It Was All So Easy

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It was all so easy. I didn’t know it at the time. There was no reason to know. There was only reason to want, to get and to experience. “Who was your greatest rival?” the driver was asked. “Well, if you go far back there was a guy, a pure driver, a complete driver, but this was before politics and money, this was pure racing.” It was the same for me. I just knew I wanted to be someone who made pictures. I had little. Two cameras, two lenses and a bag of 35mm, black and white film. I was “freelance,” which according to my father was “mostly free,” “little lance.” It didn’t matter. There was a simplicity, or purity of the drive. Not once did I think of fame, or fortune. They were fools gold, but further these things felt like poison. A slow drip of someone else’s idea of me, of who I should be. Who I should want to be. I never once thought, “What would so and so want from me?” I just did what came naturally, what felt natural and that was more than enough.
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Find story. Get to story. Shoot story. Compile. Repeat. That was the game. The hunt was and is what I am about. I knew it then and I know it more than ever today when once again I find myself free and easy. The early days were the way they were, perfect in their form. With success comes outside influence. A reluctance to put my work out, even from day one, because I just wanted to be in those places, meet those people and make those photographs. Lying in bed at night, staring a cracked fresco on the ceiling above while my parter breaths deeply, next to me but a world away. My exposed film lined up on the floor below the bed. Consuming my night. Reliving those fractured seconds where nothing else in the world mattered but becoming one with my surroundings. Feeling what it meant to really do this. This was never a hobby. It was part of the DNA. Born somewhere far back in history. A newspaper reporter, a school teacher, a searcher, a pioneer, all passing down threads they could never imagine.
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My energy then was all directed outward. Endlessly. I projected. I never wanted anything in return, other than acceptance and opportunity. I knew what I was doing wasn’t going to change the world, but I still felt the need. My world was so peaceful compared to today, to now, when peace is something our culture is slowly exterminating. Click and wind.
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“I don’t get you,” she said. “You shoot these things, you edit and make stories and then you put them in a drawer and never show them to anyone.” “Yes, that’s true.” That’s just the way it is, and no explanation will change it. It was never meant to be, me and this, at least as anything official. It’s not that I don’t care, because I do, but not in the traditional sense. Walking into a house I stare at images on the wall, mine, forgotten that I had made a transaction years ago. Walking into a hotel, staring at images on the wall and realizing they too were mine, forgotten as part of a past trangression. Erased from the front range, placed in the back row and dismissed. Embarrassed even. “Those aren’t really mine.” “You are confusing me with someone else.” I can’t go back, only ahead, but I can strip down, leave behind and reengage. When these memories come they come with an overwhelming force. They are reminders, indicator arrows where my past controls my future. Call this what you will, but I appreciate these little subtleties. Followed by smiles. Acceptance again. Strip down. Fall away and walk on.
Remember? Remember when? When it was all so easy.

New Site: Oh Ya, I’m a Photographer Again.

It has been three years since I actually had a photography website. During this period, when people would ask about where they could see my images online, I would say “I don’t have any images online.” The looks I received were PRICELESS. “How can you be a photographer and not have images online?” they would ask. “I don’t work as a photographer, so I really don’t need a website,” I would reply. Then came the process of my friends and family saying “Wait, no he IS a photographer,” then defending my cult status as “photographer,” “not a photographer,” etc. Personally, I think this is entertaining and because it speaks to the IDEA of being a photographer, not the realities. For me it was simple. If I made my living with photography, I’m a photographer. If I don’t, I’m not.

When people ask me what I do I respond,“I work for Blurb.” Normally, the response is “Oh we love Blurb, I made a book about….” This is what is so great about this company. We provide an outlet for stories, and that is one damn cool thing. However, that is not what this post is about. This post is about my new site, and the new reality that, once again, I AM a photographer.
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It was official. A phone call. “Does this sound appealing to you?” Ten seconds ticked by…..“YES, this sounds incredible actually, like a dream scenario.” So here we are people. I’m in the game once again. Please alert the media. I know for some of you this idea of being or not being a photographer is puzzling or maddening, but for me it’s very real, and it has a significant impact on things like behavior, ethics, quality standards not to mention the idea of building an archive, which for me has always been a critical driving force behind me picking up a camera in the first place.

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I am now photographing for one client, Blurb. The idea is simple. I photograph people living creative, artistic lives. We’ve noticed some threads, some consistencies with these folks, and we are fascinated by their workspaces, their lives, their habits and their process. My goal is to shoot classic reportage essays with the idea being the work could be used in a variety of forms, from print to web and anything in between. This is a celebratory mission. The creative life is under siege, whether you be in music, art or photography, but there is something urgent about those who choose this path. It’s like your blood type. You can’t change it. You were born with this need and your life is about expanding upon it.

I can’t share any of the new work yet. It’s under wraps in private galleries, and will be until it runs in it’s native form. There will be new outlets designed and created to showcase this work, and other work that features similar missives. The site you see here is simply a public face.

I realized very quickly that I needed a new site, but not just a site to showcase images. I’m not really going to be showcasing them myself anyway. I needed a TOOL more than just a website. Photoshelter baby. I had used their services before, and literally within minutes I was up and running once again. I quickly found myself having to make a decision I hadn’t thought about in years. Because the new work will be private my homepage was entirely blank. I thought “I should put up some public work so at least it looks like a real site.” My mind raced back to the old me, “Well, I’ll put up a bunch of stories.” And then the idea of culling and editing began to sink in and knew I didn’t have it in me.

But more importantly I realized something else. A LOT has changed in three years. I studied my own online habits and thought back to a recent visit to photographer sites. These were really solid shooters and I didn’t give them much time. Three, four, five clicks maybe. So instead of uploading hundreds of images I made a decision to load just twenty-five total. My mindset is “If you can’t figure out who I am in these twenty-five then either I suck or you aren’t paying attention.” I also uploaded images I would have never uploaded before because they weren’t of a certain ilk. Images like this and this.
Remember, behind each image on this site is an in depth essay of twenty to fifty images.

Many photographers today are at the mercy of industry bottlenecks who need or want to quickly pigeonhole someone so they can mentally categorize them for current or future work. “That is the guy who shoots square urban landscapes.” “That is the woman who shoots lit portraits of animals,” or “That is the person who shoots protests.” I don’t have to deal with any of this anymore and I can now upload pretty much anything I want to upload. Am I a landscape photographer? No. Do I normally find intense satisfaction in stalking wildlife? No, but I like these images, and now I can put them up without risking an unwelcomed categorization. Who knows, in the future if I get bored with this, I might add more, but for now I thought, “Keep it clean and simple.”

For those of you wondering about the “photographer, not a photographer” thing just remember this is MY way of dealing with this. There is a HUGE difference between doing work on your work and doing work for a client. Secondarily, there is a significant dialogue that needs to take place regarding how the work will get done, get delivered, get archived, etc. With these conversations and arrangements comes a situation that constantly hangs in the balance of work vs. client. I won’t go into the details but these conversations are still ongoing and are actually laying the foundation for the future of the campaign. The balance is how I feel I need to work compared to what the client, in this case Blurb, needs or wants.

These “Creative Dispatches” will occupy a significant portion of my life, and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do these. In many ways this is the dream scenario, it really is. I have been encouraged to make the work I want to make in any way I see fit. I have both professional and personal goals with these shoots, but I frankly need to brush the dust off and get my head around thinking like a photographer once again. The adventure begins.

Fred Roberts Goes Global For Kids

I don’t know anyone else quite like Fred Roberts which is what I tried to convey in these “moody” images(another of my ten minute portraits). Just to be safe, however, I did add a few that show you what he actually looks like. Fred has a new mission as of the beginning of 2014, which I mentioned in an earlier post. I wasn’t able to voyage to Bhutan with the rest of the crew, but I wanted to catch up with Fred to see about how things went, and to share a bit more about who he is, how the project came about and to share some of the work produced. The simple truth is that Fred could be doing just about anything right now and what he is choosing to do, and why, is a very interesting bit of information to me.

Below is the “best of” film from the Bhutan trip. Remember, these students were green as fresh picked coffee, and there are images in this show that are as good as anything I see being published today, which is frankly somewhat amazing. And there are two or three that are as good as anything I have hanging on my wall at home. Some of these images remind of the time when I first picked up a camera. At one point I climbed on the roof of our house and shot a sunset with a tree in the foreground. I remember framing it up and thinking “I am a genius.” And how that moment led to the changes in my life, something I hope will happen with these young adults.

SR: What was the first moment you were exposed to art and photography?
FR: I took two courses at Yale that really set the stage for me. The first was A History of Art and Architecture by Vincent Scully (definitely not the sportscaster). The second was The Philosophy of Art by Paul Weiss. These were two wonderful and inspiring courses given by two spectacular professors.

SR: You have an atypical photography history which began after a very successful career in the financial world. Can you catch us up on how and when you found your love of photography and why do you think it impacted you the way it did?
FR: I’ll tell you in person. (It’s a long story people, we decided to save you the the whole enchilada.)
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SR: Why photography and not illustration or painting?
FR: I can’t even write legibly. In fact, the most difficult moment I have with any of my photographs is when I have to sign a print.
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SR: Who was the first photographer who made you stop in your tracks and really consider a photograph?
FR: Henri Cartier-Bresson – no contest.

SR: You have come a long way in a short amount of time and already have three monographs to your name. Tell us a bit more about your books. And what is it about South Asia that attracted you?
FR: The theme of my work derives from an old Hebrew text – the Pirkei Avos. In it, one asks “Who Is Rich?” and the answer is “the person who is happy with what they have”. It is my belief, despite my having been in the finance business for thirty years, that money doesn’t make you rich. I traveled to South Asia when I was working in my previous life, and I saw clearly the richness of life in many third-world countries, despite a lack of monetary wealth. Also, I marveled at the richness of the culture there.

SR: Last year you emailed me explaining a “new project” regarding kids in the developing nations and photography. What is this new project?
FR: I have always been involved in humanitarian projects and charities, and it came naturally to want to take my photography to a new level. The logical next step was to create a workshop for third-world students to teach them photography as a language to tell the stories important to their world.
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SR: You recently returned from Bhutan, the first mission revolving around this new program? First off, and most importantly, what films did you watch on the twenty-nine hour flight over?
FR: None. I always use long flights to read all of the back issues of The New Yorker which I am unable to read at home. Great articles – never enough time, except when I’m trapped on a plane.

SR: Tell us a little about the first mission and the team you assembled.
FR: I always want great photographers. But being a great photographer is not enough. They also have to be great teachers. The combination of the two skills is rare.

SR: Just speaking to the logistics of moving this many people and the equipment required for such a mission, how difficult was it to just get things off the ground? And where did this equipment come from?
FR: Thanks to your wife, we approached a local camera dealer for discounted prices. They came through with both discounts and direct financial support. We were able to purchase Canon Rebel cameras and MacBook Pro computers at advantageous prices. We also bought several copies of Adobe Lightroom, which is important to our workflow in the Workshops.
The logistics are a huge issue. Getting airlines to grant special rates for our substantial excess luggage is a big hurdle. Organizing coordinating flights from all over the world is not simple either.
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SR: What happens to the equipment after the workshop is complete?
FR: We use 20 cameras and 4 computers on a constant basis for teaching. They are transported to and from the Workshops as personal baggage on the flights. We leave behind two cameras and two copies of Lightroom for the students to use after we leave.

SR: You were working with Save the Children as the on-the-ground NGO, how was that experience and had you worked with NGO’s prior to this trip?
FR: Our hope with Save The Children is that they will use the body of work produced by our students for community and government relations, for fund-raising, for general increased awareness of their programs, and to stimulate more students to learn photography as a language through which to tell important stories.

SR: What was the age range of the kids you were working with in Bhutan? And did they have prior photography experience? As Americans we see Bhutan as an isolated Shangri-La type place, is it as isolated as we think?
FR: The students ranged in age from 14 to 17. Most had no previous experience. None had ever used a DSLR nor had they ever shot in Manual Mode. As for Shangri-La, Bhutan is a beautiful and culturally rich country. But, in an age of satellite TV and the internet, no country is isolated.
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SR: It is a very different thing to fly halfway around the world and NOT do your own photography. Was this difficult for you and the crew?
FR: I realized that 3 of the 5 faculty members had never been there before, so I provided some extra time and facilities for them to photograph on their own. It was my gift to them for their dedicated service to the cause.

SR: After seeing a brief review of the work completed during the workshop I can say there were a select group of images that are as good as anything I see being made by professionals. Who ARE these kids and did they have any training prior to the workshop? If not, how is that possible?
FR: One or two of the kids have camera phones. One had an iPad. None had ever shot on a DSLR, and none had ever shot in Manual Mode. Teaching them to take the kind of pictures they did is a function of the strength of the instructors. It’s not good enough to be a good photographer. Being a good teacher is a real skill. And the curriculum is important as well. So, good teachers and proven methodology really work with kids who are motivated. It releases their innate creativity and vision.

SR: There are a lot of NGO projects floating about, but this one is very different in several ways. First, you are planning trips out as far as two years from now. How the heck does something like this come about and most importantly how do you get something like this funded?
FR: STC came to me. At the outset, they had big ideas and big plans. As things developed, they became more realistic about their capacity. We, on the other hand, are a proven entity and know exactly what we can do. So, we are prepared to do at least three workshops per year with any appropriate NGO. As for funding, the initial funding, sufficient for two years of workshops, came from my personal credibility. In the future, it will be based on our performance.

SR: Logistically, these trips must be quite an ordeal to arrange. Is this the kind of thing that you plan for then have to reinvent the moment you hit the ground?
FR: Both. We have a template for the workshops. But, each country and each story is different. You have to be sufficiently proficient to be able to reinvent on a moment’s notice, while keeping the big picture in focus. We also have to constantly recalibrate based on the progress of the students. And, then, there’s alway weather. So, having a plan, but staying flexible, is our life.

SR: It seems that every direction we turn these days there is another photographer related project attempting to gain exposure, funding or visibility. What is the end game with this project? What is the best case scenario and why should people care?
FR: My goal is to empower young students to be able to tell important stories that will positively impact their “world”. Learning photography in this context is like learning to use a word processor or learning to ride a bicycle. After you learn the basics, it’s the content and direction that matters. In photography, the more arresting the image, the more powerful the message, so the craft improves the power of the content. That’s why the competence of the faculty, and the resulting competence of the students, is so important. Using professional cameras and techniques will hopefully help their voice to resonate. Also, we want to give them sufficient skills to continue on their own after we leave.

SR: One of the most interesting aspects of this program is that it doesn’t end when your team leaves. What happens next so to speak?
FR: As I said previously, teaching the students to use professional cameras on manual mode and teaching them to strive to learn professional techniques will hopefully give them a sufficient knowledge base to continue to improve after we leave. We also want to have them send us their ongoing work for critique and advice. We want them not only to continue and improve, we want them to teach others as well.

SR: If viewers want to get involved is there a way for them to do so?
FR: I am always reachable through our website www.fredrirobertsworkshops.org. We are interested in every form of involvement. We welcome more and more participation by those who are genuinely interested.

SR: When I speak to you a year from now, what will you tell me about this project?
FR: Hopefully, that all of the students have continued to improve, that we are going back to previous locations to conduct advanced workshops for previous students and new basic workshops for new students. Also that we have many more opportunities in many more countries to continue to expand our program and the finding to support it. This all presumes that our students have been successfully telling compelling and effective stories, and are positively impacting their worlds.

SR: You are back in Los Angeles now. What is next for Fred Roberts, like right now, today?
FR: Editing the images of the students from Bhutan to clearly tell their stories and display their beautiful work. Also, planning for the next workshop

SR: What are you reading?
FR: A Quiet Flame, by Philip Kerr.

Here is a short video recap of the first workshop in Bhutan. And if you want to see all the videos try here.

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.

Postcards from a Wedding

I wrote this post over a year ago and totally forgot about it. Sorry. It WILL be the last post I ever do in regard to anything related to a wedding. Ever. I’ve been out of that game for a long, long while and won’t be going back anytime soon. I’m not even sure I could do it anymore. Anyone who has ever done a wedding knows it’s both a mental and physical game.

CLIFF NOTES: If you don’t want to read this opus the basis is MAKE YOUR OWN IMAGES.

I was asked to write about advice for wedding photographers, something I promised I would never do again. However, earlier in the year(2012) I photographed my last wedding ever and I thought it an opportune time to sign off on this industry and business. This post might seem hard hitting, which I hope it is, but the intention is simply to make people think. As photographers we are capable of so, so much, but in difficult economic times, or trying times for the industry, I am baffled by the level of conformity perhaps best illustrated by the portrait/wedding world. Yes, many weddings are comprised of the same format, preparation, ceremony, celebration, and there are similarities from shoot to shoot, so in some ways repetition, standardization and trends all contribute to an assembly line type situation. However, I spent ten years in the portrait/wedding world and was successful because I did NOT conform. There is power and there is value in unique imagery, just as there is in unique literature, poetry, art and sound. So the next time we find ourselves walking on the same well worn path, let’s turn around, step off or begin hacking a new trail.

I named this post “Postcards from a Wedding” as a tribute to Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas and her “Pictures from a Revolution” film. Yes, we are talking a major stretch between the Nicaraguan Civil War and a wedding in the Caribbean, but hear me out. In or around 1990, when I was first beginning my official photojournalism degree at the University of Texas, Susan Meiselas came and screened this film for the PJ students. My first “photojournalism” class had hundreds of people in it because “photojournalism 101″ was an elective that any communication, art or journalism student could take. Consequently it was a packed house. I was hooked. Completely and utterly hooked. First, the film gave me a feel for who Susan was. Second it gave me a feel for what type of effort it required to do this work, and it also gave me a clear picture of the connection between a committed journalist and the people she was working with.

Susan’s Nicaragua work was also graphic, violent, beautiful and felt like the kind of work that I wanted to make. Years after meeting her, and years after graduation, when I finally had a portfolio I believed in-my first book-I sent her one, unannounced. This was before I had a computer, email, cellphone, etc, so it was mailed to her in a giant envelope. Several weeks later it came back, and it came back with a long, handwritten note. In a nutshell it said “You see the world in a unique way but you have to learn how to make YOUR images.”

Maybe, just MAYBE, there were two or three images in the entire book that would prompt someone to say I saw the world in a unique way, so I figured she was being polite, which she had already proven by writing me back! What I took from her advice was the last part. I had to learn to make MY images. This is easier said than done. I see so much work today, so much, and the overwhelming majority is work I’ve seen before. Finding vision, as I’ve said many times in the past, isn’t easy. And you can find it only to lose it just as quickly as you found it. I know, I’ve done it. Several times.

But let me break this down with the wedding thing in mind. It is a challenge to bring up weddings and Susan Meiselas in the same sentence, but it’s my blog and my soul died a long time ago so I’m gonna go ahead and do it. I’ve written about this for years and normally get crucified when I bring it up, which is reason enough to do it. The wedding photography industry is filled with photographers who aren’t really photographers in the traditional sense, but that’s okay(They approach from a different angle). If someone finds joy in working in an industry then more power to them. However, there is a downside to this little tale if you have wider plans. If you have “other plans” in photography it can be difficult to be associated with the wedding industry, fair or unfair that is the truth.(Just had this conversation again, last week, with another photographer who said he was not getting commercial work due to being known in his area as a wedding photographer.Much to the chagrin of another photographer who didn’t think this could be possible.) One of the ways this can go away is if wedding photographers learned more about not only photography but about themselves. You GOTTA study, work, toil and fight to figure out who you are with a camera in your hand, and frankly most people don’t do it and the industry doesn’t put ANY pressure on them to do so. There is also an unfair stigma associated with wedding photographers. “If you can’t do anything else, you do weddings.” This just isn’t true anymore, not by a long shot, but the IDEA remains and sometimes this can be a real issue requiring educational skills on the part of the photographer.

The wedding industry was the first industry where I listened to photographers tell me they learned the business by going online, in 2005, and copying who was hot. This isn’t good. That might get you a business but it doesn’t make you a photographer. There is one photographer in particular, someone I first heard about years ago, who has been cloned by an entire generation of wedding photographer, right down to his camera and lens. I see dozens and dozens of wedding snaps that all look EXACTLY like his…only not quite as good. But guess what, it’s good enough. The bar is low so people can get away with this. And also, a lot of wedding snappers base their work and credibility on their clients who are mostly people who DON’T look at imagery. They like most things. This doesn’t lend itself to developing a higher standard.

I’m not gonna show you the bulk of the work I did on this wedding(Private), which by the way was the final wedding I will ever do. It’s over Johnny. The vault has been sealed and dropped overboard. I did this wedding for several reasons, but most importantly I did it because I really like the people involved. That’s all I need. Yes, the location was great, I had freedom to do what I thought best, and even though I was the official photographer I was also part of the gang, which makes things far more civil and enjoyable. The images you see here, with the exception of two, were all made with a plastic, discontinued underwater point-and-shoot. The rest were taken with a 43-year-old rangefinder. Why did I use these old tools? Well, I like them, but they also give me the STYLE of image I was going for. And when I say this I mean for THIS particular shoot. I had a very concrete idea of what I wanted the final product to look like the DAY I accepted this job, which was months and months before the shoot. I didn’t just apply my “wedding photography” to this event like all the rest. I’ve done weddings where I shot a grand total of 20 images THE ENTIRE DAY(665 Polaroid), and I’ve done others where I shot digital and shot literally thousands of photographs. I’ve done weddings in black and white only. I’ve done 6×6 weddings, 6×7 weddings, 6×9 weddings, and even used a 4×5 once or twice. I’ve shot Lomo, Holga, Pentax, Fuji, Canon, Leica, Polaroid, Zeiss, Voigtlander, Contax and a homemade pinhole. I used this messy range of clunkers because I had a vision for what the job not only required but how I envisioned the final product. I had this vision because I had experimented enough to know what worked and what I could expect to walk away with, and I was fine tuning my approach and technique to fit each job individually. This is a doable thing when you are doing a total of ten shoots a year. It becomes REALLY difficult when you are shooting 20+ events per year and suddenly conformity becomes a part of the equation. If someone else can do your editing you might be on the path to assembly line.

The goal is to be able to see the final project, which in this case is a book, and say, “I know who did that.” Call it style, vision(overused) or point of view, doesn’t matter. What matters is HAVING ONE. Wedding photographers should demand more. They should rally around those who take chances and set a tone that borders on chaos and failure, not volume and year-end-sales. Could we possibly take anymore of the mystery and experience out of it?

To be fair, working as a photographer these days is not what it once was. There are different pressures and the value of photography, especially in the mind of the general public, has changed and not for the better. There is less appreciation for the process and also less concern with the longevity or impact of the images. But, this doesn’t mean you don’t fight the fight. If you are a wedding photographer you have to educate yourself and your clients to what it is you do, SPECIFICALLY, and why you do it that way. In the long run, it’s all you’ve got. And don’t go thinking this is a rant against wedding photographers because this level of operation is happening in almost all genres of photography. Having an online following or filling a workshop doesn’t make a good photographer. These aren’t bad things, not by any stretch, but what I see happening is people associating these abilities with photographic talent. In my opinion, the best photographers in the world aren’t on social media and they surely don’t teach a lot of workshops. Why? Because they are making their work instead.

For you newbie wedding photographers out there I’m going to cut you some slack. Keep learning, keep expanding your knowledge base. The people I want to direct this post at at the “pros” who have suddenly found themselves in the wedding world. This really started happening about fifteen years ago, based mostly on economic pressures. YOU folks have a responsibility. YOU have the knowledge and experience which makes it truly painful when I see YOU conforming to what the industry is subscribing. When you homogenize your photography to meet an industry with seemingly no quality bar it really has devastating effects and not only on the wedding market, which is some ways is impervious to impact. How many times have I see or heard a photographer from another genre land on the wedding market and make some bold proclamation about “doing things right” only to see the same person six months later churning out the same generic content under the fateful statement, “Well, the clients aren’t complaining.” Weddings offer certain photographers, very good photographers, their FIRST real chance to make decent money, and ultimately for some that becomes overpowering. I get it, but ultimately I don’t get it. It just makes me sad. These folks tend to stop making good imagery, and not just within the borders of their wedding work. They just stop creating or thinking or whatever it is that made them photographers in the first place. This in turn drags the industry down ever so slightly. And then someone else does, and it happens again and again and again, and suddenly the slight variant is a deluge of brain drain. The truth is these people don’t need to do this. Many of these folks came from genres where the photographer has lost all rights, all ability to work in a pure sense, and where they have had to conform, sign contracts and give up on working in the style they dreamed of working in, but in the wedding world you can do ANYTHING you want to do, so when someone gives up, conforms, caves in, it makes it that much more difficult to watch. So if by any strange change ANYONE actually reads this post, take this ONE thing away which is to find that inner photographic kid once again. Stop doing what you think you have to do and start doing what you WANT to do. I guarantee your work will improve and photography will be a lot more fun once again. Photographers have an inherent power I wish they would take more advantage of. Not everyone can do what we do. I’m a firm believer there are the SAME number of photographers there always has been. There are millions of people with cameras, but they aren’t photographers. When you make a unique style, or recognizable style of image, there is a power you can harness and your clients will know and respect this. Your images might not fit every job, but you don’t really want every job. You want the right job.

And stop talking about new equipment. It won’t help and has no bearing on your imagery. I’ve been having conversations with photographers who tell me they are worried about showing up at a job with a 5D Mark III because they are afraid the client has the same camera and won’t think of them as a professional. This is incredible. If your client can make the same image you are making they maybe you AREN’T a photographer? (Buy a 40-year-old camera and you won’t have to worry about this!) Your photographs should be about light, timing, composition and your visual history, but if these items started in 2005 by you copying someone online…you might have a problem.

If you are offended by this post just know….I’m by no means a perfect person or photographer(OBVIOUS), but what I am is a pretty decent witness to the times and to photography. I’ve made plenty of horrible images, some for myself and some for clients. I’ve had successes and failures and this post is simply my opinion. Take it or leave it. I walked away from working as a photographer so that I could work on purely my own work. I fought the downward slide of “professional” photography for the past ten years. It’s doable, but it’s all about education of the client. To do this you need the kind of work that educates. You don’t need a standardized test that EVERY OTHER photographer has.

My advice for wedding photographers? My advice to young photographers?
It’s all the same, and I’ll go back to what Susan told me all those years ago….make YOUR photographs, whatever those may be. In the long run, it’s all you have. You have to get outside of the wedding world and look at the full range of photography being made. Perhaps your images will be more influenced by Sternfeld, Steber, Shore, Smith, Salgado, Seliger, Stanmeyer or Strand than someone in the wedding field. If you don’t know these names(Please, please, please don’t tell me if you don’t know.), start there, look them up and see how you feel.

I walk away from this industry with overwhelmingly positive thoughts because I walk with memories of the people and the true moments that happened far from the glitz and glitter of the reception, those moments when hearts beat fast and the honest decisions were made.I walk with the truth of knowing that I was chosen to be the witness.

PPS: The images you see are the images I printed for MY book of the wedding. A snapshot book. 6×9, 300-pages .