Thoughts on Photography, and Other Stuff, While Driving Across the Desert.

I love to drive. Cars and motorcycles and trucks… I love to get behind the wheel and just go.

This weekend I drove to San Diego for the workshop there. And, BTW… it was a very fun and exciting workshop with a lot of talented photographers, some wonderful models, and fascinating conversations. I love to talk nearly as much as I love to drive. (Those of you who know me, are shaking your heads right now… just not sure which way… heh.)

I left pretty late in the day on Friday, having to clear some things before being out-of-pocket for a couple of days. The light was dreary and gray, but I am always on the hunt for something. All in all, fairly uneventful drive… and that let’s me think.

Think about photography and design and marketing and light and challenges ahead… that sort of stuff wanders in and out of my brain while wizzing along at 75+ MPH. I thought a lot about where my work is going and what I am doing this year. Thoughts of traveling to new and exciting places (because they are new) always gets me thinking about photographs. Light and texture and imagined images of places yet unseen… sort of a mind game with myself and the imaginary cameras.

I have never been to Santa Cruz or New Orleans… both workshops coming up soon. I am so excited to see both places and do a little shooting there. But it is the images I am seeing that are changed so radically from where I used to be image wise. I see light and texture and personal imagery more than the beauty / lifestyle stuff I have done for a longass time. Longass means more than a couple of decades.

And don’t get me wrong, lovely women in gorgeous wardrobe is still something I love to shoot. But I am more interested in jazz trumpet players, retired heart surgeons, the guys who cleaned up the stadium after the Superbowl, single moms who work three jobs… People. All kinds.

And places. I started as a landscape shooter and find myself returning to photographing a lot of still life and environments… not wilderness in my work, but environments touched by man… or with the visible influence of us humans on the environment. Not sure why… I just love shooting it.

There probably is no market for the personal work I do… and I LOVE that. I don’t have to worry about portfolios and culling through the images to find the very best of the shots… I just have to make the shots and enjoy them. Me… looking at moments in my life where I snapped an image of something that caught my eye.

Garry Winogrand said: “I photograph something to see what it looks like photographed.” I love that quote. I think about it a lot. It is becoming sort of my inner mantra… “shoot it so we can see what it looks like after you shot it” the inner voice says. So I do. As often as possible.

And sometimes the images make me smile and sometimes they challenge me to keep shooting till I get one that works. But more and more, the images are driving more images. I think that’s a good thing.

Restless is the heart these days. I love teaching the workshops so much that I miss it on down weekends. I have plenty to do with more and more client work coming up (and the design side is also getting busy), but the interaction with the students is so creatively invigorating. Whether they are newbies or seasoned professionals, I love to chat about photographs and lighting and the business. Seems that everyone brings something kinda fresh and unique to the table. We learn every hour of our lives… or at least we should.

But the restlessness comes from a desire to step my work up to a new level. One that I can see clearly in my head, and now struggle to get into the camera. Shoot, refine, shoot, refine, eat tacos, continue shooting and refining… that is a perfect day for me. How I envy some younger shooters who can shoot 4-5 days a week. And how I remember those heady days. I would love to shoot every day, but business is more than shooting for me, so I get in about 3 days a week.

I want more. More. More. More.

The thing about photography is that it wants to be made and made and made over and over again. Subtly changing from one thing to the next… moving and shooting and measuring and challenging and defining… quickly and with great deliberateness. Oxymorons for sure, but isn’t most photography oxymoronical in execution? (Yeah, I made that one up… sue me.)

We work temporally while seeking to freeze a moment in time to revisit throughout our own ever-changing time line. A still image that remains constant as time moves on. Like flowers that never wilt. Love that never dies. Skies that never darken. A representation of a point in time where everything was perfect – or at least perfectly presented – that we want to save.

I have always marvelled at the amazing ego of photographers. We have giant egos that need to be expressed. That isn’t a bad thing. That is actually what makes photography one of the great art forms… most anyone can do it, but only a small group can do it well. Those with huge photographic egos that scream for recognition.


I am not talking about arrogance. Arrogance is ego with no base or credibility… just an over-inflated sense of self that manifests itself in boorish behavior. Arrogance without passion and product is laughably entertaining. And, unfortunately, on display in way too many important places these days.

I am referring to the ego that we photographers have that lets us proclaim… “Yeah, I know you have seen the Grand Canyon 23 times… but look at this moment I caught a few years ago… 1/250th of a second during a week long trip. It caught my eye and I knew I had to share this miniscule sliver of a moment with you so you would see what I saw. My view of the Grand Canyon. My choice of the best 1/250th of a second the canyon has ever seen.”

Ego.

Thank God for it. Weston and Adams had it. Avedon, Penn and Winogrand had it. Winters, DeMarchelier, Elgort, Eggleston and many more have it. The beautiful ego driven desire to share with us the way they see tiny, minuscule moments of their lives and their vision. And what grand moments they become. And those grand moments live on.

A still image of a moment in time that is shared through the times of the ages. That’s pretty cool.

I have that ego thing. I have the desire… and the passion to make images that I love to share with folks. And sometimes I make images that were not taken to share. They were taken for me… to be seen by me. To make me remember. To make me smile.

But time takes us along on its journey regardless of our desire to hang out and catch the next ride. Each day passes with no regard to yesterday and no promise of tomorrow. Time simply is. And was. And will be. And where do I go from here is the question that seems to invade my thoughts lately. Not grandiose moves… little tweaks. Like moving the camera over a few inches to make a more classical composition.

Space and time and photography and Mexican Food and workshops and books are all so wonderfully intertwined in my life. And I wonder if the images are enough? I want more. I want so much more. I wonder if the days are getting too short… or maybe I am growing too slowly. Or simply too long for the ever-shortening moments that make up our personal journeys. It’s that damn timeline thing.

Like when someone moved your cheese. Or even wondering if the cheese was ever really there to begin with. Maybe they didn’t move your cheese… you were simply too stupid, or lazy, or busy, or self-absorbed to find it and it was eaten by the neighbors cat. Ya know…

Or maybe the cheese thing isn’t really what we are looking for anyway. It would really suck to find the cheese and then discover you were allergic to cheese. I know, too cheesy… I’m just sayin’.

This morning I drove out of San Diego in the dark. Sunrise began just before I got to the desert floor near Plaster City. The sun rose just a little before Yuma. It wasn’t a spectacular sunrise… just a gradual dark to light transition with momentary blinding peeps directly into the drivers window.

I made no photographs. Maybe I should have.

I do call myself a photographer. And that is what we do, we “photographers”. Make photographs. So what was I this morning? A driver? A passenger on the timeline of my own life? A violator of posted speed limits? A casual observer of a once in a lifetime occurrence with no interest in any saving of said once in a lifetime occurrence? A now-and-then photographer… then, but not now?

I know I am pissed that I didn’t stop the damn car and get a shot of some trailers that had a lighted courtyard with the early morning pre-dawn light. Or that tractor in the distance with the dusty trail behind his morning plow. Possibly the sheen of the sunrise over the misty Colorado River would have made a nice little 6×9 print… sepia with some texture. That shopkeeper in Yuma putting up a new sign… yeah… that would have been nice.

Not this time. Maybe next time? And… back to time again.

This fern caught my eye as we were heading back to meet another group at the Sunday shoot portion of the workshop. I loved the way the soft, cloudy light seemed to make the leaves shine. I also noted that the color of the leaves edges were the same as the model’s eye makeup. Instantly I knew a vertical shot with the leaf would be something I wanted to see. I took about 7 frames or so. This is the one I like the best.

This stand of trees against the wall just jumped out at me as we were walking by. It looks like a painting to me. The subtlety of the color, the formal composition and the geometry seem like modern art. A quick snap – adjust composition – snap – one more adjust. There… I got this:

My friend Christina now lives in San Diego and she joined the group for the Sunday shoot. We were leaving an area behind the Space Museum at Balboa Park when I saw this as a possible composition. Moving her into the light and keeping her framed to not allow the blown out sky to effect the top of her head was the challenge. I simply loved the juxtaposition of the tall tree and Christina in a red coat. Not a “big” picture. A quiet little portrait of my friend in her new home of San Diego.

I found these roof lines interesting. I shot them from a classical center-up stance and knew they would be used as a tryptich like this. I may do some different post on down the road, but for now I present them as a three photo image.

Hey… thanks for viewing Lighting Essentials. I am backlogged on getting stuff up here… bad internet in Seattle last weekend and nearly no internet at all at the La Jolla Hotel in La Jolla, CA where they advertise Hi-Speed WiFi but actually the La Jolla Hotel in La Jolla, California had no WiFi at all… at least any that would connect and stay connected. Hint… 1 bar ain’t hi-speed… nope.

So be watching this week. And as always, follow along at Twitter, and visit my workshop page for information on the workshops.

See you next time.

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

4 Comments

  1. Don,

    I see the influence of a lot of what was discussed over this past weekend in this post, and the Old Town Mexican Cafe too. It was definitely an inspiring and refreshing weekend! I spent the entire day today thinking about photography, business, photography, shooting, photography, light… oh, and photography.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, insight, and experience!

    All the best,

    Stephen

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Don.

  3. Hey Don,
    Its always nice to read your thoughts and opinions. Thanks for sharing.
    Rick

  4. Thanks for including La Jolla in your lighting tips. I’m pretty sure I know exactly where that tree is your friend is standing under. Also, sorry to hear about your bad or lack there of internet connection at the La Jolla Inn.

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