It’s All Jeff’s Fault

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It’s all Jeff’s fault.

Why am I sitting here pondering my fate, future and fortune? Why are my friends doing the same? “That was all I needed, just Duane last night and Eileen this morning,” a friend said. “I’m changing things, I’m getting my life out of a box.” Why? Because Jeff put all these people together. It’s his fault.

The Palm Springs Photo Festival 2014 is over. It is. Over, done, final, complete and we have all moved on. Or have we? You see this isn’t a “photography event.” Don’t think trade show or geek fest. Think image. Think ACTUAL photography and the meaning behind why people do it and what it means to us as record, history or simply entertainment. These “little” gatherings are rare indeed, especially in an era of technology and over-interaction where nobody can seem to put their phone down long enough to actually find real purpose and real meaning, but during the festival they do, and they did.

Everyone was there. There was Duane, Frank, Greg and even a Gregory. There was Ian and Brian and Elena. There was a Tim and a Todd. There was Fletcher and Stanley was there too, and these were just the ones who came to share what they knew. You wonder why they did this? Because of Jeff. It’s his fault. He’s a strange bird this Dunas character. I sat in the audience, night after night, as the words and pictures flooded out, personal things, and private things and astounding things, things that branded even the longest running of those of us who have looked at life through little squares and rectangles, and I wondered “Do people really know what this is?” “Do they know how special this is?”
I wanted to blurt out my feelings and castigate anyone who even thought of leaving early. Like looking out over open prairie while the songbirds sing, knowing that the land has been sold to developers. You better pay attention now because you just never know if you will ever see or experience this again.

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I was there to work, to give information, to listen and to respond. Things I normally do, regardless of where I am, but more focused perhaps. Intense. Creatives are needy. They need time, critical thought and sounding boards. That’s just the way it is. The energy comes and goes, gets sucked out of you and then replaced by the words or images searing through your retinas or gently floating through your ears. “Your life is THE event,” we are told. Clearly, but thank you for reminding me.

“Who did you talk to?” she asked. How dare you even ask? Everyone. How can I even begin to remember. But here goes. Kelly, Michael, Tony, Brendan, Justin, Kari, Dan, Laura, Anthony, Douglass, Alexa, Randy, Michelle, Chris, Leah, Matt, another Chris, Greg, Valentino, Ray, Jesse, Sean, Dan, Tara, Susan, Matt, Cain, another Jeff, Mac, Peter, Andrew, Casey, Mike, Michael, Teru, Daniel, Ken, Sherri, Sue, Anna, Christa, David, Sonja, Holly, Jennifer, Miriam, Norman, Dina, Carolyn, Allegra, and Mary, and I’m not even social. I went to sleep early. Jeff’s fault.

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There was also the soul thing. Ya, that. That thing you think is just babble until you are staring at it and no matter which way you look you can’t see around. Ya, that. I learned, after twenty-five years that cameras have souls too. Mine does, or doesn’t in some cases. A switch. A spotlight shined at me. “Hey, dipshit, what are you doing?” “Stop doing it and get back to doing what you do.” Ya, I had that moment too, because of Jeff. And it wasn’t just me. What’s even better than having these moments is watching others have them. They do things like climb over four rows of seats in a really nice theatre just to tell you about something they figured out. They leave untold numbers of messages on your phone, or they lurk in the shadows near your hotel room and when you walk by they hiss and whisper, “Hey, wanna know what happened to me?” Creative breakthroughs needs to be shared, to be taken off the chest and released. It happens. It really does.

You want to know the truth? What came from all this? The consistent thread? Do your work. NOTHING else. You simply don’t have time to screw around. Want to be the one on that stage? Quit pretending, a photographic life isn’t a masquerade ball, it’s a police lineup but the only police lineup where you want to be the one picked out, and to do that you gotta find your particular visual crime. “Have you seen good work?” I asked. “Yes, but I often times have to wade through the work they think I want to see before we get to who they really are,” he answered. There, I just saved you months of work and therapy sessions. Just go figure it out and put it on paper. Then bring it back and show it to us. Tick, tock, tick, tock.

Ya, I still blame Dunas. This post, the thoughts in my head and the direction I will take with my first step on this Sunday morning. The residue is there, like SPF 80 sunscreen. You KNOW it won’t come off easy.

16 Responses to “It’s All Jeff’s Fault”

  1. john says:

    Songbirds singing as the prairie births yet another highway, then a rest stop then…”visual crimes” (love that)…I sat in on the Blurb seminar and was hooked by your passion & comments, so much so that I had to attend your afternoon seminar! It was equally refreshing & infuriating…thanks for the mind%#$@. As you poignantly have reminded us…back to trenching my way into that “Rabbit Hole”! Aloha & take care, John

  2. lionelB says:

    Dan,
    One of the things I took from the interviews you have been conducting is that people who at first sight seem to be doing the same thing are actually in worlds apart. The ‘adventure’ conducted by spreadsheet is just the day job conducted by other means. Life is not a project. Waking up this morning and smelling the air before deciding the possibilities offered by today; that is something entirely different. Listening, being influenced, following what comes. Being surprised and delighted. Even being surprised and dismayed. It is the accidents which are the most rewarding ― and the most fun. If all we have is the script, we stay in the box.

    • Smogranch says:

      Lionel,
      Very easy to become myopic in this photo-world. Happens all the time. Recent conversation with a few who are well known and the talk always ends up back at them. Others, the exact opposite. They are open, welcome and secure. I think it’s about knowing that are you doing the right thing and not the thing you think you are supposed to be doing. I’m REALLY seeing, for the first time in a decade, a real push back from those in positions of power who are saying “enough already.” Last night I heard an interview with someone who was speaking about Mary Ellen Mark. He said we live in a age of technology and everyone has a camera and is posting, but you can’t for a second tell me that they are photographers like Mary Ellen Mark.” It’s true. The real photographers are making work that is simply different, lasting, more insightful and meant to be appreciated over time.

  3. john says:

    Lionel, I agree that possibilities are all around us, all the time…being “awake” to them seems the difference that separates each of us. I don’t know if you were at PSPF (my first time going to any photo fest/workshop) but one thing that surprised me was how “trapped” many of the shooters/attendees felt that I spoke with! It seems like we forget why we picked up a camera in the first place…why we fell in love with Making an image not just Taking an image. I imagine people go to these workshops to get inspired (I know I got jazzed), but then what do they do after the circus leaves town? Do we dive right back into the everyday routine…probably…but can we not also see new possibilities, some that were there all along and even some that we have been avoiding…hopefully? Just waking up to read & reply to Smogranch is new for me…I have not read many blogs & this is my first time ever posting to one. Why did I decide to do this…why not? I have other tasks that need addressing, but as you said, I am also smelling the air, and after I get my kids off to school, check on clients, pay bills, etc…I am going to Make an image or three!!! Aloha, John

    • Smogranch says:

      John,
      If you want to make it, you can’t go back to the routine. The issue is fickleness. The industry will turn you in circles, sometimes within an hour, so if you are allowing someone else to dictate what you do and how you do it, it’s over really. This isn’t to say you can’t make a living, but those doing this are not happy and email me to ask if I can help them get jobs outside of the industry. No joke. Happens every week. And more importantly, what are you left with? Other people’s work.

  4. Louis Blythe says:

    Wise words,

    “What are you left with? Other people’s work.”

    I can’t think of anything worse and I know for sure I have been guilty of this in a number of genres, creating other peoples work.

    I guess there is only so much you can chalk up to education, learning or practice while you replicate the work of others.

    The hard thing is finding you own style and doing the work.

    Without dragging the elephants into the room there is a swarm of mobile photographers out there recreating the work of photographers hitting the street with fickle film and dusty cameras.

    I’ll take 5 square tri x images shot on a rollie over 1000 instagrams with an inkwell filter any day of the week.

    I would honestly be happy with one great image in this life.

    That would do me fine.

    Louis

    • Smogranch says:

      Louis,
      I also think the negatives have a chance of surviving over a long period, while the digital work is going to go away. Finding your own style takes time and reflect and figure out your lineage. The why behind the camera. Some take the time, others don’t.

  5. Daniel,

    I recently picked up my old RB67 and shot some 6×7 film. Nothing digital was involved in this process – no LCD to distract me, no explosion of digital opportunities to choose filters (think instagram). Nothing electronic. All of the sudden I felt more connected to the scene I was photographing, and I actually paid attention to the light.

    And something new happened that I haven’t felt for ages. I enjoyed the photographic process. These days the only thing I enjoy about digital photography is printing. As the printing actually produces something tangible and physical.

    Developing the negatives was immensely enjoyable – the whole mechanical process where you just have to turn your brain of for 20 minutes and do the required manual labour. It was pure therapy. And the excitement opening the daylight tank to see if you managed to get anything on the negative.

    For the first time in ages, I actually had to put effort and thought into creating an image. I felt unplugged from the Matrix.

    The best part was that it just looked great out of the box, no need to think about post processing, just a bit of dodging and burning and I was in business. What was needed was pre-processing. Thinking about light, form and shape. I felt creative again, I felt the desire to make images.

    What is my point? I am not entirely sure, but I guess what I am trying to say is that I enjoyed having to think again and interact with the physical world. And I think that is the only way to create work that matters. By thinking and figuring out what story you are trying to tell. Cheap effects and filters is just like sugar – it only feels good for a few moments.

    • Smogranch says:

      Michael,
      You just described the process that we all feel when we do this style of work. It IS about connection, and not breaking that connection by looking down between ,at times, every single frame. Glad you rediscovered this entertaining little endeavor.

  6. MDG says:

    You always make me think…..
    I have been trying to articulate “what PSPF is” as I have to check the box for the man who does not understand completely why it is important to participate, and you have summed it up. They may not fully understand, but you do and I do, and you have helped me find the words for what I know in my heart. Good to catch up, albeit short. MDG

    • Smogranch says:

      Gurleyman,
      Amy asked if we got to chat and I said “Not really.” Bummer. It’s a strange thing PSPF, and yes, for the Excel spreadsheet lover it’s a tough one to place inside any field.

  7. You know, I am finding the same connection with the pictures using my phone. My current phone has a good enough camera that technical quality simply isn’t an issue for me.

    I’ve done a fair bit of film in my time, shot a lot of DSLR. All great in its time and place. Sometimes the 4×5 is it. These days it’s the moto g. There’s total transparency, instant feedback, and surprisingly decent tools built in.

    I’ve spent the last few months shooting a few hundred pictures and distilling that to a handmade book of 12. An edition of three, concept stolen shamelessly from smogranch. 1 for me, 1 for a friend, 1 to be released into the wild. When I get it done. Ugh. Almost there.. Almost there…

    Anyways. The point is that it’s not the gear it’s that you find your path and follow it faithfully. The critical point for me wasn’t going back to film or using this camera or that process. The critical point was ‘OK that’s enough feedback and critique and discussion. I know what I want to do, this is it, now is the time to do that, to stick to it, and push through to the end.’

    Stop talking and start doing. Talk later. Talking is OK. Just not as a substitute.

  8. Other Jeff says:

    Of all the amazing seminars, talks and people I spoke to at PSPF this year, your seminar hit me the hardest. It’s the kind of seminar that is toxic for poseurs; a perfect mess.

    The whole world seems like it’s on the shortform-suckup, cult of personality machine (social media). I’m not saying it’s bad to like personalities, or even that brevity is bad, but the more patience I can find for eccentrics and people I disagree with the more interesting life seems to become. In the futurenow people will seek boring moments.

    • Smogranch says:

      JF,

      That means a lot coming from you. I changed that seminar at the last minute, based simply on trying to chime in with what guys like Frank and Duane had said on stage. Get on with it and quit talking about everything, everyday, all the time to anyone and no one in particular. RIGHT before I got your comment I was drawing on a photo I made of you. Just glued it in the “Dispatches Journal.” Cemented, forever, a man crush, art moment? Or perhaps something more sinister? I think Cain needs to build an underground portion of Domeland so even in the summer it’s 70 degrees. And it might survive a drone strike…cause you KNOW it’s coming!! Thanks amigo.

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