Two Friends at the Studio in Westlake Hills.
It seems that most artists with a growing body of work have a tendency to look backwards at what they've done instead of paying attention to the moment in which they exist now. If we've gotten praise and nice reviews for certain photographs we've done we tend to have a prejudice toward showing those to clients and friends and allowing the positive feedback to keep us closer to the worn path of making the same kind of work; hoping for the same sorts of accolades. But if we are to grow and continue to be relevant in our circles or marketplaces it's vital that we continue to move forward with our visual work.
I started out the month determined to mine through all the good work I have done in the past 30 years with the goal of making a printed portfolio that would showcase it well. My logic was that the pieces I was choosing were "proven" winners, and they would ensure successful portfolio shows. But, of course, I ran this idea past my in-house "focus group" and the "new hire" suggested that I made my choices not because they would necessarily appeal to a current audience but because I was predisposed to keep the photos in the portfolio because I had adopted an affection for the work and I was "rooting" for its continued popularity so strongly that I had lost my objectivity about the work's relevance to an ever changing audience. And audience that decidedly doesn't share my long history, my understanding of the arc of photography or even how difficult it was to do technical work at a high standard back in the shrouding mists of time.
My young mentor suggested that a portfolio that would be most effective today would reflect the age, tastes and milieu of the present, not represent milestones of one's personal career from the past. "That" he said with a certain degree of astringent kindness, "Is what museums are for...."
I realized that he was right. Right on the money. I look at the image above and I see it through goggles of sentiment. The woman on the right was my long time (brilliant and supremely capable) assistant and the woman on the left was one of our friends and favorite models. I am always predisposed to enjoy looking at their faces. The image was shot on black and white film and souped by me, by hand, in our darkroom; which I also remember too fondly. The final print represented lots and lots of time spent in that darkroom, bathed by the red glow of the safe light (actually the orange/yellow glow of the sodium vapor safe light....), listening to old Joni Mitchell C.D.s and breathing in the acidic bouquet of fresh stop bath (glacial acetic acid). A lot of work went into the image but no one besides me sees or intuits the hours spent making the image come alive.
I looked through the other prints I'd selected for the portfolios and had the bittersweet epiphany that my insightful guide in this process had clearly identified my overwhelming marketing problem: I was stuck in the past. My goal, as he explained it, should be to start working more, as I did when he was growing up in the house, and watching the parade of projects and people flow through the studio. By doing more work I would, he suggested, create a much needed and ever growing inventory of more modern images. Images that could be more technically polished by a blend of the thousands more hours of experience I'd accrued since doing the older work coupled with the ability to more completely polish each image via higher quality camera output and the ultimate flexibility and control of PhotoShop.
But most importantly I would be creating images that will be accessible to the buyers and users of commercial photography, in the moment.
It's good to have people who are willing to help you make honest and effective assessments. It sure can't hurt.