Looking Back - Moving Forward

In 2017 I made leaps and bounds in my photographic journey, but I also fell terribly short of my goals and ambitions. As I began to see the new year approaching, I decided to take a look back at the pitfalls that plagued my journey, and consider how I can move forward in 2018.

As I see it. I had just one major pitfall in 2017. That one bad habit snowballed into a lull in creativity, which lead to a dislike of every frame of film I shot, which lead to a general lack of being able to see anything worth a frame, which lead to lack of desire to even get out and shoot, which lead me to indulge even more in the bad habit that started the whole thing to begin with.

There is a quote in one of my favorite books, a book I normally turn to when I feel the low tide of creativity creeping in and bottoming out my desire to get out and shoot, actually I could pick a handful, but I'll choose just a few for the purposes of conveying my point here. "The only failure is to not do." "...what's in the way is the way,..." "Knowing failure is part of our process leads to new ideas, stronger work and more honest questions that liberates us to peer, a little less frightened, into the unknown." All of these quotes are from the great David duChemin from his book "A Beautiful Anarchy" The bad habit that sent this low tide of creativity and motivation crashing down onto my ambitions, social media.

I think we all, at times, figure out just what a time-suck social media can be. Facebook is probably among the worst of them because of the very little growth that Facebook offers us as artists. I often find that I get drawn into silly arguments about gear, or my opinion, or who's work sucks more than someone else's work. There is a high level of involvement in Facebook, much more than say Instagram, but the engagement is of a lesser quality in most cases. All of this is of course my fault, and my fault alone. I allowed myself to be drawn into these discussions.

And then there was Netflix. Netflix took up the rear in the time-suck category. As my motivation and creativity took a dive my binge watching time rose. Again, all my fault. Social Media isn't to blame. Netflix didn't have an agenda to keep my ass planted in the chair, or perhaps it did, but it wasn't these aspects that brought this on, it was my use of them.

So while I was reviewing this past year I realized how I let this all occur, and I mapped out a plan I think will help me improve even more in 2018; and grow as an artist, a person, and a contributor to the community of photographers, and as a member of my local community.

The worst part of my social media obsession would occur while I was at work, during downtime of course. So I've decided to maximize that time by using that downtime to advance my personal goals by researching new projects, catch up on projects, and utilize the tools that are provided to me, rather than letting myself be drawn into petty disputes on social media sites. So goal 1: Maximize my downtime at work to advance my personal goals.

I carry at least 3 cameras with me every day to work. My X-Pro1 with the 35/1.4, an X70, and a film camera of some sort, usually my Voigtlander R2M with a 35/2.5. Even though I carry this many cameras, photography is still not a part of my daily life. At least not the act of creating images. So goal 2: I want to find a way to incorporate the creation of images more into my daily life. Shouldn't be too hard considering...

Goal 3 is much more simple: Start printing in a darkroom again. I'd like to produce at least one print that I'd be proud to give away on my instagram feed. As far as needs go I have all but the designated space and the chemicals to start printing now, so I don't think this will be too herculean of a goal to meet.

I have big dreams of changing the world through photography, or I used to. I think if you can make a difference to one person through your passion, you are successful. Problem is I can't, or don't know how, to find the stories I want to tell. I have an abundance of ideas, you should see my notebook of photography projects I think have potential; but I bottom out when it comes to implementing these projects. "Life is not in the dreaming, but in the doing." "Come. Stop observing. Stop abdicating your life. Live a great story instead of just watching, telling or dreaming them." "Out of nothing, nothing comes." (more quotes from "A Beautiful Anarchy") So goal 4: Engage more people on the street. Look for the stories I want to tell. Actively look. Ask for it. I went to a seminar not too long ago and I asked someone how they find stories. They said they use the paper's resources, so then I asked how they get the access to tell the story effectively, and they replied, "ask". "When you tell someone you want to tell their story. Few will refuse." So I will engage. I'll spend 5 extra minutes with the street musician, the person in line in front of me, or behind, or that cool looking girl smoking on the corner; and I'll dig, just a little harder, for those stories lurking everywhere around us.

I have a photographer friend that I enjoy shooting with a great deal. He can read light like no one I've ever met. He can tell you what settings to use, and rarely have I ever seen him be more than a half stop off, and more often than not he's not off at all. To be able to see light like that, in stops, is an amazing ability; and it all starts with a basic mastery of the Sunny 16, doing the math, and gaining the experience. I can see light in stops, but I need a starting point. I read my meter at the start and then I can estimate, accurately in most cases, how many stops the light drops as I wonder in and out of shadow or when a cloud moves in. So goal 5: Learn to read light better. Set my camera first, then check my settings with my meter only after I've set it; and take note of how many stops I was off, if any, and how I can improve my understanding next time.

In a recent discussion on Facebook we discussed the value of carrying your "book" with you. Your printed book is an easy part of your photographic life that you can let dwindle into obscurity, then one day you'll meet someone, and you pull it out (if you have it stashed in an obscure pocket in your bag) and realize you don't even shoot weddings anymore, or you realize you just stopped carrying it at all. So Goal 6: Continue to work, expand, and improve my book. This includes working on my spine, adding my logo, adding section leads, etc. I want my book to be an ever evolving part of my photographic life.

I buy prints from fellow photographers. I gobble up zines like candy. I love to see what other artists are producing, how they are producing it, and what motivates them to keep producing it; but I've only produced one zine, and it was hastily done. So goal 7: Improve my first zine, output it, send it out, circulate it and produce at least one other zine project. Again, I refer you to my notebook full of ideas.

I started this post out talking about the pitfalls that riddled my 2017 ambitions with lackluster improvements and a desire to binge watch Stranger Things instead of getting out and shooting. Even though 2017 was a general success in my film photography endeavors, it was an abysmal failure as far the advancement of my art, my creativity, and my over all ambitions went. Which leads me to the ironic Goal 8: Increase social media engagement. I stated it wasn't the actual social media that wound up being the big hairy monster that made me lazy, it was my use of it, and how I approached it. I want to increase engagement, but I want to increase the quality of engagement, while still reducing the over all time I spend on social media sites. In conjunction with this I'm implementing what I'm calling my "52/12 Plan". 52 posts on Instagram and twitter this year, and 12 blog posts. My hopes are that this will lead to a better quality of engagement with the community, greater growth as an artist and a more active role in the community. No more "double tap/flick" while on Instagram. A great photographer stated in an interview that he tries very hard not to "double tap/flick". If you like an image, you should be able to put down at least a sentence about what you like about it. I will strive to do this while browsing Instagram during downtime, and in doing so I will broaden my audience, increase my level of engagement, drive traffic, and open up dialog and spark quality discussion...Hopefully....

Over all I have an ambitious year ahead of me, but I think that everything I've put out there is entirely doable. It's not an impossible task I've laid before me. And in the end if I can implement these practices, I can grow my community, play a more active roll in that community, and in turn I can improve my self as a photographer, artist and communicator.

The False Stigma of Street Photography

As heartbreaking as it is, you can't walk far in any major city without noticing there is a homeless problem in America today. Most just choose to ignore it. You look away, and for a second or two you get involved in a conversation, or act as though something across the street has captured your attention. As Photographers, we can choose this path, but as Street Photographers, it's my opinion we shouldn't. Street Photography, for as long as it's been around, has always been about documenting place and time. It is our job as Street Photographers to continue to document the place and time in which we live today; but how we go about this is what I'm focusing on in this post.

The homeless on our streets seem to be a constant form of discussion in the forums, groups, and social media platforms we all visit today. There is a feeling that reverberates around the community of Street Photographers that photographing homeless people on the street is too easy, or it's exploitative. Most Street Photographers view them as an easy target for our craft. In my opinion, photographing the homeless problem in our cities is probably the hardest subject to address in street. It's not easy, not if you do it correctly; which is why most simply avoid it.

As a Documentary Photographer, you choose how your audience views your subject. Crop in tight, and you tell a story about the person you are photographing. Shoot wider and include a woman in an expensive dress, carrying an expensive handbag, and wearing expensive shoes strolling casually past a homeless woman in rags begging for change, and suddenly the whole narrative changes. You go from telling a singular story about a person who is down on their luck, to a story about opposites. A juxtaposition between the wealth and the downtrodden. Catch this story in a contrast of light and shadow, and you expand further on that story by casting the homeless into the deep shadow, and positioning the wealth in light.

As photographers, we already understand how we use light, shadow, and composition to tell a story; so it's not hard to see how we'd use these concepts to exploit a subject down on their luck. Is the story of the downtrodden a powerful story, an easy subject for this kind of story? Of course it is. But is this the story that should be told? Is it the true story of our homeless subject? In that story, the homeless isn't the subject. It's the contrast that is the story. That is the exploitation of the homeless. Still a true story in our society today, but an exploitive story toward our homeless subject.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that it's all Street Photographer's duty to tell these stories that need to be told. As Photographers we all decide what subjects we will shoot, and as Street Photographer's we are constantly choosing how to approach and present these subjects to our audience. We choose the stories we tell. But, if you're avoiding the homeless because you feel it's exploitive, then examine your approach to photographing this part of our society. Examine the work of Suzanne Stein, Sam Wolson, or Huan Qingjun and how they each approach this subject matter to tell the story, with out insult.

This is something I struggle with all the time, and it's why you don't see it a lot with in my gallery. But please don't see the homeless as an easy target in Street Photography. They are only an easy target if you choose to portray them as the downtrodden, the dregs of our society. If you choose to tell their story, the story that truly matters, they are the hardest subject of all in Street Photography. If you view them as human subjects, rather than symbols for the homeless; what kind of images can you make?

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5 Minutes of Silence

My trip to Denton to document the Women's March/Rally on January 21st grew organically out of a few different situations.  It had been a little while since I had the chance to get out and shoot, and I get antsy when I can't get out and shoot; and it had been even longer since I'd photographed a march, rally or protest.  The events of July 7th had soured me and I had been avoiding any of these types of activities since.  However, this event seemed to be surrounded by an air of positivity, and unity; and felt well organized from the posts I was reading on Facebook.

I chose one of the smaller rallies, knowing there would be a lot of photographers in Denton because of the large photography community that it has, but I also needed to be in McKinney later that afternoon and knew there was no way I'd make it in time if I went to Ft. Worth or Dallas.  I should preface this to say small is a relative term.  In terms of the amount of space available to rally organizers, Denton probably ranks near the top.  The city required the participants to remain on the lawn of the courthouse, which is probably no more then a square mile total, and Denton reported to have an attendance upwards of 3000.  Needless to say, that lawn was packed.

The group A United Denton (https://www.facebook.com/WomensRallyDenton/) did such a phenomenal job of organizing, communicating and keeping the focus on unity during the entire event.  Everyone treated each other with the utmost respect that it felt more like a lawn party then a rally.  However the signs the participants carried, and the chants clearly informed anyone on the outside what the true purpose for the gathering was.

At precisely 1pm the organizers requested that all those present remain silent for 5 minutes.  Walking around snapping images of the an entire lawn packed with people holding up peace signs while in complete silence was the most surreal experience I had during the entire rally.  I don't even recall hearing a passing car honk their horn or even a tire squeal when a light turned from red to green.  I did however hear a phone ring quite a distance from me.  That's how silent it was.  3000 people packed into a lawn surrounding a courthouse in the middle of a square of a college town in the middle of the day on a Saturday in the middle of the semester, and you could hear a phone ring on the other side.  This one image alone should convey the feeling that the Women's March intended to convey.  One of Unity.  One of Peace.  One of support for each other in this crazy world we live in today.

No matter your feelings on the current president, or the state of our union.  Being in that square, in that moment, makes every feeling I have in the hope of the future of our country a positive one.
 

5 Minutes of Silence during the Women's March in Denton Square on January 21st.

5 Minutes of Silence during the Women's March in Denton Square on January 21st.