Call it what you will

It’s interesting how often I hear people hesitate to call themselves a photographer. It’s as if you need to get a degree, pass an exam or make money doing it to call yourself a photographer.

If you have a camera and you like to take pictures, you are involved in the activity of photography. For many people the word photographer is loaded with meaning. As if you require some kind of approval to use it.

If photography becomes a hobby and it’s something that you look forward to doing and strive to understand it and become better at it, you are already a photographer.

The word photographer does not have embedded in it a meaning of perfection or of money exchanged for it. If you partake in the verb you are also the noun.

There are many photographers that get paid to do what they do. That does not mean that they are really good at what they do. And there are many that take fabulous photos and not make a dime doing it.

Blue New York City puddle reflection
It’s All Over Now, New York City, March 2010

I’ve spent my whole life learning photography and I’m not done learning it yet. Photography can be very addictive.

On the other hand, people who call themselves ‘fine art photographers’ are intentionally attempting to distinguish themselves from everyone else with a camera in their hands including mobile phone cameras.

There are always people in every industry, especially in the arts, that feel a necessity to elevate their place in the scheme of things.

There’s nothing wrong in calling yourself an artist or a photographer. But when you add on a qualifier like ‘fine’, it becomes a bit suspicious for me.

It is always for the person viewing the work to decide if it’s art or ‘fine.’ You are a photographer when you pick up a camera and your vision or your mind is telling you to capture that thing that you see in front of you. Plain and simple.

Just keep shooting and forget about the preconceived notions of what you have to or need to be, to call yourself one.

There’s No Going Backwards

Art does not exist to repeat or return to the past. It is always about moving forward. Whether art influences culture or culture influences art is like asking if the egg came first or the chicken.

Photography has many roles in our culture. For me it’s always about a creative pursuit. Photography is an art even if we don’t always think of it that way.

Museums and galleries still persist in using the terms art & photography as if they are not one and the same. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that photography is still rather young.

Self Portrait at the Whitney Museum of American Art
Hello World, New York City, May 2019

Regardless, the world keeps turning, culture changes and I continue to move forward. If I am no longer able to find a way to evolve my art then it will be an indication that it’s time for me to put my cameras away.

But I don’t foresee that happening any time in the near future. There’s always something new to explore and ways to expand even if progress sometimes appears to happen slowly.

In art there is no going backwards and repeating the old. That reminds me of all the reunion bands who come back to play their old music from 50 years ago. If I do that, please let me know. No turning back time. As if we could. Here’s to the future of art!

Every Picture Tells a Story

I don’t imagine that a day will ever occur when I tire of shooting in New York City. I have no interest in taking photos of nature and landscapes that aren’t urban.

New York City is a perfect environment for photography that illustrates the condition of humanity in the world that it has created.

Coney Island, Brooklyn, 2009
Entrance, Coney Island, September 2009

Whether it’s seeing people who are comfortable in their environment or those that are disturbed by it, the human condition is reflected in street photography.

I like photography that tells a story and especially when it is open to interpretation by the viewer. You can’t plan it. This is the beauty of street photography.

It is, when done well, like poetry. The activity of photography is satisfying all by itself. Discovering at the end of the day you were able to obtain photos that capture a story is like icing on the cake.

Photography is a Reflection

Photography is a reflection of life and the world that we live in. It is a small piece of the larger whole. It is an opportunity to stop and examine those things that we may overlook in our hurried lives.

You could say that I’m rather obsessed with photographing reflections of all kinds. The same is true of reflecting on what photography is and how it affects us. Even the word reflection gives us much to reflect upon.

Puddle reflection of the Manhattan Bridge
Street of Gold, New York City, July 2012

If photography is already once removed from ‘reality,’ then perhaps reflection photography can be thought of as something almost magical. Sometimes reflection photos are even more appealing than the so-called real thing.

To find and see reflections to photograph you already need to slow down and be more observant of your surroundings. It is rather easy to pass by reflections without realizing that they are there.

When was the last time that you reflected on a photo?

I Never Intended to. . .

Yes, it is a cliché to say that you can’t take the same photo twice. That is true. But I have been sorting through my archives and realizing how much has changed.

I shoot many of the same neighborhoods on a very regular basis and many of my photos illustrate just how much they have changed. And not necessarily for the better.

I am not sentimental about the past and I do not have wishes or dreams to return to another time or place. But I never intended on being a documentarian or a historian.

Triste Corsets, New York City, April 2012

Alas, I have many photos that are rather like relics of the past now. So when I am out on the streets shooting these days I often end up shooting those buildings and businesses that look like they have a limited existence.

I actually started doing that more because I would like to avoid having big corporate logos and buildings that feel sterile and cold. So yes, without me intending to do so, I have started documenting that which is likely to change in the near future. At least I still have abstract photography to blur the lines!

On Becoming

I never planned to become a photographer when I grow up. In fact I thought that I would become a cinematographer. I was very much taken with the films of Truffaut, Hitchcock and others.

So I studied film. It was perhaps nothing more than a romantic dream. For better or for worse, it wasn’t to happen.

For more than 5 decades I have been shooting. I started in film and transitioned to digital about a dozen years ago.

Becoming, New York City, July 2015

I never studied photography. I just did it. It was something I started doing at the age of 12 when I also started writing. They are both forms of communication that are so ingrained that I don’t know how or why I pursued them anymore.

At some points in time it became more important for me. That is true during the analog years and became even more so in the digital age.

I call myself a photographer as a verb. It is something that I do. I am still always becoming a photographer. There is no point of having arrived. It is ongoing. And it is a passion.

Photography is a partial truth

Photography is a partial truth. It is not the whole truth. And certainly not truth with a capital T. It is always subjective. When we take a photo we are translating a situation into our own way of seeing and believing. It is a version of reality.

A photo is always past tense and the subject is taken out of context. This is especially true in street photography and photos that are candid, that are taken without the subject being aware of their photo being taken.

Memory, New York City, June 2010

The opposite is also true. When you take a photo of someone and they know that you are taking it, they may smile when they aren’t actually happy. They respond to the presence of the camera.

There are a number of different examples. But perhaps more importantly, people are always more than what a single image is capable of revealing. We are always a composite of many images.

It does however happen that we attach one image in our memory to represent a person or event. Photography has provided bookmarks for the memory to utilize when recalling the past. And they are even capable of deception. (That is another topic that I will be writing about in the near future.)

I wonder what happens to the minds of people who are constantly taking selfies everywhere they go and if all these photos that they amass of themselves actually become meaningful to them? Or perhaps it’s a form of self-deception.