Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How to affect change

I am 38 years old.
And often I ponder about my artist's legacy.
Isn't that crazy?! I am already wondering about 'the end'.
What will be left of me, my work and how will others remember me?

If you read this blog regularly, you will know I am working on a series about logging around where I live. This series has thought me a few things over the years:

  • Before I started this journey, I was not an environmentalist or even concerned about the environment. I had an out of sight, out of mind mentality. The first time I stumbled onto a cut block completely changed that notion around. 
  • I've seen how destructive we are as a species in trying to get the resources we need. The logging I've witnessed so far is not very sustainable in my opinion. 
  • But one thing is pretty clear. We face an incredible difficult, multifaceted and multivalued problem, with lots of lobbying parties (pro and con) who all have their agendas. And the slower we or the government reacts to these problems, the quicker the sawmills move through the landscape. 
As a result of the series I am now involved with a group that is fighting to protect our forests, watershed and environment, I have attended meetings with government officials, I have talked with the local sawmill who is doing the logging, etc etc

That brings me back to the 'affecting change' part of this post.

A couple of weekends ago, I got approached by Stephen Legault, the Coordinator for Crown of the Continent Initiative, Y2Y (read his bio here). Through our mutual contacts he had heard of my work and wanted to reach out to me if there was a chance for him to use my photographs in an upcoming meeting with the Forestry Minister.

Needless to say I jumped at the opportunity!

Three of the photographs I delivered last week. The first one shows the carcass of a coyote in a reclaimed cut block in the Atkinson Creek Area in the Ghost Valley. The second shows endless rows of logs stacked 10ft high in a block south of TransAlta Road in the Waiparous. The sandy soil was something I didn't expect to see. The third photo shows a block in the south Bragg Creek area. The stump was about 30in across. So a fairly large tree. I was attracted by the combination with the Alberta Wild Rose. But in reality this is a cut block that was overrun by weeds. Natural regeneration here, if any, will be slow at best.

Last week I delivered 16 11x14" silver gelatine prints for Stephen to use. Free of charge of course. And I heard yesterday's meeting went good. He has also left my folio with the Minister. I hope the photographs will strike a chord over there and practices will change soon. 

And that's all I can really ask for. I started this series with one idea in mind: to affect change with my photographs. You can write or talk to people about the problem until their eyes glaze over, or you can show them a photo and they immediately understand. The communicative power of art is something we photographers often underestimate.

That brings me to the thing I've been thinking of for the last month or so. Would I rather be remembered as a photographer that traveled the world to photograph beautiful scenes or would I want to be remembered as somebody that tried to make environmental change with his work?

I think the latter is for me the right thing to do. The nobler thing to do.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Why is everybody following the same path?

I decided to scale back my social media presence this year for one main reason: to keep my vision as an artist clean, clear and pure.

You see people, some of you might find that a very snobbish or egocentric notion. But if you think of it, I – excuse me – we, are getting bombarded and outsmarted online by work and thoughts of other photographers.

How do you expect us to be virtuous when most of your own thoughts, notions and inspirations are not your own? Our creative minds are getting lobotomized and we are smiling in the process! We should start thinking for ourselves people. And don't let these social media heroes do the heavy lifting for you. It amazes me how many people can't answer the simple why-question, why they actually photograph. Or simply are willing to put in their time. You know to study photography and become better at it. Most of them want to be spoon-fed with information. Sometimes I wonder what happened to hard work and doing your research and learning yourself. You know at your pace with your interests.

Here's the thing though. Greed, but mostly vanity and envy have turned this photography universe into one big ugly black hole. Everybody wants to get the notoriety of being a master. Not tomorrow (God forbid they need to wait or work for something) but right now!

Especially envy I reckon is - in my opinion - an easy trap to fall into. It makes us think some crazy stupid things.
  • We envy other photographers when we see them posting pictures of awesome areas that we've never visited. 
  • We envy other photographers because they get to use the latest and greatest gear, sponsored by company X. While I'm still using this crummy 5D mk II. 
  • We envy other photographers because they got the cover of some fancy schmancy magazine. 
  • We envy other photographers because they won some prestigious photo-award somewhere.
  • etc etc, I mean you get the picture.   
Let's be honest. We've all thoughts like these before. Right? Am I right?!
And what do we mostly do? We follow the same path as the photographers we aspire and envy to be. Because the path is easy and the way has been paved. We go to the same places as them (Iceland anyone?) because obviously Canada has no beauty. Buy the same cameras as them (anybody needs a Sony A7R II? I hear that's the shit right now). You send out photos to Outdoor Photographer or Popular Photography or whatever magazine you read, in hopes of getting cover features for little to no pay other than 'exposure'. You spend money on some dumb photo competition's entry fee where everybody and their dog enters in hopes of getting a prize or nod of some sort, by a jury of people nobody has ever heard of or cared about.
Let me tell you. I'll be the first to admit. I've done it all! And you know how that made me feel?
And disillusioned about my own capabilities as an artist.

One day I thought I was the best I have ever been, because I won 3rd prize in some international award I don't even remember where I put the printed certificate of. The other day I realized, my work is worth nothing. It's all shite.

Because I listened to my own voice, I photographed this road side memorial a few months back.
I felt the story had to be told. I felt the photo had to be made.
This will never be a popular photo of mine. But that's not the point.

Envy is one of the more darker valleys you will have to cross I think on your journey to mastery. Inevitably you will start thinking things like 'why do I even bother doing this?' because you just realized how bonkers this photo universe has become.

And in that dark place, lay interesting answers my friends.

Do you really think anybody in the long run cares about all the awards they got with their work? Praise and accolades are merely bull-sh*t. Photo competitions pop up allover the place and they have diluted the photography landscape with their fake praise and admiration, to a landscape where mediocre drab is uplifted to what it is not, good photography.

Awards don't make you a better artist. If you think they do, than you are a vain SOB. Awards don't mean anything. And that is the end.

Now I hear you think "Geez what's up with this dude?" He's envious and jealous of other photographers. What a prick. I don't see you doing what they do. 

You see the problem with these social media heroes these days is that they don't 'see' past the obvious. These vain people NEED the attention to make them feel good about themselves. They want to feel that the world envies their lives. But in reality, there is nothing real about their so called 'adventures'. All those junk hashtaged posts are fabricated lies, put up to promote things or destinations but mostly, let's face it, promote themselves. Not as an artist. But as a vain, greedy, attention-seeking wh#%^, I mean person.

I believe in standing up in what you believe in. If nobody in the room is willing to say anything, I'll be the first to say something so we can all get the true conversation going. 

Even if the things I am saying are kicking people's chins and egos. Just like probably a lot of people will – yet again – take offense with this post. I'll keep saying the things that I feel need to be said.

I am a sucker for the truth. I absolutely hate fake people and liars. I cannot stand it when these so called 'guru teachers' descend from their high pedestal to teach us peasants the photographic ways. How the heck did they get placed on the pedestal in the first place. Who decided that they were good enough to teach? One browse through their portfolios show composition after composition that have been regurgitated over and over and over. They don't have talent. They just follow their own little system. They teach what they know. But are afraid to educate themselves properly. So yeah, I run my mouth in posts like these. I don't care who gets to see these nor do I care who takes offense. I do my very best to call it the way I see it. Maybe that is pride or vanity of my part. But I've seen too many gifted and original photographers ripped to pieces by ruthless 'gurus' in their pursuit of empty accolades. When I write posts like these, people will regard me as a jealous ass.

And I don't care. I say, let the work do the talking. And not your skewed egos. 

Don't get me wrong. Envy can be used in a positive way as well. For example, I envy the work of Ansel Adams, Edward Burtynsky, Minor White, etc. I envy their careers and the hard paths and sacrifices they made to get to where the whole world considered them to be masters at what they did or do. To this day this is a huge mental driver to get stuff done. I don't want to be like them. I just respect what they did for the photo community.

You think Ansel gave 2 sh*ts about fame? Absolutely NOT. He couldn't care less. All he cared about was that the work he showed, was the best HE could produce.

He stayed humble along his journey all the way to the end. He felt very fortunate to receive the admiration people where giving his work. And that is something I have an incredible amount of respect for. He tried to change the world. And he succeeded.

So stop weighing your careers against other photographers. We are all unique beings that see the world around us in unique ways. Therefor we don't need to seek out new destinations to create meaningful work. Get to know yourself first and go explore the world around you. Quite literally. Stop photographing for the masses and start photographing for yourself. Listen to yourself and ultimately make a stand for yourself, no matter how small and insignificant you think you are. Believe in yourself and never give up in what you believe in.

But most of all. If you take away anything of this post, let it be this. Be a glutton for knowledge. Knowledge is what makes the world go round. Not envy. Not vanity. And definitely not greed for more fame and more money.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

I am unsure how to start this blog post. It's been a while since I wrote something meaningful. I don't know if this post is going to be 'it'. But we will see where this goes.

I've been working hard on the logging series. Since spring came along, I've driven to quite a few locations in the foothills to witness, first hand, the devastation in the headwaters of our rivers. Sometimes it depresses me so much, I need to get away from it all and photograph something pretty.

So let me ask you this: "What is beauty?"

To me beauty goes far beyond the sensible image. Beauty is a combination of excellence in shape, form, colour, tone. But also a combination of feelings, emotions, reactions, concepts, philosophies and a number of other things. At least for me. The subject I photograph doesn't need to be beautiful perse to be beautiful to me. Beauty is, an inner, mental awareness of something or someones qualities and not a pure physical, outward thing. It's funny. Years ago I photographed nothing BUT beautiful postcard scenes. If you'd ask me how I feel about that work today, I would answer that with words like 'empty' and 'superficial'.

Take this photograph for example.

I made this a few months ago but just developed it on Sunday. To me this is an absolutely gorgeous scene. How the light reflects of the top of the sand bluff. How the shadows reveal their secrets on a second look. How soft the edge of the hard shadow is on the eroded sand on the bottom. The play of light and shadow basically throughout this photo. The little sand fall on the left that you only notice when you go in deep. The ripples, the textures, the form and shapes, cracks and fisures. This has to be one of my favourites of this year so far.

And yet. Nobody sees it.

You know why? Because it is a quiet photo. It doesn't blast you in the face with 'look at me'! It requires a kind of acquired taste. Like either you love or you hate blue cheese. I am in the last category by the way. No correction, I am worse than that. I haven't even tried blue cheese. Not one hair on my head (there aren't many left) thinks trying blue cheese is a good idea. I mean, if you think of what blue cheese is! It just grosses me out. But then again, maybe I am missing the beauty of blue cheese. And that's my point. You can't dismiss something because you haven't tried it.

99% of you will walk by this and simply don't see the potential. But when you are curious enough you will start to see and discover different things. More and more my work is starting to be a reflection of the inward me. And producing meaningful work, other than showing beauty, has become a very important and new goal in my career as a photographer.

Like I said in my first post of 2015 (the post about my 2015 goals) I am spending less and less time on social media. I've unfollowed ALL but a few photographers. Heck, even writing this post right now feels like a cop out to that goal. But thanks to that inward reflection goal and wasting less time on social, I see the world around me a little bit clearer through MY sunglasses. Not yours, not your next social media master photographer, but mine.

Art is about self expression. As I stop following the masses and carve out my own path, it sometimes feels like a very lonely road. A road where nobody understands what I am doing. And why I am doing it for. Sounds dramatic doesn't it? But it is the truth.

Let's go back to beauty. As photographers or artists, we have the ability to show a selection of the world in the way we want to portray it. That is the so-called vision. The above photo is by definition a sad sight. It is a place on the Ghost River that was heavily impacted by the 2013 flood. The protective land tongue that was once there and that housed trees on top of it was washed away. All that is now left is the unprotected sandy soil that was underneath that tongue and that is now quickly eroding away too by the prevailing winds in the valley.

To the untrained eye, this looks like ugliness and not beauty. But as a photographer I saw potential. Standing underneath this bluff (which was about 30 meters high and 70 meters long) I felt the power of the wind and I saw it's devastating effects. I decided to make a more graphical selection of the scene and ended up with a photo that approximately covers 10 x 13 meters.

If you can't find the beauty around you at first sight, create your own version of the scene in your head. That is what vision is. You can say, in this photo, I found that beauty in the ugliness. But to me, this was beautiful to begin with.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Darkroom Build: Day 21

Day 21. We are getting close now.

Platforms for the enlargers are in and looking good.

Supports are made under the sink for storage shelves. And also under the other sink for the drying racks. Everything also has had a coat of paint.

I can't wait to start using my 'man cave'.