Over my Shoulder

After I was asked to write about why I deleted my Facebook account, and after doing so, I figured there would be both positive and negative responses. I received plenty of texts, emails and a few calls, some expressing anger, others support and a few accusing me of deleting my accounts for the publicity.

Most of the time when I share opinions this is what happens, and this is what I like about sharing my opinion. And remember peeps, if you are on social, have a burgeoning community or just love it, then like I said before….power on. These issues and feelings are my own.

First of all, thanks to Michael for sharing a link to another article that makes me feel like I’m not alone or off base here. Simon Sinek on Salon. I’ve seen a few articles really bashing the Gen Y folks which I don’t think is fair. This article does a good job of pointing things out without slamming anyone too hard.

It has been less than a week since my departure and I wanted to follow up by saying it feels great. I’m pleased to find the idea of social quickly slipping from my conscious mind. I have changed other aspects of my life as well, and these changes have aided my new direction. I contacted a friend, someone I find intriguing, mentioned I had, for the first time in my life, compiled ten goals for 2014. He said “So did I, want to meet and discuss them?” So we did.

Three hours of one-on-one, undivided attention in a tea room north of Santa Fe. When we were finished I said, “I honestly can’t remember the last time I did something like this.” No phones, cameras, computers or distractions of any kind. No recording, no immediate sharing. Complete and total isolation and the silence that accompanies three-foot thick walls. It also helped we had a BRICK of the most incredible Chinese tea that required a hammer to break into pieces small enough to steep. It also smelled a bit like tobacco and was loaded with caffeine, so the time went quickly with my fingers drumming nicely on the antique wooden table. We also burned pinon.

This was the first time in my adult life I shared direction and desire with another human being who is NOT my wife. The only time. I’m sitting here now wondering how on Earth I managed to avoid doing this. He listened to me, I to him, and then the dialogue began. Eye contact, no rapid-fire conversation where each participant works from a mental drop down menu of bullet points they are aiming to get off their chest. Nope. I can’t do that anymore.

Perhaps I should say I won’t do that anymore.

This was simply adult, focused conversation, and to risk sounding “all gooey and mystical” it was wildly rewarding. We hit short-term concepts, long-term and each had several that overlapped one other. We also saw things the other did not, offering subsequent ideas or plans. Notes were taken. Eyes glazed over as brains attempted to wrap their fibers around possibility, reality or fantasy.

I know what you are thinking….“He just turned 45.” MIDLIFE CRISIS. You might just be right, but if this is a crisis, I think I like it.

There has been another side effect of my social media betrayal. An unnecessary filter has been removed from my life. I feel closer to the surface of things. My content intake just dropped dramatically. If you havent’ read “The Shallows” then you might not know precisely what I’m talking about, but it’s worth investigation in my humble opinion.

My brain just went from a fast moving, shallow stream to a river appearing mostly calm on the surface but still marked with those boils warning of hidden danger just below. Maybe next I’ll be a Lake Michigan or perhaps….The Dead Sea?

Finally, I realized why deleting and moving on was so damn easy. I’m not cool, hip, popular or providing anything trendy or anything deemed critical for people to live their lives. There is NO NEED to share the vast majority of what happens in my life. You can only cry “Wolf!” so many times.

I’m just a guy with more time on his hands.

And finally, I finally came to grips with something I’d been thinking about and discussing with a chosen few for over a year. I boiled down those who I feel are elite in the fields I follow and realized that many of the people I find truly original aren’t on social media. They never have been and never will be. They are instead making work. Period, end of story. A photographer I consider to be one of the best ever in his chosen field recently had another museum show and when asked about his online presence said he didn’t have a site and had ever been on social media. I wasn’t there, but was told that he was also asked about email and he said something along the lines of “I think I have an email address but don’t remember what it is.” He also has two new books coming out. What I’m saying is, not only is he doing well, he is thriving.

I also began to look at those with the largest followings, and those who make the most noise, and frankly what I found were really good sales and PR people who knew the charade of tapping the generic masses of consumers who had little to no direction of their own. These are the creative self-help masses who are willing to be pulled in new and distracting directions on a weekly basis because they are high on gear, technology and technique, things FAR easier to acquire than originality.

Also, several people found out I did this goal thingy and began quizzing me on WHAT my goals actually were. I won’t share them all, but the first was to just get healthy. As you know I have Lyme Disease, a tricky beast almost completely ignored and denied by the American medical community. I need to stay on it to say the least. Two of my goals are already complete, one of which was to delete my social media accounts, and another that has to do with some redesign. Other goals were more lasting and dealt with things like “thinking about other people more than I think about myself.” Life goals I guess you could say. In reality, more tricky stuff.

PS: I’ve posted this image before, but I’m lazy and it was there.

Blurb Revolution

A random seascape for no apparent reason, but that sky is kinda Blurb blue.

Okay, I’m a total Blurb homer, and I work for the company, but I still felt I needed to write this post.

Last week was an especially interesting time in the history of the company, with the arrival of two, three or perhaps even a few more very important things.

First, Pro Line books are now here. Photographers polled over the past few years were asked “What do you want?” There were many responses…as you can imagine. But, what came through loud and clear, “We want more paper choices, end sheet choices and more cover options.” So, in short, they are here. But Dan is there more you ask? Yes, there is. These new additions are not just more options, not in my opinion. They are options that speak directly to photographers who are looking at Blurb as a vehicle for the future. Let me explain.

Four years ago, when I first started using Blurb, and many other POD book makers, I was using these books for a few things, mostly portfolios and promo books. Over the years, as the technology got better, and my understanding of books got better, I began to realize I was selling myself short as well as selling my books short. Soon I began selling books to both clients, shoot specific, but also began selling my books to collectors or people who just wanted to own my work. At the time I did not fully understand the power of the book, nor did I understand how to position a book. Once I saw the look in my client’s eyes when that bright, shiny book was placed before them, the wheels began to turn in my mind.

It’s been said that photography is a story best told in book form. I think we have Gerry Badger to thank for that notion, and I am one hundred percent in agreement with him. The book is a powerful thing that commands a certain respect, both with photographers, but more importantly with the general public.

In the past few years, with the economic downtown, the publishing industry has been impacted. With having said that, the traditional publishing world is still making signature books, and looks to be ready to do so well into the future. For this I’m glad. Behind me, as I write this, is my photo-book library, which is overflowing with books(Including Blurb books!). There are more on the way. But, one of the side effects of the downturn is that photographers who might have been published before are simply not being afforded that opportunity today. That is where Blurb comes into play.

What I’ve seen happening over the past few years is the reality that books are being defined by different ideals. With the advent of companies like Blurb, the book has taken on a different face, one which has allowed for a more wide ranging scale of what is being published. Sure, many of these books are, let’s face it, not good, including many of mine, but many of them are exceptional. New talent, new faces and new opportunities have been merged in this exciting new time. Case in point, Photoeye Books selling my “On Approach” book.

Pro Line takes this one step further. Recently, at the Palm Springs Photo Festival, Blurb was able to offer a sneak peak to festival attendees. I spent four days in a room at a hotel, a room filled with these books, and I have to say, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Now, I know what you are thinking, cause you are a photographer, and I’m a photographer. You are thinking, “Who cares what anyone else says, I gotta see it myself.” I know. I always think the same thing. But, I can’t sum it up any better than a photographer who sat with me and viewed these new books and new materials. He simply said, “These are a good as anything being published today.”
I know, you still want to see them. But let me ask you this? Ever thought of doing an edition? Small run? Tip in print? Feel like maybe you have more options now?

Now, Pro Line, at least to me, was somewhat expected in terms of the future of Blurb. I know, I’m terribly jaded and demanding, but again, did I mention I was a photographer? So, my standard mission statement is “I want everything. I want it now. I want it for free.” So these new books I saw coming.

What I didn’t seem coming was BLURB MOBILE This application is potentially a real game-changer, at least this is how I see it. In essence, BLURB MOBILE is a storytelling tool. Just for a second, imagine you are me. Imagine you love film. Imagine you love working on obscure projects that take unrealistic amounts of time and potentially have very little market, but yet you can’t think about life without these projects being an essential part. imagine that when you are shooting in the field, and blogging, you get constant requests from people who ask, “Where is the new work?” “When are you gonna post your latest shoot.” Imagine that you don’t want to do this because you realize the modern attention span is so short that if you post the work as you go, by the time the story is complete, or the book, the average follower will respond with, “Yep, I’ve already seen that.” And, imagine that you are old school in your thinking that good work needs to marinate and needs time to be lived with BEFORE it is released on the unsuspecting world. But imagine now having a secret weapon that will bridge this gap.

I now have a tool that allows me to have anyone who is interested FOLLOW me as I go. Anyone who is interested in my project can see AND hear what is happening in the field, without me “showing my hand” so to speak when it comes to the final images. Imagine being very happy. Imagine creating an audience for your final project, as you go along, so that when your project is done you have an audience of people who have NOT seen every image, and can relive, relearn and experience the project the way it was intended to be experienced. Imagine this sounding pretty good.

Well, now you have another option.

Oh ya, did I mention the Blurb plug-in for Lightroom? That’s kinda new too. Just to hurl something else at you.

I know what you are thinking. “I want more.” I get it. Did I mention I’m a photographer?

I’m not sure what the future holds, and let’s be real. NONE of these things substitute for time and access in the field. These new items are like arrows in your photographic quiver.

Any questions about these things, just let me know.

Just for Fun

I had dinner with a friend the other night.

My friend is a photographer but also does other things. I’d been able to spend a fair amount of time with him over the past year, not a lot but some. In all the time we spent hanging out we never spoke about photography. But the other night when my friend sat down he put his wallet and his iPhone on the table.

We ate, we had a drink, we talked about boats, the ocean, travel, friends, food, etc. I mentioned to him that a few weeks before, as I sat in a meeting room in the middle of a major city I had received a text from him, a text that was an image shot from the top of a mountain on Catalina Island. The photo was made at the edge of the cliff, shot down on the deep, smooth water and had the caption of “Get your ass over here.” I had work and couldn’t go, but the photo made me want to abandon my life and start swimming.

So the other night, as dinner wound down, my friend was trying to make a point about something he had seen on one of his trips and he grabbed his phone to show me an image. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m at wits end about this exact occurrence. When someone reaches for their phone or their point and shoot to show me an image, my reaction now is to get away as quickly as possible. First, they have to find the image which means scrolling, scrolling, button pushing, the always present, “Wait, no, that’s not it, hang on.” And then……when they finally find it……I get to look at their work on the back of a tiny screen. I’m over it. Impatient? Yes. Childish? Yes. I have seen great presentations on phones, but they were edited and ready to go. In fact, I had six or so bodies of work on my phone, which was great until suddenly they were all gone. User error I’m sure. I never bothered to put them back on. But this was not what was interesting.

My friend found the image he was looking for and spun the phone around. I never even looked at the image. I just kept staring at my friend. And I stared. And stared.

“I know,” he said.

“I just don’t care anymore,” he added.

He knew that I was shocked to see him showing his work on a phone, work that was unedited, unfocused, unorganized. And this is where things got interesting. We began talking about photography, about what it was like for both of us when we first met. About how we were both shooting color transparency, about how we would go on these trips, do our work, come home and get the film run. We would then edit, gather around a light box and discuss what worked, what didn’t, what images made our cut, etc. Now I’m not saying this was the the best system, or better than today, so all you people just relax. This was just what we did at the time. Relax. And then my friend and I began to talk about photography today.

“I lost interest when every single housewife suddenly had a camera and was telling everyone they were a photographer,” he said. “The mystery and skill were gone.” Now this point is debatable, and for the mom community, digital and the idea of suddenly being a photographer was a great thing, so this is not what peaked my interest in this particular conversation, and not where I want this post to go. It’s irrelevant to me.

“But something else changed for me as well,” my friend said. “I realized I was going to all these places and I wasn’t even really enjoying myself.” “I would land somewhere and all I could think about was what time I had to get up to get the light I needed.” “I was perpetually building shot lists, and building bodies of work and I couldn’t actually experience anywhere because I was so wrapped up in getting images.”

“I realized that ultimately the most important thing was I could close my eyes and remember a place, and for that, I don’t need photography.”

Now my interest was peaked.

“So this last trip,” my friend said.” “All I took was the phone.” “I didn’t have to carry anything, no big bag of gear, no thinking of where it is all the time and what I should be doing.” “I just snapped what I wanted with this crappy phone.”

Hmm, now I’m thinking.

What about doing photography just for fun? What happens when there is no point, or purpose, and we are just doing it because we feel like it. What if we don’t shoot for fame, for respect, for publication, for money, etc, and we just shoot? What happens?

The answer is I don’t have an answer. Yet. I go out with specific purpose, and like my friend, I realize this comes with a price. I don’t take vacations. I’m not fun to travel with. I ignore everyone and everything unless there are photos involved. But I actually want to try to change this. I want to go on vacation. I want to shoot with no target in mind. I want to be casual.

I see people who are doing this and I’m envious. I see home darkrooms and images being made ONLY for the idea of having fun. I see prints being made, slow, methodical, chemical prints being made, laboriously, for no other reason than to have fun and chart the world. For this I’m envious. You see, I made a career out of making pictures, which at times STILL seems strange to me. My dad suggested I be an investment banker, and I think more so than ever before, I get that. I understand it now.

I’m realizing more and more that great art doesn’t come from commerce. It can but it is ever so rare. Great art comes from within. Great art comes from having the time and the freedom to explore not only your world but your thoughts about the world, without ties to anyone else. (If anyone saw my tweet about “Howl” you can hear Ginsberg referring to this in his own words.)

I see photography fading in my life. Not the idea of making pictures, or trying to make the best pictures I can, and enjoying the process, but the industry, the chatter, the race for recognition…it’s all going away. And here is the kicker…it feels great. At least for now. I feel like, at least temporarily, I’ve assumed another identity.

It was almost like hearing my friend admit to all this was permission to do the same. And realize this, my friend shoots a specific kind of image that requires knowledge of the ocean, ability to command a large boat, scuba knowledge and high-exposure, open ocean film work. Not like a lot of people are out there doing it, and it serves a biological purpose, and even he is taking a step back and wondering about the point of it all.

Regardless of what people say, the world is still a very big place. It’s bigger than all of us, and certainly bigger than photography. I think for me, I let things get a little out of perspective when it comes to the power of photography. I realize that the vast majority of people in the world really don’t care about photography, they are simply looking for food and a way to survive.

So looking ahead, I’m anxious to play with the idea of “What if?” I want to see where it takes me. I want to see if just shooting for fun actually opens up more doors or shuts the ones I have worked so hard to open. Again, I don’t know.

This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this. Not by a long shot. I began questioning my path back in the late 1990’s. I made changes, found new compass points and flailed about like a dingy cut loose from its mooring. But, I’m still here and I think I love photography more than ever before.

So after I get done making my second book today….both for clients mind you….I’m going to go out in the yard and mess around. My wife will look at me in disgust. The neighbors cat will run away. But I will NOT think. I will just push the button and see where the current takes me.

New Direction

Yesterday I drove 850 miles.

On and off, the entire way, I was thinking about this image. I’ve posted this before, but it has taken some time to sink in. You know how things sink in over time? Like gnats buzzing around your head on a camping trip, at first a small annoyance and then at some point they become the entire focus of your existence.

As many of you know, on December 1st I stopped shooting commercially. No mas. No portraits, weddings, magazine work, commercial shoots, etc. I needed a new direction, and so far the grand experiment has been enlightening, making me think I should have done this ten years ago.

However, it’s not enough, just stopping the work for others focusing only on the work for me. Within this shift lies another, smaller, but I’m realizing perhaps more important, micro shift. The direction of the work. And when I say direction I mean the content, the style in which it is created and the method of presentation. Again, this image has been what haunts me.

So over the drive, a drive that started near the ocean and ended in the mountain peaks, I thought only of this photograph. What it means, how it was made, why I made it and how I wanted to share it with those that want to keep it for themselves.

In essence, I had time to isolate myself and think critically about what I was doing with my creative life. You might think this happens all the time, but it doesn’t. In fact, it feels rare. Like many of you, my life is cluttered, cluttered with mostly good things, but cluttered none the less. So when I get a break, like this drive, my mind, like the landscape, opens up. And then it narrows down.

This morning, as I checked my Twitter feed, someone wrote to me and said that my magazine, Manifesto, had changed their photographic life and direction. Now for me, there are few things that could be happier to my ears and eyes. If I can make something that has this effect on someone then I feel I’m doing something right.(Issue #2 on the way)

Over the past few days I’ve been scouring sites about design, something I know little about, but something I feel is opening up another opportunity for me, the opportunity of a new direction. I can’t tell you how good this feels.

Now the challenges still remain. In fact, the challenges of my new life and my new direction are what are so exciting. Every minute of every day my mind races with the possibilities. I feel that this change of professional focus, and micro-direction with the work, are only two of the many changes to come.

As I sit here in the cold, crisp air, my notepad is filled with sketches, dimension and direction. A map lies open with notes around the edges and the future fills my stomach with butterflies.

Finite Foto Feature

New Mexico has a long lineage of art and photography. This continues today in the form of book publishers, galleries, collectors, workshops, etc. We also have New Mexico based online photographic outlets like Finite Foto, formerly known as Flash Flood. I’ve written about these folks before, and even had a piece featured a while back.
A few weeks ago I ran into Melanie McWhorter, one of the masterminds of this organization, and she asked me if I was interested in writing something about photojournalism.
Now I don’t consider myself a photojournalist, but at past points in my life I had done work in this genre, so I thought I’d give it a go. At the same time I had received several requests from blog readers to write something regarding my projects, why I do them, how I do them, etc.
I had just penned this little story when I ran into Melanie. So, here we are.

Now I don’t think this is going to answer all the questions, and this is also rife with my opinion about several things related to the modern documentary world, but I think it will be relevant to many of you, and might surprise or confuse a few others.
Also, I’m just one feature of several in this particular issue, and if you are interested in the doc/pj world, then have a look and bookmark this site.
Any thoughts, notes, feedback, drop me a note and I’ll give you my two cents.