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Photography and The Art Of Book Covers

June 2nd, 2015

Photography and The Art Of Book Covers

Someone asked me the other day what was the singlemost reason I chose to self-publish my books. Actually, I have two reasons, which, I suppose, makes this a "doublemost" situation.

First: while I would've loved (I mean, seriously loved) the help of an enthusiastic literary agent and the support and heft of a publisher with name value and cultural prestige, procuring those collaborators in our ever-changing industry has become an increasingly elusive event; it certainly was for me. I gave it my all over several years then decided I had no more all to give; since I truly believed what I was doing merited further advancement, and I'd gotten to the point where I just wanted to move forward, I leapt off the indie cliff.

Think I'm still in mid-fall!

Second: I wanted control over the work I put out. Frankly, if you're not getting the perks of industry collaboration, there has to be some kind of trade-off; one of the most phenomenal trade-offs of "doing it yourself" is controlling exactly how your work comes to fruition. For the uninitiated, this is a big thing because, with traditional publishers, items like final edit, title, and book cover are typically taken out of the hands of the author. Certainly an unknown author. Which would be me. And since I was one of the brave souls striking out independently—for better or for worse—one of the "betterest" reasons was the ability to create and produce EXACTLY the books I wanted.

Now, if you're like me, a creative perfectionist who's driven many a musician, producer, co-writer, actor, director, sound mixer, editor, or wildly opinionated drummer crazy with detailed, nuanced, and very specific standards and opinions, you'll understand that the perk of creative control for someone like me is a boon. I've always believed that, if you've put in the time to truly learn your craft, gain your experience, hone your expertise, and bring to life a beautifully imagined story and set of characters, you deserve the power to render the final edit, pick the title, and decide on your cover art. Certainly working with professionals in the arena of editing is essential, input on titles is always illuminating, and a cover designer is a must-have, but ultimately it all comes down to YOU.

Which is lovely.

And a book cover, to my mind, is one of the most important elements of the final product. Why wouldn't it be? Books truly are judged by their covers and too often the covers of self-published books are artistically lacking, poorly designed, and amateurishly rendered. Those covers then become litmus tests to the perusing and reading public, signaling to many that this writer may not have a firm grasp on professional market standards and, therefore, likely hasn't delivered a professionally excellent book. I'm sure that's not true in every case, but from all reports: most.

So given my bona fides as a photographer with a deep catalogue of images from which to choose—convenient, considering my preference for photographic cover art—my design process was both financially beneficial and extremely simple. Add in the fact that my cover designer is a brilliant graphic artist from Chicago, Grace Amandes, who just happens to be my sister, and it was a foregone conclusion that I'd get exactly the covers I wanted. And I did.

AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH, with its story of a woman who discovers on the night of her father's funeral that he thought she was a failure, needed a female face in the background, one that reflected the mood and emotional tone of the piece. After pulling an image from my gallery—as well as finding a back cover image that illustrated another story point that takes place in Cambria, CA— I handed the images to Grace, who ultimately came back with a cover I loved.

With HYSTERICAL LOVE, a more whimsical story about a thirty-something guy struggling to find the meaning of true love and his father's long-lost soul mate, a through-line involving an ice cream truck became the inspiration. There was no doubt I'd be using a favorite photograph taken in my neighborhood and processed with a "selective color" concept (see original above). Grace found the exact right font and color for the title, and it has become a cover that people literally smile over. I do too!

For "She Tumbled Down," a short story about a tragic hit-and-run, published only in e-book, I decided to design the cover myself, trusting that, since ebooks don't require quite the specifications of a print cover, I could pull it off. Inspired by Grace's work, I came up with another "selective color" version of an image also taken in my neighborhood. It makes the very poignant point.

Working in both literary and photographic mediums, I've discovered my general thrust as an artist is, quite simply, storytelling. Whether visual, literal, or musical, the narrative I see and feel impels the work forward, and so it has been a natural marriage between words and images in bringing my books to happily imagined life...a result which makes all the challenges and occasional indignities of self-publishing all the more easy to forgive!

Selfies, Phone Cameras, and the Etiquette of Photography

March 29th, 2014

Selfies, Phone Cameras, and the Etiquette of Photography

I love cameras. I’ve had one most of my life and have always appreciated its facility in chronicling my best adventures in pictures, some of which I’ve had since childhood. Now as a professional photographer viewing the art and craft of photography from an even more analytical perspective, I feel as attached to my beloved Canon as anyone could to any inanimate object. Its weight, its glass, its technical ease and brilliance that captures what my eye sees in ways that can take even my own breath away. I’ve traveled the world with it and regardless of time, place, or rugged terrain, it’s slung around my neck, at the ready to grab something unmissable. The wonders of photography are many and never-ending.

Then there’s phone cameras. Camera phones. Cell cameras. Whatever. Which have spawned the selfie. Those damned, ubiquitous selfies. The constant shooting and posting of phone photos taken from that oh-so-familiar “hand up in the air” POV that does odd things to most faces, is almost always horribly lit, and creates a visual world where everyone’s perspective ends at the length of their arm. Selfies have a certain detached, unconnected look about them (as opposed to photos in which a photographer and subject are communicating with each other), that often makes them soulless and self-conscious. Certainly they have their place (Ellen’s Oscar selfie that broke the Internet was all in good fun), but beyond the “fun” aspect, there’s something narcissistic about the incessant posting and reposting of these images, to the point that it seems no one exists and nothing can happen without someone slapping it up on Facebook. Or maybe that is the fear: did it happen, do I exist, am I pretty enough, am I even seen much less pretty enough if my selfie, my profile pics, my endless supply of face-shots, are not posted on social media? It’s exhausting being young sometimes…

I remember having a similar youthful fixation on my looks, my hair, my clothes, my ass; always ready to catch a glimpse in a mirror or window, checking the status of various body parts and sartorial accoutrement as I walked into a room or down a street sure that everyone was profoundly interested in ME… what I looked like, how cute I was, if I was flirt-worthy. Of course, back when I was that kind of young we didn’t have phone cameras (thank God!) and the idea of taking pictures of oneself with a small 35mm was ridiculous. Unless you meant to be ridiculous or you were taking a self-portrait in lieu of new head shots you couldn’t afford (of course that never worked). Youth, presumably because of its evolutionary urge to procreate, is fixated on appearing and being seen as attractive, so the fundamental need to exert oneself in putting forth that image, and making sure everyone else notices, is understandable. If we’d had Facebook and Instagram back when I was a kid I might have found reason to post myself all over the place, too. Or maybe not… there’s still something about the narcissism angle that gets me (though you wouldn’t guess that from the pic above of me at 20!).

But beyond selfies and youth is the more general etiquette of taking and posting pictures of anyone online. This has become an issue fraught with some misguided principles, enough so that I’d like to suggest a few pertinent guidelines that apply to every age group, in every circumstance. Pay heed and you’ll find fewer people scrambling when you walk into a room with your phone!

TOP FIVE RULES OF PHONE CAMERAS/SOCIAL MEDIA POSTING ETIQUETTE:

1. BE AWARE THAT NOT EVERYONE WANTS THEIR PICTURE TAKEN.

Particularly on a bad day, in bad lighting, after weight’s been gained, or just because, well, they don’t want their picture taken. Don’t assume it’s your God-given right to take another person’s picture just because you want to. Don’t do the “oh, come on, you look great!!” routine when Aunt Helen really isn’t feeling up to it. Any good photographer knows the best posed pictures happen when people have acquiesced rather than been browbeaten… and, once they’ve acquiesced, are given the time to fix their hair, freshen their lipstick, suck in their gut, or get out of the shadowed light. If they still don’t want their picture taken after all that, DON’T TAKE IT. Period.

2. REALIZE NOT EVERYONE WANTS THEIR PICTURE POSTED ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

Even if someone agrees to pose for a picture – alone, with a group, with you – that doesn’t automatically mean they want said picture plastered all over social media. It’s become so routine to post every single picture taken that the people doing the snapping and posting don’t always consider the privacy preferences of their subjects. ASK. If you want to post a group shot, check with everyone before you part ways to make sure they’re okay with that. A quick, “If I get some good shots here I’ll probably post a few on Facebook… everyone OK with that?” works. Typically people are, but show them the courtesy of asking. Particularly people who aren’t young, aren’t necessarily enamored with their looks, and aren’t accustomed to posting selfies all over the place!

3. DON’T POST PICTURES THAT MAKE PEOPLE LOOK BAD.

This should be a given but I’m always surprised at the carelessness of what some people post online. As a photographer (and a subject!), I know the self-consciousness that many feel about having their picture taken and I also know how affirming it can be when a good shot is achieved. In fact, a good photo can boost someone’s self-esteem as much as a bad one can drop it. Be aware that most phone cameras – even the good ones – don’t do well in low light indoors; if you are not a photographer and don’t know how to use Photoshop or other post-production software to enhance or improve a shot, don’t use it. But if you do decide to post your phone pics of other people “as-is,” you are obligated by etiquette to take the time to choose the very best one. Post whatever you want of yourself, but when you’re putting up photos of others, don’t put up that one that was shot in deeply shadowed light, glaring sun, or too dark a room. Don’t put up the one where the subject looks bad because they blinked, their hair was weird, or the angle was unattractive. Don’t choose to post a group shot where you look great but everyone else looks horrible. Have some consideration, some empathy, and realize NO ONE WANTS A CRAPPY PICTURE OF THEMSELVES ON THE INTERNET!!

4. NOT EVERY EVENT NEEDS TO BE MEMORIALIZED BY YOUR PHONE CAMERA.

It used to be you could meet a few friends for lunch, grab a movie with former colleagues, go over to your Mom’s for dinner and no one felt compelled to whip out a camera to “grab the moment.” Somehow we all managed to hold onto memories of lesser moments in life (versus bigger ones like weddings, birthdays, christenings, etc.) without having to collect a bunch of (usually crappy) photos that someone is sure to post online. One could say it’s curmudgeonly to complain about anyone wanting to capture camaraderie and companionship with a camera, but goddammit, sometimes you just want to eat your Niçoise without someone snapping away while you’re chewing tuna. Personally, I could do with fewer of those, thank you.

5. CONSIDER POSTING MORE OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND FEWER OF YOUR SELFIES.

It’s no small wonder we live in a culture obsessed with youth, beauty, cosmetic surgery, thinness, sexual voracity, and so on. It’s we the people who are driving that train! We can complain all we want about what “the media” and the “entertainment business” have done to perpetuate certain unrealistic standards, but if you really analyze the chicken/egg aspect, it’s hard to find the line when even every-day folk are obsessed with their beauty, youthfulness, thinness, etc. How many times do we see mostly women, but some men, too, cycle and recycle their profile pics, while friends do their part by exclaiming with each picture change, “You’re SO gorgeous!”… “What a hottie!”… “You’ve never been more beautiful!”… “Hubba hubba!” (all comments I’ve seen online!)? It’s great to occasionally get a compliment on your looks – who doesn’t appreciate that? – and sometimes you have, in fact, just innocently changed your picture, it posts on the Newsfeed, and friends comment without any intent on your part to elicit that response. But in far too many cases it is about the attention, the requisite comments that feed the need. And we get it; you’re hot, you’re beautiful, you’re sexy. But tell me, was there anything you created or accomplished today that might trump that shot of you in a bikini? Yes, you look great, but I’d be more interested in hearing about the grant you wrote, that song you finished, the Little League team you’re coaching…


Now, don’t get me wrong; there are categories of posted photos I always love. People’s travel pics, fine art photography, baby pictures, family shots, even that dog with the frilly collar. Gorgeous road trips, the weekend at the recording studio, that last location of your indie shoot are all seriously post-worthy. Your Hawaiian hike, that tour of historical architecture in Venice, the shots of your urban neighborhood will likely enchant me. I’m less interested in your lunch or whatever you mixed up at the wet bar, but if there is something creative in either of these, post away.

The point is: Think about it. Don’t just shoot and post. The fact that everyone now has a camera in their hands demands that we be more thoughtful and considerate about how we approach the matter of taking and posting pictures. Get creative, look beyond the reach of your arm, and have both empathy and consideration. I promise I will never post a crappy picture of you and I’m expecting you to extend the same courtesy to me… because, believe me; that promise gets more important as we get older and facial symmetry gets less and less dependable! :)

By Lorraine Devon Wilke @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com

Random Acts of Artfulness and The Magic of Painter Allison Curtis

December 12th, 2013

Random Acts of Artfulness and The Magic of Painter Allison Curtis

It was sitting atop a ledge outside a blue house: a brightly hued, well-executed, somewhat surrealistic painting of a wolf's face. It grabbed his eye -- how could it not? Between the striking image and just the sheer oddity of finding a fully completed canvas left above a water meter on the side of a house, it was eventful. There was a note attached: "For you, if you want it. Love, Allison."

The flip side of the canvas held more information:

Allison Reed, Night Spirit, November 2012, Arcata, CA

The last name was a bit scribbled so it wasn't clear if it was actually "Reed," but, either way, he knew no artists named "Allison"... or just who the "you" was.

The "he" in this story is my son, Dillon Wilke: a senior at Humboldt State University who lives in a quaint home close enough to campus to allow easy walking to and from. Given the repetitive nature of this daily activity with its typical dearth of any such similar discoveries, this one was notable. As an artist in his own right, Dillon had an immediate appreciation for the creativity of the piece and decided to bring it home to do some detective work.

None of the "Allison Reeds" on Facebook included the description of "painter" or offered enough information for a message, so Dillon posted the image on his own page, explaining the situation and asking for feedback, not completely comfortable assuming there wasn't a more specific "you" for whom the piece was intended.

Quite a few people weighed in, most remarking on the beauty of the painting and his luck in finding it. I suggested he tack up a note with his contact email in the location where it was found, but added:

"Maybe she meant it for the 'you' who found it, the universal 'you' who karmically stumbled upon it."

BINGO!

Not long after I left that note, a mutual Facebook friend, poet and art collector Steve Brackenbury, informed Dillon he not only knew the artist (she goes by the name Allison Curtis), he actually owns one of her paintings.

Steve shared Dillon's post with Allison, Dillon followed up with a note, and she quickly, and very sweetly, replied:

"Hi Dillon,

"Sometimes I leave little paintings around town for people to find because I think it's an interesting idea. I paint a lot so there are always paintings I have trouble finding homes for - so when they pile up, I hide them and let life take its course. The one I left is from a little series of animal spirits I made a while back. Last night I went to the pho spot across the street for dinner and I left it where you found it. Thanks for the note - it's fun to hear a tale of what happened to one of them!

"Cheers! Allison"

Dillon felt as if he'd received an early Christmas present and I was touched, not only by Ms. Curtis's warm response to my son, but by her overall generosity of spirit in sharing her art. At a cultural time when the evolving world of technology - with its ease of online exchange and, too often, rampant piracy - has made the topic of how we both protect and promote our art a confounding one, there was something beautifully free and giving about leaving pieces to be serendipitously found. I was impressed.

I got in touch to let her know I was writing this story and asked if she'd share some thoughts about her work and philosophy. She did:

"I like creating little bits of magic that flow into people's lives - surprises in unexpected places. I also like to cause people to question what they find - is it ok to take? should they leave it for someone else? was it lost or stolen? why's it there? I always attach a note to the back saying if they like it, they can take it and enjoy it. Walking away from a painting after I have left it somewhere is always this freeing feeling. I have no idea what will happen to it, but I know it has the chance to make someone's day, and that makes it worth it, especially when the alternative is it sitting on a shelf in my studio."

As she continued, she spoke of the impact of art on her own life and how, particularly considering the diminished importance of arts education in too many schools, she hopes to make a personal contribution to the cause:

"I find the process of painting deeply meditative and I love the rush I get after painting something I didn't know I was capable of. I think art and making stuff is such an important part of the human experience, and it's sad to me that so few people really get into it. I feel that by abandoning teaching the arts to younger generations, our culture has created a situation where art is rare so it's always expected to cost a lot. That's why I like to give them away and leave them around town for people to find - for me it's just a little piece of wood with some paint and time spent on it, so that is easy for me to share with you.

"I have always enjoyed the street-art and graffiti idea of putting art in public for free, so I guess this is my way of doing something similar. It's also fun for me to think about what kind of story that painting might take on - where will it end up? I never know what will happen."

But this time she did! I asked if she'd ever heard back from anyone else who'd come upon one of her paintings:

"This is the first time I have ever heard from someone who has found one. I've hidden about ten of them around Arcata over the last year and have a box of them I am currently finding places for around town when I run errands or take my dogs on walks. Sometimes I leave them in the open, and sometimes hidden in bushes and places where you really have to be in tune with your environment to notice it. I like going back to see what happened to them, and I get a giddy kick out of it when they're gone."

I can only imagine the "giddy kick" the discoverers themselves have experienced... like finding the golden egg in an Easter egg hunt they didn't even know they were on!

As we wrapped up the conversation, I found it was Allison's summary on the topic of art that was most inspiring:

"A big part of it is just letting go of something you created and loved, letting life take its course, and knowing it will most likely end up somewhere good, and that it will connect with someone, somewhere, someday. That's the magic part."

Beautifully put. I can't help but smile thinking of the next beneficiaries of the very particular "magic" of Allison Curtis's random acts of artfulness.


[For more information and see Allison's work, go to www.allison-curtis.com]

The Art of Art Discussion - Just Quiet Down and Go Create

June 28th, 2012

The Art of Art Discussion - Just Quiet Down and Go Create

We all need a break now and again from the day-to-day work that holds much of our focus. Like the vaunted “15-minutes” regular office workers get to stroll into the cafeteria for java and a Danish, we freelancers take our moments, too; often to hop online for a little social media refreshment. I’m as guilty as anyone; there are days when meeting a deadline, finishing a project, getting errands done, or managing my ever-growing list of marketing tasks all require the interruption of some light trolling on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Huff Po, Fine Art America or any of the groups and discussions one might find here or there. And when I do, I’m typically compelled, by virtue of senses stirred, to jump in. Sometimes it’s just clicks on photos and links I enjoy but, equally as often, the urge for rejoinder is strong. It’s hard for me to read inane chatter, mean-spirited comments, or truly debatable topics without wanting to throw in my two cents!

Certainly political postings corral the lion’s share of this type of response, but more recently I’ve read or partaken in “art discussions” -- analysis and deconstruction of style and technique, contest decorum, commerce demands, etc. -- and, much like politics, the tendency for some to veer into cynicism, negativity, and arrogance is apparent. And disappointing.

Like anything else on the Internet, Art is a big topic. Go to any art-oriented site – photography, painting, jewelry design, graphic art, whatever - and you’ll find opinions being discussed on every aspect and angle. And in those discussions, you’ll meet as many wonderful artists as you will curmudgeons, which, frankly, I find surprising. I don’t know why, but I always expect artists to be more uplifting and spirited than they often are.

See, I was lucky to have been given a very constructive and positive foundation in my training. My experiences in a wide variety of “the arts” included an overriding message of support, assistance, camaraderie, and the sheer joy of the craft. Certainly there were those who took opportunity for snarky critique, behind-the-back denigrations, sniffing arrogance, or bashing disguised as instruction, but I was fortunate that most of the teachers, professors, mentors and fellow artists involved in my impressionable youth exuded their own joy in the craft and that imprinted upon me a higher-toned mission statement; one of constructive input, positive output, and personal and communal artistic integrity. Or, as is suggested in this age of The Secret and The Power of Positive Thinking, a “half-full perspective bereft of the toxic effect of negativity.”

“Either love it or do something else,” I was advised. I was also reminded of the old adage, “If you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything.” Which, unless you’re a bona fide reviewer, opinion writer, or comedian, applies to pretty much everyone else.

So it’s jarring for me to read threads in which artists snipe at each other, knock down the work of others; become “authorities” about what is or isn’t Art (as if they, in particular, know!), criticize and demean the marketing choices of fellow artists, or denigrate any aspect of the industry – art or commerce - that they, personally, don’t appreciate or wish to partake of. These are the kind of people who find fault and spew criticism, whose toxic brew of negativity was what a mentor of mine used to call “sour-pussing.” Glass half-empty. Discordant. Contrary.

For example; at Fine Art America, the very well managed site that provides hosting, printing and delivery of fine art photography and paintings - and a place where I’ve met a slew of very talented, supportive artists who are smart, enjoyable people - there is a contingent (likely too large a one) that “sour-pusses” on a regular basis. A discussion thread commenced recently regarding the winner of a now-concluded “Times Square Art Contest.” The woman who started the thread posited her prompt with a tsunami of criticism; of the winning piece, the artist, the contest, the overall marketing demands of the art world, concluding with a cranky assessment of “the whole thing.” (Frankly, I wanted to get her some juice and tell her to take a nap!) But, more disappointingly, what followed this diatribe was a slew of commiserating comments, supporting her thesis to some degree or another. Lots of judgment of artists’ work, denunciations of the overall state of the industry, snarky rejoinders about contests that “demean” artists into “begging” for votes, right down to a nihilistic grump-fest that included statements like, “There will be artists as long as there is society, but that too is coming to an abrupt halt. America is going under as we speak, and the rest will follow in quick order,” or the exceedingly grim “THERE IS NO FUTURE to ART. Humanity is much more interested in Ipods and marching blindfolded into the future. We are the last artists on this planet.”

All I could think was…WTF?!?

I shook my head as I read this manifesto of negativity, wondering how these people get out of bed, much less find the energy and inspiration necessary to create art. Luckily there were a few bright individuals who spoke up to shoot down the negative trend and did so with enough intelligence, optimism, and artistic good-will to offset, to the degree they could, the snarling hordes but, I have to say, I was disappointed that so many seemed hell-bent on ripping Art, and its artists, a new one! I was tempted to leap in and make my points, but realized, with some weariness, that the thread leader was jumping on every response with her continuing brand of snark and snarl and it was just too nice a day to get involved in that level of crankiness…though I did send an email to the most cogent and wise of her debaters, thanking him for his insight!

While I agree that we all have “the right to our opinions,” as Debbie Downer repeatedly pointed out, too many seem to have missed the lessons in integrity, constructive thinking, artistic magnanimity, and a positive, supportive outlook. Clearly Art has had a long history of creative personalities who were churlish and mean-spirited; many who were (are) burdened with insecurities, jealousies, schadenfreude and plain old nastiness, but in the communal world of online art exchange and discussion, there really is no room or reason for all that.

But people are who they are; I can’t change them. The woman running that thread is clearly a person with many other issues in her life that contribute to the attitudes she exudes online. But while I feel sorry for her (and certainly anyone in her near circle!), I ain’t gonna debate her. Because I reserve my perspective, my thoughtfulness; my contribution, for conversations that are constructive and focused on offering views and opinion that transmit something positive and helpful, rather than the banal, deflating, blather-fest of negativity I found on that thread.

My suggestion to that crowd? Stop talking and go create. If you have that much time to spend tearing down others in a community setting, go make another piece of art instead. Rather than getting some kind of buzz out of stirring up mutual frustration to feed your own, shut off your computer and pick up a brush or a camera. Don’t worry about what others are creating, just create. Quit expounding on what you think is stupid and go create. Don’t announce what you won’t do, just do what you will do. If you don’t have the desire to be in a contest, don’t; but don’t cut down others who do. Don’t want to ask people to vote for your work? Don’t. But quick yacking about others who have no problem garnering support for theirs. And if someone wins a damn prize, offer congratulations and accept that even if “it’s not really creative” to you, it clearly is to someone else…enough that they won! And if you don’t have it in you to congratulate them...

Just quiet down.

Stop talking.

And go create.

Contests - Chaos, Camaraderie and Microcosm of Life

May 23rd, 2012

Contests - Chaos, Camaraderie and Microcosm of Life

There’s something to be said for competition; the fierce, bracing exercise of it all. Some say it does a soul good, others believe it builds character and drives ambition, while a certain few see it as corrupting; pitting worthy opponents against each other in a gladiator struggle to the death. Or to the record deal, the lead role, the starter’s position, or a spot in the juried round for a TV commercial.

I fall somewhere in the middle of all that thinking. I’m convinced competition can be a motivator, snapping you out of routine to step up to a new challenge. It surely offers opportunity to not only get out and network, but also to expose one’s wares to a greater audience. In the hyper-saturated marketplace of the Internet where everyone on earth is selling everything on earth, a contest can sometimes provide a way to break out of the pack. All fine stuff. On the other hand, it can drive people crazy. I’ve seen it. Perfectly good people can lose their cool when it comes to winning something. Picture the doors opening at Best Buy on Black Friday morning. Athletes doping before a race. Girl Scouts tussling over hot spots to sell cookies. Contest frenzy can make people greedy and ruthless, force attention onto the wrong goal, and cause the precipitous loss of integrity. That kind of edge may seem all Masters of the Universe, but typically it comes with selling of the soul and that gets sticky when you’re lying in bed at night wondering why you can’t sleep.

I’ve been involved in an interesting contest this past month, one that’s brought the weird, swirling chemistry of competition front and center. FINE ART AMERICA, one of the premier online marketplaces that hosts, prints, frames and sells the work of photographers and artists, is getting ready to do another national TV commercial and will be using photographs chosen from five of its thousands of photographers, selected via a contest called “National TV Photo Contest.” The rules allow every FAA photographer to submit up to three photos and whichever accrues 250 votes by the end of May will advance to the juried round for potential selection. Each submitting artist was given 100 votes to play/barter/trade with and off we went.

250 votes. You wouldn’t think that’d be too hard, right? I’ve got over 500 Facebook friends, 700 some Twitter followers, hundreds of people on my mailing lists, and a load of fans at my Huffington Post column. How hard could it be?

Hard.

My go-to people – friends, family, certain fabulous colleagues, other artists – got right on it, votes came flying in. There was my first chunk, whoo hoo, look at me, I’m headed to the juried round! But, as it turns out, once that go-to group got to it, I wasn’t even halfway home and clearly it was time to get busy.

Next thing you discover is that, despite the number of Facebook friends anyone has, you can only scrap the top layer off and expect that group to respond to any given post. The rest are there for some reason, I’m not sure what. They rarely post, they never jump into a thread, and it seems the whole “salon/community board” aspect of the site eludes them. I guess they just quietly read what everyone else posts and that’s fine and I’m still happy to have them. They are not, however, going to take the time to vote for my damn picture.

That big email list? Did okay there but, again, only a slice. Twitter, surprisingly, yielded more than expected (which means, still, only a handful), and the rest of the gang? Some are weary of vote/donate/read my article requests. Which I get. Sometimes I am too, but I’m big on supporting friends, family, and artists so I crank up the “click” buttons regardless. A few didn’t want to sign-in and get on the FAA mailing list. I get that too, but, for God’s sake, I signed your petition, voted for your cause, and donated to Kickstarter; the least you can do is sign in and unsubscribe later! There were those who “don’t like voting for contests, you know?” (no, I don’t). Some didn’t want their private information sent to “another online company” (please, you shop online, don’t you?). Many, predictably, didn’t even respond to my various public or private pleas. But that’s okay, I know how it goes, I’ll just move on down the road to another source. Sincere and big old thanks to the many who stepped up to the voting booth. Seriously. I really appreciated it!

But there’s still that 250 votes. Gulp.

It was looking a little bleak when one of my fellow Fine Art photographers got inventive and created a Facebook group called “Get 250,” where all competing photographers were invited to join, swap votes, offer support, and do what they could to get their own votes while helping others get theirs. Eureka, a gold mine of competitive collaboration! In the couple of weeks I’ve been involved in the group, I’ve not only seen some amazing photography, but I’ve met some of the most generous, encouraging, helpful people I could hope to meet in a big-ass competition. We’re like that group of American Idol kids early on when there’s still lots of them left in the house and they all love each other!

But, I have to admit, it has been a bit of a slog. The whole “I’ve voted for you, please please vote for me” paradigm has been exhausting. Keeping track of hundreds of photographers –remembering who you voted for, who voted for you, who hasn’t yet voted for you and who should’ve voted for you but apparently isn’t — takes an Excel spreadsheet and loads of disposable hours. There are the ever-cheerful folks who don’t mind how many times you ask for a vote, gently reminding you, “I voted for you last week.” There’s the grumpier sort who gets a little testy with, “Once again, I already voted for you!” There are those who just leave petulant posts about how stupid it is that “we have to solicit votes instead of just having our work judged on merit” (odds are they won’t be getting their 250!). Others who pat backs, keep people from quitting, and put in an extra vote when able to access their spouse’s pack of 100 (anyone who signs up get 100 votes too, so plenty of spouses’ account got put to good use!). Several in the group took time to gather and post links to people’s Facebook and Fine Art America pages so they could be “liked” and looked at, with lots of authentic compliments to follow. Frankly, as sloggy as it’s been, there’s been a bona fide air of camaraderie along the way and when someone gets to that vaunted 250 mark, genuine celebration happens like virtual confetti. Very nice.

But, still, in the midst of all this group-love the darker side of competition emerges, the one that seems to seep into even the highest toned contests and spoil the fun. In the case of this particular contest, it’s all about the honor system with votes at this point and each vote is gold. For the artists swapping out with each other, it’s “I vote for you, you vote for me,” and if that gets done all is happy in the kingdom. So when someone makes the effort to, say, vote for 30 other artists and only a few reciprocate, clearly Good Contest Decorum is lacking. But even worse, as some get closer to the magic number – click, click, click – their vote counts suddenly go down instead of up, meaning someone who already voted for them, and likely won a swapped vote in return, has now snuck into the barn, so to speak, and stole back the horse they just traded for good money, anonymously canceling their vote because the contest software allows them to get away with that. Impressive killer instinct, right? The kind of shark bite stuff that wins contests, yes? Maybe. But in my book, they suck.

But this is when the good people in the bunch stand out, people with names like Shane, Torfinn, Stav, Christal, Michael, Ivana, Maureen, Greg, Terry, Lingfai, Janie, Bob, Holly, Jorge, Tiana, Heather, Mimi, Nicole, Ashley, Fredrik, Maria, Lynette and so many more. People who spread good will, stepped up to help, wrangled more votes for people who’d lost some, posted for others on their own pages, did whatever they could to pull the stragglers up or get the late-comers up-to-speed. Good, solid, really menschy people who’ve redeemed humanity right here in the middle of this little contest that seems sorta big to all of us.

Which makes the point that contests really are a microcosm of life. A tiny version of what we go through each day, the prizes being the achievement of success, wealth, relationships, kids, love, joy, happiness, good health, etc. Like a contest, we’re each given obstacles and puzzles to solve and overcome to our benefit. How we do that, how we traverse our particular journeys, is the mark of who we are as people. What level of honor and integrity we expect of ourselves, what demand for civility and compassion, how we help, sacrifice, and show empathy even while trying to get to the finish line. Every bit of it speaks loudly to our character and creates our story, our brand, our humanity.

So thank you to all the great people in my life who took the time to do whatever signing-in was necessary to get some votes to me. Some of you set up extra Facebook pages, posted notices on your own pages, and got the word out to your group of contacts in any way you could. Amazing. I hope you know how much I appreciate it!

And another big thanks to all the fellow artists I’ve met in this contest. I hope we all Get 250 and advance to the next round. Despite the chaos, the greater experience was the camaraderie. I look forward to continuing the connections, however and wherever we all do. GOOD LUCK!

[To access the links to many of contest submissions, go to www.rockpapermusic.com for the original printing of this article.]

Lisa Gizara - The Woman Behind the Art Behind the Mad Men

May 23rd, 2012

Lisa Gizara - The Woman Behind the Art Behind the Mad Men

Some shows rise or fall on the star power of a charismatic lead, some rely on solid writing and era-centric plot twists, while others seduce with flash, style and the conviction that they’ve struck the Zeitgeist at just the right pulse point to have water cooler quotient as a given. Mad Men hits all the bullet points.

If you arrive at the TV section of the Huffington Post any given Monday, you’ll note anywhere from four to ten stories on the phenomenon that is Mad Men; perspective covering everything from plot analysis and the psychology of Don Draper, to Pete’s latest blunder and the cut of Joan’s jib. But regardless of these many enduring traits, Mad Men is mostly assuredly a study in style: the clothes, the sets, the props, the vernacular; the feng shui of it all.

A most salient example would be the Mid-Century cool of Roger Sterling’s office. With its black and white palette, space-agey “Jetson’s” table and stool set, stylish accouterment, and Pop-Art sensibilities, the entire room states loudly the taste of John Slattery’s character, which is exactly what set decorator, Claudia Didul, had in mind. When she needed paintings with the specific panache to match Roger’s sly and savvy personality, she turned to the collection of photographer and painter, Lisa Gizara, whose stunning work has graced the sets of shows such as Modern Family, Castle, and Californication, the walls of Bloomingdales and St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California, the pages of Variety, People, Entertainment Weekly and hundreds of international publications, and the exhibition spaces of designer Erinn V. Maison’s in Beverly Hills and the iconic Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.

Perusing Gizara’s eclectic and colorful catalogue at Art Pic, a gallery of contemporary art often used by television and film set designers, Didul found the swooping, curvaceous lines of “Madonna 1,” a painting of mixed media (paint, graphite and oil stick), ideal for the wall behind Roger’s desk. “This painting was a miracle, as it came effortlessly and magically through me one afternoon,” Gizara explained. “It was as if I stepped aside and a divine power stepped in to form this perfectly balanced composition out of a bunch of crazy gestural lines.” Given the character’s notoriously sexist bent, she notes the irony of it hanging in Roger’s office. As one viewer commented, “Amazing, the choice of this particular painting of the iconic 'mother and child,’ foreshadowing Roger's affair and illegitimate baby with Joan. The fact that it’s placed over his shoulder seems a fitting and constant reminder of what he did!”

The paired pieces on either side of Roger’s door are the “King of Hearts” and “Queen of Hearts,” black, white and amber paint on wood panels. Gizara described her process in the creation of this set: “These were painted almost entirely with my hands and fingers. When I work I get totally immersed in the emotions that inspire me to express myself…the smell and texture of the paint, the feeling of the wood grain, and the dance-like movement of the medium under my fingers are all an essential part of my process. It's the incredible high of creating something from nothing that forever propels me to paint.”

Gizara defined these two pieces as representative of the feminine and masculine, the lovers, the yin and yang; complete opposites that come together as “seemingly balanced, or perfectly imperfect.” Roger Sterling, anyone?

Often the art pieces used on TV and film sets are replications of the original work, or, if original artwork is used, it’s typically rented from the artist rather than purchased; necessary, in both cases, to stay within the limited production budgets. The outright purchase of Gizara’s “King” and “Queen” seems to speak to Mad Men’s mandate for quality and authenticity while adhering to their highly-placed style bar, a component of the show as critical as character and plot. (“Madonna I” is a print of the original painting.)

From the cultural angle, given Mad Men’s era-appropriate themes of sexism in both the homes and workplaces of its main characters, it’s interesting to note that behind-the-scenes women such as Didul and Gizara exert such influence over the artistic interpretation of the places and people entrenched in those cultural norms. Gizara, in particular, takes certain satisfaction, as a female artist in the highly competitive and male dominated world of fine art, in cracking a certain ceiling in getting her work more widely acknowledged in both the creative and commercial marketplace.

“I actually still find rampant sexism in the art world -- not as much as in the Mad Men ‘60's, but if the average person looks at a piece of art and knows it was painted by a woman, most equate it as being of far less the value than a man's work.” Which, ironically, seems to echo the complaints of several of the show’s female characters, most notably the petulant, but always productive, Peggy, who most clearly chafes against the “boys’ club” atmosphere of the ad world. Gizara continues:

“We still live in a patriarchal society, the art world is still run by men, and the museums and galleries are still inundated with artwork produced mostly by men, less by women.” Gizara makes the wry point that it’s for that reason that she almost always lists her work with her last name only. Given her list of sterling (pun intended!) credentials accrued over a career of 25+ years, her perspective makes a stinging point about persistent sexism in the world of art and commerce. When an artist of her caliber still finds gender resistance similar to that found by female characters in a ‘60’s fiction, it’s a cultural point worth noting.

Gizara, however, insists there’s no bitterness in play as she confidently surges forward in the evolution of her own career while supporting her fellow female artists in every way she can.

“I know that staying clear in my vision and continually producing good work will lead to success. I believe that my work stands on it's own, and for that I always strive to be better at what I do. I may have to work a little harder and be more patient until the work gains the respect of the art world but, ironically, in the sexist and racist time of Mad Men, my art work not only speaks for itself, but has found a very significant place in that very ‘man’s’ world.”

Peggy and Joan would be cheering!


For more information on Lisa and her work, visit www.GizaraArts.com. For the original print of this article with artwork pictured, go to The Huffington Post @ http://huff.to/KCaM68

Street Photography 1 - What the Cowboy Said

April 25th, 2012

Street Photography 1 - What the Cowboy Said

THIS IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF SHORT FICTIONAL PIECES BASED ON IMAGES FROM THE STREET PHOTOGRAPHY GALLERY:


They'd seen him there before, though they didn't know who he was or where he came from. He was always hustling one thing or another, always with his broad, beige cowboy hat, and his entreaties to women passing on the plaza captured the terse attention of shopkeepers as his voice got louder and his comments more ribald. There were rumors of an alley scuffle at some point but by and large he was ignored as a buffoon. Eduardo and Carlos had never actually spoken to him..until that day.

Eduardo met Carlos at the wall every day after work as they both waited for the bus. With his usual bag of loaves in hand, looking forward to his wife's good meal after a long day at the office, he always enjoyed the time with his ebullient friend who never failed to entertain with anecdotes of the people he encountered while slapping tickets onto wayward cars. Carlos enjoyed his work - it kept him in the sunlight and fresh air - but once out of uniform and headed home, he often wished he did something more meaningful, like Eduardo, who edited scientific texts at the local university. But it paid the bills and he did enjoy the scenery.

As they waited that day for the late bus, the usual stories were exchanged. Eduardo's was a short, dry retelling of the day's unspectacular events. Carlos had a more compelling tale of an excitable girl with an orange bag who almost throttled him for dispensing a ticket after she'd parked with two wheels on the curb and a bumper jammed into a trash bin. Eduardo roared, secretly jealous of Carlo's more picturesque life, but as they concluded their debrief both took note of the Cowboy hovering nearby, too close and clearly eavesdropping on their conversation. Neither were pleased.

"Hey," Carlos, always more direct, snapped in Cowboy's direction, "You got something to say?"

Cowboy smiled that big, obsequious grin that seemed a permanent feature of his face and slid closer to the men. Before they could say anything, he pulled out a wallet pack and out tumbled a series of cards too small for Carlos and Eduardo to discern from their tense perch feet away. With an enigmatic expression, the Cowboy turned to the wary men and said:

" ______________________________________________________________________________________"

(Have an idea of what the Cowboy said? Feel free to send an email with your thoughts!)

Pinterest Interest - Boon or Boondoggle

March 26th, 2012

Pinterest Interest - Boon or Boondoggle

I'm late to this game. Didn't even know it was being played. At least not till I noticed "pinning" going on at Facebook or Twitter and had no idea what this Pinterest thing was or why any of us should be paying attention (I tend to be on the slow side of the "new stuff" curve). When I finally stoked up the curiosity to check out the Pinterest site, my initial reaction was: "Oh God...another social media must-have that's gonna to suck up even more of my time!" I wisely eschewed it with the hope that it would go away...like MySpace.

It didn't. At least it hasn't yet. Pinterest persists and in my finger-on-the-pulse effort to stay abreast of new trends for the purpose of marketing and promoting my various projects and platforms, I started the due diligence.

It appears some think it's the wave of the future, poised to be bigger than Facebook or Twitter (don't they all say that?). Some think it is just another social media platform, a passing fad designed to, yes, suck up our time but in a whole new way. Yippee. And some have started ringing alarm bells about copyrights and the fine print of usage and liability issues as they relate to the Pinterest terms of use and the "pinning" of the creative works of others without expressed permission.

Before I could even muster the energy to set up a page, photographer friends posted warnings urging visual artists to be wary of joining because of these issues, suggesting to those who'd already joined to be cautious about what they pin of other artists' work; even the media has been frothing forth various views from users, lawyers and Pinterest spokespeople, slinging around enough pros and cons to completely confuse everyone. And when I discovered I actually had to be "invited" to join, I got a little snitty about the exclusionary taint of having to pass muster, so to speak, even just to leave a comment; not dissimilar to a sorority or condo board (neither of which I've ever actually had any personal experience with). Being too much the democrat to pursue a club one must be invited to join, I put the whole thing aside yet again and went off to tweet, thread and flog everywhere I could completely uninvited.
Then the Pinterest mountain came to me...

There is was, big as day; a photograph of mine, "The Birds & the Beads," originally part of a month-long Los Angeles Times photography exhibit in early 2011. It had been "pinned" on the LA Times page on Pinterest. Yes...they'd properly credited me, I had submitted the photograph to the original project, gave my permission for its use and use it they did. A full page, it's a good photo, it's the Los Angeles Times...OK. Free marketing and something new to promote.

But wait...

Then I saw that the same photo had been "re-pinned" by a private party who'd put it into a gallery on her page titled "California Is Home." Again...my name is properly spelled, the rest the gallery is fine, the "pinner" seems like a nice enough woman (there's a picture and stuff on her page), so, really, how do I feel about all this stealthily staged usage?

I posed the question on my Facebook page which elicited a wide range of response, some more magnanimous than others, but it does open the door to an interesting debate about how digitally produced and marketed properties are used online, often without permission or, sometimes, even the knowledge of the artist. A very successful photographer friend of mine wrote that she'd actually discovered that a fellow photographer had set up a Facebook page using an entire album of my friend's work with not a mention of her name. This fellow artist even went so far as to use one of my friend's photos as the profile picture and - it gets worse - submitted that same photo to a local newspaper with her own name affixed. Now that is just blatant thievery at worst, crappy artists' decorum at best, and a rather extreme version of the "it's on the Net, it's FAIR GAME!!" kind of faulty thinking.

But is that much different than what's going on at Pinterest? Though I was credited on the re-pinning woman's page, I noticed none of the other photographers were. Maybe she couldn't find their names...that's not hard to believe. But the images had to come from somewhere and I always believe if you can't find the name of the artist, at least credit the source. That hadn't been done either.

But let's get back to the prompt: is there a difference? I can only look at this through the filter of my own situation and how I approach the peddling of my creativity and this is what I've come up with for me:

My work at The Huffington Post offers a higher profile than some other things I do, but I also have my blog, Rock+Paper+Music, out there in the world, my photography website does a fair amount of sales traffic with cards and photography prints, and my CD still sells from time to time at Itunes or CDBaby.com. To keep all those plates anywhere near afloat in terms of traffic, awareness, and actual commerce, I have to spend a fair amount of time, effort and money marketing and promoting in the various creative ways we artists do and, frankly, I appreciate when any "accidental" publicity comes my way. That would be links on other people's pages, credited articles, songs or photographs on websites or used in other creative works. And that would be...Pinterest.

Now, would I appreciate a licensing fee, a royalty, a usage fee, even nominal remunerated appreciation for the use of my work on other people's sites and social media platforms? Certainly. Is the Internet marketplace and social media set up to make that arrangement part of their equation? No.
But in the hyper-saturated world of artists of every ilk online (which includes all of us!), any exposure we get helps pull us out of the pack and that's not something to sneeze at. Exposure can and does lead to other opportunities, often ones that do pay; it leads to a wider audience, a higher profile; a greater awareness of you and your work. In the world of the creative arts, all of that is worth...a lot.

But how do we maximize those publicity perks while keeping the process respectful to each other as artists? We comply with the Usage Decorum Rules (UDR):

1. Always do a search for the artist's name if it's not immediately obvious.
2. Once found, use it...always credit the artist when you can.
3. Make sure you spell the name right.
4. Attach links leading to the artist's website.
5. Find a contact email address, if possible, and pop a note asking permission, or...
6. At the very least, let them know you've used their photograph and credited them.
7. Be prepared to take it down if you hear back and they request it be removed.
8. If you can't find the artist, drag the picture into Google Images and see what comes up.
9. If no luck there, at least credit the source where you found the photograph.
10. Attach links to the source's website, if available.
11. If the unknown artist suddenly appears and wants the image down, take it down.
12. However you do use the photo, present it well.

Bottomline, proper usage on sites like Pinterest promotes and stimulates viral (and free!) marketing. It's a compliment, an acknowledgement that someone found your work interesting and pin-worthy. Social media can be a win/win in these regards: I recently found another photograph of mine, "Backgammon At the Wall," on the site of a young South African poetess named Kerry O'Connor. Though contact hadn't been made prior, she did credit me properly and after a cordial email exchange, added a link to my blog site as well. I returned the gesture by posting her link on my Twitter and Facebook pages, helping drive additional traffic to her site. Nice. Usage Decorum Rules. Win/win.

It's the Wild West out there on the Net and it will be for the rest of time. There's simply no way to rein it in and it's too big and unwieldy to even try. The best we can do as artists is to make our money where we can - and there are plenty of places to do that both on and offline - and stay vigilant to where our work is being used by others. It requires follow-up if the Usage Decorum Rules are flouted, an important step toward keeping the presentation of your work at the bar you've set, and if we're the ones doing the pinning, tweeting or posting, we, too, must be sure to comply with the UDR to keep our own usage respectful.

As for my Pinterest interest, I still haven't joined. I guess I'm not pining to pin. Truthfully, I haven't been invited yet (who do you have to...tweet to get an invitation around here??). Maybe I will be soon. We'll see. If it makes a difference, keep in mind that I play well with others and tend to bring baked goods to invitation-only events.

[ADDENDUM TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE]:

Following the posting of this original article at The Huffington Post, I've been bombarded by emails, Facebook posts and Tweets on this topic and, reading, debating and doing even more research, want to follow-up with this addendum:

It appears there are two kinds of Pinterest users: those who "scrapbook" ideas and images to their page and those who actually "create" those images (i.e., photographers, painters, graphic artists, etc.). For Scrapbookers, the "Terms of Use" concern is the use of other people's images and potential liability should the original creator object. Worthy consideration, but with proper use of the Image Decorum Rules (see article), litigation seems minimal to non-existent.

For the Image Creators...well now, that's appears to be another story all together. Following is a very alarming paragraph from the Pinterest Terms of Service. Slightly chilling to an artist (I've capped "Red Flag" words):

"You hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, IRREVOCABLE, PERPETUAL, non-exclusive, TRANSFERABLE, ROYALTY-FREE license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, ADAPT, MODIFY, distribute, license, SELL, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services."

Yikes. It's clear that once they're up, Pinterest has your images forever and can, by their terms, exploit the hell out of them with no benefit to you. As a photographer who is very particular about how my images look, the idea of someone else "modifying" them is a deal-breaker. Well, all of those CAPPED words are terrifying to an artist.

So thanks, all, for the articles, the emails, the passionate concern for your fellow artists; you've help clarify for me that, until Pinterest removes that offending paragraph (and a few other dicey statements), I'll let this one go for now.

[ADDENDUM # 2]

Since this article was posted, Ben Silbermann, the founder of Pinterest, sent out to interested parties the following update to his site:

Updated Terms of Service:

Over the last few weeks, we've been working on an update to our Terms. When we first launched Pinterest, we used a standard set of Terms. We think that the updated Terms of Service, Acceptable Use Policy, and Privacy Policy are easier to understand and better reflect the direction our company is headed in the future. We'd encourage you to read these changes in their entirety, but we thought there were a few changes worth noting.

• Our original Terms stated that by posting content to Pinterest you grant Pinterest the right for to sell your content. Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms.
• We updated our Acceptable Use Policy and we will not allow pins that explicitly encourage self-harm or self-abuse.
• We released simpler tools for anyone to report alleged copyright or trademark infringements.
• Finally, we added language that will pave the way for new features such as a Pinterest API and Private Pinboards.

We think these changes are important and we encourage you to review the new documents here. These terms will go into effect for all users on April 6, 2012.

Like everything at Pinterest, these updates are a work in progress that we will continue to improve upon. We're working hard to make Pinterest the best place for you to find inspiration from people who share your interest. We've gotten a lot of help from our community as we've crafted these Terms.

Thanks!
Ben & the Pinterest Team

THE POWER AND POETRY OF PHOTOGRAPHY from UC Davis to Babies Birthdays

December 2nd, 2011

THE POWER AND POETRY OF PHOTOGRAPHY from UC Davis to Babies Birthdays

While watching the very disturbing video of Lt. John Pike pepper spraying non-violent and seated UC Davis students, one of the more searing images of recent days, beyond the gut-churning view of uniformed men spraying toxic chemicals directly into the mouths and faces of teenagers trying on their civil rights, I was struck by the ubiquity of bystanders taking photographs and shooting video of the event as it was unfolding. The number of hands raised with their IPhones and cameras blinking in earnest evidence-making was breathtaking, and one couldn't help but harken back to other historical events on college campuses over the decades and wonder just how things would've gone had cameras been as ready and available back then. I daresay the chronicling of such events and others like it might have presented a more expansive view of history than the one with which we were left.

But, in fact, the power of photography and its ability to capture history was clearly and profoundly in evidence even prior to this ubiquity, as demonstrated by the shocking and invaluable Zapruder tape of President Kennedy's assassination, the iconic images of the murdered students at Kent State, and the even more historically-distant but no less powerful daguerreotypes of the Civil War and its most famous participant, Abraham Lincoln, taken by Mathew Brady and others. As hieroglyphics and story-high tapestries so long ago proved, visual narrative has always been a crucial partner in the historical documentation of humankind...we've just got IPhones now!

And beyond history and its more ponderous purposes, photography has also been one of the more evocative mediums to capture the beauty of nature, as expertly done by photographers such as Ansel Adams, Bill La Brie, and Gregory Colbert. Or in catching the edge of pop, porn and poetry found in the work of provocateurs Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe and Diana Arbus. The stunning "decisive moments" of Henri Cartier-Bresson offer photography at its most narrative, as does the rugged photojournalism of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, or the incredibly brilliant Tim Hethrington, recently and tragically lost while covering the conflict in Libya. And though certainly with less gravitas but equally as meaningful to the participants, are those intimate moments captured in the exquisite work of artists such as Los Angeles-based wedding photographer, James Johnson, or the iconic "baby photographer," Anne Geddes. The list is long; these are just a few.

But there it is: photography as art, journalism, family chronicling, historical narrative, provocation and exposé...poetic, powerful stuff.

Then along came the the digital revolution, which made cameras compact, then put cameras in phones, then got those tiny cameras and very smart phones into the hands of the clever and curious, and suddenly nothing was sacred from the peering lens of these tiny mechanical miracles. And Lt. John Pike and his pepper-spraying cohorts became forever memorialized in their debatable and infuriating act of police force, as have many other historically important, career crushing or incendiary moments such as 9/11, the Arab Spring, the Iran election revolution, the Japanese tsunami, and, well, Anthony Weiner.

And always, and certainly more sweetly, baby's birthday!

For some, the mystique of photography itself has been put into question by this turn of events and many veterans of the film medium bemoan the lessening of form, technique, and respect for the craft and its slow, earned skill. The sudden entitlement of anyone with a decent camera to call themselves a "photographer" sometimes leaves no discernment between the art of the form and the act of the form. As one slightly delusional mother put to me as she waved a - yes, rather delightful - photo of kitten taken by her Canon Point & Shoot wielding toddler, "See...my three year old can shoot pictures as well as any adult!"

Calm down, Mom...she got lucky.

Digital photography and its wide selection of affordable cameras of every ilk and style have unarguably made the capture of good pictures an easier task than it was with our clunky Kodaks, Canons or little Brownies of yore; certainly the quality is better, particularly as compared to those disposable cameras tourists used to use and wedding receptions still do. Any good point and shoot camera, be it Canon, Nikon, Sony, whatever your choice, is designed to do exactly that: be pointed at an object and, with the click of the button, take a damn fine picture. It's part of the mission statement. But snapping a button on a good camera that easily catches an image is a long way from understanding the nuance, composition, tone, light and statement of a well-considered and expertly crafted photograph like the kind routinely and purposefully taken by the aforementioned professionals. Let's keep that differentiation in mind, shall we?

As a digital photographer myself, one who learned on an old 35mm, leapt into the digital format years ago; defined my style and crafted my education through trial, error, solid tutelage, wise guidance, and a great deal of experimentation, I am not one to disdain new technology. I see it as a natural progression that has changed the paradigms of the medium by offering new ones. Still, some maintain that digital photography will never match the richness, texture and nuance of film (as some in music continue to engage in analogue/Pro Tools comparisons); I cannot argue that one way or the other. I have seen some breathtakingly beautiful, nuanced, textured and composed photographs taken with digital cameras and some not-so-fabulous ones taken with those using film. And vice versa. Odds are, regardless of the mechanics or the machine, the eye and artistry of the photographer will always wield the greatest influence on the outcome.

So as our life, times, history, tragedies, conflagrations, families, babies, and great, beautiful earth continue to be captured in images large and small, digital and otherwise, professionally or with the snap of an Iphone, I urge those truly interested in the medium to explore some of the photographers mentioned here, as well as the many others who've advanced the medium. It's important to understand not only the technology that makes the expression of the form so readily available in current times, but to also understand and acknowledge its history. Equally important is to become aware of the artistic accomplishments of its most talented practitioners who've contributed to its permanent standing as an essential art form. Take your snaps, grab your moments, enjoy the ease of your digital camera, but honor the art and, if you are so inclined, dig deeper into the craft so that you learn to rely not on luck to yield that spectacular kitten photo, but the skill you've accrued; knowledge that will infuse your work with the clarity and understanding of a true artist's eye.

But either way; whatever the camera, whatever the photographic interest or philosophy, keep chronicling. You are all part of the storytelling team, the vanguard of history; keeping the world honest and participating in the tapestry of our time. Weave away.

Allow Me To Introduce My Other Muse

November 6th, 2011

Allow Me To Introduce My Other Muse

We each come into this world with a penchant, an inclination; a psychic nuance that gets under our skin, drives our goals and, simply put, makes us really happy. The list is long of those many things that inspire and clearly it’s a very personal thing. What incites creativity, passion and ambition in one can be a complete flatline for another. It’s as individual as a fingerprint. A snowflake. That dish my friend Lotta makes that no one's ever been able to figure out.

For me it was the creative arts. Always. I don’t know why. I could point to the lack of TV in my youth and childhood - and the books, music and art that filled the gap - but, frankly, my younger sibs who did not do without are just as artistically inclined and they were definitely Children of the TV (similar to Children of the Corn only in that their eyes are a bit large). Perhaps our penchants are pre-programmed. A carry-over from a previous life (if you believe such things). Certainly they’re influenced by parents who, in my case, were passionate about the arts, injecting them at every turn, convinced that even rearranging the living room was an expression of the creative mind. It is, Mom; I agree. And thank you, both, for your fine contribution to my artistic journey.

So armed with my many Muses who kept me company throughout an eclectic life, I happily bandied in a bevy of mediums, even past the point when others tried to convince me to “pick one and stick with it." Creative monogamy, so to speak. But I had arrived in LA pumped by youthful years of writing, acting and singing, poised to take it all on in this fine creative mecca, so I chafed at the notion of exclusivity. Seemed so...exclusive. Still, I was a naive and eager young lass, addicted to my ambition and ultimately easily swayed, so I threw aside my concerns and did just that; I chose acting, forsaking all others like a good, faithful spouse, convinced that by committing to only one Muse I would certainly conjure its success into being.

Yeah. That worked.

Don't get me wrong, I had loads of fun as an actress but ultimately fell out of love, particularly after it was clear that a viable career was not to be had and, it turns out, I really didn't care all that much. Mostly I missed the other Muses. I remember telling my manager at the time, after five years of acting fidelity, that I missed music and wanted to get back to it and he literally laughed in my face. Seriously, he laughed. His perspective of me was so narrow that rather than explore a new path and its many possibilities, he presumed I was a deluded little dilettante. Big fat tipping point, that laugh. I dumped him, quit my acting class, threw out all my vapid 8x10’s and spent the next decade or so deliriously happy as a singer in a rock n’ roll band. And a writer. And a taker of pictures. All of it. Even some damn acting. My creative harem. Welcome home.

As I see it, this business of artistic monogamy is foolishness. Fidelity is for marriage, not art. Do what you love, do everything you love, and if you do it well, all the better…share it. Yes, I know the world is now saturated with loads of purported artists in every genre who do not do it well, whatever it is in this age of immediate and ubiquitous shallow-stardom, but if they enjoy it, enjoy away. We don't have to pay attention and perhaps over time they'll weary of the exercise. One can hope.

Anyway, this is a long, roundabout way of introducing you to a particular Muse I’ve been deeply involved with for many years but have kept close to the vest for various reasons. While I've done session for family, friends and artists; have prints hanging on a few office walls and on various websites, this has been a somewhat stealth pursuit. No particular reason other than, as I viewed the many talented professionals attempting to build their photography businesses in a unfathomably competitive market, sorting out how to monetize the craft as I performed it eluded me. So I just took pictures and learned some worthy skills in the meantime. But after years of shooting, more requests for prints, a growing number of calls for sessions, I decided it was time to come out of the creative closet and throw this, too, into the mix that is my creative life.

Friends, meet my other Muse; Photography, meet the gang.

Though you're just meeting, I’ve actually been shooting pictures for most of my life. For whatever reason, the idea of visually chronicling the journey was as natural as blinking an eye…and this was before Smart Phones and Facebook! I had a crappy little camera I took everywhere and I have many of those pictures still. They're amateur and silly and some are as crappy as the camera taking them, but the eye was there, the composition was good and, bottom line, they are responsible for inciting my interest. It’s only been in the last couple of decades, however, that the passion to do it well became a pull. In fact, there was some regret that I hadn’t actually taken it more seriously earlier on…damn if I didn’t find the whole darkroom ritual of lights and chemicals and magically appearing images a romantic one! In fact, if I hadn’t rushed headlong into the performing arts I’ve always said I would have either been a professional photographer or a zoologist. Seriously. Either one. Primates or pictures.

But given my lack of aptitude for the sciences, photography, albeit peripherally, was at least able to come along on the ride - as much as possible given the limits of time and money. And though that first crappy camera held me in good stead for many years, it was when my mother-in-law bought me my first good Canon 35mm about 20 years ago that my world changed. Suddenly the pictures in my mind’s eye translated to paper. I began viewing things from the perspective of frame and light, and even when I didn’t have the camera, I was like Pam in The Office wedding episode snapping invisible pictures of perfect moments. I learned that the excitement of capturing an image of true beauty or amazing candor was as exhilarating as belting a killer song or writing that brilliant paragraph. I was hooked. And when the digital revolution exploded with all its heady possibilities, I took a leap of faith, invested in a top line Canon DLSR, a couple of stellar professional lenses and have been in a solid relationship with the Muse ever since.

I have great respect for technicians but I am not one. Perfection of skill and deep, expansive knowledge of the science of photography belong to those who made it their business to prioritize learning the technology from the ground up. For me, Multi-Muse Gal, learning the craft and technique of photography has been a slow, steady process of personal experimentation, research, book and hands-on learning. My education has been mostly instinctual, with excellent tutelage and guidance from renowned, respected photographers and teachers along the way. I studied printmaking with a master printmaker, learned camera basics from a Canon specialist and, particularly in the last three years, worked with a noted photographer and designer for whom I shot countless photos, did digital processing and printing, as well as extensive restoration and repair of older, damaged files. I learned a tremendous amount by the sheer action of doing it and what has evolved through all of this is the skill I have and my particular style of visual storytelling, examples of which have found their way onto my site (and some in this article!).

I chose the pictures I did for the site galleries because, simply...I love them. I have my favorites, certainly, but I love them all. Not to sound childish but they make me happy and represent amazing experiences in which I participated. Some depict historical places that took my breath away, some are those decisive moments in real life captured in a flash of serendipity; others are simple beauty or sweetness with no other explanation, and some are stories I wanted to tell or people who grabbed my eye. A few are even technically dubious but exude something unique or special in a way that won them a spot on the site despite their flaws. It’s a collection that speaks loudly to how I see the world and I happen to like what it has to say.

I truly hope you also enjoy the statement. There are over 600 photos posted on the site so don’t attempt to view them all in one sitting. Take the time to enjoy them in incremental visits when you can freshly view each gallery. I promise it's a more enjoyable experience that way and I'll be adding new things from time to time anyway!

And beyond the sharing of creativity, I chose Fine Art America because they have streamlined the process of printmaking and that, after all, is part of the goal here: to inspire you to order prints for yourself, your friends, your office; your gift giving. Because ultimately I realized the way I could best monetize my craft was simply to shoot what I love and then put it somewhere where others could access it and, hopefully, find a piece or two they'd like for their living room. Or the kitchen at Grandma's. Or that space in the den that always looks so bare. Should you wish a print, a photographic Christmas or holiday gift, a box of cards or a canvas of any one of these photographs, I would be honored. Fine Art America makes it easy to get the commerce done so click the link below and go commerce a little...my Muse and I will thank you.

But whatever you do, first and foremost, enjoy!