Pounders

140425_ArnoldPalmerCanandPronghorn_CoalMountainWY
Arnold Palmer beer can and Pronghorn Carcass

A children’s riddle goes, “what weighs more, pound of feathers or a pound of lead?” The answer is obvious when guessed wrong and cruelly laughed at (thank you third grade classmates. Jerks.). That riddle, with slight alterations, is relevant to those of us in the arts: “what weighs more, a pound of acceptance or a pound of rejection?” (Of course, neither has mass thus cannot be weighed, but when getting rejected it does sorta feel like someone pounded you so, with a bit of stretch, it does work).

So, back to the question. I can tell you from experience that, in this case, the weight is not the same. The pound of rejection weighs more. A lot more. Acceptance—juried exhibit, magazine feature, contest, etc—is great, but rejection from those same opportunities is simply dreadful. I would estimate that one rejection is worth 2.75 acceptances. At least it’s that way for me, and I know I am not alone. As an example, I was accepted into a juried exhibit one day last year, and the very next day was rejected by another. So how do you think I felt? Bummed. Frustrated. It wasn’t that the rejection came after the acceptance, it was that its effect was more powerful.

Looking back it seems rather silly to have let the negative overpower the positive, but at the time it seemed a reasonable response. I mean, I know the subjectiveness of photography and how one person’s opinion (or ANYONE else’s opinion) is completely meaningless (I tell that to others all the time), but I also know that, as someone who takes his photography very seriously, it’s all too easy to overreact to rejection. My photographs are like my children, and we all know how parents become despondent when their tykes lives are ruined when they get rejected from the preschool on the good side of town (they get laughed at in third grade).

The trick for those of us working in a creative field isn’t to change our responses as much as it is to get through them. Mourn your rejections if you have to, but don’t get consumed by them. I guarantee that you’ll come out the other side a better and stronger artist for the experience. I know I have.

Deja View-finder

photo002

Photography has changed. New processes, which require little skill and knowledge, have made it easy for anyone to become a (mediocre) photographer and the streets are full of charlatans and over-hyped, over-loud and under-talented hacks. Things have gotten so bad that many of the gifted photographers have given up entirely and moved on to other things rather than be associated with this new breed of photographers picture takers. One leading photographer of note said about this very issue . . .

“photography, as a profession, has, of late years, greatly changed for the worse, and I think many of my hearers will agree with me. It is not now the best photographer, but the most shameless tout, that makes the most money.”

I, myself, have made similar claims and stand by those statements (I am pig-headed). However, the above is not referencing digital photography. It wasn’t even said about film photography. Hell, it wasn’t even said this century, or last. This quote was made by well-known photographer Henry Peach Robinson in the 1850’s about the growth of inexperienced and talentless “professional” photographers after the introduction of the wet plate (collodion) process usurped the more limited-use Daguerreotype. He and his contemporaries were worried, and justifiably so, about the bad reputation photography was getting.

A slightly different, but comparable, complaint was widely repeated by dry plate photographers when George Eastman introduced the first roll film camera in 1888, or thereabouts, and of course, in more recent times by film photographers against digital cameras. We have gone down this route before, and will do so again.

It has been almost 200 years since the first photograph was created (1827) and photography has gone through several major technological iterations— Daguerreotype, Calotype, wet plate, dry plate, film and now digital, among many other less processes, of course. (I like to remind some of the more self-righteous film photographers that their “traditional” process is at least four generations old . . . BAM!)

Knowledge of the history of photography, as well as the work of those who came before us, is important both for perspective and appreciation. Sadly, too few know much of photography (other than Saint Ansel) before 2000 when digital cameras started to become affordable. It’s not that the information isn’t out there, it’s that nobody bothers to look. Even many colleges who offer a photography program don’t address photography’s history other than some rudimentary mention in a generic art history class. So, we have to learn it ourselves. Two books I highly recommend on the subject:

The History of Photography by Beumont Newhall
(considered the quintessential reference, although only covers only until about mid-20th century)

Photography Until Now by John Szarkowski

(the links are provided for your expediency only, I don’t make anything from any purchases)

Both are excellent books written by authors with extensive knowledge of, and love for, photography. Newhall’s is more about the chronological evolution of photography (if you’re only going to read one, this should be it), and Szarkowski’s is more about, as he puts it, “a history of photographic pictures.”

You’ll thank me.

As for digital, I do abhor what it has done to photography, as an art, and the subsequent rise and success of so many who are incompetent, mediocre, and derivative. But at least I know, from the lessons of history, that photography will survive.

It’s All About the Picture, Silly.

140402_TheHighLife_AlcovaReservoirWY
Miller Time, Alova Reservoir, Wyoming

A couple weeks ago a fellow photographer liked one of my blog posts and linked to it from a within a Facebook group for film photographers.  As most of you know, I shoot digitally, and I do so without excuse or apology. It’s my personal choice and I don’t care what anyone else thinks of it. But when I write, it is almost never about gear or process. This particular post was simply about general creativity and getting our collective heads out of our butts. I thought it was pretty good.

Well, as can often be the case in film-centric groups, a couple of the responses were less than enthusiastic (not all, though). Their gist? How dare someone post a link to a digital photographer! Never mind the content (which I am assuming was not even read before being commented upon) had nothing to do with either digital OR film. Or that I, as a photographer, have at least a small amount of skill and talent. Or, that I actually like encouraging and helping people to become better, more personal, photographers. All that mattered were my camera’s innards.

Here’s the main negative response:  In that case, I don’t see what it has to do with this group. The digitalers have all the space in the world to discuss the wonders of digital photography. This group is reserved for analogue photography.

What a dumbass thing to say.

The experience frustrated me, a bit. Not for myself, mind you, but for those ignorant fools who still put process above pictures, and hardware above vision. By placing such gear-specific value judgments onto their work, and the work of others—rather than on artistic vision and message—they are stifling their own creative growth. Art is about intent, vision and the final product. That’s it. Process is irrelevant. In 50 years when people are appreciating our work, nobody is going to give a rats ass what camera was used. Unless, of course, you care more about gear than photographs because, in that case, in 50 nobody will have heard of you.

Look, I have a lot of friends who shoot film. Some even shoot <gasp!> color. We give each other crap for our respective choices, but that’s all in fun. Sibling rivalry. When it comes to our photographs, there is nothing but respect and admiration. Why? Because we have learned, in our respective journeys, that it’s all about the picture silly stupid.