Friday Inspiration: Brooks Jensen

Brooks Jensen, Winter Trees, Mt Erie, Fidalgo Island, Washington, 2003

When I was thinking about what I had learned in the Portfolio Development class with William Neill, one of the things that I was reflecting on is how much you can learn from the other students. A good group that are freely sharing their previous experiences, understanding and viewpoint can really support your growth.

One of the students in the class turned me on to Lenswork – a magazine that I had never heard of and certainly wasn’t carried in the local bookstores at the time. I eventually ended up getting a subscription so that I could see what it was all about. Lenswork is a bimonthly magazine that emphasizes photographs not gear and is exquisitely printed – book quality printing. From what I understand the emphasis on photographs is very similar to the principals that were at the heart of Aperture Magazine when it was established and under the guidance of Minor White. To see some of the early issues check out this anthology.

The editor, Brooks Jensen, is an accomplished photographer and his work can be found at his personal site, Brooks Jensen Arts. The image above is from Brooks’ first Winter Trees portfolio – you can download a pdf of the portfolio here. I continue to be fascinated by this image – it has a depth to it, a three dimensionality, that I have not experience in any other photograph. I was fortunate enough to be able to get a print of this image when Brooks was still selling individual images and it is even more stunning in the flesh, as it were.

Brooks’ thinking about photography that he shares through his writing and podcast have had a profound impact on my thinking about the ‘photographic art life’. He makes really great points about in his article about what size should editions be, has suggested multiple ways of presenting your work to your audience including, Folios and Chapbooks and additionally was an earlier adopter of PDFs. I have learned a tremendous amount from Brooks and think you would too. Go take at look at Lenswork, Lenswork online and Brooks Jensen Arts. Listen to the interview with Brooks in the interview below.

Watching the Weather

As a photographer and a sailor the weather has a major impact on my activities. As a photographer I look for weather that suits the style of photographs that I’m currently working towards and plan appropriately. As a sailor I’m watching the weather and modifying the sails to match changes in wind and changing plans to account for storms.

We need to be equally skilled at looking for and responding to the winds of change in our careers and personal lives. We must change and continue to innovate if the hope is to build and sustain our business and career. Being creative, looking beyond the obvious, offering something more than just what the camera is able to bring seems to be the way to succeed. Opportunities abound for those willing to try small experiments, review the feedback from those experiments and try again until something is found that works.

Maine Islands Workshop

Last weekend I was at John Paul Caponigro’s Maine Islands Workshop.  The workshop appealed to me because it was based in a part of Maine I hadn’t previously explored and it was an opportunity to work with John Paul.  For the uninitiated, John Paul is a fine art landscape photographer whose work often blurs the line between photography and painting.  I was initially more familiar with his work as a master printer since he was referenced by many of the photographers I have paid attention to.  After poking around on his website I realized that JP could be the photography mentor that I have been looking for, someone who could help me become more like me.

I was more than a little bit intimidated in signing up since I felt that John Paul attracted people that were already very good and were pushing to be more creative.  I really needn’t have worried.  John Paul’s relaxed demeanor helped to foster a very supportive environment that made for good weekend.

As an added bonus Kevin Ames was part of our group.  I was familiar with Kevin through his book ‘The Digital Photographer’s Notebook’ so this was real surprise to get a chance to meet him and see him in action.  Kevin has a great sense of humor and was fun to be around.  He’s also a great resource for imaging possibilities in photoshop which came in very handy.  I’m looking forward to bumping into him again.

The subtitle of the workshop was ‘Illuminating Creativity’, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that at each of the shoots John Paul gave the group an exercise – shoot a photograph that’s a noun, make the postcard image and then make a more creative one.  What this did was to shift my thinking.  I have a specific project that I am working on that I half thought I would come close to finishing at this workshop but what actually happened was that I tried a lot of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  I made some images that I like, I have a few ideas that I will pursue further and I have a better sense of why my duds are just that duds.

It was an odd sensation but I came away from the workshop feeling the same way I did when I got into graduate school – an ending but also the first step on a grander adventure.

Telling Your Story

I’ve been reading Ann Lamott’s guide to writing called ‘Bird by Bird’ over the last few days.  It’s an enjoyable read and like Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ has much food for thought for photographers.

One section describes an approach to getting unstuck that involves writing a letter that describes part of your character’s history, or part of your history.  I wonder how many times you’ve tried telling your story or the story of some significant event through photography when you’ve been stuck.  I know that I never have but it seems like something that’s well worth doing.

Some great examples of the use of photography for storytelling can be found on a new website called ‘Rear Curtain’.  The team managing the Rear Curtain site is looking for submissions found out more here.

Finding your Focus

One of the ideas that I’ve been kicking around recently is whether it’s better to invest time in developing areas of weakness or to put those same hours into enhancing strengths.

I’m increasingly of the opinion that most people can learn to do most things if they are willing to commit the time and energy. Granted, some people may have more of an aptitude for one thing over another (languages aren’t it for me!) and so may not have to work as hard or as long to achieve a basic level of proficiency as someone who doesn’t have the same aptitude.

To get beyond that initial level of proficiency, to achieve mastery, requires a more significant investment of time and energy.

Mastery = time + commitment

It’s been said that mastery of a skill requires approximately 10,000 hours.  This is the equivalent of about 5 years working 40 hour weeks.  It sounds about right to me.  It’s about the length of a traditional apprenticeship or the number of hours that you would be expected to put in during a typical PhD, or MD training program.

So where to invest your 10,000 hours?  In some regards as an ‘amateur’ photographer I’m in a luxurious position in that I can spend time working on what appeals to me rather than developing a skill set that is going to meet the needs of ‘the client’.  In turn this means that I have developed a very lop-sided skill set, as I have focused on the things that appeal to me.  That’s not to say that I’ve been successful with all the subjects that appeal to me.  In fact one of the things that has helped, and continues to help, push me forward are portfolio review sessions with people that want to see me improve and will give me solid frank feedback.  These review sessions have helped me steer away from those subjects that regardless of how hard I try I end up making ‘record shots’, to allow me to focus on those subjects that truly resonate.  It’s taking some time and effort but I’m finding my focus.

Exploring Tools for Learning

It’s been some time since I was last a student but have decided to jump in and explore some of the options that are currently available to develop and enhance photographic skills and abilities.

I am currently considering the following options:

  • Books
    • Essential reference tools to support on going learning process

Updates on my experiences will follow in future blogs!

I am continuing to explore the coastline around my home and in particular to try different approaches to capturing what are all too familiar scenes.  After trying out the obvious images from this view point I decided to try an image where I moved to exclude the obvious.  From my initial edits this was the most successful of the series.  I like the effect and will try more of this style in the coming weeks.