Archive for the ‘portraiture’ Category

Photography is at a low point in its history. And it makes me sad. But first a little photography history lesson to see how we got here. (And hope for how we change it for the better.)

We’ve been at this photography thing for just about 193 years–the first photograph was made in 1826.  And while it had a slow start, it grew rapidly when Kodak introduced the pocket camera and the Brownie 75 years in around 1900.

And then it had tremendous growth in the first part of the 20th century.  Films got more sensitive to light, cameras got more portable and we were happily shooting holidays and vacations, often on the same roll of film.

You can see some of these photographs gathered.  They get published regularly on Old School Cool and The Way We Were.  Photos like this.

ya8rznax2xd31

Time marched on.  We got through the 1950s with the great rangefinder cameras like the Leicas and Yashicas. The 60s with the 126 Instamatics and 110 pocket cameras.

Then came the SLR, with the big Nikons and Canons among other interchangeable film cameras taking the family photos.  The amazing Canon AE-1 in the 1970s, advertised as the simplest camera you can own.  You or your parents may have had one.  They sold in the millions.

All along photographs were printed, dropped into photo albums or left in the envelope they came to us from the processor.  Stored in shoe boxes,  some hung on the walls of our homes along the staircase, each of our siblings taking a place in frames in a diagonal orientation.

Then the 80s and the point and shoots, the disc camera, the APS cameras and finally around 2000 the advent of digital cameras.

And then digital was in full swing, with the small point and shoots, 1.3 megapixel to start.  Gradually, they’ve grown to 50mp as DSLRS and APS-C bodies, then mirrorless and there’s nothing we can’t shoot with them. Some of the latest bodies even shoot over 60 photo frames per second.

And that’s precisely the problem.  We can do too much.  We can shoot too much.  And we do.  Then there’s the phone where we snap away at everything in front of us all day long because we can.

The quantity is the problem.  The quantity of photographs is the problem.  We’ve never been inundated with so many pictures like we are today.  It’s constant, it’s everywhere we go, at all times–concerts, theater shows, parties, dinners.  We can’t put the phone down.  The pictures just keep coming.

And then what?  Nothing.  No one goes back to them to look at them.  Sure, maybe we show one photo to someone, but what about the 60 per second, the dozens we shot today on the phone?  No one sees them

No one will ever see them.  Because no one cares.  Even we don’t care.  We shoot them because we can.  Because we think that’s what we do now.  We’ve been told that’s the way it is.

And that photo of our family like the one above from 70 years ago?  Never gets made, because who goes to a photographer anymore for a family photograph?  No one.  We have our phones.  We can shoot selfies.

That photo above doesn’t get made, period.  We will have made millions and billions of pictures, and none of that quality will last.  Because no one cares.

The young generation, they don’t care.  They don’t have photo albums.  They don’t care about photos for the future.

They have their phone now.  That’s it.

When it gets replaced, the photos are gone.  So what.

When it gets lost, the photos are gone.  So what.

When we take them, we don’t even care about them.  Nowhere is there a family sitting around their phones or computers looking at photos of Grandma.  There’s no one doing that.

Photographs don’t exist in present day.  Pictures depicting people and things exist temporarily until we forget and can’t be bothered to offload them and edit them down.  “What?  10,000 photos–I’ll just save them all.  Who has time to look through them all?”

We are in a dark time photographically.  We don’t value photography.  We don’t hire portrait photographers to document our families.  We don’t have photographs of our families and friends in our home.  We don’t live with photographs.

We live with our phone. The phone with thousands of photos we have no interest in sorting through, or looking at.

Ev-er.

How did we get here?  We were doing so well.

We got here because quantity is a good thing and a curse.  The fact that you can make thousands of photos a week doesn’t mean it’s best to make them.

We are in a photographic dark age.  The photos we are making now mean less than ever.  We will never see them, our children and grandchildren will never see them.

We may as well stop making them–it’s all pointless.  Unless we print a book of photos or make up an album of snaps at the end of the year, the photos are like vapor–here now and good for nothing tomorrow.  Because they’re gone.

No one cares. Too busy snapping.

Wouldn’t that time be better spent experiencing the thing we act like we’re photographing, since really we are doing nothing? While we are always on the phone and making the constant snaps, how much do we miss out on?

Technology has advanced so quickly, that we are at a low point in history photographically. And we need to change our culture and get to a place where we value photography again. And document who we are. And photograph our families and have professional photographs made. Value what we once had and now is lost.

We do it by printing one photo. Or having one professional family portrait made and putting it in a frame in our house.

We do it by putting a picture of grandma in a frame on our dresser. Portraits of the kids back in frames on the wall.

Print anything you want to last. It’s the only reason we can see those marvelous faces in the old photos–because they exist as photographs.

Not as digital files. Not buried in heaps of data and information, but a real photograph that we see as we cross the room–they’re here with us.

It’s what a photograph is. A printed picture.

If I get just one person to print a photograph by discussing this, that’s one great-grandchild that will get to see a photo from today that wouldn’t otherwise exist for them.

That’s why I press this issue. That’s who I’m writing this for, on their behalf.

I want us to change the culture to value photographs again. To preserve our family history in pictures. Real pictures. Real photographs.

As Seth Godin says, “People like us do things like this.” We value photography and family portraits as an important part of our history.

If you’re a person like me who values family history, join me and print a photograph. Print ten this year. Print a photo book of favorite snapshots. Just make something that will last for generations.

The great-grandchildren will be glad we did.

[As always, if you need help printing photographs, I am a professional who can help with prints and books. And I make family portraits–it’s the most important work I do. ~Kenneth]

You can share this post with this link: FamilyPhotoAlbums.net

 

 

Please take a look.  Comments are welcome.  It features my commercial portraiture and editorial work.  If you are an art director or a photo editor, or if you know of someone who is, I would appreciate a chance to say hello.  Thank you.

KennethWajdaPhotographer.com

LA Friends: I have a photograph in the Lucie Foundation Analogue Project with a gallery opening Thursday April 11, 6-9pm at ROW DTLA. It’d be great to see you there.
 
Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 10.41.56 AM

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:

l1

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. 

linda

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 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.

kenneth-wajda-34-10

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.

How could that possibly be a good thing, having your work rejected, you ask.  Well, let me tell you about myself.  I’ve both won awards as a photojournalist and haven’t won awards as a photographer.

Why is that?  Timing.  Placement.  What the curators want.

I have my brand of photography–documentary photography, photojournalistic storytelling, street life photography.  I believe in myself and know I have my own view.  It’s not copying anyone.  It’s uniquely me.

Knowing that, I pursue it and keep working at it.

And I get rejected all the time in contests and competitions.

So.  [Shrugs]

It means that my work isn’t what they’re looking for.  What are they looking for?  Maybe what they envision the art to look like.  Like it’s always looked like.  The regular kind.

Not straight, perhaps.  Little weird, maybe.  “That’d be cool for the show,” they might think.  “Like a cow wearing roller skates.  That’s way rad!”  If that’s what they want, I have nothing to offer them.

Animal With Sneakers

It doesn’t matter the reason.  Maybe they just didn’t like it.  What is their experience with photography, and what do they like?   Where is their history, what defines them?  What is their agenda for what they want their show to look like?

What is it about them liking it or not liking it that makes me okay with it?  To me, it’s not about the acceptance.  It’s about the placement.  I guess if my work isn’t accepted, it’s not right for them in this show.  My work wouldn’t have fit so it’s better to not be included.  And misfit.

They must have a different kind of work in mind.  Okay.  Do I stop doing what I do and change up to try and please them?  No, of course not.  That’s impossible.  We can only create our vision.  Our view.  And we must be true to it.   (Mine doesn’t include cows and roller skates!)

No one can create what we can the way we can.  That’s our vision, our brand.  We must work at building it.  And one day, when they are looking for something different, something unlike what they thought they wanted to find, but instead discovered something else, something you make, your work will be incredible to them.  And you’ll be included in their show.  And they’ll love it.

And they’ll wonder why you didn’t submit sooner.

But that’s not every show.  Every competition.  Every contest.

Every show isn’t ready for our vision.  But we don’t dare stray from our truth.  Our art.

magnum-kenneth-wajda-38

If you’re an actor and you go into a casting session for a role, and you’re 5’6″ tall and they want someone 5’9″, they have a preconceived notion of what they want and you will never get the part.  You can nail the audition, you can bring the casting director to tears, you still won’t get it, you never had a chance.  Because you don’t fit the size they want.

Same if you have red hair and they want a brunette.  You can’t play where you never had a chance to play.  But you can only be you, all 5’6″ and redheaded as you are.

What’s your work?  What do you believe in?  Make that.  Make only that.  Create your truth, your point of view.  You have something uniquely to say.

I see my work as a constant creation.  I add photo stories to the RoyStryker.com documentary photo project three times a week (sometimes with other photographers, and you can contribute, too.)  I create portraits on film.  I shoot street life photographs–these will be a huge hit in 30 years, because time makes them valuable!

Someday, my work will be featured.  My work will be chosen.  But not every time, not every contest.  Not today, as I just got a “We regret to inform you…” email.

Even when I won press awards back at the newspaper I worked at, I often said, “Change the judges and you get all different results.”  It’s true.  Plus, there were photographers who weren’t very good photojournalists who were often the award-winners.  It doesn’t always mean an award-winning photographer is necessarily a great photographer.  It even makes me question the value of my win–“Yeah, but you also like THAT?”

Competitions are about what fits what they want.  Where does your work fit?  Keep making it and they’ll find you.  Your work will get discovered, when they’re ready for it.

So, maybe we don’t fit today.  Maybe this show isn’t for us.  Ok, good to know.  Move on.  Keep working.

We’re making our vision.  They’ll come to see it one day.

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.

Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 6.50.52 PM

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!

Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 6.52.12 PM

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.