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

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


Discover Your Own Vision

"They mistake grain, guts, and verve with substance. Sorry folks, but hitting three out of four doesn’t count. I know it took cajones to shoot that cowboy bar at 1 am pushing your film to 3200, but that doesn’t keep your photo from being boring. Time to shoot something you care about, and don’t try to convince me it’s flags or the underclass."

- Blake Andrews

I love the article this quote is from. Check out the whole story here at LPV Magazine. You have likely heard of all 10 of the photographers on the list and many of you may have found yourself inspired by their work. I know many of these photographers were great inspirations to me and still are. I often imagined myself shooting grand landscapes like Ansel Adams or catching the Decisive Moment like Carier-Bresson. And I have tried to be like them in many ways. I still love pouring over images of the masters and learning from them.

The irony is that Blake and Bryan are so very right about ignoring them. Well . . . maybe partially right. I understand their point. Respect those who came before you and recognize their great contributions to photography, but at some point you have to create your own unique vision. Imitate to learn new things, but eventually, define your own path.  Shoot what you want to shoot. Do it in a way that feels natural to you. Don't force it and ignore the status quo.


Finding Photography

When I find some spare time I like to browse for inspiring photography. I came across the work of Matthias Heiderich the other day and fell in love with his graphic compositions. I love the bold color, hard lines and graphic nature of his photographs. Check out these few gems from his series ‘Spektrum Eins’ and ‘Studie Drei’.

For those of you who love looking at and discovering great photography, be sure to check out the Feature Shoot blog. That's where I found Mathias' work. They always showcase the work of talented photographers around the world.

The Photographer's Riddle

Have you ever taken a photograph that simply blows you away? I'm talking about a photograph that brings you to your knees. It makes you tremble with excitement and you absolutely can't wait to share it with the world. You're boiling with anticipation to see the reaction of people as they look at your photograph. And then you show it to people. The reaction is one of disinterest. People aren't interested because it doesn't move them. It's probably not because it's a bad picture, but because there is no real reason for them to get excited. Maybe they don't understand what's happening in the frame. Maybe they just don't care about the subject matter or maybe they've already seen 1000 pictures earlier in the day.

But why then did you get so overwhelmed? Why were you so convinced that this picture would be a smashing success? What even makes a picture successful?

I was thinking about this phenomenon the other day and realized that with every photograph I take, I am emotionally invested in some way. As photographers, we attach ourselves to the subject matter. We involve ourselves in the story and therefore become emotionally attached. Photographers instinctively make their imprint on every image they take. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I think as photographers we need to interact with our environment in order to truly understand what we want to say. The tricky part is (and here's the catch) that we need to remember that our experience of actually making a picture is very personal. The picture becomes the property of the photographer once that shutter is released. No one else knows exactly what the photographer was thinking while making a photo. Only the photographer knows.

And that is where the hang-up can come from. We think that everyone else is going to like our picture because we had such a profound experience making it. The truth is, our profound experiences don't always translate to the photographic form. So no matter how amazing your experience was, don't expect your audience to immediately respond in the same way. Each person will feel something completely different.

I've been rambling a bit, but I'm coming to my point. My original thought is more of a reminder to myself and it is this: When editing your photographs, do everything in your power to look at them from various perspectives. Imagine that you didn't take the picture. Imagine that you don't know the back story. Pretend that you are a child seeing everything new for the first time. And if you can't do that, ask other people to edit your work and select their favorites. Ask them why they choose what they do. And maybe, just maybe, the images they like the most will be the ones you think are the best.

And that, I think, is when you've made a successful picture. We all respond to good stories. If you can tell a great story in one frame, then your audience will inevitably want to see more.

Unknown Road - Part 2

Last week I posted a quote from Jonathan Blaustein that talked about how beneficial it is for an artist to step outside of his or her comfort zone. When I was a teenager full of angst I was always pushing the limits of my comfort. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back I feel there was always a voice in the back of my head urging me forward. I liked challenging myself and trying new things. Even as I pushed myself into uncomfortable situations I simultaneously put up boundaries. I think it's basic human nature to clearly define our individual comfort zones, but sometimes we do this to our detriment. I like having a comfortable space. It feels good to know your place in the world. Being around people you care about and who care about you is wonderful. But if you want to push yourself creatively it is paramount that you step out of your warm, cozy comfort zone and face the unknown. Challenge yourself in new ways. Do something different that has always scared you before. What's the worst that could happen? You might just be surprised with what comes to life inside of you.

I found this song on youtube last week and thought it would be fun to post here. This band defined an entire period of my angst filled high school life for me and my friends. Never stop rocking!

Legends of Photography

Recently, a good friend gave me a photography book titled "Paris Mon Amour." It is a photographic homage to a place that has been called the world's most beautiful city. The book contains black and white images from photographers across two centuries. It shows everyday life in Paris captured by the eyes of greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brasai, Robert Doisneau and André Kertész. Needless to say, I have enjoyed pawing over all the wonderful photographs and reading the history of the Parisian photography scene. But, this book has done more than simply entertain me. It reminded me of all the photographers who pioneered new techniques and new ways of story telling that I used to study all the time. Some of my all time favorites include William Albert Allard, Robert Doisneau, Mary Ellen Mark, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Cartier-Bresson, Paolo Pellegrin, Robert Frank and many, many more. It's been a while since I've looked at the work of legendary photographers in depth. Sure we see their images scattered across the globe, but how often do we really look at their larger bodies of work. These are photographers who have shaped the way we see the world. Some of them are still shaping it.

I look to them for inspiration and for motivation. These are photographers who relentlessly create new work. They have a story to tell and they do everything in their power to make photographs that engage the viewer. On Magnum's website, Paolo Pellegrin says, "I'm more interested in a photography that is 'unfinished' - a photography that is suggestive and can trigger a conversation or dialogue. There are pictures that are closed, finished, to which there is no way in."

By studying the work of these photographers and understanding their process of making pictures, I can more easily comprehend my own motives for making pictures. Their work also inspires me to return to methods of shooting that I haven't explored in years. For instance, looking through Paris Mon Amour I had a strong urge to create more documentary pictures. I wanted to return to the most basic form of photography which simply put, is about telling a story. I don't need any bells and whistles. I just need a camera. It doesn't have to be the latest, most expensive gadget on the market, it just has to take pictures. This realization and desire is what has spurred my most recent project. I still don't have a name for this project and am still narrowing in on the theme, but the heart of it is based solely on the idea of documentation and story telling.

I think of Allard's strong use of color in his series Out West. I think of how influential to my own career The Decisive Moment has been. I think about Steichen's groundbreaking exhibit, Family of Man. I think about Robert Franks, The Americans and how it's one of the most important photography books of the last century. I think about all these things and more when I look at the work of legendary photographers. Let us not forget those pioneers who have come before us.

Who are your favorite photographers, past and present?

Abandoned Restaurant

Given some of the comments from my last post, I thought it would be interesting to show a little more work from the abandoned restaurant that started this new project. Maybe some of these images can give you more information to create your own story about this place. Why does this restaurant sit empty? Who were the people running this business. Where are they now? What kind of food did they serve?

Clearly, this door has not been opened in some time yet the screen door hangs open as if waiting for the next person to enter. I wish I would have tried to open that door.

A child's bike was left behind. Why? Does someone still play with it?

An advertisement for the Eagles Mere Chamber Music Concert sits in the window. Someone took the time to organize the pine cones and position the flower on this shelf. Was it the owner of the bike?

Pennants still hang and the welcome sign is still out. What happened here? Is this an indicator of our current economy or was it something else? What do you think?

The Start of a New Project

Any working photographer knows the importance of creating personal projects. These are projects that come from the heart. Projects that might not have a specific end goal or purpose other than to fulfill one's photographic curiosity.

They are important because they encourage creativity and experimentation. It's incredibly freeing to shoot without restriction and the knowledge that it doesn't really matter if what you shoot sucks. I always aim to make great photos, but when I'm shooting for me, I allow myself to make bad pictures. They might just lead to something better.

With this in mind I have begun a new project. It doesn't have a title yet or really a definitive direction. It's simply an idea in it's infancy that I hope to expand upon and make more clear.

The inspiration for this project came during a stop at an abandoned restaurant in northern Pennsylvania. I had passed this restaurant at least a dozen times before and it always fascinated me. I finally took the time to stop and had a great time photographing the building. With this one visit I planted the seed for and idea to begin exploring areas of Pennsylvania I have never seen. Last weekend I took a road trip and explored some towns immediately to the west and north of me. I am still editing the photos from this first trip, but here is a photo from that initial inspiring restaurant. Keep an eye out for future updates on this project.

What projects are you working on?