It was recently pointed out to me that a critical piece is missing from my photography resume — contest wins. The only response I could muster was the excuse that, “You can’t win if you don’t enter. And I never enter.” I laughed when I heard myself, because the statement is literally true, but it also revealed some barely hidden feelings I have regarding photo contests. I love my photography. Other people love my photography. But not everyone loves my photography. When I look at the pictures that win contests, the winning photos are usually amazing, and very different than my work.
I’ve never felt that I make the kind of pictures that please judges. Now I will tread lightly here, because I definitely don’t want to disparage anyone’s work, and I don’t want to be unrealistically high-and-mighty about my own. But here goes: there are some freaking amazing photographers out there — those who consistently see, create, and capture scenes that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Some of them are pros. But there are a whole lot more who remain staunchly and proudly amateur despite doing very, very good work.
If we face facts, the “pretty good” amateurs greatly outnumber the relatively few professionals. Many amateurs have the means to travel to exotic places (because many day jobs are better compensated than the job of pro photographer), they can afford to attend high-priced photography workshops, and/or they shoot millions and millions of pictures per year — it’s their obsession. (I know plenty of people who fall into several of these categories).
Out of those billions of pictures taken by the hundreds of thousands of “good” enthusiasts, it’s mathematically likely that you’re going to end up with quite a lot of truly “amazing” photographs. (I’m not a mathematician, but I’m sure somebody can back me up on this.) A lot of amateur photos that win contests seem to be the result of being in the right place at the right time, and having enough skill and presence of mind to point and shoot at what’s happening in front of them. And with the shear number of photographers walking around with cameras, those amateurs are often the ones who are most likely to be present and ready to capture the amazing moment when it happens.
One highly respected pro I spoke with had this to say: “if you put the vast majority of pro work up against the best of the best amateurs, the amateurs win every time.” He went on to say, “the pros are usually pros because they can produce ‘good’ work consistently. But there’s a lot more to being a pro, like understanding the needs of your client, managing your photoshoot team, budgeting (both time and expenses), processing and archiving images, bookkeeping, and everything it takes to run a small business. The amateur shoots exactly what he or she wants to shoot, and can spend as long as they want (and as much money as they want) to get that one shot that ends up winning a contest or going viral.”
So what about my work? I exist somewhere on the periphery of the pro world. I have a full time job that has nothing to do with photography so I can feed and house my family while spending some of my free time making, framing, and selling my work as art. I make rather quiet pictures that a lot of people find pleasing — but I do it mainly because it pleases me! So when I do consider entering a contest I look at my pictures differently, and instead of printing what I want to print, I print what I think will impress the judges. And editing my work in hopes of pleasing a judge is not something I enjoy. I get that it’s important for a resume to show that others have thought highly enough of my work to give it awards. This seems to be the only way that some have of evaluating the work of others. So I will be entering contests and juried shows throughout this year, and I will be carrying my camera everywhere and hoping to grab that one killer shot that could win a contest, but I am not altering my style just for the sake of getting an award.
I’m constantly striving to learn more about the art market in an effort to understand and master it. For my readers who are also interested, I’ll share this short and informative video I found with tips to help us be more “successful” artists. Of course as an artist, sales are only one way to measure success (and for a lucky few, sales mean nothing). But for those of us who were not born with a silver spoon and are looking for a way to practice our art full time, sales are essential.
Please give this video five minutes of your time — like I did — and you just might be closer to becoming a full time artist, or just a more successful artist.
You know, you just never know. I was walking to a class in downtown Olympia over the weekend. Off and on rain…nothing too inspiring. Then the sun came out. I just love the shadows cast by bare trees with blue sky. Perhaps the best thing about Winter. I find shadows and reflections to be magical.
What made me think I was up to mounting a solo show of my photography at Fulcrum Gallery, Tacoma? Massive over confidence… blind ambition? I really don’t know what I was thinking! Luckily I do have a really strong work ethic. So even though my procrastination meant I was up till midnight the night before the show, and hung the last wall the day of the opening reception, it turned out great. The reception was really fun and successful thanks in large part to the contributions of my wife and several friends. As they say, “it takes a village.” Check out the video tour of the front room of the gallery, or better yet check the gallery hours at fulcrumtacoma.com and come on by. More to come later…
I have a hard time compartmentalizing the work of most photographers. But the work of famous photographer Mary Ellen Mark was impossible to pigeon hole. She was probably best known for her portraits and documentary work. But she had a huge heart for her subjects, and a keen eye that helped her capture decisive moments with maximum punch. Her images tell stories, and stand alone as art. I defy anyone to NOT be moved by her images. The world lost a great talent yesterday, but her work will live on. If you’re not familiar with Mary Ellen or her work, I encourage you to take a look at her official website.
Just a preview of an art piece I’m working on using dandelions. Hundreds, and hundreds of dandelions!! I’ve been obsessively collecting and preserving all these fluff balls for about a month, and finally filled the tallest jar. One more smaller jar to go! I believe art can be made out of just about anything… even dandelions. How about you? Is this a decoration you’d be proud to display in your home? Would you like it more and consider it worthy of the label “art” if I explained the ideas behind it? Will it stand the test of time? Can wishes really come true, or like these dandies should we just preserve and bottle up those childish dreams? Let me know what you think!
Early spring cherry blossoms at the Chinese Reconciliation Park, Tacoma, WA.
I have the opportunity to produce a gallery show of my photography this year. Can’t say when or where just yet, but it’s in the works and is definitely going to happen. To that end I’ve been reviewing a lot of my new and previously unproduced work looking for common themes and something I can pull together into a cohesive showing that says something larger about my art.
What I keep coming back to is my basic ethos that I want to be able to make a good picture wherever I am — to remind people that beauty is all around us. Secondarily, but maybe more importantly is the limiting factor that attracts me to photography in the first place. Unlike painting or drawing, photography begins by capturing a single, actual moment in time. Sure that moment is affected by how I use my eyes, my brain, and camera. But a painting or a sketch are more truly the artist’s interpretation of a moment, or can be made up wholly from the artist’s imagination. What I choose to make is art that could not exist without my collaboration with a force that’s outside of my control.
In fact, I’m fascinated by time and humankind’s relative understanding of it and need to control and measure it. The most common belief is that time is an endless one-way stream. Once a moment is gone, it will never be repeated exactly in the same way again. I might choose to put myself in a beautiful faraway and exotic place, or a few steps from my front door — that’s just geography. But wherever I am, when I choose to take a picture I step into the flowing stream and pick my moment as it flows swiftly by. When I’ve done my job as an artist, I hope to have captured that moment and found a way to say something universal that exists completely outside of time.
Anyway, that’s a lot to think about right now. All the above messy stuff that goes on inside my head, as well as my evolving views on photography, art, time, and life will be the subject of my next show. I look forward to making an announcement soon, and hope you’ll find a way to join me!
Looking back on the pictures I took this past summer, I find that I focused quite a lot on the sunshine itself. While, it’s kind of a trend I’ve noticed in other photographer’s work, I wasn’t consciously copying. It’s just now that I’m reviewing that recently past work that I notice. Fact is that I was pretty busy with photography these last few months, and if I didn’t shoot for a particular assignment, nothing happened with the resulting pictures other than to get cataloged in Lightroom.
So now that the sun is mostly gone from the Pacific Northwest sky (at least for awhile) I have a moment to breathe and I’m enjoying reviewing what I shot. Get ready to see a lot of sunshine in my upcoming print work. Here are just a couple examples…
I just finished my second session of floating in a silent, dark tank of water for 90 minutes. It was a very cool experience. Completely relaxing. Almost meditative. My second session I think I fell asleep. It’s supposed to be a good catalyst to improve my creative flow. And you know what? I think it worked! A local business offered two free floats to artists in exchange for a piece of original art inspired by the floating experience. For my own part, I did it because I want to take my art in a slightly new direction, but I was experiencing a slight inspiration blockage. The trick for me was to both concentrate on the problem I wanted to solve, but to not obsess over it. I’d have to say that floating helped, and soon I will be showing some of this new direction. Intrigued?
You can find out more at Northwest Float Center, 6th Ave., Tacoma. …And very soon I’ll be posting an image of that hinted-at new direction.
The weathered patina and multi-layered textures of simple metal scraps nailed to a tree.
Everywhere I go I try to keep my eyes open for beauty in unexpected places. This past weekend, a family trip to Port Townsend, WA netted this beauty of a shot right outside my father-in-law’s front door. It was a bittersweet trip as my wife’s father recently sold the house, and it’s probably the last time we’ll visit him there. I’d passed this tree probably 100 times, and I had noticed the interesting patina of the metal on the cedar tree, but this time I paused to take the picture. I was struck by the realization that I had never take the time to do that before. The light was just right, and I think I got a beauty of a shot in a very ordinary place. I’m going to miss that old house.
A high school senior holds his favorite guitar while waiting for the future to run him down.
I used to think the best reason to avoid taking portraits on railroad tracks was just that it was cliché and unimaginative — unless the portrait subject is a rail-riding hobo, or a Perils of Pauline fanatic, then maybe that’s exactly the right photo. But I encourage all photographers to find an alternative to using actual, active railroad tracks.
If memory serves, I’ve only taken the railroad track portrait once (picture at right). Toward the end of a regular portrait session on the beach, my subject saw the train go by, and requested that we take a few more on the tracks. I had already gotten what I needed for the session, and since the train had just gone by I saw no harm in taking a few more pictures. Don’t worry; this story is NOT headed for disaster. Nothing bad happened when I took the pictures. But since I did it this once, I’ve discovered more reasons not to take photos on the railroad tracks. For starters, it is considered trespassing, and is evidently incredibly dangerous. Consider the following points I borrowed from a website entirely devoted to railroad track safety:
Trains can’t stop quickly to avoid people or vehicles on the tracks.
An optical illusion makes it hard to determine a train’s distance from you – and its speed.
The average train overhangs the track by at least three feet.
Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and rights-of-way are private property.
No tracks should be assumed to be abandoned or inactive.
If others see you on the tracks, they are more likely to mimic your behavior.
With the above in mind, I call for a total ban on the portrait shot of the person sitting or standing on railroad tracks. We all think the worst will never happen to us, but getting that clichéd shot is simply not worth it!
You can get more information on railroad track safety at http://oli.org
Have not kept up with my blog… sorry all you faithful readers. But now at least I have a word cloud illustrating all the posts I have done. I have been busy photographing. Now I’ll have to start posting about it again!
The truth is that despite good relations with our local Mayor, and a good amount of begging to act as baggage handler and official trip photographer, Jackson Scott Studios is not going to China. But our pictures are on their way right now as part of a presentation introducing DuPont to its sister city of Qionghai (Hunan Provence).
Somewhat like the historic trip that pop group Wham! took to China in 1985, this marks the first time that Western photography (by Jackson Scott Studios) has been allowed past the Great Wall.
Now we have to figure out how to promote the heck out of this… oh, I guess we’ve already started!
As usual, the Northwest wind came up and blew all (or most) of the beautiful leaves off the trees. But not before I got in one last fall leaf photoshoot. Super-fun couple Collin and Katie did a little posing in the park.
Unfortunately, DuPont groundskeepers had spent all day cleaning up the leaves the afternoon of our shoot. I would have preferred the ground was covered with leaves, but you work with what you’ve got. I shot from a low angle to get more of the leaves that were still on the trees behind the lovely couple. And as the sun all-too-quickly disappeared, I broke out the trusty flash.
We got some really nice pictures, and just in time. The wind came up that very night, and by the next day about half the leaves were stripped off the trees and the ground was once again completely covered.
Can’t wait to hear what Collin and Katie think of their photos. I just feel fortunate to have gotten them done before the leaves were gone and the rain took over. Nice timing!
In my ongoing attempt at “branding” my business, I find many examples in the world of what not to do. For instance, many experts say “Fake it ’till you make it,” but if there’s a major disconnect between what you say you are, and the reality that your public sees, it’s going to be very difficult to make your message believable.
Authenticity is the key. And knowing what you are — without trying too hard to be something you’re not — is an important component.
As for myself, I’m not a “Chic Photographer.” But if I were, I would carefully present my workspace, myself, and every aspect of my business to reflect that name. I try to stay a little closer to my reality, and hope to present myself as professional, and just a little bit funky. It’s pretty much who and what I am.
Now I just have to hope that’s what the people want!