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Just Hangin

April 29, 2009


So I volunteered today, most of the day, over at the somewhat local darkroom. I planned on printing a little, just playing around with split toning, which I THINK I have an idea how to do. There was only one other person there, someone printing paper negatives, which is a very cool process.

But, an amigo came down from LA and we just sat around talking for most of the day. It was like a vacation in some ways. It was actually really nice to not do anything other than talk. We mostly talked about photography. What a surprise. About the business, about marketing, but also about something that I have been thinking a lot about lately.

Do you have to BE a photographer to BE a photographer. I think we were both in agreement that you don’t have to be a photographer to be a photographer. In fact, we both know people are who making great work who don’t work as photographers, and in some ways, these folks are making better work, and more work, than those we know who are working as photographers. In fact, I met someone last year, who works as a chef, who in the past year has made three new bodies of work, one from overseas, and has even made all his own prints, both color and black and white. I wish I could say that, even for ONE body of work.

You see when you “become” a photographer, a real one, there are many things that accompany this transition, and many of them do nothing but lead you away from actually taking pictures. Marketing, advertising, billing, setting up your business, permitting, follow up, packaging, etc, etc. Before long, the most successful you get, the less time you spend in the field making pictures. Or, the other options is to start hiring people to do much of this, which is a valid option. But what I see happen, most of the time, is suddenly not only is the business farmed out, but so is the edit, the design of the work, etc, and then you become a production line of predictable work. Now for some people, those who come to photography from the marketing or advertising world, and who are totally happy just shooting commercial work, then this is great. But for me, there are too many different kinds of work I want to do.

It is very difficult to find a balance. But, the only thing that remains is the work, and if you don’t lose track of that, then you can succeed.

We are both Leica geeks, so I wanted to post this photo of what two Leica users, or really what most photographers do who happen to both have gear with them, which is yak about it. My friend has had this same camera for 29 years. LET ME SAY THAT AGAIN PEOPLE. MY FRIEND HAS HAD THIS CAMERA FOR 29 YEARS. AND STILL USES IT. In a day of 18 month life spans for cameras, this is a remarkable thing, even for Leica users.

Oddly enough, both of us have shot many different systems over the years, but both believe our best work was done with these cameras.

However, and this leads me back to my first point about being a photographer. I think the best documentary work I have ever done came during a time when I had a full time job. I was still working in the photography field, but not working as a photographer. In fact, I couldn’t work as a photographer, it was written in to my contract. And, the only cameras I owned during this time was Leica rangefinder.

So, when I went out to make pictures, it was the only equipment I had, AND, when I went out to shoot, I only shot my work, my projects, in my style. Four and a half years of this.

Just so you know, many of us photographers shoot one kind of work as our commercial work, with the goal of using the income to finance another style of work. This has been a very common method of photographer survival since the beginning of the medium. In fact, most of the legends in photography did this at one time or another.

But, I think, this is happening, successfully, less and less. As the industry changes so does the reality of working this way.

Now, most of the “good” photographers I know are either doing NOTHING but their work, or are working outside the industry, but yet still doing their projects on the side.

I think this is true because it is harder now to be a photographer. I think the job requires far more marketing, advertising, and the computer takes so much of our daily life. There are exceptions to this rule, but most exceptions come with exceptions.

But, even in the midst of frustration there are moments of clarity and happiness that extend far beyond the norms, such as when the guy stocking the vending machine comes over with two broken bars of chocolate and says, “Hey, these are broken, so I can’t put them in the machine, but they are for you.”

And, if you aren’t a total pig……….my friend……..you can save half the bar and pass it along to the woman working at the reception desk, prolonging the joy created by free chocolate.

That’s all for today.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. m.napper permalink
    April 29, 2009 3:57 pm

    Very thought-provoking piece here….As primarily a painter, over the years I’ve gone in and out of a struggle of sorts with the issue of making my living in a field that is completely un-related to art. I used to feel really shitty about it, and at the worst moments felt like it directly reflected on who I was as an artist, as in “well, he can’t be that serious or good, he still has a day job”.
    But over the years I’ve started to make my peace with it, and have even found that it feeds into my creativity via a certain compassion and engagement from being “in the world”. Many younger artists these days have gone from high school straight into art school, never having gone outside academia, into the “real world”, and consequently often-times their work can seem superfluous and trivial. An over-specialization happens with their work, and they end up making obtuse work for fellow academics.
    I don’t think this happens in the photo world to the extent that it does in the contemporary art world.
    The reasons why is a whole other paragraph or two….But I think the important thing in the long run is both the work and the wisdom (as opposed to knowledge) that one can bring into and imbue the work with.
    And on a completely materialistic and fetishistic note, that Leica is going to start showing up in my dreams….

  2. SmogRanch permalink
    April 29, 2009 5:33 pm

    Well said M. Napper. You should be writing more often, not on my blog, but on your own. Too much good info to leave in that head of yours.
    In short, I agree.
    I think sometimes we get way ahead of ourselves planning where work will end up, and for whom, than actually just concentrating on making pictures.
    I also think the timeline, due to technology and our attention span, has shorted to a significant degree.
    People used to work on projects for years, some still do, but not as often as the old days. Consequently, I think we see MORE work, but less good work.
    The Leica will haunt you. Rightly so.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    April 29, 2009 9:29 pm

    Though I think you would have made a smashing good geologist, you turned out to be a capital photographer. Your shots are still some of the best that I have ever received via mail.

    ~Senor Colin

  4. SmogRanch permalink
    April 29, 2009 9:58 pm

    Thanks Colin. Glad you are tuning in. I appreciate that. I’m still interested in geology, but have never done anything focused in that field. Maybe now is the time?

  5. John Nelson permalink
    April 30, 2009 5:52 am

    Yes, very interesting afternoon discussion and even more interesting points on this thread by m. napper. I admire and envy those who have found a lifestyle that allows them to get the work done. The noise of our everyday lives (especially the addictive electronic noise) can make it difficult to find and realize our own vision.

    PS amigo, I enjoyed the last nugget of wisdom in the post. it was my great concern for my fellow man and not wanting to add to the growing fear of swine flu, I chose to scarf the chocolate bar like a pig instead of sharing it. (that and, of course, my general weakness for things chocolate.)

  6. SmogRanch permalink
    April 30, 2009 5:14 pm

    Addictive electronic noise. A great description.
    I face another day in front of the computer today. But, some is good, some is tedious.

    You have a problem with chocolate. Good you can admit it. Coffee too.

    There is NOTHING wrong with a quad espresso each morning. I know cause I’m having mine right now.

  7. Jamie permalink
    April 30, 2009 11:27 pm

    Very sexy photo.
    The one of you two is pretty cute too.

  8. SmogRanch permalink
    April 30, 2009 11:44 pm

    Sounds like an insider comment…

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