Blog #83 What you can learn from other photographers
W. H. Davenport was credited for the phrase,
Good artists copy; great artists steal.
While I think that there is certainly a lot that we can learn from our peers in terms of working technique, shooting style, artistic presentation, and more, stealing, according to this phrase was never intended to be taken literally.
The Blue Lotus Gallery in Hong Kong is the leading photography art gallery in Hong Kong and represents Fan Ho and other local talented artist photographers. The gallery also hosts a series of sessions where a photographer will talk about their work and latest book publication. I attended two talks recently, one from Nick Poon and one from KC Kwan.
Both presented terrific work and to hear them discuss their vision and working style was truly inspiring and a real treat. Nick Poon documented small shop owners in their tiny cramped spaces using an iPhone 4s in a powerful collection titled Confined [受] while KC Kwan showed the dark, gritty underbelly of Hong Kong through sex workers, and junkies using his ultra wide lens in his piece titled Homebound. Kwan’s style is reminiscent of the Are-Bure-Boke style of the late 1960s early 1970s Provoke group from Japan. I was excited to purchase a signed copy of Homebound since I’m a huge fan of the Japanese Provoke style of images. The work was dark, and reflected the artist's tough upbringing as an orphan in inner city Hong Kong. He identified this connection between his style and the way in which he grew up and viewed life. He shared something amazingly insightful that really struck a nerve with me.
I was also struck by the fact that Nick’s included an entire series of images that resulted in a significant volume of work and book publication was shot on an iPhone 4S. This was clearly not apparent when looking through the book itself or when he shared images on his giant iPad, pinching in to zoom and show detail in the images. We guessed that he had used a 35mm lens of some sort. I was thinking he was using a Sony full frame sensor camera since the lighting in these stalls was all over the place. Boy, was I wrong! I know iPhones and other smartphones can take some decent quality images but I was genuinely surprised that this work was done a phone. This was proof positive that cameras and gear don’t mean shit.
In summary, I learned that:
Great stuff! Peers can be amazing teachers for sure!
The light is always right.
*Images herein were made on a Nikon F100, 35mm lens, and shot on Kodak Ektar 100 and Kodak Portra 400 35mm Color Film and developed at home, using DigiBase C-41 Kit from CameraFilmPhoto.com then scanned on an Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner at 2400dpi.
Blog #82 The Purpose of Art
What is the purpose of art? Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? What is the function of art across culture and time? These and similar big picture questions have been asked time and time again across the ages. I find it fascinating to contemplate these as they relate to my personal philosophy or style in making images.
In this week’s blog post, I will share with you a few quotations so that you may think about your own work as an artist [photographer] and perhaps come to some greater understanding or clarification on why you do what you do. Understanding the reason behind your creativity might propel you forward and give food for thought or, er, creativity, for that matter.
I went into photography because it seemed like the perfect vehicle for commenting on the madness of today's existence.
If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.
Anybody can be a great photographer if they zoom in enough on what they love.
An artist is a man who seeks new structures in which to order and simplify his sense of the reality of life.
John Szarkowski 1966
The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.
I don’t have a philosophy. I have a camera.
One of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there.
The light is always right.
Images in this blog post were made during a charitable event where a group of Harbour School students passed food out to elderly folks in the Sham Shui Po Housing Blocks during Mid-Autumn Festival Oct 2017.
Blog #81 Talent is Nothing
In this week’s blog post, I would like to address the topic of talent. Every once in a while someone like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart grazes us all with his presence. True genius especially in the creative arts is rare. Nevertheless, there are many talented artists. When we gaze upon the work of Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, or Alex Webb, to name a few, we can’t help but use the word talented to describe these photographers.
What happens next is that we falsely conclude that these folks were born with some sort of instinctual ability to make gorgeous draw-dropping images with a camera.
“You either got it or you don’t”, we conclude.
Some thing critical is missing from our simple analysis. These folks got to where they are through tons of hard work. Upon seeing a finished work of photography, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, or novel we are completely removed from any understanding or appreciation of the years and decades of elbow grease that inevitably came before and resulted in the piece in front of us.
We do not see the thousands of behaviors and long nights that lead the artist to that point in their creative career. It’s all there, you just can’t see it. Therefore, we conclude, incorrectly, that talent is what caused this artist to create good art.
Talent is a null word. It’s the summation of countless hours of literally blood, sweat, and tears. How do Olympic athletes get that way? They work their asses off for it, that’s how. Hard work breeds success. Talent is nothing.
The light is always right.
*The images below are original and from the September 2017 Distinguished Gentleman's Ride in Hong Kong, a fund raiser event for Men's Health and Prostate Cancer*
Blog #80 Give it Away, Give it Away, Give it Away, Now
What I've got you've got to give it to your mamma
What I've got you've got to give it to your pappa
What I've got you've got to give it to your daughter
You do a little dance and then you drink a little water
These lyrics were famously penned and performed by none other than the
Red Hot Chilli Peppers in 1991 from their song titled Give it Away Now.
You might have guessed that this week’s blog post is about printing and sharing your images. In Blog #68 titled Photography is a Gift, I advocated for sharing images of friends and family. This can be accomplished through social media outlets of course but is ultimately more effective when images are brought into the real world and printed.
Printing doesn’t have to be a complicated process. I bought new ink jet printer recently in wide format meaning that it takes A3 sized paper [297 x 420 mm, 11.7 x 16.5 in.]. Of course there are bigger [and way more expensive versions] but for a reasonable price, I picked up this baby and dragged her home. This thing is huge but for just shy of $200 USD it’s really pretty cheap. Printers have come a long way and most regular jobs can be done on this machine with photo quality paper. The results have been really good so far. The model is an HP OfficeJet Pro 7740. If you’re in the market for a new printer, let me share this pro tip:
If you ask nicely, the salesman might throw you a pack of A3 photo paper for free as well!
Good luck lugging this thing home it’s about the size of a large microwave oven. Wifi means that anyone on your network can print from any device pretty much, a really useful feature.
Sharing images is a great joy that every photographer should indulge in from time to time. For example, some friends had an awesome beach wedding party recently and I made some pictures that I shared [and will be printing and framing] for the married couple. I view this gift as something special since they cannot buy it or make it themselves.
If you don’t give away your pictures, “You’re a punk!”, says LA street photographer, John Free. I love that guy!
The light is always right.
Blog #79 Black & White vs. Color, Revisited.
The subject of black and white or colour has been a lively topic since the start of commercially available film started around the late 1960’s early 1970’s. I’ve blogged about this before in Blog #13 titled B&W or Color? and presented a splash of history of both films and concluded with a verdict of using both rather than an emphasis on either or.
I find myself shooting colour & black and white although mostly colour for commercial work and usually [but not always] black and white for personal work. I think that the world in general, prefers color. Of course the world is in color so it should be presented that was in pictures, yes? Well, sometimes, yes.
The subject and environment [image itself] should dictate the presentation. A photographer might prefer to shoot in black and white to focus the viewer on the shapes, lines, textures, emotion, gesture, and overall subject of the image. Black and white pictures that work [even paintings or drawings] are very strong when they accomplish this. They are timeless.
In the news recently, two artist’s work in particular are worthy of note, and both are outstanding examples of both types of pictures. Sadly, we lost one of our light-catching brethren, Pete Turner. Check out his absolutely outstanding colour work and give homage to this true master of color.
Thankfully still alive and well is a terrific street photographer named Dotan Saguy’s who presents his black and white work using a Leica M Monochrom.
Another interesting topic surrounding this issue is one of presentation. Can a portfolio, series, or otherwise collection of images be presented in both black and white or color? Does a collection have to be in all black and white or all color? Many purists would say yes but then again, rules are meant to be broken. One suggestion is to present all of the black and white pictures and then all of the color pictures. That is, if you insist on presenting both within a collection. I have no substantial reason for this suggestion other than it tends to work better.
Lastly, film or digital, black and white or color, wide angle or telephoto, there are so many decisions to distract us from making awesome images. At the end of the day, let the decisions come you rather than forcing them and the results should take care of themselves.
The light is always right.