More Visual Practice and developing a creative mantra

Sometimes framing what you’re about to do correctly, is the best way to start something creative. It’s quite difficult to get out of your head sometimes when you want to push out good work. Self-doubt almost always creeps in and can ruin your ability to create.

In my case, in photography, if I just grab the camera and go on a practice walk I tend to feel loose and free and have a much better outcome than if I go out looking for a particular perfect image. If I head out to make amazing images I tend to feel rigid and too distracted to see. I come home left with a feeling of remorse.

Last night I met up with Jordan and Jeff and we hit the streets of Syracuse for a bit of street practice. Before I got out of the truck I had that talk with myself about being loose and free and just exploring. I would take pictures of anything and everything. My pre shoot self-talk usually goes like this:

  1. Take lots of pictures, digital negatives are cheap.

  2. Shoot as soon as your toes hit the pavement to warm up.

  3. Walk and explore but most of all be open.

  4. Slow down.

  5. The truly great shots happen when you’re not thinking.

So the question is, how do you defeat self doubt? How do you start your creative work, and do it consistently?

Visual Practice

I got out to shoot last night with the x100t and had just about an hour to kill so I wandered around downtown with the camera looking for reflections. I had a ton of terrible shots but its refreshing to just practice.

Do you ever give yourself a task for practice? I would love to hear what you do to get in some practice during the day.

Zen in the Art of Archery - Recommended Reading

Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most talented and celebrated street photographers of all time, would recommend a book voraciously to anyone he met who was interested in becoming a better photographer. He shared it often at Magnum events, and felt it was one of the best books on the subject. The only problem? It wasn't about photography, at least not directly. It was about Kyudo, the Japanese art of archery and it has many striking similarities to the practice and refinement of the art of photography. Anyway I wanted to share this graphic I made as I tried to apply it to my practice. A very influential photographer recommended it to me, so I thought I would pass on the love. Such a good book!

Zen in the Art of Archery
by Eugen Herrigel

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Storyteller Series: Bruce Harvey

On Sunday Jordan and I sat down with Bruce Harvey, a large format photographer, his mission is trying to preserve culturally significant architecture around the country. We chatted for about an hour about the slow nature of his process, why the details matter, and how having limitations are an important part of the process. Enjoy!

Getting out of my own way in 2019...

For so many years I had thought that I had mastered all I could about the technical side of photography and that to go farther I just had to see new things to get more pictures, always upping the ante.

What I learned in 2018 is that I need to revisit the basics and slow down to appreciate the finer details and let those items speak for themselves. I think a good rule of thumb is when you think you have everything mastered you must know you know next to nothing. Like a cocky alarm when you reach a creative plateau, you have to know that your stuck. I made a few very large changes to my workflow this year, and actually got away from a modern process and get back to basics and wow, what a difference. Excited to unlearn some “modern” habits and get back to simplicity and focusing on the bedrock of good photography.

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What it's like

Three years ago, Thanksgiving day, I crawled through a hole in barbed wire fence, and I haven’t been the same ever since. 


I thought about it a lot on the 3 hour drive down. 


If these places were easier to get into would I still do it? If they made that abandoned house into a museum, I bet I would come up with an excuse to not go. But here I am breathing black mold and asbestos, chasing something that no one worships, at least not anymore.


We walked back into the real world around 3:00p.m. and my legs burned. I tried to clean the mushed ceiling tile goo off my pants and shoes in the diner bathroom. I washed my hands and black rivers danced down the drain. I went with the greek plate and ate like I hadn’t seen food in years. I always liked a place that went in heavy with Feta. 


I finished and kicked my leg out of the booth and sat sideways as I watched Jordan relish in his French dip. That food could have been dog shit or delicacy but we couldn’t tell because of the soft fuzziness of the afterglow. I looked around and kept trying to readjust my eyes, my brain in some deep processing loop. I feel drunk.


We had walked for 7 hours straight, up and down dilapidated towers, and across a sleeping giant. In and out, up and down. I had never even seen a squash court up close, let alone a marble penthouse bathroom, but I did today. 


Flash light, shutter click. Flash light. Next room.


“Wait, be quiet.” I held my finger straight up and swirled it when I knew it was time to vacate, not making a sound. We left quickly, and quietly.


“Nevermind, it’s an animal.”


After awhile your visual sense shuts down. You just shutter click and go through the motions. You hope all that practice just becomes muscle memory. Can photography even be that, you wonder?


When you lay down at night you absorb into the mattress, you fall halfway down. Like a marshmallow soft after a campfire. Your body rings like an ear does with tinnitus, except this is the universe calling out.


Your alarm goes off, piercing the darkness in some nondescript hotel. 


And you do it again.

Below are a few of the images from our last big urbex outing!

Abandoned Artist's Studio

I guess I’m not sure where to start. I guess I’ll start with our fixer, “J.”

I reached out to “J” over instagram for a cool little find he had posted. From the images and videos he shared it looked to be an abandoned artists studio perched above a river. From the artifacts I saw in the video I knew two things. One it was pretty much untouched, and two it would not stay that way for long. If Jordan and I wanted to preserve anything we had to do it before kids tore that place apart.

Jordan and I got up super early Saturday morning and drove the 90 minutes to pick up J. Of course Jordan and I were chatting so I missed the exit. We picked up J a bit late but headed right to the location. We scrambled through a scary looking basement and climbed up a set of metal ladders with a bit of an acrobatic move.

What we found was an abandoned hydro-electric station on the river turned art studio by a truly remarkable man. He was a pilot, architect, art Professor, color theorist, and hammer collector. His paintings are on display at MoMa. He designed and built a synagogue and a home. He also flew over Nagasaki days after the bomb dropped and survived in the ocean with his crew for 6 days on a raft.

I could go on and on about the good things, but this man also had tragedy in his life. He lost his daughter at age 29 from a freak accident after the car she was driving hit a horse that escaped its pen. He outlived his wife and most of the others he knew. He lived till the ripe old age of 96.

I am still in awe.

I found lots of books about Bresson and Brassai in his studio so I processed these images dark and mostly in black and white as I think the late professor would have liked.It seemed fitting. Click on the images below to see them larger.

When should you post-process your images?

Some photographers come home after a shoot and dive right into their images to edit and post them as quickly as possible. Their images hit instagram almost immediately. In this instantaneous world this seems like almost a no brainer, or is it?

Professional photographer Ben Long advocate to sit on your images and wait to edit them. He likes to wait to edit which helps him disconnect from his images and look at them in a more objective light. When you edit right away he argues, you are too emotionally attached and therefore make mistakes when judging the merit of your images.

I tend to take a balanced approach and try to look at the images and flag my best images but then revisit them at a later date. My editing timeline tends to follow this trajectory:

Directly after the shoot/that evening: Import and backup my images. I also rate the images and pick my keepers. I tend to also edit a few of the best images and post them.

A few days later: I dive in a bit deeper to the keepers and the top 5-10 images. I usually post a few more to social media and work on the images that need a bit more photoshop or heavy processing as time allows.

Winter time: During our long winters here in Syracuse I tend to revisit large projects and try to take more of a creative approach. I will try more adventurous edits and try pushing the processing to a heavier look. Sometime I will get inspired by a certain look or video and try to push my processing in that direction and see what happens. This is my opportunity to get creative and wild in my processing and I tend to create virtual copies in Lightroom and try editing a few different ways.

What do you do for editing? I would love to hear about your process in the comments below!

Below are a few of the images I have been reworking from our Italy trip in 2013 using a heavy handed black and white style to emphasize line and shape. Our days in Venice were very dreary and the clouds and rain made shooting difficult, therefore the editing was very difficult in color and had a moodiness throughout. This style of editing lends a hand to that moodiness.

Abandoned Car Dealership

Our first urbex stop was a bust so we stopped at this abandoned car dealership today.

Click the images to enlarge them.

And like that, She's gone.

LeMoyne Manor was one of those explores that is right under your nose as you're searching the internet for abandoned buildings. I had driven by it every single day, dropping my daughter off at daycare. So glad Jordan and I got to tour the building a few times before it came down. 

The property was steeped in history. Built as a mansion by the famous architect Ward Wellington Ward in 1916 it was a beautiful property overlooking the lake. Later it became a banquet hall and motel where many people in CNY had their wedding. In the 1990's the property also served as a halfway house for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. Plans for the space include retail and luxury apartments starting in 2019.

Scroll down for more images.

 

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From: www.syracusethenandnow.com

From: www.syracusethenandnow.com

The universe conspired in your favor.

I tend to go on a lot of tangents, and lately, maybe it's my age but I have been listening to and reading a lot of philosophy. Whether it be Alan Watts, Wayne Dyer, or Bucky Fuller I am fully engrossed into it now in my life. Why at this point in my life am I falling down this rabbit hole is a whole other story.

The kicker is, and maybe this is just my own glasses I am viewing the work through, but they all seem to have the same message. I keep getting the same lesson.

The big idea said many ways is:

1. The universe is rigged in your favor. 

2. The universe is conspiring to fulfill your wishes.

3. Stop trying so hard and just let it happen. 

So this brings me to this set of photographs. I went down to the city to continue my Syracuse street project and I decided that instead of hunting for street photos I would fish for them. This involves finding a cool scene or location and waiting for interesting people to walk through it. This is definitely different than the way I typically do street photography, where I typically hunt for images by walking many blocks looking for interesting things to photograph.

I found a cool scene with a set of stairs and sun peeking down the alley just to the south of the courthouse. I set up on a small bench and just waited with my camera. The problem was everybody who was coming through the scene was taking a ramp down instead of the stairs I wanted them too.

As I sat longer, I started to give up. I checked my watch. But in my mind this idea that the universe was rigged in my favor kept coming back to me. So I gave it more time. 

About the time I said, "OK I will give it five more minutes and I will move on," a national grid truck pulled up onto the sidewalk blocking the other ramp, even going to so far as to put cones up. It was magic! Now people were forced down my set of stairs and I sat there shooting pictures every few moments in glorious succession.

So here are the photos from that outing and a few more to explain the space. I threw a few others in from the day at the end of this series.

 

 

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A love story and an education.

I crossed out the 2018 as soon as I did the math for the new dishwasher. The small crayon drawing of our future camper had been hanging on our fridge for 3-4 years and we looked weekly at Craigslist but at this point, it was over.

Our pocketbooks were exhausted because we were deep into a bathroom remodel, it was the end of summer, and our dishwasher finally threw in the towel. 

All we were looking for was a used Rockwood Roo, 19' or less, with a dinette and couch, in incredible condition.  

No big deal, nothing specific! 

The problem was after searching season after season, people either held on to the Roo's or they were destroyed. We had looked at a few with holes in the floor, soft spots or complete water damage. I just didn't want another headache.

On Tuesday night at 11 pm I spotted Mike's Roo, and it could not be in better condition. It was almost too perfect. I emailed and set up a time to see it the next day. Unbeknowst to Jen, I also booked a one night stay camping trip, because I just knew we were going to buy it. 

That Saturday afternoon we pulled into Fillmore Glen State Park, for our first camper experience. It was more of a, "OK we need to figure this being a camper person thing out, kinda trip."  I kept referencing the huge pile of user guides and manuals for each system. We packed simple- hotdogs and smores and those tiny little boxed camping cereals- and headed off. Everything went amazingly well and we had figured out each system, and on Sunday we headed home, but unfortunately our education was not over. 

Just after I said, "Wow, look at how bad the roads are as soon as you get to Syracuse," I heard a loud boom, and the trailer swerved. We hit a huge pothole and it blew the tire and rim apart. I limped to an offramp but could not get off the highway so I had to change it while the cars on 81 blew by us. Everybody was ok, but that tire and rim have seen better days.

I guess we got a thorough education. Here are the images from that trip.

 

Freestyle Sunday Drive

Another free style shooting day that ended checking almost every box.

I was able to do some landscape photography, and also find an abandoned building and get some outside shots of it. I filled up with gas station coffee and I focused my efforts on the area around Montezuma Wildlife Area, Mentz, and Port Byron.