Photography, I Hardly Knew You…

Photography, I Hardly Knew You…

“…you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you, don’t you, don’t you…”

Well, yeah.

You see the problem with that grand lyric was that obviously the song WAS about ‘him’. That mysterious beguiling playboy that Carly Simon sang about. I must admit I would always say, ‘well, yeah its about him… duhhhh’ when I heard it. Insipid pop music was the bane of my existence back then.

Simon may play the coy approach, but in the end we all knew it was her that was hurt, and trying to be passive aggressive in the take down of the cad who dumped her. Yeah, I read Oprah… I got that psychobabble shit down, don’t I?

(NOTE: This is a long post… and it rambles on a bit. Just warning you. If reading things over 200 words is a challenge, this is probably not the post for you. No problem, all’s good. Just a heads up.)

Why was she surprised by the protagonist in her little melodramatic ditty? He was as he always was… she couldn’t change him. Why bother trying.

I guess I feel a bit that way toward photography. A couple of instances these last few weeks have set me thinking about what I am doing, how I got here, and the most challenging question… where will I go from here.

No, not giving up photography or the teaching of it. I still love making photographs.

Although somethings have changed. And it is causing me to think and re-think what I call photography.

Rodney Smith, a photographer I so much admire, had a post at his blog that should have gotten a ton more interest than it did. Here is a quote:

On occasion if the subject being photographed is special, wonderful things can happen, but for the most part the use of artificial light and the seamless help the photographer hide behind a veneer of professionalism. But in this process nothing has been risked, nothing has been revealed and your mask is in tact, exposed only to those who care to look deeper.

 

And lastly, now comes Photoshop, which is changing photography from an interchange with life into a studio experience in one form or another. If you don’t like the background, change it. If you don’t like the expression, change it. Change everything. Change the colors, the light, the clothes, etc., until photography is on its merry mechanical way of being a form of illustration.

 

So photographers have slowly lost control under the guise of getting more. They have slowly given up the great gift of a meaningful and spiritual interchange with this glorious world, for consistency, ease, control, and most importantly a fear of failure.

 

All those appurtenances you have added to your toolbox so you would not fail have in fact failed you in the end. What has been lost is a way to succeed naturally. I am fearful some photographers have lost their way.

 

If you risk a great deal and you expose your hidden self by your experiences and your reaction to the world you encounter, you will be telling all those who care to look and listen the small truths that are hidden inside you.

You should indeed read the whole thing. It will make you think.

And I could care less if you agree with him – or me- or not. It is an exercise in thinking beyond the edges.

There was a time, when I entered photography, that the challenge of making an image was foremost a matter of skill and bravery and choices and difficulties to be met at every turn. The amount of time spent working with chemistry to perfect that incredible negative was profound. It wasn’t automatic, it wasn’t foolproof. It was fucking hard work.

I have on my shelves countless books in photographic technique: The Ansel Adams “Camera/Negative/Print” series, books on darkroom and film developing, books on alchemy and the magic of selenium toner when combined with hot Dektol… I could go on.

But what would be the point.

That entire shelf of books is worth entirely nothing now.

The information contained within is no longer viable, no longer of interest to anyone but a few.

Something indeed was lost.

And other things were found… you see with any closing of one door, another door gets bashed open by a wrecking ball and throws shards of glass all over the walls and floors, endangering all who linger in the mourning of the closed door.

“Photography” is about 140 years old. In the grand scheme of things it is a pretty young art form. There are no known photographs of Bach, or Michaelangelo, or Genghis Khan. The camera didn’t exist. The likenesses were created with pen and brush.

By highly skilled pen and brush image creating folks.

When the camera came about, you should have heard them scream. In fact, you can still hear luddite statists discussing whether photography is art or not. It is, so STFU.

Now we have entered the digital photography dimension or era or time… whatever. I have a prediction… it won’t last another 140 years. You can bet your Mayan calendar on that.

Change is growing exponentially… and what we are seeing now is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Photography, as I learned it, is practically no more.

Digital changed everything.

Hey, I’m not whining, I am pointing out that when the bar of entry changes, the output changes with it.

If every young girl in the world had her own thoroughbred horse, what would the world look like? Would ‘horse racing’ or ‘dressage’ still exist? If everything was as good as everything else, what would be the point?

In my own work I have come to quite a different place than I was even a few years ago. I now question the ‘legitimacy’ of every image I shoot. Does it need to be made? What will the making of that image mean to me? If I do not take the image what will be lost?

In the commercial part of my business the answers are self evident. I need to make this shot and do a great job at it because that is what I am hired to do, and what makes me a professional. Obviously there is a need for the photograph, and thank heaven they called me to fill that need.

But I am referring here to the personal work. The stuff that I seek out. The ‘real’ images that have always helped me see my place in the world.

I have been asked why I photograph and the answer has always been ‘because I must’. Not just because I want to. There has always been a deep need to fulfill the request from my mind for a singular image, a point in time that will never be again captured and saved. I still love it so.

However, the excitement that I felt when meeting challenges of ISO, light, negative development, printing and presenting my work is now different. Oh, it isn’t gone… but it is different.

Digital has removed so many choices that once were so important – wiped them clear off the table. I mean, they are simply gone.

When I would think of a photograph, I would first consider the format. This shot felt right for an 8×10, that one was gonna be on 35, and the one tomorrow was 6×7, no doubt in my mind about that. I had a wide variety of cameras and formats that all felt different in my hands. I didn’t photograph with my 4×5 as I did with my 35. Even the way the camera was interfaced with me was such a complete and radical difference.

Then the task of narrowing down the film choices… and processing choices… and print choices.

Each choice impacting all the other choices… ahhh… heady times.

Now photography is for the most part shot on the 35MM type of camera. No waist viewfinders, no gridded screens and built in tilt-shift. No bigass 8×10 chromes that jump off the light table and make you catch your breath for a split second.

I miss that.

But I do not despair in the here and now either.

Digital has made the love of the still image something everyone can be involved in. I think that is grand.

But it is different.

The “Photograph” capitol P, is now the rarity. Photographs have become ubiquitous and so widely disseminated that the taking of an image is in many cases an afterthought.

Jorge Colberg recently wrote on Conscientious:

Photographing an event one is looking at might just be a natural consequence of that compulsive looking. Of course, one is likely to share the images with friends or whoever else will look at them (as I did). Photographing results from a desire to communicate, and modern technology has made it possible for people to achieve that very effect usually instantaneously (this is one of the reasons why articles such as Jones’ are so misguided).

 

But I believe there is more. Often enough, the photographs we produce are not very good photographs. Mind you, I’m not talking about the idea of beauty here. I’m talking about simple image quality. Cell phone and digital point-and-shoot cameras are pretty good, but most photographs by bystanders are pretty bad. They might be blurry, or the camera might have trouble getting the exposure right, or the fact that digital cameras almost always have very wide-angle lenses results in the event being quite small in the photograph. Interestingly enough, reduced image quality usually means increased believability – if it looks too good, it might be fake (as if it were impossible to fake blurry images).

 

So there’s that then: We photograph almost as compulsively as we look when something is happening (even if it’s just the breakfast appearing under our noses), and since the photographs don’t look too perfect, that only means they’re more real. And we share, because that’s what photographs are made for (only very, very few photographs are made for the walls of galleries or rich collectors, or to give pleasure to art critics).

Pretty compelling reading, and I do hope you read the whole article. It will make you think. And thinking is our friend.

I look at the ways photography is being discussed on forums and around photographers of all levels and am struck by how little the images are involved in the dialog. There is a fascination with the tools and the presentation and the ‘cool’ factor that has little to nothing to do with why that image exists, why it was made, and to what end it will be left.

In the world of Instagram, those are not things we discuss.

My daughter (15) has a point and shoot camera with ‘all of her pictures on it’. I mentioned that I would take her card out and transfer the photographs to her computer so she could make more photographs. “You can print up the ones you like,” I told her.

She heard: “Imvo platigroassy imo uitvllvy…”

“Why would I make a print,” she asked?

“And why would I want the pictures on my computer? I want them on the camera so I can show them to my friends. And most of them are on Facebook already…”

Well, OK then.

I replaced the 4GB card with a 16GB card, moved her pictures over to the new card and got a great big hug… “thanks daddy”.

Photography has become an event, a sport, a past time much as the way of golf… wait, nothing is as boring as golf. (Yeah, now I will get hate mail from golfers who think this is about them…)

There are some photographers who think that Instagram is the devil, Flickr the ruination of all that is artistic and G+ as a place where photographers shout “look what I did, look what I did.”

Well, they may have a point about G+, but seriously… nothing could be further from the truth.

Photography, capital P Photography, is still here. It exists in digital, and it exists in those still using analog.

It has little to nothing to do with Instagram or 500PX or Yahoo or Facebook or Twitter or whatever. That is something new… a shared visual experience, a connecting device with little regard for exposure or ‘the rule of thirds bullshit’ or any of the things we bigP shooters are thinking about.

But maybe we should think about it a bit more.

Maybe we should think about where this is all going, cause I think in another ten years we may not recognize much of what we think Photography should be. (Yeah, there’s that ‘should’ word again… scary.)

How about this… maybe we damn well better start thinking about it. Digital changed a lot of things about our art, our business, our personal relationship to the image and more.

Much, much more.

We could go running around worrying and fretting and getting all angst ridden like this insufferable whimpering elitist

When did my photophobia begin? When I realised that I was buying into the same delusion of grandeur as everyone else. I have a decent camera and it can take lovely pictures. It has a close-up focus that can capture perfectly crisp images of a flower petal or a bee up close. So I think the moment it all went wrong was on a visit to Kew Gardens. There I was, having fun snapping water lilies, when I realised that about a hundred people were doing the same thing. Grannies, kids, babies, all with cameras and a sense of being artists. I am waiting for dogs and cats to get their own photo-sharing site for their genuinely beautiful snaps.

 

How can you fool yourself about this? For every wacky picture you take and upload, a million just as wacky are being taken. Dogs, flowers, fairy lights … each one as gorgeous as the next. On Instagram every passing moment has a pseudo-Baudelarian beauty. Random shots of ordinary things are touched up for instant allure. It is so easy with these technologies to believe you are Baudelaire’s “painter of modern life”, the ironic flâneur capturing the passing life of the modern world, or a latter-day Atget, but really you are the servant of a computerised eye. Instagram’s apparent claim of ownership of every image on its site would actually be a logical next step, for the reality is that no individuality exists in the creation of digital images.

Well, I hope not. There is so much bullshit in those two paragraphs that I could devote an entire week taking this apart. Dude… if you can’t find anything to make a photograph of, just STFU and go write poetry.

Instagram is not the enemy… complacency and ignorance are.

Photography is alive and well, and the fact that so many people love it is cause for celebration. Understanding that the world of our art is changing takes personal education and engagement.

It means we will have to find our way through uncharted territory… a place where cameras mounted on hats, full range cameras with no need to focus until after the image is taken, 3-dimensional captures to 3-dimensional prints, images that ‘speak’, blurred images that are recovered to perfect sharpness, and so much more.

So many new and exciting things coming soon… I wish I was 30 again to witness all these amazing things.

And adopting the new doesn’t mean tossing the old. I am shooting some tintype now on my beloved Deardorff 8×10.

And I look forward to shooting on my new Nikon V1 to be delivered today.

So photography, an art form of less than a century and a half is being changed and altered and manipulated and morphed right in front of our very eyes.

Are you on board? And if you are, where do you think we will be in a couple of years?

I cannot wait to find out.

Pogoplug: Now This is Useful AND Cool

Pogoplug: Now This is Useful AND Cool

I just set up my Pogoplug.

I plugged it in, turned it on, set it up and went to work

Took about 2 minutes. Tops.

Wait… you may not know what a Pogoplug is.

Now this thing is cool. Think of it as a network drive / personal cloud sort of thing. With a very cool set of tools that let you actually USE the thing. Keep your photographs on there securely, and pull them up as a slideshow from your iOS or Android. Keep your music on a drive and access it to play from any device. Share files with clients and family. Automatically backup your files or photos.

Amazing.

And they have an online cloud for additional, easy storage.

The device is very small, taking nearly no space at all. And that is a big deal for me. My router is in the living room and having too many devices taking up too much room can create wifely harrassment.

The device hooks into your router, and you hook a hard drive mechanism to the device in one of many ways. In fact, you can hook multiple devices up to the Pogoplug and have different ways to store and share files.

You can see the footprint here as well as the USB drive in position next to my router and Network Drive. These things make working away from home or office a far less painful experience.

You can use a 2.5″ HD, a USB HD, a Flash Card, or any kind of memory that can hook into a device. I chose a 500GB USB Drive that I had for backing up my music. It has lots of room left, so I hooked it into my Pogoplug and started moving files around. I first set it to automatically copy over my iPhone/iPad files and images so I don’t have to even think about it.

Cool.

I then downloaded the iPad/iPhone apps and logged in. Don’t worry, they are free. The files then began downloading to my Pogoplug. I can play my music from my devices, or my laptop, or use the Pogoplug for sharing files with clients that may be too large for email.

And… it worked right out of the box, right away. Simple, easy and totally simple application. (Well done, Pogoplug guys…)

I have a couple of extra Pogoplug units for you, the readers of this blog. I haven’t decided yet how we will give them away. I am sure some sort of contest will be forthcoming, so watch for it.

I am thrilled with this thing, and some of the cool things I have already identified some important business uses for it.

You can see more at their website, and they also have a cloud storage system for those who only want to use it online. The Pogoplug device is the tool for sharing, backing up, and more.

Watch for the contest coming next week. Win one of these things and have a blast with it.


OK, Now I’m Hungry… the Food Photography of Michele Drumm

OK, Now I’m Hungry… the Food Photography of Michele Drumm

Michele Drumm is a photographer in the Washington DC / Fredricksberg area of Virginia. Her work ranges from still life to environments, but one of her great loves is shooting food.

From meticulous studio shoots to on location editorial work, Michele brings a bit of whimsy and fun to each project she takes.

She has been a Project 52 member for two years and is now a Project 52 PRO, working on getting her book out and into the world.

We love her work and her commitment to making the image exactly as she sees it. Only problem is that every time I review her work, I gain a pound… heh.

Waygu Beef Burger

Highland Park Diner

Don

Blackened Shrimp Saute over Sweet Corn Pudding and Mache Salad

Turkey legs at the fair

Untitled | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Untitled | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Untitled | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

portabella mushroom

Untitled | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

You can see more of Michele’s work at her Flickr page. Just click on any image above and it will take you to her images.

Thanks for coming along today, but I gotta run off now. It’s lunch time!

Instagram… it is Not the Devil (or is it?)

Instagram… it is Not the Devil (or is it?)

Instagram was a tiny app that grew at an amazing rate. Hipstagram is another app that has grown faster than most, and Snapseed was just purchased by Google.

What does that mean? Is it, as one of the articles below suggests, the end of photography? Or is it a new, and very cool little tool that will grow into something amazing and a part of the arsenal of professional photographers.

I use all three, and really enjoy their quirky twist on the image. But there are detractors as well. I thought it would be interesting to see what others think about the photo sharing tool everyone loves – and some love to hate.

“I became very, very quickly addicted,” says Reid, who works primarily as a web designer. “It’s a fascinating phenomenon, unlike anything. Something like Twitter — that’s a community, but its not such a happy community, where people are all sharing their art and talking about it, like [Instagram].”

Thousands of people like Reid have used Instagram to meet other photographers experimenting with the medium, and even selling their photos on sites like Instaprints. Reid’s own “DCEmmy” Instagram account now has almost 5500 followers, and she has exhibited her work in mobile photography shows across the country.”

Read more at Huffington Post.

David Harry Stewart has a short little rant about Instagram.

I get asked all the time if I feel threatened by this new wave of iPhone bearing Instagramming photographers. Why would I possible feel that way? I think everyone, every single person on the planet should be Instagraming and we would all be better off.

This post at Forbes shows how far reaching the formerly little app has grown; “Google Challenges Facebook And Instagram With Snapseed Buy”

“One reason we can presume Google wants to integrate Nik’s technology into its social network: the acquisition was announced by the man behind Google+ himself, Vic Gundotra, on a Google+ post. “We want to help our users create photos they absolutely love, and in our experience Nik does this better than anyone,” he wrote.

The same post also talked about the growth of Google+ users, saying the network now had more than 400 million signups, with 100 million of them “monthly active users.”

At the Guardian, there is this; “Is Instagram ‘debasing photography’?”

“It’s not just Instagram – other software produces the same effects: Hipstamatic, Snapseed and of course the big boys: Gimp, Photoshop and Lightroom.

For me, these filters spoil pictures: they get in the way of the image and they distort the story the picture is telling. It jars to see a picture taken a few seconds ago, in the summer of 2012, that looks like a picture from my childhood (I’m a 60s baby).”

Over at Bloomberg Business there was this interesting article on pro photographers using Instagram.

“Following the acquisition of Instagram by Facebook, Businessweek.com asked several prominent photographers, editors, and other photography professionals about Instagram. For many of them, the simple app has changed the way they shoot and what they choose to share with the world. Here are their replies, in their own words.”

“8 PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM TOP INSTAGRAMMERS” has some gorgeous imagery and some good information.

“Rather than just snapping drunken shenanigans with pals, some Instagram users are creating mind-blowing pics with just a few taps on their iPhone. Want to know how some of the most popular users do it?”

So what is your take on Instagram?

Or for that matter, what is your take on Snapseed and the acquisition by Google?

For me it is simply a lot of fun, and a great way to amuse myself.

Cameras Are Tools. Vision is Photography.

Cameras Are Tools. Vision is Photography.

I love this article on communication, photography and the distractions of gear and platforms.

Photographer Jon Stanmeyer hits the nail smack on the head with this post on the distraction of the medium over the substance of the image itself.

“Now here is what’s key regarding Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and whatnot; Some of these images we publish, the text we write on various social media outlets, etc, they can be pieces of a far greater, even deeper, more richly layered project which has a commodity element behind it. These images can, for a lack of a better way of putting it, be glimpses, headlines, instant breaking information of a much larger project waiting to be presented. Like seeds, images can be sent out to one or millions, dropping seeds of information into the consciousness of others, nurturing a project to grow, both in marketing and funding. The final product, brought to the consciousness via meaningful bits and pieces, is the entity to be leveraged both as information to an event, as product or as a printed photo essay, as a commodity. This is, until the next leveraging aspect of social media is attained, the greater purpose and potential.”

You absolutely must read the whole thing.

I think that there wil always be ‘cameras’ in the way we think of them, but we are a tiny, teeny sliver of the genre of “photographers” these days.

There is a lot of angst in the camera makers worlds out there. They see the handwriting on the wall.

Enter the $2000 full frame.
Enter the kit lenses that make exceptional images.
Enter automatic exposure that makes PERFECT shots under all situations.
Enter video in the camera.

This fellow is a photojournalist. His job is to get the picture.

Period.

It will most likely be fine enough at 4MP for news and web. An 8 or 12 MP image is more than enough for the reason the shot exists.

Young people coming into the digital age will never have known what a camera was ‘supposed’ to look like. And that was a HUGE influence over camera manufacturers deciding to make digital cameras look like film cameras. The damn things even have ‘film chamber’ build to them.

“Professional Photographers” would have it no other way.

Now?

Well, I gave my kid my old Rebel digital. She gave it back to me… she is totally happy with her Android phone and the P&S Canon she got for Xmas.

Just finished a nice trip to Maine. We had some very flat and boring light in mid-day. Charles would pull out his iPhone and make some simply stunning images. I like to make straight images on my iPhone, then manipulate them later in Snapseed or a myriad of other APPs I have.

There is a tendency for me to think the larger images are somehow ‘better’ or of higher ‘quality’ because they were shot on a big chip with expensive glass.

Problem is no one can tell the difference in the print.

So I start to sound like a ‘gearhead’ and I am NOT.

I am all about the image, and couldn’t care less how it was made. The traps we make when thinking about our work are more dangerous than listening to a blistering critique of your work from a ‘kitty shooter’ on some forum.

I am holding out for a Samsung Galaxy III – (October) as I have seen the images that thing produces. I have not seen a 16×20 from one, but I have seen an 11×17… argh. I don’t care what anyone says, I was totally knocked out by both the sharpness and the overall transitions in shadows.

I was just asked on twitter about what I thought of the new Nikon D600. My answer was that I don’t have anything to say about it that has any value. I don’t think much about cameras these days.

I am struggling mightily with photography, its place in my world, its power to heal or inspire or reflect or reveal or destroy.

Photography is more important now than ever before, and yet we are consistently bombarded with distractions of devices. I think it takes a toll on all of us.

And we forget what it really is about, this whole capturing a moment in time to preserve, enlighten, entertain or simply to see what it looks like captured. I don’t want to forget that in my work.

Below are a few of my shots from the trip done with Hipstagram and the default camera. I like these images for similar and disparate reasons. And some of these I also shot on the big camera, but they are far different in tone and emotional impact than these are. Different, not better or worse… different.

To me that is the power of these little cameras and the apps that are so much fun to shoot with. I get different approaches to the subjects. Kinda like having a new lens to work with. One that has its own quirks and qualities.

It was a bit foggy, a bit dark from deep overcast. I wanted to say something about the dreary, almost mysterious feeling of this entrance. I chose the Hipstagram app to enhance the emotion of the subject.

I loved the texture qualities, and the Hipstagram image supplied a slight vignette and muted tone that enhanced the feeling of the shell isolated on the rocks.

It was cold and overcast (I loved it… heh) and this straight camera shot captured a bit of the reality of that day and moment. I had already packed the cameras, but the trusty iPhone delivered the shot I wanted to get at that moment.

Sometimes an image just wants to be made and it reveals itself. I loved this little vignette of vine and old board wall. A straight shot on my Canon is not as interesting as this little Hipstagram photo. The image needs the context of the frame and the muted colors to make it really look like what I saw in my head.

Flat midday sun, and the Hipstagram delivers. The shapes and textures were so interesting, and a couple of my big camera shots make me happy… but this little vignetted, non-perfect capture that fit the mood I wanted.

This image is about the frame and the ‘space between’ – part of my vision mantra. I like the spatial play and the contrast of textures and colors. Camera phone and big camera – big camera is far different feeling than this one. Not better or worse, just different.

Light leaks and crusty edges makes the retro sign even more retro. Fun images are what the small cameras are about.

A grab shot with the iPhone and Hipstamatic reveals how I was seeing the trip we were on. I would have loved to have more time to shoot the area, but we migrated from point to point and shot what we liked… Maine through a car window – yeah, that is what it was like. Sorta.

In the end it is whether you like the image or not. And if not, no matter. Photography is not about every image communicating to every person. These are my little images. I share them here and there.

Photography is still fun for me. It still answers my desire to make something lasting. How long is that?

I dunno. I don’t care. I just want to make the images I see in my head. The iPhone and Androids seem like they offer me more tools with which to find and make those images.

This line from Jon’s article is dead on for me:

“Don’t waste your time nor mine on any bit of that dinosaur debate.”

Yes, Jon. I wholeheartedly agree.

Workshops? A New Direction… After a Break. Maybe.

Workshops? A New Direction… After a Break. Maybe.

It’s time.

Actually it may be later than that. And that makes it all the more… more…

Well, I don’t really know how I feel about stopping the workshops. A little sad, I suppose. Possibly a tiny bit bitter (fuckit, I’m human… right?). But mostly I feel like I needed to do it and move to a different place. Doing workshops was something that was fun, but not my main source of revenue, and I need to focus a bit more on that these days.

When I started the Lighting Essentials workshops it was in response to what I was seeing here in the Phoenix area in regard to photographic lighting – or rather the lack of any attempt at it. Or the knowledge that it even existed…

We charged a few bucks and we would put 4 or 5 shooters in my little studio on Broadway and we would shoot. Setup, discuss the reasons for the setup, shoot. Setup, discuss, shoot. Repeat.

It was for one day and we would cram a ton of learning into those days, starting early and finishing late.

I turned around and we were traveling the country and then the world doing workshops based on my idea of Subject Centric Light (H/T Dean Collins for inspiration), and my 30+ years in the business.

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