “Even the people who take them don’t look at them anymore, and they certainly don’t make prints.”

Wenders says that though he uses a phone to make record shots and selfies, “I’m in search of a new word for this new activity that looks so much like photography but isn’t photography anymore,” he said.

I can cook dinner.  I am not a chef.

Lots of people are making images, in record numbers today.  Call them: 1) imagers, 2) digishooters, 3) capturers, 4) screeners, 5) phoners, 6) pixelographers.

Just don’t call them photographers.

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.