Save your “Likes” buy a print? (if you can)

I wrote this post a few days ago and then when I reread it I felt like perhaps I was coming across as a world class a$%hole. I thought, “What right do I have to condemn anything, especially when it comes to supporting someone or something?” so I decided to delete the post. Then I promptly forgot about it. Then I read it again. I’m still not sure, but that is what you are here for. To make your own decision. I’m obviously not against support, read the post, just stunned by how much stock we put in something like a single keystroke, often times lost in the hundreds of billions of keystrokes. On the other hand that makes me think of another post. Last year I ran into someone who as spending every waking second plotting the development of his social media following. He was up in the near one million followers category and someone said “Geez, you must me making some serious coin from that.” “I haven’t make a penny yet,” he responded. Someone said “What’s the point of it all?” There was no answer. So, this is my take on this scenario.

What is a “Like” really worth?

You click, you move on. How many of these do we do in a given day? “Wow, thanks for the like.”

Now return to the real world where you find yourself standing at the counter at the local dealer holding a bottle of developer in one hand and a bottle of fix in the other. You need both, but you can afford only one. Where is the like? Can you use it for barter? Can you tell the salesperson, “Hey, you should see how many likes I got.” “Any chance I can trade those likes for this fixer?” “Seriously, a lot of people I don’t even know are telling me I’m awesome and liking pretty much everything I do.” That has to be worth something right?

I’ve thought a lot about this online reality. It’s my fault for doing so. I’ve formed a few opinions, spent much time watching, and am still so puzzled by it all, so puzzled by the addiction to check in and see who is providing the much needed electronic nurturing. And I wonder how much more the artist could have accomplished had they not spent so much time online and fractured their skull and attention by trying to consume so, so much.
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So when I encountered Jeff Frost a few months back, and he told me what he was working on, I thought to myself “Well, that sounds admirable….how can I get involved?” Jeff was up to his normal shenanigans, spending weeks and months in strange, twisted places consumed by broiling temperatures, dust, periodically hostile locals; left alone with only the thoughts in his talented little head. And believe me, most of us are unprepared for what is floating in Jeff’s head. He’s an artist after all.

Jeff explained to me a new print idea he’d hatched, editions of one, 24×36, printed by Mac Holbert. “I’m in,” I said. “I want two.”

Let me back up.

I like Jeff. I like Jeff’s work. I admire his tenacity. I know A LOT of photographers who have yet to discover their inner fire, but he found his a long time ago. He is relentless, and again, he is working in places that are not easy to be, doing difficult time consuming work but yet he’s there, time and time again because he is possessed. I have great admiration for this. A lot of people stand around and wait for handouts. They wait for donations, or the perfect setup or situation. Jeff just makes work. He finds a way. His odometer was somewhere near 250,000 the last time I looked. These were HARD miles. Dusty. Four-wheel-drive access only. No air conditioning. A little puff of smoke with the turn of the key.

There is a madness to these things. So when it came time to get involved I bought prints. They were expensive, at least for me, and so was the framing. The prints are BEAUTIFUL. Loading them in the car and the person helping said “God these are cool.” True, they are. They are Jeff. Every minute of his childhood walking the hills of Utah with his grandfather, learning about cave paintings. Every second of his staring at the stars and learning what was where and why. Every second of his art training. Every MILE on that odometer is in these prints. I know because I went out there and watched. I got a little dust on my boots. Just once, but enough to know.

These prints aren’t going anywhere, including on the wall anytime soon. You see, I don’t have the space to hang them but I got them anyway. I don’t care if they lean against the wall until I move in the distant future. It was important to me because I know how important it is to Jeff. The career of an artist is a battle. What Jeff does, or any artist for that matter, is their business. I’m not condemning promotion. I’m just saying there is a big, big difference between tossing out a “Like” and really getting involved. So what is your time worth? What is your word worth? And before I go any further, in addition to respecting what Jeff does…I LOVE THESE IMAGES. I don’t buy to collect, although it’s kinda cool to know I’m the only one to have these two images at this size, I buy because I love the actual work. Same for my books. I buy things because I want to look at them, again and again, for YEARS at a time. I’m fortunate to be able to afford these, something I do not take for granted. I work hard. I spend hard. I felt my support would lead to tangible, real-world results, like gasoline, paint, cameras, food, etc. I don’t know for sure, but that was my intention. I’m only saying these things because I think most people have a good heart. They mean well, and they want to help, but these online support things of today are often times just noise that doesn’t swing the bar outside of the site itself and the corporations buying your personal information. When you buy direct, when you get involved in a concrete way, its spawns potential for real innovation, experimentation, failure and the breakthrough.

The real, tangible world is out in front of us, starting just beyond the screen. This is the world I choose to live in. It’s fantastic in ways beyond your dreams. Like it or not.

PS: My wife came home at midnight so tired she walked right past these babies without even a notice. She is going to scratch her head and say “What have you done now?”

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Jeff holding a print of an image I made of him on our first shoot. California desert, 2014.

Blurb Down Under: Oculi + Blurb Opening Sydney

Last night we co-hosted an event in Sydney with the photographers of Oculi, a collective based here in Australia. Over the past few months one of our Blurb members, Garry Trinh, worked with Oculi on a book project as well as setting up last night’s show. Last night’s show was part of the Reportage Festival. Stephen Dupont, festival director, stopped by to unveil the new posters, complete with a cover image by David Burnett. You might be thinking, “Ya, ya, another opening,” but this one had a different twist. Each attendee had an opportunity to make their own book from the work of the Oculi photographers. After walking in, each attendee was given a form containing a book layout. Each person could make their own edit, choose their sequence and submit the form for Blurb to print and ship the book.

As a photographer your edit and sequence are critical and NOT something you would normally put in the hands of the audience, but that was precisely the point with this particular show. Both Oculi and Blurb were looking for something different. Personally I see so many shows and exhibitions and many of them are pretty generic. You have probably heard of the movement to “get the art out of the galleries,” which isn’t my particular view, but I DO feel there needs to be more exploration when it comes to photography. We were attempting to do just this.

There was an excellent turnout on a cold, extremely rainy Sydney night, even with a multitude of photography events all happening at the same time. Oculi is the recording device of an entire nation. Much of their work focuses on Australia which is one of the things that makes them so distinctive. The show prints were SMALL, something else I found refreshing. I was told the designer wanted the attendees to be able to see all the work in a small area as opposed to seeing each image massive and set alone. I applaude both the agency and Garry Trinh for putting it all together.

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Print em Danno

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You HAVE to make prints.

Personally, I feel so strongly about this that I believe you aren’t actually a photographer if you aren’t printing your work. And when I say “Print” it doesn’t have to mean darkroom print. It can be any print. Photographic, inkjet, darkroom, wet, dry, moist, whatever. Just do it. I see a lot of work today, and I see a lot of portfolios and I see I lot of folks presenting on things like iPads, and I frankly do not see the kind of consideration I’m looking for. This doesn’t mean I haven’t seen solid digital presentations, I have, but they are few and far between.

I hear comments like “Well, I just left this in because ___________________.(Insert casual reason here.)” No, no, no, no, no. That is not how it’s done. I see galleries with HUNDREDS of images, which is the quickest way to alert the person reviewing your work that you are not ready for a review. I think making prints helps with this. In short, printing makes you think and forces you to make decisions. THAT my friends is a good thing.

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Art Brewer SVA Show

Photographer/Artist Art Brewer is someone I’ve written about before, and someone I will surely write about again. I’m a big fan of cool people. I’m a big fan of good photography, and I’m a big fan of photographers who have poured their lives into creating an archive on one particular topic or subject. Art is all the above. Recently, I was able to stop by Art’s studio to check out a few of the images he is printing for a MASSIVE show at the School of Visual Arts in New York. This show will highlight over 150 individual pieces from Art’s collection on the history of modern surfing.


At 43 I finally feel like I found a subject I can work on the rest of my life. Starting now I’m way behind the game. Art has been covering modern surfing for over thirty-years and his archive is one of the greatest ever compiled. Years ago, when I worked for Kodak in Southern California, I realized there was an opportunity for me, and for the company, in working with the global collection of surfing photographers. Problem was I didn’t know a single surfing photographer. So, being a good corporate detective, I called around. “Talk to Art Brewer,” was the response I heard over and over again. Not only was Art open and receptive to learning what Kodak had to offer he also became my link to the entire surfing photography world.

What I love about Art’s archive is the range of work. Browsing the work you see every format imaginable from 35mm to 6×6, 6×7, 6×9, 4×5, point and shoot as well as an odd assortment of other formats and techniques. When you walk into Art’s studio you find yourself frozen and wanting to simply stand and look. Big prints and artwork adorn the walls, an incredible range of oil, ink and emulsion. And every time I go there is something new to feast my eyes upon.



And as you can see by the above images, Art is also a bookmaker. And like all things Brewer, Art publishes a range of books. From his Masters of Surf Photography monograph to his two-volume Blurb masterpiece on Bunker Spreckels you never know what he is going to come up with next. And if that’s not enough…he teaches as well, which you can see in the film below. I was going to write that Art is a great person for young photographers to study, but I’m going to amend that. Art is a good person for any photographer to study. There are certain people who are creatively restless. They are creative searchers, people who run the river of life and can’t wait to see what lives beyond the next bend. Art is one of those people.

Something Personal This Way Comes

You ever get the feeling that we are living in a parallel universe? I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I think it might be happening. We all blaze forward simultaneously racing on a path of security, meaning and direction and yet behind the scenes there lurks this feeling that someone, or something, is looking over our shoulder. Things connect.

So a few weeks ago I wrote a post about receiving a letter in the mail, a real, honest-to-goodness, paper letter. This letter came from Los Angeles based painter/photographer Michael Napper. The post “Art in the Mail” was about framing the letter because it was so beautiful and because it was personal and only for little old me.

Sunday night I returned from the Palm Springs Photo Festival and checked my mail. Inside, buried amid the junk mail, bills, spiderwebs and dust was a letter. This was no “regular” letter. This letter was fat, somewhat square and immediately made me toss aside the rest of the stack. This letter had handwriting on it. Real, personal handwriting. And this letter had stamps, really cool stamps with “Canada” on them.

Needless to say I was intrigued. What I found inside completely and utterly made my day. Inside was the “book” and prints you see in the first photograph. It turns out that during my workshop in Victoria BC someone named Paul Romaniuk was in the audience. Paul wrote a review of my lecture, a damn good review, and we subsequently kept in touch. Paul saw my post about “Art in the Mail” and something clicked. The result is what you see here. These images don’t do his book justice, but I think this is also on point with the message of this post.


As photographers we are products of learned behavior and our photo-environment. Heck, I know I surely am. I went to photojournalism school. I studied the masters, or some of them anyway. And much of what I did I did because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Well, over the past ten years, I’ve been trying to unlearn as much as I possibly can. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what I learned, but I know now that range, or angle or direction may or may not be the right one for me. So, now I must find my own path. One of the things I was taught was about the book. Yes, the all-powerful book.


The book must be a monograph.
The book must be published by a traditional publisher.(Only thing that will give you cred.)
The book must be large.
The book must be entirely serious.
The book must be traditional.

Again, nothing wrong with these ideas, but they are simple not accurate, at least not all the time. A book can be SO many things. A book can be almost anything. Receiving Paul’s book was EVERY BIT as interesting and powerful as going into a bookstore and buying the latest, greatest, enormous coffee-table book. It really was. And there were prints too! Opening the letter made me feel like I’d been told a secret that nobody else knew. I felt like Paul sat at home with me personally on his mind and built this thing. That is VERY powerful.

Last week at the festival I had a long conversation with a photographer I really admire. We looked at his Blurb book, a large one, 12×12, Proline paper, etc. His book is beautiful and has been very well received. Shortly after I showed him my “best” book, a 5×8 inch, softcover book with eleven images and twenty pages total. He said to me, “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought to make a book like that.”

This was music to my ears. This is it people. We can do anything we can dream up. We don’t need permission. We don’t need a note from mom and dad. We just need time for critical thought, an idea and the will to see it to fruition. We might also have to unlearn a few things. Paul’s book you see here was yet another reminder of that. This book, and prints, will go into my collection and will grow old with me…if I make it that long.

Getting something like this is like a shot of creative adrenaline. Time for us to ride the wave.

Thanks Paul.