Today is a sacred day. On a bright fall morning in 2001 our world changed. Terrorists crashed two airliners into the Twin Towers in the city of my birth, New York. They crashed a third plane into the Pentagon, the hub of our military in Washington D.C. They tried to steer a fourth plane back to the district, when very brave passengers, knowing they would lose their lives, forced that plane to crash into a field in Pennsylvania.
If you ask me about my personal opinion, I’ll say this. Of course, I’m sad. I was even scared at the time. But, I believe the bad guys achieved their purpose. They changed the world. As one false step lead to another, we ended up — for now — in hateful place. A polarized place where seemingly everybody is against somebody who is even remotely different from them.
I’m happy to report that I’m not that way. I guess, for the most part, I’ve seen enough in my life to not really be afraid of much. Even death. I don’t want to die, but I’m not afraid of it. I don’t know when these changes came to me. They sort of just slid in there. In a way that also explains this picture.
For sure, we should stop, think and reflect on this day. We should make an extra effort to be kinder than we were yesterday. But, we also have to move on in our own ways. For me, that’s making pictures. It’s the only way that I can defeat the bad guys. A friend of mine who lives in Memphis say that as artists we need to “art harder.” I agree.
For those of you who do something different, keep doing it. Do more of it.
That’s how we win.
This picture hasn’t got anything to do with my thoughts for today. Sometimes that happens. I’m just chasing the wonderful autumn light these days. Someday, the weather will actually change and the temperatures will match the light. #nolaheat is relentless.
But, this is Southeastern Louisiana. Even though today marks the end of summer according to the calendar, it’s still very hot. This week promises highs in the low 90s.
I call this the weird time of year. It looks like Autumn but it isn’t. Our actual fall will come in another two months. Some leaves will turn colors. Some leaves will fall. Others won’t.
We were doing a Labor Day BBQ thing over in another parish. I looked up and saw some cool light, so I followed it a little bit. I needed a subject so the dusk light could be shown off. I found some nice graphic shapes. I made a few frames. I fine tuned the picture in post production using a combination of Snapseed and OnOne. And, that was it.
Sometimes, the living is easy. This was one of those times. I was sitting by a pool when the clouds started dancing around as a seasonal storm was getting ready to pass through.
I couldn’t even see to focus because the light was so strong. I just pointed my smart phone, hoped for the best and pressed the button. Most of my pictures where about what I wanted. Some are just funny.
I cleaned up the picture in post production because there was a lot of debris floating on the surface of the water. I left the yellow leaf to show a sense of scale.
It’s not a rant. It’s funny. Well, not so much if you are a working photographer or serious about the art and craft of making pictures. Yet, it may amuse you.
A young woman decided that she is a photographer and was going to open a business. She asked for monetary donations as well as a camera, a photo editing computer and other associated gear. Oh, and she’s never taken a picture.
Apparently, she was turned down by the usual crowd funding sources, and Facebook removed her advertising. So, she went directly to the crowd.
The internet was as mean as only people hiding behind a monitor can be. Petapixel — a super blog — published a long snarky story about it. That was mostly a waste of time.
Most working photographers, like me, didn’t say too much. I must confess that I was laughing so hard at her request and the responses that I almost came to tears. I did not reply. I have better things to do.
I’ve seen people ask for funding so that they can travel. So that they can take a vacation. I’ve even seen people as for help with a down payment for a car or a home. To my way of thinking, if you don’t have the money you shouldn’t be doing these things and asking me to pay for it.
On the other hand, I’ve donated to people who are very sick, have insurance, but the co-pay is huge. Or, to a family whose bread winner was killed in an accident. I’ve even helped to bury somebody.
But, start a career? No. I don’t think so. You can do what I did. Study, practice, work and buy gear as needed. That’s what most of us did. Sometimes we incurred debt, but we paid it off. Sometimes if we had a big assignment which left us with unplanned money, we reinvested it our business. In ourselves.
Granted, I would not want to be starting a photo career now. There is way too much competition, especially at the entry level. New photographers are cutting their rates to get a job to the point where they actually lose money.
They are underselling everybody.
Not only does it kill their nascent businesses, but it hurts old pros like me. My stock sales are lower even though my volume is higher than it’s ever been.
I won’t lower my creative fees because I sell myself as you get what you pay for — you know, my clients get what they want and beyond. Sometimes, I get called in towards the end of the creative cycle to fix what a low priced photographer broke.
As much as dislike cleaning up a mess, my pay is very good because the creative team is now getting desperate. No worries. I never overcharge. I do make a point to tell them that if they’d worked with me in the first place, the job would be done and for less money.
Guess what happens next time? Either I get the job or I lose it to another veteran professional who I know will do a good job. That’s okay with me. We established a beach head and took back the bidding process.
To wrap this up. Could you imagine hiring the photographer who is asking for gear? What could she bring to the table? Sheesh, she thinks that there are photo editing computers. I don’t know about you, but I use my main machine for everything.
That’s the story of the day. I hope it got you thinking. No. No. No. Don’t even think a bout donations so you can buy gear.
You might be lucky enough to sunlight sparkle. To see shadows dance. To see nature glow. You might even be lucky enough to carry a camera. You might have the vision to see what is. To see what might be.
With luck, the beauty will find you. You’ll be amazed. You’ll stand in wonder.
You’ll decide to make a picture. You won’t work very hard. Because. The picture will take you. You’ll know that’s the one. There won’t be a discussion. It just shall be.
I didn’t forget about it. I bet you thought that I did.
The water project.
I work in bits and pieces. I keep ideas filed away in my brain. When I see something that I think might work I photograph it. That takes time. I find if I look for these elements of a little collection, I could probably complete a project in a week or two. It’ll look like that’s what I did.
That said, I found another picture for my dumpster series. Somebody threw away a lot of old wooden furniture. This was quality stuff. Fairly old. At least made in the 1930s. I looked closely. Dovetail joints. Very good details. Wonderful drawer pulls.
Sure. All of the pieces would need refinishing. Some would take more work. Most wouldn’t take very much at all. There were no holes that needed careful repair.
I have no idea why anybody would just toss it. If I had the ambition to work on it, I would have taken it. Even if we couldn’t use it, we could sell it. I’m sure by now a couple of the regular junk collectors have picked it up. They’ll sell it as is.
This picture might become one of my water collection. After looking at it enlarged, it’s going to take a lot of work to make it the kind of reproduction quality that it must be.
I made the original image in a very contrasty and backlighted situation. I really had no tools to control the original exposure. As you see it, there are deep pools of black that should be opened. It is too contrasty. The highlights are plugged up as a way to control some contrast.
If I’m going to do this project properly, I’m going to have to take a pass on my phone. These situations are just too hard for it to handle even with auto-HDR settings. I’m going to have to carry a real camera everywhere. Like I used to do.
They come to mind without really coming to mind. They are just there. They are a kind of koan. You see something. You react. You stop thinking about your approach. To paraphrase and old Nike tagline, “You just do it.”
Back in 1974 when I was in photojournalism school at SJSU, we had a main photography professor. His name was Joe B. Swan. He was from West Texas. He moved slowly. He talked slowly. We called him “Slow Joe.” It was not out of snarkiness. It was out of affection.
In one of our beginning classes we learned about shadows and silhouettes. Except, Joe said it with his West Texas accent. He called them “shaders and silerettes.” I think that’s how you spell those words. Just say them out loud and you’ll understand.
He made a point to tell us that these tools are like spice on food. Don’t use them all the time, but when you do, they’ll make the rest of your take sparkle.
That was 45 years ago. I still hear those words today.
I could write a lot about Joe B. Swan, but it’s enough to say that he was one of the kindest human beings that I’ve ever met. You didn’t think that he was a great teacher until you thought about it. Here I am quoting him 45 years later.
Before I tell you about this picture, I have to tell you that I’m in a strange place. Remember that my word of the year is learning. The best time for me to learn is when I’m not trying to learn. Just like making a picture. If I don’t look, the picture will find me soon enough. Same with learning.
So here we are at the start of four months into 2019. The first three months have just blown by. Mostly good things have happened. But, there have been some bad. The best of those things is that I’m learning. I found out that my dad had a sister, making her my aunt. An aunt that we never knew about. I don’t know why that is, and we may never find out, but that’s something. Through that we found out we have some second and third cousins that we didn’t know about. I hope to learn more about them because they might be able to tell me about our aunt — their grandmother.
How’s that for learning?
Things like that have begun to take me on a journey through my past. I’ve said that before. But, this time it’s on steroids. I expect that’ll change the way I see photographs and the way that I make them. We’ll see.
This picture. I saw it while I was crossing the street. first I saw the bike and the wheel. I looked down. A “shader.” A “silerette.” I made the picture. I went to work in the darkroom in my computer. If I were to show you all the pictures, you’d see the progression. Both in the field and in the studio. This is the final version. And, the one that I like best. Which brings me to a topic for tomorrow. Let’s just call it, “So many pictures.”
That’s what I do. Except when it comes to me. Yesterday evening, it came to me. It was so strong and calling to me so loudly that I could not help myself. I had to make the picture. It was almost too strong. I had to work in post production to tune down the contrast and the color.
If you know my work, you know that doing that is very rare. I’m usually more color. More contrast. More shape. More. More. More.
Not this time.
After all, things change.
It’s a lovely spring day. I’m going outside.
I have a new toy to play with, er test. A new camera. A baby Leica. It’s small. It has one lens. 24-75mm, which is about my perfect range. Its aperture is fairly fast at f1.7 to f2.8. My working theory is that often when I travel I don’t have enough time to really work, but when I do I’d like to travel lightly. Very lightly. This camera should do it. The reviews are outstanding. Sheesh. No matter what size, it’s a Leica.
Wish me fun and luck. And, that my editing software actually can process the Leica’s files.
At the edges. Where the good stuff lurks. Where our imaginations create stuff. Where our dreams arise. Where nightmares come into being.
That’s why I like making pictures like this one. At night. Or, dusk. Things are lurking in the darkness. In the shadows. You can see some of it, but not all. You have to guess. Use your senses. Interpret. What you see is not what someone else sees. What they see may not be there at all.
Pictures like this one are scary. Or, not. They are moody. Or, not. They might even be artistic. Or, not.
Most of the time, their beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
All of this is why I look at paintings rather than photographs for inspiration. It’s why I read rather than look at pictures if I am traveling to a place. I’d like my imagination to kick in, rather than look at what’s already been done. I think that I can get closer to the edge that way. As musician Neil Young once said, “whenever I find myself in the middle of the road, I head straight to the gutter where things are more interesting .”
Me too. Not all of the time. But a lot of it.
The picture. The usual thing. See it. Photograph it. Make it what I saw while I was working in the field. I do that in post production if the camera’s technology can’t keep up with my mind. The computer’s can.
However, the light is changing. The sun is lower in the sky. Shadows and surfaces are being illuminated in really pretty ways. This was the first scene I saw that told me even with our heat and humidity, autumn is here.
I should have known. Night is arriving earlier. If you hang out in tree shadows, there are small breezes wafting through and it is a little cooler. In the heat of summer it doesn’t matter where you sit. It’s hot. And, steamy.
Besides, June 20th is the summer equinox. The longest day of the year. The days get shorter immediately. It’s been almost three months.
What was I thinking?
That’s a great segue into this morning’s reading.
I started by not reading the news. Today, the only thing I care about comes from the sports world and the events surrounding Serena Williams. She’s one of my heroes. If you know tennis, you know what happened yesterday. It stretches well beyond sports. I support her fully. I support Naomi too.
Instead, I read blogs. I read two of my favorites and they both made me stop and think. Not, like “oh, that’s interesting,” but, really dig down and think. Both are produced by women. Both have made some really great breakthroughs in a fairly short time. I started thinking about my way forward. I realized that for some reason, I’ve left behind a working way that I love and made me the photographer that I am today.
It’s partially a digital thing. It’s a more industrial way of working when things likes sharpness and perfect focus matter more than art. Art matters more than technical things to me. That’s the long and the short of it.
Their blogs and my thoughts came just in time. I am photographing a second line today that starts at 3pm. It’s a short parade. The light should just be turning. And, I’m going to experiment with some techniques in what will likely be a failed attempt at making something old school. We’ll see.
Besides, it’s about moving forward. Not staying stuck or living in the past. In order to do that you make mistakes, you fail. But you learn.
Remember, I’m a big baseball fan. The best hitters in baseball hit around. 300. That means they made an out two out of the three times they batted. That ratio is good enough for me.