Making photographs is like making red wine. The longer it ages, the better it becomes. Its about the good memories of a moment and people make those moments.
People are important - everything to me. My suggestion to anyone with a camera is to take photos of people and not things. When I travel, I don't photograph castles or pyramids, I nudge someone in front of the scene and then take the photo. I don't travel the world to see the world,I travel the world to see the people in it. In twenty years the great sites of the world will be the same, but the people, they are the ones who will matter. When I look at a school photo of my child It's nice to see my kids cheesy smile from 2nd grade -its a chuckle - but it ends there. When I look at a photo of her in second grade playing on a swing or dancing in the living room that is what I care about. The feel and memory of the moment, there is beauty in that. Those are the photos with value, the good feelings that get better with age.
I am not a technical person, I'm an artist. When professionals chat with me about cameras, refraction and pixels I'm left vacant - blank. I learned to operate a camera because I wanted to make photos, not because I'm fascinated with technology. I learned math of photography because I had to. It's work. I buy my camera equipment, do the research, read the instructions and then forget everything that isn't useful to expressing my fascination with love and life. I can't remember the model of my camera and focal length of my lens most of the time. To me, remembering that stuff is like knowing the model of a paint brush and the number of hairs it has in its bristle. Love is what makes a good photographer. I should say more about that and I do with my art portfolios.
Ronald Reagan made me a professional photographer. It was the 80's. The Cold War. In school, art classes were a joke. A place to store misfits and special ed students. Public funds were drained away from the arts and into useful things like bombs and business – we believed in both in a big way. I was doing poorly in my high school business classes. My bookkeeping and typing teachers suggested I be stored in an art class until graduation. Photography was encouraged because it was a job. It could be useful and profitable. I got lucky, an art instructor, H Alan Feit – who was not officially my teacher – saw I had promise as an artist and took me aside to guide my education. I will always be grateful to him for that. The man saved me. I learned the art of photography not the business of it. It's vital to have a voice, I've chosen to speak in lower voice of art - soothing, long and low.
The Answer Is In The Book
In 1984, Cameraworks - David Hockney by New Yorker writer Lawrence Weschler was published. I discovered the book in my college bookstore offered for $50. As a freshman, there was no way I was buying a book that wasn't on a syllabus. I loved Cameraworks, so the book itself became a destination. It became my bookstore back isle art museum.
David Hockney's photo collages liberated me. At the time, Ansel Adams was the rage. The photography world was obsessed with sharp clear images. The standardized criticism of any photograph was, “Its not sharp, not like Ansel Adams.” The f64 camera club and the cult rules of the zone system were taught in every classroom. I hated it. Too technical. Too expensive. Ansel Adams techniques required thousands of dollars in camera equipment. His 8x10 negatives cost more than my 35mm camera. I was blocked.
It's one of art's fundamental principals that money will not stop us from expressing ourselves. I found my answer in Cameraworks.
My spirit was saved by page 100. In Cameraworks there is a photo collage of photographer Annie Lebovits making a portrait of artist David Hockney. In Hockney's photo version, I observed a car load of Libovitzs' camera equipment being set up by a droopy drawered photo assistant. Lebovits' photo was included in Hockney's collage, so I had a simultaneous comparison of both pieces of art. I rate art by my feeling. I chose. Hockney's won me.
After graduation, I couldn't get Hockney's work out of my mind. In 1989 the book was in used book shops for $25. I would head for the art section of every bookstore I visited. I was still memorizing Cameraworks pages. I didn't buy the book. I'd graduated in to a recession, had no job and less money than I did in college. If I was going to spend money on art, it would be my own.
Years passed and the book disappeared from book stores. I got a job working as a real estate appraiser for a bank. I hated the job for 10 years, deeply hated it. It was soul twisting for my right brain needs. Photography rose up as my spiritual therapy. Art has never been my side thing, it's been my everything. Which is why I was not good at my bank job. I did now at this time have money for color film and books. I tracked down Cameraworks in a specialty bookshop. It was now $130. I bought the book – there was no syllabus to restrict me either.
Now I own the book and rarely look at it. It's a sacred text, I pull it out on special occasions and turn the pages gently.
When digital photography came around I avoided the technology. I was committed financially and emotionally to my darkroom. Kodak pushed hard to make sure photographers developed a snobbery about film VS digital images. I agreed with Kodak they had a valid argument - for awhile. Technology moved forward. Kodak went down in flames and the digital age of Photoshop was born. I was among the last to surrender to digital work - wish I wasn't.
Digital photography is the best thing that could have happened to me. I now make photo collages compulsively and with little restriction on my computer. Even when clients hire me with no interest in photo collages, I make the art anyway. I've got this weird attitude of “ you don't get it now, but you will in 40 years. So, here take it. Store the photo collages in the attic or something.” I was real nuts on this level for decades. I'd go to events with people I didn't know, do photo collages and mail the work to the organizers with no introduction. A large package of photos would show up at their mailbox. They would have no clue who I was or why I was doing it. I asked for nothing. It was manic behavior.
Many of my art works died or were executed. I remember going to an acquaintance's house and finding the art work I'd given them tossed on a coffee table and used as a coaster for beer bottles. I though the wet circular rings were interesting and made for an art of its own. I added coffee rings to the work until I thought the college had been well improved. My behavior was expensive and foolish. “You are casting pearls before swine,” my grandmother would say. I still do it.
I made things worse. I published a book of photo collages (Fat Platypus) Doing that, I could sell or give the book away and each book was costing me as much as a roll of film. I'd saved money up to buy a nice car – I'm fond of Volvo wagons – and wildly decided that printing 100's of art books was vital. “Screw it. I'd drive my mother's old car,” I thought. Thanks Mom.
Photo collage work is my addiction. I'll never stop. Charles Bukowski says, “find what you love and let it kill you.” I'll be dead soon. If you meet David Hockney, tell him George Furman says thank you with heart felt gratitude. Thank you.