For the love of The Game

Number 23 - Michael Jordan - was and is the greatest basketball player the world has ever known. He will likely never be surpassed in his greatness. How did he get to be the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)? His contracts always included a “love of the game” clause. It gave him the right to do whatever he saw as necessary to hone and improve his basketball skills during the off season.

Back in the time frame when Michael dominated the NBA hardwood, general managers of NBA teams tried to prevent players under contract to them from playing in summer leagues and from playing pick up games with other NBA players; the fear was that an athlete could suffer an injury during these unauthorized games that could derail their season or even end their NBA career.

Michael always had his “love of the game” clause (at least up until the 1990s when the NBA collective bargaining agreement came on the scene) that allowed him to circumvent the restrictions that his team managers tried to enforce. He knew full well that he could not simply not play basketball for months on end and have any realistic hope of improving his game; this is something that some team managers did not grasp.

Every off season, Michael would inevitably return to his alma mater - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - to hone his skill set. He would play in the pick up games with and against other NBA greats of his era that he and Jerry Krause who was general manager of the Chicago Bulls butted heads over so often. Michael took the heat from his boss and took on the calculated risks that came with informal off season games. He sacrificed and worked obsessively to improve - for the love of the game.

As photographers, what do we do for the love of the game of photography? What risks do we take? What sacrifices do we make in order to improve? Do we understand that we need to photograph regularly and consistently in order to hone our skill set and improve? do we work obsessively behind the scenes to get better at making images?

Do we make creating new images and just doing a walkabout with our camera for some relaxed shooting two of our highest priorities? Do we remember and honor Dorothea Lange’s admonition that “One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind?”

On photographing strangers

People always ask how photographers go about asking total strangers for permission to make photographs of them. It’s really pretty simple: Just be friendly and polite, that’s all.

Talk to them a little before asking. This will help break the ice and help them to relax. When you ask, compliment them on their appearance - something along the lines of “you look really great today - I’d love to make a couple of photographs of you. Would that be okay?” Be sincere, don’t just make crap up. People will know when you are just patronizing them to get what you want.

If they ask what you want to do with the photos, be honest with them. If you might enter their photo in a contest or exhibit it, tell them so. If you are shooting just to hone your skills, tell them that, too.

Give them your card with your contact information (you do have a card, right??) and offer to email them a copy of the photo after you have processed it, and be sure to follow through on that if they email you and ask for a copy.

Being friendly and sincere with your prospective subjects goes a long way.

How can I begin to market my photography?

A couple of days ago, someone online asked me “How can I begin to market my photography?” Here is my response to this question:

There are several things you need to do, such as -

1: You need a website showcasing your photography. Websites are fairly easy to build and maintain by yourself these days - I use Squarespace for mine.

2: Next, get a physical portfolio of your images made. Edit your work - get a second and a third set of eyes on your work to help with editing. Get your work edited down to your 20 best images and have them printed. My physical portfolio consists of 20 images printed at 10x15 inches in size, that are shown to gallery curators by using a black portfolio box. This is more effective than using an album because gallery curators can lay your prints out on a large table and move them around to see which images group best together and what the most effective sequence of images for an exhibit would be. As for the size - 10x15 inches - they are large enough to make a good visual impact and since I shoot with a full frame 35mm camera, I can use the whole image area without cropping. When you make your prints, make sure that all images are the same size and shape. A standardized presentation of your images unifies your work and creates a more cohesive body of work. Some photographers will mix color images with black and white images, but it is my feeling that a photographer should commit to one or the other for a given body of work or a given portfolio. This narrows the focus of your portfolio or body of work and says to the gallery curator that you have a vision for this work and that your vision is well developed and well focused.

3: Next, get some cards printed. By “cards,” I do not mean normal 2x3 inch business cards. I have 5x7 inch cards printed on card stock that I give to potential clients, gallery curators and other contacts. On the front side is a full bleed (edge to edge) printing of one of my best horizontally oriented images with a small logo that has my company name. On the back side, the left half of the card is a vertically oriented image. The right half of the card is white, with my name and contact information printed on it with my website URL and the orange ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) logo, of which I am a member (more on professional memberships in a moment).

The 5x7 inch size of my cards gives them more impact and gives me an opportunity to put two of my images in the hands of gallery curators. The 5x7 inch size also has much more visual impact than a tiny 2x3 inch card, and the larger size card is much less likely to get lost in the sea of paperwork on a gallery curator’s desk. It is less likely to get lost in a coat pocket, purse or in their appointment book.

4: Being a member of a professional photographer’s organization such as American Society of Media Photographers, Professional Photographers of America, American Photographic Artists, National Press Photographers Association or American Society of Picture Professionals will give you a certain degree of credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of gallery owners and curators and will help you get a foot in the door, provided you are presenting a strong portfolio.

5: Before you approach galleries or attempt to sell your prints in storefronts or other places you may get an opportunity to display them, you need to have a well thought out price structure. Of course, pricing your work is one of the most difficult parts of exhibiting and selling your work, but it is also one of the most important parts. If you price your prints too low, people will not take your work seriously. If you price it too high for a given market, you won’t sell many if any prints. Pricing is a balancing act where you work to hit the sweet spot where people respect your work and buy it and you make a little money from each sale.

What works for me is this: I take the direct cost of having a print made (professional printing, matting and framing) and multiply that number by a factor of 3.5; if a print costs me $100 to have made, I price it at $350 (as your experience level, the quality of your work and your following grows, you can increase this pricing factor to 3.6, 3.7, 4.0, etc.). The gallery will get 50% of that, leaving me with $175. The printer and framer has already taken $100 of the $350, which leaves me with a net profit of $75. That $75 goes back in to making more prints, and on April 15th of each year, I pay taxes on that $75. This is not a get rich quick scheme by any stretch of the imagination.

You also have to take in to account local economic factors in pricing your work. A print that you can sell for $1000 in Chicago, New York or San Francisco would need to be priced lower (perhaps at $650) in Cincinnati, Grand Rapids or Indianapolis. This means that you need to be selective regarding which markets you exhibit your work in. Each sale should produce a positive cash flow rather than being a break even sale or worse yet, a negative cash flow sale.

6: You also have to have infinite patience. You have to define “success” as being able to show your work in exhibits (either group shows or solo exhibits) and by the occasional print sales that you have. To expect to sell prints every time you exhibit your work and to expect every gallery you approach to welcome your work with open arms is not realistic and will quickly lead to frustration, loss of motivation, disenchantment and bitterness. This will lead to giving up on photography, which you once loved. I have seen it happen way too many times to photographers who want or expect too much, too soon. This thing has to be a labor of love, not a turn a quick profit thing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint race. You have to be infinitely patient and take the long view.

7: You want to be selective about where you exhibit your prints. Exhibit only in clean, upscale professionally operated galleries and other venues that attract families and upscale, professional clientele. I have gracefully declined opportunities to exhibit my work more than once due to the appearance and condition of a gallery or venue. If a gallery is run down at the heels, scruffy, not well maintained or just plain dirty inside or out, it will reflect poorly on both you and your work. People will surmise a negative impression of you nd your work; this may be a form of stereotyping or making a sweeping generalization, but it will happen nonetheless.

8: You have to drum up your courage and just do it. Pound the bricks, knock on doors, ask for appointments, show your portfolio, ask for exhibit opportunities and roll with the punches.

9: Last of all and most importantly - whatever else you do, don’t ever give up.

Why do photographers charge so much?

Many people ask the question, “Why do photographers charge so much for just pushing the button on a camera??” I will attempt to address that question.

People who complain about being charged $5000-6000 to shoot a wedding, event or to do a commercial shoot would do well to bear two facts in mind: 1.) Every hour the photographer spends creating photographs results in another 1.5–2 hours of behind the scenes work he/she must do or pay someone else to do, and 2.) out of that $5000-6000 he/she charges to photograph a wedding, event or commercial shoot, the first thing that happens is this: Federal, state and local taxes will eat up 50% of it.

Now the photographer is down to $2500-3000 for that shoot, and that’s BEFORE he/she subtracts out the multitude of costs involved in keeping the doors open in a photography business.

One example is the $1000+ per year for equipment and liability insurance that photographers must have. Then there’s rent and utilities for the studio space. Then there’s advertising and promotion costs. Then there’s equipment rental for the gear that they need to do their job but do not own outright.

Then there’s the cost of paying a photographer’s assistant and a second shooter - and a third and possibly fourth shooter for a very large wedding - and an accountant and an office administrator. Those people don’t work for free.

One photographer can create good coverage for a wedding that has somewhere around 125–150 guests. A huge wedding with 600–700 (or more) guests is going to require at minimum two more photographers to provide adequate photographic coverage. There is only so much that one photographer can do on his/her own.

Guess what - those photographers have to get paid, too. Turns out they don’t get free groceries, utilities, gasoline, auto maintenance and camera gear, either.

Then there’s the replacement cost of lost/stolen/damaged or destroyed equipment that does not rise to the level of filing an insurance claim - that is an out of pocket cost. If the lost/stolen/damaged or destroyed equipment does reach the cost threshold that justifies filing an insurance claim, there’s the $500 deductible that has to be paid on the claim. After that, the photographer can look forward to his/her equipment insurance premium going up anywhere from 50% to 100% or maybe even more.

We haven’t even taken a look at the investment the photographer has made in photography equipment, or the years they have spent honing their craft. It’s a given that a wedding photographer - the primary shooter, at least - will show up to photograph a wedding with easily $10,000–20,000 or more worth of camera gear. This is equipment that they have paid for out of their own pocket just to be able to shoot your wedding or event.

There’s also probably another $20,000–30,000 worth of equipment back at the studio that they have had to invest in just to be properly equipped to do professional level work. Computer systems with multiple terabytes of image storage, backup systems, lighting and large format inkjet printers are all very costly - and are also must have items for a professional photographer who runs their own photography studio.

For all the uninformed and nonthinking people who think wedding, event and commercial photographers are “stealing them blind” by charging $5000-6000 to photograph a wedding, commercial shoot or event, the truth is that if 15–17% of that $5000-6000 fee actually goes into the photographer’s own personal checking account, he/she considers themselves to have had a good day.

I would encourage people to stop and think about this: Photographers are not billionaire robber barons who are chauffeured around in $450,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII motorcars which are paid for by children who toil away for 16 hours a day in hot, filthy factories for twenty cents an hour.

At the end of the day, photographers are working men and women who struggle to make it like the vast majority of middle class people in America do.

Breaking trail

Photography is a little like backpacking - sometimes it will take you off trail and into untraveled terrain.

When your photography leads you there, by all means follow it; off trail is where things get interesting. It is where your photographic interests, style and vision will grow and evolve. It is where you will grow and evolve as a as an image maker and as a person.

I took my first faltering steps into the world of photography when I was 13. As I approach my 62nd birthday, I can now see that photography has taken me to places that I never would have imagined - places like Erdene Zuu monastery and Gandan monastery in Mongolia.

Photography has led me to meet people that I would have otherwise never met - people like National geographic photographers Jim Brandenburg and Steve Raymer, Magnum photographer Constantine Manos, Martha’s Vineyard photographic artist Alison Shaw, Swiss photographer Oliver Klink, my dear Mongolian friend Onolmaa Tervit and her nephew Badaa who was my driver, translator and guide in Mongolia - and Ven. Arjia Rinpoche.

These are but a few of the people who have left their indelible influence on my life and my growth as both a photographer and as a person. I have come to meet and know them all because I signed up for a photography class where I learned to develop black and white film. The impact on my life that photography and the people I have met and forged relationships with as a result of the class I took when I was 13 cannot be overstated.

Photography will take you into unexpected places, unknown places, wondrous places if you are willing to follow it where it leads you - if you are willing to break trail, to forge your own path. Based on my own experience, I cannot recommend breaking trail too highly.

The life of an artist/photographer

Robert Henri: “I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living."

The world view that underlies Robert Henri’s commentary about art, life and making a living rings true and is equally applicable to photography. Art (or photography) is more about a way of life than it is about revenue generation. Art/photography is about sustaining and nourishing the heart, mind, soul and spirit. That’s not to say that making money with your art/photography is a bad thing; we all have to find a way to keep the lights and water on at home.

The secret lies in finding a way to create income with your art/photography while at the same time not letting paying clients turn your photography into drudgery. I have repeatedly seen some of my photographic peers let the demands of paying work grind them down until the photography they loved in past times has become just a job; sometimes it even becomes a job that they dread doing.

I have seen photographers actually quit photography because they could no longer continue to struggle to meet the demands put upon them by paying clients who would not be satisfied no matter what the photographer did for them. When this happens, it is a very sad thing to see.

Don’t let paying clients take the joy out of photography. Don’t let them kill your love for photography and your pursuit of the photographic life. If you love photography, do it on your terms. Seek out paying clients, but vet them carefully. Make sure that they are the kind of person you can work with rather than work for before you take that deposit check from them. They may be writing the checks, but that does not mean they own you.

Your photography business is yours and yours alone. If you choose to accept money from a paying client to do a specific job, make certain it will be a positive and mutually beneficial collaboration for the both of you. Make certain that the amount of compensation you will receive is fair and equitable.

If a job is not a good deal for both the client and you, walk. Say no. Otherwise you will come to regret it.

Focus on the process, let go of the outcome

How do we improve as photographers? We focus on the things that we have total control over: Our effort and our attitude in the present moment.

Effort boils down to doing what we have to do to make ourselves better as image makers. We don’t worry about what the other five billion photographers in the world are doing, or how they are doing it. We concern ourselves with our photography. We drill down on what we need to do. We worry only about our work.

We don’t worry about what the curator at “Brand X” gallery likes or loathes. We don’t worry about who the art director is at “Brand X” magazine and what they think and whether or not they would like our work. We don’t worry about who the jurists are for a group exhibit we want to participate in. We can’t control what other people like or think. We can only control what we do and what we think.

We can’t change the past or fix the disappointments and shortcomings of our past efforts; we can only do our work in the present moment. We can’t control the outcome of future events; all we can do is do our work in the present moment. It is the only moment we have.

Our effort in the present moment is what matters. It is the only thing that will help us improve. Give photography your all and let go of the outcome. The outcome belongs to the future and we have no control over the future. What we do have control over is our effort in the present moment.

Our attitude in the present moment affects whether or not we will improve as photographers. Do not listen to those who say “you can’t do that.” Shut them off. Give their negativity and limiting thoughts and words no credence. Completely, totally and utterly reject their nonsense. Who the hell are they to tell you what you can or cannot do?? Listen to your inner voice, not the outer noise. Negativity will cripple your attitude and will sabotage your effort. Your mind will say “What’s the use in even trying?” You will be toast. Blackened, burned toast.

How do we create, nurture and keep a positive and productive attitude? We shut out negativity, no matter where it comes from or who it comes from. We give it no credence, no power over us. All that matters is what we think and what we do in the present moment - for present moment after present moment after present moment adds up to produce the future.

We embrace the process of improving. When we embrace the process and love the process in the present moment, the future takes care of itself.

Focus on the process and let go of the outcome.

What are you working on?

The other day, someone asked me, “What are a few things you are currently working on improving in your photography?”

After giving this question some thought, I answered this question as follows:

The things in my photography that I am currently working on are the same things I have been working on for the past several years:

1: Composition.

2: Framing (this is a different skill from composition).

3: Discerning and effective use of larger apertures (f/2, f/1.4, f/1.0) to produce shallow depth of field and affect the elements present in the photograph.

4: Being able to consistently capture the decisive moment of a scene.

These are the most elusive of photographic skills in my experience; anyone who has undertaken photography seriously and has committed to the photographic life knows that photographers never “get finished” honing their skills and abilities; the quest to improve is a lifelong process and a never ending journey.

A photographer may, over a span of years, improve significantly and produce arresting images - but no photographer ever really “arrives.”

Those are the things that I’m working on - among other things.

Darkness and Light

“…You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death…”

As Pink Floyd rightly observed in their song Time, every day we are one day closer to death. With that dark thought in mind, we turn the coin over to see the other side - the side that brings us light. That light is this: Every day is a new beginning. Yin and Yang. Darkness and Light. You cannot have one without the other. It is the Tao of life.

We have a choice - so why not choose the Light? What do you want to photograph that you have been thinking about for a while? Is it a new to you subject? A photo essay? An ongoing photo project? Does it involve travel? Whatever may be the case, don’t let another day go by without taking action toward that subject or project.

Taking action may be as simple as picking up your camera, walking out the door and photographing the subject you have been thinking about. Taking action may involve travel that will require research, planning and coordinating. If so, start now. Make a commitment to do at least one thing every day that will bring you closer to realizing your intention. Move the ball forward every day.

Let today be a new beginning; don’t dwell on the dark side of the coin. As Carrie Newcomer urged all of us, Lean Into the Light.

The lifeblood of photography

George Eastman: “Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”

George Eastman was right - a photographer has got to understand light. A photographer has to know how light works and how it affects the image of any given subject that will result from releasing the shutter.

Light is at once simple yet complex. The more a photographer knows about light, the more ability he/she has to fine tune the resulting images they will make using a given kind of light or light source.

Every aspect of light will affect the outcome of a photograph. The temperature of a light source affects the way the colors of a subject are rendered. The intensity of a light source will affect the appearance of the subject. Specular light produces a harsh, strident look; diffuse light produces a soft, silky look.

Each kind of light has its place in the scheme of things. It is in knowing how and when to utilize and modify a given light source that photographic craftsmanship becomes a factor in the image making process.

Eastman referred to light as the key to photography. Light seems more like the lifeblood of photography; without light, there is no subject to be seen and no image to be made. When there is no light, the subtleties of color and contrast fade into the nothingness of black. If there is no light at all, there is no photograph.

Light is the lifeblood of the photographic process.

Craftsmanship and perception

“Compensating for lack of skill with technology is progress toward mediocrity. As technology advances, craftsmanship recedes. As technology increases our possibilities, we use them less resourcefully. The one thing we’ve gained is spontaneity, which is useless without perception.”

The preceding quotation from photographer David Vestal (1924-2013) may sound harsh to some, like the grousing of a grumpy old malcontent - but what he says has merit. In photography, there are no substitutes for craftsmanship and perception, both of which do not come quickly or easily.

In today’s instant everything, hyper connected digital world, there are still some things that must be acquired the old fashioned way. I think that is one of the attributes of photography that appeals to me. Photography requires honest work, commitment and dedication applied over significant chunks of time; we’re talking years here.

Shallow effort will produce shallow results and shallow images. To say such a thing is an abomination in today’s “I want it now” culture, but it is nonetheless true.

Photography: It is what it is.

Life, photography and commitment

William Hutchison Murray: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: ‘
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!’”

Anyone who seriously intends to have a life that rises above mediocrity has got to commit to excellence; there is no other way. Focus, discipline and relentless, sustained effort are the lifeblood of a life well lived, intentions made manifest and the sense of accomplishment and contentment that comes with goals and dreams brought to life.

Photography is like that, too.

Achieving excellence in any endeavor, in any facet of life is never easy; it is not something that everyone is willing to commit to and stick to. Researchers at Scranton University found that 98% of people live and ultimately die without realizing their dreams. Living a life of unfulfilled dreams, the vast majority of people are steeped in varying degrees of discord, lack, frustration and sadness. If that is not tragic, what is?

Don’t settle for less, whether it’s in life or in your photography.

Don’t be a member of the 98% club. Hellen Keller once famously said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” We owe it to ourselves, our loved ones and to the world to be a two percenter.

Just do it

“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind.”

Those few powerful words from Dorothea Lange should strike all photographers like an unexpected electric shock - that is how they affected me the first time I read them.

We never know what the future holds in store for us, or whether it will be something wonderful or something dreadful. All we can do is do what we do in the present moment, right now, today. All we can do is live and photograph in the now, which when you really think about it is not a bad thing - it is a gift.

Get your camera and go. Make that image that you have been thinking about making, or the image that you want to try to make. Get your camera and just go. Go out on the street. Walk around to see what you can see. Make the unplanned, unexpected images that pop up when you aren’t looking for them. Life happens. Photographs happen, whether you are there with your camera or not. Don’t miss out.

For photographers, it is so unbelievably simple - it just comes down to this:




Don’t put it off. Do it now - today. Do it every day. Even if you make just five or ten images. Even if it’s just one subject. Even if you have to do it on your lunch break or on the way to your car after work. That is how you get better as a photographer.

Just do it.

We have to stop comparing

As photographers, we are always looking at the work that other photographers produce. This is how we learn and grow as image makers; it is one method of cultivating our photographic eye and honing our perception and our observational skills. We advance our craft by learning from the work of iconic photographers as well as our peers.

Where we can easily get off in the ditch is in comparing our work to the work of the titans of the photographic realm, both past and present. We do not want to go down that path, for that way madness lies.

Anyone who has consistently produced arresting images did not get to that point overnight. Some got there more quickly than others, some got there more slowly - but every last photographer who has risen to the top (or to the middle, even) worked long and hard to get there - we’re talking years, not weeks or months.

Honing your eye - your perception as an image maker - is an evolutionary process. It takes time - a long time. It takes thousands of hours of having your eye welded to the viewfinder of your camera, hundreds of thousands of exposures made and thousands of hours of processing and editing. If you seriously want to become a world class photographer, there is no other way.

That may discourage or depress some people who have high hopes for their photography - but the good news is this: There is a way to get there. No, it’s not a quick way or an easy way, but there is a way.

A photographic mentor of mine once said to a workshop that I was attending, “I have no natural talent. I knew that this is what I wanted to do and I worked terribly hard at it.” He started at the same place we all started - at zero. Where did he end up? As a full member of Magnum Photos, the photographic cooperative founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and others. Constantine Manos - my mentor and workshop leader - started at zero like the rest of us. It was not natural talent or connections that elevated him to the pinnacle of his profession - it was relentless, obsessive work for years on end.

I do not compare my photographs to the images of Constantine Manos, Steve McCurry, Oliver Klink, Jim Brandenburg or others who have developed similar reserves of enormous talent and photographic insight. I look at their images and draw inspiration and motivation from them. I look at these giants of the photographic world as models of what is possible for any of us - if we want it as badly as did they and work as long and hard at it as they did.

Zack Arias: “Jarvis sucked. Carsch sucked. Avedon sucked. Adams sucked. Mary Ellen Mark sucked. Every photographer in history was a horrible photographer for some period of time. They learned. They grew. They persevered.

That is the way of the artist. Just be patient. Keep on going. Transformation takes time.

From what I have seen in my life, it really is worth [the work and] the wait.”

The Tao of Photography

Henri Cartier-Bresson: "To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life."

Cartier-Bresson’s observations regarding photography ring true; they always have. Like his timeless images that live on long after his passing on August 3, 2004 HCB’s thoughts on the photographic process remain relevant and powerful in our modern world. One look at his work will reveal that photography was to him not merely a pastime but was a way of life.

For those who take it seriously, photography is a lifelong journey on a road that is at times challenging, rewarding, exasperating, exhilarating, depressing, joyous, maddening and fulfilling. It is one of the first things we think about when we awaken in the morning and one of the last things we think about as we drift off to sleep. We read books and magazines about photography every day; we study other photographer’s images, we study our own images; we work to learn, we work to improve our art and craft and to advance in the direction of our goals, dreams and intentions.

In 1997, singer/songwriter Meredith Brooks wrote of the agony and the ecstasy that relationships can bring. She could easily have been writing of the exhilaration and sometimes the frustration that this labor of love we call photography can bring into our lives:

“I’m a bitch, I'm a lover
I'm a child, I'm a mother
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell, I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way…”

Like the object of Brooks’ affection, we image makers wouldn’t want it any other way.

Photography is our Tao - our way of life.

Buddhism in Mongolia exhibit at Pictura Gallery/FAR (Bloomington, IN)

I am pleased to announce that I will be exhibiting my images from Mongolia at Pictura Gallery/FAR in Bloomington, IN on Friday, May 3rd 2019. The exhibit is a “pop-up” style exhibit and will be shown for one night only from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Resident monks from Kumbum Chamtse Ling monastery will be present to answer questions about the monastic life led by monks in Mongolia and to provide their insights into Buddhism for those in attendance. Kumbum Chamtse Ling monastery is located on the grounds of the Tibetan Buddhist Mongolian Cultural Center in Bloomington, IN. The monks will also provide milk tea and momos (meat and vegetarian style will be available).

In a world that is preoccupied with the future, the Buddhist monks of Mongolia focus on living in the present moment; they work not for recognition or affluence but for the benefit of all humanity.  Their efforts are focused on helping to bring about the intention that is addressed in Buddhist sutras:  “May all sentient beings be free from suffering and its causes.”

It is their dedication to peace – both inner peace and peace in our volatile world – that drew me to these holy men and inspired me to undertake an ongoing documentary project that chronicles their lives and work.

One of the greatest challenges in photographing Buddhist monks can be access.  Photographic access is not impossible, though; with the assistance of my Mongolian guide and interpreter, access to photograph was almost always granted once my intentions and my project had been explained.

In photographing the monks of Mongolia my intent was to illustrate the religious beliefs, cultural tenets and monastic lifestyle of these holy men who dedicate every waking hour to the pursuit of inner peace and to perpetuating peace in our world.

If my photographic endeavors in some small way aid the monks in their purpose, I will have succeeded in my efforts and hopefully will have honored their work.

Pictura Gallery/FAR is located at 202 S. Rogers Street in Bloomington, IN. For more information, you may call the gallery at 812-336-0000 or visit their website at

A photographic fork in the road

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

That’s a pretty strong endorsement of black and white photography; it comes from Ted Grant, one of the giants of photojournalism whose career spans over 60 years.

Color photography is more realistic; the world we live in is made up of many colors, not just black, white and shades of gray. Black and white images seem to be more focused, more intense thanks to the absence of color. They seem to go deeper into the subject , cutting to the heart of the matter, to the essence of the subject.

So what do we as photographers do? Do we opt for more reality by choosing to work in color? Or do we commit to the more austere yet intense world of black and white imagery? Do we burrow deeper into our subjects with black and white in pursuit of a more insightful and thoughtful body of work? Or do we embrace the it is what it is approach of color photography?

I am still deliberating on that one.

Black and White or Color? Or both?

I have to admit that I gravitate toward photographing in color - yet at the same time, I love black and white images. Both have their place in the scheme of things, just as both film photography and digital photography have their place. One is not “better” than the other; they are different, that’s all.

Color images cause the viewer to look at the image with different eyes compared to black and white. Color elicits a different reaction in the viewer’s mind. The viewer sees the image through a different mental filter. Black and white does the same thing.

I realized this when looking at the magnificent black and white Piezography fine art prints of Oliver Klink recently. His images are meticulously composed, executed and printed using the Piezography printing process. Due to the strength of the content of his images, they could be executed in either black and white or color and would still have enormous visual impact - but the impact of a given image in color would be different from the impact of that same image when rendered in black and white.

Color prints are more realistic or objective; the world we live in is a world awash in color with thousands of different colors, tones, hues and variations. Black and white prints are more interpretative, more abstract and perhaps more artistic by nature. The distraction of brilliant, saturated colors is notably absent, giving way to perhaps a deeper, more reflective evaluation of the print by the viewer.

It all depends on the viewer and his/her way of looking at and perceiving an image, though. Whenever I look at Claude Monet’s water lilies, I am staggered by the delicate beauty of his work. I have never felt short changed by Monet’s choice to work in color rather than in black and white. By the same token, I have never longed for Ansel Adams’ powerful images of Yosemite to have been rendered in color. Each kind of subject matter seems to call out to be rendered in either black and white or color in order to optimize the impact of the images in a given body of work.

Digital photography allows us via Lightroom, Photoshop and other software to render a given image in both black and white and color, if we so choose. This is where things get sketchy.

My approach is to choose one or the other, but don’t jump back and forth between color and black and white in a given body of work or project. This will give the project or body of work a visual cohesiveness that would otherwise be missing.

Many photographers and gallerists will agree with this approach; others will call it nonsense. At the end of the day, it is the photographer who must choose.

As artists, we always have the freedom to choose - but we also must choose wisely.

Of Boxing, Basketball and Photography

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

That quotation from Muhammad Ali hangs on my vision board because its underlying concept is also applicable to photography.

Anyone who has ever achieved anything of significance in the world of photography - regardless of their chosen genre - has worked and fought long and hard in the shadows of obscurity for many years to earn that achievement.

When we we first start out in photography, we all suck - plain and simple. Those who persevere for years on end will eventually realize this. They will look back at their early work and come to the realization that ninety to ninety to ninety five percent of it was crap. I told a photographer friend of mine this once and he laughed - because he recognized the truth of that statement.

Learning how to “work” a camera - any camera - is relatively easy. You can learn the basics in a weekend, or even in just a day. Learning to produce arresting images that have proper exposure, sharp focus, refined composition, coherent depth of field, insight and visual impact - images that tell a story or convey underlying concept - takes years (if not decades) of work and commitment to the craft. There are no shortcuts.

As Michael Jordan said of the game he so loved, “Be true to the game, because the game will be true to you. If you try to shortcut the game, then the game will shortcut you. If you put forth the effort, good things will be bestowed upon you. That's true about the game, and in some ways that's about life too.”

Dharma in the Heartland at Art Bank Gallery, Indianapolis (#2)

The exhibit was installed on Thursday, February 1st and was followed by the opening reception on Friday the 2nd.  The turnout was light as I had expected due to the cold that evening.  Regardless, it was a chance to meet other artists and others who appreciate art.  The exhibit will be up from now until February 28th. 

Art Bank is located at 811 Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis.  Their business hours are as follows -

Monday & Tuesday:  CLOSED

Wednesday thru Saturday:  11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Sunday:  12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

For more information, visit Art Bank's website at

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