The Power of Doubt

I made these images last week while in Salt Lake City on business. There was little intent here, just a few spare moments to walk the streets. A few days after I showed these images to someone I walked with and he said “I like these, and they make me wonder why I didn’t shoot that moment or space?” I told him that was the beauty of photography, that there is no right and wrong, and each of us sees the world in a strange and unique way. This is something I’ve written about many times here on Smogranch, about how each photographer has a view on things and the real task is to find that view, polish it and to be able to call upon it when needed, sometimes at a moments notice. It has never been easy and the same applies today, even when we have so much new at our fingertips, a new that promises to make everything effortless. It never does. In fact, it has no effect on this pursuit at all. None.

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But that is not what I want to talk about. I don’t particularly like these images. In fact, they don’t even feel like they are mine. But they brought up something very important in my mind; doubt. There is a detachment with these images, and rightly so. I wasn’t particularly interested in the subject matter and I was walking and talking with someone else, a practice that is enjoyable but one that also forces me to balance looking with the act of interacting with another human being. I can’t really do both. I’m simply not good enough at the moment, or perhaps I never was.
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What these images made me realize was I have not been excited about images for a long, long while. My own images I should say. I’ve not made a single image, for a considerable amount of time, that I feel truly connected with. And now the doubt has begun to emerge. Am I still capable of making great work? Was I ever? Have I ever? Now I have certain bodies of work I feel are stronger than others, and some of these bodies did acquire accolades over the years, so I feel it’s not home team bias to think they might be good work. But they were done years ago, and frankly I don’t know if I’m still capable of making work like this. Doubt.
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All of my good work was people based, and this specific style of image requires time, access, trust and connection. Time. There is simply no way around it. I look back on the good work and see the YEARS flip by on the calendar. I see the film piled up, the long flights, the complete, selfish deep dive into ONLY the project. Nothing else mattered or even breached the edges of my radar. In fact, other than my wife, I HAD nothing else. Nothing. Only photography, which is something I look back on now and cringe. I should have never let it go this far, but I did, and the one upside is the work. But now I live a different life where photography lives on the same street but in a different house. She is a friendly neighbor but I hardly see her, and when I do it’s only a quick “hello” and “goodbye.”

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But a part of me wonders if it’s still possible, and if I could resurrect something good if given the chance. Yesterday, as a test, I made a decision to take the first step in the required direction, which for me is all about mental space. Meditation as disconnect. I was in treatment for my Lyme Disease, and I have the option of watching a television connected to cable, not something I usually have access to seeing as my house is void of TV. Normally, I use this treatment time to zone out and forget, but yesterday I turned the television off, crossed my legs and just let my mind wander. Suddenly I was inside a book. A white book with only a faint trace of content, pulled back and faded to the edge of nothing. It took a moment to understand where I was and what I was looking at, but then I realized it was the future book I had thought about but had yet to formulate. Physically I was in a small cubicle of treatment but my mind was somewhere else, completely and utterly at peace and working with precise and uncluttered focus, eyes open, hands moving and handling the book that was yet to be. The title came to me, the cover design and the copy required for the introduction. All of it. Word by word, image by image.
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And then suddenly I was back. Soaked in sweat. Like coming up from the depths of isolation and back into this world. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but I knew it was a considerable amount. It was like I had ceased to exist, in a physical sense, while “away” and doing “work.” I began to retrace my route and the things I had discovered. I had no pen or paper, so I tried to file the list away for a future retrieval. I was pleased because I knew I still had what I required, at least mentally, to do work I want to do. I still had the REM sleep of focus required to really connect.
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In London a few weeks back I had a conversation with an Instagram photographer and admitted that IG was the first social network I decided to delete. I explained why I needed to do this. This person listened patiently then asked if there wasn’t another way for me to work around this. I said I didn’t think so. I’m sure others can do it, but I’m entirely sure I cannot. In fact, what these fractional things did to me was ensure I was never truly connected to what was around me because they were a constant distraction, or filter, of my true thoughts at any given time. If I’m staring at a phone, or television for that matter, how can I NOT be distracted.
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My doubt still remains. I’m not sure I can see the way I need to, but I now know I can still find the focus required. These images are a reminder to me that there are real photographs and there are phantoms, crisscrossing our eyes, distracting our brain, or deflecting reality just a bit longer. Filler. They keep the fluids moving and the parts greased just enough that the machine does not falter or grind to a halt. At some point in the near future I will need to face this doubt, make a stand or learn to ignore, and this is when the real fun will begin.

Blurb Australia: Brisbane Begins…

I thought it would be interesting to show a tiny glimpse into this little Blurb Safari we are experiencing at the moment. I’ve been getting a lot of emails, messages, etc. in regard to this trip, mostly from folks who think I’m on vacation because for us Americans Australia is such an exotic place there is skepticism that this could possibly be a work trip.

I get a lot of “Are you going shark diving?” “When are you driving the Great Ocean Road?” “Make sure when you are in Sydney you see these eleven things and in this order….” The only problem with these wonderful suggestions is that we actually ARE on a work trip. which looks a lot like the second and fourth images here. I also get a lot of emails from people who think I’m here working on a photography project, which is also far from the reality no matter how much I wish it was true. At some point, near the end of this little voyage, I’m hoping to get a few days to spread my photography wings, but until that time I’m making myself less photographically miserable by snapping these odd little moments, frames one an three, that are simply about color. It’s all I’ve got people and I’m clinging to it like a life preserver in rough seas.

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We spend much of our time doing what we are doing in the second image which is logistics, planning, sign making (Garry is a MASTER) email and then getting to and from the events, which entail about five different programs in each city over a three or four day period. Today I’m off up north to do a masterclass at a local art school, and tomorrow we do a designer event in the morning and book workshop in the afternoon. The following day begins a two-day staffing and lecture at a local photo festival. Our entertainment comes from comparing hotels, the speed of elevators, what odd times we woke up due to jetlag and how Jason and I nearly die when Garry tricks us into eating food so spicy we sweat through our shoes.(He does this in every city.)
Life on the road is an interesting one filled with many new faces, new places and the unknown just around the bend.

Brussels Express

Okay people, you know my lust of all things bike. This means you will have to suffer through posts VOID of anything photographic. However, think of the cinematography of this film, eat some tranquilizers and get your ass off the couch and ride your bike. I actually had NO idea that Brussels was this bad. I lump that entire region of the world into something along these lines…..“tall, blond people, three day work week, lots of weed, bikes everywhere, really cold, fish for breakfast, lots of cigarettes, funny languages.” The concept of traffic choked motorways and smog, not so much. Good to know Southern California is influencing the rest of the world.

Bike Commuting Update


Out with the old, in with the new.

I just switched from 700×32 tires on the right, to 700×25 tires on the left! Shake and bake!
I know that millions of you out there are wondering how my bike commuting days are going. Well, I have to admit, it is pretty exciting. Using a bike instead of a car, who would have thunk it. It’s not like the rest of the world does it or anything.
I’ve been enjoying my little commute, even though I’m not commuting. You see I work at home, so I have nowhere to commute to. BUT, I do use the bike for errands. Food, bank, beach, training, lab, clients, etc, I can do all from the bike.


My typical rear rack setup. Exciting right?

Sure, I get to the clients and I’m a total sweaty mess, but who cares, it adds excitement to our lives of routine. A lot of folks ask me about the reception to riding in these parts. Frankly, it’s fine. Most people are TOTALLY indifferent to someone on a bike, and those few who blow by you inches from your handlebar, or get close and blast their horn, they have always sucked and have always been lonely, scared, insignificant creatures anyway, and chances are they will never change.


Another photo here for no particular reason.

Last night a friend was able to debut his documentary film titled, “Riding Bikes with the Dutch,” at the Art Theater in Long Beach. A great, fun film which ultimately contrasts Amsterdam with Long Beach, “The most bike friendly city in America.”
I’m not sure why bikes have been so slow to catch on here, well, I take that back. I know why. But, I’m surprised we still haven’t put our egos and status aside and embraced our future. I think when gas hits $5 per gallon, and it will, I think the bike will suddenly become more appealing.
Forty percent of all trips taken in the United States are less than 2 MILES. Just think about that.

But, it has to begin with city planning. Without city planning we are DOOMED. Drive to Phoenix lately? From LA? NINETY miles from Phoenix someone is building track housing developments. People, people, people, this has to be stopped. Not only are they building out there, but there is NO public transport to the city. How in 2010 is that possible? Plus, these places are cracker jack construction which means repairs in ten years, required heating in winter, air conditioning in summer. People, how on Earth does this make sense? And yet…it continues at a record pace.

This country is fantastic, but we sure do settle for less much of the time. We squander our potential, and instead of being a leader in the world we are a distant, reluctant, often times belligerent follower. We have the means to LEAD the world in this area, and yet we lead in sprawl and energy consumption.

The bike for me, don’t get me wrong, was not a revolutionary tactic. I ride because I like to ride. It made sense to me. The VAST majority of my trips are within 10 miles of my house, so naturally, I can take a bike and be fine. I also think the bike gives me time to think. No cell phone, and I even quit listening to music. One, it is safer, but two my mind is more clear, uncluttered. The bike is the ultimate pace. I could never run ten miles a day, and don’t really need my car. A bike is that pace that forces you to be a part of the world, but also allows you to cover a fair amount of ground.

There are a hundred and one reasons NOT to bike around here, but most are lame and old and tired. Check out my friend’s movie. If the those pesky Dutch can do it then so can we. www.everydaybike.com

Go See This Show

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So I’m highly recommending this show. Trust me. Go.

Michael Napper photographs. Just look at these things and tell me you don’t want to see the rest.

I’ve known Michael now for a few years, and find him to be one of those guys that makes me shake my head, but in the best possible way. An accomplished, contemporary, fine-art painter, but someone who has also worked with photography for years and who recently, luckily for the rest of us, ramped up the photo-part of his life.

Already published in Black and White, something that can normally take YEARS, I think his work speaks for itself. If you know his paintings then you will see a vein of consistency that is no easy task to pull off. A definitive style that is immediately recognizable, what every artist strives for.

Michael is also a very hands on guy, experimenting with materials extensively, and creating these pieces from start to finish, by hand. There is nothing automated about what he does, and the idea of building a piece of photography becomes a reality in this work.

I find this work refreshing, distinctive, personal, and making me want more. If I knew any real art speak I would use it here. I don’t know any, and it would probably sound ridiculous coming from me, so just imagine I’m laying it on thick.

So, go to the show and see for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.