Yes…I Also Shoot Landscapes

Yes, I also photograph boring landscapes. It’s true. In between Web Portraits and Barbie Hunters and Bratz dolls I shoot landscapes and views of cities. My first dance with the photo mistress started with Women’s Rugby at the University of Michigan (my sister was a star player) and continued in Alaska and then Bolivia with views of the land and my travels. Why don’t you see them? Because there’s a perverse notion in the mind of many photographers that light painting is art, and that you should put up every great image on a webpage called a portfolio and allow casual visitors to get lost in random images of flowers and sunsets. But what is the message?

Now, landscapes are good places to start out and a wonderful place to end. I love them, everybody loves a sunset and I’ve shot some fucking amazing shots of flowers. But one night in a cramped Tokyo dormroom I was watching a video from Photoshelter with Chase Jarvis showing his Ninja images, and I think he said something like, “shoot what you love to shoot, and make a concept around that.” Or…that’s the message I took away from it. Well, I’m in agreement with this mentality, and have decided I want to shoot things with a touch of the strange intermixed in the madness. Strange from the perspective of normal people, it’s all very normal for me to put a Bratz doll on a street in LA and start shooting away. And that’s the vision I’ve been developing in the past year, so you don’t see images from Chaco Canyon or the islands of Greece or views from the high camp of Huyana Potosi in Bolivia on my website or online profiles. It’s easy to make a great landscape image, just go to an interesting place and snap the shutter release. I’ve been of the opinion that I should challenge myself and instead try to go to interesting places in my head, and then translate that somehow into a digital image. But the truth is, I was looking back on a few piles of developed Provia, and decided that I should at least see what was there.

It turns out, from reviewing the evidence, that I’ve trekked over a collection of interesting places, and amassed a nice collection of interesting images, and it’s time to post a few for the world to see. I’ve sort of always been into exploring. It started in the basement of the house I grew up in when my mom brought home old toys from rummage sales. Then I started climbing trees in the backyard and now I ski tour in the Swiss Alps. Sometimes I travel in my mind, sometimes in Science, but always the pull of the world, undiscovered from my eyes, has drawn me to various parts of the globe. Along the way I started shooting with a Fuji GA645, because 35mm was too small and the rise of digital make medium formate affordable to the masses of people like myself with more drive than money-sense. The Fuji GA645 and GA645w make amazing images with film like Fuji Provia. However, for the longest time I didn’t have a scanner (like for four years) to actually get the images onto my computer. About a year ago I rented a Nikon LS-9000 and spent a weekend scanning film like a hermit-mad-man-artist-wannabe.

There is something about the landscape, it is exploration. It is also isolation, and the reason I got away from it is because shooting people is just more interesting. You can not interact with a landscape, can not ask it why it is or what it sees itself as. The best you can do is to stay mobile, to experience the landscape by walking into the sunset and not back to the car. That’s why I have a small GA645 and not a big 4×5 large format camera. I like to move through the world and record it as I saw and felt it. I don’t take myself too seriously, it’s the hubris of the photographer to believe that their pictures have any real value. I don’t want to be one of those guys who goes into the fetal position, hurt and sobbing in tears when you ask them if they used a filter for that landscape of the Grand Canyon…

“It’s NOT the camera, it’s ME, the PHOTOGRAPHER!”

We all want to be loved (the only thing really worth feeling in life). The photographer (like any “artist”) wants to be loved for who they are, not what they produce. The beauty should exist forever on a canvas or print. The scientist is humble, and wants to remove emotion from their creation – but technology is developed my mortal humans, not cold computers. So it’s a hard pill for a budding landscape picture snapper to grasp, that their camera is the soul of the medium, and no one person is so special. We grow up with so many stories of being special, that it’s hard to comprehend our ordinariness. You see, probability is on your side, if you shoot one thousands frames, at least a few are going to be “good.” I think everyone is a capable artist, you just need to find your medium and your audience. You’re not talented, you’re not special, you’re just chasing a vision with determination. That is what makes the difference. We are all empowered to create beautiful things in life. It’s like when you head to the Picasso museum in Paris, yes, some of his stuff is interesting, but when you consider that he produced something like 50,000 works of art in his life, it makes statistical sense that some of it will be good. Now go to the Picasso sketches gallery in Luzern – which is full of nothing but crap paper scribbles he did for no reason. The place isn’t worth the admission fee to see – because it’s not any better than I would do if I felt like sketching large forms of voluptuous females all day.

I use landscape images to remember a time. They often tie together with pages from my moleskin journals and the words are one with the colors and shapes of the land and cities. But I’m not hurt when no one else makes that connection, and only sees a sand dune instead of an expanse of my soul warming in the morning Colorado sun. It is the communication of an emotion which we respond to. Make it real and authentic – allow the audience inside, allow them to connect to the vision, and you’ve created something timeless. I don’t create timeless, I take snapshots of places I go and people I meet.

If you keep chasing that vision in your head, good things are bound to happen. I got away from landscape photography and turned to portraits of people because it gave me a way to interact with my fellow human beings in a new and fulfilling way. I don’t have landscape images on my website because I wanted to focus on something else – there’s been a vision in my head and I couldn’t figure out what it was, but it was coming through in the self-portraits and abstract Lazy Art and in the Barbie Hunter and the Web Portraits. There were (and still are) shadows of understanding you see – in the grunge, in the shadows gradations, and I feel a need to chase it.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re no more special than the idiot adolescent standing next to you. Just because you made one nice picture doesn’t mean it will happen again. Everything has already been photographed and every idea has already been thought of in a another place and another time. The details change but the vision stays the same. We want to be respected and loved, and if you see that reflection in the photograph you’re holding, then it’s a good image.

Self-Portraits: Reflections of the Ego

There are many foolish and inconsistent reasons for the serious idiot photographer to take self-portraits of himself. Some say every piece of artwork is another iteration in the evolution of the self-portrait. Just like some say that every new lover/boyfriend/girlfriend is just a step further in the same direction or that each each cruel joke by a comedian is simply a commentary on their own depression. Some use the self-portrait to test lighting setups, others because they didn’t have any models on hand and were bored and thinking that they need to continue and create or be left to the wayside on the creative-evolutionary road of artistic development.

I say the self-portrait is there to know thyself. Love thyself, to get to know the only subject you have first-hand experience with. Are you trying to get inside the soul, to view the subject from behind their own eyes and imprint it on the canvas of the world? The self-portrait is the easiest way to go. You know yourself, your aims and goals and depressions and fears and twisted nature of self-discovery. It makes sense in a very authentic and innocent way to set a camera on a tripod and click the remote shutter to take your own picture a hundred times to get a feeling for the visual elements of your person. Take that view from the bathroom mirror and save it in a time capsule. But do it with determination, execute it with style, and don’t flinch when the strobe pops in the darkness.

I started shooting myself simply because there was no one else at the start. Then I got bored of it and now  I make images of model and of normal people – people I know and those I just met. With the self-portrait you get a sense for the isolation in front of the camera. Of that feeling of standing naked on a stage and revealing something inside of yourself, presenting it to the world and holding it up for scrutiny. You can become an actor in your own skin and play out the part of you being you in another personality. The lights and shadows make you whoever you wanted to think you can be in another time and place in between rising and setting sun or moon.

In the self-portrait you are the director and producer and the one wrote the script. This makes it easy to know everything at once and not get distracted at a brainstorming meeting. But there also exists the boredom. It’s more interesting to work with other people because it’s a challenge and you see sides of yourself you didn’t know existed. A photographer is someone who is interested in people – they must be. Hide behind the camera all the time and you’ll never know what’s on the other side. Design everything in CG animation and Photoshop all day and you’ll connect with nothing but shadows of emotions from imagined people on the screen.