Purpose and Photography - Thoughts after 25 years... (repost)

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james b norman
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Purpose and Photography - Thoughts after 25 years... (repost)
2 months ago

Lately, I have seen a couple of threads asking "what should I be doing with my photography?" and "what is really important about photography?"

This is a repost of a thread i wrote quite a while back. It is basically a small tale of my own convoluted path of my photography career through the years, and my attempt to find meaning in what i was doing. (I will post it in two parts due to the new post length limit).

Part One:

i've been a professional architectural photographer for over 20 years, and did fine art B/W work prior to that for a few years. i see so many photographers that have nice equipment, have a good eye for photography, and yet have no direction or focus to their work. i thought i would take a few minutes and share a bit of my experience with some of you.

when i was first starting out, i shot everything - kitties, nudes, sunsets, still lifes, portraits, street scenes, macros, old falling down barns, landscapes - you name it, i shot it. after a couple years of piling up slides and prints, with plenty of comments from friends about this or that being interesting, i finally put my camera down for over a year because i just could not figure out what all this was good for. i couldnt stop myself from picking the camera back up a year later and started all over, just because i enjoyed the process of seeing and making images, and i, of course, just loved cool cameras - leicas, nikon F's, rolleiflex TLRs - all were, and are, works of art in themselves and it was comfoting just to hold them and use them.

after another year or two of shooting all manner of subjects, i putthe camera down again, still at a loss to understand what i was doing except spending lots of time and money just to show a few friends my shots. another year passed until i had to pick it up again, adn this time i told myself i was going to get serious about it.

i printed a group of about 20 of what i thought were my best efforts on some RC glossypaper, and matted them carefully. i made an appointment with a man in portland oregon who ran a small art photo gallery who was known for giving newcomers a chance at a one-man show. i was nervous, but i was sure he would love my work - a couple of really nice nude studies, a couple of tranquil landscapes, some interior studies, and a few street photography images. well, the guy took my stack of matted photos and flipped through them in about 45 seconds. he sat back and said, "you have a pretty good eye, but you've got no direction to your work. pick out one or two of these images that you like the best, think about why those images speak to you in particular, and build a portfolio around that idea or concept. come back and see me in a year."

well, i did just that. i picked out two images that appealed to me - one street shot and one of the interior studies. i worked very hard over the next year to build consistent groups of images around those two themes. in the meantime, i studied how professional artists printed, matted, and framed their works. i went back to the gallery owner a year later with two portfolios, now printed on DW agfa portriga and used 4-ply museum board floating mats. the guy again flipped through the two portfolios in hardly more than a minute or two and sat back. i was devastated, knowing i was about to be humiliated, until he said, "i'll give you a one-man show with either of those portfolios. make an appointment with my admin person out front." that show led to a couple other shows and a few items in a couple of local sales galleries, but i had higher goals than selling - i wanted to be an artist. i found out to make contact with the curator at the portland art museum, and had a more well known photographer send him three of my prints on my behalf. one of the shots was accepted into the permanent collection fo the art museum, and i finally felt i had accomplished something of value.

i played the art game for about 5 years, learning how to speak the language, and learning how to say what curators wanted to hear. oddly, they were often more interested in hearing me talk about juxtaposition of masses, and the use of dark space than they were in actually looking at the images. i finally got burned out on the art scene as it was turning me into someone that i was really not, and i did not want to build a career on being something i was not.

(see following thread for Part Two)

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jnorman
sunridge studios
salem, oregon
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