Craft, vision and practice. Stories from the art world.

Some people have asked me why, "all of a sudden" I'm posting behind the scenes stuff from photo shoots when there are countless thousands of website and blog sites that are also doing "instructional" stuff.  I'll admit, when I find a challenging new niche to master I become a bit compulsive and start digging like a possessed badger until I feel like I've got a good grip on the subject matter.  Once I understand the technical issues I see how I can fold the knowledge into what I already practice.....just in case it's a catalyst for moving my real work (taking photographs of people) forward.

If you aren't interested in lighting with LEDs you probably should just be patient.  The novelty will wear off soon and they'll just become another set of lights I'll be able to use to do the things I've always done.  Once mastered they will be assimilated and find their niche in my primitive brain, leaving my conscious mind to collide with other projects.

But it does bring up a point that I like to make:  Practice is good.  Practice is learning.  Practice ensures that the eyes and fingers can keep up with the brain and the brain can keep up with your passion.  When I made the comparison of practicing photography to practicing swimming I got several (heated) responses telling me that they were nothing alike.  One person claimed that he could put his camera down for months at a time and, when the muses struck, he could pick it up on a whim and create a masterpiece.  I went to his website in search of masterpieces.  I found only pixels.  People with a paucity of passion, however gifted, want to believe that they can play with art in a detached way.  But anecdotal evidence about artists in general says,  "NO."

Like Edison's inventions successful art is built on the 1,000 or 10,000 failed trials that came before.  There's no real shortcut to the process of failing and challenging and changing.  No workshop will provide the same humiliating experience.  No handbook will provide the emotional context of despair with resolve that great artists endure.  But it's the need to keep moving toward the unknown that leads to the journey that can lead to the great works.

There's a great book about art called:  "Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking" by Ted Orland and David Bayles.  Nestled in among the other nuggets of knowledge is a story about a ceramics teacher who challenges the class like this:  He divides the class in two.  He tells half the students that their final grade will be solely determined by the sheer weight of the ceramic pieces that they each make.  He tells the other class that they need only make one piece but that the grade will be determined by their best piece.

The quantity half of the class gets to work in earnest, cranking out piece after piece.  The quality side of the class thinks and thinks and thinks, and then,  partially paralyzed by the nature of their task and their need to achieve perfection they finally produce.

In the end the students from the quantity half of the class produce far more good work and even far more great work than the other half of the class.  The constant experimentation led to making each piece better than the one before it.  Mistakes were resolved, their hand skills blossomed.  They understood the limits of their materials.  And then they challenged the limits of their imaginations.  It was a great blending that could only have taken place thru the process of experimentation and active exploration.

It was a revelation to me to read that particular chapter.  I stopped sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike and started experimenting and shooting more.  In this same vein I'm on a constant quest to see what different cameras, lenses and lights can do for my vision.  And I KNOW that when I shoot more quantity I get luckier.  There's a groove and I get down in it and produce.  And it all gets easier.  I can read the light.   Controls on the cameras fall right to hand.  It's easier and easier to direct the people in front of the camera.  Obversely, when I'm dormant for weeks I seem disconnected from the processes, timid about directing people.  Everything feels like stop and start.

I've tried to be transparent in the blog and what you are living thru as readers is my "infatuation" stage with a new technology.   And it is different than flash or hot lights.  The nature of the light is different and the way we use them is different.  It's dictated by their strengths and weaknesses.  Soon infatuation will give way to comfortable and we'll be back to looking at expressions and composition and what not.  But in a big view way this is all part of my personal creative process.  I shot for Zach Scott for hours on Saturday.  I shot all day with Jana on Sunday.  I learned stuff.  I rejected stuff.  I'm happy.

Vision is a great thing to have.  And so is style.  Unless it becomes a trap and keeps you producing the same stuff you've done for years.  It may be good for products to be consistent but I would argue that nothing kills art quicker.


mike wilson said...

Sounds like an excellent read. I've added it to my library list!

And I ADORE that photo above and love seeing the setup shot too. Thanks for that!

Neal Thorley said...

I agree whole heartedly.

and to quote a source I cannot remember,

"To become great in any field we must find the things we suck at and do them over and over again until we reach mental exhaustion"

This reigns true for so much in life. I think that it's the mental exhaustion from repetition that often gives us those "lightbulb" moments that we really learn from.

John Krumm said...

I like that book a lot, and an earlier memoir Ted Orland wrote, with photos, called Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity. He used to work as a printer for Ansel Adams (paid by the print) and it's interesting to hear some of the stories.

Brian said...

I enjoy your behind the scenes shots and like reading about the LED lights. Keep it up.

kleeks said...

I bought 2 panels several years ago, one strobe, the other continuous lighting. In a lighting class I took, the told us to bring our personal stuff so that they could answer any question we had. No one in class knew how to use them. As a disabled photographer, I bought them to simplify my life...no softboxes etc. and one of the reasons I am an AB loyal fan..because of their size, weight and carry bags. I look forward to reading your post these evening. Thanks for all the information about LED lights.

Mel said...

Vladimir Horowitz supposedly said, "If I don't practice for a day, I know it. If I don't practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don't practice for three days, the world knows it." I imagine if you took Picasso's pencil away from him for a short time he'd beat you to a pulp to get it back.

Keep practicing - you're a kindred spirit to those of us who continue trying to be better.

Of course now I have to take all the pixels off my website.....

kleeks said...

K:You and your books have been great inspiration to me. I too am a swimmer and I've applied my swimming techniques to my photography. I schedule photo shoots every week whether they are paying gigs or not.

Lap after lap, year after year, the strokes become ingrained in the muscles, and I no longer think about technique, just concentrate on speed or the pure enjoyment of swimming. Working over and over in my studio, I don't think about my camera or lights anymore, I think about the images. And when I do have a paying gig, I look confident in front of my client. Mistakes and equipment failures are extremely rare. I wish I had the $$$ to purchase new and exciting equipment, but I'll get there.

kleeks said...

This is crazy, but another "I wish I read this book in art school" is Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud. Written in comic book style, it appears to be a very simplistic funny book, but it analyzes and describes how we visualize not only comics, but movies, art, and photography. How we fill in the blanks between each panel...how we are able to follow a story or understand an image that only has a few scribbles. Close-ups, medium shots, panoramas, all described, when to use, why they are used. It discusses the differences in how we see and read a photograph of a face, vs. a drawing of face, vs. a cartoon of a face. Also details how different cultures view, draw and understand images (I finally understand manga!). Complex ideas all drawn in a cartoon style. It is a book for anyone in the visual arts. Plus it is a fun read.