I’ve been a fairly serious rare mineral and crystal collector for a number of years, obtaining my samples from various dealers around the country. A few years back, when we all still had both money and blind hope, I decided to cut out the middleman and go direct to the source – the Tucson Gem and Mineral show.
The Tucson show is a worldwide event for mineral collections, and consists of a large show, called the Main Event, and several peripheral shows in motels all throughout the city. My original intent when I arrived was to stay with the Main Event; I knew that the vendors were vetted in this show and if I couldn’t get a killer deal, I knew I wouldn’t get ripped, either. However, inspired perhaps by my positive experiences at the Main Event, I branched out to the motels, feeling comfortable enough (read that ‘cocky’) with mineral identification that I believed I wouldn’t be scammed.
There must have been a sign pasted on my butt that read, “Fresh Meat” because I was hit with scams the moment I arrived at the first motel. It’s not that the dealers are bad people; it’s that they’re firm believers in Buyer Beware. Not all, but some of them. Most of the scams I could sidestep because they were so obvious, such as the man coming into the room of a vendor I was exploring and the two loudly dickering over a tiny grain of moon rock for sale (accompanied by hopeful glances over at me from time to time to see if I was snapping at the bait). I also didn’t have problems with my favorite minerals – dioptase, rhodochrosite, cinnabar, and azurite; I do know these distinctive minerals and picked up a beauty of a rhodochrosite for a bargain price.
However, I also ended up with two fakes when, in my arrogance, I did some shopping for unfamiliar minerals. I was fairly sure about one being fake by the time I got home, and became surer about the other over time. A disappointment at first, but now I’m rather philosophical about them. We learn by our mistakes.
This post isn’t about minerals or rock shows or about getting scammed – it’s about photography. However, the earlier reference to the rock show is appropriate because this writing is also about learning from our mistakes.
Today I will finish the uploading of the last of the photo albums I’m posting to the Faux PhotoBlogs, with only three more albums to go. Building these pages has been an eye opener, as I found myself being much more critical of the photos when examined as group than when looked at individually. Pictures I thought were relatively good when I first took them I can barely stand now, and the worst I erased from my disc. Of the ones left, I am completely happy with 12 of the photographs, and the rest are what I consider ‘bodererline’.
(These borderline photos have something I liked in addition to flaws, and learning to recognize the good aspects of the photo, objectively, is just as important a lesson as recognizing the faults.)
I consider the act of publishing these albums as being equivalent to an end of term photo publication a student might do when studying photography; a sampling of work, good and bad that demonstrates where I started, my current skills, and the direction I’m taking with my photography. I see this weblog as a classroom and you all are my teachers; you let me know when you’ve liked a photo, and why. Occasionally, you let me know when you don’t like a photograph, though this is more rare since we’re all a relatively polite bunch when it comes to photography.
In particular, a few of you have stood out for the insight you’ve provided, and are primarily responsible for the improvements in my photography (but not my continuing flaws, of which I, unfortunately, must still lay claim). I wanted to thank you for your direct, and indirect, help.
Allan Moult is a professional photographer, writer, and former magazine editor who has provided positive comments about my photographs over time, as well as lovely examples of his own work as models. Equally valuable is Allan’s insight into the nature of the business, and about persevering in the face of rejection (and rejection is the name of the game for both photography and writing). He’s also made me aware of audience, and It’s through Allan that I learned that sometimes the best photograph of a race isn’t of the winner.
(Allan has also been gently helping me with my malapropisms ever since one incident when I mixed viral and virile in a context that ended up being rather humorous.)
Jonathon Delacour is another professional photographer (though now retired in favor of writing), and former photography teacher who helped me a great deal in subtle but effective ways. When Jonathon mentioned he once was a photography teacher, I thought about asking his advice on my photography but was uncomfortable with putting him on the spot. Well, me, too, to be honest.
What Jonathon would do, though, is make a comment from time to time on photographs that he liked, pointing out the details that made the picture stand out, and why. Through this approach, he helped me learn how to add perspective to my photographs and to take my relatively flat and lifeless photos and imbue them with life. More than that, though, he provided just the right amount of encouragement to make me more confident of the direction I want my photos to go; to celebrate the slight amount of quirkiness and connectivity I find deeply satisfying in my photos.
Wood of Wood s lot is another person who helped, though more indirectly. Through him I’ve been exposed to wonderful new photos and photographers, and have discovered that there’s so much more to photography than just the mechanics of snapping the pic. A good photograph has to reach out of the page and draw the viewer in, either through beauty or horror or even a new way of looking at the mundane. Good photographs are not passive.
Wood has also helped me discover that black and white photos have a power all their own, and that you don’t need vivid hues to create beautiful pictures. Conversely, I’ve also learned that black & white doesn’t make art, and using high contrast doesn’t compensate for pictures mechanically perfect but bland as unsalted bread.
(I remember talking with a photographer I knew years ago when I worked at a photography studio in Yakima. He pompously told me at the time that the mark of a true photographer was the use of black & white film. No true artist used color, he would say. Today, I have enough confidence to reply that the marks of a true photographer are talent, dedication, and passion, not the color of the film they use.)
Jeff Ward helped indirectly, too, again by providing examples of his own work and the works of other great photographers to appreciate and absorb. Through Jeff, as with Wood, Jonathon, and Allan, I discovered one common thread – that sometimes the best subject for a photograph is ordinary people doing ordinary things, but captured in an extraordinary manner. So thanks go, too, to others who provide examples of their art and thus become my teacher, such as Farrago, and Jerry, qB, and Dan Lyke.
Photography is learned through consuming as well as producing, and is made up of equal parts apprenticeship and appreciation. There is only so much that we can learn from books and practice, such as the mechanics of light and the mysteries of F-stops, or how to choose and frame a subject. Photographers communicate thought and emotion with their photographs, as much as writers do with their words; it’s only through watching others communicate through their work that we learn to communicate through our own – much as a child learns how to speak by watching and listening to adult caregivers.
Through these photographers sharing their time and their expertise, their art and their love of photography, I found the storyline I want to follow with my own work, though the people I learned this from are vastly different from me and each other.
I still have much to learn, but now the learning must come from within as much as it originally came from without. I must learn to look at my photographs objectively: to see the flaws, true, but also to see what’s right with each picture; to learn to be both critical and confident.
I’ve tentatively sent a few photographs to publications and have received encouraging results. However, this is a long way from becoming a published photograph and I have a lot of work to do, not the least of which is I must return to film in order to capture photos at the resolution necessary for publication. Since I can’t get either of my film scanners to work, and since hauling around the equipment for a film camera in addition to the digital camera is just too much work, I’m going to be posting very few photographs to this weblog. While this might disappoint some of you who like the pictures, it will probably make those of you accessing this page with low bandwidth modems much happier.
I’ve also refocused another one of my weblogs, the former “Today’s Photos” into a weblog where in each post I’ll take one of my borderline photos and critique it – describing how I took the photo, what I like about it, and what I would do to improve the shot. I invite the photo buffs in the audience to join me and add your own comments because you’re all still my teachers.
As a final note of thanks (before I trail off into a poor woman’s Sally Fields), I also want to thank Sheila Lennon who has kindly consented (along with Allan) to advise me on another project I’m working on. She mentioned a book, “Now Let Us Praise Famous Men”, in a recent email that made me remember the type of photography I prefer doing, and why. I find this book to be deeply inspiring along with similar works by the author WG Sebald.
In these books, the photographs are an extension of the writing, and as such complementary to it. I don’t claim the ability demonstrated in these works, but I hope to claim a kinship with the creators.