I have been thinking a lot lately about how my study of photography has changed in recent years. As someone who is largely self-taught, I have purchased and consumed my share of how-to books. Everything from basic instruction in understanding exposure, to general guides to improving composition, to discussions of specific genres of photography like portraiture. I’m sure I learned something from every one of them, but after a while they came to feel less and less helpful.
There are still many, many aspects of the craft in which I am not even close to expert, and I keep practicing to try to fill those gaps. But now I am less concerned with the how of photography and much more interested in the why. Why do I want to make pictures? What do I want to say with these images? Do I have a vision or a voice worth sharing? I’m still trying to figure out my answers to the first two questions, and on discouraging days the answer to the third one is a resounding “no.” But every once in a while I can answer “yes” (however tentatively), and those days are thrilling.
I can say with certainty that my journey with photography changed and deepened when I found the right community for me. I have written about the Close to Home Workshop before, and the Artist’s Round Table. I’ve told you about Rear Curtain. These endeavors, with Ray Ketcham and Sabrina Henry at their core, have attracted the most remarkable group of storytellers. Each is curious, talented, and dedicated. Each believes this kind of work matters, and together we strive to do it better. But — and this is important — they prove that you can be serious about the work and also be generous, supportive, non-competitive, and kind. And funny.
I won’t deny that “likes” and comments on Facebook and here make me very, very happy. It’s lovely to know that there really are people out there in Internet Land who respond in that way to my images and posts. (Please don’t stop.) But if you are also trying to learn and grow in your art, whatever it might be, I highly recommend finding just a few folks that you really trust with whom you can share your work. The kind of feedback they can provide is more than just validating. It’s actually helpful.
The trust thing is key for me. I don’t have any kind of formal training in art or art history, and at my age I don’t want to have to apologize or pretend. But I still want to learn. So this year I am participating in another Ray-and-Sabrina invention called The IDEA Group: Image Discussion for Emerging Artists. We meet every two weeks via a hangout on Google+. We choose a topic, a photographer, or an artist, and spend two weeks learning. Then we come together to discuss. I am still surprised at the importance of this missing piece in my education. Studying the greats is invaluable in one’s growth as a creative. Immitation is never the goal, but allowing what has gone before to influence and then simply inform one’s own work adds texture, richness, and meaning.
It was through IDEA that I was introduced to William Albert Allard, who pretty much rocked my world. He is a master of the photographic essay. He connects with his subjects in both words and images with such power and emotion. I now proudly own three of his books, and studying his work teaches me so much more than any how-to manual out there. Truly good stuff.
We also share other good stuff with each other, and it is through the IDEA Group that I found the On Taking Pictures podcast. Every Tuesday, Bill Wadman and Jeffery Saddoris talk to each other (and us) about the art, science, and philosophy of photography. I love the tone of this podcast. It’s is encouraging and endearing that these two artists, who are so much more accomplished than I, still struggle with some of the same doubts and questions as I do. The podcast is funny, informative, deep, and always honest. And they seem like really nice guys. Nice is good. Each podcast has accompanying show notes that link to amazing amounts of information. It’s a treasure trove in there.
I’ll close by sharing two blogs that you might like to check out. They are very different from each other, but they both make me happy every time they post something new.
The first is JerseyStylePhotography. I love the things Mark Krajnak sees and the way he sees them.
The second is Obvious State. Evan Robertson’s illustrations are clever and creative, but I am particularly drawn to Nichole Robertson’s photography. There is a very specific kind of romance to her images of Paris. And, yes, I want to go to there.
Well, this was a very long post. I’m going to step away from the computer, grab my camera, and go make something.
Let me know if you find this type of post useful or interesting. Leave a comment. I love those.