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Friday, 06 March 2020


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Hey Mike; I propose myself as a complete counter-example to your thesis about matching personalities to photographing proclivities.

I am an introvert. I am also not a people person; I have always been awkward around people, especially women, and tend not to put them at ease.

So what to I do? I am an art photographer, more specifically nude art photographer. Despite my natural tendencies I took to the studio like that proverbial duck to water. And I'm doing alright, in my mind at least.

"Ironic pictures of empty, lonely spaces and quirky, odd found objects, those are things my particular temperament is better suited for. But I don't really like taking that kind of picture."

Well you pretty much described my city photography to a tee. Now add in my forest photography of diffuse light on trees and rocks. But if I take an honest look at all my photography and pick out my favorites, it's the family photos that stand out. I'm not afraid to annoy family members to get the shot I want, and over the years it has paid off. It's something I can do, and like doing.

Right on, Mike. I came to the same conclusion a long time ago, mainly by noticing the kind of photos I was taking and enjoying taking and thinking about what it would take to do successful street work, which seemed the coolest type of photography. I realized that I like my own privacy a lot and thought that it was unfair either to violate others' or sneak around photographing furtively. That knowledge helped me evolve into a sort of style (although I expect many would say it isn't that stylish). Good thing I have another way of putting food on the table.

I *officially* photographed precisely one wedding. The happy couple were delighted with the pictures. And they ended up divorced within a year.

I took my own photos at my daughter's wedding 8 years ago, and at the weddings of two nieces last year. The photos turned out beautifully, and I would modestly claim they are better than most of what the professionals shooting those weddings produced. But I'm hiding them from the (currently) happy couples.
You can't be too careful.

Woah...I feel like you just described me to a t. I love photography, and at one point aspired to be a photographer, but I don't think I have "it." Like you, I spend a lot more time learning and looking than I do creating. Now I think of myself as more of a "maker" who makes photographs along with a bunch of other things.

Kierkegaard might be helpful here. Yes, I'm serious.

I'm probably a photographer of the aesthetic type. I take photos because I want to represent interesting things in pleasing arrangements of shapes, colors, lines, etc. But, since I'm one of only a very few who will ever see, much less appreciate, those photos, it's essentially something I do for myself.

Many photographers--photojournalists come to mind--often rise above without leaving behind the aesthetic type (they do still care about composition). But their photography actually does good in the world. Perhaps they're of the moral type.

What I would love to be is a photographer of the religious type--by which I (and maybe Kierkegaard had he ever thought about photography) mean a photographer who transcends (though again without leaving behind) the aesthetic and moral. One for whom photography is in some sense a connection with the divine, or with meaning, or with the reality of things beyond one's own desires or context.

But, that may be asking too much of a guy who spends too much time on everyone's favorite auction site looking for the next camera. (Me, not Kierkegaard, to be clear).

Alas, I too am neither a people person, nor the possessor of a rapid fire eye that can catch life's meaningful nuances on the fly (think Winogrand). Do I "blend in?" No idea.

Sometimes you just have to shame yourself out of your awkwardness- is that thing around your neck just jewelry, or what? I also find that the sooner you get the viewfinder to eye- the easier it becomes to take any photo... Sometimes you just need that one measure of separation from reality to set you at ease, and the viewfinder can provide that. Suddenly, instead of confronting an anxiety producing situation, you're just comfortably viewing, editing and manipulating one of your very own photos right on screen- you just haven't pressed the shutter- yet.

Thing is, ya gotta keep trying...

"Know thyself"... interesting. Interesting in that for some of us that knowledge remains hidden behind veils of doubt, uncertainty, upbringing, training, habits, etc.. I find that the closest I probably get to knowing myself is found in pursuing things I enjoy. But who's to say I wouldn't enjoy something else more! :-o

I found this on the web and have bookmarked the link so I can return frequently. I find it fascinating because it demonstrates that finding subjects or a photographic genre is not really any kind of problem. It's doing something with the subject that is the trick.

Any of us, whatever our preferred genre or nature should really be able to make great photos out of anything....



Is for this kind of posts that I visit your site almost everyday.

Mike, your introspection is stunning! And you willingness to share admirable. You are vastly more courageous than I, my friend.

One good thing about being a newspaper photographer is that you had "credentials," usually hanging around your neck, and people tended to give anyone with credentials permission to shoot what they wanted. I got some reporter's credentials (not photographer's) for the 1980 Democratic convention in New York that looked really impressive, and over the next eight or nine years I virtually wore them out credentialing myself for all kinds of things, both photographic and non-photographic. People with your kind of personality really need credentials.

I've bookmarked this one - so much depth and so many bells ringing.

Jane Bown might be a good example of your second type of photographer. Quite small and unassuming.

I've seen debates over what constitutes an artist with some siding on the absurd (to me) notion that nearly everyone who creates a photo is an artist. I'll steadfastly insist that I am not an artist. I don't have any desire/drive/intention to create.

But a photographer ? Heck, yeah! I've been a photographer since I was about 12 years old! Not always a good photographer and never a great photographer. Certainly not a pro photographer (except for a few photos I was paid to shoot for our local weekly paper).

Anyway, that odd statement of yours caught me up at the beginning, but otherwise, I like the sentiment of this article. I pick up a camera to go out and find and capture things that demand to be seen. That's it. Anything else I've tried, because I thought I "should" (like portraits with studio lights) has been a flop because it has nothing to do with what I like about photography.

Yah, you talk a lot about photography, but do not shoot like photography is your calling. That’s ok. You probably help contribute to the photography merchandising side with all the amateurs that follow you. Lets see how your return to printing pans out.

Just a bit of confirmation about your own analysis: my favorite picture of yours is the red chair in a snowy back yard.

[That's nice to hear! Thank you. I recall someone casually insulted that photograph by saying, "big deal, we all have our own snapshots." But that's the way it is with photographs: can't please all the people all the time. What some people love, others are indifferent to. --Mike]

Mike, you certainly are a great writer. That description though is vague. What I find compelling is your ability to self-analyze and put that into words.

This struck me especially “Another thing that might have hampered me, if I'm honest, was a mismatch between the type of photographs I aspired to make and my temperament and personality.”

You have said so much there in one sentence. I love to look at great landscape photography. But as much as I wish I was out taking those type of shots, the reality is that I don’t like the cold, or getting up before dawn, or hiking for hours to reach a certain vantage point. And those are the things that go along with great landscape photographs.

So good for you and thanks once again for putting this so well.

This is a very interesting little essay today Mike. I've long teased young people I worked with that I can know their true inner selves by looking at their iPod play history. It was a fun thing to do and a way to break the ice and get to know someone. I suppose it is true about photographers as well. Look at the images someone makes when they are shooting for themselves and we'll see a reflection of their true selves. Obvious perhaps but interesting nonetheless.

Love the closing words by Mr Szabo, and your Greek citation. Because in the end, when we photograph whatever we photograph, we are taking photos of ourselves, our feelings and our thoughts.
Namaste, Mike.

Your general thesis of “You do what you can” rings with a degree of truth to me. I devoted 12 of my first 24 years of life toward joining a profession that I single-mindedly admired. After so much rigorous study and training I wandered away from it just when I was ready to walk in its door. Twenty years later I came to realize that, while I could have walked through that door, I was ill-suited to achieve the kind of stellar success that had originally drawn my imagination as a boy. Twenty years after that revelation I still have moments of regret, especially as I have come to meet and know a few people who have succeeded in that profession. I shrug and cheer them on.

Us old folks are largely long set-in-our-ways, even if we sometimes fantasize that we can change. My advice for young people is completely congruent, I think, with yours, Mike; learn to know yourself. BUT don’t use that knowledge to build levees of excuses for your choices. Learn your personal limitations so that you can decide what you need, or want, to overcome to reach your aspirations. Coming to terms with your limits at age 50 or 60 is useless.

Thanks for reminding me about Steve Szabo and Kathleen's gallery.

I am envious about you having Steve as a mentor, I bet he was pretty good. I liked his work, but never met him. But seeing his work at Kathleen's and in his book, "The Eastern Shore" was a bit inspiring. I spent a fair amount of time in that same area and did get some work I liked. It might have been helpful to get his response to that work, too late now. Kathleen liked what I did there, showed it to some clients, but that was as far as it went.

"What can you photograph?" Subtle but insightful. And more importantly, useful. During that time I was also sending work to Chris Rauschenberg of the Blue Sky Gallery in Portland OR. And he gave me similar advice I think, but since we were communicating by mail and telephone it was a too distant communication and the advice ended up being a bit too enigmatic for me to interpret.

Maybe I should have gone to a grad school like the Corcoran. Oh well, the paths not taken.

"A person who is introverted and likes solitude might gravitate to landscape, for instance. An adrenaline junkie might become a combat or adventure photographer. A person who loves problem-solving and a variety of challenges might become a studio advertising photographer, working to realize the visions of agency art directors."

A person who is simply drawn to the beauty of the world and the people in it might take pictures of that beauty and share them in hopes that others might also receive the emotional, spiritual, whatever, effects, as well.

For some, this may turn into a commercial venture, for others, that may not be possible, appealing and/or necessary.

Many words have been spilt about Vivian Maier's failure to capitalize on her photography for fame and fortune. I've not "heard" any suggesting that she may have been aware of the possibility, and chosen not to pursue it.

Emily Dickinson is cool for her approach to her poetry; we get to decide how to pursue our own vision.

[Yes. As I always say, you own your own photography. --Mike]

My regret is that worry about intrusion. I was lucky enough in Devon to br maybe one of the last family doctors in England in a poor rural area. We still had our own list of families. We delivered the mothers in our little hospital and could treat simple Pneumonias etc there too. So over thirty years I treated up to 5 generations of some families.
Many of the old farm houses are now owned by the Middle Classes ( posh in UK!) but for much of my time they were lived in much as they would have been before the war.
Many had earth floors, some had outside toilets and some still no electricity. The families had often been there for up to two hundred or more years. These were patients and friends. I was told by the powers that be that if I took photographs when doing house visits ( usually no more than 4 a day) it would be an abuse.

I now realise I could have recorded a whole way of life that is disappearing now like snow in spring. I should have had the coursge of my convictions and in doing so would have recorded this life for posterity. A little Fuji X100 I had and before that my Pentax LX ...all I needed was a little courage.

Luckily there are others who made a great record



These two are far greater photographers than I .... none the less that feeling of being so involved with the families and not recording that feels like an enormous missed opportunity to me

Mike, I believe you are at what is called, "a loose end", (lovely old nautical phrase), hence your delve back into film.

Here's my plan for you, (take it or leave it, as I say to my postgrads). You are an excellent archive photographer, that is, recording what is around you. So do that, because that becomes part of our shared history. Like Fred Herzog, but with fewer people. Buildings, banal stuff like traffic lights, (sure to disappear with in-car electronics). Talk to, and gain consent from, for example, your eye surgeon to photograph her and her surroundings. In other words, make it about now, because, as L. P. Hartley said, in the 'Go Between': “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

(Incidentally I met Julie Christie, back in the day; but that's another story!).

On a gut level, I agree with this post, but when comparing your ideas to my life experience, I have a few issues.

Think about transformative life situations, things like having kids, mastering a challenging career, dealing with a life-threatening illness, or overcoming addiction. The person you are following the transformation is almost an entirely different person than the person you were before. You have different values, new skills, and a changed perspective on life. You don't know what that new person will enjoy until you become that person.

When I was a kid I had the dream of becoming a pilot. I had no idea that my personality wasn't suited to the profession, I was shy, lacked confidence, didn't like working with other people, but I persisted because I had a dream. In the beginning, there were times when I felt very uncomfortable, out of place, and I hated it. However, I couldn't quit because I was buried in student loan debt. The only way out was to move forward. Now, twenty years downrange, I am a totally different person. I feel confident in almost any situation and I revel in things like addressing a crowd of delayed passengers about complex issues or convincing a coworker to do the right thing. The me of 10, 15, or 20 years ago wouldn't recognize the person I've become.

Now, let's compare that to becoming a street photographer. Let's say you're a fairly standard introverted photo geek but you are determined to become a street photographer. When you start out you're uncomfortable, your photos are a mess. You are afraid to get close to the subject, but you persist. You go out again and again. Eventually, you get comfortable in the crowd and you start to talk to people. Your photos get better. You keep on working at it. Years later you're as comfortable on the streets as you are in your living room. You make friends fast, you have an easy demeanor. You're quick with your camera and you can visualize complex compositions in a snap. Street photography, which used to cause you anxiety, is now your greatest source of pride and accomplishment.

The difference in my two examples, career and photography hobby, is that in one's career you probably can't quit. Unless you have a trust fund or some other safety net, you've got to press forward with a career, you're going to get those tough life lessons because there's really no other choice. Most professionals, when asked if they'd do it all over again, answer, "No, it was too much work." With your photo hobby, it's totally different. There is always a choice. Your survival and social status does not depend on whether you go out and take photos. With photography it's easy to make up all sorts of excuses to avoid the discomfort of learning: bad light, the wrong camera, I'm not the type of person who takes these types of photos, etc. And, that's fine, it's a hobby, you don't have to push yourself. However, if you want to get to the next level, push past your latest plateau, move towards becoming an artist, you will feel discomfort. You're going to become a new person and that's scary.

Dear Mike
I have been reading over and over again this great post. Up until this evening I had been agreeing with all of until it suddenly dawned on me that it doesn't have to be this way.
Are you aware that most pro photographers whose work involves people use fixers to "get in" with crowds and strangers? They work on limited time schedules and need local people with contacts and know the area .
David Alan Harvey of Magnum fame has for many years used a couple of local female fixers when working abroad. He claims it's easier to make friends with strangers when people are approached by women.

I am generally shy and not at all outgoing; I am definitely not a people person. However, the possibility of a sufficiently compelling photo will occasionally overcome my innate desire to shy away from people, and so I shoot whatever it is and promptly go on my introverted way.

I shudder to think what my preferred subject matter -- urban and suburban street and alley scenes photographed late at night using long exposures -- implies about my personality type.

That said, one of my favorite things to do is walk around around a large city with a small camera in my hand -- an RX1 works well for this, thank you! -- and photograph whatever catches my eye, from buildings and spaces and random abstract objects to people living their lives and going about their business.

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