At the crossroads

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

I’ve:

  • 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.

Mark

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7 comments

  1. This is a great post, Mark, in many ways because it shows why I like your work so much: you are a reflective photographer. That is, you are thinking through your work all the time and that reflection shows in how your images continually build over time.

    I have two questions (with some sub questions) for you in response to your post.

    1. Do you feel like you are finished exploring the world and presenting it through the lens of your Holgas? To put it another way, Have you learned all you think you have learned about using the Holga to present the world as you see it? Or, conversely, have you learned enough about the world from the images you make with the Holga? If your answer to these questions are Yes, then I can see switching to a new medium. But, if your answer is No, then we move on to question 2.

    2. How might you be able to take what you have learned in the last few months to enhance rather than replace your current approach? How can you use what you have learned from the collodion process, from what you have seen at the shows and workshops, to build on what you have been doing, to take it to a new level, to afford you the opportunity to learn more?

    For example: this summer I am taking a 10-day HD digital photo and Photoshop class with the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Boulder. It was a 40th birthday gift from my wife. And while I am not one for the digital, as you know, my approach to this course is to see how what I learn can enhace what I am doing with film. I’m certainly not going to stop and embrace the digital, though I suspect by seeing the world through that lens and with that focus, I will constantly be reflecting and thinking: what would happen if I had the Polaroid right now? What would happen if I had the Holga? Or the Pocket 3a? And so on. And I expect to be thinking of the digital class when using those cameras later on.

    My point is, I think, that you are at a most welcome and unique moment where you have the opportunity to reflect on what you have done and think about how what you are learning can build upon that. And I look forward to seeing how it does.

    See ya!
    Bill

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Bill. I can answer your question about the Holga this way: It doesn’t matter. I’ve never been about “exploring the Holga” – the Holga has just been the tool that can get my closest to the vision that I have in my head. Honestly, the Holga can be a complete pain in the ass, both from a photo-taking point of view plus from an “industry perspective” point of view. I have absolutely no desire to be known as a Holga photographer. I’m a photographer, period. There are perceptions that I need to fight against with regards to labels. Will I continue to use a Holga? I have no idea.

    I care about gear only in the sense that it’s a tool that I use to bring my vision to life. As such, I’ll probably stop talking about gear altogether. It shouldn’t matter which tool I use no more than it matters which pan a chef uses to make the most amazing meal of your life.

    To your second point – all of this will absolutely enhance my photography, regardless of the path I take. It has changed my mindset and that’s the most valuable part. I may continue doing exactly what I’m doing now but through a new perspective. That’s certainly an option that I’ll be pondering.

    Thanks again for all of your support, Bill. It’s truly appreciated.

    Mark

  3. I read this post earlier in the day, and then mulled it over for most of the rest of the day. It’s an intensely personal post, so I thank you for sharing it with us. I can’t say that I can offer you any words of advice, at least not in this comment box (set us up in a cool, well-lighted place with a couple of drinks and who knows.) As you said, you’ll have to take some time to ponder this, and I’m glad you’ll do so. Take your time, there’s nothing wrong with that. Keep shooting what excites you, using whatever method excites you. You seem like a analytical guy, one who thinks things through anyway. I’m sure you’ll do so here as well. From my selfish perspective, it’ll be interesting to see which road you DO follow…

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