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.

Mark

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11 comments

  1. When I read the title ‘No more Holga’ I thought this was going to be a post bashing the little plastic camera. To my surprise it was instead about your desire to strive to make your best images possible using a variety of tools, one of which may or may not be the Holga. Very thought provoking, I enjoyed the read.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with leaving the gear discussions behind. It serves little purpose and detracts from why we photograph.

    But along those same lines I would leave sentences like “I was trying to think of strategies and tactics to accomplish that goal.” behind. This is empty consultant speak, and people think if they just used those words, they were on to something.

    Pretty much anything you do is related to a strategy (whether you can articulate it or not), uses tactics to implement it, and has a goal it tries to achieve. Saying just the buzzwords is not meaningful, unless you can make it specific, actionable, and measurable.

    A better way of saying it would be: My goal is to one day exhibit my work as part of a museum collection. My strategy to get there is to develop a body of work that (a) meets museum quality standards, and (b) gets noticed by curators and their influencers. My short term tactics are to shoot more work that I have my heart in because that’s when I do my best work, and to actively network in social circles that include those influencers.

    1. Thanks Jan. Just adding those words “specific, actionable and measurable” pushes a button with me. Yes, I know all too well about SMART goals – I use them every day in my day job. So when those two things start to overlap, I recoil at that.

      The goal itself has changed. The goal is to now just concentrate on the photos. No measurables, no timeframe, none of those other buzzwords regardless of context. I’m just doing it for the pure joy of doing it.

      If I want to make a fine art book of my photos, for example, I’ll make one – but only because I want to see my work presented in that format not because it’s a specific, actionable strategy to get into a particular collection. Does that make sense?

      1. We have all been well trained by Corporate America at some point or another, haven’t we?

        But that brings up another dichotomy – the apparent appeal and need to brand oneself as a photographer.

        The only people that need to brand themselves as photographers are those attempting to make a living with it, along with the need for all the goals and strategies that come along with running a business.

        It would be totally ok if everyone else just said I’m Joe, I am an accountant, I enjoy taking photos, and designing fine art books.

        Doing outstanding work with a camera does not require being a photographer, or vice versa.

  3. Thanks for the update and write up, Mark. I think what you say makes sense, here on the screen and in your head. As I said in the my comment to Part One of this discussion…we’re looking forward to where this takes you. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. hey mark

    bravo to you for this realization. i can’t imagine doing my work for any other reason than what lights me up. having said that i don’t think doing work that makes US happy and setting a goal of having an exhibition or a museum collection are mutually exclusive. creating authentic work without focusing on the outcome, paradoxically, may just be the route to realizing these goals. i didn’t mean to get all preachy here – stating it for my sake as well. : ) your work is gorgeous & i look forward to seeing where you go.

    cheers from shana

  5. Just stumbled onto this post and I must say I truly enjoyed it. As a photographer, I’ve learned to shoot for the love of it, which is in my heart. I don’t need to shoot too please the masses. You shoot as your images show Mark, from within.

    Whatever you use-whether it’s a Holga (which I’ve used) or a oatmeal box with sheet film-you work what you know and trust. Keep creating!

    Peace.

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