The personal quest for images. Why it's different than working to a formula, a style or for a client.


Sweetish Hill Croissant.

Working for a client is a difficult process of sublimating what you think will be the best images into what the client thinks they want. Every so often you'll get a client that really hires you for "your style" but for the most part, at least from my experience, there is a raft of expectations about how the work will turn out and that provides a momentum towards safety and tradition. Generally work has to be sharp, composed in certain ways, and exposed to work well across different media. For most clients. The imposition of real visual excitement is actually far down the list for most buyers. Especially those far enough down the ladder to be fired if a commissioned photograph is not homogenous and universal enough. 

Jana at Little City Coffee House.

Developing a conscious style and then adhering to it regardless of the situation, the subject or even the way you feel in the moment is more or less an obsession. And as often as the strict obsession to repeat and repeat helps an artist (gee! I can tell that's an authentic Banksy!!!) it also locks an artist into becoming more like a Xerox machine than a creative spirit. In my mind every "style" plays out over time and the courage is in the abandonment of a contrived style with which you are bored but which everyone loves and the embracing of your next new thing. Moving on. Exploring.

An unconscious style is a whole different animal. It's the way you breathe, the way you stand, the way you cock your head and how you take your coffee. It's an unthinking way of existing and creating. It's fettered only by your intrinsic sense of self. It's the only true style.

Jana on 2nd St.

Then there's the personal quest for images. You make these because you are profoundly interested in how they will turn out; what they will say. These are images taken because you are interested in the subject, the event, the design, the light or the feeling of being in the middle of all those things. You would photograph this kind of work even if no one else ever saw the images or patted you on the head for your good work. They are the pieces of work that sometimes your friends don't like or your partner doesn't understand. But you make the work because you feel self-compelled to do it. And it makes you feel good about being an artist because it fills the scrapbook of your mind with great visuals and it can fill your stack of images with a readout of who  you really are. Shared or not. And it may be work you capture because you find yourself constantly in love with what's in front of your camera and the endorphins feel so good.

So, when I find a landscape-only photographer, or a black and white-only photographer, or a large or small format-only, or a documentary-only photographer I pause and wonder what is holding them back from the joy of trying it all and being free of the straightjacket of working to a formula. Or a small basket of formulas.

Parishioners at the Vatican Colonnade 

In the end, unless your work is so amazing that you change the course of art history, in a few short years, or maybe a decade or two after your death, all the work will have turned, metaphorically, to dust. No one will remember you walked around with a camera. Any money you may have made doing so will have long been spent. And any money you lost "investing" in all the trappings of your era of photography will be forever gone.

Something to think about when you toss a camera over your shoulder and head out to make an image. The famous magazine designer and teacher, Alexey Brodovich used to say to his students: "If you look through your camera and you've seen the picture before don't click the shutter."  

How long does it take to make the perfect photograph? The answer, depending on who you ask could be: "about 1/125th of a second." But just as easily one could say, "It takes a life time." 

I think we all eventually find out that we surround ourselves with ritual, tradition and gear because we have a fear of really trying something different. It's not just you and me; it's everyone. That's why when an artist really rises to a different level it's understood that somehow they pushed themselves over that line between what they had done before and what was really scary to do for the first time.

Or I could have it all wrong. But I think a photograph is both a document of a time, place and subject but also a window into the psychology and intellect of the photographer. 
Spanish Steps.

studio on San Marcos St.

Real camera. Real lens.

Teenage version of the boy.

Hot day in a cool stream. At Pedernales Falls State Park.

A glorious and happy lighting mistake.

Campaign photo for the Kipp School.

Schlotzsky's CFO cast as a baker.

Dance studio with Romi. Down on 6th.

Portrait work horse.



Just out of the pool and right onto the studio canvas.

The most perfect assistant in the history of the world.


In the Kitchen at Sweetish Hill Bakery. 
Back when it was really Sweetish Hill Bakery.