Vision

Speak to me of home

Speaktome-2

Why am I so drawn to travel? What is the source of this wanderlust? Will it eventually be satisfied?

When I reflected on my photography, and this love of distant places, I began to ask myself these questions. I wanted to go deeper and explore not just the place itself, or even the dream of it, but why am I having these dreams? What’s the source?

It’s taken a few years to come up with a theory – I was searching for Home.

Even when I was a child, one of my earliest memories was laying on the floor of my living room with an atlas, poring over the maps, wondering what adventures and mysteries awaited. I realize now that, even in my childhood home – the only one I’d ever known at that point – there was an innate desire for something…somewhere…else.

But what is home? Is it a place? Is it “heaven”?  Is it just being with the person you were meant to be with?  Or maybe the quest itself is home.

I wanted to capture this search in a photographic way. To do that, I needed to really search how I felt when I traveled as well as exploring the questions mentioned above.

What you see in the series online is a portion of overall series, which I intend to publish as a book at some point. Will it ever be finished though?  Will I find Home?  I have no idea, but I love the way that this direction has forced me to look deep inside and then translate those thoughts and emotions into a photograph.

You can view Speak to me of home here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks,

Mark

P.S. I’m planning on redesigning my site and moving to a new platform. I appreciate your patience in the meantime.

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The Myth of Technical Perfection

 

I had an interesting exchange with the Executive Director of The Center for Fine Art Photography a few days ago that has me absolutely baffled.

I had submitted some images for consideration for one of their exhibits, and they were rejected due to “technical errors”. What baffled me was that the exposure, contrast, etc, was exactly what I had envisioned prior to taking the photos.  Granted, some of them, okay many of them, wouldn’t be considered technically perfect by digital standards.  I didn’t expose to the right (I wouldn’t even  know how to do that), they didn’t have wide dynamic range, etc.

The cameras I use are heavily customized and rather unconventional, specifically to give me the look that I want. I want to convey emotion, not show off technical perfection.

The conversation with the Executive Director, a man whom I had assumed would understand artistic expression, went something like this (paraphrased):

Him: Your photos lack dynamic range

Me: I know, they’re very high contrast for a reason.

Him: They’re underexposed too.

Me: Yep, exactly as I envisioned.

Him: But that’s not the proper exposure.

Me: What is “proper” in art?  Who determines that?

And it kind of went downhill from there.

It reminded me of the scene in the movie Dead Poets Society (above) where the textbook uses the Pritchard Scale for Poetry to graph how good a poem is, which is obviously ridiculous. Robin Williams wisely has them rip those pages out of the textbook.

I can imagine the Impressionists having those same discussions during the Salon de Paris, when it first burst onto the art scene. How dare they not paint in the approved style?

I’m in no way comparing myself to the greats of Impressionism, but I’m baffled why someone in such a vaunted position could, in 2016, still be bound by the “approved methods”.

Don’t let yourself be bound by conventions. Art will only move forward when people try new things.  Things that will make some people feel uncomfortable.  As long as it makes you, as an artist, happy, that’s all that counts.

Mark

Where are the photos?

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting many photos lately.  For a good while, actually.  Here’s why:

For the last two years, I’ve been working on a new photo project.  It’s different than my previous work.  I wanted to go deeper, more into emotions, motivations and interpretation of a theme.

It’s been an intensely personal experience that I’ve only recently revealed, to even my closest friends.  In fact, to date, I could count the number of people who have seen the work on one hand.

The shooting itself is complete – at least this chapter – and I had planned on sharing it online this week, but I’m not.

The goal of the project was to make something tangible and lasting – a legacy project, if you will.  As such, I’ll be publishing this as a fine art book.

It won’t be an inexpensive book printed by an online company.  The physical form that the book takes will be an integral component in the experience.  The materials used, the methodology, the technique, will all contribute to tell the story.  It will be a very limited edition available to collectors of the medium.

I’ve already engaged with a studio that will collaborate with me to put it together.  This process will take a few months, unfortunately, which means that you won’t see any new photos from that series posted online until then.  My target date for launch is October.

I’m very excited about the direction that this is heading and appreciate your patience.  I’ll do my best to make it worth it.

Thanks,

Mark

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: http://www.marcoryanphotography.com/ebooks/living-the-dream/

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

Mark

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

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

The Obsession

The unconscious obsession that we photographers have is that wherever we go we want to find the theme that we carry inside ourselves. – Graciela Iturbide

I think I have a touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It runs in my family – not in a huge way like you see on TV (although my oldest sister had it that way), but just some mild things that I find I just can’t let go of until it’s out of my system.

I get a specific photograph in my mind, or series of photographs, and I just can’t let it go till it’s done.  There’s the compulsive need to release it from deep within. It gnaws at me. It controls both sides of my brain – the conceptual side that is envisioning the photo plus my analytical planning mind to figure out the million details that it will take to get it done.

I released my Ghosts of Myanmar series a couple weeks ago and it’s been very well received.  By all accounts, I should be happy with that and move on to my next photo project. Except that I’m not happy.  I like them just fine, but they’re only part of the story.  The photos within me haven’t been fully released.  There’s a Part 2 in my head that will complete it, and now the planning is taking place to get that done.

By the time I finish that series, I’ll have more than two years invested in it.  Compared to many of the Masters, that’s nothing.  Photographers like Clyde Butcher can spend decades documenting the Everglades, for example.  For him it’s a passion to save that environment from destruction.

But I keep asking myself – what’s my motivation to complete the Ghosts of Myanmar series? I love Myanmar, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not it.  The best, most logical answer I can come up with is OCD – I have no other explanation for it, although my mind will endlessly keep searching for one as a “background task”. The late Spalding Gray had “The Monster” – a book that he felt compelled to finish writing, and kept haunting him until he did (I hope that I will avoid his fate though).

A side effect of this situation is that one particular series tries to push out any others that may have been percolating.  I need to consciously push these other ideas to the forefront in order to keep expanding my portfolio.

It’s not all bad though.  I know that this obsession will keep pushing me to take things to new heights – into areas that I would have never thought of without these endless hours of pondering.

I won’t head back to Myanmar until October.  Every day until then, I’ll be researching, planning, testing, learning or just dreaming about how to best complete that series.  I know the direction I want it to go, and a general idea of the technique it will take to bring them to life, but I want/need to envision specific shots. I do allow for serendipity, but that comes once I’m on location.

I have to figure out what it will take to release this series from my creative center, and that takes time. And that’s the Obsession.

Ttyl

Mark