Thursday, October 29, 2015

Synergy, Energy, (And Of Course), Caffeine ~

Let it never be said that I have unproductive weeks. Oh sure, I'm prone to the same distractions and dissipations as the best of them, and some days it's hardly worth getting out of bed, but an unproductive week? Never. I try every day to make a sharable photograph; failing that, I try every day to learn something new. Failing both of those means, well, it's time to fall back and reconnect with someone who can help keep that flame ignited, maybe ever pour a little gas on it. Inspiration is not a one-way street.

In those regards, then, this has been a pretty darn good week: good photography weather, great articles showing off the latest Hubble images, and most of all, (re)connecting with some wonderful friends and colleagues. Coffee, of course, is the perfect lubricant of good conversation and the unifier of otherwise disparate energies. I met with Tracy earlier the week, a long-time friend and colleague in the dental photography business whose passion for her craft and her clients remains undiminished after all these years; later with Darcie, one of my favorite photographers and one with whom I had shared many a personal project in past years; and my buddy Dr. Dave, who is helping me prepare for a lecture I'm giving to his dental study group next month. Unique individuals, yes, but as I said there is always the unifying force of good coffee, and the commonality of a shared passion for the photographic image and the inspiration to make them.

I guess some would simply call this networking, which is fine on its face but might also be just a little off-target. It's about more than just the connections themselves. Static or otherwise, good networking is the backbone of any successful business, but you know me. I want something a step or two to the side of that; I want something a little more. I keep thinking of the word synergy.  I enjoy being lost in the energy that's created when the sum is greater than the parts themselves. I don't know about you, but I think it's a tangible thing. It's the very oxygen of the creative process.

So use this as an excuse to send out a text or pick up the phone and gather with your fellow crazies and co-conspirators (and as we approach Halloween, you might even discover they're crazier than you thought). You'll find that you each still share that same spark, and if it's starting to dim a bit, then all the better to regroup and recharge. Granted, it may not make you charge right out and spend the day with your camera, chasing down the one photo that will speak to you forever.

But you're probably going to want to.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

10,000 .... And Counting ~

An interesting article showed up in my Feed of Interesting Articles this week. It was just a few short paragraphs by a travel writer named Jason Row, but he was commenting on one of the great luminaries of 20th century photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Now Cartier-Bresson, you may remember, is justly famous for coining the phrase, and embodying the photographic style, of the decisive moment. This philosophy, though maybe a bit dramatic, nonetheless influenced all of us to some degree. But the article did not examine the idea of photographic moments, decisive or otherwise. Rather it examined, in brief but otherwise revelatory fashion, a lesser-known statement he once made: "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst."

Mr. Row, it appeared, was taking that 10,000-count somewhat literally, even examining how easily one may approach that figure vis-a-vis film vs digital technologies. I believe Cartier-Bresson intended a more metaphorical reading, at least I hope he did. But if the number itself is merely an arbitrary signpost, to what does it point?
I mean, I clearly remember the refrigerator we had at the studio I first worked and studied at, so many years back. It was packed with, literally, hundreds of feet of film: bricks and pro-packs  of 120 film, 100-foot rolls of Tri-X and Ektachrome to bulk-load, and more boxes of sheet film than you could count. There was hardly room for beer, though God knows we tried. So for sheer numbers, 10,000 was hardly daunting.

But numbers only represent a larger truth, one hopes. And the truth is, we take our craft seriously, and if it takes a lot of practice to improve -- as surely it does in any worthwhile endeavor -- then let's keep counting. You're first 10,000 anything are not your worst, but they are the signposts on your path that keep pointing ahead. You can be proud of the work you've produced so far without being satisfied. I, for one, have not yet taken my best photograph. Might be the next one. Might be the one after that.

But who's counting?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Plato's Travelogues, Part de Tres ~

John Steinbeck is always a great read, always; and one of the most delightful of those reads, Travels With Charley, kept running through my head this past week. He had set out with his traveling companion Charley in search of America (the book's subtitle) near the end of his career as a writer. Other than my own reflections as I travel and make photographs, I draw no parallels nor critiques of one of my favorite writers. I only write to clean up the noise in my head, but like the man himself, I have come to embrace the art of travel as a means of self-reflection upon a long and adventurous career.

And so this past week at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival could well be titled Travels With Nancy. Not only wife and travel companion, she is the instigator, motivator, and organizer of many a fine trip. Left to my own devices, I'd prefer to grab my brother Jim and light out for the territories, with nary a thought beyond where the next gas station -- or liquor store -- may be. But a trip to this festival required a level of planning and precision I'm generally not capable of, and which also inspired in me a more focused and disciplined approach to my photography. I traveled camera-light: just my trusty little Fuji and a couple of lenses; a minimalist approach to a maximal event. It's been photographed a zillion times before, so I could hardly pretend to speak in a wholly original voice. But that was hardly the point.

I should point out that Charley was a french poodle, and Nancy is not. But a travel companion is always and forever more than just someone occupying the seat next to you. A true travel companion is the chorus of Agememnon, a fresh thought, a light of a different color. And in my case anyway, it's how I got there in the first place. In my experience, an excellent travel companion has always kept me from over-thinking the possibilities and probabilities, making me stay in the moment. Photography requires this, but photographers stray.

We should all get the opportunity, if not the necessity, to reflect on what we've produced as our careers wind down. Doing it right is, I submit, an intensely solitary effort, but whatever our calling has been -- artists, photographers, healers, teachers -- it is inescapable. We've come down a long road, and in this case, it lead me to a hot-air balloon festival in my beloved Albuquerque; a place where I spent part of my childhood, and have always felt a warm attachment to.

Like Steinbeck, I want to see more of America, and even the world, and use the experience of traveling to see deeper inside myself. His voice was a pen and paper, mine happens to be a camera, but we should, all of us, find Charley and go somewhere.

Even if Charley happens to be a french poodle.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Rust and Ruins and a Good Walk ~

I've been known to take long walks indeed, or at least lengthy travels. Sure, I'm a studio guy, but the road beckons and nothing gives me white-line fever more than a nice camera sitting with its legs crossed on the edge of my desk, asking me out on a date. My wandering companion of late, one Laurie Excell, is even more of a wanderer, and often in the very literal sense, having completed this past summer a 600 some-odd mile walking tour in Spain. But our attentions turned this week to a more modest project closer to home, a fascinating old lumber camp that's been turned into a walking museum of old relics (I know what you're thinking, but I'm not one yet) and restaurant about an hour west of town. It's a place called Camp 18, and if you've driven over to the coast from Portland on 26, you've been by it a million times. Well, next time, pull in. You'll end up spending a most gratifying day.

It's a treasure trove of old logging machinery and railroad cars that have been left out in the Oregon elements to weather gracefully. I'm a history buff every bit as much as a photographer, and am particularly fascinated by the remnants of 19th and early 20th century Americana. So this place was like Disneyland for me. Laurie and I spent the better part of a gorgeous sunny day taking in the textures and the colors, communing with the ghosts of trucks and tractors that were so vital to an industry that was once the lifeblood of the Northwest. Two inveterate wanderers, Laurie and I, figuring out ways to have fun and cause trouble.

So we're going to organize a Wandering group. Laurie has lead photography workshops for many years, in amazing places throughout the world, and wrote a monthly column in Photoshop User magazine. I've lead photo groups in Jackson Hole and, of course, lighting and portrait workshops right here at home. We've been wandering together in these parts for a long time and have always thought it'd be a kick-butt idea to invite some like-minded souls to join us. Camp 18 inspired us. We're taking a group back there on November 1 for a day of photo instruction and shooting; any camera or smartphone and any skill level. Rain or shine (and you know I'd prefer a little rain, but that's just me). Fee TBD, we'll meet there for breakfast at 8 am, shoot all day, then head back indoors for a slideshow and guidance on software, apps, and post-processing. What's not to love? More information will be forthcoming from both of us in the next day or two, so stay tuned.

I bet you have a camera somewhere close by, just begging to go out on a date, right?

Here's you chance to take it somewhere nice.