creativity

Hold Still by Sally Mann

I don't usually use this blog to discuss the work of others, but occasionally I see something that I feel warrants my sharing on this site.

I have loved Sally Mann's work for years. Her work has always felt magical to me and despite her numerous detractors, I think her work is beautiful. It's not often that I find a book about photography that really inspires me, but Sally Mann's book, "Hold Still" really got me excited about the still image once again. She discusses her relationship to photography and she shares some of her families most intimate stories in her memoir. Stories that are both good and bad. Her writing style is genuine and engaging. Her artistic sensibilities inform her writing style and help make what is already a fascinating life even more enthralling to read.  For example . . . 

"The Japanese have a phrase for this dual perception: mono no aware. It means "beauty tinged with sadness," for there cannot be any real beauty without the indolic whiff of decay. For me, living is the same thing as dying, and loving is the same thing as losing, and this does not make me a madwoman; I believe it can make me better at living, and better at loving, and, just possibly, better at seeing."

Read a thorough review of the book on NYtimes.com or pick up a copy of her book on Amazon.

Why You Should Watch "Make" This Weekend

I feel that I should give a warning before you dive into this blog post. It contains a lot of links to other websites where you will likely spend a good deal of time watching, looking and listening to great art. If you're at work, you may want to wait to read this until you're on break.


I recently stumbled upon a documentary on Vimeo On Demand called “Make” and have been thinking about it ever since. The film is expertly produced and well shot. It’s a beautiful film that tells the stories of multiple artists and really reminded me of why I do what I do. 

I’ve been in the photo industry long enough that sometimes I forget why I got into photography. This is my job. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes it’s just a job. One truth that continues to hold up no matter what my day is like, is that I get to make things on a daily basis and that makes me happy. Sometimes I get to make pictures that I want to make. Most of the time I get to make pictures that other people want me to make. Other times I get to make my own rules and that feels pretty good too. Regardless, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to make photographs for a living and I try to remind myself periodically not to take it for granted. 

When I watched “Make” I was reminded of the drive that creators have to make things. Artists are compelled to bring new things into the world over and over again. The film features artists that I am familiar with like Miller Mobley, the band Sylvan Esso, and Elliot Rausch. Each person has something interesting to say about their lives and their art. After I researched Elliot Rausch a little more I was excited to learn that he was the director of a music video of a song that had a dramatic impact on my adolescent life, “Bro Hymn” by Pennywise. The influence of Pennywise on my younger self cannot be understated and to hear from the director of a music video of the song that defined my youth is particularly inspiring.

Just a quick warning. If you go to Elliot's website and watch "Last Minutes With Oden" you are going to cry. If you don't, then you are a heartless bastard. If you want to be inspired and moved without crying, you can do it for only $3.99 this weekend. Rent “Make” on Vimeo and enjoy this honest look into what it means to be a creator.  

Rodney Mullen - Skateboarding, Passion and the Tech Industry

“If you do it for the sake of loving it, and you don't care whether you're seen or not, or paid or not, all that stuff will come. But enjoy the process! If you start doing things for the sake of selling up front, for rewards, then it's going to catch up to you. The other guys not chasing money are going to outdo you in the end, because real innovation and grit come from loving the process.”-Rodney Mullen

Read the entire article titled "Silicon Valley Has Lost Its Way. Can Skateboarding Legend Rodney Mullen Help It? on Wired.com

Album Photography for The Hello Strangers

Band Photography, Lifestyle Photographer, Ryan Smith I have the very good fortune of being married to an amazing singer and songwriter. My wife, Larissa and her sister, Brechyn, started a band named The Hello Strangers in Austin, TX and have worked hard to create an authentic sound that highlights their sibling harmonies. I love their music. It’s not just because I’m married to Larissa. It’s because their songs are filled with stories and each is executed with precision and grace. They are the kinds of songs that you can listen to over and over again without ever getting tired of them.

As someone who spent his youth listening to punk rock and heavy metal I never envisioned myself being married to an Americana musician. The fact is that we all grow in one way or the other and years ago I opened myself to all kinds of music and am a much better person for it. I love music and I enjoy seeing how different bands present their stories, emotions and poetry to the world.

There are numerous benefits to being married to a musician. Aside from getting in to shows for free, hearing new songs first and feeling cool for being married to a musician, I also get great joy from collaborating with The Hello Strangers on their image and identity. Larissa, Brechyn and I have been collaborating on photos and videos for years now and each one has it’s own unique set of challenges and rewards.

I am exceptionally thrilled about The Hello Strangers' self-titled debut album. They worked extremely hard with Nashville producer, Steve Ivey, to create an album that is excellent. And I’m equally thrilled about working with them to create the photographs used in the album packaging. I’ve worked with them on other projects and have worked with other bands for promotional photos, but this was my first time working on photography that would encase the entire album. These photographs needed to introduce The Hello Strangers and to build a story in the viewer's mind about what they were going to hear on the 13 track album.

We worked together to craft a general idea of how we wanted to present the music and this idea changed multiple times over the course of this project. What we ended up with is new and old photography that shows who The Hello Strangers are while also creating a mood and story about music. The images we shot and selected went through numerous changes, and with expert guidance from Designer Carl Nielson, we were able to lay everything out into a unique package that introduces The Hello Strangers and their music to the world.

Their songs have a wide stylistic range, but at it’s core each song is meant to be sung by two voices. The harmonies are key, regardless of whether they are singing a murder ballad, a love song or a honky tonk number. These photos are about the love and respect Larissa and Brechyn have for one another as sisters, musicians and friends while also paying homage to the dark stories they create.

I’m proud of the creativity, love and hard work they have put into this album. I’m also proud of the photographs I helped create. These photos help give their songs and voices a visual identity. I couldn’t be more grateful to have been a part of this process.

If you have never heard their music, take a listen to a couple of my favorite tracks. It's really hard to just pick three, but these are my current favorites live and recorded alike.

If you like what you hear, then please consider downloading an album. The albums aren’t yet available for mail order so when the opportunity arises for you to come to a show, be sure to check out the schedule. You can pick up a real hard copy of the album then.

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Cell Phone Cameras Are Fun

image Clearly I haven't updated this blog in months. While that saddens me it's also a good indication of how busy I've been, which as it happens is a good thing when it comes to business.

I've been enjoying working with clients new and old on a wide variety of projects over the past few months. I'll be talking about some projects in more depth later, but for now I just want to share an image I like. I like it for two reasons. One, I think it's interesting. Two, I shot and edited this entirely on my cell phone. This second point is interesting to me because I think it represents the future of photography. Hell, it represents the now of photography.

While I don't think I'll be trading in my Canon 5D mark III anytime soon, I have really been enjoying experimenting with my Galaxy S4 phone. It really is a pretty amazing device and some of the images really are quite nice.

I just got back from a personal trip to Jackson Hole, WY and shot everything on my phone and a GoPro. It was fun to use only small cameras and really allowed me to focus on the experience. To keep in line with this mobile trend I'm posting to this blog from my phone for the very first time. I don't think I'll do that too often because typing with my thumbs is tedious.

If you want to see more mobile photos of mine follow me on Instagram. My handle is @ryansmithphotog

Late Night Musings

I work in a fickle industry. There are times when it feels overwhelming as I’m sure it does for many other photographers, filmmakers, writers and anyone who pursues a freelance career. Even when you are doing everything you think you need to be doing, outside forces that are beyond your control can influence the outcome. As it is in every aspect of life. You work hard. You nurture your creative voice. You learn. You research. You hone your technical skills. You perfect your business skills. You think. And sometimes you find yourself writing blog posts in the middle of the night. To what end you say?

Well, this industry is fickle and it can be frustrating. But that fickleness is also what makes it exciting to get up every morning and get to work. A set back one day is just that. It’s one day. The next day offers a multitude of opportunities if you allow it to. If there is one thing I have learned as a freelancer the past 8 years is that you just have to take one day at a time. Jobs come and go. The shutter clicks. The hard drives hum. The world turns and the industry changes by the minute. Be willing to adapt. Be flexible and enjoy yourself . . . even when things seem hard. If it was easy everyone would do it.

I’m excited for tomorrow. I’m excited to wake up next to my wife, to see my son smile, to watch my dog run through the field and to make coffee. Mmm, coffee. And, I’m excited for the work I get to do. Fun, creative work. Tomorrow is a day to focus on creating and to take a break from the numbers associated with running a business.

That’s why I endure the setbacks. Even when things are bad, they’re actually pretty damn good. I hear a lot of complaining and a lot of excuses on the web. I've done my fair share, but sometimes you just have to shut up and do the work. Be a doer. Lead. Take a risk. Stop complaining. If we can remember that we are the only ones holding ourselves back then nothing is out of reach.

Good night. I’ll see you in the morning.

Kurt Markus Interview on APE

Well again, I don’t want to psychoanalyze this whole thing, but if you think that you can make every picture just based on the technique, like “I want to be Irving Penn so if I do everything just based on Irving Penn’s technique I can do Irving Penn’s pictures,” you’re badly mistaken. It’s a lesson to learn, because you see where he uses light, you know what kind of film he uses and you think you can crack the nut by cracking his nut, but it never really works. That may be frustrating but for some people it’s a revelation that “hey, I’m unique, I do my own pictures.” That’s a difficult lesson to swallow, and I think most of us chase other people’s pictures.

-Kurt Markus via A Photo Editor

Full interview here

 

Living a Low Tech Lifestyle in a High Tech World

The title of this post represents a conundrum that I have been grappling with. How do I as a professional photographer live out the low tech lifestyle I so desire while continuing to make a living doing what I love? As a professional who is required to stay up to date on the latest technology and become a master of them, is it even possible for me to live a low tech lifestyle? I don't really know, but I'm trying.

Do you ever get the feeling that you're spending way too much time online or plugged in to this device or that device? That your eyes are about ready to pop out of your head? That by constantly being connected to digital technology you are becoming depressed? You can't live without checking Facebook for more than a day can you? Go on, admit it. You are addicted to technology and the false sense of importance it brings to your life.

There, I said it. We are addicted to a false sense of importance. I know I may be pissing a lot of you off and I understand. I'm guilty of technology addiction and revel in the false sense of importance I get from it. Hell, even as I write this on my Macbook Pro I'm listening to Pandora on my Ipad while doing a hardware test and software reinstall on my Mac Pro Tower. The latter is making me increasingly unhappy and angry. Yet, I must do it right? I run all of my photo processing software off of my Mac Pro. It contains the archive hierarchy of the last 9 years of photographs and video. It contains my sales lists and contact database. It's the brain behind Ryan Smith Photography. Without it, I'm operating on less than 50%.

Wait. Less than 50%. I thought I was a photographer, not a computer tech. Well, as the industry would have it, we photographers must be masters of digital technology. Otherwise, the guy with the camera and infinite knowledge of algorithms and digital manipulation gets the job. I'm exaggerating a bit here, but not by much.

I should mention that I love technology. It fascinates me and excites me. Every day there are technological advances that make new things possible. I love discovering new uses for these technologies and learning the discoveries of others. There are exponentially increasing methods of capturing and sharing images. In fact, the ways seem limitless. There is no greater time in history to be an image maker. We have infinite options.

But . . .

What about the other aspects of life that make us happy? What about the relationships that enrich our lives? What about the real world experiences that contribute to our well being and understanding of the world around us? We can't live our lives in front of computer screens or attached to our cell phones and expect to truly live. What are you missing when your head is buried in your cell phone? What kinds of real interactions with friends are you missing when you're trolling through your Facebook news feed?

I say, let's wake the fuck up and live. Yeah, I might have to be plugged in throughout most of the week to do my job, but I don't have to be connected every minute of every day. I work efficiently. In fact, I pride myself on being efficient when I'm at my desk. I will get as much done and learn as much as possible about technology in the allotted time I have at my desk. The rest of the time is for me and my family.

I don't feel guilty for spending a few hours in my garden, experimenting with different growing techniques. I don't feel guilty for taking a 2 hour lunch break and going for a walk with my son and my dog. I don't feel guilty for leaving work early for happy hour with friends.

I do feel guilty when I spend too much time at my computer. I feel like I'm missing something important about life and that my time has not been well spent. Let's get back to actually living. I'll try if you try.

P.S. Please like this post on Facebook and Tweet to all your followers. And check out my website. Oh yeah, this is really cool too. And this. And this. And this . . .

Pregnant in Jail - The Hello Strangers

I'm going to go back in time a few weeks to recap my most recent shoot with The Hello Strangers. If you read my previous post then it's no secret that my wife and I just had a baby. And if you have read earlier posts (like this one), then it's also no secret that Larissa is one of The Hello Strangers. The reason this is important is because The Hello Strangers have a song called Pregnant in Jail. The song takes inspiration from a friend's true story. No really, it does.

Here's the chorus. "Pregnant in Jail, won't somebody pay my bail, wastin' away in a cell, I'm just Pregnant in Jail." But, my favorite line of the song is, "Well these days ain't sunny no more. With all these people talkin' I'll be damned if I'm a two bit whore."

Last fall when it came to be known that Larissa was pregnant, Dave, the bass player of the band, asked if we were going to do a Pregnant In Jail photo shoot. We realized that this would be a great opportunity to bring this song to life in a photographic way. We decided to wait until Larissa was good and pregnant. The timing on this was tough because we didn't want to shoot too early and we didn't want to wait too long as the chances of going into labor increased. And, I definitely didn't want my son to be born in a jail cell.

The most difficult part of the shoot aside from the timing was securing a location. We wanted something with bars that had a turn-of-the-century kind of feeling to it. Well that should be easy, right? All jails have bars. Unfortunately what you are used to seeing in the movies is not quite like most prison's these days. To find our location I started by calling the mayor of my town since he works with our local police force on a regular basis. As a fan of The Hello Strangers, he agreed to help connect me with the Chief of Police. He informed the chief that I would be stopping by to take a look at the jail cell our small police office has. Unfortunately, the cell didn't have the space or the look we needed to complete the shot, but the Chief sent me to another Chief a few towns over. I followed a few more leads like this until I finally ended up at the Old Jail in Chambersburg, PA. It was perfect. Black bars with white walls and officially closed to detaining prisoners. The Old Jail now houses the Franklin County Historical Society. If you're ever on a road trip through PA and want to check out a fascinating museum be sure to stop in.

We had our location, and after some back and forth were able to schedule a suitable date for us to shoot. Now we needed wardrobe. Dave, the band's master of disguise, happened to have a vintage prison uniform. We decided to maximize the use of this and have both Larissa and Brechyn wearing a piece of it. Obviously, we wanted to show off Larissa's belly so she wore the pants while Brechyn wore the jacket.

Now for style and concept. The protagonist in the song is tough, yet sensitive. She's been dealt a tough hand, but has to keep moving on. Larissa and Brechyn already know their part because they wrote and perform the song regularly. As with all of our shoots, they make my job much easier by quickly getting into their part. As for light, the location actually had some beautiful natural light. Most of my previous shoots with the band had been much more heavily lit, but for this particular scenario I wanted to use as much natural light as possible. This served a double purpose as it helped us to move a little more quickly (see above about not wanting to have my son born in jail) and it gave the photos a feeling of authenticity.

I love photographing bands because of the collaborative nature of the photos. All of my projects are collaborative, but band photography really does extend that collaboration by merging music with photography. We take the creativity of the music and bring its visual form into existence.

That same creativity and process can be applied to all the work I do. There is creativity all around us. It's in our schools, hospitals, backyards, local pub, etc. It's everywhere and I see my job as being that of explorer, and of problem solver. Each place presents its own unique set of problems and my job is to solve that problem. It's like a mathematician working out an equation, a writer doing research for a character, or a dancer choreographing a new dance. You look at the pieces already in place, sort them out, and turn them into something that didn't exist before. Here is the result of the problem we solved this time.