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Being both a photographer (documentary/street) and a writer (stand-up comedy/screenplays), I came to the realization that there is a correlation between the two. Because both require something of me. See, I carry a Leica and notebook everywhere I go.

When my parents took photographs when I was growing up, they took them out at Christmas, at the Jersey Shore, at backyard birthday parties. Maybe they pulled out a Kodak Hawkeye or Retina IIIc, then they put the camera away until the next big occasion.

The photofinishers famously said, “Many rolls were snow, sand, snow!”

That’s one way to use a camera–bring it out when you expect to see something “photo-worthy”, though in this phone-crazed world, that’s everything and all the time. I don’t mean shooting your lunch. So, disregarding how most people use phone cameras–more as diaries like where they parked their car, or a pic of a receipt–typically folks use cameras for special occasions.

But I have one in my pocket (IIIf fits nicely with its collapsible lens in my front jeans pocket), or over my shoulder (typically an M2, M6 or M9) all the time. Friends and family wouldn’t recognize me without one.

The difference is I’m not looking for a special occasion. I’m not taking it out to photograph.

My friends might bring a DSLR to a backyard party, but would not usually bother to take photos at Tuesday night dinner. I have my camera at Tuesday’s dinner and every dinner every evening.

Same with my notebook. For when an idea strikes, I can write it down before I forget it. That’s so important. But I think something else is happening when I carry these items. kennethwajda2-1-44Almost like luring the muse, asking for inspiration to find me.

The Leica and the notebook are attractors. Like magnets to metal. They bring the photographs and writing ideas to me.

If I were to leave without a notebook, my subconscious doesn’t have to be on the lookout for ideas. It knows I have no way to record them. But if the notebook is in my pocket, the ideas come. I don’t know how they do, but they do.

If I were to go out without a camera, I don’t have to look for possible photographs. Even peripherally. At the most, all I’ll see are the ones I would have missed, so better to discount everything before really taking a good look, not to get disappointed in not being ready to take the shot.

So, for me, the object, the camera and the notebook are much more than devices for photography and writing. They’re an agreement for my creative, my subconscious, to be watching and listening, because I’m ready and open to their input, their awareness.

I don’t go out to take photographs. Or to write.

But I do. Both.

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A zucchini race at the Boulder Creek Fest, Leica M3, Ilford HP5.

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The obvious winners of the zucchini race at the Boulder Creek Fest, Leica M3, Ilford HP5.

What’s the difference between these two photos? I see a lot of photographers who are enamored with photos of older vehicles, but who never photograph the cars of today, which as I see it, will someday be the older vehicles they’ll wish they had photos of back when then were new.

But they don’t see it. And they miss it.

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A classic old Cadillac in Longmont Colorado–cool!

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A modern car in Longmont Colorado–boring!

But the cars of today will take on that look one day, only they will be long gone, replaced by the newest, latest model that also at that time won’t be seen as photo-worthy.

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Car photo by William Eggleston

Car photo by William Eggleston

William Eggleston wasn’t photographing old cars, but simply the cars of the day. Was he looking for a way to make them a little bit better by adding elements? Yes. But he wasn’t seeking out cars from the 1920s-40s.

 

William Eggleston: 2¼ | PORT Magazine

Car photo by William Eggleston

There’s an added bonus of the matching colors in his shots, but the cars are the vehicles of the day. And he could see them for the art they are, and would be appreciated for in years to come.

You can see this is cool.

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A classic car in Longmont Colorado. Easy to see.

Can you imagine looking at this in the year 2080? It’ll look downright prehistoric.

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A modern car in Longmont Colorado. Can you see it?

What are we missing that we have the opportunity to photograph now, not just the classic rusty old cars and broken-down barns, but the modern things that it takes a visionary to see, a visionary like Mr. Eggleston.

Ok, I know there are gatekeepers to the creative world, the gallery curator, the magazine editor, etc. but I have a real problem with any award being given out for who can generate the most votes for their work. Any kind of work.

Years ago, I was at a film festival and the “audience award” went to whichever film had the most likes on Facebook. That’s not an award, that’s a popularity contest and a film festival farming for likes.

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It might feel like a win, but it’s not. It’s a sign of who spends the most time online, who sends out the most notices, and who has the biggest following of people with time to follow their directions and vote for them.

It’s the biggest “lose” in my book. If you win one of these, I can’t give you kudos for your creativity. Marketing, perhaps, but do you want to be a marketer or a photographer?

Just make great art, and put it in the public forum.

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Reach for the stars! Go high!

Take it to art buyers and learn from portfolio reviews. Be the one in control of your own work, not the one with the ability to generate likes.

“So, Kenneth, how do I do that?”

Good question. Follow Lenscratch. Read about their photographers. Schedule one of their portfolio reviews and when you’re ready, submit your project according to their guidelines. Be a professional, an artist with ambition, but in control of your career, not a “like” master.

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And say no to contests that work with Likes. That’s not art. That’s not anything to be proud of, it’s social marketing and the platforms are the real winners.

I saw an excellent documentary at the Boulder Int’l Film Festival Saturday afternoon on Life Magazine Photographer Henri Dauman, who photographed so many legends, celebrities and statesmen, including Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, Dennis Hopper, JFK and Jackie Kennedy, Elvis, and countless others. It’s titled “Henri Dauman: Looking Up”, and if you can, see it, it’s good.

Of course I brought a Rolleiflex with me to the screening at the Boulder Theater since Henri started with that camera in the 1950s, and since he was scheduled to be there, I figured I’d use it to make a portrait of him. But as it turned out, at the last minute he had a conflict and couldn’t be there.

Well, after the screening, the producer, Nicole, who’s also his granddaughter, was there and she said she had noticed my Rolleiflex. I said I brought it to photograph Henri. She said, “Take my portrait and send it to him. He’ll love that.” I said ok.

So, I photographed her with the Rolleiflex outside the theater, developed the film and hand-printed the portrait of her in my darkroom, and now I’m sending her portrait to Henri, this master photographer.

I am very honored to be able to offer it to him and have it in his home gallery. And I like the connection the camera had to Henri and how it brought her to me to make the portrait.

As much as I love her portrait, it’s for her and him that I made it, so I’m sending it to them in print form and they can choose whether to share it.

Here’s a photo of Henri with Brigitte Bardot from 1962.

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Check out the interview I did with ASMP. Honored to be in such good company of photographers.

Some things you do for money
To make a living, to eat, to keep the lights on.
Some things you do for the art of it.
Not everything has to be monetized.
That’s why I make portraits of folks 70+ on Mondays
In my Longmont photo studio at no cost.
Because I can.
Because it’s important.
Because I believe if I share what I’m doing
And why I’m doing it,
Perhaps you also will see the importance.
Maybe you’ll hit the like button.
Even better, maybe you’ll actually contact me.
You might even get some other photographer
To make the portrait.
That’s fine.
Just so long as it gets made.
Either way, wonderful faces live on,
In beautiful portraits.
Printed photos that matter.
Because they matter.
And great-grandchildren will be glad I made them.
The Wise Photo Project is what I call it.
Because preserving family history,
That is the wise thing to do.
 
The photographs that we look back at from the 1960s, 1970s and other past decades, most people didn’t think much of those photos when they were being made. When present day is right in front of us, it’s difficult to see the reason to document it. It’s almost like we’re BLIND to it. “Nothing to see here,” because we see it all day long. But then it’s gone, and we can’t go back and photograph it or the people that matter, because that time and those people are gone, too.
 
So, what are we doing? Photography used to be a way to preserve family history in photographs and albums. It served a long-term purpose.
 
Now it’s a way to share a glimpse for a split-second. It’s up to us to make those split-seconds last longer than that if we expect to be able to go back to the early 2000s, the 2010s and 2020s and relive our history. To travel back to those memories.
 
Print a photo or two. Because no one is going to fire up the hard drive in fifty years to see our work.
 
Make a photograph for your great-great-granddaughter or great grandson.
 
I repeat this often because people tell me that they’re printing after being reminded. So, this is another reminder.
 
Photograph the people and things that you love and print those photographs. Cost is low, value is tremendous.

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And to all my photographer friends: Here’s to Good Light!

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