daily

Organic Growth

Promoting Your Project

Ask anyone who’s had to promote a project – a book, a gallery showing, a performance – and they’ll probably tell you how exhausting it can feel. Especially if the project is close to their heart, and especially if the person tends toward introversion.

It feels like you put your heart and effort into something, and then you have to put your heart and effort into making sure enough people (a) care and (b) hear about it to be interested. Yelling is tiring, even when it’s about yourself.

Some people are pretty good at this. But when I think about it, usually those folks are speaking to a big enough audience that cares. They hit (a) and (b) from above every time they promote something.

My projects started small: a portrait project here, a documentary there, each with a modest built-in audience. They cared. Over time, the number of people who knew about me grew.

Organic growth means taking the long view. Person by person, project by project, you’re increasing the number of people who know what you do. It takes patience, and planning, and a bit of humility. But I love the process.

Dampen your expectations on the first few projects, because it’s going to take time to reach people that care. Start making stuff that people might have an interest in (that’s the first part) so that, for the next project, they’ll hear about it (the second part). Each time might just get easier.


The Academic Life

The Academic Life

A recent episode of Roderick on the Line had me thinking about our aptitudes, and whether our vocation takes advantage of our particular talents.

For me, it’s all books and learning and research and art. If I have a life made up of some combination of those things, along with working with talented students to make things, then I’m satisfied. It’s not like I’m saving the world, but I am, in an indirect way, helping to make it a better place.

High education has been my calling since I was in college. I knew then what I wanted to do, and here I am doing it.

As I took a walk around the University of Michigan’s campus yesterday afternoon—sky heavy with rain clouds, early autumn leaves falling, EarthFest fair going on in the Diag, students heading to class—it hit me, as it always does, that I’m working my dream job. I value education, I value the search for truth, and so to lend my expertise to that effort makes me feel like I’m in the right place.


Our Life’s Story

Our Life's Story

This past weekend, I lost a long-time friend and college fraternity brother.

To say it was unexpected is to put it ridiculously lightly. Dan was my age, in improving physical condition, and three weeks away from getting married. To boot, he was a smart, friendly, ethical guy – a real model for what a decent human being could be.

At his visitation, I was alone. I didn’t know anyone there, and I met his family for the first time. As I waited in the receiving line, a slideshow of images cycled through. Here was Dan’s life on display: grinning with his nieces, giving a thumbs up at a Detroit Red Wings game, big family photos, childhood times in costume or on a rocking horse. Standing there, waiting, I saw some of Dan’s life that I hadn’t seen before, and it made me feel even closer to my friend.

That’s the power of a snapshot. It shows all those important (and, often, unimportant but enlightening) moments in between the big milestones in life. Dan’s college graduation photos were in there, sure, as were his elementary school portraits. But it was the slice-of-life stuff that hit me the hardest. The snapshots showed Dan living his life. The showed him being himself.

It’s obvious, right? That’s the power of photography and everyone knows it.

What it showed me, though, was the power of the non-artistic, spur-of-the-moment, no-one-is-going-to-see-this photograph. When we tell the stories of ourselves, it’s those kinds of photos that help people really get to know us. They show us being our non-idealized selves.

I was sad to lay my college friend to rest. I was happy to see, through his snapshots, that he led such a full and meaningful life.


Putting the Camera Down

Put The Camera Down

Jonathan Blaustein at A Photo Editor:

It it ever a good idea to just put the camera down and watch?

Indeed, and a good question.

Leaving Yellowstone National Park many years ago, I spotted this perfect conical mountain ringed by a storm cloud. It looked like a scene from Lord of the Rings – all chaos and fury and fire, the peak lit up by lightning. Here was Mount Doom, and it was angry.

Unlike Blaustein, I had my camera handy. But I didn’t use it. “No, this one’s just for you,”I told myself. “Not for anyone else.”

Yes, putting the camera down sometimes is a good idea.

I kept that moment private, with no picture record to prove it happened. It’s as vivid in my memory, 10 years later, as anything else on that cross-country road trip.

(via Jeffery Saddoris)


Books Are Friends

Books Are Friends

Seth Godin, announcing his $159 giant-ass book of blog posts and writings:

A book is a special object, a time-tested conveyor of not just information, but emotion and connection. Some of my best friends are books.

…All the words are already online for free (it’s a collection of my online writing over the last four years). What you can’t get online, though, is the feeling of owning it and the joy of gifting it.

That’s why all the digital publishing platforms and blog posts in the world can’t replace a book: the joy of owning, giving, and experiencing.

My practice is, try to buy a photo book every month. For $20-50, I get an education and a way of seeing the world. It’s a darned good deal.

Godin’s book is $159 for writing you can read for free, right now. But it also has photos by Thomas Hawk, and is this massive monolith of thought and wit that you can take down and re-read – no batteries required. Godin’s book will sell out, surely, which says there’s a market and that the books is valued.

Craig Mod just kicked butt on a Kickstarter book project about a walk through Japan. Maybe, after all the hype about eBooks, people are realizing that physical books are just fine.

Books are humanity’s friends. Books are here to stay. They’ve been around for longer than most empires, and many will stick around for even longer.

While I love viewing photography online, and checking out blogs from my favorite artists, buying a book is a true vote of confidence for someone’s work.

 


Begging For the Why

Why, Not How

Patrick LaRoque:

I get tired of purely technical pursuits. I get tired of how without why. I’m also afraid of repeating what’s already been said by photographers I respect, and to whom I have nothing, zero, nada to add—David Hobby, Joe McNally, Zack Arias…seriously, all the bases have been superbly covered already. If I’m to contribute anything serious, it would need to at least provide a different angle…

It’s a pursuit that has to be about emotion just as much as sharpness. It needs the how while also begging for the why in order to avoid becoming an empty shell.

This is the rub. There’s so much photography how-to material out there, how do you make it your own?

It’s the emotion part that makes what we do unique. What do we bring to the process beyond technique? What are we trying to say, and how do we say it?

LaRoque’s first post in his Process series, The Film Curve, is a goodie – about how to set the tonal range for a photo in the highlights and shadows to express your creative goals.


Tim Kaine Comes to Campus

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine came to the University of Michigan’s campus on Tuesday.

I took my lunch hour to sit on the Diag and listen to his speech. It drew quite the crowd – even a half dozen pro Trump protestors (who didn’t find much sympathy here in Ann Arbor).

In America, a lot of politics is performance and theatre, both from those on stage and  in the crowd. It was a lot of fun to walk around and see the spectacle for myself.


Urbex, (Mostly) Abandoned

Not So Abandoned

I used to have more time to make photos.

My commute was 30 minutes, but if I left early I could stop and take a landscape, or catch a beautiful sunrise. And sometimes, I’d have enough time to explore an abandoned building or home. Beautiful country roads, lovely scenery, and no rush.

Not so much anymore. My commute is now an hour long, at minimum, and it’s mostly interstate driving. This cuts back on the time I have to get out and explore.

One of the casualties of this new setup is my abandoned photography. My commute is longer and busier, I work on a big-time college campus in a mid-sized city, and I just don’t have the time like I used to. It’s a bummer.

Part of me also feels like I’m moving on from urbexing, creatively. I want to do new things, and make different kinds of photographs.

Except when I take a new way into work, like I did last week. Instead of busy I-94 East, I ventured down US-12. It added 20-30 minutes to my drive. It was so worth it. For one, it felt like my old commute: moseying at a nice pace, lots of scenery to check out, and the fog helped make the landscape extra interesting.

For two, I noticed a few abandoned building opportunities (including my old haunts in the Irish Hills) – like this abandoned farm structure.

The itch still gets me when I see an abandoned property. It used to be a big part of who I was, creatively, and I’ve had to let some of that go. But it’s okay. I’ll try to make time for adventure when I have the time and inclination.


Enough Is Enough

Enough is Enough

At first, I only checked Facebook once per week (based on a good recommendation).

Then, I quit my photo blog at Tumblr and opened up this one.

Soon, it seems, I’ll want to quit Instagram. That leaves Twitter and Flickr (which is barely “social”), and who knows what’ll happen with those two. Or any other social media platform that has us, as users and creatives, doing all the real work for them.

No, it’s all too much.

This is not a rage quit. It’s the product of a lot of small, quiet frustrations that leave me thinking I can spend my time doing other things.

It’s not a new revelation, and Lord knows I’m not the first to discover social media is a waste of time. But as I get older, and I have friends and family, and projects to do around the house, and little patience for the increasing amount of (mostly irrelevant) ads blinking in my face, the less appealing all these “What are you up to?” platforms become.

I still enjoy my quiet little corner of Twitter, with my Mac nerds and fellow photographers. And I still dig the work people post on Flickr. I’ve set up my social media accounts to show me mostly stuff and people I’m interested in. It’s just that more and more on those other platforms, advertising and “features” are intruding. To what benefit?

As Jörg Colberg writes, “If you’re happy with being a passenger and with having to change vehicles usually the moment you’ve become a bit comfortable, then stick with Silicon Valley’s boom-and-bust cycle. If that’s not what you want, going back to blogging is likely to give you a lot more agency.”

So here I am, with a relaunched blog, away from Tumblr.

Another problem is that marketers and brands have gotten a hold of these sites and used them for marketing. I think a lot of the marketing world is waking up to the realization that social media isn’t the be-all, end-all marketing channel for the modern consumer. If anything, people switch social media platforms to escape the ads and intrusiveness. I should know: I’m one of those people using social media to “engage” with customers and visitors – but I don’t do it with a clear conscience, because I hate seeing all that “engagement” crap, too.

It’s tough feeling like you can’t get your stuff out there to be seen without social media, and yet being uncomfortable with the idea of using social media at all. I’m a pretty private person, and I feel weird every time I try to promote something on Facebook, Twitter, etc. As a photographer, it’s a Catch 22.

I don’t have any answers right now. The trick is finding the mix that works, and that’s a work in progress.