Tag Archives: Lenswork

Process, Not Product

Black Trees Series 2, No. 1

The creation of art is the creation of failure.  These are not my words, I borrowed them from a podcast by Brooks Jensen at LensWork, with my apologies to the same for appropriating them for my blog.  Still, the sentiment behind these words has a certain universal applicability to it, and it is that sentiment that I would like to discuss a little bit here.  What person who has engaged in an artistic endeavor for a sustained period of time has not felt the sting of disappointment when the work just isn’t flowing well?

In the same podcast, Brooks related a story he himself had taken from the book of another on the topic of art (I forget the name of that book – if anyone can tell me, I’ll certainly add it here).  Briefly, a class of pottery students was divided into two, with one half being instructed over the course of the class to be concerned solely with producing one, perfect pot, and the other half being instructed over the course of the class to strive for making quality pots, but to be more concerned with producing simply many of them.  Who produced the better pot?

Perhaps counter-intuitively, it was the group that was focused on making many pots.  The practice of making pots over and over – of attempting, failing, learning, and trying again – ultimately pushed the second group up a learning curve that the first group didn’t have a chance to climb, because the first group simply was making fewer pots.  Stated differently, the process-focused group ultimately produced better work than the product-focused group.

There’s a lesson hereThe process is more important than the product.  If an artist is too focused on product, then the artistic pursuit is likely to be a slow, unproductive, and disappointing one, because after all, who among us always produces perfect work?  On the other hand, if an artist focuses on the process, then the work is likely to be engaging, satisfying, and ultimately better.  Moreover, a process-focused artist understands and is less deterred by the creation of failure, because failure is part of the process of making art.

The image in this post, “Black Trees Series 2, No. 1,” is the product of several failures.  Prior to creating this image, I had been working on several other images, trying approaches and techniques that ultimately were dead-ends.  While I’m certainly as susceptible to frustration and disappointment as anyone else, I honestly can say that I enjoy the process of photography and making images, and so I was able to keep working through my creative block by staying focused on the process, even though the product that I was producing in this period wasn’t very good.  The image here likely wouldn’t be what it is without having had the benefit of my many failed attempts at producing other images along the way.

And to anyone who may be struggling through a rough spell, I say remember to enjoy the process and don’t be too concerned about any individual product.  Art is supposed to be fun, and after all, we’re all only as good as the sum of our failures.

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In Defense of Photographic Opportunism

Snowy Spring Pastoral, Loveland, Colorado

What the heck is photographic opportunism?  Well, mostly it’s a couple of ten-dollar words to describe a two-dollar concept, but let me explain.

Many of the photographers I admire are advocates of working in groups of images on a single concept or theme – a series, a portfolio, or whatever.  Probably the one who comes most immediately to mind in this regard is Brooks Jensen of Lenswork magazine.  The whole premise of Lenswork, after all, exactly is to publish these kinds of series and portfolios.  It can be a little intimidating, when so much good work done by so many great artists is being presented in this kind of format.

I love a good portfolio of photography, I really do.

I might even aspire to start working this way myself one day.

But that’s not where I am right now.  I’m an opportunistic photographer, and I take my images where I can get them.

There’s a pragmatic component to my thinking here.  Portfolios really take a substantial investment of time and effort to complete.  While I am dedicated to pursuing photography and committed to making time to practice it, it’s not my whole life.  The reality is I have a full-time day job as well as several other competing interests and priorities to handle.  While photography is important to me, most of the time it has to fit into the bigger schedule of my life and be pursued on a time-available basis.  This does not lend itself to portfolio-making.

There’s a technical component here too.  My impression is that many portfolios are undertaken by very experienced photographers, perhaps as a challenge to themselves, or perhaps to generate excitement when making high-quality single images becomes routine or repetitive.  That’s not where my mindset is right now.  I still find a camera to be an intrinsically exciting way to interact with the world.  I enjoy having it with me as a way to visually experience and explore many different kinds of environments in many different expressive ways.  If photography is a learning curve, then I’m still on it, and being open to capturing different kinds of subject matter and making prints in different kinds of styles is an excellent way to develop your skills.

Finally, there’s a philosophical component at play as well.  I’ve heard it said that to make your mark as a photographer, you should become known for one style of image, one kind of subject matter, one approach to prints, etc.  I agree that being consistent in your output will make you known for that kind of work.  But I disagree that consistently generating the same kind of output is required to become known for your work.  Good work is good work.  Think of Picasso, probably one of the most widely recognized artists in history, and the great variety of styles and subject matter his work spanned over his career.

The image in this post, “Snowy Spring Pastoral,” embodies a lot of these themes.  It was very opportunistic, in the sense that we had a quick spring snowstorm here in Colorado last week.  I had no particular plan or objective other than getting out to capture some images of snow, which I don’t do very often.  It also definitely was a learning experience.  Working with wet equipment (kudos to the Canon 5D Mark ii, by the way), getting compositions and exposures right in a driving snow, all added up to expand old skills and develop new ones.  Finally, this image arguably also is a bit of a break from my other work.  The snowy subject matter lent itself to a more high-key treatment than I usually do, and my composition included a mix of the man-made (the fence, the telephone lines) and the natural (the tree, the snow) that I otherwise don’t tend towards as much with landscapes.

So am I troubled that I’m not producing portfolios of work on single subjects or themes?  Not at all, I’m an opportunistic photographer.  That’s just where I’m at right now.

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