Advancing Your Photography with Marc Silber….and me.

Hey Kids,

Was able to stop by Silber Studios in San Jose and spend some time with Marc Silber and the Advancing your Photography team. Not my first rodeo with Marc and the interview, but I ALWAYS like to spend time with people like Marc because within seconds of meeting you clearly understand that photography is part of their nerve center and not just the flavor of the month. Many thanks to Marc and the team for making it so easy. I cringe when I see myself, or hear myself, but the questions are good and we focus on things like film and they key ingredients of great photography. Check out his other films. I just watched the Jeff Johnson clip and am insanely jealous.

Poetry and Photography

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OVERHEARD CONVERSATION:

“Maybe real photography is becoming more like poetry,” he said.

“Most people write poems because they need to write something, not for commercial gain.”

“THAT, my friend, is a very interesting thought” the other said. “But where we are going to get killed is the “real” photography description,” I added. “There are so many people running around with digital cameras and websites who are now attempting to work as professionals.” “I don’t see that as “real” photography,” he added. “It’s content, but not to say it isn’t happening or going away anytime soon.” “In fact,” he said. “I think it is only going to increase in volume.”

“I don’t consider this situation as a bad thing,” one said. “Maybe we will get back to personal, thoughtful, solid work.”

“It’s not bad unless you are trying to make a living,” the other said. “True,” I answered.

Over the past few weeks I’ve, once again, come to the conclusion I don’t really have time to be a photographer.(Cue the broken record and violin.) Yes, I’m working as a photographer once again, at least in part, but it’s not documentary work in the classic sense. What I do now is documentary photography in the modern sense, which is limited time, maximum need. I shoot, record, write, print, design and publish, all in a very short amount of time. When I walk from a shoot today I am always left yearning for “what could have been” given more time.

It’s easy to dismiss this with “Well, what are you gonna do, that’s just the way it is.” Man do I detest this mentality. It’s like when photographers say to me, “I hate digital but that’s what my clients are asking for,” or whenever someone who dedicated their entire adult life to photography caves in to the idiotic demands of someone with little to no stake in the game. You HAVE to fight for what you need as an artist/photographer or whatever you call yourself. You HAVE to establish ground rules, and if they are not there then WALK AWAY.

So I’ve made a change. My current project, which I’ve written about here is entirely stalled. Why? Because I just don’t have the time. This work is fact based, unstructured by me, so I need to be in the field on a regular basis, going back to the same people and places, over and over again. And I have to be there when things are happening and when the light is right. Just don’t have the time. However, this past week I showed this magazine to a variety of people here in Santa Fe and got a variety of positive feedback. I took a good look at the contents and realized there was something there. Just coals, no fire. Smoldering. Waiting for photographic oxygen to give life.

So what I’m going to do is go back in time. When I first started this photography thing it was far more like poetry than a novel. I was content to venture forth in the world looking for ANYTHING resembling a great photograph. Not everything was project based. My work was really just life based. Whether I found myself in country, city or in between I was looking, hunting for singles. As I got better, and as I learned and refined, I began to understand my brain works in sequence, but life and my brain don’t always coincide.

This new/old way of working isn’t easier than long-form work, in fact in might be even more difficult because the truth is those rare, stand alone images are SO very difficult to find. Almost impossible. It can also be frustrating when you look down and the frame counter is on seven and that same roll of film has been in the camera for four weeks.

A friend here in town, wonderful person and good photographer and teacher told me she took three weeks off, traveling to a foreign land by herself and just worked, every single day for three weeks. Alone, focused. Perhaps a day or two off during the trip. Recoup. Rethink. Take notes. “I realized I need this a few times a year to really reengage with what I’m doing,” she said. “I can’t do multiple things simultaneously all the time.”

Now I’m fortunate because I’m a twenty-year journaling addict. I have a home for WHATEVER I shoot. This is a crutch of epic proportion because when you print something and paste it in a book, whatever it is it FEELS really good. Like my color square work. It FEELS like it’s good even when it’s not. These books are like my own private support system.
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The plan is this. Just shoot. Black and white, 35mm. Process myself, scan myself and print myself. (Except for journal prints.) Now, I can’t do this for my Blurb shoots. That film goes to the lab for processing, proofing and scanning, and I’m totally okay with that. But for the rest of my photo-life I’m going to return to the absolute basics. Oh, and no more color square.

I’m looking forward to a little poetry, and even thinking about this has forced me to recollect a variety of images I’ve made that are stand along images not belonging to any body of work, things I never did anything with for this exact reason. Now I have something to do. Write poetry, or attempt to take poetry. I’ve also got a head start on this because of my leap into sketching and painting. In the six months or so since I’ve thrown my hat in this ring I’ve made exactly ONE painting I like. ONE. Cue the action movie scene, “Failure is not an option,” only with me it IS AN OPTION AND ONE I’VE FULLY EXPLORED.

So in a way….I’m single again. Get it? Single? I’m here all week. Now, I just thought of something. This does NOT mean I am suddenly a “street” photographer. I’m not. Not even close. I actually don’t really like the vast majority of street photography I see because it looks detached. Now this is the point for some of it, I get it, but it’s just not my thing. I’m still going to put myself in places I feel images are living, breathing, waiting, but not random street stuff. Besides, I suck at those images anyway.

New Nicaragua “EMag”

Best ten bucks I ever spent. Okay,I have probably spent ten bucks on something even better say…a twelve-pack (Milwaukee’s Best) while I was in college or a dinner of for a girlfriend I was hoping to dazzle with my smoothness. (Sorry honey, we are talking YEARS ago.) But I have to say this electronic, digital, Nica thingy is a pretty good use of my time and money.

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Am digging this new toy. Yes, the answer is yes. OF COURSE there is the print version, which I just paid my hard earned Cordobas for, and it’s on the way. It’s a small, 20-pager, less than six bucks. I used to think I would make extravagant Ebooks and mags, but then I remembered I don’t know how to design anything like that. Also, something else happened. I showed one of these babies to a friend, on my third iPad before it broke, and something funny happened. A FRIEND mind you. Let me say this again…A FRIEND. Someone who I THOUGHT would have spent copious time pouring over my BRILLIANT work, only to have them spend about 45 seconds, flip, flip, flipping through, listening to HALF of ONE audio file and then hand the iPad back to me AND THEN BEGAN TALKING TO ME ABOUT THEIR OWN WORK.
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So I did this Nicaragua Emagazine. The difficult part here is that I didn’t have much imagery to work with. I didn’t want to use anything that was workshop related. You see I have no real goal with this thing. Not trying to sell it or promote it etc., just doing it to enjoy it for myself, and to play with the stills/audio situation. I am still a novice here folks. What I design today are VERY simple Emags or Ebooks. The reality is most people have very little attention span. Sad but true. So, I design for the modern brain, not my ideal brain or the brain of 1985….a brain which had little more to do than wait for the next episode of Miami Vice! Now, this isn’t to say I don’t design more complicated or sophisticated work. I do, but I don’t necessarily put that work up front and center and ask people to consume it. The second version of this, and the print piece, are already in version two in terms of design, and I’m certain there will be at least a version three.
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This particular Emag is just single image per spread and single audio file, most which are thirty-seconds or less. Remember when a three-minute YouTube video was considered the “sweet spot?” Ya, try that now. Even Yoda can’t hang for three minutes….just TOO BUSY apparently because every single item of every single day now is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT. Me, I spend hours watching gun videos and people 4x4ing across swamps in the southern part of America. What else do I have to do?
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Even in 2014 I’m still running into vast amounts of confusion when it comes to something as simple as a digital version of a print piece. Still. No joke. I run into the “Oh, I can’t do one of those because it will kill my print sales,” people. In short, I’ve NEVER ONCE seen this happen. Also, I’ve never heard this expression from someone who actually made anything “E.” Never. Not once. I also run into the “What am I going to do with that?” crowd. I can only do so much. Make one, think for 15 seconds. You can and will figure it out. And finally the “I would never use that,” crowd. Lots and lots of art schools students in this crowd who cling to their “I’m an artist and I’m a print person” call to arms. I know this because of my job, but also because I was one of those people. I even dropped the “I would never show my work on a phone,” lines. (My chest is puffed out even now.) Until I started showing work on my phone. Granted, not to anyone I was really trying to impress, but handy situations like being on a plane and my prints are in my checked bag kind of thing.
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Emags/Ebooks are fun, and they make me think about my work in a very different way. They also make me think about audience. For $10 I can acquire the first copy then distribute for free, globally, or sell if I so choose.(Read up on Ebooks in general and you will know what a hot topic this is at the moment.) I’m in a house right now, right this second, with three other people who are all on laptops with Mavericks. I can email them this little baby and boom it’s in their iBooks. However….they also have a stack of unread magazines on their kitchen counter…so Uncle Dan isn’t going to ignore that little reality either. But let me restate….UNREAD magazines. Undivided attention and time is what most of us are after, and it is at a premium people. I don’t have enough work to make a book from this trip, so it will live in magazine and Emag form only. Again, just for me. When I finish the mag, get it where I want, I’ll print a few, leave them around till my wife throws them out. Because that is what I do. This Emag, Estory, Ebook world is SO NEW and SO YOUNG that I feel it brims with excited. I don’t understand it all, don’t yet know what will work and what won’t, at least with any degree of certainty, but the game is very intriguing to me. I am purchasing a new book, “augmented.” A novel. Massive undertaking available in both print and “augmented” version. I’m diving in, and JUST reading the intro I’ve already figured out a new direction to take on my NEW Emag I’ll be starting in the new week. The world is a hybrid place now, where the straight and traditional still have a solid home but the “anything” is possible is always within reach. I say we go for it.

If you make one of these email it to me and I’ll load it on my phone/laptop and will show it to folks when I’m traveling the world. I get tired of looking at my own stuff.

Photography note: The cover image, the all black first image with streaks of white, is an image of embers from a fire drifting up into the night sky. The title page image is a reflection of me in a stainless steel outhouse door. The rest are self explanatory. PS: you can click on these files to make them slightly larger…

Nicaragua Notes: Free Shoot

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Toward the end of the workshop week we had an afternoon staring back at us as wide open. Well, let me rephrase that. Those of us who were not responsible for the technical and production side of the workshop, meaning editing, sequencing, rating and producing films were staring at a few hours to kill. It felt odd due to the frenetic pace of the prior days. The kids were buzzing around like mosquitos, shooting around the lodge and trying to make pictures of each other. We decided to just walk, down the camino tierra leading from the lodge, downhill through farm properties and out into the jungle. Not really knowing what we would see, we just went.
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Remember, photography was still new. Still unexpected, unsuspecting and illuminating. I was amazed at how positive, how forward thinking and how excited they were to shoot anything and everything. There was a purity to their action that reminded me I need to keep things in perspective with my own work. After you do this photography thing long enough you suddenly have an agenda. Some people call it career, but either way it changes you. The kids reminded me about purity of thought and purity of action.
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No matter what we do the world moves along at the pace it chooses to move. Things happen and our job is to be there and witness. A small farm, the foreman with his radio and machete. Moving his cows down the road and suddenly there are a dozen kids in a full-court-press of photography, working the scene from every angle. Helping each other, pointing things out, making suggestion. “Make a color photograph in black and white,” I said. Suddenly they are shooting and rushing up to show the preview screen. Easy.
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Cows on a road might not be your cup of tea, might not be inspiring to you, but I am saying it should be. This little scene reminded me that I’ve taken far, far too much for granted. Star players don’t just play the final match and hold aloft the trophy. Star players grind it out through round after round. They might be the star but they are also part of the foundation. Just as everyday images are to us photographers. Being with these kids and watching them work made me realize the cows, and this road, were the most beautiful thing, and most beautiful place, in the world. What was I waiting for? A Yeti to appear? A dance troupe? Something exotic? No silly, the cows are exotic. The road, the landscape, the foreman, the kids and the MOMENT it all came together. Forget agenda, forget career, forget all that which means NOTHING in the long run, or even the now for that matter.
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Just shoot. Shoot what’s there. Enjoy. Record and reflect. Study. Admire and respect. It’s very, very simple if you get out of the way and just let it be.
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For those of you reading this post who are thinking I’m posting about photography you might be missing the point. This post isn’t about photography, certainly not good photography, so slow down and think about what I’m saying. Life is a seesaw battle, back and forth. Learn and unlearn. Learn and unlearn. I’ll admit, most of the good things that have happened to me in the last five years with a camera in my hand have all been from unlearning. Baggage. Leave it behind and just look. It sounds easy but it surely isn’t. I know this might sound like a sermon, but I keep seeing so many folks go down the road of being liked, being trendy, etc, and what it gets you is simply, at best, a short term gain. All you have to do is channel the feeling you had when you FIRST picked up a camera, like these kids, and use that to your advantage. It had nothing to do with success, a career, books, magazines, galleries, museums or anything else. It was about the hunt and the moment. Crediting what is in front of you and how fantastic that is, long before the idea of filtering it became a reality. Don’t filter, just enjoy. And realize you might not ever walk those same steps again.
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Since returning from this trip I’ve continued to unlearn the things that Nicaragua, and the kids, proved to me I no longer needed to know, or at least respond to. It’s liberating actually. I hope these posts have meaning to someone outside of the guy striking the keys. There is much to do in the photographic world. No time to waste. All we need to do is connect and forget.