Photowalk Journal 20-May-2022

Recently, I have noticed my photography goals have shifted slightly. In fact, when I renewed this website for another year, I “downgraded” it because I recognized my desired outcome really is not booking clients regularly. Of course, if someone were to reach out to me and want to work with me, I would gladly talk.

Yet in recognizing there are so many talented photographers in the world ready to receive paying clients, I just came to the point that my joy in this journey is not about getting paid a lot of money for it. Quite the contrary: I wish to BE a photographer; to put in the work required of a thoughtful artist, not to become an Instagram influencer.

Thus, even this blog (which has laid dormant since last autumn) will shift to become a journal for me. It’s a photographer’s journal, documenting the camera/lens combinations I’ve used this week… where I’ve gone to photograph… what I felt made a photo work, and when it did not.

A couple notable items to document this week include the photo above: I’ve been recently shooting with the Nikon D800E. It’s a 36 megapixel, full-frame DSLR. While I still shoot on Sony mirrorless (and some 35mm film cameras), this Digital Single Lens Reflex (for those that didn’t know what that meant) is a “real” camera. Yes, my Sony A7iii is sort of a real camera. Indeed, for events that’s the camera for which I’ll reach. But this Nikon is the kind of camera photographers have used for years. It’s heavy, with an optical viewfinder that does not assist me in manual focusing. And yet, I cannot put this camera down. I am shooting with manual focus (vintage) Nikon lenses. This shot was captured at the Glacial Park in Ringwood, IL with the Nikkor-MICRO 55mm F2.8 manual focus lens. And what is also nice, it has the option in camera to crop to 5x4 format. It’s a different way of seeing, especially for landscape. This lens cropped this way really gives me a sense of framing. It requires my composition to be central–not in the center per se, but unmistakable. I’ll continue shooting with this crop and lens combination over the coming days.

My First Zine

I had a dream. Okay, nothing so grand. And certainly nothing compared to Dr. King’s beautiful “I have a dream” speech. But many years ago, I dreamed of writing a book. Or maybe a few books. Reality soon settled in. My ideas for a book were too narrow to be feasible. 

When I picked up a camera for the first time as an adult (not an iPhone, but a “real” camera), I never dreamed it would lead to publishing something. As I grew in my photography, I began to realize it had power to communicate. But what? Even this blog, which has long been neglected, really just spoke within my tiny brain’s fog of random thoughts.

Lockdown and the last 18 months of trying to find normal again was the spark for a photo book magazine. For years, my photographs were mainly single images on social media. But a photo zine cannot be a bunch of random pictures. Even great pictures. That’s what is called a portfolio (and that is what this website is all about).

The Zine is called “Life Rebooted”. In it, I put together a photographic narrative reflecting on the last year or so following the drastic mitigations called “lockdown”.

Photo zine spread Chicago 2021.

My first photo “zine”

This zine isn’t about monetizing my photography. While you can buy my photo zine here, trust me: I ain’t gettin’ rich on it! It’s about compiling my emotions and observations over the last year that was so very difficult for all of us. I was amazed at the ability for folks to bounce back and deal with life after lockdown. It’s a reboot. And while we may go through a few more reboots in the future, I think you will find that God has endowed us with a will to rise above it all. To live again. Life has indeed rebooted, even if the system still feels a bit buggy.

Going Backwards

Recently, a good friend and fellow photographer told me it seemed my photography seemed to be getting worse lately. I respect what he says, and certainly as a lifelong photographer he has been around the block a few times. Admittedly, I reacted with a “whaddya mean?” question, which I think is valid. In what ways, specifically, do you see my quality not measuring up to my usual standards. It is important to be specific in order to learn and grow.

Whether or not his assessment is accurate is almost besides the point: do we, as artists, have a way to be objective about our own work? No, I think that’s impossible. Too much of our own emotions are tied to our craft. There’s even some profound psychological research about this. But I did find myself asking a rhetorical question to myself: are there times when growing and learning can feel like going backwards? The answer to this is absolutely YES!

I shared with my friend a relevant story to illustrate that growth as an artist is not a steady, straight line. When I was in 4th grade, I started learning to play the saxophone. I played all through high school, taking private lessons and getting good enough to compete as district. By my senior year, I really thought I was pretty good. As a freshman in college, I had a new instructor. He found that my embouchure was poor. I spent months relearning how to play. Once confronted with proper technique, it felt like I was going backwards for several months. My sound got worse, not better. My mouth hurt due to different muscles forming the proper embouchure for the first time. I really sucked (sorry, really bad pun). 

Yet after months of hard work my playing improved. I had an objectively better sound with better technique. What would have happened had I ignored my professor? I’m sure I would still have played, but the truth is that I would have hit the barrier that bad technique creates. One can compensate to a point for poor technical skills, but there is a point where compensating for ineptitudes won’t cut it. 

I see a direct parallel to photography. There are a lot of technical skills needed in the craft. To be really good as a photographer takes years and year of practice and learning. And as my former boss often quipped, “ya don’t know what ya don’t know!” Going backwards (in a sense) is a good thing if that means one is learning. It might mean relearning technique. It might mean the quality of output is objectively lower than before until the best practices are learned well. It also may be true that experimentation as a photographer means folks who previously liked your work simply do not like your new direction. We all have to own our style and not get too discouraged by naysayers.

Bottom line: while I do not see myself pursuing a full-time career in photography, my goal is to make it look so good that you would never know. But it may not always please everyone all the time–in fact, it never will, so just keep going forwards!

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