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.

Trying to find Southern California

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I find it so difficult to work in Southern California. When I say “work” I mean photograph. My other work, meaning Blurb, is totally fine here in SoCal, but I don’t respond to this place visually. I’ve tried to like SoCal so many times I don’t know what else to do other than realize it just isn’t going to happen. Southern California for me is just too normal, too sterile and organized. You KNOW if I’m shooting reflections of MYSELF I’ve hit rock bottom.

These pics are a few random moments from the past few weeks. I’m one of those people who carry a camera everyday, all day, regardless of where I’m going or what I’m doing. Could be a simple run to the store to buy ten pounds of carne asada. When I’m traveling with people they will ask, “Hey, we are just going around the corner, are you really going to take your manbag and your camera?” My response is always the same, “First of all, it’s a purse, and second, YES, I’m taking both items AND my audio recorder.” To NOT take these items makes me feel naked and not in a good way.

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Yesterday, in a fit of Southern California inspired creative failure I came up with yet another book project, one that I hope takes everything I dislike about this area and funnels it into one, somewhat cohesive, somewhat interesting essay. And people when I say I don’t like this place, it’s nothing more than saying visually it doesn’t float my boat. I like old, I like culture, I like random and unpredictable, everything that SoCal is not. In general it is an easy place to be, which is perhaps another reason it doesn’t work for me. I like places that are more of a battle. A masochist you say? Perhaps. For the most part here everywhere looks like everywhere else. The places I find more interesting are simply too time consuming to get to based on our horrendous traffic problem. So, I continue to look, hunt, plead, beg and search for those little moments that sustain me, but I have to say, it’s getting more and more difficult to play the game. I have the major itchies and when I get these typically drastic measures are at hand.

I need a vacation.

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Transitions

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A smattering of random images from the past few weeks. I shoot this stuff all the time, rarely do anything with it other than promptly label it something I can never find later on. These aren’t great images but they allow me to shoot and allow me to think about light. I harp all the time with workshop students that light is the most important ingredient. If the light ain’t there then either keep looking or go get a beer. And when I say light it could mean lack there or, or dim, nearly nonexistent light. Or artificial. Whatever. These rolls of film might be in the camera for a long, long time, and when they finally emerge from the chemicals they might contain six or eight images entirely unrelated other than I made them. Each roll is like rolling back the clock and reliving small moments.

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Zen And The Art Of The Random Photograph

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On approach to Coronado

For me, this is one of my favorite things of all when it comes to photography. The random snap. Just walking, could be on a job, on my own, lost, wandering, traveling, doesn’t matter.

You see something, you shoot something.

You should see my negatives, even in the midst of a major shoot, if I see something I shoot it. I once did a wedding in Hawaii, then half way through a roll started a new documentary project, then when back to the wedding.

I had to tell the clients, “Ahh, there are going to be some images on there you might not understand or know why I shot, just ignore them.”

I once assisted for a photographer who said, “I’m not a guy who carries a camera around.” I knew what he was getting at. He was a successful commercial/editorial photographer, and for him, carrying a camera around on a daily basis was the sign of an amateur, and that he only picked up a camera when he was getting a shoot fee.

I’m the amateur. I’ve always got my camera. Always. And if for some odd reason I don’t have it, like I’ve been arrested, I feel lost, detached, naked, and not in a good way.

I can’t imagine not shooting, not doing this. Most of what I shoot on a daily basis doesn’t turn out. But, I can do whatever I want, in whatever way I want, whatever method I want, which is, often times, very unlike a commissioned job where the compromise and restrictions begin. Freedom. Is that what I’m getting at?

I think we all got into this endeavor because we had a simply love of making pictures. Whatever it was that hooked you. The sound of the shutter, the wind of the film, the pull of the Polaroid, the image emerging from the chemical bath, and for me, this daily barrage is just a continuation of that.

I also think this style of shooting can be far more difficult than a job, due to that same randomness, that same unknown factor which is missing in much assignment work. Typically, these random pictures are of moments and the real, which in modern photography is the endangered species. Thriving is the posed, the cropped, the controlled, the fabricated, the expected, the manipulated and the perfected.

The random photograph is perhaps the most personal of work. Completed for no other reason than it happened and you were there. No one asks for it. No one says, “Show me,” or “This is for so and so and such and such.”

Random photographs are our memories. As close to our experiences we can get with a camera.

It might be the most important work I do.