Some of you may have heard of Eva Cassidy. If you haven’t heard of her, I think you need to know about her.
Eva was an American vocalist/guitarist gifted with an incredible musical talent. Sadly, she died of melanoma in 1996 at the age of 33.
Terribly shy, Eva never achieved great fame during her life, but after her death, her music lived on and reached the top of the charts in UK and was a best seller on Amazon for a while. Once you hear her music, you’ll understand.
The New York Times described her as a “silken soprano voice with a wide and seemingly effortless range, unerring pitch and a gift for phrasing that at times was heart-stoppingly eloquent.”
In learning more about her, I find her so inspiring. Her pursuit was simply to do the best at her art, which was her music. She was not seeking fame or fortune really. She simply made the world a more beautiful place.
I encourage you to listen to her rendition of “Over the Rainbow” (below). It’s like her spirit somehow reaches into us and lifts us to where we are almost touching heaven.
It is such a tragedy to see such a life cut short by cancer. But I am just struck by how much she is living on through her gift of music that she gave us.
We as artists, need to really appreciate that a part of us lives on through our art. I am so grateful for the artists who have impacted my life. Simply by experiencing the music of Eva Cassidy, my life is somehow “better”. I appreciate “life” a little more. I am reminded to be grateful for this brief time I have on earth.
I went to the Houston Art Car Parade this past weekend. I brought all my DSLR camera gear with me to Houston but when I woke up Saturday morning, I decided I didn’t want to bother with carrying my camera. So, with a little hesitance, I left my DSLR behind and just took my iphone as my only camera. I just wanted to enjoy the event, and fully experience the vehicles rather than focusing all my attention on photographing the vehicles.
Sometimes “photographing an event” can be quite different from “experiencing an event.” I just wanted to experience it and have fun. (Maybe it is because I take so many photos that, for me, NOT taking photographs can be my chance to just enjoy and relax.)
Therefore, everything I post here are just my iphone snapshots. The purpose of the post is not about my photography of the event. Rather, I wanted to talk about the experience, and a few insights gained.
I 100% believe it is important for all artists to observe and explore various forms of art, not just “their” art. Photographers should study painting, sculpting, music, dance, etc. Take the time to SEE how other artists pursue the expression of their art.
One thing I also believe about photography is that we need to learn the technical stuff only to open the door to our creativity, but do NOT stay stuck in the technical stuff. You will find all sorts of websites that will tell you to buy they highest quality gear, cameras with the biggest number of megapixels etc. and they’ll obsess about the technical aspects as if that is what makes good art. While the tools you choose are indeed important, that is not the whole story. You can go out and by a super sharp $2000 lens and yes your photos may end up being a bit sharper, but that does not mean your images will necessarily any be better artistically.
I urge you to liberate yourself and think more broadly about your photography as ART, and open your mind and eyes to ways you might challenge yourself artistically to express your art in new and fun ways.
I will soon be offering a totally different type of photography class…
This class will help you photograph the world differently, with new eyes, and new means of expression, and challenge you to put into practice what you learn and discover in class and then come back and share your art with the group. Plus you will have a chance to see what the other artist/photographers came up with.
If you want to get better at photography, learn the technical fundamentals but absolutely do not stop there. That can get boring after a while! Also learn to be proficient at tools like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, but then take the next step! Challenge yourself artistically.
Let me know if you’d be interested in participating in this new class, and I will announce more details soon. You can contact me using my website contact form, or if you know my email address, just send me an email, or post a comment at the bottom of this blog post.
Now, back to the Art Car Parade…
Here are some of my iphone snapshots from the art car parade. I loved the wild and crazy things people did to their cars, or their vision that went beyond just modifying a car, and instead create a whole new type of vehicle. It was a lot of fun, and I found myself inspired and entertained for several hours.
Could you imagine driving this through downtown Austin?
Some pretty wild designs:
This one, I really liked!
And then there was this van completely covered in old cameras.
Another wild vehicle.
What do you do if your hobby is model railroading, and you decide to enter the Art Car Parade? Mount your model railroad on top of your car, of course.
Yaba Daba Doo.
Must’ve used a LOT of glue for this.
I really liked this one. Car converted into a sardine can.
You guessed it, the driver was dressed as a sardine.
More fun wild stuff.
Yes, I LOVED this one. Extra credit for thinking outside the box. Or I guess he stayed in the box.
I chose this article title because I thought it might attract your attention, mainly out of curiosity.
The man I am talking about is Ansel Adams. He lived 82 years and had a major impact on the art of photography, and yes, he had a crooked nose. If you search on Google, you’ll find photos of him, and you’ll see, sure enough, he indeed had a crooked nose.
How did that happen? Well, as the story is told, he was injured in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake when he was a little boy. An aftershock threw him into a garden wall, and his broken nose was never set properly, so it remained crooked the rest of his life.
He started experimenting with photography when he was around the age of 14, following a trip to Yosemite National Park. Over many decades that followed, he perfected his craft of photography and made major contributions to the art and science of photography with a passion to create outstanding images. His photographic work is known around the world.
I thought I’d share a few quotes by Ansel Adams. I figure his insights are way more important than mine:
“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”
“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”
“To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature and humanity which live or are latent in all things.”
“Some photographers take reality … and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation.”
“The only things in my life that compatibly exists with this grand universe are the creative works of the human spirit.”
“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”
“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”
“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.”
“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”
Most definitely, he was attentive to technical details, perhaps best known for his work with Fred Archer on the development of the “Zone System” for determining optimal film exposure, developing, and printing for perfect rendering of all image tonal values from black to white and all levels (zones) in between. I worked with the Zone System in my earlier years when I spent countless hours in the darkroom.
As I look over the many quotes by Ansel Adams that people post online I am grateful they keep his insights alive for the benefit of us all, but one thing stands out to me. Most of his greatest insights were about how we see the world, how we appreciate the art of photography, and how we appreciate the beauty of the world around us, and even about how we FEEL.
When you look at the technical details involved in developing the Zone System, we see he was surely great at the technical aspects, but from what I can tell from his many quotes is that the “technical” is secondary to the “art”. Or as he said, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”
As many of you know, this is one of my concerns, that in this age of high tech photography, we can get all geeky about it and focus on fancy gear and miss what is most important, the art.
It is sometimes easier to obsess with “technically perfection” yet ignore the art aspects. We must always remember to focus on the art of photography: composition, emotion, light, shadow, mood, story telling, and so much more. If we just focus on the technical stuff, we’ve missed out on what is really important.
Focus on what is important.
By the way, it doesn’t matter that Ansel Adams had a crooked nose.
It’s that time of year where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes excellence in cinematic achievements in the film industry, and so many people tune in to see who will win awards for their creative talent.
I love seeing people excel at their art, whatever their art might be. The Academy Awards is not just about excellence in art. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes politics that goes on, and jockeying to make sure “their” film gets noticed. It’s only normal that would be the case because there are big bucks involved. Still, I’ll try to not be too cynical about it all, and just celebrate success in art.
I think about so many artists I know who are not “winners” in the sense of having gotten an award, but I look at the art they are creating and I very much see them as outstanding artists. I see them as “winners”, even without an award. And I see some artists who are getting better, gradually perfecting their craft, and maybe still have a way to go (hey we all do, honestly) but when I look at how far they’ve come, I cant help but see them as “winners” also.
Photography is a form of ART that is really pretty technical. For some folks, the technical stuff can be a little overwhelming. For others, they just love the technical stuff, and in some cases get obsessed by it. (Ok, self confession, I have a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, thus I have a degree in being a “nerd”) For us nerds, we have to be careful to not let our nerd-ness get out of hand.
Especially when you are bombarded with all the marketing out there, you can be lured into thinking that you simply must own all the highest quality technical gear available today: the absolute sharpest and fastest lenses, the “highest quality glass” (lingo for fancy lenses), cameras that go to ISO 3,280,000 or can shoot 11 frames per second or have a huge sensor, the most expensive lights available, etc. Now I am NOT saying that having good quality gear is bad at all. But what I am getting to is that as much as we might be tempted to think that our photographs will turn out so much better if we had the best gear available to us, that just doesn’t turn out to be the case.
This is ART. Creativity, talent, skill, and knowledge of how to make the best use of what you own matters way more than having the most fancy equipment available. Ultimately, “technical perfection” is not the “winner”. Strive to create great art, regardless of what camera you own.
Or here’s a musical analogy: You may have seen this youtube video of a street drummer doing some pretty cool drumming with plastic buckets. No fancy drums. Just plastic buckets.
I encourage you to push yourself to excel at your art. Don’t worry about how fancy your gear is. Just focus on using it better. Sharpen your skills. Ask questions. Learn. Make mistakes. Learn some more. Get better.
And don’t worry if your work is not as good as others’ yet. Just keep striving to be better. If you keep doing that, in my view, YOU ARE A WINNER.
I’ve used this analogy in several of my classes, so some of you have already heard this. 🙂
I love music. In many ways I think perhaps it is humanity’s most beautiful and complex art form. It is an art that can be expressed individually or collectively as a group of musicians in a band or orchestra. Music can be produced and enjoyed in so many different ways, and there is no one “right” way. Music gets inside us, gets inside our brains. A melody, words in a song, can inspire us, bring us to tears, make us smile, take us back to a moment in time.
I learned how to play the clarinet when I was around 13 years old. Wait, let me rephrase that. I started learning how to play the clarinet when I was around 13 years old. (It took a while.)
Have you ever heard a beginning clarinet student play that instrument? Wow, you can make a lot of bad noise when starting out. I feel sorry for what my parents had to endure when I practiced at home in my bedroom. Day after day, I practiced. Getting a little better over time, but boy did it take a while to get beyond just making noise.
Learning an instrument starts out as a technical exercise. You even have to learn how to place your mouth on the instrument right. (It is not as obvious as you might think.) You have to learn how to place your fingers on the instrument in the right way. And in creating the various notes, you have to press your fingers down or lift them up in the right order or it won’t work right. It is a bit complex.
And then there is the music theory you have to learn also. What is an eighth note, a half note, a rest? What is staccatto? Tremolo? On and on.
You spend a long time learning enough of the technical stuff before you really get to what is interesting: the music. Eventually, you have learned enough to discover the real beauty of the art is not in all the technical stuff of where you put your fingers and how you read sheet music, but rather it is how you make something beautiful with your instrument.
There are some similarities with photography. Granted, you can pick up your instrument, in this case a camera, and immediately start taking pictures (and it’s sure not that way with a clarinet). The more you learn the technical stuff, you can produce even better art with your camera because you have more ability to be creative with your instrument. You can go beyond the limitations imposed by using a camera in its fully automatic modes.
As you dig deeper into learning the technical parts of photography, it is important to remember the real objective is to get beyond the technical to explore the art of photography more fully. Learn the technical, but don’t get hung up on the technical. Learn the rules but don’t be afraid to play with the rules, bend the rules, maybe even break the rules if needed. Stay focused on creating art.
Art is more of an emotional thing than a technical thing. The technical stuff is really just a necessary means to an end. The fun really begins once you have learned your instrument and you start creating beautiful art with it. That is true whether it is a clarinet or a camera.
Music has many different genres, and so does photography. I encourage you to explore different genres of photography. Try new things. Explore. Experiment. Fail. Experiment some more. Learn from your mistakes. Discover what you like. Discover what you dislike. Eventually find your passion in the art. Find what you love, and do that. Find a way to express YOUR view of the world through your images. Don’t just copy others. The world loves a creative artist who expresses their art in ways they have not seen before.
I was looking back over some of my old photographs from when I was a teenager, back when I first got interested in photography. I created this image over 40 years ago, can’t remember the girl’s name. I have that info somewhere (yes I got a model release).
She was working at a mall, and I noticed her, and asked her if I could photograph her. We went to the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens. I shot a lot of photos. We had a great time.
I was shooting with a Pentax KX SLR film camera (they, of course, were ALL film cameras back then). Photography was still relatively new to me, but everything about photography just felt “natural” to me. I loved it. I loved all the ways I could capture a beautiful moment in time, or a beautiful scene, or a beautiful person. I loved how it was a mix of art and science because that sort of sums up my interests pretty well, art and science. Using photography as an excuse to go out to a park with a beautiful girl had nothing to do with it. (Okay, that is a total lie.)
Anyway, on this day after Thanksgiving, I was reflecting on how thankful I am that my parents encouraged me in my photographic endeavors way back then. They bought me that first Pentax KX SLR. They always encouraged me in whatever my pursuits were in life.
Well, why am I writing this, on this today? I guess I just wanted to remind YOU, in your pursuits of photography as a hobby or career, never lose touch with what you LOVE about photography.
In this age of the Internet and social media, it is easy to get caught up in following the latest trends, striving to just do whatever is currently popular, and gets the most “likes” on Facebook, etc. OR maybe you get discouraged because you see other photographers posting images that are “so much better” than yours. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THAT. Despite the countless photography contests you see out there, I really encourage you to not see art as a competition. It is just too subjective. If you start striving to just create images using styles that you see other photographers doing, you might just lose your individuality in the process and your images will start looking like everyone else’s.
Photograph whatever you love to photograph. The person you should “compete” against is not someone else… it is YOU. Just strive to be better than the photographer you were yesterday. Work on your technical skills, but don’t think that is all that matters. Your artistic skills, composition, use of light, etc. all matter just as much.
Just always try to improve in one way or another over time. Enjoy the work of other photographers, but you have permission to be YOU. Be different. Be bold. Be creative. Be silly. Be serious. Be you.
If you are not doing photography because you love it, then make some changes. Find the part of photography YOU love. You may not have even found the part of photography you would love the most, so try different things. If you are a landscape photographer, try dabbling with something totally different like studio photography. If you photograph babies, try photographing horses (or anything else)! Shake things up a bit. Challenge yourself, but BE yourself. As you do this, you will discover the fun in photography.
40+ years later, I am still having fun. I hope you are too.
One thing I love to do is help others find their “love” of photography.
P.S. If you are feeling a little “burned out” in your photography, you might consider taking my ‘Rekindle Workshop‘. I currently have it offered as a daytime class, but if you’d like me to add it as an evening or weekend class, please let me know. If we have enough people interested, I can add it!
Kevin Gourley Photography Workshops, Austin, TX – Austin Photography Classes