Monthly Archives: August 2015

All Cool and Stuff

Moon, Cloud Banks, Evening Star

Moon, Cloud Banks, Evening Star
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

This summer, seems like every time I turned around, there was the moon, looking all cool and stuff.

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Look Longer

Architecture Study, Series 1, No. 9 (Julie Penrose Fountain)

Architecture Study, Series 1, No. 9 (Julie Penrose Fountain)
Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2014

Earlier today, I found myself looking at the website of one of my favorite photographers, Michael Kenna.  Several new images had been added, and as I was flipping through them on my smartphone (I know, not the best way to look at photography, but that’s a topic for another post), it occurred to me that I didn’t used to flip through images.  I used to spend more time, stopping to linger on ones that really caught my eye, moving past the initial impressions to study details, see relationships, and gain a deeper appreciation of the work.

So, I stopped flipping, and started looking.  I studied the details, looked for the relationships, and sought out a deeper appreciation of what I was looking at.  And in doing so, that deeper appreciation really did come.  I noticed nuances that were not apparent to me at first glance.  I asked myself questions and spun answers that led me in unexpected directions.  Briefly, I inhabited the small world that each of those images created.

If you enjoy looking at photography, you’re probably guilty of flipping through images too.  Maybe it’s just a byproduct of seeing so many things on computer displays and smartphone screens these days.  My thought for the day – look longer.  Just when you’re ready to flip to the next thing, stop yourself.  Spend a little more time with an image you like, after all, if it caught your eye in the first place, it probably has something worth spending time with.

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Not Fit For Public Consumption

Moon, Branches, Low Clouds

Moon, Branches, Low Clouds
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

I’m a regular listener of the podcast by Brooks Jensen over at Lenswork Daily, which always offers up interesting and thought-provoking episodes about the practice and appreciation of photography.  In the recent podcast titled “Just for Me,” he raised the notion that most photographers tend to produce at least some work that is purely personal, as opposed to that offered for public consumption.  He may have offered more than one reason for this – the one that sticks with me is the idea that photographers may hold back work that, for whatever reason, is thought to run the risk of not being well received by one’s audience.  The takeaway, as I understand it, is that this kind of thinking should be questioned, since the work produced that is personally meaningful to its creator also is likely to be the work invested with the highest degree of merit.

I agree with this point entirely, but what struck me the most is how much it missed the mark for me.  Personally, I make no distinction between personal work and work for public consumption, at least as near as I can tell.  My thinking is that if something is good enough for me, it’s good enough to share with the world.  Taking a different approach would be like drawing a line around some of my images and declaring them “not fit for public consumption.”  What I share with my images is more than just the photographs themselves, it’s basically a window into how I see the world.  To me, this is very much an “in for a penny, in for a pound” kind of proposition.  If I offer up one part of my work, there’s no reason I can see not to offer up it all.  Doing it any other way just wouldn’t make sense to me.

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Part-Timers

Triptych, Feathers No. 2

Triptych, Feathers No. 2

Awhile back, I was fortunate enough to have one of my images included in a gallery exhibition of photography.  I attended the opening reception and enjoyed the opportunity to mingle with the guests and some of the other photographers.  One detail from one conversation with one of the other photographers stands out, however.  We were chatting about the exhibition, and his first question to me was not about the nature of my work, or my approach to photography, or anything else of a substantive nature, but rather – “so, are you one of the part-timers?”

Naturally, I wanted to smack him.

Obviously, he was referencing the fact that some photographers make photography their full-time profession, while others pursue it in varying degrees of part-time basis.  In this exhibition, there were a number of photographers of both kinds represented (though all were juried in based on the merit of their work by an independent and impartial juror).  I am in the latter group – I have a full-time job unrelated to photography, and my practice of photography works around that.

The reason I wanted to smack him is because his question was a veiled insinuation that those who do not pursue photography on a full-time basis are inferior in some way to those who do.

Now, I have nothing but respect for those who pursue photography as full-time professionals.  It’s a very difficult way to make a living, and requires an above-average commitment of time and sacrifice to sustain.  Moreover, I’ve been acquainted with a number of full-time professionals who are simply lovely people, a pleasure to know both as photographers and human beings.

But then, those are the kinds of people who don’t sling around veiled insults at others.

The issue I have with photographers of the kind who asked me if I was a part-timer is that they carry around a sense of unjustified entitlement.  Naturally, they’ve committed a fair amount of time and resources to being a full-time professional.  The same can be said of those who get a degree in photography.

However, it’s a mistake to equate time invested in a pursuit with the achievement of excellent results in that pursuit.  Often, the two really are correlated – many who are practicing professionals or have formal degrees in photography do in fact produce excellent work.  But there also are many professional or credentialed photographers who produce nothing better than average work.  And the converse is true as well.  While many untrained and amateur photographers produce nothing better than average work, there are many untrained and amateur photographers who produce simply excellent work.

One of the great virtues of photography, and art in general, is that the measure of excellence is in the work alone, not in the path taken to get there.  Images should be judged on the basis of their merits, not on the backgrounds of their creators.  Art is a meritocracy, or at least it should be.  If you think the credentials of the person who made the work are more important than the qualities of the work itself, then you’re an elitist.  Prepare to be smacked.

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