Thursday, March 28, 2013

Photography and Invisibility

You may or may not know this, but I teach at a college that has decided, for cost cutting reasons, to discontinue the photography program. There's a lot of directions that I could view this from, but for me, it goes back to the invisibility of photography. 

When I was in my teens, like most people I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course I'm still waiting to feel grown up, but that's another post. It was really just by chance that I stumbled into a job as a photographer at the University of Chicago Billings Hospital. I started as a projectionist (it's a teaching hospital) and the only way to get a pay raise was to become a photographer. Fortunately for me, the photographers there liked me and embarked on training me for the job. I learned how to do everything from photograph dead bodies to run a color line. I remember being surprised that a job didn't have to be something you were disconnected from. It opened my mind to understand the difference between having a job and a career. That you could find something that was interesting and fit who you were in life - that you felt really "you" when you were doing it. 

A few years later I moved back to Cali and decided to pursue photography and get a degree. I remember telling my grandmother I was going to college to learn photography and she looked at me...laughed...and said, "Why would you want to do that? Nobody needs to have their picture taken." About the only thing she could connect it to was the Sears Portrait Studio. She was surrounded by images, loved magazines and had tons of cookbooks...but the invisibility and ubiquity of photography made it invisible to her. It's a very sad truth that I heard this same reference last month...from an administrator at my school.

We have a son who works at a very large hotel chain in the bay area and he was telling me that one year they sent every hotel a really nice camera saying "from now on, you're taking your own photos." It was a complete disaster, not only for the fact that none of them knew how to operate the cameras, but the fact is cameras don't take pictures by themselves and amateurs usually take amateurish photographs in professional settings. 

So here we are in 2013 and we still face the same issue. Photography is completely embedded in the fiber of our being, so many of us use it and yet we don't understand there's more to it than the camera - or software. Taking an interesting image can happen in an instant - but making interesting images, day after day,  to meet specific needs on a deadline is a skill that takes years of training to develop (pun intended) and it's foolish to think otherwise.

Here's an interesting article from the NY Times on the rise of photography...too bad my school doesn't have the same vision...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Selling...not a dirty word!

I've been reading the new Daniel Pink book on selling. You may remember him from an earlier post on his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  His most recent book explores the idea that most of us are involved in the process of selling - especially if you expand that idea to include anything that involves influencing others.

It's easy when you're an artist to think of the artistic process as being very pure, but when you think of it, making art may be pure, but that's really just the first step in being an artist. What comes next is figuring out a place in the world for what you've created...and that's where influencing others comes into play in a big way. 

I won't give away the whole book, but one of the first things that really caught my attention is the idea of attunement - how you can connect to the person/people you're trying to influence. Often, as an artist, we can feel very removed from the selling process, especially if it's connected to a gallery. There's this mysterious world of "collectors" that art dealers have access to, but the truth is, you can have more insight into who'd be interested in your work than you think. How? Well start by analysing what you're work is about...who would could relate to your imagery and why. Maybe it's about looking at your subject matter - are there themes that you're exploring that are relevant to others. Or, it may even be the style or technique you use. Often when you look at who has purchased your work in the past, you'll notice that they're often a bit like you. Think about the kinds of venues you (and your kind) like to go to - and think outside of the "gallery" box. 

Start this process today. Come up with 3-5 themes or concepts your work explores. If it's relevant consider technique and even size (big art needs a big room). Through this process you can start to identify who would be interested in your work and that's really the first step in reaching that audience. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Give Yourself a Photo Assignment

A few months ago I was up in Northern California doing something I enjoyed - helping my mom out - but it left me a bit cut off from my usual sources of activity and after a couple of days I got a little bored. I soon realized however that if I'm bored, that's my problem so, I decided I'd take charge of my life, go explore a nearby town and give myself a photo assignment. When I worked commercially, that's how the flow of my life worked...I went from one assignment to another. Every once in a while, it can help to "pretend" you're on assignment.

In this situation it turned out to be a good way to add some structure (and control) to my life, and half way through my project idea I realized there was a better one staring me in the face... and this is it - the Homes of Oroville. Oroville is one of those towns that time left behind. You can tell it was once a vibrant place - but over time its fortunes have changed. I see it now trying to make a comeback, starting with a very interesting series of downtown structures that are surrounded by beautiful, gracious homes. 

After I was done I had a better sense of the town and had even met some very interesting people there. Consider giving yourself a photo assignment this week...plan it out, schedule a day and head out. Good luck! 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Morning Time

Everyone has their own unique "mental sweet spot." What's great about identifying yours is that it has the potential to be your optimal time for creativity. One of the problems with having the world in your cell phone is that it's way too easy to wake up and reach over for that phone and see what everyone has been up to...and that will immediately shift where your energy is going to go.

I'm suggesting that you find a way - if mornings are workable for you - to put off attaching to the outside world, because one of the elements of creativity is really learning how to make your own world. Ideas sometimes can flourish when there's space left for them.

A very productive process for me, has been to introduce a physical activity, such as walking, that I can do first thing in the morning and I take along a recorder. Many of these postings, and my ideas, have started life as a recording. I also have included the process of transcribing by hand - there's a part of the brain that is activated by that physical act - and I've found it very it takes a bit longer, which gives the ideas more time to mature.

So...on your day off - grab on to that morning space, when you've just woken up and your defenses are down and the dream state is stronger. Take that time and use it - or if your life is not morning oriented - grab some time and use it as a "cool down" from work. Get out - hole up in a coffee house somewhere, and start dreaming.