inspiration

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.

The Colonization of Mars

"And life needs to be more than just solving problems every day, you need to wake up and be excited about the future. Be inspired and want to live.” - Elon Musk

In a recent speech at the 67th International Astronautic Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk gave a speech about Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) plans to put humans on Mars. Whether you believe this is possible or not is irrelevant. The important point is that someone believes it is possible. Instead of simply talking about it Elon Musk and SpaceX are actually working toward achieving their goal. This is a private company who is building rockets and sending them to space. And while they are doing it, they are driving down the cost of sending rockets into space. Occasionally, they have problems, but they are doing it. 

Because of this vision and a relentless drive to achieve it for the good of all humanity, SpaceX is actually doing the impossible. The reason I'm writing about this on a blog that mostly talks about photography projects I have done or am working on is because this is just damn inspiring shit. If you are an aspiring or professional photographer you need to have the same drive that Elon Musk has. Well, maybe not to the extreme extent to which he lives his life, but at least sharing a bit of that enthusiasm for the future will be helpful.

As an aside, I recently finished 'Elon Musk,' a biography by Ashlee Vance and highly recommend checking it out. If you're like me you will find Musk to be equal parts inspiring, equal parts despicable. His vision for humanity is incredible while the appearance of his personal relationships seems quite dismal. Of course, I don't know him, but from Vance's reporting it doesn't seem like he will be winning any awards for greatest husband or father. But, I suspect he will be looked upon as one of the greatest industrialists of our time in the years to come.

His ability to think on a timeline well beyond his own lifespan is very humbling. How many of you can actually say you think about the state of humanity 1,000 years from now? I think about what the world will be like for my kids, but beyond that, it becomes hard to fathom. Just try for a minute to imagine humanity in 1,000 years. Will we still be here? Will Earth still support us? How will we evolve? What will society be like? Will we be traveling around the universe in space ships? Will we still argue about which bathroom people use?

I'm trying hard to bring this post back to photography, but honestly, I'm forcing it a bit. I just like this quote and I like talking about space exploration and the future of humanity. Let's leave it at that. I hope it inspires you in the same way it does me.

Oh, and here is the video about making humans a multi-planetary species. 

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

The Opportunity To Choose

I've been thinking a lot lately about a post I wrote the other week. It was about an ethical dilemma I had in regards to a particular assignment. In short, I turned down a job because I couldn't reconcile my feelings about the client's product. You can see the original post HERE. I wrote about making a decision to turn down a good paying job and how that decision was difficult for me. The thing is, I keep coming back to the idea of "choice." I can't stop thinking about that concept. It's given me the opportunity to reflect on a number of aspects of my life and career that I would like to share here.

I am lucky that I have the opportunity to put my personal feelings before business from time to time. I am lucky that I even have a choice to say "no." Not everyone has that option and there are times throughout the past several years where I would not have been in a position to turn down work. People all over the world struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis. Not everyone has a choice.

Sometimes you have to do whatever job comes along in order to buy groceries or make rent. I've worked all kinds of jobs over the years in order to become a photographer. I've been electrocuted on an assembly line. I've stuck my entire arm into a vat of liquid cow shit. I've hauled fireworks all over the northeast and mid-atlantic. I've worked in a coffee shop, a garden center, photo labs, ski resorts, a climbing gym, camper manufacturer, tractor dealership and all sorts of under the table landscaping and construction jobs.

I come from a middle class family of small business owners that understand hard work. You learn how to work and how to make and save money. I've been given all the tools necessary to succeed as a photographer and to create the lifestyle that I desire. I have a loving family who has supported me and given me the ability to take risks. I am lucky and I want to say how grateful I am for the opportunities I have had over the years. I am thankful that the opportunity to say "no" is occasionally available to me.

I hope that I continue to be fortunate and that I can make the right decisions for me, my family and my professional life. I am grateful for all that I have and hope that everyone reading this has the opportunity to say no from time to time. Be thankful for what you have, work hard and enjoy life.

God Made a Farmer

In general, I don't get that excited by most of the Super Bowl commercials, but this time something really caught my attention. Maybe it's because I felt a connection to the images used in this spot. Maybe it's because I grew up in an agricultural community surrounded by farming families. Maybe it's because I thought the photographs were brilliant or maybe it's because I wanted to be the photographer who shot these images.

Read More

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 . . .