Sunday, January 30, 2011

Too Much Is Not Enough

Sometimes there is no substitute for wretched excess. There is benefit in frantic intensity, in frenzied passion, in a lunatic lust for aesthetic endeavors. This is often the image of the quintessential genius, possessed by the muse, creating breakthroughs, crafting new paradigms, inspired by lightning bolts of inspiration. No time for quotidian concepts like food, sex, tidying up, answering emails, checking in on the world. Well, maybe sex… but nothing that doesn’t feed the beast.   

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Whose art is it anyway?

I’ve never made a living at photography although; from time to time the thought had crossed my mind to try to do just that. Quite a while ago, while attending photography school part-time in San Francisco, I investigated the possibilities; showing my portfolio, talking to prospective photographic employers, editors and art directors. I learned much about photography and the business of photography that was extremely useful. I learned that, typically, photographers start as assistants in an established enterprise, carting equipment and schlepping coffee, taking almost any assignment to get hired. In some ways it is a very exciting, fast paced way to learn the business and make a living. I also learned that assistants didn’t get paid very much and didn’t have any more time than I did to pursue their own projects. Indeed, many professional photographers didn’t have much time for “personal work” as they called it. They were too busy shooting what clients wanted, paying the bills and directing assistants to create their own work. During a job interview I asked one pro about his personal work. He admitted he had to “shoot a lot of refrigerators” in his studio to carve out a little time every month for his real passion, shooting landscapes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

At the time of these career investigations I was attending school part time to pursue my interest in making pictures, not to change careers. I was already making more than twice what a photo assistant could make running paper cutting machines in a union printing company. If I were to quit my “real” job to be a photo assistant I’d have to take a big pay cut, I’d still, more or less, be punching a clock, and still not have any more time to make my own photographs.  I decided I didn’t want to compromise. I wanted to pursue my own work on my own terms. I didn’t see the need to be in the photography “business” to do that. 

Doing something for a living is quite different from doing the same thing for oneself. Unless you drive the whole enterprise and call all the shots, if you make photographs for money, any money, you have to ask “whose art is it anyway?” Even if you have “creative control” on an assignment you’re still working for someone else.  It’s a rare photographer who can make their living following their own vision without compromise.

It’s a conundrum, an intricate and difficult problem for many artists: Art for money, art for making a living, or art for oneself? Today, I’ll occasionally sell a print or get an assignment but on the whole it’s never been my intention to photograph for others or sell pictures. It may sound a little selfish, but I photograph for me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Comfort, Audacity and Fear

"If your picture isn't good enough, you're not close enough."
 Robert Capa

Comfort is often a killer to creativity. If you're “comfortable” with your work you’re probably not pushing your limits. You're not learning, growing, developing, honing your edge. You may be getting very good shots but not necessarily the best you otherwise might get. If you really want to grow, as an artist and as a person you need to be uncomfortable, at least some of the time. You need to challenge yourself to be more audacious, take a risk, maybe even get a little reckless.  It’s hard to overcome the fear of getting closer, engaging your subject, taking the braver shot but the more you do it the easier it will get.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Feed your head"

Staying fresh and motivated is sometimes a challenge. It's easy to get comfortable and stale shooting the same things, in the same places in the same way. It's important think new thoughts, try new things, stimulate your creativity with new "inputs".

Talk to strangers. Seek out interesting people, people you may not normally engage with, people much older or younger than yourself, people in different disciplines, with different interests and motivations. Have different conversations with people you know. Ask different questions. Give different answers. Say what you think. Listen better.

Read, listen to music, look at images or make images you don't think you'd like, maybe even stuff you know you don't like.

Learn new software, techniques and tools for your art. Experiment and don't be afraid to make mistakes.

Explore. Travel far or near. Wander around in your city or town or neighborhood or house to parts you seldom or ever visit.

Commute on a regular route? Leave 20 minutes early and explore on the way. Find your road less traveled.

Turn off the TV.

keep a notbook or blog or photo jornal for you ideas and insprations whre you dont worry abot speling and; or puncuation or perfect images.

Exercise regularly. Get sweaty. Make your muscles sore. It brings more oxygen to your brain. You'll be dizzy with inspiration.

Don't say "I can't"

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Kodachrome is no more. Kodak stopped making the film and the chemistry a while ago. Many photographers had stockpiled film but are out of luck now if they haven't used it. Kodachrome was a complicated process using proprietary chemistry, not something you could mix up in the kitchen sink. The last Kodachrome processing machine was shut down last week and will be sold for scrap. For about 75 years this wonderful film was an industry standard, with processing labs worldwide. Introduced in the 1930's, there was nothing like it. True, it was slow and it was easy to overexpose but at a half stop underexposed the color was voluptuous and rich and beautiful. Almost nothing could take its place. Almost...

We'll miss our Kodachrome for a while but maybe not so much when we really think about what we can do today. Kodachrome was wonderful stuff but in this current digital age film in general has become a quaint anachronism, a relic of 19th and 20th century photographic technology. I'm sure it will have its fans for years to come and may even see a minor resurgence if somebody buys the rights to the technology from Kodak. There may be a niche market for it among fine art photographers like there is for platinum prints or wet plates and antique cameras. But Kodachrome is obsolete technology, as obsolete as other, one time, state of the art technologies like daguerreotypes, calotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, etc. It seems hard to believe that these ancient processes were once "state of the art". It seems harder to believe that in a few years we'll be saying the same thing about the current "state of the art".