The Process is the Art

I’ve been doing extensive work on organizing my photo library. I have approximately 200,00 digital files. So it is quite a process! I do this when my creative energy slows down a bit.

I take the time to review my older work and ironically it often reignites my creativity. It helps me to gain some perspective on where my photography is going and where it’s been. It’s an opportunity for me to critique my work.

Recently I’ve heard some photographers being rather critical or frustrated with their work. It is really good to want to be a better photographer! That’s something that I always want from myself.

West 33rd Street, New York City, January 2016

But be careful. Being too self-critical about your photography can be counterproductive. For me, progress has always been slow. It’s really one step at a time. Shoot, review and shoot more. Then all the sudden change becomes evident. Then repeat the process. There is no end to it!

Patience is important. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook how much really goes into achieving those results. When we look at the photos of others and wish we could take photos like that.

Art always looks easier than it really is. When you have a passion for photography, the rest follows. Just do it and keep doing it. I don’t always take great photos. You have to move on to the next day of shooting. I have always suggested experimenting, not being afraid to make so- called mistakes and not giving up! The process is the art.

Liking Your Photos

I spend a lot of time looking through my photos trying to decide what I like and what I don’t and what I will share on social media. Maybe I don’t even spend enough time making those decisions because I take so many photos!

When I decide that I like a photo or not, it’s more about how I feel about the photo rather than looking at it with a “critical” eye.

I also spend a lot of time looking at photos by others. Some well known and many who are not well known. I am often in awe of their work. The thing I don’t see are the photos that they reject and what it took for them to arrive at their current work.

Likewise, you don’t see the photos that I reject! I’m not just talking about bad exposures or really missing the shot either though they are certainly a factor. What I like or don’t like today may change in the future. It does happen that way.

The New Stellar, New York City, March 2019

When looking at the work of others, photography can be very deceiving. It often “looks” easy. It can be discouraging if you try too hard to imitate the work of others or if you imagine that everything that they do is perfect.

What’s really great about viewing the work of other photographers is that it often gives license to do things that you might not otherwise do! Have you ever looked at a photo that you really liked and said oh, I did that once and I didn’t think it was a good shot? It has happened to me many times.

So maybe it’s not so much about quantity in photography but quality. The more that you give yourself license to experiment in photography and pursue photography that you are happy with, the better you become.

That is true no matter what level you are at in photography. Perhaps even more so if you are really experienced. Why you ask? Because many photographers once they hit a certain level rest on what has worked for them in the past and don’t continue to evolve their art.

For newer photographers, it’s often a fear of not being accepted. Which is unfortunate. I spent many years in that mode of shooting. The most important thing is that you are pleased with your work and that you recognize the work that you are happy with rather than focusing on the ones you don’t like.

Somewhere between the two you can determine what to focus on and how to achieve that. Perhaps it takes a little courage. But it is worth it. Happy shooting! And yes, it helps if you’re happy when you’re shooting!

Curiosity & Enthusiasm

I consider curiosity and enthusiasm to be two of my biggest assets in photography And in life. What’s the difference between photography and life? As far as I can tell, there is no difference.

Curiosity means always maintaining a level of interest in the things going on around me. Those things are vast and always changing even though I continually shoot in the same neighborhoods.

It’s easy to become bored with the same old things if you only look at the surface and move on. If you move too quickly. But when you have genuine curiosity, it opens up a world of inspiration.

I am always wondering about humanity and the city that I photograph. Fortunately, I am also typically enthusiastic as well. I don’t remember the last time I turned on the television. There’s something far more interesting about real life.

Monochrome Mood 13, New York City, August 2018

I think that one of the things that people who go on my photo tours or attend my workshops come away with is my enthusiasm for the city and the neighborhoods and people AND photography!

A photograph is about that curiosity and the desire to understand the world that I live in and to experience the diversity of it. For me, being a street photographer is always about having an open mind and being willing to experience life as it is presented to me.

I don’t know what it is that allows me to maintain my sense of curiosity and enthusiasm. I say that I was born that way. But another asset of mine is my sheer determination. It would have been easy for me to give up on photography a long time ago. But I didn’t. Well, maybe it wouldn’t have been that easy!

Open-mindedness & Creativity

I’ve been shooting for the better part of 50 years and it doesn’t cease to amaze me. I think of myself as always somewhat new to photography. I don’t know if half a century really means that much.

There are many photographers out there that have been shooting for a much shorter amount of time than I have and they are “better” than me. Whatever better means as there are so many criteria to base that on.

Art is always subjective, it’s always in the eye of the beholder, There’s no clear cut decision on that. I think I still have quite a way to go. I can say that I am far from bored with photography. Perhaps I am in fact the opposite of bored. I am enthusiastic about it!

I feel that I have far more to learn and experience ahead of me than what came before. What I can say about shooting for 50 years with a fair amount of certainty is that I do it out of passion and sheer persistence. Maybe I’m the tortoise. Yes, even a late-bloomer.

I hope that the blooming continues for some time to come as it is very exciting to me. I find that I continue to shoot in the same neighborhoods, even the same streets, and I always find something new.

Bail Bonds Row, New York City, August 2017.

Or perhaps like my favorite quote from Marcel Proust, it’s about seeing with new eyes. That is always my biggest challenge to myself. When I stop seeing with new eyes is when I’ll quit.

It is also very exciting and I feel very fortunate to meet some amazing people in my workshops and photo tours. They are at various stages of life and photographic experience as well as nationality.

And they almost always approach photography with an open mind. Looking to learn something new. The desire to learn new things can be very contagious and I become inspired by the new eyes of beginners and the openness of experienced photographers to take on new challenges. The exchange of ideas is very helpful. Closed- mindedness may very well be the biggest threat to creativity.

If photography, in general, and street photography more specifically, aren’t about being open-minded than I’ll quit right now. But that’s not my experience! I believe that it’s important being around people who are like-minded in that respect. I don’t mean that they like everything that you do. But that they are willing to look at it at a deeper level. Beyond the obligatory social media “like”. Having honest feedback is very cool and also rare!

On Being Critical

On occasion people ask me to be critical of their photos. While I can and do critique photos from time to time, I prefer to help others develop their own style.

I like to encourage others to find their own style. To give them the courage to do what they think is right. To take photos that they like. After all, you need to be happy with your photography first.

There isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong way to do it. And it’s possible that I am influenced by my own experience of not really fitting in in any of the photography clubs. Typically boys clubs.

As I have said before, steal from the best and make up the rest. Find those elements that speak to your own sense of what looks good. A big part of photography is developing your vision and having your photos match your vision.

Blue in East Harlem, New York City, August 2017

I took this photo during a street photography workshop and I can only tell you that timing was everything! She turned and I clicked. And yes, the focus is a little soft. Whatever. I still like it and some of my favorite photographers have photos with soft focus.

You might not appreciate that. I look at photography as an art and art is always in the eye of the beholder. It is subjective. It is not a science. There isn’t a recipe that will always be successful.

Photography Need Not Be Realistic

Photography is a very young medium in the world of art. Early art was used as both a form of documenting and story telling. In painting there has been a long tradition of creating realistic representations of life. Perhaps they were hoping to represent the present and to preserve the past. To flirt with immortality.

Photography disrupted that tradition by being a more realistic representation of reality. Many artists accused photographers of being too lazy to go to art school! It is clear that artists felt threatened by this new medium.

At about the same point in time artists stopped trying to be so realistic in their representations of life. It opened the doors for more abstract art. Even so, not all photography strives to represent reality in a realistic fashion.

Standing, New York City, June 2019

I also do abstract photography and it is something that gives me great pleasure to create as well as to view the abstract photography of others.

Why limit your vision or feel a need to color in the lines? There are so many different methods to shoot and process your photos and so many possible subjects to focus on. Try something new! You might even like it!

Photography is a Language

Photography is like learning a new language. In the beginning you are constantly aware of grammar, sentence structure, verb conjugations and vocabulary.

The mechanics of language is very similar to that of the camera. It takes awhile to learn the diffferent parts of language that allow you to communicate smoothly and effectively. The same is true to become fluent in photography.

Diamond Exchange, New York City, November 2017

A camera is merely a tool. When people ask me what cameras I use my response for a number of years now has been, do you ask a carpenter what hammer she uses? I was pleasantly surprised when I came across a quote from Man Ray in which his response to the same question was “you don’t ask a writer what typewriter he uses.”

Your ability to get your camera to do what you want it to do is the first step. But even when you become fluent there’s still so much more that can be learned and explored. Like expanding your vocabulary.

If I am not able to believe that my best photos are to come I’ll put my cameras down. And it’s not just about the technical aspects about photography by any means. It is about the constant evolution of style, subject and technique. There IS always something new to learn and do! It is a lifelong pursuit.