My Comment that Bounced

I love reading blogs. I love commenting on blogs, but due to my being tied up with making magical photograph after magical photograph, I don’t get a lot of time to make comments. So when I do get time, I find it exciting. I wrote this comment earlier today, on another blog, but after I hit submit, the post got rejected for some reason. Well, it wasn’t rejected exactly, the internal machinery wasn’t working, so it never even got sent up the chain of command. But, because I’m so skilled at navigating the digital world, wink, wink, I always save my comments before hitting send. So I figured, at the very least, I could post it here. And, most importantly, I have the time. The blog asked questions about this year, next year and about the “death of film.”

My big news for the year is that it appears that this was the year of “survival is the new success.”

My phone frequently rings in with tales of sorrow from all parts of the world, but at the core of this, I feel, is still a positive spark burning, but burning as a warning for all of us. The question is will we see the warning? Will we take notice? Or will pace once again derail us from seeing the larger picture, no pun intended.

At the heart of all issues photographic is the photographer. We are the solution, and we are the problem.

For 2010 to pull us from the depths of where our industry finds itself, all we need to do is stop, look, listen and slow down.

Unique content is the key, and we’ve gotten away from it. We have filled the world with millions of generic content style images and then wondered why the impact of photography has fallen off the cliff. We wonder why magazines fail. We wonder why no one seems to be interested in great imagery. We wonder why the photographers being regaled are more about technology than they are about imagery. We wonder why adding sound and motion has become so important. We wonder why we think this is going to “save us.”

Unique content.

Speed kills, as they say, and in my mind, it’s been killing our business for at least twelve years. Something happened to all of us the minute we could immediately see our images and the minute we gave ourselves the allusion we were in control of everything. Something happened to us when we began to think we could make perfect things, pictures, people, moments, etc. Something happened when we decided the machines could “make” us photographers.

These things have led us here, and now we need to find the trail out. The road ahead is perilous, and it’s going to take some feeling around the dark to find the trail head. Nothing will be easy. The highway is there, brightly lit, beckoning for us to get in line, but we know where that road leads, it’s what got us to where we are today.

As for the year of the “death of film.” I’ve been hearing that for almost fifteen years, and it makes me laugh every time. The best work being made these days, in my mind, is mostly produced by photographers still using film. In fact, looking back at the books I bought from this past year, and the shows I attended, shows that were good, interesting, and filled with unique content…..all film users. I also acquired several prints, all but one of which were made on film and printed in the traditional darkroom.

So, here’s to a 2010 of kids continuing to buy vinyl, turntables and 1980’s headphones. Here’s to the bicycle. Here’s to face to face instead of the chat room. Here’s to handmade. Here’s to time. Here’s to pen and paper. Here’s to doing things right before you’re on deadline. Here’s to substance over style. Here’s to the unknown photographer. Here’s to not conforming. Here’s to photo editors who actually know something about photography. Here’s to those moments of clarity where we do our best, most creative work. Here’s to photographers learning to think on their own again, and here’s to film surviving yet another year in the death pool. Here’s to design making a comeback. Here’s to the photography book. Here’s to the photography show. Here’s to those that question the higher ups. Here’s to the photographic audience, sorry we forgot about you there for a decade. Here’s to wading through the noise that surrounds the “professional” photography world. Here’s to photographers learning about light instead of keyboard shortcuts. Here’s to personal work. Here’s to creative control. Here’s to saying “No.” Here’s to asking yourself the question, “What is it I truly want to do, and what is it I’m trying to say?” And here’s to finding the answer.

And most importantly, here’s to photography. It’s larger and more powerful than any of us and will survive long after the last pixel or grain of silver has faded to dust.

Costa Mesa, CA
December 2009

Thinking about Peru 2010

Roughly 120 days from now I’m teaching a workshop in Peru.

My planning has already begun. You might find that a little surprising, but it’s very true. And while this might seem like a lot of prep time, let me assure you, it isn’t. Not by a long shot.

And when I say planning, I don’t mean dragging out my suitcase or beginning to prepare lecture notes. Those will come, in time. I mean, one of the basic questions is which camera will I take – my Leica or my Hasselblad?

At the moment, I’m beginning to prepare the logistics of my photographs. My personal introspection of what I’d like to make while in Cusco for the first time – what I’d like to make while there, not what I’ll be teaching. In fact, this note is somewhat of a primer on what we will be considering while there.

You see, in many ways, I’m in a similar position to the students who will be attending the Peru in Book Form photographic workshop. I’ve never been to Peru. I’ve never witnessed Easter in Peru. I’ve never seen Cusco. I’ve never been to this hotel. I’ve never flown through Lima. So, it is difficult for me to know exactly what will happen, which is what is so exciting.

(For those curious why the heck I’m teaching a workshop in a city I’ve never visited, I’m working with the producer of the PhotoExperience workshops who specializes in photography in Cusco. Between the two of us, we’ve got it covered.)

I think one of the most difficult things about doing an event like this is fighting the urge to preconceive what will happen or what I will see. More seasoned photographers might stand over my shoulder: “been there, done that“ trying to share the easiest solution with me, but again, my mind is telling me otherwise. I have grand visions, but there is always a catch.

In my editorial and newspaper days, assignments NEVER appeared like the concepts I’d preconceived. On the one hand this was frustrating. My visions were always incredible, and often times the visuals in front of me were not. I’d find myself cursing the assignment editor or saying to myself, “Gotta make chicken salad out of chicken sh%$.”

But on the other hand, arriving at unexpected things was fantastic, kept me on my toes, challenged me, and in the end made me a far better photographer. Heading into unknown territory with my camera became second nature, which has helped me tremendously when it comes to shooting weddings or even portraits. I don’t get rattled.

So today I find myself dreaming about Peru and also trying to figure out how I’m going to “design” my photographs – better yet, create my story.

I don’t know what I’m going to see in Peru. I could go online and look up Easter and try to find something specific, and part of me wants to do that, but I’m fighting the urge. Perhaps I don’t really want to know. I want to see with fresh eyes, knowing that what I see has never happened before. Each year brings something new, something I learned from photographing Sicilian Easter over a four-year period. I would return to the same towns, shoot the same events and see different things each time.

I’m thinking about other aspects of my images: how do I want them to look? In what format? Color or black and white? What size prints will I make? Will the prints be digital or traditional? Am I shooting for more of an editorial look? Gallery look? Or a book?

The specific goal of this workshop is to photograph Easter in Peru with the idea of producing a book from the material. What size book? What format? Will this be a commercial book? A personal book? A limited edition? Softcover? Hardcover?

What if I shoot two different ways and make two different books? Can I even do that? Will it water down the images if I try to do two things at once? Should I research previously published books on Peru? Of Easter?

Okay, by now it is evident I just finished my morning coffee, and that perhaps I’m a little fixated on this issue. Guilty as charged.

But this is my reality. You see my “design” on my images changes. I’ve got more than one look, and I’m trying to predict the future.

The easiest thing to do is shoot my Leica and Tri-x. I’ll love it. I know because I’ve done it so many times, in so many places. But I could also use the Hasselblad, which I love for portraits. Maybe I could shoot the action with the Leica and the slower stuff with the Blad?

It would be so great to board the plane with two small bodies, two lenses and a small bag of film. Light, easy, simple. But my mind tells me I can do more, make more, but this might just be another trick.

But in the end I can’t allow the concept of a book, or what a gallery might like, overpower the basics of light, timing and composition. I need to put myself in the best position to make the best photographs that are most reflective of me as a photographer.

It’s so easy to get lost in the “design”.

So, today my planning and designing continues. Soon I will work on lecture notes, slideshows, etc. I will curse myself for losing at least half of my Spanish ability. But I will also relish the idea of what will happen 120 days from now. I will dream about the moments and the happiness we will experience.

Like a fire burning inside, keeping us creatively warm, until that moment when the starter gun says,” Go!”


I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to teach in Peru during Easter of 2010. I’ve covered Easter before, many times, in Sicily, as well as Mexico, and here in the US, where my love of the egg is evident.

This workshop is part of the Photo Experience program, which has been in operation in Peru for some time. Check their site to see a list of both completed programs as well as a few of the upcoming events.

The idea of the workshop is to think, see and photograph with the ultimate intention of creating a book from the images. Working in book form is different than randomly snapping here and there, and is a great way to learn to see your photographs in more depth. We will look at a photo as a stand alone image, as well as how images work as a theme, how to sequence a picture story, and design specific to the book process.

And imagine how much there will be see in Cusco during Semana Santa!