“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams
Today I am doing something I almost never do. I’m sharing some of my raw work, my digital negatives, alongside the finished product to show how what my camera sees and what I see as an artist sometimes differ greatly.
This is Monkhouse, a band out of Little Rock that plays dirty-low-down Southern Gospel Blues Rock (think church picnic where somebody spiked the punch!) we shot in downtown Little Rock and across the river in Dogtown (otherwise known to non-residents as North Little Rock). I spotted this pattern of shadows on a bridge wall or something in a park we were shooting at, and asked the guys to trust me. Even though it didn’t look like anything special to them or anyone else who would have seen it, I had a vision of what it could be once I could get it into lightroom. And it’s totally still one of my favorite band pics I have ever done. Sometimes as an artist, you see things around you that others overlook. Keep looking.
The quote at the top of the post, by the famed photographer Ansel Adams, is a great one and has influenced my approach and process and my entire attitude toward photography. When I first started this crazy journey, I didn’t have a style or a process. I had a point & shoot camera I had gotten from an ex-boyfriend and a flickr account. That was it. I was pretty nieve and thought I was big stuff whenever I started to get some attention for my work, but the more I worked and photographed, the more I found I had a responsibility as not just a documentarian, but as an artist. After taking some classes and working as a freelancer for a few papers, I began to find myself having the conversation that seems to follow photographers around since the digital camera has become so pervasive- who gets to be called a photographer and who is just a photo-enthusiast. The secondary question that comes from this conversation is usually this- should someone call themselves a photographer if their images need retouching or editing or photoshopping in order to be powerful? I think the answer is different for different people, especially different kinds of photographers (photo journalists and wedding photographers are going to give very different perspectives than a wildlife photographer who will of course see things completely differently than a commercial photographer) but for me, being a Photographer means having a point of view. Having something more than just a moment captured or a product to sell. It’s light and it’s a little bit of magic. It’s presenting how a moment felt, not just what you were able to see with your eyes.
This is Susie Kirk, she too is an artist. And a pretty amazing one at that, look her up! I got to photograph her and her process at her home in Arkadelphia. One of Susie’s great loves is reading and I’d dare to say that it influences her work quite a bit- not always in subject matter, but in the way her pieces almost become characters. She feels her way through her work too, you can see it. Keep feeling.
A camera for me is a very mysterious object, not in it’s mechanics, but in what it can do. We are all just walking around with these amazing little time machines clicking away in our fingers. We can reinvent history, tell amazing stories, and affect emotional responses. That’s a pretty amazing thing, and that’s why for me, I believe a true Photographer is a story teller, and I give full license to any artist to use whatever tactics it takes to tell their story.
This is a poster I shot and designed for a play a few summers ago, I love Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and wanted the image to reflect the magical and surreal elements of the play, along with the Bard’s use of nature as a magical force. Also, since the play primarily takes place at night, but we had to shoot in the day, I wanted to denote a sense of mischief under the stars. It’s a great story and I’m glad I got to be a part of the telling. Keep telling.
Chuck Close (one of my favorite artists) says this:
“Photography…it’s the easiest medium in which to be competent. Anybody with a point-and-shoot camera can take a competent picture. But it’s the hardest medium in which to have, to express, some kind of personal vision.”
which is totally true. How many photographers can you recognize by just their images? Cartier-Breson, Leibowitz, Adams, Mann… The list is short when you think about all the photographers out there.
This is Ellison’s Cage, another area band. One of the ways I prep for a shoot is I go on crazy location scouts where my sole intent is to get lost until I find a perfect place. Sometimes this means sneaking around an industrial warehouse in the middle of nowhere only to find a swamp in the back field. The image itself didn’t need a lot of editing, but I wanted to capture the strange and foreign beauty of this place though we were only 100 feet away from a gravel parking lot and a industrial building, it felt like we were exploring uncharted territory and I wanted to find that feeling of being a kid and breaking the rules a little. That’s what rock n roll is about right? Getting into trouble is part of the fun. Keep getting into trouble.
Keep working. Keep striving. Keep trying to find your vision and your voice and your style… I guess this post is really for other artists out there. It can be hard to stay motivated, or inspired. A lot of times when you tell someone you are a photographer, they look at you with pity, because let’s face it, it’s a really hard market, but don’t ever let anyone tell you you aren’t worthy of being called an artist because you use photoshop or because they got a cool pic with their iPhone and don’t understand why you need 5 lenses to do your job. That doesn’t diminish what you do. I guess what I am really saying is find a process for telling your story, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not art. If it’s yours, and you are working on it, and you have something to say, then that’s all that’s demanded of you.
Anyway, I hope this post and these images encourage other photographers or artists of any kind to trust their process, and not worry about getting it “perfect.” It’s not about perfect lighting, or perfect setting, or a perfect pose. Sometimes it’s just what you see, in-spite of the trees that makes an image work.