Purity

I just might be the photographic antichrist.

Earlier today I was searching through seven years of images, all of the same kid, in preparation for a book I’m making. I’ve got eight hard drives sitting in front of me, and during this process I stumbled across a variety of older images that prompted me to reflect. Maybe not such a good idea……
The images were everything from documentary snaps, weddings snaps and portraits. Just like everything else in my digital life, folder names, image titles, all changed over the years as I learned “better” ways of conducting myself in the electronic world. So, certain folders were filled with surprises, both good and bad, and I heard myself say more than once “Wow, I forgot about that.”
Well, something else happened. I found these images. All those years ago I was plodding along as a wedding photographer doing documentary on the side, a practice I found never worked that well. I wanted it to work, it just never did. The weddings were fine, it was the documentary part that took on the limp, damaged feel of someone with not enough time.

And then kids came along, by accident really. “Hey, do you shoot photos of kids?” my neighbor asked. “NO, I don’t photograph kids, sorry.” “Great, I’ll bring them over,” she said. That was it. One shoot. Changed everything. Soon, I was a “kid photographer” a title that strikes a cringing fear in anyone in a “serious” category of photography like documentary, photojournalism, fashion, editorial, commercial, advertising, product, still life, fine-art, conceptual, experimental, etc. Suddenly my wife was introducing me as “my husband the kid photographer.” Gone were the days of “my husband the super-cool, studly, macho, documentary photographer who travels the world and pours himself into his projects.” Gone. The “kid photographer” intro, in most cases, was like casually mumbling, “I have the Hanta Virus.” People would flee in search of more interesting to people to drink their warm, foamy beer with. “Hey honey, that guy works in the dead-letter department at the Post Office, let’s go talk to him.” Me, I found a sick fascination with this, and used it to my advantage making proud announcements for no reason at the hippest of events or parties, just to see the cool people run from my path. “Hey, you wanna see me make balloon animals?”

But you seen now I have the golden opportunity, the 20-15 hind site to look back. I look back on these early days kid snaps and I marvel. You see I was still pure. I wasn’t REALLY a kid photographer yet. I had inherited the title, but I was still pure in that way that comes with first experiencing something. I didn’t have packages, pricing, online crap I didn’t need, business cards, letterhead, newsletters, promos, stock sales, blah, blah, blah. I was just a guy with a camera aiming it at strange kids. All locations were still new. People would call, I would answer. A plan would be made. I would go and shoot. I had no style in mind. I had no preconceived ideas as to what kid snaps were supposed to look like. I had ZERO tricks up my sleeve like “I’ll shoot backlit,” or “I need such and such an image.” It was so simple. It was so pure. And it was so much fun. It was so damn good. And then it all began to change. It all began to be molded, shifted, squeezed, controlled and manipulated by the simple IDEA that I was now OFFICIALLY A KID PHOTOGRAPHER. “Damnit, you’re a kid photographer, why don’t you act like it?”

The mass exodus of photographers from other genres had yet to descend on the poor unsuspecting kid market. Digital cameras had yet to land in the hands of every parent in the first world, and there was ZERO expectation other than “make something interesting that pleases me…the kid photographer.”

The work was good. The work was simple. And then it wasn’t anymore. It’s not that the work got bad, or I stopped being able to make good images of kids, in fact I went on to make many pictures I consider good even recently, but the forces around me began to change and I began to conform. Sales and profits became a larger focus. Margins, print prices, workflow, online marketing and promotion began to take up more time than the actual photography. It was supposed to be this way right? You get good, people find you and you build a business. Yes. That’s right. But as I sit here all these years later, looking back, I have feelings that flow contrary to this learned behavior.
I’ve spoken about this before and each time I do I brace for the fallout. Can we work as artists and make great work. Yes, I used the word “artist” but more to see if you were sleeping. Can we as photographers work and make great work? Short answer. “I’m not sure.” The deadly part of all this is that I see what happened to me happening to many, many other photographers. I meet a young snapper and their work is pure, it’s original and it feels good, and suddenly they find success. In many cases success today comes with IMMEDIATE COMPROMISE. You hear things like “Well, I used to shoot film, but now the client wants digital.” Or, “Well, I used to take my time and work this way, but now I have to have images in by the end of the day.” What I’ve learned is that “convenience” is DEADLY when it comes to photography. If you are allowing CONVENIENCE to dictate your imagery you are on a path that is heading in the wrong direction. CONVENIENCE is based on ease, and that folks is going to get easier. Easier doesn’t always translate to “better.” More people do it, more people think they can do it. More people think they can tell you how to do. Less people pay attention.

Last night at dinner, a casual conversation and a photographer explains where he was working on a recent project. He talks personally of his personal work. “Were you on assignment?” “Yes, a self-assignment.” There is no speech required. Those words come with the meaning of working on a self-assignment because that is where the real work is made, and that this simply would not have happened had he actually been on assignment, something we are all trained to believe is how we should work. I reflect once again on these photographs of kids and I had nothing but warm regard for how I made them and what they meant to me both at that time and now all these years later. My wife no longer introduces me as a “kid photographer” so I’m struggle with a new title that creates the same shock and awe. “C-student” might work, “Recipient of a Class-C misdemeanor” but that might strike a bit TOO much shock and awe. All I can leave you with is the idea that we don’t really have time to screw around. We, as photographers, have to shoot for us. There is no other way. “Yes, but we have to pay the bills.” No, you don’t. You just convinced yourself of that. You can do it, and pay the bills, but you can’t then complain of not making good images. I know cause I did just that. I don’t anymore. For me, there is no better feeling in the world that working on something I believe in and finding success at the purest level. When I look around me at the creative world, at places like literature, photography, art, I see the best work being done, the last working, by creators with a clear mind without limits. When we find commercial success, often times, this comes with boundaries, limits, requirements and expectations that simply don’t allow for moments of greatness. I just finished reading a book, a book by an author I truly admire. He talks about being hired to create a project then coming to realize he can’t complete it under the requirements of his position. He is fired. Then he creates the book I just read. I think beneath this little story is the story of truth, of purity, of working without questioning your motivation and rationale. We simply do what we feel we have to do and not what we think we are supposed to do.

70 responses to “Purity”

  1. rbraden says:

    Daniel,
    OK, now my head is about to explode. I have had the thoughts rambling around my head for a long time now (I am the guy who drank the Kool-Aid, and I am a kid photog, etc.) because I do mainly retail photography. I have some personal stuff going on, but the retail stuff is where the money comes from. Now you’ve got me thinking about how to get that back to where the passion originally was (because I really do enjoy it) ? Lotsa’ thought on gonna be given to this one…

    • Smogranch says:

      rbraden,

      Trust me, I dealt with this for the past few years, still enjoying what I was doing, but knowing something was not even close to being right. The MOMENT I stepped out, I realized just how far from center things had become. Are there things I miss about my former life, yes, ONE….the kids, or clients in some cases, but in terms of my life, the work, etc, nope. Nothing. I can’t tell you how many photographers I see heading this way. Yesterday, listening to someone describe his neighbor, a photographer, and what he THOUGHT this guy’s life was like, only to realize, “It was basically just a job now and not that much fun,” “Nor did it lead to many great images.”

    • Smogranch says:

      Let us not forget however, there are many folks who go down this road who want EXACTLY this. This is good, and what keeps the industry afloat. More power to them.

    • Ty says:

      Dammit.

      It’s like you ripped the words right out of my head. Read my mail. Said what I couldn’t say.

      I’ve lost myself in the mega-culture that is wedding photography. I’ve done it as the ‘bread and butter’ thing, but, have been hugely dissatisfied lately. The industry, has dulled my senses and launched me into a world of complacency that is not something I experienced when I first started.

      I want to change that. To feel alive again.

      I want my innocence back.

    • Smogranch says:

      Ty,

      I hear ya. I never lost my innocence in weddings because the most I ever did in a year was 10, and that was too many. Did it once and never again. It’s EASY to go that route, especially when you are shooting the same thing all the time. Kids, weddings, portraits, etc. Easy to get in, sometimes difficult to get out.

  2. Good stuff.

    Again.

    ~ Mark

  3. Karen says:

    Great post. It really resonates with me. I tried running a family photo side business on the side for a few years, and quickly found that the passion for photography that drove me to try it quickly vanished in a mess of shoots and deadlines. Now I focus on my day job during the week, and shoot for fun (and what I want) on weekends. Sure, I’m always wishing I had more time for photography. But I prefer wanting more time to make the images I want to make with the people I want to work with. I have a ton of respect for people who are in the biz full time and consistently turn out good stuff–

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Karen,

      I’m basically in the same situation now. I’m only do a few photo jobs here and there, very few actually, and now have a “normal” job. When I pick up a camera now I’m shooting what I want to shoot, and only in the way I want to do it. I’m having much more fun and making better images. But, that’s just me. Others I’m sure are working in the opposite direction.

  4. Eric Jeschke says:

    Good post. I think we see this concept throughout the ages. Of course many of the “great” works of art were commissioned (e.g. sistine chapel, etc.), but even then there was not always joy in it. (Read the wikipedia article here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sistine_chapel) and you can see that Michelangelo resented doing the work).

    Seems the best art is always made for the love of it itself, and not for the money (which may come after!)

    Also, kids are a great subject for photography, no one should need to apologize for that as a subject matter. They are still free to be themselves under the lens, unlike many adults, resulting in captivating photographs.

    • Smogranch says:

      Yes, totally agree. I know folks who thrive on assignments, regardless of how bad they might be. At times..they make good work. At times.
      As for kids, incredible subjects, for sure. But, within the professional photography world there is a major stigma regarding anyone who photographs kids or weddings. At times, this stigma is enough to cause you to lose out on other types of work. I know first hand. But, in today’s photo world, many of the folks who a few short years ago would look down on kids/weddings are now running full steam in that direction. Again, I know first hand. Can’t tell you how many “Help me” calls I’ve received in the past ten years.

  5. Krista Fox says:

    Wow, did I write this? I would think so, except that I don’t write this well.
    You have succinctly put into words what I have been struggling with for years. I am a wedding photography (and a mom) who has no time for the personal projects I am passionate about because I am too busy trying to build a business, trying to keep up with the competition, trying to look for ways to be better, faster, more efficient, all while trying to balance my life with my son. I started 10 years ago shooting with film, and finally made the transition to digital 3 years ago. Now, I feel the pace of everything is frenetic. I long to feel that purity again – I miss the time when people valued the process and the product and when images were actually printed!
    This one hit home. Inspiring and well-said, David.

    • Smogranch says:

      Krista,

      You should look at Suzanne Revy’s work. She is a mom and makes unreal work. And, she is entered in shows, winning awards, etc outside of the portrait work and firmly centered in the fine art world. Her work is instantly recognizable and comes from a…well…in my mind…a different place. As the frenetic, commercial, digital world churns…she just does her thing.

  6. Krista Fox says:

    sorry :0 I meant Daniel…

  7. Yeah, so true! I struggle sometimes with the time and tedium of cloning out dust in CS5 from my M6TTL and MP tri-x scans, but in the end, after looking back at the images of my kids and other images, it is the organic feel and inexplicable aura that my b&w film images have for me that keeps me going back to the cloning torture chamber.. 😉 I do like digital, in fact I own a dealership for Nikon, Canon and Leica here in Canada, but for my personal work and most of my most favored images of my kids..b&w film is my thing..

    • Smogranch says:

      Jeff,

      Ah….the joy of clean film and scans……worth every penny! I’ve done my share of spotting, mostly on medium format things I’ve scanned. I’m a film guy but that..you already knew.

    • Hi Daniel:

      Any tips on keeping dust to a minimum (for scanning) you have learned over the years? I use a Coolscan 9000 and the glass holder to get the images sharp edge to edge which adds a fun element of static-ness.. (is that a word?) 🙂

    • Smogranch says:

      Well, first of all, dry, clean film with no spots. Dust is always an issue, especially with medium format, but I’m paranoid about processing, keeping the film clean from the get go. Once you are in a dusty environment…it’s over.

  8. Brian Miller says:

    Thank you Daniel for putting this dilemma down in bits and bytes so succinctly. I’m right there with you. Just recently I’ve had people asking me to do shoots for them and they are willing to pay me. This is a BIG incentive for amateurs like me with young families (ie: very little disposable income.) “Maybe I can use the money to buy some of that gear I’ve been drooling over…” I think to myself.

    At the same time I shot my nephew’s baseball games this past weekend and keenly felt my family’s expectations of me capturing images of him playing in his final high school baseball games. NOT what I was trying to do photographically and I doubt they will be pleased with the outcome. I’ve noticed feeling really torn about how to present the images, and I felt really torn when shooting the games because I had a personal vision of what I wanted to create and I found it frustratingly distracting to think of shooting the images my family might like.

    I imagine I might find myself torn during my upcoming “commercial” shoots as well…

    As an amateur I would find it helpful and nice to have some money return to the purses rather than always leaving them, but perhaps that is the price of working on satisfying personal projects. I just might have to bite my tongue when it comes to saying “sure I’ll shoot your wedding, graduation, baptism, baseball game, birthday party, retirement party…”

    • Smogranch says:

      That is typically how it starts. In many cases this will probably work out just fine. You just have to remember, people who are not involved in photography have a tendency to view what you and I do in a very different way. Shoot your best pan blur and someone will ask, “Why is that out of focus?” So, when you deal with clients, friends, family, etc, you just have to know you might be searching for two different things.

  9. Sean says:

    I stepped down that road – kids photography, family portraits, weddings, even pet photography. I thought it was what I wanted but it wasn’t. I started to lose my passion for photography which depressed me so I backed up, started doing a personal project, dropped all the paid gigs and I’m hooked again. I feel alive.

    And I’m connecting with my subjects for the project like I’ve never done so before. I feel a responsibility towards them that wouldn’t have happened if they were ‘just clients’.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Sean,

      It’s a strange thing. Photography means so many different things to so many different people. I see and meet people all the time who are shooting that stuff and are really happy and think they are making great work. I guess that is all that matters. I have perhaps a different definition of “great” and I also have a hard time when I can’t satisfy that inner voice telling me what my work REALLY is. Is it good? Does it have meaning?

  10. mike a says:

    Daniel I wish I could write as well as you do. Many times you put into words what I’m thinking, but it just sounds better. The more paying gigs I do the more I seem to be slipping away from why I picked up a camera in the first place. I had a client the other day who asked me for some facebook photos from a event that I shot for her. You know, the grin and grab stuff, while those have their place, I told her I don’t shoot that stuff. They wanted brochure material and that’s what I shot but while I was there I suddenly realized I hated what I was doing. I love shooting but not like that, I have to please me now, I had gotten into a rut to shoot what everybody else wanted me to shoot or what I thought they wanted. I just can’t do it anymore. My personal project hounds my brain and my soul constantly. It’s time to focus on it and let the other stuff go.

    • Smogranch says:

      Mike,

      That is precisely what happened to me. I had to change, and I’m far, far happier now than I was for several years. Not saying this is what will work for you, or for anyone else, but I feel like I’m back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Doesn’t matter to me if anyone sees it, if I get any accolades, etc, I just need to make the work.

  11. Missy Callero says:

    But there are parents out there willing to simply pay for your time and you do whatever YOU want. They are paying for your expertise as the ARTIST. Why can’t you just say that upfront and then if people hire you, fine, but if they don’t, fine? I just selfishly want you to take more photos of my children. I promise I won’t interfere. Just take them on a play date…. please.

    • Smogranch says:

      MC checking in…..love that.
      Yes, there are folks like you described….including yourself. But, it gets tougher and tougher these days, and with more and more photographers entering the fray who are seemingly completely happy with only shooting what is described to them, it makes for a frustrating go of things if you are someone that has a clear vision of what it is you are trying to accomplish. Especially when you have something like Facebook driving peoples vision. I hate to use the term “dumbing down,” but I’ve seen it happening for years.
      But, the reason I wrote this post is more because I wanted to know more from people in regard to the idea of losing the love of photography when going into business. I think this can be somewhat normal when it comes to any business, but what is different, I feel, is when someone works in a field based on let’s say….”art,” or “love” or “passion.” I installed hot tubs in high school. I didn’t like this job really at all, so changes in the field, or being forced to install a style of tub because a client wanted it…didn’t really matter to me. I wanted them to be happy but I had zero emotional attachment to this work.
      Photography is what I live and breath, so when the bulk of jobs end up with redundant, somewhat trivial imagery, after a while, it can have a dramatic impact on the soul of the person making the work.

  12. In late 2009 my daughter was born and I asked the doctor if I could bring a camera into the operating room. He said yes and I brought a DSLR, pre-focused, and just fired away without really looking at the viewfinder. I ended up with an almost time-lapse of the whole thing and a collection of amazing shots.

    Looking at the images later, I realised that I rarely took photographs of my own family and friends. With all this “I’m a photographer” nonsense I had neglected taking photographs of the most important aspect of my life. I went through my entire library and yes, even on my holidays and family trips, most of the photographs were of the places and the people in those places. Very, very few of my family.

    It was a moment of realisation for me. I even wrote one of the posts I’m most proud of on my blog about this.

    Now, I’m obsessed with photographing my family. My baby daughter even poses for me now and she’s only 18 months old! I know now that those will be my most precious photographs. Today, I’m happy to be a “kid photographer”, but only of my kids. When friends ask if I can shoot their kids, I usually politely decline. I don’t want to be that kind of kid photographer. My heart is just not in it. But it is in shooting my own family.

    • Smogranch says:

      Gabriel,

      Not sure if you read it, but I wrote something a few months back about my family and the reality that I haven’t been documenting them as much as I like. I think, for me, it is one of the most important things I can do.

  13. Thanks for writing down and posting it, It exactly what I’m feeling right now, and your post is heading me in towards the right direction.

  14. Reiner says:

    The money dillema. Choose one and get bitten by the other. Choose the other one and thing are inversed. It’s up to YOU to decide what’s best for the long run and for your mental state. I’m an amateur. I love it. I’m free to go and to choose. I know semi-pro’s and encountered some pro’s. You’re spot on Dan. They NEVER talk about their work. It’s the moneymaking which rules. And that’s a pitty i.m.h.o.

    • Smogranch says:

      Well, the industry right now is NOT a pretty picture. In fact, for even the top folks things are somewhat grim. Not to say all genres are this way. You can make tons of money in some fields, but if you want to make great work, or work that matters, that is where things get a little sticky.

    • Reiner says:

      I have considered many times over the last months to step in as a semi-pro. Weddings or other family work. I’ve done a few assists in these genres the past couple of months and I must say the focus during the shoots wasn’t on making good work, but work which THEY would like, which THEY would make but weren’t able to. So I felt as a photographic tool in other peoples hands, jukebox style: put the money in and get the music out. Done.
      I decided: no more of that. A proper job in the salt mine will do the family support, the spare free time will be for me and my own work. Happy!

    • Smogranch says:

      I’d love a job in a salt mine. Heck, there are so many things outside of photography that I’m interested in I would have no trouble finding something to entertain and educate. I have to say, one of the best things about stepping OUT of professional photography has been to be able to stop spending all my time in the professional photography world. I now have an entire set of friends outside photography, and I have to say, they are a bit more…let’s say…well rounded. To work in photography, in many cases, you have to be somewhat tunnel visioned, something that does not lend itself to being well rounded. I think the key….balance.

  15. Leigh Webber says:

    Wow. I love insightful posts like this. It makes me think about my own history and the path I am on.

    I have a BFA in photography and entered the working world right at the advent of digital. The studio I worked for in SF had one of the first Leaf backs. At $80k a pop, not many photographers had one yet. That experience gave me a head start in the digital world, which was a great advantage for a long time.

    After the bust and a move to the wedding-centric city of Charleston, SC, I found that being a wedding photographer afforded me the opportunity to make a living as a photographer as I pursued editorial work. I will be the first to admit that I have learned more about photography through weddings, with their frantic pace and constantly changing lighting conditions, than I have any other way. However…. as the masses join the ranks of wedding photography, I am starting to feel as if I’ve sold my soul.

    I wouldn’t say that I’d found my artistic vision before photographing weddings, however I would like the chance to pursue it with out expectations. It brings to mind a business class I took through PPA in which they remind you that as a wedding/portrait photographer, you are essentially in the business of “retail sales”. Not sure I ever intended to sign up for that job.

    Thank you for your post and all the comments, whose conversational quality I love. They have me thinking differently, eager to forge new paths.

    • Smogranch says:

      Leigh,

      You bring up a really good point. “However…as the masses join the ranks of wedding photography, I am starting to feel as if I’ve sold my soul.” Bingo. The industry has changed and with it, the public perception as to what photography is and what it means. It is up to the photographer to educate the clients in regard to what it is and what it means, BUT when the masses are blasting out that photography is shoot 10,000 edit 5000 and filter the heck out of it…after a while…they start to drink the coolaid. It makes it more difficult to educate, and after a certain point you realize, might not be worth it. Facebook has also changed things. It seems to dominate much of the free time I see people spending.

  16. Suzanne says:

    Great post, Daniel, and thanks for the kind words. Just plugging away here at my thing, but not making any money at it whatsoever, so if that’s your goal with pix, then fine art is a tough road to follow, too. Had a similar experience with portraits, and it really made me a little crazy… just an hour or two with a particular kid, and I’m supposed to make some masterpiece? With everyone smiling? Ugh… It took me away from the work I really wanted to make, so I stepped back from it, and my own pictures got more interesting without the “please a client” hanging over me. Oh, and shameless plug alert… I’ll have work in a show at Panopticon Gallery opening on June 8th called “Kids are People Too” here in Boston if anyone’s in the area!!

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Suzanne,

      You hit on a good point. An hour with a kid and you are supposed to make a masterpiece. The entire photo industry has been selling this idea for years, and when digital arrived, it got ten times worse. “Digital is better right?” “Digital is easier right?” “Just shoot as much as you want and you can see the images so making better pictures goes hand in hand.” It’s all complete and total crap. Great imagery, as you know, typically takes time. The guy that shot the Hindenberg…the exception perhaps. A career made in eight seconds.
      We are bombarded by ads today saying, “Why hire a pro, just buy the such and such camera and do it yourself,” then you see these insanely good images that were staged, faked and crafted in the computer. After a while people start to believe that is possible, and even when it isn’t, when they hit the shutter, below average suddenly becomes….”Hey, not bad.”
      I don’t think there is anything a photographer can do about that. Not anymore.

  17. caroline says:

    Loved this post. Really well put.

    I’m only a few years in on doing this as a business, so maybe I haven’t hit that roadblock yet. But I try to not think of myself as a wedding photographer when I go out and shoot weddings. I’m a photographer, and I happen to be shooting a wedding. I document it the way I’d document anything else (except for the family portrait section of the day, which I think hasn’t changed in the last hundred years.)

    Thus far, people seem to be booking me because of it. Hopefully that continues, eh?

    • Smogranch says:

      Caroline,

      that is the key, finding a way for it to work for you. we’re all different, have different baggage, and we just have to learn to navigate. Those portraits…unchanged for centuries. I heard a wedding group build the pyramids.

  18. dj says:

    Great Post!
    About being pure and true to yourself as an Artist.

    Sounds like a great idea for a business plan:

    ” I didn’t have packages, pricing, online crap I didn’t need, business cards, letterhead, newsletters, promos, stock sales, blah, blah, blah. I was just a guy with a camera aiming it at strange kids. All locations were still new. People would call, I would answer. A plan would be made. I would go and shoot. ”

    Lets see…Camera , Film, Enlarger….Make Prints – Sell prints. Done.
    Repeat Process….

    I too felt burned out as a staffer on a newspaper. When you have to create day in and day out with many deadlines each day and coming back empty handed was not an option…the magic of the process was gone for me. I did this for about 7 years.

    I stayed with digital awhile.

    Currently I am back to B&W film and reinventing myself again as an artist. I couldn’t be happier.

    I will probably ditch the online stuff and post production.
    I see an enlarger and a handful of business cards in my future. Maybe even some Marshalls Oils.
    You can do both- you can be happy and you can build a business. You just have to figure out what it will take to make you happy. Keep your vision pure and do what you love. It is about making changes in your life to be happy and healthy. If you choose to stay at a day job that makes you miserable or unfulfilled then it is time to do some research, look at your options and follow through with the life changes you need to make. When we are not happy it shows in our work- Lack of happiness and grinding out images is not where I want to be.

    I will be 51 in 3 weeks – My plan to reinvent myself at this stage of my life- didn’t come quickly or easily. It came out of necessity to be HAPPY. Film makes me Happy- so I will build my plan around film and fiber prints. Find what makes you happy and build from there. It can be done! You can do it too !
    DJ

    • Smogranch says:

      DJ,

      I realized for me, I don’t want photography to be my business, regardless of how I did it. I’ve done precisely what you are planning and it just didn’t work for me. What changed…the idea of what photography meant to the masses, and I can do nothing to control that. So, I realized, I can’t work as a photographer and make the work I want, or need, to make.

    • Tom says:

      I have tried to like digital but it turns out to be the same experience I had with cigarettes when I was in grade 8. I bought different brands, puffed away like a trooper, tried to follow the crowd, felt nauseous a few times with the result and couldn’t for the life of me see why everyone enjoyed it so much. One thing great about film is the ability to store it without crashing (like a hard drive). Also deleting digital images moments after you take them can be bad. Go back and look at old negatives to see what I mean. Some of them make way more sense with later viewing. Sometimes you do things intuitively and the results don’t look right because you don’t have the experience to recognize things.

    • Smogranch says:

      I have a difficult time with digital as well. I’ve tried to convince myself it’s no different, just a variation, or mental shift here or there. But it isn’t. And, most importantly, I’m just not as good with a digital camera. Seeing that image, for me, terrible. Being able to overshoot. Not good either. Only having electronic archive…really not good. And having to sit in front of a computer each and every time I make pictures…..crippling for me. I just don’t relate to my work the same way. Frankly, I don’t relate to it well with most other photographers either. I see the same changes I saw in myself, in them, and it is, at times, hard to swallow. But, if people are happy and making pictures, that’s what matters.

      For the life of me, I can’t imagine sitting down at a computer, with hundreds of digital files, then processing them to look like film. I just don’t get that at all.

  19. Tom says:

    Great thoughtful article here and judging by the response it obviously rang a few bells for people. I wish I could remember the name of the guy (years ago) who showed his photography work to a great art photographer who told him to keep working at his day job so that he didn’t ruin his photographic vision as a pro shooter. yikes.

    Next I’d be interested in hearing your take on digital photography magazines that people read and try and emulate with all the HDR crap and saturated colours and such.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey, twelve years ago this exact same thing happened to me. I was working in the corporate world, showed my work to a photographer I really admired, and he said, “Man, I’m jealous.” I asked, “What?” He said, “you are make more good work in one year than I’ve made in ten.” “Once you start doing this for a full time thing you just can’t do this work.”
      And that was TWELVE YEARS AGO.
      Oddly enough, I ran into this same person last year and told him what i was planning on doing, quitting full time photography, and he said, “Remember that conversation we had?”

    • Tom says:

      Oh man that’s so crazy. Perhaps this story has repeated more than once! A number of months ago I saw the Buffalo Sabres Hockey photos at the Albright Know Gallery in Buffalo. The guy who took many of the iconic action photos was a truck driver!
      Now talking about a guy who does it his way and not for fame or cash, have you seen Bill Cunnigham New York? It’s an inspirational tale.

    • Smogranch says:

      Yes, the Bill Cunningham movie is great. Not sure of what his economic advantages are but when he said, “If you don’t take the money, they can’t tell you what to do” is something all photographers should at least have in the back of their mind. One of the things I’m most puzzled by, these days especially, is the photographer who does anything for anyone for anything. Whatever shoot, in whatever style, for basically whatever money. That just doesnt’ work long term….unless you are completely satisfied with shooting mundane, poorly thought out, generic color filler. There are A LOT of photographers who are okay with doing this.

  20. Tom says:

    The comments you make are also applicable to a variety of design and creative professions. Just replace the word ‘photographer’ with the vocation of your choice and there ya’ go. Has this always been the same? Are we just getting older and wiser or are there forces in motion that make it so? Do modern day pressures and technology suck the lifeblood out of everything?

  21. Eric Labastida says:

    Great post man. I Remember hitting the mainstream sucess wall about 14 years ago talking to Vin on the 104th floor of The AP in New York. I had won something based on work that took me at the time 7 years to complete. He wanted new work of the same calibre in a week. Didn’t work out.
    That made up my mind that to do the kind of work that is pure of heart you must do it solely on your own terms. And then some people have trust funds.

    • Smogranch says:

      EL,

      That is precisely right. It’s such a strange situation in to be in, being asking for the impossible, or the impossible being expected. I think this is why you are starting to see even reportage images photoshopped beyond belief because people feel they keep having to move the bar.

    • Tom says:

      Photoshop is out of control. The day will come when a straight photograph appears so different that people will say “wow, how did you get that effect?”. Same holds true for computer generated design images. I scanned some hand sketches for a client meeting once and when I presented he said “Wow how did you generate those?” uhhh I drew them with a pencil, I said.
      People are ‘moving the bar’ as you say but to where? Fakeville?

    • Smogranch says:

      I think it has been out of control for ten years. But, I think that is what happens with humans. People are so set on standing out that and one of the easiest ways of doing that is to spend more time in front of the computer and make something a little more “worked” than what you did last year. A designer I know said he looked through the CAA and “couldn’t find a single real image.” The only part of this that really bugs me is when I see light doing things it just doesn’t do in real life. Light doesn’t come from seven angles at once, all at the same level. In many cases the heavy photoshop I see is attempting to make up for poor composition, poor content, poor execution and most importantly, poor exposure. To say that modern photography is sloppy is an understatement. Not like sloppy wasn’t around before, but today we like to call it “post processing.”

  22. “Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination. One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the intellect for a pristine imaginative conception. The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form, and design. The term “life” as used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it implies all of existence, and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun it. Painting will have to deal more fully and less obliquely with life and nature’s phenomena before it can again become great.”
    .
    – Edward Hopper, 1953 included in an interview, http://www.americansuburbx.com/2009/03/interview-interview-with-edward-hopper.html
    .
    Regardless if you’re a painter or a photographer, something to think about if you make pictures.
    .

  23. Tom says:

    I don’t think Bill Cunningham was seeking any economic advantages. Certainly the Spartan lifestyle doesn’t suit most people but the message was a good one. I couldn’t live in a studio filled with boxes but the freedom he enjoys has a real allure. No one will ever be able to say the guy was a phoney sell out who followed the style du jour. I loved to see him working that old slr at the fashion show when everyone else had the cookie cutter equipment.

    • Smogranch says:

      ya, that’s the thing, he is just doing his thing, love the fashion shoots and the independence in a world not known for that.

  24. RGBeki says:

    As an 18 year old woman who has been in love with and immersed in photography for years, I found myself at one point feeling very dismayed at our industry as I became older. At the risk of sounding jaded, I had this sinking feeling within me that in order to become a successful photographer (in the more flooded areas of photography such as events or portraiture) one must sacrifice their photography. Photography is my life, my passion, and to think that when my name is heard more than my photos are seen I have to give up what is dearest to me…it is very crushing. But now I’ve realized that you can pursue your passions and find success, perhaps not always in an awe inspiring bottom line, but in more intimate ways within yourself. If I pursue my passions I believe that my desires will find me, instead of pursuing my desires and finding my passions have become lost to me.

    Thank you so much for your post. I rarely ever comment on blogs, but felt compelled this afternoon. Thank you again. 🙂

    • Smogranch says:

      RGBeki,

      You have to find those small things that inspire you. What they are, how you find them, how you keep them…different for all of us. I know plenty of folks who don’t care, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, they just view what they are doing as pure business. Pure business is what fuels them. I know a photographer, very successful, we had dinner. He said, “I don’t know anything about photography, I hire people to do everything for me, and my life is about business and money.” He is super happy and is a fun guy to be around. Just proof that we are all on different trajectories. I’m in no way opposed to money, I need it and want it, but I just don’t want to get it with photography.

  25. lm says:

    i loved this post and love all the comments. i am right there with you, b&w love and all, and just recently (last week!) decided that the “personal project” thing is the way i will go forth.

    no more looking through hundreds of images, comparing them side by side until my brain shuts off and i have left the building, no more allowing clients to become art directors. done.

    and thank you for the affirmation.

    • Smogranch says:

      In my opinion, the sooner you make this realization the better chance you have of success in the long term. There will be short term sacrifice, but ultimately that is no big deal.

  26. Zoë says:

    Really glad I came across this. Thank you.

  27. dj says:

    ” What changed…the idea of what photography meant to the masses, and I can do nothing to control that. So, I realized, I can’t work as a photographer and make the work I want, or need, to make.”

    So true- we cannot change their mind- we only have control over our mind.

    I cannot change what “todays photography” means to the masses either- but I can control what it means to me, and others who like the style of art we create.
    I can’t stand mind numbing digital either- but hand crafted- hand produced- one of a kind- now we are shifting our gears a bit more into craft and art.

    I had a major mind shift a few weeks ago- I picked up a box of Polaroid cameras at a yard sale. I had been wanting to do some image transfers and more one of a kind pieces….and one simple little change has shifted my mindset and maybe it can help others who think like we do and also to differenciate what we do to those who think digital equals photography.

    I changed one word on my business card–
    from Photographer to Artist.

    My mindset has shifted as well :Hand-crafted Alternative Photographic Process – One of a kind pieces- handcrafted by me.

    So whether it is in the darkroom and a handcrafted fiber print that is handcolored with oils or an image transfer – by calling them art instead of prints or photographs- I have found my motivation and inspriation to be growing. The best part is I am still creating the same type of work I set out to create!

    It is all about perception- in the minds of the creators, the minds of the masses and the minds of the purchaser.

    Lots of great insight in this thread- Thanks everyone!

    • Smogranch says:

      perception is very important, and can truly influence nearly all aspects of your job, life, career, etc, even times when it has little or nothing to do with you.

  28. melissa says:

    I totally agree, and I’m lucky because I read and met people who consider the art of photography more then the marketing of photography as important.. I spent 4 years working full time and slowly building my business.. what I love about how I do things is that my clients know they are getting something different, unique each time, no similar poses, no fake smiles, just this moment and I may not make it rich with upselling, because I don’t upsell, and I may not book 50 weddings a year, but that’s GOOD because I can do it now the way I want it, two years now working at doing art, trying to blur the line between client work and personal work, but never stopping my own growth as an artist.. consistency ends up selling a lot but in terms of art it’s death… great article (the first thing I did when I dropped my non arty job was cancel all my “free” industry subscriptions, they made me nuts)

    • Smogranch says:

      Melissa,

      I can’t look at industry things either. Within the PJ or commercial photography world, I can, and sometimes do, but not in the wedding/portrait world. The wedding/portrait world is wildly successful, but it just isn’t my direction.

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