Sunday, January 31, 2016

Portrait of a Swimmer

Portrait of a swimmer emerging from clear blue water.
Do you find it interesting how I tend to photograph a lot of swimmers but I don't know how to swim very well myself? I must confess, I'm not a very good swimmer. In fact, in the swimming department, I'd have to say I rank right near the bottom (and, by bottom here, I do actually mean bottom of the pool! I don't know if I could stay afloat long enough to make it more than arm's length from the ladder. Not exaggerating when I say I'm really not a very good swimmer at all.)

I think it's an interesting thing about portraits. Some people tend to shoot what they know. That's good. I mean, that's one way to make great images, right? But, myself and maybe some others out there, why, we tend to shoot not what we know, but instead how we want the world to be. I've never been all that hindered with the whole "reality" business. Instead, I tend to focus on the world the way I would like it to be. In my world, in my own little world? Yeah, I totally swim with dolphins. And, sharks, but, you know, mostly dolphins (I believe they are better swimmers and, heck, if I have to dream, I want to dream big. Only the best for me, right?) I swim and I see things underwater, I dream, I fly, heck I've traveled to mars already, in my mind. In my mind, I'm lots of places, lots of people, and I do lots of things. I must confess, I have a wild imagination. I think that goes a long way in the arts, although it can be a bit tricky to wrangle it around in real life, I suppose. I can't let it get the better of me but it can make for some, shall we say, interesting images.

The nature of a portrait, a true portrait, is that we reveal many facets of ourselves to the camera. There is who we are, who we want to be, who the photographer sees, who the photographer doesn't see, who the photographer wants to see. I've always said that, when you shoot a portrait, even if it's only one person in front of your lens, there are a lot of people there, in that room, working alongside you, slowly coaxing the truth out, whispering in your ear. Our camera is a magic box, it's always real, it always reveals, but it doesn't always speak the truth, at least not until we let it. Strange how that works.

Strange and, well, kind of filled with sharks (and dolphins. Mostly dolphins but there are some sharks in there too.)

Until next time...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Eternal Frustration of Being THIS Close

One of the things, and there are a few, I hate about photography (like I said, "a few." Well, OK, really not all that many, but work with me here) is the external frustration that stems from being *this* close. What do I mean by that? Allow me to explain. Often, when we shoot, we come back with a pile of "almosts." Shots that were "almost" good enough, but don't quite make the cut. You know what I'm talking about here. This close. If only I had moved just a smidgen to the left or, gosh, had I watched that corner, filled in that blank spot over there, if only I had a little bit better of a sky to work with here...It's very, almost way too, easy to generate a pile of shots that are almost but not quite good enough. This can be maddening at times.

Unfortunately, this feeling is not isolated to the single frame either. Just the other day, I was looking over some work that had been submitted to an opportunity: 22,000 images, all really good. I looked at the best ones, of course, and I thought to myself, "Damn. I'm so close but not quite that good. My work just isn't good enough!" It's frustrating as all get up, that feeling is.

You hear about this a lot in the arts. There are places like American Idol where you can watch it play out in real time. Yes, they have people who audition dressed up like chickens and, frankly, you can tell before they even open their mouths to sing how they are going to blow the audition. I don't feel sorry for those people, as most people don't, no we just sort of laugh them off all the while thinking, "Get the hook!" as they used in the old vaudeville days to quite literally drag people off stage. That's all well and good, everybody gets a laugh and it's entertainment. Once in a while though, a singer comes along and, why I actually feel sorry for him or her. They are not horrible, not chicken costume material by any stretch of the imagination, but they aren't the best either. Still working the craft, maybe could use a few more lessons, that sort of a thing. They are the "almosts." And, I really do feel sorry for them. They want it so bad. They've worked for it. They've tried. They made an effort. You can't help but feel sorry for them, on some level, I mean they are being honest and giving it the old college try, right? Unfortunately, they sometimes just don't make the cut. Life is cruel like this, in some ways. The arts are a cruel mistress and, why, sometimes, it seems like she takes more than she gives. It's almost enough to make me want to wave my fists in the air and curse the universe, that is.

I talk a lot about the "myth of talent" and I do firmly believe that the entire concept of talent can be a myth if you let it. There is really a lot to be said for hard work and tenacity. It goes a long way. Unfortunately, for the "almosts" it doesn't always go all the way. A lot of times success in the arts is working hard, yes, but it's also finding opportunities that are right for you, for where you are at in whatever stage of the game you are in your artistic development. It might mean opening up a door that just reveals more hard work is needed. It might mean you have to stand there before some judge in California who bites his lower lip and says, "I'm sorry. It's just not working for me." Art is a wonderful thing. I love being an artist, making things with my hands, sharing my stories with the world but, I'd be the first to admit here, that kind of rejection can be hard to take. On some levels, it takes a thick skin to do what we do. A really very thick skin to hear that kind of rejection over and over and over again. It can be hard to swallow. It's especially hard to hear this over and over again and just try to press on, to keep going, to keep practicing the craft, after all of the rejections.

There is an old saying that "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades." I suppose that is true. I've always felt that there is not really a market for mediocre art and that, while our work may look glamorous, there is a lot of hard work that goes into being an artist, any kind of artist, be it a contestant on a singing competition or an exhibiting photographer. We have to work hard just to make it, then we have to work hard to stay there, and opportunities sometimes only bestow upon us more demands. It's a vicious cycle and one they don't always prepare you for in art school. (There's a reason Georgia O'Keeffe went mad and had to be institutionalized at one point, and she's not the only artist out there to suffer this fate.)

Some nights I sit, looking over my pile of "almosts" and just force myself to think about how I can craft them from "maybes" or "could have beens" into "yeses." On some level, the only thing you can do is to focus on the work, keep going, keep driving yourself, pressing yourself to do new and better work. Always improve, I believe that's the key. And, respect that fact that, a lot of times, this sort of frustration comes just before a breakthrough.

Gosh, I know I sure could use a breakthrough right about now, couldn't you? Man, I'm so overdue for a piece of that action. Here's hoping, right?

Until next time...

This image shot at the water gardens. Canon 5dS with a Canon 100mm macro lens. I love the bright linear feel to it and hope you like it too.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Swan Song

Recent news of David Bowie's passing and subsequent uncovering of what can be labeled his swan song "Lazarus" has me reflecting upon the artistic concept of the swan song. Swan songs have been witnessed throughout history. Leonardo da Vinci spoke of a swan song. Shakespeare wrote about one in The Merchant of Venice. Nevertheless, many people were surprised at the uncovering of Bowie's "Lazarus" which is, by all accounts, a swan song, at least it has now been described as one last great act performed as the artist understood his upcoming passing, although the jury is still out on how "official" a swan song it might have been. (I shall leave the questions regarding "Did Bowie know he was passing?" for wiser pundits to ponder.)

While familiar with the concept of a swan song, working as an artist changes one's perspective of the entire process. The drive to make, to create, to act one last time, to sort of "go out in a blaze of glory" is an ever present force. It's something we all tend to think about but nobody wants to really acknowledge, kind of like the elephant in the room everybody tries to hide with an inconvenient lampshade. The pressure an artist puts on one's self - we all want to create that one great masterpiece - so knowing this is your last shot at it, often serves as the impetus for an artist to dip deeply into the well, as it were, to really push to complete masterful work. The great photographer Diane Arbus once said, "the best photo I take will be my next one." Knowing on some level you don't have a next shot at this, accepting you are out of ammo so to speak, is a forceful but cruel motivator. It forces compelling work though it seems to do so at an exorbitantly high cost.

The relationship between art and death is a strained one. On some level, artists are fascinated with death and dying. We are, by nature, a brooding lot. The concept of doing one last great work, be it a play, a painting, a photograph, scoring a musical piece, or even an act of heroism is not lost on the artistic lot. There are many forces that can drive an artist, certainly death is not the only one, but it somehow manages to solidify some significant work. I've written about death before, of sorts, I even did an entire online project where I described my funeral to some detail (see my project on Utata called "Just Shoot Me" for details on that one) at least how I envisioned it, but the swan song adds an entirely new dimension to the entire dying business. The very idea that you will make one great piece, one last piece that the world will use to immortalize you, adds an entirely new spin to the whole death thing.

The concept of a swan song refers to the belief that "swans sing a beautiful song in the moment just before death, having been silent (or alternatively, not so musical) during most of their lifetime." (According to the Wikipedia.) This notion that we all have pent up artistic relevance, that we burst into artistic validity mere moments before our passing is a bit stressful to process on some levels. In the very least, it begs the question, where was the song hiding all this time?

I think the notion of the swan song should serve as a reminder to us all. We need to be present, in the moment. We need to strive to make great work now because, let's face it, there might not be another tomorrow. The work that we do is important, even if it sometimes seems like everybody is ignoring you on Flickr or your Instagram is not getting all that much love these days. I've always tried to live my life in appreciation of the craft so it's especially difficult for me to come to grips with the entire notion of a swan song really. I mean, I like to think my best work is out in front of me, always in front of me, and that I'm always growing, always pushing it, always getting better, even if sometimes it feels like I am being dragged sideways. That's just how this whole "art" thing works. I try to focus on the work and let the chips fall where they may but this can be hard to do, maybe impossible, when confronted with your own mortality. Death is a hard thing but, heck, life sometimes is even harder, right?

A swan song by any other name...

To see a video featuring David Bowie's swan song, aka "Lazarus" please see this link. 
To see my conversation project, Just Shoot Me! (A Conversation between Life and Death) you can visit this link.

Until next time...

This image taken with the Canon 5dS camera and the Canon 100mm macro lens. From the water garden/Koi shoot I did last weekend, I call it "Whisp." 

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Branches and Leaves and...Spiders, Oh My

Just a note that, in case you have not heard the news, some of my black and white work was up for a B&W Spider Award. No, I did not win, but, as they say, "it was an honor just to be nominated." In case you have not heard about the B&W Spider Awards, they are an international award honoring black and white photography. This year, they had almost 8000 entries and I was three of 900 or some nominees. You can see my work in the following categories: Abstract, Architecture, and Fine Art, on the website here: Black and White Spider Awards

The judges for this are some high powered camera type people, including some of the folks who bring us the Cannes Film Festival and some editors from Random House publishing, just to name a few. The best part of the entire process is not that I was actually up for such an honorable award (though, let's face it, that was kind of nifty) and not that these fabulous judges actually considered my work, no, I'd have to say the best part of the entire award process is that the entries are really fantastic. I'm truly honored to be among such great work. Really, this is a website you will want to spend some time with if you have any interest in black and white photography at all. There is some spectacular work included, for example, check out the nature category if you want to be stunned. Really amazing work under the covers over there, and I was so happy to be included in with this year's batch.

Until next time...