Dis-attachment-ism. My new religion. Works for just about everything.

Everywhere I turn there are work boxes full of old negatives and transparencies. Most for clients who've been bought out, gone bankrupt or changed ownership.  Like dental records of dead people.
At some point it's good to disentangle the emotional cabling wrapped around our ankles before it pulls us under for good.

If you're anything like me you get attached to the processes that you master.  I once took pride in knowing all 17,000 keystroke commands for WordStar, the first really mainstream word processing software for early IBM personal computers.  I was sad when faster, better, more streamlined word processors hit the market because I had come to romanticize all the time I'd spent being conversant with the foibles of the older program.  I mistakenly thought that the early skill set had value outside the actual writing. (The main lesson for me today.)

In the film days we saved everything.  We saved the slides and the contact sheets and the negatives and transparencies in all sizes.  Over time that's an efficient way to fill up filing cabinets.  In those days businesses seemed to have a corporate memory and were interested in their achievements and milestones.  They liked the idea of having a visual historic record of their growth and success. They understood adaptive reuse.  But now businesses change hands like playing cards and they spin off and recreate themselves with amazing alacrity.  Executives don't add value through decades of service, now they leverage a quarter and move on. The value of the photographic records of their oblique and tangential orbits have become as devalued as Kodak stock.

When images had a physical manifestation we valued them as "objects" in addition to their stored visual information.  Negatives could be a thing of beauty in a of themselves.  But now we've become pragmatic.  Now mental and physical space comes at a premium.  And the lure of the old creates its own pools of amber and tar that serve, if we're not careful, to anchor us into a position that's a losing proposition:  the reminders of how we did stuff in the old days.  You know, ten years ago.

I'm grappling with a sea change.  I'm convinced that everything we knew about showing portfolios has changed profoundly.  That all the information spewing from photographic marketing consultants is as dated as MySpace.  Until recently I was right there with them.  I believed that we needed a printed book.  I believed that we needed to show our 20 most powerful images.  And I believed that screen based portfolios were a sidekick, an adjunct or a watered down appetizer for the real deal:  Hand made prints in fanciful and tragically expensive bindings.

Several things are changing my mind.  When I visit with designers and art directors they always default to the screen.  When I hand someone an electronic tablet with a portfolio on it they succumb to their addiction and wipe thru every image in the portfolio...and then they ask for more.  They tell me they like to see work electronically more than they like to see work on paper.  It's a sea change.  It's seismic.  But consider this, the new generation of art buyers and art directors, marketing directors and managers has, effectively, grown up with the screen, learned on the screen and earned on the screen.  Print is something....extra that gets done.

Why the disconnection between what consultants and old guys tell us and what's happening on the ground for 95% of the photographers I know?  Easy, the consultants go for the biggest pay off.  They work with the folks who are aiming with all their might at the biggest ad agencies with the biggest accounts.  And it takes time for the art buyers and art directors to work their way up the kerning ladder to get into the position to accept visits from reps and recommended talent.  By the time they get there they've been trained by each other and their predecessors to think of the "print book" as the "gold standard."  And that may be the reality for the "one percent" of advertising people.  But the vast majority, especially those under 40 (ten times more so for the people under thirty) the screen is the thing.  Show on a screen and you speak in their language.  There's an immediate connection to the relevant work they do.  E-mail blasts, banner ads, websites, video and the whole social fabric of modern life.

So,  I practiced with a Kindle Fire and today I'm heading to the Apple store to buy the iPad I put off buying for some reason that seems irrelevant now.  This whole line of thought came to me as I was searching the archives to see what else I might want to stuff into the portfolio I'd be building electronically this week.  And it dawned on me that some much of the studio had become a monument to the way we did things in the past, and the jobs of the past.  

I've pulled out thirty pounds of old film and paper from filing cabinets and job boxes.  It's headed out to the trash.  I think if I can winnow out thirty pounds a day for a few days I'll have unfettered the part of my brain that hand been tasked with keeping a mental inventory of everything physically photographic and where it lived and I'll be able to re-task those parts of my brain to re-enter now.

I've also been peeling off older cameras and lenses.  Not the hallowed stuff that I just can't seem to detach from but the clutter that builds up over time when you convince yourself that you need a back up for your back up camera.  Those sorts of things.

With every pound of film shed and every box of last year's photo miracle machines that heads out the door I feel lighter and less encumbered.  Less set on making old tools work for new jobs.  Less set in my ways and more open to change on many levels.  

I have two friends who are around my age and both of them, several years ago embarked on the search for the holy grail of print portfolios.  Their searches brought them to master "giclee" (fancy inkjet) printers who printed on thick, archival papers.  They printed large and they printed really well.  And then they bound the images in custom-made leather books.  Almost Medieval in their grandeur, detail and mass.  The pages sewn into the spines in the greatest tradition of book making.  And they wound up with multi-thousand dollar art pieces that are, in fact, prints stuck in amber.  Unchanging and unchangeable.  

Sorry.  Not for me.  I'm going after the fat part of the market that changes all the time.
I'm using different cameras.  I'm breaking the video rules I never really liked.  In short, I'm trying to translate the way I've looked at stuff into a modern idiom that works.  And the declining costs are like getting a "do over."

Unloading stuff is like getting permission to start over.  And starting over is just what the economy always seems to be doing.  I like the idea of showing up at a meeting with less than a square foot of electronics and being able to show off multiple and quickly configurable portfolios.  I guess not all aspects of change are so horrendous.  While I sometimes pine for film I'm equally aware that the back end is.....a pain in the ass, for commercial production.

Funny that getting rid of a few negatives and chrome would trigger so many other changes.

Note:  Dear Technically oriented readers:  Yes.  I would have to be living under a rock not to have heard the rumors that Apple will be launching a new iPad three the minute I buy an iPad two.  That's the way technology seems to go.  If the iPad two+portfolio produces one typical job I'll gladly line up for the next one.

Notes on the using the Kindle Fire:  I've actually been showing work, albeit informally, on the Kindle Fire and the screen is very good.  The two issues that may or may not constrain using one as a portfolio platform is the dearth of good portfolio presentation programs.  But for $200 it may be just what you need to show an ever changing book on a budget.  Or if you just hate all things Apple.  

Notes on throwing stuff away:  I'm spending time editing through the piles.  I'm saving the best frame from 100 on most old jobs but some are so old and so boring that they just have to go....

Final note for the morning:  The comments are on but that doesn't mean you must use them.  If you do, please be nice.  I'll try to do the same when I come over and comment on your blogs...


  1. Hmmmm. I agree on the change in presentation approach but aren't your clients still demanding "print-quality" files for publication? How do you help them "see" on the screen the level of quality they "need" on the page? Be interested learning from your conversations with clients.

  2. Hi, Kirk...

    Even if less than totally satisfactory, what presentation app did you find to be best for showing a portfolio on the Kindle Fire?

    Thanks, by the way, for raising your blog from the dead.

    It just keeps getting better. And that's after starting way up there on a scale that weighs content and style.

  3. It's not so much about the specifics, but about the attitude - the fact that things may be different today and tomorrow, and what works is not what someone else says works, but what you can observe with your own eyes. There's no formula. Try a few different approaches and watch/listen to the feedback. And as always, follow the money. That is the most honest feedback there is, always has been. People may say nice things, but if they don't put the money on the table, it may be just veneer.

    And always be leery of the advise of someone who doesn't live in the trenches or has first-hand experience. The problems with most consultants is that they either just live through the filtered lens of others, or they may have first-hand experience from years ago that has gotten stale from lack of updates. That's why a mentor or a good set of peers often is more valuable than a consultant. Less conflict of interest, and more hands-on experience.

    My old finance department had a saying on the wall "In God We Trust, Everyone Else Bring Data". I think that is a good guideline - collect your own data, make sure that you make data driven decisions. You trust your light meter, so why not trust the data of your marketing efforts?

  4. Kirk, But keep all those old lenses that will be fun to try out on your new GH2. I'm having fun with a few old Nikkors on mine.

    Peter F.

  5. I hope the trash can's just for effect -- silver's selling for $30/ounce these days, and there's a lot of it in the negs you're tossing. Most recyclers will happily buy old film by the pound...

  6. Coincidentally, I was sorting through and throwing old job envelopes yesterday and will be doing more of the same today.

    My market usually runs five to ten years behind the times, so I'm not going to abandon my print portfolio just yet, especially since the architects for whom I work (and those for whom I want to work) like to look at prints.

    I'm still looking for those 12x18 clear plastic sleeves, though, so I can upsize my portfolio to larger prints.

  7. I was convinced printing photos was the way to preserve and enjoy the best of my output, ... after 6 years of being a photographer... I have printed less then a dozen photos. I regularly have slideshows playing on my Mac though, and really enjoy watching them flow past. I'm sure I'll have the odd framed print on the wall, but an electronic "portfolio" with built in screen... internet... e-book reader.... looks increasingly like the right thing to do. There really is a huge change happening.

  8. We can pay nostalgic lip service to the "way we used to do stuff" or we can suffer the seeming indignity of having to keep learning over again. What a choice.

  9. interesting and timely. my father has been shooting for about 45 years professionally and has worked for many of the same clients for a great portion of that - universities, schools and non-profits that actually DO have a reason to want "historic" files. I've been after him to organize negatives by client and offer them up for a one-time purchase of the negatives. There HAS to be value there!

    For example, day-to-day events, commencements, groundbreakings as a small college became a major university. Seems like you just need to pull a number out of a hat. Is there a way to objectively value this stuff?



  10. Kirk, I am a high school English teacher of 13 years or so. The technological change in our society is so profound that I am only beginning to grasp how deeply it runs, and I consider myself somewhat proficient when it comes to technology. Kids entering high school today have had their brains completely re-programmed. They think differently, learn differently than students just five short years ago. Cell phones, smart phones etc are the devices they use to wire into not just their social circles, but their very existence. Without them, they literally wither before your eyes. The worst thing I can do to a student is take away his phone; he begins to twitch, scratch at his skin, tremble, some become visibly and vocally upset. The screen, the ipad, the laptop, facebook and twitter, are simply brothers and sisters in the same family.

    People of our generation cannot fully comprehend the change. The teachers I work with, many of them good people who really can teach, struggle mightily with technology, especially cell phones, in the classroom. They are exasperated with their students, as their students are with them.

    I've always welcomed change, been open to it, embraced it, but even I struggle to keep up with how quickly it happens.

    I could go on for quite a bit more here but I'll stop here, just thought I'd share my experience.

    By the way, I read your blog daily and find it very encouraging and helpful in my own journey as an photographer and artist. Thanks

  11. Kirk,just a general comment. I enjoy reading your blog. I check it often. Also catch you at TOP. I know you stopped for a bit and then came roaring back. Good for you, great for us. I think one of your underlying themes is "it's ok to change, in fact, it's healthy".
    Stay well and keep sharing.

  12. Oh, I feel you on getting rid of the closets full of memories and work! Get rid of it now while you can before your mood shifts and it seems valuable again to you! I have to remind myself to look forward, not back at everything I've created/amassed in the past.

  13. Well all I can say is I bought a book about throwing out 50 things. It is sitting somewhere here in the rubble.

  14. This article is thought provoking, as you intended. It maintains the high standard of your blog which I read every day.
    Thank you
    PS I am also finding the iPad does much that previously I did with SECOL portfolios of A3 prints. But I shall not throw away my SECOL boxes just yet, if only because I trust prints for long term archiving.
    PPS It is great that Amazon now allow one to download Kindle editions onto the iPad.
    PPPS I bought my (serious amateur photographer) wife a Nikon V1 on the strength of your positive comments. She LOVES it. A good decision.

  15. I understand from a professional perspective that one must give the client what he or she requires. From a personal perspective, however, I respond to prints in a way that I do not with on screen photographs. Prints provide a tactile experience; my fingers can linger with my eyes on certian portions of a photograph. Somehow this increases the impact of the image. Phostographs shown on screen simply cannot hold my attention in the same way that a photographic print can.

    People respond differently to similar stimuli, and that helps make the world a more interesting place.

    Thank you for the time and effort you put into this blog Kirk. It is appreciated.

  16. Great article--spot on. It is so cathartic to finally let go of things that over time become like rusted armor.

    When you get your iPad, make sure to get SnapSeed and try taking your V1 images right into the iPad for post. You will be simply amazed at the degree of control and the sheer fun of working the images up. Like Photoshop without the learning curve. Truly.

    Love the blog, which just gets better and better. Don

  17. Kirk, maybe all your negatives could be somehow assembled into a sculpture? Glued together into a statue?? LOL ;)

  18. I hope the iPad 3 brings a higher resolution screen. The improved display of the iPhone4 compared to previous generations, or compared to most other phones, is just lovely. I have the kindle fire as well and loathe the chunky low res screen, even though its "competitive" with all other tablets.

  19. After resisting the iPad for two years and after using my wife's iPad (a birthday gift) for a bit, I, too, have become convinced of its value to my photography. Its compact size makes it easily accessible; I like the fact that I can grab it and look through images while having a cup of coffee. And, I have also convinced myself that the 4:3 aspect ratio of the iPad screen better meets my needs than do the 16:9 screens of many other tablets. Having waited this long, I do want to see what the iPad 3 brings. If it is markedly better, I'll go for it; otherwise there should be nice price reductions on the remaining iPad 2 models.

  20. I'd setup/scatter negatives and positives on a big light-table and photograph them. Kind of artsy and a nice record/memory of what was.

    I do something similar with prints.

    Quick and easy.

  21. Kirk,

    When I put away my Speed Graphic for a Nikon "F" in the sixties, I've never looked
    back. The old ways are just that… On a recent big agency presentation, my associate and I printed some large prints for our showing, they were mostly ignored, and our iPad got most of the attention. The art buyer suggested we would be better having two or three to pass around. Would like having coffee with you when in Austin or if you are in Dallas.

  22. An iPad has a luminous screen, while prints are reflective. This can make prints seem "blah," especially since we are all using screens these days.

  23. Stimulating and provocative blog! My first time here, thanks to all.

    question for TiMcG: What is "TOP"?

  24. Paul, TOP is Mike Johnston's blog. www.theonlinephotographer.com

    Kirk, From the viewpoint of one who doesn't make his living from photography. I do it mainly to please myself.

    I no longer listen to music on a tens of thousands of dollars high end hi-fi system or make photograph prints in a darkroom or pay to have prints professionally made or make prints on an inkjet printer. Both my music and my images are presented to me on a computer or my Blackberry phone. The convenience has made it satisfactory for my pleasure. I guess I'm not as picky any more.

    As to your reference to WordStar. I used WordStar on a Apple compatible Franklin computer and on a Osborne CPM machine and continued to use WordStar after the IBM PC came along. What ruined it for me was the criminal action of IBM in moving the 'Ctrl' and 'Alt' keys from the left side of the keyboard to the bottom row making most of the 'Ctrl' commands much more difficult to use. After that it was WordPerfect with it's clean screen for me.

  25. Interesting. It's all making more sense. My photo class at a local U went digital about 4 years ago. So I bought a big Epson printer, because we've got to make prints, right? At first the students made lots of prints. They would come to class early and stay late to use the printer. In the last year and a half that has almost ended. In fact, I'm starting to get those quizzical "Why would I want to do THAT?" looks when I talk about making nice big prints. This stuff just happens so quickly. I almost hate to admit it, but I'll devote one whole 3-hour class this term to, (shudder) smart phone photography. It's hell staying ahead of these little ba***rds...

  26. Bill Bressler, ipad, 500px, instagram, tumblr.

    Get learning. That's where it's going.

    Best, Kirk

  27. Really like the main message of the post. I am selling off all my old Nikon gear and it feels so great. It really is a freeing sense. But I will keep my 1970's manual Pentax lens; the one's my father gave me.

    Now I just have to figure out what is next...

  28. I wouldn't worry too much about negative comments, Kirk. It's the internet and it happens. You know what they say, opinions are like....oh, I won't say it. You know the saying. :-) Anyway, I think you're doing yourself a disservice by fretting over rude comments and so on. Life's too short to be annoyed greatly by people you don't even know. Let them be rude...and you stay happy :-) I try to do that myself. It's easy to let others on the net get to you though. I understand that.

  29. Kirk, I have a question - who would own the copyright on the negs thrown in the bin?

  30. I've been on a purging rampage here too, but believe it or not, a digital one. I've had stuff accumulating since 1997 or so when I started with Photoshop - time for some of it to go. And a system failure on Friday the 13th forced me to address the matter of some serious digital housecleaning.

    On the film I did a similar cleansing back about 2 years ago. Now all that is lean and mean and I can actually find stuff. It's liberationg for sure.


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