Business man or shooter? Boy has this been a question I've been wrestling with lately. I'm not a businessman, yet in order to be a success in a profession like photography one has to be. Today there are people carrying cameras and iphones and our culture has grown accustomed to having photographs instantly at the ready to view. As a business photography has taken a huge hit in the digital age(by the way it took a huge hit when the Brownie was introduced, and again when the 35mm came about, then the instamatic cameras and 1 hour processing and and and and). Today with the advancement of 'idiot-proof automatic digital cameras and smart- phones why would one want to spend money on a 'professional photographer'. This is the dilemma and the problem of pricing and paying bills. Its a tough road. I don't dwell on actually, but i also don't make any money really---not with the amount of time I spent. That is ok as long as i can pay my bills. The business end of it has been on my mind alot lately though because I'm deciding how much I want to continue pursuing the business, or teaching or even my newspaper work. I keep coming back to the same thought--I'm a shooter. I make pictures and I document. That is my strength. Its what separates me from other people with nice camera. Its not technical ability and its certainly not my ability to produce a timely return of a product. My strength is in the way in which I can capture something in a somewhat unique way. I was thinking about this picture I took at a recent wedding I was lucky enough to be able to photograph. This scene presented itself in a way it was just a matter of picking up the camera and firing away. The towel waving was the story. But in my mind that is only half the story--the other half is the joy of the moment for those it was meant most to please--the bride and the groom. I had a few frames that showed the towels flying, but the one image that made it to me was where we are engaged in the reaction of the couple. I have some with the grooms fist pumped into the air but this picture got both expressions and one towel with the Steelers emblem showing just ads one more, albeit subtle, layer. This is what I hope keeps people seeking photographers who are shooters and artists and not just people who are good with their camera. Its that ability to capture and make a photograph that tells a deeper more meaningful story. I think the business stuff can settle itself out and eventually just become background noise.
I remember discussions in art circles about the 'look of art' or 'art-like. This was a real discussion especially as we studied conceptual artists and appropriation artists. My friend and great influence/professor Enrico Pinardi called art 'clever' when he felt the artist was producing 'art-like' objects instead of something that was deep within the artists soul and mind that resulted in something that was truly art. Though I hate to admit this, I've often felt my work was more art-like than substantive. I work hard, but i'm not sure i ever really 'get it!' I pour hours in, but ultimately get wrapped up in the aesthetics and look of a piece and am not sure I ever get at the soul of the work. In my journalism I feel I get closer, but a lot of this work is get in and get out--not always deep delving. The iphone apps have taken this feeling in me even further. I really like the look of the images I get--the look, which is in part the app for sure, aids the images i make and the subjects i document. And I use this understanding and try to push the envelope, at least thats what i tell myself.
A few months ago i had some odd things happen when i shot pictures using the hipstamatic app with the Tinto lens and Type D film. I got some totally black frames. I moved on without thinking about them much, but when i was downloading my images to the computer they popped up again.
This time i gave them a lot of thought.
What if i saved these and used them to make digital images in photoshop by layering in images shot with my dslr. This got me excited because here i was going to take an image from an app that mimics the look of images made from early photography techniques and then take them a step further than that by mimicking the app that mimics the old technique..... I seemed to get excited about this thinking about the movements of appropriation and performance and really just always trying to take an idea to another level all the time. Then....
Well the ideas seem a little flat after all that effort--they are based upon aesthetic and a technique and not about the deeper understanding of an artist exploring a subject.
I understand that aesthetics influence meaning. Whether its a story about war or a fashion model shoot--the look, the composition, the lighting everything aids in the understanding of the work.
Even though I enjoy playing around with these looks, I sometimes wonder if its really what i want to be saying and doing with my work. Should I just relax and simply work on my images using a simpler process and stop always trying to push my look with these 'art-like' aesthetic principles? I guess its good to have these questions as an artist/photographer, I just wonder if it wouldn't be nicer if i had the answers, or at least some of the answers! I do know one thing--despite my reservations, I'm not going to stop making stuff. Probably won't even stop getting excited about these little things that keep popping into my head and into my lap. Seems to be part of me. Photographs and photographic manipulations by Richard Sayer
Breaking the rules seemed to be a topic that came up more than once today. I remember talking one time about a student of mine who liked to 'think outside the box' and I encouraged that, the only thing i asked was that the student first consider for a moment a couple things. One, think about and wonder if that perhaps a box exists at all, why does it exist. And also think about what is in the box as well. These things I feel are important because i find thinking 'outside the box' is necessary to move beyond your comfort level, beyond the status quo--but i also believe in the foundations that are perhaps right there in the box that perhaps help boost you up to get out of it in the first place. Cutting your nose off to spite your face is never a good option. I thought about this when I decided to post this picture tonight. I am in the middle of teaching proper darkroom printing to my students. I mention that you need a black and a white and a good range of grey values to achieve successful prints. I struggle not to add, unless the picture works with out them. An image speaks. It really does. It tells you what it needs if you are willing and capable of listening. I had this image that i made and it was over exposed and I working on it intil it had blacks and whites and it just lost all of its mystery and vitality. I started over three or four times i remember and finally realized that what the image was telling me was that i shot it like this and that the way it is meant to be. When i desaturated the color and lessoned the contrast even further the image start telling me 'its about time you got your head out of your ass and began listening to me.' I made this for the faculty show but elected not to include it because it wasn't an iphone image like the rest. So I thought I'd share it here tonight before heading off to bed. Photograph by Richard Sayer.
I don't photograph many babies. My friend Harmony loves to photograph babies and usually she gets the calls for the wee ones. I was asked by Maggie's mom to make pictures of her recently and we opted to do them at their house. My idea was to photograph them in their home natural, but that is just hard to do. You open your home to a stranger with a camera and he expects you to be yourself.... yeah right. I will sometimes over stay my welcome until I'm sorta forgotten, but this wasn't going to be the case here. So I concentrated on making some 'studio-like' shots of Maggie as well. This was shot pretty simply using only window light and dark brown chair. I was able to make the majority of the picture sorta sepia toned allowing just the flower to have bright color. I know I have to have a pretty rounded ability to photograph a lot of subjects, but babies--though easy in the sense that you can't take a bad picture because they are just innocent and cute, they are quite difficult because their mood seems to change by the millisecond. And surprisingly, they move quickly from one thing to the next, even the real young ones like maggie, her little eyes and mouth, her hands and her toes seemed to be in perpetual motion even though she never left the spot we put her. Photograph by Richard Sayer
Today in class i talked a lot about unity and moments. The idea that unity happens when nothing in the frame acts to distract you from the meaning of the photograph. Everything contained in the frame acts to support the meaning and understanding. Composition, angle, lens choice and many other things are so important to our communication and the viewers understanding of a photograph. Keeping clean and easy to read is one way, having backgrounds that are not busy make your subject hard to read. In capturing moment we cannot always control--that fraction of a second where an action is captured like no other time cannot be planned out. I posted the wedding pic below as an example of a moment. Its a group of people coming into the room moments after the bride finishes putting on her dress and they all get a look at her. That alone is a moment with facial expressions and reactions from her mom and maids. The addition of making this picture at the exact moment one of the mades also made her picture makes this like no other fraction of a second that day. Photograph and wedding album page design by Richard Sayer
Today I had two senior portrait sessions. The second one feature a young lady who loves to be on stage singing. We were looking for aspects of her personality to show off her love of theatre and performance. We did the usual, but we also tried to amp it up with some 'theatre'.It was a fun shoot.I'm not sure if this is my favorite, but i think it will come from this segment with the white dress and smoke.