Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thanks For The Memories ~

Someday, if I really get to feeling motivated, I'd like to write a book on being a photographer, and title it something like "Perils, Pitfalls, and Paranoia". We need as much to worry about as we can. And what brings me to this melancholic state? Simply, the arrival in my in-box of yet another in that endless stream of articles reminding me that my future, my legacy, my very birthright -- all of it -- is doomed to meaningless and un-readable twaddle in the (probably) not too distant future. Unless I make a lot of prints between then and now.

Well, um, thanks for the heads-up.

So, am I the only one who doesn't fully buy in to the panic? I mean, sure, given a source of light and a splash of silver nitrate and a negative is theoretically printable until hell freezes over. But truth be told, I have lost or damaged my share of negatives in the past, too, and that makes them as un-recoverable as the data on a floppy disk. Oh, and no back-up; the vast majority of my negatives remain scandalously un-printed, apart from their contact sheets.

I do confess to a petit goût of paranoia, though: my photos, since I began shooting exclusively digital, are backed-up on external harddrives, where also reside all the photos formerly living on my 100-year DVDs. I tend not to lose a lot of sleep over it. But data-redundancy is not really the point, as far as I can tell; my concerns are more immediate.The advent of the interwebs, and social media in particular, has made creating and sharing images more relevant, more intimate, and more exciting than ever before. This is largely what drives me. I've argued here before that for me the joy lies in the creative process, and not entirely in the resulting artifact. I'll take it, make it, post it, share it, write about it ... and then move on to the next one.  That, and strong coffee, are what get me up and out of bed.

If the fates deem I should live long enough to see the next big advancement in storage media (shoot, that could be next week) then I'll diligently transfer my files accordingly. I swear. For posterity, sure, but for myself, too. Re-discovering an old image I made years ago with fresh new insight is supremely satisfying.

And if the fates don't deem? Then to hell with them. I have great fun with photography in the here and in the now.

And that's the only place I know.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Old And In The Way, Part 4

I'm turning 64 this week -- tomorrow, actually -- which is the only non-decimal age we recognize, and it's entirely because of Ringo Starr. And who but a 64 year-old would even know this. But I'm not going to use this occasion to wax sappy about all my years in photography (43 and, hopefully, counting) nor to engage in a crusty invective against "kids today" that you might expect from the scornfully middle-aged.  (Middle aged, my ass. Who lives to be 128?)

But I digress, or more likely, my mind is wandering; you know... old guys.  I was going to reflect on my amazement about working in a profession that underwent a profound tectonic shift from analog to digital, and how I've been able to find happiness in both worlds. But then it dawned on me that our whole society underwent this waterfall of change, and left as much destruction as opportunity in its wake. And it's the "kids" today -- even my own, both in their 30's -- who are picking their way through the flotsam of the change we created, and coming up with their own ways to see the world.

And here's the thing: they may have little concept of what my world was like, back in the 60' and 70's, because that world no longer exists, but I have a pretty good idea about theirs, because I get to live and work in it. It's an amazing place. I wouldn't go back for anything. And I'm just following their lead; there's a lot of territory yet to cover.

Who knows how long we have before we have to hang up our spurs. I attended a workshop once with Leon Kennamer back in '74; not sure how old he was at that time but when he was asked that very question, said he'd consider quitting when he was no longer able to empty out a 16x20 tray of developer into a gallon jug without needing a funnel. Indeed. So I'm left to wonder about my own signpost of mortality in the digital age; maybe it'll happen when I can't focus on a 15" Retina screen anymore. Or focus on a beautiful woman posing in my studio. I just don't know.

But what the hell. As long as you still need me, and still feed me, I'm a happy camper.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

How I got This Way ~

So last week I ran into an online article that I found myself sharing on Facebook. When I first saw it, I had to chuckle a bit since it made me think of all those cheesy "Learn Real Good Photography" kind of things -- which I absolutely love, don't get me wrong -- but this one made me reach for that second cup (ok, my third) and do a little pondering. I hate pondering, but that's what coffee's for. This brave little article put forth 8 tips to staying motivated and inspired by your photography, and its author, one Anthony Epes, gave me food for thought, and I am grateful for it.

Each tip provided some valuable advice, but it was the third one that has me, even now, reflecting on what I do as a photographer, and even why: take photos not to see the result, but to enjoy the process. Bear in mind that when we were shooting commercially, some very specific results were uppermost in our mind; it's the inescapable fact of making a living. But it was the zen of the motions -- the hours spent in the studio, the hours spent in the darkroom -- that provided the gravity of joy that has made me realize, over and over again, that I'm simply not capable of doing anything else in this world. I think Mr. Epes wants you to feel that same sense of fulfillment, and I applaud him for his effort.

I don't work commercially anymore, apart from some technical training and lighting workshops, but I think I'm enjoying photography now more than I ever have. I've re-discovered that process: of embracing chance, of celebrating serendipity, of actively engaging my photographic heart, soul, and eye every waking minute of every day. You don't always need a camera.

It can all be distilled into one defining and incredibly powerful statement (attributed to Ansel Adams, among others) which I have long ago taken to heart, and is the only advice I feel qualified to make to anyone wishing to understand this thing we call photography: Expose for the secrets, develop for the surprises.

Go ahead. Surprise yourself.