Photographs Just Happening

No One Will Go

Johnny Patience on his 365 project:

All of my photographs during the year just “happened”. Nothing was planned in advance. I was able to capture them just because I brought my camera with me everywhere, every single day. And sometimes, because I felt brave enough to ask a complete stranger for their portrait, and I didn’t get chased away.

Planned versus unplanned. Project versus un-project.

This idea of the 365 project keeps coming up, because I’m starting to see it as a worthwhile challenge to any creative person. “Discipline and constant work at the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed,” says Stephen King. Keeping at something, day after day, is intrinsically rewarding.

But what about a planned project versus a project like Patience’s? Bill Wadman, for instance, is doing 365 portraits this year. It’s a project with a set of restrictions: pictures of people, with Wadman’s new-ish medium format camera. There’s a schedule to set and people to line up. There’s structure.

Patience’s project – “capture real moments and make memories, to tell about the good and the bad times” – is a rambling, take-it-as-you-get-it 365 project. He takes the world, day to day, exactly as it is, and lets chaos and randomness dictate his project. Apart from one camera, one lens, one film, there’s very little structure.

My preference? One of each, which is my goal this year.


Days I Tried to Live

Soundgarden in Las Vegas, 2011

If there’s anything to get you off your butt and get in gear to accomplish something, it’s death.

Lately for me, it’s been that way with musicians and bands. Rock musicians die all the time, but the past few years, a few of my musical heroes have passed on. That makes it super important for me, as a live music fan, to see them in concert before they’re gone.

Soundgarden was my grunge band. Heavy, psychedelic, that banshee in a goatee as the lead singer – Soundgarden represented everything about heavy metal and classic rock that I loved. Luckily, I got to see them at the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas back in 2011 with my good friend Driver.

Now Chris Cornell has passed. That makes me ultra mega glad I got to see his band before he died. And so it should go with a bunch of my musical heroes. For as much as I love the Smashing Pumpkins, I’ve never seen them live. Nor the fully-formed Pink Floyd (the closest I got was seeing Roger Waters in 1999). I think Cornell dying is good motivation for me to see who I can see, before they’re gone.

That philosophy extends to just about anything. See it, make it, love it – before it disappears.

We need reminders, don’t we?


Saturday In the Park

We wait all winter for days like this: sunny, decently warm, fresh breeze blowing.

In our new neighborhood, we’re surrounded by parks and playgrounds. Sparks Park – kind of Jackson’s own Central Park – is a block or two away, and we have several schools in the street next to ours, lousy with playground equipment. Our old neighborhood was very walkable, but it’s nice being so close to all this fun.

Now, when we go on walks around the neighborhood, the kids beg to go to one of the playgrounds. I have a feeling we’ll spend a lot of time here.

And that’s great. For today, we’re just happy to be outside.


Don’t Ever

Walk the Dinosaurs

Don’t be creepy. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t waste people’s time. Don’t ask too much. And don’t ever ever ask people to follow you. “Follow me back?” is the saddest question on the Internet.

Austin Klein, Show Your Work

As true for marketing pros as it is for artists. Maybe especially.

I didn’t plan on being a marketing/communications professional, but that’s how things worked out after college. Originally trained as a journalist, I used my liberal arts background and interests to become a little-bit-of-everything marketing pro. As long as I’m making things, I’m happy.

Journalism is probably where I get my skepticism of most things marketing. For a marketing professional, I don’t actually subscribe to a lot of marketing tricks. If it annoys me, as a user/customer, I can be sure it’ll annoy someone on the receiving end. So, I tend to not use marketing techniques that are onerous to the end user. No digital ads that follow you around, no cover-the-whole-page-in-an-ad news site takeovers, nothing that screams for attention.

Again: if it bothers me, why would I do it to someone else?

Klein’s advice is the simplest, bare minimum marketing advice I can share. Don’t be that marketing pro.


Photographer Interview: Steve Gray

Steve Gray comes from a world a way, and captures his landscape and surroundings in a lovely way. I first learned about Steve through his Borderland project, but I’m recently digging his Postcards from Cambridge, MA series.

Where are you and what do you do?

I am based in the county of Herefordshire in the west of England, close to the border with Wales. It is a region of rolling farmland, wooded hills and (close to the border) dramatic upland moor. I am very fond of this landscape and it features a lot in my photography.  My initial interest photographically was in taking what I guess you could call a traditional approach, working slowly with a tripod, using filters and trying to be out in dramatic light and the start and end of the day. I soon realised thought that this wasn’t really for me and latterly I have pursued a more contemporary, documentary approach to my work (always handheld these days!) – whether shooting in an urban or rural environment.

How did you get started in photography?

My interest led me to enroll in a beginners black and white darkroom evening class back in 2003. I knew next to nothing about photographic technique and so it was a pretty steep learning curve. Very quickly, however, I knew that I was hooked and photography has been a huge part of my life ever since.

What do you like about your photography?

It has taken many years of experimentation and many failed images and projects for me to feel comfortable with my own work, but I’m happy to say I now do. I think it is really important to develop an approach and style that works for you, produce images that make you happy and not worry if others like them too. That said, I do really enjoy sharing my work and hope that some of my images create a positive reaction. If pushed, I guess I would say I like the freedom in my approach to image-making – I work quite spontaneously with little planning. I’m also very partial to photograph patterns, shadows and shapes I find interesting. Lastly, it really appeals to me to have such a personal means by which to share how I see the world around me.

I like that your work explores different locations. Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas? 

My local landscape is definitely a source of inspiration. I believe the best approach is to photography what’s around you, what you know or where you happen to be, and try to find ways to make interesting pictures. This is in contrast to the trend to travel to well-known and much-photographed beauty spots. I’m not criticising that approach, I’ve simply come to realise it’s not for me and doesn’t produce results I feel happy with.

You’re “Yashica Steve” on Instagram – using film to express your vision. What kinds of themes do you explore with your work? How does film help you accomplish that? 

I set up my Instagram account as @yashicasteve to share new film work when I started working with film again last year. I have really loved photographing this way over the last few months, using a Yashica T4 35mm compact camera loaded with AgfaVista 200. I’m don’t support the notion that film is better than digital (or vice versa), it’s just that I find the feel of the pictures, the atmosphere, really pleasing and it seems to suit my preferred subject matter. I am increasingly enjoying walking around urban environments with no planned route or expectations and simply photographing things I encounter that interest me. I also love the deferred gratification of seeing the images after getting the film developed – digital has made everything so instantaneous this is a real pleasure!

Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?

My focus over recent months has been on a project called Borderland: where England meets Wales, documenting the often forgotten rural hinterland I call home on the border between the two countries. The landscape there is changing in many ways as (very slowly!) this rural landscape modernises and traditional ways of life decline. I think it makes for a fascinating and timely subject and I’m hoping others agree! I have managed all aspects of putting the book together and promoting it myself and am delighted to have sold most of the limited edition of 100 copies. There are some still available, however, and the whole series can be viewed and orders placed on my website.

Follow Steve on Instagram and Twitter, or check out his website for more work


Reminders For Days

China City - Jackson, MI

Reminders basically rule my life. Since my first iPhone, I’ve let a combination of to-do tasks and calendar pop-ups tell me what to do, and when. Everything from taking my daily medication to taking out the trash – I assign a robot to tell me things that I would otherwise forget. It’s a mix of Absent-Minded Professorness and outboard brain reliance.

I know that if I want to build a habit (exercise), or tell myself to do something later in a day (call the cable company), or if there’s something I just can’t or shouldn’t forget (a doctor’s appointment), I have to set a reminder. Otherwise, my brain won’t hold on to the information.

Now, I’m using a reminder system to keep my daily project going. It’s simple: twice a day, Day One tells me to make a new entry. That’s my signal to keep my photo project going – usually at 4 p.m. (before I leave work) and 7 p.m. (before the light disappears).

Why Day One? For me, it serves as both a reminder system and a daily log for the photo I take and the camera settings I used. I can even include a reference photo as a visual clue.

Day One has served me well since the birth of my daughter in 2015. Then, I used it as a journal to record her growing up – personality developments, funny sayings, a photo, that kind of thing. It came in handy when I made her first year photo book; I could look back and see, chronologically, how she was turning into a toddler.

The app doesn’t really matter. You could do something similar with a calendar or a text file. The point is that I rely so much on reminders that I’m using them to keep my daily photo project moving along. I’m both reminding myself and logging my progress as I go. Over time, it may become a habit, and I won’t need to think about it.

But probably not. I know myself well enough to keep a system like this in place until the project is done.


For My Next Project

 

Bronica ETRSi

Details are starting to come together for my next community project.

For this next one, I want to experiment with some studio space, and making the portraits on black and white film. To do that, I picked up a Bronica ETRSi from Jon Wilkening – a fantastic kit, full of potential. And it includes a learning curve, which is the part I’m most looking forward to.

(One of the benefits of picking up photography as a hobby is that you get to tinker, and learn new equipment, while you’re making photographs. That puts it in the same realm as classic computers or engine repair as much as art.)

I hope to set up a quick photo studio to practice with the Bronica, including making photos with friends and family, just for fun.

Restrictions are simply creative challenges. Using medium format film for a portrait project is a restriction that, I hope, leads to interesting results and good photographs. It forces me to learn something new, while lending a timeless feel to the whole endeavor. Should be fun.