The photos on the wall

The gang
More than 30 years ago, I took the photo above. At least I think I did – doesn’t matter. It shows many of the people who were my second family after I joined the Navy. I was stationed on Whidbey Island, Washington. At the time, I knew nothing of the world, but knew I wanted to go places I’d never been.

Photos have the power to change lives; even ones you think are inconsequential. In 1979 I was stationed in Millington, Tennessee, attending technical school, when I saw a small 3×5 photo of mountains filled with pine trees taped to my roommate’s locker door. When I asked about it, he said that was where he grew up – near Seattle, Washington. A few weeks later, we were asked to fill out our “dream sheet” of where we wanted to be stationed when we finished school. I chose Whidbey Island, just based on that one photo. To my surprise, I got it.

Family is an interesting concept. You’re born with it, but if you’re lucky, friends can become family. My best friend Mike, shown above with the Zapata mustache and crouching in the center of the table, became like my brother, and still is to this day. All because of a 3×5” snapshot taped to a locker.

Yesterday, Mike and I went to revisit some of our old haunts on Whidbey (we both still live in the Seattle area). We visited Toby’s Tavern, in Coupeville, where Mike (and others) once got thrown into Puget Sound, where we shot darts, and where our friend Boone once said “You know, I’ve never walked away from a fight” when someone insulted his wife – and one punch later the offending jerk was on the floor.

After Toby’s we headed to Oak Harbor, where the Navy base was (is) and visited the Oak Harbor Tavern, where we attended quarter-beer night almost every week.

That’s when we received the surprise of the day.

On the wall were two photos – the one above and the one below. Both faded, neither technically very good, but man, did the memories come flooding back. There was Murph, who was like a second father to me when mine died shortly after I arrived at Whidbey. Whitey, who was once handed a written reprimand by the Navy for swearing too much and responded with “What the fuck is this?”. Dave, Katie, both Brad’s, and more. Each recognition was followed by stories, memories and laughs.

Next to it was the photo below, not sepia-toned, but turned brown by years of cigarette smoke (now banned) and stapled to the wall. That’s Murph in the hat, me in the striped shirt with my back to the camera, Chuck writing something, and Kelly the bartender, who’s still running the place. I think this one was taken a bit later judging by my hair length. Likely mid-80’s after I was out of the Navy. Photographer unknown.

The emotions that were evoked by these photos were palpable yesterday as we were transported to good times years ago. Those feelings are rare and precious…and all happened because of a 3×5 photo of some trees taped to a locker.

30 years from now, RAW converters may be a relic from the past, but the memories that you capture and print now will endure. Go. Print.

Like desert seeds awakened by a first rain, the memories will come back to life and it will be as if they never left.


Me - and my second dad


Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Life


Interview with Gura Gear

Gura Gear, founded by wildlife photographer Andy Biggs and maker of fantastic camera bags, were kind enough to interview me for their blog.

You can read that interview here: 


The Sensitive Artist

The “Art World” still baffles me.  I don’t understand the language, the personalities or the politics.

My buddy, photographer Quinn Jacobson, recently posted this on Facebook and it made me laugh, so I thought I’d share it here:

My favorite poem. If this doesn’t make you smile (or laugh), I don’t know what will – it’s the driving force behind me when I preach about art and photography. This is what you DON’T want to be (just to be clear).

I am a sensitive artist…
I am a sensitive artist.
Nobody understands me because I am so deep.
In my work I make allusions to books that nobody else has read,
Music that nobody else has heard,
And art that nobody else has seen.
I can’t help it
Because I am so much more intelligent
And well-rounded Than everyone who surrounds me.
I stopped watching tv when I was six months old
Because it was so boring and stupid
And started reading books
And going to recitals
And art galleries.
I don’t go to recitals anymore
Because my hearing is too sensitive
And I don’t go to art galleries anymore
Because there are people there
And I can’t deal with people
Because they don’t understand me.
I stay home
Reading books that are beneath me,
And working on my work,
Which no one understands
I am sensitive… I am a sensitive artist…

John Hall

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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Art


Moving forward


Living the Dream

Technology is not a panacea. It alone will not move your art forward. Only through developing your own aesthetic – free from the tools that create it – can you find new dimensions for your work. – Robert Hall

Photography, like life, is all about moving forward.  I absolutely love to learn, and am constantly searching out new sources of inspiration, techniques, and locations.

One of the best ways to do that is to take a photographic workshop. They’re amazing opportunities to see new places, learn new techniques, get fresh eyes on your work, meet like-minded people and even hang out with some of the greats in the business. How else could you hang out with guys like Keith Carter, Sam Abell or National Geographic photographers and ask them all the questions you always wanted to ask?

The market is flooded with workshops though – some good and some…not so much.  So how do you know which one to choose before you hand over your hard-earned cash?

That’s where my friend Marco Ryan comes in.  He a fantastic photographer and just wrote an amazing e-book all about workshops called “Living the Dream”.  You’ll learn:

  • Questions to ask when choosing a workshop
  • Different types of workshops
  • Preparation
  • Gear choices
  • What to do when you arrive
  • Setting expectations

Honestly, I learned a ton reading it, and I’ve done many workshops over the years.

Here’s the best part: It’s only $7 and all of the profit goes to charity! Marco is heavily involved in Focus for Humanity – a great organization that provides grants to photographers pursuing projects in the area of humanitarian photography.  So your $7 will not only get you some fantastic information but you’ll be helping out other photographers as well.

It’s 71 pages long and filled with great information as well as Marco’s stunning photography, which in itself will inspire you to take a workshop.

You can purchase the ebook here:

Me?  I’m off to photograph Kyoto, Japan and Thailand. See you soon!



Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Art, Career, Community, Gear, Vision


Sharing some good news

I wanted to share some good news I got last night.  I won a silver medal at the Prix de la Photographie Paris.  I’m truly honored, considering the list of jurors.   Here’s the press release they issued:


WINNER OF PX3, Prix de la Photographie Paris

Mark Olwick of United States was Awarded Second Prize in the Altered Images Competition.

Paris, France Prix de la Photographie Paris (Px3) announces winners of Altered Images competition.

Mark Olwick of United States was Awarded: Second Prize in category Altered Images for the entry entitled, ” Three elephants, Botswana .”The jury selected Altered Images’s winners from thousands of photography entries from over 85 countries.

Px3 is juried by top international decision-makers in the photography industry: Carol Johnson, Curator of Photography of Library of Congress, Washington D.C.; Gilles Raynaldy, Director of Purpose, Paris; Viviene Esders, Expert près la Cour d’Appel de Paris; Mark Heflin, Director of American Illustration + American Photography, New York; Sara Rumens, Lifestyle Photo Editor of Grazia Magazine, London; Françoise Paviot, Director of Galerie Françoise Paviot, Paris; Chrisitine Ollier, Art Director of Filles du Calvaire, Paris; Natalie Johnson, Features Editor of Digital Photographer Magazine, London; Natalie Belayche, Director of Visual Delight, Paris; Kenan Aktulun, VP/Creative Director of Digitas, New York; Chiara Mariani, Photo Editor of Corriere della Sera Magazine, Italy; Arnaud Adida, Director of Acte 2 Gallery/Agency, Paris; Jeannette Mariani, Director of 13 Sévigné Gallery, Paris; Bernard Utudjian, Director of Galerie Polaris, Paris; Agnès Voltz, Director of Chambre Avec Vues, Paris; and Alice Gabriner, World Picture Editorof Time Magazine, New York.

ABOUT Px3: The “Prix de la Photographie Paris” (Px3) strives to promote the appreciation of photography, to discover emerging talent, and introduce photographers from around the world to the artistic community of Paris. Winning photographs from this competition are exhibited in a high-profile gallery in Paris and published in the high-quality, full-color Px3 Annual Book. Visit

For Press Inquiries, Contact:

About the Winner: Mark Olwick is a fine art photographer based in Seattle, Washington.

Contact Mark Olwick:

The best part of the press release?  Not a single mention of gear!

You can see the photo on my site – it’s the first one on the home page.  It’s also in the Africa gallery.



Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Career


Crossroads part 2 – and no more Holga

When I finally reached an age with some acquired wisdom, I decided I would just do my photography for myself and not care whether my work was liked or sellable. That was a very liberating decision for me. – Cara Weston

In my previous blog post, I talked about reevaluating my photographic goals and my approach to them.  I reviewed some great advice from the replies on the blog, social media, and privately.

I tried to distill the joy I feel from my photography to its essence:  Why was I doing this?  What was it about the medium that made me happy? I had mentioned that my goal one day was to be in a museum collection.  That would still be fantastic, but I realized that was clouding my judgment.  I was trying to think of strategies and tactics to accomplish that goal.

Ugh. Just reading that last sentence makes me ill.

Strategies, tactics, agonizing over gear and methodology. How would it all be perceived by gallery owners, fine art collectors, curators?  I was spending way to much emotional energy on these – it was physically draining me. It wasn’t about the art itself anymore.

Peter Liepke, David Pitcher and others encouraged me to just concentrate on making the photos that make me happy and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  The rest will take care of itself. That’s not to say that I won’t market myself – I will – I just want the images to be first and foremost.

One of the things I was fighting against in the fine art world was being perceived as a “Holga photographer”.  To be honest, this pissed me off to no end.  I’m a photographer. Period.  What does it matter what gear I use?  Does a chef have to declare what type of pan he used to create an amazing meal?

So the other decision I made was to not discuss gear at all.  I use a variety of gear – whatever I need to use in order to get the vision out of my head and on to paper.  I’m simply not going to talk about it because it inevitably leads down a path that I find incredibly boring.

Will I continue to use a Holga?  Possibly.  Possibly not. Doesn’t matter.

Will I enter competitions that focus on toy cameras?  No, sorry.  That would only reinforce a label I detest.

The vision is getting clearer and my heart is feeling better. I think my photography will be better as a result.



Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Art, Career, Gear, Vision


At the crossroads

This has been an amazing few weeks in my photographic life.


  • Learned the basics of wet plate collodion from Quinn Jacobson
  • Met photographer Nick Brandt and chatted with him at his gallery show opening (one of my idols)
  • Attended the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) show in New York. Seventy five of the top galleries all in one place, showing original Stieglitz, Steichen, Adams, Callahan, etc photos. Even a Frederick Scott Archer collodion. I met both gallery owners and photographers whom I’ve only known from online previously.
  • Had a photo in the In Your Dreams exhibition at Photoplace Gallery in Vermont (juried by Susan Burnstine)
  • Attended an amazing workshop at Luz Gallery in Victoria BC about self-publishing led by Lauren Henkin.

Needless to say, my head is swimming with ideas but also struggling with some of the decisions to be made as a result.

I’m not really a “dabbler”.  Many people like to try all kinds of photography, and that’s completely fine and very fun.  While I do a bit of that, for my main photography I tend to go deep rather than broad when it comes to technique and “mission”.

For the last 10 years or so, my work has been shot on medium format film, in a somewhat pictorialist approach to my work, with the idea of getting into galleries.  The goal was to have representation at one or more galleries followed by a long term goal of being in a museum collection.

The long term goal remains the same, but I feel like I’m at a crossroads as to how I get there.  The discussions that I had with gallery owners and even more impactfully with Lauren Henkin have rocked my world and made me question my approach.

From a technique perspective, do I continue with film or do I move to collodion (which I really loved)? The challenge of collodion for what I want to accomplish is that I’m usually photographing in some far-flung country which may be difficult or impossible to acquire the proper chemicals for processing (either by shipping them there or sourcing them locally).  Or do I move to the ubiquitous flexibility that digital offers?

Remember, if I commit to a process, I’m “all-in” with it. Obsessively so. So “dabbling” in all of these isn’t in my nature, nor do I think it’s a good strategy.

For the long-term goal of being permanently in museum collections, is the route through galleries the way to get there or do I do it by making hand-crafted fine art books which happen to showcase my photography?  The gallery system is, in many ways, fundamentally broken. It’s about marketing and simply survival for many gallery owners.  With the economy the way it is, I can certainly see that from their perspective, but as a means to an end for my photography it may not be the best route. I’m not saying it isn’t a possibility, I’m just saying that I’m not sure at this point.

Why museums? It means that someone else sees the value in my work that I do and wants to preserve it. It means that I’ll be able to leave a legacy (I don’t have kids and am the only son, so this is one way to accomplish that). It would mean that I’ve permanently brought a piece of art into the world which would be available for anyone to see, etc. To clarify though, the museum aspect is a byproduct of the work. It’s not to get into a museum for the sake of getting into a museum – it’s about having achieved a certain level of quality that not only am I happy with but that others see as well (with the former being the most important thing).

Should I move away from pictorialism and move to more intensely personal photo essays?  It would still incorporate travel as that’s a huge part of my life but come at it from a completely different perspective. I would need to relearn how to approach a subject. This would be a massive change, but could be exceptionally rewarding.

I feel as if I’m at a crossroads, which is great.  I’ve had my world rocked and my photography will be better as a result.  This will likely take months to figure out – I need to ponder on this for a while.

Many thanks to the people I mentioned from bringing about this new perspective. Your advice has been priceless.



Posted by on April 24, 2012 in Art, Career, Creativity, Vision


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