Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Thanksgiving Observation, and Hockey ~

Ok, so I wasn't necessarily thinking I'd be posting to my blog today: Thanksgiving Day 2015.  It's a day taken completely off, I'm not at the studio, and sure as hell I'm not out shopping. No, it's a mellow sunny Oregon day, and in between prepping the turkey, drinking some wine, following some good hockey games, and drinking some wine, my mind was set to wandering anyway, so it just seems natural to jot down a few observations. And did I mention the wine?

On balance, I have little to complain about, and bad knees don't count. I have much to be thankful for. As I reflect on a (so far) somewhat long and eventful life, I can't help but remark that the bulk of it has been spent in the peculiar institution we call Photography. I mean, really, who does this for a living? Well, I certainly have, for more than forty years without a single regret. I've had the good fortune to have worked at some amazing studios with some of the most talented and inspirational photographers. Whatever successes I have enjoyed, I owe entirely to them. I have had the great good fortune to have worked for several years as a professional sales rep for a couple of outstanding photography organizations, as well. It was fun and challenging work that put me in touch with some of the most incredible photographers in the country.

And now? Well, now is the best time I'm having yet. I'm surrounded by supremely talented people whose photography just blows me away, and pushes me to new levels. I'm having the time of my life.

Some may argue that it's disingenuous to take just one silly little day of the year to express our gratitudes, but I say pshaw. If we try to practice a little kindness every day, and appreciate with sincerity those who extend it to ourselves, then taking one special day in the fall to express some thanks with a slight air of formality is appropriate indeed, and most welcomed. So let's do this. Go bake your turkey, drink a little wine, catch a couple hockey games, and drink a little wine. All, or at least some, will be well in the world.

And did I mention the wine?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Some Happy Observations ~

Few things speak so positively about the genuine inclusiveness, the overall democratization, of modern photography than what has come to be known, informally, as the "photowalk." I know whereof I speak. I went on two of them since I last posted; about a week ago with my favorite and oft-mentioned co-conspirators Chaz and Keri, and earlier this week with my friend and colleague Darcie, braving the rains and wind out in the Columbia Gorge. This didn't happen much, if at all, back in the day.

Not that many people had cameras, I guess, and film provided no immediate excitement. Most folks who did own a little 35mm camera or a Kodak Instamatic broke them out only for special occasions and vacations to the Grand Canyon. Even my dad, artist as we was, would break out the old 8mm Bell & Howell and make mini-movies that rarely saw the light of day. My colleagues who actually were photographers were busy working. We rarely got together to just go out and shoot. Drink, yes, but shooting just for fun, not so much.
Happily, all this has changed. Unhappily, something else has, too.

I've been reading an article this week on the increasing unhappiness of my fellow grownups. You'd think that creeping age and bad knees would be bad enough, but it's garnered serious attention among mental health professionals. Here's the statement that really hit me: "Most research suggests that age brings happiness because people become more content, they become more settled overall...We found that since 2010, that's no longer true."  Yikes.
I make to pretense at figuring out what's going on here, and I'm in no position to judge. My own regimen of coffee in the morning and tequila at night is probably not a satisfactory salve. But I see hidden within this the happy conjunction of creativity and positivity. Everybody has a camera now. And yes, that's a very good thing.

Unhappiness is a complex thing, and the universe weighs upon each of us in its own particular way. I don't really think there are forces of darkness so much as there is a gray ordinariness in our lives. Cameras -- and the likely chance to use them -- are perfect tools for painting a little color back into those gray walls. To hell with the rain, let's go find a little un-ordinariness.

We'll call it a Photowalk.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What You Bring To The Party ~

There was a pretty cool project conducted recently, supported by Canon Australia. In it, a group of professional portrait photographers were tasked with making a portrait of a man, but each was given a different backstory of that individual. To each photographer, he was either a self-made millionaire, a rescuing hero,  an ex-con, a recovering alcoholic. Even a fisherman, God forbid. The man in question, of course, was none of these, but each photographer created a singular image largely informed, albeit subconsciously, by what they thought they knew about him. And this should surprise absolutely no one.

Our brains, as my guru Richard pointed out to me just today, create their own reality. It's what we haul around with us, and what helps us make sense out of this world -- which in my case can be quite a chore, indeed. It's unavoidable that what we carry is what largely informs the things we create as artists, as photographers, as anything. My passion is making portraits, and capturing in that image the heart, the essence, the personality of that fellow human. But to do so, I have to dig down inside myself too. Hopefully, I don't dig up old wounds and slights; what I look for are those shared bonds that link the two of us together. We will find there our compassion, not our prejudices. I may not always succeed, but the effort itself is instructive. Chief Dan George once said, sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't.

This encompasses, of course, all of our photography, and not just portraits. Our best work reflects this understanding and is all the better for the effort. Ansel himself said that we don't make a photograph with just a camera. We bring to the act of photography all the pictures we've seen, all the books we've read, all the music we've heard, all the people we have loved.  Art is autobiography.

Your brain knows what I'm talking about.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Chaos and Order in a Good Cold Brew ~

The chaos of the universe descended on us this week. Ok, that's a little overly dramatic. It's actually much worse. This is the week we closed up the studio in Beaverton, and began the move to our new digs on the property in Oregon City. Yes, its a bigger and better studio, and will be so lovely to work in, but for those of you who have ever moved from point A to point B in your life, the chaos reference will be well understood. I seek sympathy and, yes, a beer would be nice too.

A hectic life is, however, sometimes a good thing, though I have to convince myself that this is so. Deep breaths, meditation, and a retreat into my Feed of Interesting Articles had a positive and relaxing effect. Out of all the chaos a careful observer will find the lovely traces of orderly design, it appears, and I'm reassured by this. From galaxies to molecules -- and, one hopes, to all imperfect photographs -- the spirals, veins, patterns, and designs are all the same. We are all connected, we're all made of the same stuff; the stuff that came from stars which long ago gave up all hope, or tried too hard to show off to their friends. And I see those patterns everywhere I point a camera.

We create an appearance of order by categorizing the photographs we make, and sometimes categorizing ourselves, too, as photographers: landscapes, portraits, still-lifes, and so on. I'm not judging. Some of us have to make a living at this. But as I ascend into the chaotic orderliness of free and joyful photography, I'm finding it harder and harder to make those distinctions. I approach a portrait much as I do landscape, for instance: what I see before me is something beautiful and unique, and I'm moved by the same aesthetic. Give me a camera and a beautiful world, and I'll make sense out of it.

Just as long as I don't have to pack up and move again.