2017 – The Year I Stopped Caring

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These past few years, I have written a year end wrap up and new year preview.  I laid out plans for success for Generator Photography.  Because if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.  It was all about setting out goals to strive for. Solid, verifiable goals.  As you know, dreams can inspire you, but goals can change your life. Goals are all about action. Goals turn dreams into reality.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

2017 is the year I stopped caring.  By focusing on these solid, verifiable goals, I have tried to turn this, my photography, into something I believe it was never meant to be.  I came to see “success” strictly in terms of money, marketing and financial sustainability.  Who doesn’t want to earn a living doing what they love?  It’s an enticing goal, and full of allure.  But it’s not me.

I’ve talked before about how my mother wanted me to become a CPA.  I think I would have been a great CPA.  I would have had a big income, a well funded retirement plan, profitable business connections, and I’m pretty sure I would have hated my life.

2017 is the year I stopped caring about trying to make this a career.  Please understand, I’m not giving up trying to get paid gigs.  Quite the opposite, the more I get into off-camera lighting and portrait photography, and as I get better at these marketable skills, I think I have a real chance of earning income.  Just, not enough income.  That used to bother me.  I wasn’t working hard enough, hustling enough, marketing myself enough.  Don’t let your dreams be dreams.  Just do it!

Pass.  I’m doing this for me. To fulfill my creative goals, not pay off my financial obligations. I am following my vision, and I’ve decided that that is enough.  I’d tired of looking at myself as failing every goal.  This year, I’ve stopped caring.

2017 is also the year I stopped caring about constantly generating content.  I have spent many years shooting for the sake of shooting.  Which was great, by the way, not a mistake at all.  This is how you get good, you practice all the time, you work at it daily.  But some of that wasn’t just practice.  I put pressure on myself to develop my brand, to constantly generate content, and to have my sites never be stale.  I’m done with this.  If I go a few days without posting a photo, maybe Generator Photography won’t come grinding to a halt.  We’ll have to wait and see.

2017 is the year I stopped caring about camera gear.  My desire to get a really good zoom lens to replace my prime lenses tell you that I have stopped caring about bleeding edge sharpness and moved to caring more about what the picture says, rather than how sharp it looks.  I’ve come to believe I need to be able to capture a moment with passion and emotion, rather than with only dry, sterile technical skill.

Full confession, I may have mislead you on that last point.  I’m still interested in gear, but it’s all about lighting gear these days.  I’ve traded reading lens reviews to brushing up on off-camera lighting techniques.  I’m still buying year, but it’s new Yongnuo flashes and triggers, 48″ Octoboxes and reflectors.  And stands.  So many stands.  I still don’t have enough stands.

In short, 2017 is the year I stopped caring about where I think I should go.  And started to simply enjoy the journey.

Get in, hang on, it’s going to be a great ride.

Who’s with me?

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On Critique

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You will never grow as an artist if all people do is kiss your ass.

I have a Bachelors Degree in Art.  I also have an Associates of Arts Degree.  I have spent a lot of my life doing academic study of art and artistic technique.  I have no issues with people who are self-taught, many self-taught artists are wonderful, successful, and immensely talented.  I made a decision to pursue formal education and, as I’ve written about before, it is a decision I constantly struggle with.

A large part of that education was critique; critique of other people’s work, and people critiquing my own work.  With base level art classes, time in class is often allocated as work time.  The instructor wants to see what you are doing and how you are doing it.  Being able to provide real time guidance in technique and vision are important in this stage.  Later, in upper level classes, class time is mostly devoted to critique.  You are expected to do your coursework, your art, outside of class.  Often times you would have 6 hour classes of nothing but critique.

I loved these classes.

It always felt like I was defending my children, my creations. And defending them to the death, because the knives certainly came out.  And I gave as well as I got.  I have no qualms about confronting a piss poor artist who thinks they are all that and letting them know their pathetically low effort, cliché riddled painting was the cultural equivalent of a dumpster fire.  This wasn’t posh know-nothings playing at polite, high-brow exposition, this was scrappy, hungry, highly visionary, adrenaline-fueled artists who were passionate believers in their craft.

Constant critique honed your skills, and your ideas, in the way only hand to hand combat can.  It forced you to solidify the meaning behind your art.  Usually you couldn’t get away with shallow, fluffy, nebulous sentiment when explaining why you created what you did.  “I just went with my feelings.”  Nothing has a more hollow ring to my ears than that sentence.

Good critique is difficult to find. Especially these days. Certainly social media is partly to blame.  We don’t put up our art to get shot down.  We strive to amass “followers”.  My advice to new photographers is never try to get “followers”, try to get better.  Find someplace where you can get honest feedback about your work.  There are still dark corners of the interwebs where knowledgeable people share their advice in a helpful manner.  Seek them out.  Or, better yet, print out your work and get involved in your local, real world community of artists.

Most importantly, however, is know that you learn to receive critique by giving critique.  It sounds strange, but critique makes more sense the more you give it out.

Here’s some quick tips about giving proper critique.

Be clear: It’s so easy to talk just to hear yourself speak, especially in the arts.  Artists almost always get tripped up by drowning their critique in multi-syllabic, fancy sounding words. The more obtuse the word, the better they think they sound. Artists love to pretend like they know what they are talking about, even when they don’t. Especially when they don’t.

I squandered most of my academic career slogging through publications like ARTForum magazine, where they had long (My God, so long) reviews of exhibits or 10,000 word essays on meaningless, useless contemporary art theory.  I imagine that most of the articles could have been hacked into much smaller, more digestible pieces.  I’m not saying always avoid being Dostoyevsky and only be Hemingway, but often the less you say, the clearer the message.

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I recently got invited to shoot this monster out in the desert, a 2017 Ford Mustang RTR. I am extremely proud of how this set came out, but I still shopped it around to a few of my trusty online critique groups for their reaction.  One person in particular managed to write the longest, most rambling nonsensical critique I have read in a very long time.  I actually had to revert to diagramming some of their sentences just to decipher what they hell they were saying.  Don’t be this person.

Be clear, be concise. Don’t be afraid to use small, proper and powerful words.

Be specific:  It might be fun to tell someone, “Your photograph sucks.”  And, who knows, maybe it does.  And sometimes people need to get knocked down off their high horse by hearing such a comment.  But it never helps people improve.  Saying “I don’t think putting your subject in the center of the frame works for this photo” is much more helpful than “Your composition is boring.”  Saying “You should avoid over smoothing a model’s skin” is much more helpful than saying “Your model’s skin looks weird.”

Be objective:  Or, more specifically, don’t try to turn someone else’s artwork into your artwork.  If someone said that their artwork is about the evils of racism, but as the viewer you cannot interpret any meaning or connection to racism in the work, the you can say that the work had failed to meet its objective.  However, if someone said that their artwork is about the evils of racism, and you said that was boring and clichéd and it should have been about the evils of postmodernism in social media, then you haven’t critiqued the work at all, you’ve simply projected what you would have made onto what someone else had made.  Don’t make this mistake.  “I would have have desaturated the red.”  Is that because it would improve the artwork, or would you have desatured the red just because it’s your style?  Be very careful not to project your own tastes and preferences on other people’s work.

Be nice: There are times when harsh critique is called for.  However, for everything else, there’s manners.  And never resort to personal attacks.  You are trying to help someone, act accordingly.  Especially if they are genuinely interested in getting better.  Which we all should be interested in.

On Marketable Skills, Arts Education, And Why Photography Is Important

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Throughout my time training and being on the road as a truck driver, I tried to keep a blog, Turn All The Wheels.

As I transition to a new job, I am going to try to keep that one going, just as a more personal journal of what is going on in my life.  That said, I have just finished an entry that is very relevant for this photography blog.  If you want to read this post in situ, the link is here. It could be useful to read this within that context, but I feel this mostly can be a stand alone essay.  It starts here:

“In addition to all the reasons I gave in my last post about coming off the road, there are two more reasons that I didn’t mention. One is rooted in my personal life, and I’m not going to share that here. But the other is very public, and I wanted to talk about that for just a moment.

I realized how important my photography is to me. And it was killing me that I was not accomplishing as much as I would have liked while on the road.

A few people have asked me about CDL school; how did I feel about spending money on a school to only be in the job for five months? I tell them that I spent over 5 years getting a Bachelors Degree in Art that I’ve never really done anything with, so 1 month of training for 5 months of employment is the best ROI I’ve ever gotten from education.

I have two competing views regarding my choice to major in Art. On the one hand, yes, it was a bad decision. Obviously. My mother was a CPA and she always said that I should have been one as well. Said I would have been good at it. And I probably would have been. But, more importantly, it would have given me a marketable skill. My mother could say that she was an Accountant. I know people who identify themselves as a Nurse, or a Teacher, or a Welder, or even a Truck Driver. Being able to say, “This, this is what I do” is a solid place to be, especially when looking for a job. Which is what I’m doing right now. Again.

In times like these, yes, I regret making that decision.

However, then I think about this in other ways. I think about how maybe, just maybe, the purpose of education should not be solely for monetary gain. We should strive to educate ourselves not only to be good employees, but to be better people. The prevailing attitude that education should serve a utilitarian function that only makes kids into wage earners rather than well-rounded adults is extremely dangerous. Knowledge of the arts, of music and dance and theater and literature should not be looked at as folly that will never enrich our bank accounts, but as fundamental to our growth as better citizens within our society.

The fact that I can appreciate a painting by Caravaggio or Picasso has done zero for me financially over the years. But when I look at Caravaggio’s The Calling Of Saint Matthew, I see a dramatic struggle between light and dark, between being caught up in your mundane duties and being made aware that I am called, we are all being called, to something greater than just sitting inside at a desk counting money all our lives. Or, when I look at Picasso’s Guernica, I see the horror of war made with a visceral impact that simple realism could never match. And it makes me want to fight harder than ever to end violence and war, at least as much as possible, in this world.

Art, real art, great art, tears at our chest, touches our heart, confounds our brain, makes us sympathize with the lonely and desire to love with the lovers. Art celebrates beauty, and challenges everything. This all sounds pretentious and overblown, I get that. It doesn’t stop me believing that majoring in art, while never enriching my wallet, made me a better person.

I’ll never say my art is equal to Caravaggio or Picasso. Hell, I doubt I’m even a good a photographer as Ken Rockwell. But, being creative is a part of me, and has been from my earliest memories. And photography has become a true passion, one that I’m determined to pursue.

You’re probably saying, “Yeah, you said that about truck driving, too.” Fair point. Here’s my response.

I’ve told this story before, that after my mother past away in 2011, we divided up her belongings into two separate, distinct categories. There was the stuff, mostly junk, that we ended up either giving away or throwing away. And photographs. When my dad passed away in 2014, we repeated that process. My wife’s father passed away this year. Most of what he owned has been sold off or thrown away. What did my wife save, carefully pack and bring back home with her? Photographs. Stacks of photographs.

When I go, my memories of sunsets, and movies, and laughs with friends and family will be gone too. But, hopefully, my photographs will continue to be around. Hopefully someone will collect my work, the way Carole and I have collected our families photographs. And maybe, just maybe, my art will inspire others in ways similar to how other artists inspired me.”

 

 

 

And we have restarted. Again.

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I just wanted to give every one a quick heads up, Generator Photography is back up and running after a long, hard Spring and Summer.

If you want to read about my many adventures throughout most of 2016, my other blog can be found here.

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Since the beginning of September, I’ve been to a couple of really great car shows, and managed to get some of the cobwebs blown out.  It has been a long time coming.  As always, check my flickr page for my latest work.

I have some plans for the immediate future, I’ll write about those soon.  I also have some plans for 2017, I’ll write about those later.

Again, this is just the blog equivalent of an old friend quickly texting you that they’re back in town after a long holiday and they just want to hang out for a bit.  Catch up.

Who wants to go get some coffee?

And We Are Stopped, Again.

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The last photoshoot.

I’ve been mulling over the blog post for a while.  I’d like to think I was crafting it in my head before committing it to paper, but the reality is I’ve just been putting it off.

Now is the time to get it done.  Here’s the scoop, I’m putting down the camera for a while.

Over the last five years I’ve had an office job.  I have a Bachelors Degree in Art, and a few semesters of Master’s level work in Theology.  I have a resume that screams, “No Marketable Skills.”  Most of my practical job experience has been in office work.  I’m an Excel Spreadsheet Master, I ain’t even lying.

This last job, however, took a toll.  I had been promoted to a Supervisor position, which started out good, but ended up with me just being the guy customers yell at. Daily.

For various reasons, I decided to make a change.  I won’t go into the details here, but there really wasn’t one reason.  My mistake came in jumping into the first job that was offered to me.  It was a disaster, I lasted two weeks.

So there I am, sitting at my computer, browsing Monster.com, looking for another soul sucking, mind-numbing cubical job.  I then remembered an NPR story about a truck driver shortage. I immediately started doing a little research on trucking, and truck driving.  Somehow I ended up on YouTube, and spent the entire rest of the day looking at videos of truckers.  GoPro video blogs of life on the road.  The entire day was spent watching those.

The short story is that I’m now in CDL school to get my Class A license, and then go drive.

Movin On

(not my photo!)

When I was growing up, there was a TV show called Movin’ On. It starred Claude Akins and some other dude driving a two-tone green Kenworth across America. I loved that truck. It’s corny and hokey and a bit cliché, but I’ve always wanted to be a truck driver.

I’m not saying that I’ve finally found what I was meant to do. This won’t be the magic bullet that will cure my occupational wanderlust. But after decades of bookkeeping and office administration work, I am looking forward to a change.

Yes, I understand the work is hard, much harder than what I’m probably used to. I envision old time truckers looking at me they way Robert Shaw looked at Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws (“You have city hands, Mr. Hooper. You been countin’ money all your life.”) That’s a good thing. I’m at my best when people underestimate me.

What about my photography?  It’s on hold.  Actually, I don’t even want to say it’s on hold, but I do know my productivity is going to be down for a while.

The top photograph is the wonderful Danay.  You may remember her from a shoot I did back in December. I dragged her out into the cold winter night so I could experiment with different light set-ups.  She was a trooper, and I promised her a proper photoshoot when the weather got warmer.  I was able to finally fulfill that promise.

It was the last photoshoot.  For a while, anyway.

I’ve got more I want to write about where my photography is right now, where it’s going, and why this won’t necessarily be a bad thing.

We’ll see how long it takes me to write that one.

As for now, wish me luck on my tests, and don’t go very far. I plan to still post stuff periodically.

Keep on Truckin’, Generation Nation!

 

 

2015 – The Plan In Review

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Back in January 2014, I did a post about my plan for 2014.

Then, in December of 2014, I wrote a review of how much of that plan I achieved in the year.  Turns out, it wasn’t much.

I actually didn’t make any plan for 2015 because of the epic failure rate from 2014.  That said, I thought I would start 2016 with another year in review, along the same basic plan, just to see how I’ve progressed.  Both, as an artist, and Generator Photography as an enterprise.

I’ll post the plan I came up with in the Jan ’14 blog, and I’ll follow with the results from 2015:

The Plan: “Get known: This means more than getting followers on facebook (or twitter, see below), it means really establish my brand as a premier automotive photographer. I have been dancing around the issue because I truly love doing other types of photography, specifically my urban and suburban landscape work. And there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to get “weighed down with labels”, or some other hippy-sounding, pseudo-marketing bullcrap. However, I really need to just bite the bullet and say, “I shoot cars, this is what I do.” Obviously, with the caveat, “And I’m really good at it.””

The Result: Good, I guess. As I said in the “2014 In Review” post, “As far as establishing “my brand”, I’m not too sure. Look, let’s face facts, I enjoy shooting much more than I enjoy marketing. And I’m a far better photographer than I am a salesman. I think coming to those to realizations are going to have an impact on my future goals.” This is truer than ever.  Every time I think about approaching a magazine for submissions, or trying to sell my services as a photographer, I just shrug and shoot something else.  I understand that being busy is far different that being successful.  I also understand that if I put as much work into networking and marketing as I put into shooting, I could make this work.  That said, I did manage to get my name out there a little more in 2015.  I should try to do even more in 2016.  We’ll see.

The Plan: “Get portraits: I understand that I just wrote about clearly defining my identity as an automotive photographer, but I would really love to start including people in my work. Some of my favorite shots I’ve ever done have been about people. It’s a challenge for my artistic side of the brain, and it will help me learn and develop techniques that I can carry over into my automotive photography.”

The Result: In 2014, the result was a “Total fail”.  However, in 2015, it took a sharp upturn.

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2015 became a watershed year for me in terms of getting people to pose for portraits.  There are a couple of factors for that, but I can tell you that I am dead chuffed with my portrait output, and I’m planning on 2016 to be even better.  Very happy.

The Plan: “Get legit: I would like to get a proper business license. Be, like, all official and stuff.”

The Result: Another Fail, just like 2014. It still is high on my “to do” list.  I’ll try harder this year, I promise.

The Plan: “Get twitter: I love the action I’m getting on facebook, but I just can’t help but think that more and more of my posts are getting lost in the facebook algorithm tap-dance. And as facebook continues to push for people to pay for posts, I really think I need to expand my social media presence. I’ll try to get this up and running in the next month or so.”

The Result: For 2015, Ok, I guess. I still don’t get twitter. I still haven’t come to grips about what I’m supposed to do with it.  And I don’t understand how I can not post on my twitter account for weeks, and somehow I still get followers.  It all just baffles me.

I’m going to open this up to all social media.  First, Instagram.  I’m not on it.  I probably should be, but I’m not.  But, as I said with twitter, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  Post pics, like other people’s pics?  I already do that on facebook, tumbler, twitter, flickr, and hell, even 4-chan.  I’m not convinced that getting an Instagram account will accomplish anything different, or better, than whatever I’ve already been doing.

I’m not convinced that continuing to expand my social media presence is something I need to focus on in 2016.  What I might do instead of internet networking, I might have a go at real networking, with real people, who can make real results happen in the real world.  So I get real results, rather than fake internet points.

The Plan: “Get blogging: Do shorter blogs, and more of them. I tend to do long winded blogs every once in a while. I’m going to try to do far less writing but much more often.”

The Result: It was a push for 2014, and I’m going to say it’s the same for 2015. I think I’m ending the year where I started. I got some good posts in for the year, but I don’t think I gained any ground. But, again, didn’t lose ground either. So, push.

The Plan: “Get interesting projects: I want to shoot with more purpose. I like doing projects, many shots on one theme or idea. I have this great idea about garages. Stay tuned.”

The Result: Man, I still want to do that “People And Their Garages” project.  I’ve got about 3 real solid projects I want to pursue in 2016.

Like light painting. Man, I want to do more like this.

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Stay tuned!

The Plan: “Get gear”

The Result: In 2014, it was an unqualified success.  I got my Nikon D610, and I got three prime lenses, a 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8.

So, for the first time since, well, ever really, I was in a really good place with my gear.  I could honestly say that I had satisfied my G.A.S.

Of course, there are other lenses I would like (something super-wide, like a 20mm, and a real long lens for portraits, like a 135mm), but mostly I wasn’t wanting at all.  I’m serious! That was, until about middle of this year, when I bought a flash.

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Yes, that started something.  Because, once you get one flash, you need to buy a stand and triggers to get that flash off your camera.

Then, soon after that, you’ll definitely need a second flash.

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Of course, then you’ll need a 2nd stand, more triggers, and pretty soon you’ll be shopping around for light modifiers for your flashes.

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As of this writing, I’ve acquired my third flash, and I’ve got some other bits and bobs to go along with them.  It’s gotten ugly.

For 2016, hopefully, my G.A.S. will slow down.  With three flashes, I think I’m good.  There is one lens I’m planning to buy this year, but that’s about it.  We’ll see how that would have worked out at the end of 2016, however.

The Plan: “Get selling: Really ramp up my Etsy shop. And maybe even start selling prints through my main website.”

The Result: Another total fail. My Etsy shop is as empty and useless as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar shelf.  This might change in 2016, maybe.

The Plan: “Get paid: I love shooting, I really truly do. And if this goes nowhere other than being a hobby for me, I’m totally OK with this. Nothing is going to stop me doing what I do. However, man it would be nice to get a paying gig every once in a while.”

The Result: 2014 was an utter failure, 2015 not so much.  I wasn’t rolling in dough, don’t get me wrong.  But I went from zero to a few.  Which, as you know, is progress.

So, there you have it.  In December 2014, I was pretty devastated about how little it seemed I had accomplished over that previous year.  In 2015, I’m actually feeling pretty great.  And, as a bonus, I’m actually excited about 2016.

My plan, overall, is to keep doing more and more portraits and model shoots.  Keep working with off-camera lighting.  Keep focused on more project-based shooting, rather than just go to an event and see what happens.  Shoot with more and more purpose.

Keep the G.A.S. down to a minimum, and keep working with more and more people.

Stay tuned, friends, good stuff is coming.  I guarantee it.

We’re Back.

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And we’re back from hiatus.  With a vengeance, I might add.

I had said on my last blog post that I needed to put family first for a while, and place my photography on the back burner.   My wife went away to help her father convalesce after a bad patch, and everything is better now.  Not perfect, not really even good, but better.  Thank you for asking.

Here on the home front, I had said that even though I was taking everything back a notch or three, there were two specific things I was still going to work on.  First, was the Las Vegas Balloon Festival, and the second was a special photoshoot I had been planning for several weeks before.

First, the Balloon Festival.

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I said I had been thinking about shooting the balloon festival with only my 85mm lens. Really try to focus on color and composition rather than merely documentation with a wide angle lens like most photographers do. Mission accomplished. I really was able to capture some fantastic shapes and colors. I was also able to get some wonderful shots from the accompanying carnival, check out my album on flickr.

Las Vegas Balloon Festival, 2015

As far as that “other” photoshoot I was talking about, it was about this:

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This gorgeous creature has been my white whale for a while now.  I’ve been chasing this down for a photoshoot for a long time, and it finally all came together.  Confession: The night before this shoot, my water heater started to leak. I made sure to try to patch it up as well as I could and didn’t want to call the landlord because I thought they would make me stay at home until a plumber came.  I vowed to call only after the photoshoot, that’s how much I wanted this.  It was all worth it.

The bonus was that I got to shoot with two great models.  Edith, who I had photographed before, and who is always great, and Sady (above), who literally came out of nowhere, and really brought it.  It was like I won the photography lottery.  Again, here’s the full set on my flickr page.

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From these, we are just going from strength to strength.  I’ve done more that I haven’t even mentioned here, I have  more photoshoots lined up, exploring more networking options, trying to get out as much as possible now.

And to you, Generation Nation, I just want say another huge “Thank You” for supporting me through this time.  Thank you to everyone who supports my photography, my art and my vision.

Stay tuned, friends, it’s just getting good.