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.

Thoughts on Photography in the Digital Age

What are photos worth now? Do they have more value or less value as a sheer result of the volume? Why take photos at all? These are real questions that deserve real thought even if we are unable to come to some kind of solid answers that we can all agree on.

When I took this photo earlier this year, I was very conscious of the fact that for whatever reason, this building won’t be here forever or at least continue to look like this. Sometimes I wonder if the way that I see things now have more to do with my age or if perhaps we are really in the midst of a major change in the way the world is moving?

I don’t take photos with a thought to if they have a monetary worth or not. I shoot as a form of expression. Photos have a way of sparking memory. We look at photos about the way things used to be. Photos are always past. Are history.

1 Allen Street, New York City, May 2019

I took this photo because the colors and light on that day and at that time appealed to me. For the moment, I like this photo. I have no idea if I will continue to like this photo after shooting another 10,000 photos. Perhaps it’s not that important. Photography is an activity for me. It’s not always obvious why I take a photo or if it will become important to my work.

When we choose to shoot certain subjects, we reveal something of who we are and our tastes in things. And of course, those things are subject to change. How often do we stop and look at a photo and decide what it means to us? We see thousands of images everyday. Most of them are not by choice.

Your assignment if you choose to take it, is to stop and take a look at a photo and think about what it means to you. Let’s call it intentional viewing. Happy looking and getting lost in photos.

It’s Everywhere You Go!

Photography in its broadest definition has become important to everyone! It is such a dominant part of our culture and our lives. Creating and consuming images is constant. So how do we differentiate between the different kinds of photography? Are they all equal? Do we even understand the effect that images have on us? Visual literacy is a tricky subject. Especially when there’s barely enough time to understand it all.

I work as a tour guide. On a regular basis I come into contact with tourists taking selfies with major attractions in New York City. It would be difficult to not witness this everywhere in the city. I wonder what the actual value is of these photos? (I will refrain from being judgmental here even if it is annoying.) They are intended as souvenirs.

One Grand Central, New York City, January 2019

The idea that you can choose to remember something by an image or an object. The strange thing is that souvenirs actually have a way of killing memories. They take on new meaning. We no longer have to remember it.

Perhaps the actual act of taking a photo is more important than the photo itself. That and the fleeting moment that it has a life on social media. We designate a moment which we have predetermined to be worthy of remembering. We have scripted our lives in doing this.

Planned vs unplanned photos. My favorite photos that I’ve taken are not planned. They couldn’t have been planned. They are decided only at the moment that they are shot. Sometimes I like them. Others I don’t. It’s always starting from scratch. Starting over with a clean slate. When it comes to street photography you can’t decide beforehand what you’ll shoot. It’s life in motion. By it’s very nature it is unplanned.

What Makes a Good Photo?

What makes a good photo? That’s always a question for me. The brain is always attracted to things that it likes. I love the color red and red is great for photography. It is often the thing that will cause me to choose to process a photo in color. But not always. There are many such things that we are attracted to. Things which make you stop and shoot. But does that make for a good photo?

I didn’t shoot Halloween last year. In part because I am possibly losing interest in photographing planned events. It’s too easy to photograph a really cool costume. I repeat, what makes a good photo? The costume isn’t enough. A pretty woman, a pet, an odd person, etc etc, they all grab the mind’s attention.

Red Tie, New York City, February 2019

But a really good photo has a number of elements that make it really good. It’s never just one thing. I think that a boring subject captured well is more interesting than a beautiful subject shot poorly. Sunsets often fall into that category. The actual sunset is often more pleasing to the eye than the photo.

How do we get to that place where we can truly judge the merits of a photo? That’s a really good question and one that I don’t think that I can honestly answer. I can say that it isn’t truly just a technical thing either. Technically precise photos lack emotion.

Many other photos are merely emotional eye candy. Somewhere in the middle is a place where technique and emotion combine to make a lasting image. If and when I finally figure out the secret formula, I’ll share it with you.

That said, art is always subjective. There is no objective method in which to judge art. So perhaps my question will not ever be truly answered!