June 5, 2017


Dear Viewer,

A model is an object, like a table or a cookie. If someone is in front of my lens, I prefer to call them my subject or refer to them as the talent. They're humans after all.

September 30, 2015

The last word on light

Many of the entries in the prior incarnation of this journal have been technical discussions pertaining the use of light. As we progress in ability the fundamentals (while important) become less of a focus and more of a toolset. They become ingrained in our actions and how we choose to put them to use. I no longer have the desire to talk about light in a procedural manner. So I will leave here the abstractions I've come to carry with me.
  • The most basic purpose of light is to illuminate that which cannot be seen.
  • Good light reveals form and texture. - Dean Collins
  • The highest purpose of light is to convey emotion.
When I pick up my camera these are the things I'm thinking about. Every choice as to the use of a particular modifier or kind of light is made to the purposeful creation of a photograph that reveals form, texture, and emotion. Everything else is just noise.

August 5, 2015

My brain is autocorrecting my life

What causes understanding?

I’m sitting in a coffee shop and while staring off into the abyss of my thoughts my eyes stumbled upon the giant poster of a vintage French cigarette ad hanging on the wall. The graphic is an elephant draped in a vibrant scarlet fabric with the words “JE NE FUME QUE LE NIL” written in text that’s about a foot tall. I know a little bit of French and I recognize the beginning of the sentence as translating to “I don’t smoke” – the rest of the phrase I don’t know and can’t translate.

Then I look down at my laptop, which is open to some page that begins with a headline in 36 point font. English is my primary language and I recognize the words, their content and meaning, innately - instantly. Our primary language is so innate it is seamlessly processed in our brains. It just is. I just understand it. Whatever machinery that crunches the translation from words into meaning in my brain occurs faster than I can even think about it. But the French words, I see them, but not the same as the English words. There’s a level of abstraction removed from the quickness that is afforded my native language. There’s a delay even though there’s no step of translation involved (I learned what French I can recall at an early enough age that I don't have to consciously translate many basic words or phrases).

I continued stare at the words on the poster to see if I could make them appear to me as natural as the words on the web page. I couldn’t. I couldn’t get rid of the delay. I'm guessing that that delay is inherent to my current level of ability with the foreign language. It’s probably also due to the infrequency with which I practice it (reading, writing, or speaking). In my daily life my experience with French is statistically nil. As I think about it I wonder if those with more developed multi-lingual skills see the words of the non-primary languages as easily as I see English words. That if I put more effort into practicing French that that delay of comprehension will somehow decrease (or even diminish) and I will be able to see French and English as facilely as I see red and blue. Both red and blue being colors but equal though different, yet I am able to understand them both.

The curious tangent, to me, about this question is what else does my brain do so expediently without my conscious knowledge and how does that operation affect my life and in particular my choices and my general outlook? I know that my brain is probably making many, many choices and judgments (thousands perhaps) every second and minute of every day. I suppose this is the task of the subconscious or even the preconscious. But I can't help but think that those basic decisions percolate up to the surface and form more complex traits and characteristics. For example, I can be highly critical with negative overtones. Why is that? Why am I not more relaxed and laissez-faire? Even as I sit and think about what’s happened in my life over the last few months I know that I'm maximizing or at least magnifying the critical aspects – or perhaps more honestly magnifying the criticality of my views of the events as opposed to the events alone – while minimizing or not even seeing the more positive ones.

I’m confident that this function of my brain is essential to keeping me alive – not only by telling my heart to beat and my lungs to breath, but by making sure I don’t try to inspect the undercarriage of a moving bus or try to fly off an ocean cliff. But I can't help but think that this autocorrect feature is also keeping me from enjoying more of life. From seeing more beauty in things and situations and people that I nonchalantly judge, categorize, shelve, and ignore. I can only be so “meta” about myself. That’s the nature of auto-evaluation. We view biases with a biased telemetry system so we are mostly blind to biased thoughts and actions. It’s like I'm chasing my own tail. Every once and a while I catch a glimpse of it in my periphery but I will try vigorously at times to catch it, but what I'm seeing and chasing is only the tip something much bigger I cannot clearly see.

June 1, 2015

My Fundamental Philosophy of Photography

When learning a new art one of the first things people often do is look to more experienced artists for inspiration. Part of the learning process involves deconstructing the works of these artists to gain some kind of insight into why they did what they did. Part of this process involves the examination of brush strokes, knife marks, or lighting setups, etc. We look at the artifacts of whatever the tool that the artist used create the work as we try to gain some insight into the process. Part of what we are looking for is technique. The other, and more important part, is the motivation behind the choice of the tool and how it was used.  I think it's a natural part of the learning process. But in some regards it's like throwing a piano over a cliff to learn something about music.

I've been asked many times how I went about making a particular photograph. I'm a pragmatic man and I have a difficult time with unnecessary flourish. I prefer to give simple, sometimes cryptic explanations and let the asker figure out some of the information for themself. I'm a big fan of struggling a little to learn as opposed to having answers readily handed out. I prefer to teach people how to fish rather than simply hand them a fish. My reasoning is that somehow they will value the information a little more and gain a little more if they have to work for it. Also I think that chewing on something for awhile can lead to a more intimate understanding of whatever is being learned. The problem I encounter with this, though, is that sometimes I come across like a jerk when I'm really trying to help. Given this I'd like to outline my very basic philosophy when it comes to how I make photographs. First I'll give the short answer (the one I normally only give) then I'll explain it a little.

I use a black camera because black cameras are the best.

The long version of this is: it doesn't matter what camera or lens you use to make as photograph as long as it's sufficient to do the job you need it to do. That's it. That's all. Nothing else to see here. Move along.

I made that picture by looking through the viewfinder and pushing the button. 

I cannot unwind my clockwork to learn anything about how I keep time. I am incapable of describing how my "eye" works. It just is. It's a telemetry system that resulted of my particular path to becoming a photographer. Though our experiences may overlap some, your path will be different than mine. 

I would set your hair on fire if it would give me the perfect shade of "ouch". 

This is simply: I will do whatever it takes to make whatever image I happen to want to make at the time. It also means holding strong to your artistic convictions during the process. It's also kind of rude. As I've matured as a human and an artist I've softened on this somewhat because I don't want to maliciously and purposely hurt anyone for my own gain. So this one requires some balance. It requires the consent of the parties involved. But still, hold on to your vision as much as you can while you're doing what you need to do. But don't hurt anyone in the process if you can help it.

When I say these things (the three tenants) I probably sound a little cocky. But with most concepts there's a lot of depth but that's fairly densely packaged and it take some work to pull everything apart and make sense of the message. If there's something I can help you understand, I'll do my best to try. But understand that there things I cannot deconstruct. They just are.