Hey kids. I received an email from a budding young photographer asking about ideas, projects, and photography itself. Like George Bush Jr., I was a total mess until I was about forty, so anytime a young person reaches out I try to take the time to engage because I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like had I actually had a brain at a young age.
I responded to this person, as I do to all my communications, and after I wrote this I thought it might have a wider appeal or perhaps make some of you think about your own photography in a new way. I get many a question about projects and ideas in particular which always strike me a bit funny.
I’ve never once been stuck without ideas or directions to follows. Never once. If I had to provide ONE concept that makes this a reality it would be the concept of curiosity. If you have it you will never run dry. I love the elderly and feel that how we treat our elders is one of the most grievous ills of our society. The elderly who thrive into those seemingly untouchable years are those who never lose their curiosity. Those who call and ask things like “Is Facebook the Internet,” or “How do I learn to code?” or “Where do I get a home pregnancy test?” (wink, wink)
Here is my response.
Geez, into photography at fifteen. Way to go. I was a total mess at fifteen. Okay, a few things. Who are you? What do you read? Where do you live? What do you think about when you wake up in the morning? What are you afraid of? What do you believe? How do those beliefs make you feel?
This is how you find stories. Choose something that makes you FEEL in some way. Good, bad, confused, fearful. This will allow you to engage. I am a HUGE fan of the library. I know we are in C19 times so we have to wait to visit, at least for now, but the library is a free education waiting to be exploited. Its endless and contains millions of story ideas.
The war zones, famine and strife will be there if and when you are ever ready for that. No need to investigate now. War is what we humans do.
As for the actual nuts and bolts. You have to practice. Every chance you get. There are no shortcuts, no videos, and no online nonsense to ease the pain of learning. Failing is mandatory. Safe is for average photographers. Take chances with your visual style and those images you can’t quite explain are the images that will point you to who you will be in five years. Don’t throw anything away. DRM
“Failing is mandatory” LOVE THAT. Great post Dan.
Failing now seems to be something that gets swept under the rug and denied. Back in the day, it was worn with honor, kinda.
Check with your local library- mine participates in a program where you can use your library card to download thousands of ebooks (versions of hard cover). I must have averaged 1-2 a week during C19.
I use that too. Libraries are the greatest of institutions. No surprise they are on the decline here…
It becomes very clear to me now that 15 to 20 yr olds have a zillion of opportunities with photography in these high tech ages. They still can choose film as a bandwagon to get there thoughts and feelings into images. This route needs one of the elderly to get the technical stuff explained and off they go. They can go the very cheap digital way with hundreds of possibilities to manipulate a sensor’s image until it’s theirs.
We had nothing in the 70ies, some 110 film cassettes and an old Agfa boxcam with 10 or 12 pic on a roll on 6×6 in the 80ies. No scanning, only printing 6″x4″. Half of the roll lost in muted colors and darkness. Mat or glossy was your only choice. Done. E6, way too expensive!
But, here it comes: we were free, free to roam, we were free to play outside wherever and whenever we wanted, we had little to nothing of bounderies. We didn’t have any social guidance except for the ones we encountered live on every day base. We read nature’s laws. We dreamed stories and we brought them alive in the outside world. Not on a screen or phone. We were no projects or were busy creating one.
I would have like all these things mixed up: recording in the modern and easy digital way all this freedom we had in the 70ies and 80ies. I wouldn’t have to make pictures of today’s world. I would be watching my yought on a screen or phone for days and nights in a row. Memory lane… And oh, I’m 54, if you were interested.
I love this post Dan. The library is a valuable gateway. It was mine for years. It was the outside world on paper. It was social media in it’s best way possible.
In some odd way they weren’t limitations because it was all we had. I didn’t look at a computer in middle school and think “Hmm, this is gonna be great for photography.” I was going to the one hour lab in the grocery store parking lot and waiting patiently, without a phone, for my film to come back. Can you imagine what those lab workers saw on those negatives…
Good advice Daniel; especially don’t throw anything away and use the library.
On the subject of the library, I read (many years ago) that all books published here in the U.K. had to have a copy stored at The British Library in London. This copy was then available to order by anyone via their local library: all you needed was the ISBN number of the book. I tried it with Hiroji Kubota’s book, China, which had just been released at the time, and after a few weeks I received a telephone call from my local library to say that the book had arrived. I was obviously the first person to open the book, and it was mine for two weeks.
I imagine that this practice is still current so to anyone in the U.K. ….. Telex Iran.
Great idea. It is amazing what you can request. The Santa Fe Library has an entire room dedicated to Southwestern literature. It’s really old. Looks old, smells old and is one of my fav places.
Thanks for sharing this. As I use to be a marine, and sitting in hide sites observing the enemy. I feel in love with photography. After I left I put the camera away for a couple year, and I found that it has help me find a piece of who I am again. Shooting almost every day, most times I am failing on purpose to find a new way, yet it has shown me how to keep being creative. Thanks for sharing this.
Amateurs offer advice, professionals diagnosis.
Interesting. Photography as a therapy of sorts. Maybe it’s just about a way of seeing the world.