Engaging with the Masters

In looking at the work of Peter Dombrovskis over the last few weeks I couldn’t help but wonder about how we engage with the work of the ‘photography masters’. My preference of course is through books. Based on my Peter Dombrovskis experience this is a challenge.

There are of course the exceptions. Access to Ansel Adams’s photographs are readily available through books and calendars. It’s even possible to get prints from the original negatives printed by Ansel’s assistant Alan Ross.

Not every photographer has the kind of machinery behind them that Ansel has. What about the others. Is there space for periodic ‘remastering’ of classic books in the way that classic records are remastered. A very different undertaking but certainly possible.

I feel like one of my favorite photographers, Eliot Porter, received this kind of remastering in 2012 when a new edition of
‘In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World’. was published to mark the 50th anniversary of the first edition.

The Getty Museum also published a collection of Eliot’s work at around the same time, ‘Eliot Porter: In the Realm of Nature’. This book rather than a new edition is a great survey of Eliot’s work and for me is reminiscent of the Peter Dombrovskis book I recently acquired.

I wonder how many of the masters will get this additional chance to reach a new audience through a book, how many will achieve something similar through the internet and how many will fade away.

Spring Cleaning

Wow – how did we get into April so quickly. It feels like winter zipped on by and now we are on the doorstep of the summer boating season. The arrival of spring is usually marked, domestically, by a period of spring cleaning. I rarely feel moved or motivated to pick up the duster but this year is different. After a year at home with no travel my office has gather some barnacles that need to be scraped off in readiness for the next part of the adventure.

I have indulged, splurged would be a better word, on a number of photobooks and art books in general that have yet to find their place on my books shelves. This is also an opportunity to rethink how the shelves are arranged and organized. I also want to get the paper I have for printing organized so that I know what I have and can find it!

Perhaps for once I will get everything off the floor and be able to run the vacuum around. Ha! Wonders will never cease.

Generative Ideas for Starting Projects

How do you come up with new projects? Noodling on ideas in your journal is one way. Another way would be trawling through your Lightroom catalog to see if that sparked anything. I have been thinking about, and pursuing, this approach recently as I rebuild my lightroom catalog and find images that I’d either forgotten or previously passed by.

Another way could be to come up with titles for projects that are ‘generative’, titles that spark your imagination and creativity, titles that can be a jumping off point for the project itself. I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

I was driving around a weekend or two ago on very familiar roads and as often happens letting my mind wander. I drove past a graveyard and made the usual joke to myself, one that I heard from my dad many times when I was little – ‘there’s the dead centre of …’ insert the town you happen to be in. That then led me to think about something that I had heard, perhaps read in Todd Henry’s book Die Empty.

“The most valuable land in the world is the graveyard. In the graveyard are buried all of the unwritten novels, never-launched businesses, un-reconciled relationships, and all of the other things that people thought, ‘I’ll get around to that tomorrow.’ One day, however, their tomorrows ran out.”

That then quickly led me to the evolution of the ‘Dead Centre’ to ‘The Home of Forgotten Dreams‘. This is something that I feel that I could work with and wouldn’t necessarily just be pottering around in a graveyard. Perhaps a Todd Hidoesque set of spooky looking houses at night?

I’d be curious to hear how you start projects. Do you fire the dart into the wall and draw the target around it? Do you start with an idea in mind and build towards it? Have you ever started with a title and used that as a jumping off point?

Visual Fatigue

How do you navigate social media? Do you have a strategy for how you engage with it?

I’ve come to the point where I need to dial way back the amount of time I spend trawling Instagram and tumblr or watching videos on YouTube.

I had started to feel nauseated by YouTube – perhaps in recognition of what I was doing. Filling a void with edutainment.

I know some people advocate for taking a social media break, others will take a digital Shabbat and turn off the devices on Friday and turn them back on again on Saturday.

I’m going to dial things back to be able to read more and create more. I’m going to spend less time having YouTube running in the background and time mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. More time intentionally looking at my photo books and learning why images work for me.

Learn to Nourish Yourself

I hadn’t had scallops in a while and it was a special occasion so why not. Scallops are super easy to cook and don’t require much to be really tasty. I made a variation of lemon scallops – only 5 ingredients and took about 15 mins from start to finish. Amazing and tasted great.

Learning to cook, even if it’s only 12 basic meals, should be a requirement to graduate high school. Perhaps it already is.

We also need to know how to stoke the creative fire. To be able to think differently and approach problems with a broad set of tools. These are the leaders our world needs and it’s who we need to be in our creative lives.

We need to stay curious and open to possibility. Explore voraciously, while making connections to things we’ve already experienced.

Committing to a daily practice of exploration, connection and creation I believe is at the heart of living an artful life.

Go Play in the Snow!

We’re having a real winter for a change here in southern New England.

I keep trying to get my friends to get outside and play in the snow for a bit. They look at me like I have a screw loose. Why not though?

The novelty of living somewhere where you get a decent amount of snow has long since worn off. Having to literally shovel snow off your car to start the day will do that to you. As will having to clear off your driveway.

That doesn’t mean to say I don’t enjoy the snow, especially when I don’t have to be anywhere, and right now the only place I have to be is at home.

Taking time, even if it’s as little as five minutes, to go outside and play in the snow is a guaranteed way to lift my mood.

How about you? What do you do to stay connected to ‘childish’ pleasures?

Make Good Art – Neil Gaimen

When I was revisiting Ira Glass’s thoughts on storytelling ‘The Gap’ I was also thinking of Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech ‘Make Good Art’. I’m sure most people know Neil Gaiman. I first came across him as the co-author, with Terry Pratchett, of Good Omens. I then refound him as Amanda Palmer’s other half. He’s perhaps best known as the author of the Sandman comic graphic novel. I can’t say that I’ve ever gotten into that although I know it has a huge cult following. I have enjoyed the children’s books ‘Fortunately the milk’, ‘Chu’s Day’ and his reading of The Graveyard Book is excellent.

Checkout Make Good Art below:

Open Culture has distilled the video into the following points

  1. Embrace the fact that you’re young. Accept that you don’t know what you’re doing. And don’t listen to anyone who says there are rules and limits.
  2. If you know your calling, go there. Stay on track. Keep moving towards it, even if the process takes time and requires sacrifice.
  3. Learn to accept failure. Know that things will go wrong. Then, when things go right, you’ll probably feel like a fraud. It’s normal.
  4. Make mistakes, glorious and fantastic ones. It means that you’re out there doing and trying things.
  5. When life gets hard, as it inevitably will, make good art. Just make good art.
  6. Make your own art, meaning the art that reflects your individuality and personal vision.
  7. Now a practical tip. You get freelance work if your work is good, if you’re easy to get along with, and if you’re on deadline. Actually you don’t need all three. Just two.
  8. Enjoy the ride, don’t fret the whole way. Stephen King gave that piece of advice to Neil years ago.
  9. Be wise and accomplish things in your career. If you have problems getting started, pretend you’re someone who is wise, who can get things done. It will help you along.
  10. Leave the world more interesting than it was before.

The Gap – Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare

I often fall into the trap, as I suppose many people do, of being generally dissatisfied with the work that I’m producing. I make images that I like just often enough to keep me engaged but it can be tough to keep going especially when we’re surrounded by an onslaught of great work on social media.

The guitar teacher Tomo Fujita tells his students ‘Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare, Don’t Expect Too Fast, and Don’t Worry.’ Good advice for anyone whether they are trying to learn a new skill or to be creative.

The other advice that I turn to when I’m struggling is what Ira Glass said about ‘The Gap’ (see video 3 below). He’s describing the difference between what you know is good and want to be able to do and what you’re currently able to achieve.

Check out the illustrated video below.

The solution of course is to do a lot of work. Bang it out even if you don’t feel like it. Just keep going. You will get better, you will evolve and you will close the gap.

Checkout the full interview ‘Ira Glass on Storytelling’ in the following videos. This should be required viewing for anyone in the creative arts.

Using Your Notebook to Document Your Art Practice

I am an unabashed striver – I want to continue to learn and grow in everything that I do. I am continually looking for ways that I can push myself and my work forward. I’m finding that one effective tool for this is my notebook.

As I said here I have multiple notebooks that I use for different purposes. Perhaps the most important notebook is the one that I carry around with me which is the notebooks I have in the Paper Republic Grand Voyager Pocket. This notebook allows me to capture ideas in the moment, to note the things that catch my attention and could be useful later.

My notebook is a ‘sandbox’ where I can play – develop ideas, ask questions and generally go down rabbit holes. It is a place where I can reflect on the photographs that I’ve been making, the things that I’m noticing and the choices that I’m making. Are there connections that I didn’t recognize in the moment that with some time and space become apparent?

It’s a place where I can make notes on some of the composition and post-processing experiments I’m trying. This week for instance I’m trying out split toning again and also playing with using tree branches to frame subjects. One example is shown below.

My knowledge is fragile in these early stages and if I don’t write things down I am likely to have forgotten what I was trying when I look at the work later. The very act of writing, physically using a pen on paper also helps me to remember more effectively.

My notebook is also a good place for me to write about the other photographers and artists that I’m paying attention to and what lessons I’m drawing from their work. How can I apply these to my own work?

This is not an onerous process that takes ages – just a few minutes reflection when I have the time. More if I have more to say and the time to say it in.

I hope you are capturing your process and having fun doing it. I’d be interested in hearing about how you use your notebooks to develop ideas and projects.

Friday Inspiration: Sean Tucker

Photo by Sean Tucker in London, United Kingdom. Image may contain: one or more people and indoor.
Sean Tucker, Way Out

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the algorithm that determines your feed on social media sites such as instagram and YouTube. I was a bit slow to realize that Instagram no longer shows you posts as they appear – in chronological order – but rather in an order that’s determined by a mysterious algorithm.

On YouTube the situation is a little better there are the subscribe and home sections. When I’ve caught up on everything that subscribe to and want to watch I will flick over to the home section and see if there’s anything interesting there. That’s how I found Sean Tucker.

Sean has had an interesting journey. He was a pastor in South Africa until he was 30, when he was asked to leave the church because his views contradicted those of the leadership. He then had to reinvent himself. I can only imagine how it would be to start from scratch after 10+ years of dedication to a particular path.

Fortunately for us Sean had been shooting video and photos on the side to supplement his income from the church and took the opportunity to focus on his photography. He’s pretty candid about his start in photography – it didn’t go exactly as he planned – but has been able to leverage his experience as a pastor to create some very inspirational videos. He’s tried his hand at a number of different genres and seems to be settling into being a street photographer. Sean publishes a book of his best images each year. I was lucky enough to get a copy a few weeks ago. It’s excellent. A quick flip through is below.

It sounds like true ‘street photographers’ bridle a little when that label is applied to Sean. That he’s not a proper street photographer. I suppose I understand it. Sean’s images have a strong sense of light, geometry and graphics. The more that I look at them and use words to describe them they remind me of Jay Maisel’s images – great sense of color, shape and line and perhaps some of Saul Leiter’s photos. Are these street photographers? I think that all three are doing the same thing – wandering around the streets of the city that they live in and taking photos of the things that catch their attention.

Find out more about Sean Tucker by visiting his website, YouTube channel and Instagram profile. Watch Sean in action as he pushes himself out of his comfort zone and does some landscape work in Snowdonia and then shows us how he thinks about post-processing in the videos below.