Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A few thoughts on social media and rejections

In the world we live in today, social media has become a valid tool for us photographers. No, let me broaden it. To us people in general. And the sooner you agree with this, the more information you will be able to gather quickly.

Take for instance, superstorm Sandy. The social media attention this thing got was and is unprecedented. From millions of tweets and live updates by diverse distaster teams and weather forecast centers, to people uploading their millions of pics to Instagram (now we have a whole collection of blurry, yellowish and square images of the storm's effect to drape the pages in our future history books, yeaaah! uuuh).

As many of you know I am on Google Plus. And over there, I curate a nice little 'niche' theme that I 'invented' (invented is a big word but I started it). The #minimalmonday theme. It is all about minimalistic landscape photography. Something that I enjoy doing myself.

Yesterday a fellow photographer approached me with a personal message. It went something like this:

"This week I contributed a picture – for a second time – for your minimalmonday. I commented a couple of times on your posts too. I wonder if there´s any particular reason that you didn´t spend the time to even notice. If my pictures are not good enough to be mentioned in your wrap up (note, that's what I do the day after the theme is active. I curated all the shots that I liked and call it a 'wrap up') ... is one thing... but not even take the time to +1 or thank people spending time to comment on your posts (not only me) annoys me massively. Maybe you could take 5 seconds of your time to think about it."

When I first read that, I was NOT very happy. But the message got me thinking. This is what I concluded.

Social media does go a long way. And it goes both ways. Tooting your own horn all the time is something that is frowned upon. But then again, if you want to play the social media game correctly, it will absorb a lot of you and consume a lot of your time. Be prepared and anticipate this. It is easy to keep track of 5 people. It's another thing to sift trough 50,000 posts. But sometimes, when we lack the time to do it right, it boils down to just putting our own content online. And that's ok too... Social media is a tool that everyone uses in their own personal way.

Social media can (and eventually will) become a catch 22. My life is NOT based on an online presence  nor am I glued to a computer 24/7. Ultimately I'd like to be out more, enjoying life, do photography every single day. And that's where the catch 22 comes in. Do I want to promote myself and other artists on social media (playing it out to the max so to speak) or do I want to be out there and photograph (doing the bare minimum) ...
In the end that is something for you to decide. Don't jump into social media without a battle plan. I see it all the time in my business. Companies open a Twitter and Facebook account hoping this will put their product out there. Social media is not a shop window. Social media is interactive. You need to approach it differently than your website (that's the shop window). Have a plan. And execute it. 

When somebody tells you 'you are doing it wrong', listen. It shows you your battle plan can be tweaked. Apparently this person thought 'I was doing it wrong'. I respectfully disagreed. I comment, +1 and share as much as I personally can with my circles. But I was unaware of that person's work, which happens. You don't expect me to know every photographer's work now do you? I share, without ignoring my main goal. Which is, I am there to promote myself. My own work. That sounds selfish but it is the truth. But with the theme I am trying to do something else. To change the landscape a bit. With the theme I am trying to promote other people's work. Photographers that I really like. A lot of photographers who I have struck a friendship with too by the way.
Telling me 'I don't take the time to look at all the submissions', is wrong (because I do). But it is very naive of that artist to tell me I should ad his/her work to the wrap up. That's just NOT how it works.

The other thing that I started thinking about was the underlying message this person was trying to tell me. The person though I did not see the photograph in question, I did. But there's an interesting lesson that photographer needs to learn. That lesson is called:


Rejection will happen. And it will happen a lot. If you send your work out to galleries, magazines etc you need to be prepared to get rejected. It is NOT something that has to be taken personally.
Every gallery or magazine or whatever has their own vision of what they want to show in the end. If a curator is asked to prepare an exposition they will try and tell a story. Or have a common theme or genre in the exposition. They are not 'just gonna hang Joe Schmo on the walls because it's the second time he has sent something in'. Joe Schmo his work could be very good. But maybe it is not compatible with any other work or the vision the curator had for this expo. Knowing this, rejection does NOT mean your work is bad. That's why you should not take it personal.

Sometimes (if you are lucky) they will sent you a rejection letter. Most of the time, they do not.
When you get rejected, take a minute to think about WHY you submitted any of your work to this magazine or gallery in the first place. What was your reason? Do you want people to – in this case +1 – everything you produce? And if they don't, you feel like a bad photographer? Or was it something else...

It's funny right? When I look at my own work, I don't give anything about 'other people's opinions'. Those opinions should not dictate the way you feel about your own work. Nor should YOU force your opinions onto someone else's art. Here's the thing though. I enjoy when people like my work, but I don't NEED the compliments to feel good about what I do. My work comes from a more personal level (read the previous blog post about 'why I photograph').

Also rejection can learn you something else far more valuable. When you are entering your work into competitions or for magazines and art shows, keep the following in mind.

Curators love artists with a unique vision. 

It sounds logical right? But it is not. And when I go back to the theme, I see it every single week. There's maybe 3-5 artists that have their own vision. I will recognize their work from a far. Other – less experienced – artists will copy particular looks and feels. There's nothing wrong with that of course because that is a natural step in someones career, right? But think about it when you enter your work into competitions. Is your work that unique? Do you have your own vision. Step back and be honest about that...

Also keep in mind that curators do like 'emotion and feeling' far better than 'technical excellence'. They look at the big picture of an exposition for example. If your 'crappy' image is a better fit in the overal picture than that 'technically perfect' picture by one of your peers, then you'll get a show. Curators don't care about how you photographed a scene using an 8x10 camera and film or a little point and shoot. The thing about being an artist is that you have to be able to tell a story with your work. Not produce lifeless work without a soul after lifeless work without a soul. The faster you see this, the better your work will become.

I can go on and on and give you reason after reason to why work is selected or not but that would make it a really really long post but I won't. The only thing I can say is – and I've said it before – believe in what you do, continue to work hard, try to improve and fine tune your vision, your skills and persevere.  That's what I've been doing year after year. Everyone gets rejected. But the ones that keep going at it and look at 'rejection' as not something personal, will eventually make it.

Rejection is part of what we do. Just embrace it. There is so much you can learn from it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why DO I photograph?

Yesterday, I asked a – seemingly – simple question on my Facebook page.

"Why do you consider yourself a photographer?"

Or in other words. Why do you photograph? I got a few replies and that got me thinking. I've never asked or answered that question myself. So here is why I photograph.

Years ago, when I was still in school, I somehow found myself choosing a direction I thought I was going to love. It was called 'Industrial Sciences'. It involved a good a chunk of math, sciences (chemistry and physics) and a large amount of hands-on trade classes (like metalworking and an electricity class).

I liked the science and math part of the schooling. I absolutely disliked the hands on construction stuff part (I'm just clumsy, ask Sarah). My dad is awesome at building things though (I guess I never got that part of his DNA). But there was one class that I aced. That class was 'Technical Drawing'. No CAD, just hands-on drawing. Man I was good at this. I always ended up top of the class. Always! You needed a meticulous approach to not F these drawings up. And you needed patience. Things – once I set my mind to it – I had.

That class was the reason why in the next year I switched schools and ended up doing 'Architectural Drawing'. Instead of going to a technical school, I was now finding myself in an 'art school'. It was weird. It was a school that promoted 'personal development'. Like it was ok for you to wear a full on mohawk, ripped jeans and rockband shirts. It was a real eye opener personally. That year, I really explored and searched for who I was or what 'group' I belonged to.

The education we got was an interesting mix of architectural technology stuff, math, physics and of course a huge chunk of 'art'.
We had an 'Art History' class. In that class, we dissected, week after week, paintings, buildings and cathedrals by the old masters. Talking about compositions, proportions and for instance reasons behind why things where pointed at some sort of focal point on paintings. At that time, I thought it was a complete waste of time. Looking back at it, I wasn't mature enough to fully understand and appreciate those masters. And I certainly didn't understand why I had to learn all this old stuff for things I would create today. It turned out, that was foolish for me to say. To this day, those classes turned out to be shaping my way in every single way.

I flunked that second year because I was done with those 'artsy fartsy people'. I wanted something real. That's when I found my love for 'Graphic Design'. Completely by chance. It fused my drawing talent with composition (something, by now, I started to understand the importance off). That's when everything fell into place on a personal level for me. This was something I was really good at. This was something that I loved.

I pretty much coasted through three years of Graphic Design education. Never really had to put a lot of effort into it because everything came naturally. Sure, I had my ups and downs. Sure I struggled with some trivial stuff (like French, gawd I hated French). Especially the very last year, was easy. Just because I loved it so much, everything 'came' naturally.

So after starting my first real job, I quickly lacked a creative outlet. I could only do so much at that job. And as a noob in the business, I didn't have the credibility or confidence in what I did, like I do now.

The next year, I decided to start a 2 year vocational course in 'B&W photography: darkroom printing and archival techniques'.

Have you ever experienced something where you knew 'I'm meant to do this'? Well for me, that was this course. I was meant to do this. Photography combined my understanding of composition, my technical skills I had from being a graphic designer, my meticulousness and my approach to create stuff from the heart. Needless to say, I aced that course too. And did an extra year, just for the fun of it.

That brings me to the end of my story. Why photography? Why do I photograph? Why do I consider myself a photographer? An artist even?

Practicing photography teaches me in the first place who I am, what I want to become and how to be a better man. It keeps my mind in check and I am able to share with you things nobody else – but me – notices, in a way, nobody else can reveal them to you. In other words, I'm unfolding my mind to you through my work, right in front of you. For me, the images I make, come naturally, straight from my heart or my mind. Sometimes I don't photograph for a long stretch of time just because I don't have to. Because I don't feel like I need to. Those are the good times. Other times (the bad ones) I feel the need to be out there on my own. Photographing. Translating my thoughts and fears in images.

O, and I can't paint for shit. ;)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

And we have a winner!

Remember my little competition I launched a few weeks ago?

Well I am happy to announce we have a winner!
I declare the winner to be Kevin Knockaert.

Kevin named my little Ikonta, Yvonne.
Now, without him knowing it, he happened to choose the name of my grandmother on my mother's side as his entry.

She was my favourite grandmother and I loved spending time with her as a little boy. She lived in this big appartement block where you could see trains pass by. Now as a kid I wanted to grow up to be 3 things. A pilot (what boy doesn't), a train engineer and a – I kid you not – a garbage man.

So my grand parents home was the perfect spot for me to watch trains go by day after day. Sitting in the kitchen with the time tables in front of me and a pair of binoculars I would write down the numbers of the trains and see how long it took them to return home. Yes back then, I was a weird little kid. ;)

Yvonne, or like we used to call her 'MoeMoe' passed away a few years ago. She had led a long and full life.

Kevin struck a chord with me and brought back a lot of great memories. So it was only logic, that the print of his choosing is going to him. He choose the photograph 'Brothers' as the one he wanted to get and as we speak, it is off to the printing company.

Thank you Kevin. From now on, every time I  am going to use the Ikonta, I will associate that with my grand mother. Thank you for bringing back those memories. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I'm not always photographing landscapes

When I was living in Belgium I did everything BUT photographing landscapes. Most of the time I was into flash photography, doing studio portraits, a little bit of fashion, and I did work for some local rock and punk rock bands.

I've always enjoyed doing flash photography. Instead of waiting for the light or conditions to be right for a landscape shot, you just make the light work your way instead. It truly gives you a far better understanding of the differences light can make on a subject once you start playing around with it.

Quite some time ago, my friend and ex-colleague Tim Morrison, singer of Canadian Rock band Age of Days talked me into doing a band shoot for them. I knew Tim loved my work and after a little creative meeting, we came up with this epic idea of doing a black and white shoot in Drumheller.

A few weeks later, I took him out on a scouting trip and showed him some of my favourite places around Drumheller. Showing him, the classics locations everyone visits and some back country stuff too while bouncing some more ideas of each other. Man we had an awesome time. Talk about being on the same page with somebody. At one point we scouted out a beautiful pasture with some gorgeous views on the valley below (more on that later). We knew this had to be one of our main locations we could work with.

A few weeks later, I've met the complete band. Age of Days was on a little Canadian tour and were enjoying a day off (on Canada Day) in Airdrie. We went for breakfast in a local establishment and went on our way to Drumheller (a 90 minute drive). After some van troubles (a sticky automatic transmission) we finally arrived at our destination.

A week prior to the shoot, I was looking at the weather forecasts. They were predicting some epic weather for us to photograph in. The predictions stayed constant during the week. And I knew, we would get lucky with some crazy skies later in the day. July around here is pretty much the beginning of peak storm season. So I was happy. No dull blue skies for my shoots.

The shoot started out with harsh light and blue skies. I knew we had to look for a nice shadow spot. When we were scouting some weeks before, Tim and I found some abandoned rusty grain silos. I knew we had to go there to start off the day.
Here are some of my favourites from that portion of the shoot.

After about 2 hours of shooting (including setting up the lights, styling, etc) we called lunchtime. Afterwards we went straight to our lovely pasture I talked about earlier. Clouds were starting to form and the sky and light were slowly becoming more favourable to what both Tim and I had in mind for the next scene.

What we did not foresee was the fact that this pasture near Dorothy, in those two or three weeks after we had scouted it, had transformed itself into 'mosquito heaven'. Thousand of mosquitos were swarming around us. It was insanity. Photographing in conditions like these were ... euh ... tough, to say the least. The guys pushed through it like real rock stars (pun intended). But in between shots, everybody was slaying mosquitos by the hundreds. I kid you not! After my first 20 bites, I gave up. I just let them eat me. There was absolutely no point in using mosquito repellant, or killing them in any other way. They were just too many. Just to give you an idea, I had 125 bites on both arms and upper body. IN-SANE. The guys had a show the next day. I bet it was an itchy stage performance. :D

Anyway. This is the photograph we ended up with. Absolutely one of my favourites of the day. It is a 4 frame stitch to get the panoramic shot I've envisioned. 

And here's one from Tim. I like this portrait a lot. I has some sort of fashion allure to it. It reminds me of a Chanel ad I've once saw. Anyway, he'll kill me for posting this. ;) Tough luck buddy, this is my blog.

As the afternoon progressed I had 2 more compositions I wanted to try out. Real thunder clouds were starting to form now. Just as I expected the light that was coming with it, was EPIC. We drove back from Dorothy past these beautiful coulee hills. I had to stop and try something with the guys. I wanted to show the grandeur of the landscape. I promised them, there were no mosquitos this time. 

For the final composition, we scouted out a nice little, more intimate, coulee. Storm clouds were ABSOLUTELY EPIC now. We didn't stay too long because at one point, we were right underneath a rotating vortex. As a storm chaser, I pulled the plug right there. We were in a spot that was a little too dangerous for us to be in. The picture though is one that we will ALL remember. 

As you can imagine. The day was a long one and we were all very VERY tired. But I knew I had some really good footage. 

I like photographing something different once in a while. And photographing Age of Days was definitely something I've enjoyed. Something I would love to do more of in the future. These guys are passionate about what they do. And they were a pleasure to work with. Their first single 'Bombs Away' has just broke into the top 30 on the Active Rock charts in Canada. It's such a great little tune.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

BIG announcement!

If you follow me on those social media websites you might remember this Facebook status update from a while back...
"OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG I have some EXCITING news I want to share with you!!!! But it's not 100% concrete yet. When it is, I will definitely SHARE that with you. OMG OMG OMG doing some more cartwheels!!!!"
Yeah that was me being all super excited about something but I could not say what it was about yet.
I never followed up on it on Facebook but now I am ready to tell you all a little story.

On July 24 I got an email through my website and it went something like this.
"Greetings, Olivier... I'm an editor with LensWork Publishing in Washington State. For nearly 20 years we have produced LensWork (a fine art publication featuring black-and-white photography)
immediately stopped reading. What was this... a joke?! I read that first sentence over and over again. After reading the whole email I was sitting at my desk completely IN SHOCK, pinching myself. This was NOT happening. This was a dream. Lenswork.... THE Lenswork?!"

I shared the news with some close colleagues and friends while in this ecstatic frenzy. I was probably not making a lot of sense to them at all and I think some of them might even thought 'oh boy, he is losing it'.

Now for all of you that don't know Lenswork. First of all shame on you! Second of all, I consider it one of the finest Black and White coffee table magazines available today. It is printed on a beautiful stock and the printing itself is of an amazingly high standard. It is available in more than sixty (yes 60!) countries around the world and has an amazing amount of followers.

Check out the Lenswork website here

Anyway. I always considered Lenswork to be THE magazine I wanted to be published in somewhere in my life, not career, I said life. Something that would happen when I would be 60 or something. Something that would happen when I was a 'well  established artist'.

If you see what the type of photographer is that gets featured in this beautiful publication, I feel unbelievable lucky, proud, honoured and a little bit scared too, they chose me. I am looking forward to the future too, to see what this might bring with it for me.

I feel unbelievable blessed that I will be in a magazine where all our contemporary 'greats' have been in. Photographers I love like Cole Thompson, Mitch Dobrowner, Chuck Kimmerle and of course Brooks Jensen himself, just to name a few.

Lenswork will feature a 'Canadian Prairie' portfolio in issue 103. That is the November–December 2012 issue. So the one that is coming up shortly. I am doing an audio interview with them as well and more of my work is going to be featured in the online extended edition as well.

There. It's out in the open now.
I feel relieved.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

You want a free print?

I got your attention now didn't I?

Here's the scoop.
Recently I purchased a new camera.

It's a Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 523/16 folding camera, made in 1954. Yes 1954!
That was the era where they built camera's that last forever. This Zeiss camera is a full metal bodied design and takes 120 film. Which makes it still very usable today. O and it takes square 6x6 photographs. Move over Instagram.

After some needed TLC I have to say, this thing is pristine. As far as I can see it, this camera is still working perfectly. At first, the shutter was a bit sluggish but think about it for a second, how do YOU feel when you just woke up from a good nights sleep? You wouldn't be to active either. Right?
After about 50 actuations all is well though.

So after the TLC and fondling session yesterday I've put some film in there and did my first snaps with this 57 year old camera. All is working very well and I am super pleased. A good $70 spent I'd say.

The camera came in it's own leather case and leather accessories case that attaches to the strap and holds a sun cap (o yeah this is metal too, you know German over-engineering) and 2 glass filters (red and yellow).

The viewfinder is a funky one. You are basically looking through a glass tunnel not a rangefinder (the 533 has a rangefinder) and you guess the framing.  I still have to find out how precise it is too.
Focussing happens or ... not happens by rotating the front element. It is a zone focussing system so there's a bit of guesswork involved too. But after you dialed in the ƒ stop you can read the 'zone' on a scale and that should be accurate enough. Then you cock the shutter by pulling this little leaver on the lens (it has a leaf shutter) and actuate it on the usual spot on the camera.
Then you forward the film by rotating the big knob on the side while watching the numbers go by in that little red window on the back. All very straight forward. All very oldskool too.

Now here's hope on no light leaks in the bellows or in the back.

OK let's get back on track here. You came here for a free print now did you?
Here's the deal. I need a nickname for this camera. Preferably something that rhymes with Ikon or Ikonta or even Zeiss. Or some old style funky name like 'Gladys' or 'Shirley' or something. Think 50's! Think women's names too! No need for an 'Alfred' or something.

Leave your submission in the comments below and make sure you register with the proper details (so I CAN contact you in case I pick your entry and YOU win). 

The winner will receive a free signed and matted 8x10 B&W print of anything in my catalog. How does that sound? I will pay for everything. It will take up to 4 weeks to deliver the print though, so be patient.

The competition closes on Saturday October 20 11.59pm MST*.

That's it really. O and before I forget.

* Only entries on this blog count. So if you see this on any other social network, do comment and share, but make sure you put your entry here in the comments below.