What makes a practice sustainable?

What are the measures of sustainability?  Is it income, recognition, Instagram likes, self-satisfaction, specialisation, a signature style?

What is it about the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Hurn, Robert Adams, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Cas Oorthuys, Cecil Beaton, Robert Frank, Richard Avedon that makes them relevant today?

I believe these, and others sustained their practices because they were almost all versatile and adaptable photographers.  They each had an eye for the moment, both in terms of composition and story. In the end their practices were sustainable because they made good work and their subjects were relatable.  Not every photo any of the above made was perfectly in focus or even of great significance.  Most would not win a modern competition, and many might not even be published today, but they each produced huge bodies of work throughout their careers and we are still looking at that work today.

That said, despite the substantial increase in technical quality in contemporary photography, I am not convinced that people will be looking at the work of Juno Calypso, David LaChapelle, or Edouard Taufenbach 50 years from now.  The subject matter for a marked amount of contemporary photography in my opinion is not relatable to most people and in fact is, often for me, undecipherable.  Much of the work carries no weight and seems to strive for the bizarre and absurd, the frivolous, superficial and fashionable instead of showing the realities of the world and the people in it.  There are of course as many exceptions.  Laura Henno’s work in Africa took years of research and effort.  David Chancellor’s work on the relationship between wildlife and communities likewise will endure because of its subject matter and the quality of the work.

Among the first pronouncements of this module was a statement to the effect that one’s worth as a photographer is measured by how much money one earns and how prestigious the client base; that journeymen photographers are somehow less talented, less motivated, less successful and less worthy.  By these measures Richard Prince would be considered extraordinarily successful, even though his work is largely crap.  No one will be looking at his work in 50 years other than as case studies in misappropriation.

So how can we measure sustainability?  Is there only one measure?  I think sustainability comes in different flavours.  The avantgarde contemporary photographers who are fortunate enough to garner attention and sell some high-priced work may meet a financial measure of sustainability during their lifetime, but their work may not endure.  Instagram and other social media followings and likes are not in my opinion indicators of sustainability.  How many flashes in the pan have gotten their 15 minutes of fame and promptly disappeared into oblivion?  A working commercial photographer who can stay busy with commissions and make a solid living certainly has achieved a degree of sustainability, even though their work may be relatively ordinary and have not lasting significance. Another measure, and perhaps the worthiest in my opinion, of sustainability is work of lasting relevance or interest during and beyond the photographer’s lifetime, regardless of whether that photographer was financially successful during their career.  These are the photographers that make a difference in the world and in photography it would be the category to which I would aspire were I 40 years younger and beginning a career.

Week 6 Reflections – Truth: Photographic and Otherwise

In his book, On Being a Photographer, Bill Jay recalled being told by philosopher-poet-artist Michel Butor, one of his teachers, that “truth was like a photograph in which thousands of shades from black to white, and including both extremes, were necessary for full revelation. But of course, most people in this day and age insist the truth is black, or white, and deny the beauty of the whole.”

I began to think about the realities of that statement, and its applicability to my photographic practice and more broadly to the current every day world.  I find the assertion that many people want only to think in terms of truth being black or white to be quite true in the United States and particularly in the part of South Carolina where I spend some of the year.  When considered in photographic terms the absurdities of that notion are quite evident.

What follows is a series of four images; all the identical image as the starting point.  The first is overexposed to render the result pure white.

Nov18-0098-4

The second image is underexposed so that it renders in pure black.

Nov18-0098-3

The third image properly exposed in monochrome begins to reveal some of the “truth’ that was absent in the prior two photos. In this photo we begin to see the complexities and intricacies of the scene in the subtle shades of grey and the small bits of pure black and white.

Nov18-0098-2

 

And finally, as originally captured in full colour we find “truth” that was not apparent in any of the prior rendering of this image. The full complexities of the scene are revealed when considered in colour.

Nov18-0098

Here it is possible to see the scene of people lining the Champs Elysees in Paris in the rain for the commemoration of the Centenary of the Armistice ending World War I on 11 November 2018.

Is it the total “truth”?  No, because the image cannot reveal the sound of the guns falling silent and the bells beginning to chime and depth of emotion felt in that crowd as that happened, but it is far more truthful than any of the white, black or even shades of gray photographs.

My photographic practice is fundamentally documentary in character so the reality of the “thing itself” or the “truth” of the image is very important to me.  Can an image ever reveal the total truth?  I am not convinced a single image alone can ever do that.  Perhaps a series or images with associated text can come as close as possible, but truth is an elusive animal.  Very few truths are absolute.  One though is that wee live in a world filled with colour.  To ignore that and attempt to see it only in black or white is to deny truth entirely.  Truth is intricate, complex and inseparable from its whole.  It can only exist in the context of the full range of colour of which it is comprised.

We all, and especially our leaders, be they political, religious, or otherwise would do well to remember this.

Hurn, D., & Jay, B. (2009). On Being a Photographer (Third). Anacortes, WA: LensWork Publishing.

Week 5 – Networking

Networking is second nature to me after over 40 years of work experience working in and leading large organisations, developing business domestically and internationally, consulting, and then owning two businesses.  My photographic practice didn’t start with the intention of becoming another business, but I find myself, almost exclusively through networking, getting commissions, selling work and being as busy as I wish to be.  I was invited to talk to another group next week as word had gotten around from the last group I spoke to had been very enthusiastically received.  It was networking that allowed me to get the space for my physical exhibition last August and that led to my work being permanently on display for sale there.

I belong to the local camera club which meets every other week and holds monthly competitions as well as conducting educational programs and hosting guest speakers.  I have learned a lot through this group and the people in it and have had quite a (sometimes humbling) education into the world of photo competitions and “what sells” with judges.  I the most recent competition my entry in the colour category won and was featured in the local newspaper, which again generates interest in my work and prompts conversations and enquiries.

20181020_213709.jpg

Social media is just another form of networking. Until recently I hadn’t used Instagram very much and I restricted posting of photos to my Facebook account, again largely because I wasn’t intending to promote a business.  However, beginning to use Instagram and posting simultaneously to FB has increased awareness of my work.  A recent commission arose from a viewing of the video I did last term on my project, Coul Links, that was shown at my exhibition opening and submitted as part of my Surfaces and Strategies WIP.  I was asked to produce a video using my drone to promote the business where I held my exhibition.  The owner posted the final product on Facebook and in one day had nearly 2000 views.  I expect that as a result, more offers of work will be coming my way.

I have worked within my network in the past two weeks to secure commitments from two new outlets for distribution of my books; the one already in print and forthcoming projects.  I have joined the RPS but have not yet been able to take advantage of the opportunities that presents to network yet.  I do hope to submit a panel for distinction early next year and that may offer some additional networking opportunities.

I realise I am in a different place in life than some of the others on this course and while I find in person networking really to be just an extension of my day to day existence, others may find it more difficult.  I think it is easy to conflate the term networking with “selling your work” and that is more difficult for most of us.  Instead I think of “networking” as a way to get to know people, and for others to get to know you, and more importantly remember you.  Your work will come up at some point, but that isn’t the prime focus going into the encounter.  Learn something about the person you are meeting and what they do.  It may be that in the end the secondary and tertiary connections that come from that initial encounter are the ones that will make a difference for you or for them.  Maybe you know someone who can do something for that person and they might know someone who knows someone you should meet.  Networking usually requires time and patience.  You don’t have a jumper just after casting the yarn onto your needle; you must knit awhile to see what comes of your efforts.

Week 4 – Marketing

We were challenged this week to create a marketing plan. While these can and perhaps should be far more elaborate plans embedded within an overall business plan, I have prepared a simple overview describing my objective, and the strategies and tactics I can employ to achieve that objective.  As a former strategic planner I balked a bit at the way the terms and examples were presented, as I thought they were very muddled and it can be important to be more precise because objectives, strategies and tactics are 3 distinct things.  An Objective is the overall outcome or end result you desire.  Strategies are how you intend to achieve the objective and tactics are what specific things you will do to effect success in each of the strategies.

To use a military analogy; the Objective is to win the war by way of an unconditional surrender.  The strategies might include using air, sea and land forces to overwhelm enemy defences, while the tactics would be something like begin with an air campaign designed to suppress enemy offensive capabilities and achieve air superiority before committing land forces.  Direct a mixed division of armour and cavalry forces in a fast moving multi pronged attack focused on key command and control nodes.  You get the idea.  These terms relate to a stratified structure of increasing detail as you progress through each layer.

One could also think of it in terms of a building.  The objective is to have a house.  The strategies are the various pillars holding up the roof and the bricks that make up the pillars are the tactics.

Planning ensures that the strategies directly support the achievement of the objective or they are not relevant and tactics needs to support the strategy to which they are assigned.  Once the planning is done, then what one concerns themselves with on a day to day basis are the tactics.  They are the “action items” that must be completed to execute a successful strategy and the sum of all the strategies successfully executed will achieve the overall objective.

Marketing Plan

Ashley Rose Photography – Chasing the Wild Life

 

Objective

To establish myself as a professional photographer

 

Strategies and Tactics

  1. Continue to produce high quality work while always striving to improve my skills
    1. Dedicate time to continually experiment and learn new skills
    2. Keep pushing in my project work to obtain the best possible photographs
  2. Use my website to promote my portfolio of work and ultimately monetise using it as a sales platform
    1. Update website to simplify and be more focused
    2. Work toward an upgrade that will allow sale of my work from the website
  3. Expand the use of social media to promote my work
    1. Post regularly to Instagram and Facebook
    2. Create a new Facebook page that is for my business and stop mixing it with my personal page
  4. Continue to produce photobooks and acquire new outlets for their distribution
    1. Two additional books in the planning phase
    2. New outlet for 19 Sutherland Bridges was identified this week and books are ordered
    3. Special limited edition book sold out at a profit
    4. Commitments from two retail outlets for the two books in work
  5. Establish retail distribution outlets for my prints
    1. Two retail outlets identified and committed; one on consignment and the other on outright purchase and resale
    2. Identify additional outlets
  6. Accept commissioned work when and if it fits my schedule and interests
    1. Word of mouth has been bringing a stead stream of commissions, so the key is to meet or exceed the expectations of each client and the word gets passed along

Week 4 – In the Beginning

My earliest recollections of taking photos was in 1964 during a family holiday to the western US.  Dad, Mom, younger brother and me loaded in the station wagon (estate car) and headed from Cleveland, Ohio to St. Louis, Missouri where we picked up Route 66 and headed west.  All of my monochrome images are still in an album in my folks house, but I recall very well images in the St. Louis Botanical Gardens, and National Parks including the Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, the Rocky Mountains and Continental divide, and cultural and travel photos in Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, and Denver.  While there were of course the obligatory family snaps here and there, even then people didn’t figure prominently into my photography.

I graduated to more complex cameras inheriting my Dad’s hand me down rangefinder Pentax as I came into secondary school.  My photographic interests were still slanted heavily toward nature and outdoor activities. It was when I came to university and got my first Minolta SLR that my interest and passion for photography really blossomed.  My first trip to the UK in 1972 are full of photos of landscapes, birds, and cathedrals. It quite honestly hadn’t occurred to me that I have been doing what I do for a very long time and my preferred subject matter has remained remarkably constant through these may years.  There were again the odds and ends photos of people but usually engaged in some sort of outdoor activity or sport.

The mid-80’s saw my Minolta kit stolen and I migrated for a time to compact cameras, film and then digital until 2003 when I got my first Canon DSLR, though to be fair I also got an analogue SLR at the same time.  Once immersed in the wonders and flexibility of the DLSR for the subjects I prefer I have found I have left the world of film far behind.

Examples circa 2003 -2004

 

The following few years between 2005 and 2013 were consumed with work and high level golf competition.  That combined with the ease of using the mobile phone camera and a compact digital saw the DSLR kit coming out a bit less frequently.  Nevertheless, similar themes recurred and there was added interest in action sports when those opportunities were available.  Travel and nature photography were also mainstays in those years.

Examples 2005-2010

 

Examples 2011- 2013

It was coming to Scotland in 2014 that really reawakened my photographic passions as I found the scenery and the light so extraordinary.  My senses were overwhelmed and no matter where I looked I couldn’t not be making photographs again.  Upgrades to my Canon kit brought me more capability and also made me realise I had so much more to learn.  Post processing was something I had rarely done since my university darkroom days.  Joining a camera club, having work critiqued, studying and most importantly taking photographs, lots of them and exploring the capabilities of my camera and my eye took the quality of my work to new levels quickly.  Learning the power and necessity of post-processing produced another quantum leap.  I was beginning to produce very good quality work, but what to do with it?  And this is where the decision to pursue the MA Photography was taken.

Examples 2014-2018

It has been interesting to look back over my many years of photography and to see how much more continuity in subject matter there has been than I realised.  It is evidence the camera looks both ways and does reveal both the diversity and consistency in my interests.  Also noticeable is the general absence of people except when they are engaged in some activity.  It has also been interesting to see how the quality of my work has changed.  Looking back now at the earlier work which was almost exclusively just what came out of camera, I see all sorts of minor imperfections that could so easily have been corrected with post-processing.  I see another exponential leap in the work of this past year of studying for this MA.  It comes from a combination of more skills, more thoughtfulness, more familiarity with where I am working, and I am sure (though reluctant to admit) from reading theory and looking at the work of others.  I can’t describe exactly how the last bits are affecting my work, but it seems to be operating at a subconscious level in the realm of tacit knowledge as described by Polanyi in The Tacit Dimension (1966/2009).

 

Polanyi, M. (1966). The Tacit Dimension (2009th ed.). Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

 

 

Week 3 – Reflections

Social Media:  I have used Facebook for a long time mainly to keep in touch with friends and family and occasionally to feature photographic work I’d done, but as  had no aspirations to making it a proper business, I never pushed that on FB.  I have had an Instagram account for some time as well, but had rarely posted anything there.  Despite that, I had over 50 followers when I began posting current work this week.  I don’t see Instagram necessarily as the vehicle that will bring me work, but I know the added exposure and distribution of my work is a generally good thing.

I was not keen on the Viral Image task either as an on or off line exercise.  I live in a very small Scottish burgh and the idea of plastering an image around town even on the few proper boards let alone across the breadth of the conservation district seemed to me to be an act of defacement that I couldn’t bring myself to, particularly since I am already well known within the town and I think it would raise more issues than benefit.

Webinar with Sophie:  I had the luxury of a one on one with Sophie this week as I was the only person signed up in that slot.  I sent a link to some of my current work to Sophie so we could discuss where I was and where I needed to be going.  I was a very helpful discussion.

First Sophie was encouraged by the non-project specific work as she sees it as useful to training my eye as a photographer and keeping the fun in the work.  She asked if I find it easier or more difficult to do project work and my reply was qualified.  I have diverse interests photographically as I mentioned in an earlier post.  I also find it quite easy to turn those interests, whether on an afternoon’s shoot or across a longer span of time into projects.  That is something that has changed dramatically with this course.  Previously I rarely saw my photographic work as anything other than the individual photographs I made.  Now with almost every photograph I make I can see an outcome; how it fits or might fit into a larger body of work or end product.  Each photo inspires me to bigger ideas because I always if there is one scene that captures my attention and my camera, there are more to be found.

The qualification was with respect to my MA project work which has been a bit more difficult due the circumstances associated with the planning application.  I am a bit stalled on the repeat photography elements of the project since little is happening after the project was called in by the Scottish Government for additional review.  On the wildlife side however, it is the beginning of the “Highland Gathering” of birds that winter on Loch Fleet and the north end of Coul Links.  While it is early in the migration and only a small fraction of the birds have arrived, I have had some really successful shoots already.

untitled-9114untitled-9300

Sophie then asked how I feel about photographing people and I replied that I have always been a bit uncomfortable with it, but that I had been making an effort, with some good results, at doing more; particularly outdoor environmental portraits.  Sophie challenged me to set a target of  8 or 10 portraits as part of my work and as we were talking I realised how many people use the north end of Coul Links and the perimeters of Loch Fleet every day their dogs, enjoy the outdoors, or watch the birds and marine mammals that inhabit that patch of land and sea.  In fact, I missed an amazing opportunity last Wednesday because right where I set up to photograph birds, a gentleman and his wife were encamped behind their estate vehicle with two chairs a wee tea table and a spotting scope.  When I arrived the gent was intent on birding while the lady sat comfortably in her chair reading her Kindle.  It would have been a perfect photo and because I just do not think about photographing people I missed it.  At least four other people came up to me for a chat about what was out on Loch Fleet and likewise never thought about asking if I could take their photo.  So lesson learned and in response to Sophie’s challenge I will be looking for those opportunities over the coming weeks.

I am re-energised about my project and really appreciated Sophie’s encouragement and advise.

Week 3 – Some non-Project Work

I belong to a local camera club which has some excellent and highly knowledgeable members and which has been a good resource over the past few years.  Guest speakers, technical workshops, and peer and outside judged competitions have been helpful in increasing my knowledge, inspiring work in different subject areas, and learning about how others see photographs.  Monthly competitions, some with specific themes and others open to all subjects, are conducted with colour, monochrome and creative categories.   The latter requires manipulating a photo in a way to create an image that could not be seen in the real world and have been useful in increasing my skills with Photoshop.  This month’s topic was “Road Vehicles” and while in Rotterdam a couple of week’s ago, I spotted this row of “hire bikes” inside an architecturally unique building.  The scene caught my eye and lent itself to a really interesting composition. It is one of the best photos I have ever taken. The photograph below titled “Geometry Lesson” was selected as the winning photograph in the Colour category.

Geometry Lesson-104357

Geometry Lesson

In the Creative category I entered a heavily manipulated photo of a Sunbeam Supreme taken at a Classic Car Rally stopover in Dornoch, titled “Smile for the Camera”, which placed second a close one point behind the winning photo.

Smile for the Camera-2

Smile for the Camera

While neither of these photos have anything to do with my project work, they actually speak volumes about me as a photographer and the diverse interests I bring to my practise.  Yes I do a lot of natural history work and I do really like photographing wildlife, but when I have a camera in my hand I am drawn to interesting movement, colours, shapes and light like a moth to a flame.  Even in my wildlife work, it is these same underlying factors that draw me to trigger the shutter.  And I want to have fun with my photography, even if it brings income, it can never be a drudge or I won’t take the work.

Week 2 – Whose Image is it Anyway?

This week’s forum looked at the issue of appropriation and the court case involving Richard Prince and Phillip Cariou.  Below are my thoughts and posting.

While the court found that for all but 5 of the 30 appropriated works Prince had sufficiently transformed them, I find it difficult to agree.  I also find it difficult to swallow that because Cariou only made $8000 and Prince made over $10 million that somehow factored into the evaluation that made it all right for Prince to have appropriated the work of Cariou.

At the risk of straying slightly for a moment from the principal question being asked, I personally find it sad and unfair that someone like Prince can be so lazy in the creation of his work, and I have to say that I am amazed that there are people with more money than sense who will pay more than $1 million for this (in my opinion) tripe.  But then this is the world we have come to in which style often trumps substance and that monetary value somehow bestows legitimacy as good art.  As many art auctions in recent years have shown, the price paid for art is more often a reflection of the ego of the buyer and their desire to “one-up” the last obscene price paid for a piece of art so as to have bragging rights; until the next auction at least.  The link below is to a Guardian article article titled  “Art prices at ‘obscene’ levels as Chinese join high-spending elite.”

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/may/19/art-market-rising-prices-modigliani-hockney (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

A second article from New Republic in 2013 also address this subject.

https://newrepublic.com/article/115823/record-auction-prices-show-moneys-victory-over-art (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

And now to bring the discussion back to the original question; Prince, the galleries that display his work and the buyers of his work basically have by their actions condoned the misappropriation of Cariou’s work.  Ignorance, the allure of money and an overall erosion of ethical behaviour are evident in my mind and the fact that a high court has also given its blessing still doesn’t make it right.

 

Week 1 – Looking Back

For this week’s forum activity we were asked to discuss project work produced during the break by:

  •       Introducing the topic of your project
  •       Introducing the area of concern or your angle
  •       Summarising work made in previous modules
  •       Describing the intentions you had for the break
  •       Sharing work produced during the break: three – five images is enough

The topic of my project is a unique piece of land in northeast Scotland; how it changes over time in response to both natural and human influences, and how that land is used by humans and other species.  Coul Links has served many purposes over the centuries and it borders one of the most important wintering sites for a number of species of birds. It is a designated site under Scottish, UK and International law and there is a pending proposal to use relatively small portions of the land to build a golf course.

In the prior modules I began the repeat photography survey work to establish baselines and watch how the land changed through the seasons using both a drone and terrestrial methods.  I have also been observing and photographing flora and fauna to get a sense what is there and how it changes through the year.  Most recently I have also begun to pay more attention to the current limited human use of the land and traces of past human use.

There has been some controversy about the use of a designated site for a golf course and environmentalists have mounted campaigns (mostly based on out of area support), but the golf course project has strong local support and was approved by the Highland Council over the objections of the Planning Department.  At the beginning of August just before the final approval would have been granted the project was “called in” by the Scottish Government for additional review delaying the project decision by anywhere from 6 to 18 months.  As a consequence, I scaled back my direct project work during the break and used the time to work on some commissioned work some of which has direct relevance to the Coul Links project.  Royal Dornoch Golf Club (full disclosure – of which I am a member) and the burgh of Dornoch lie 3 miles to the south of Coul Links.  RDGC is ranked as the 4th best golf course in the entire world and number 1 in Scotland and serves as part of the reason the developers wish to build the course at Coul Links. I was asked to create a limited edition book in support of a charity event hosted by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland at RDGC in support of the Dornoch Cathedral building fund.  So much of the break time involved getting the final images needed for the book and completing the design, layouts, text and publication of the book.

Below are examples of the images I made during the break.

untitled-0013.jpg

untitled-0016.jpg

untitled-0018.jpg

untitled-0019.jpg

untitled-0051.jpg

Week 2 – Business Planning

Preamble

I have no plans at this point to necessarily start a “traditional” photography business, however, I recognise that if I sell my work I am a professional photographer and I am running a business.  While those statements may seem at odds, and perhaps they are to a degree, I think they are clear enough to articulate my intentions. I am 65 years old and in the enviable position of not needing to use my photographic practise to pay the bills.  I have managed large organisations with multi-million $ budgets in the past and have started and owned two businesses, so I am familiar with the requirements of running a going concern.

Mission

I plan to photograph when I want to and what I want to, and I reserve to right to photograph something some one else asks me to photograph if I have the time and the interest in pursuing that work.  For my personal work, I will pursue subjects and projects that interest me, and I expect the output to take the form of books and work for sale locally.  I will always endeavour to produce a high standard of work, whether for personal projects or clients, that is technically and aesthetically worthy of the time and effort I invest.  I will always approach my work ethically and with sensitivity towards my subjects and will never intentionally create work that is harmful or demeaning to individuals or the environment.  I will use photography as a tool to express my creativity and interests, and to show others the world through my eyes if they wish to see it.

Product

I produce photographs and books for my personal projects, and for my client work will deliver aerial or terrestrial photographic work in the format they need for their specific project.  My personal project work has mostly local interest though it appeals to tourists visiting the area as well.  My wildlife work, birds and macro work in particular, is strong and my North of Scotland country life regularly generates interest.

Market

I have already one shop/gallery that is exhibiting my work for sale and have had several sales resulting from my August exhibition.  Books are available online and in local shops.  My market is at this point is predominantly local, however, when I move toward monetising my website I believe there will be an opportunity to sell prints further afield.  Word of mouth has resulted in several new commissions.