Ten years on

Ten years ago this week I walked off a plane from the US into a new era in my life. What started out as a chapter unexpectedly turned into a volume. Life is like that sometimes.

I could not have anticipated, even dreamed of, all the changes in my life that were coming – good and bad, happy and sad, adventurous and boring. But that’s why it’s called a life journey, no?
I’ve learned and grown so much in this time that it’s nearly impossible to put the lessons to words. It’s also hard to comprehend how much more there must be to learn in life if this era is any indication of what’s yet to come.

I won’t list out the world changes that have happened over the decade (a DECADE already!), as even I would be bored with such a list and I’d start sounding like my grandmother… To give you a rough feel, when I embarked on this adventure 9/11 hadn’t occurred and the iPod – much less the iPhone – hadn’t been invented yet. So many changes in such a short time.

These few years have seen the end of one and, through a maze of others, the birth of a new, loving relationship. My first grandchild made his entrance a short two years ago! I’ve gone through another career transition, moving onward and upward. I have again learned the difference between friend and acquaintance – always a tough lesson for me. And that’s just a taste of what’s transpired in my little corner of the world.

My photography has been published a number of times (plus a show) and has taken its right position, moving from serious hobby to the core of my soul – where it was all the time actually, I just had to recognize and embrace it. I’ve finally found how to balance work and creativity, get them to work together and feed each other – and pay the bills, all at the same time. No small feat but oh, so worth it.

It’s been a fascinating decade. We’ve all experienced the past 10 years, each in our own way, full of our unique experiences; the good, the bad, the lovely, the ugly – it’s all ours. I, for one, can’t begin to imagine what the next ten will bring, but I am curious…


Jimmy Page and me

Does a person choose their instrument or does the instrument choose the person?

Just watched “It Might Get Loud” a cool documentary about musicians and their guitars with Jimmy Page, Edge and Jack White – three top guitarists spanning three generations with three different stories.

It seems that the guitar sort of found them rather than the other way around. Their first encounters were somewhat random occurrences or serendipitous situations that shaped their lives from then forward. Jimmy Page found an abandoned guitar in a house where his family moved. The Edge, generally curious about electronic gadgets, built his first guitar. Jack White received his first guitar as payment for helping his brother move a fridge to his brother’s thrift shop.

One message I took from the film was that we must always be open to the possibilities, to embrace and explore opportunities when they present themselves. None of the musicians set out to be guitarists; it just kind of happened and they took advantage of the opportunity.

In my case, it was not my first camera (my Mom’s Ansco Reflex II) that found me, per se, but rather the darkroom. The first time I helped my neighbor develop an image in his makeshift under-the-staircase darkroom was magical; the hook was set. Shortly afterwards, I received a very basic Sears darkroom kit and have loved the smell of fixer ever since. My neighbor – six years my senior at least (I was 10 at the time) – inviting me to help him develop some images changed my life.

I’d like to know something that came into your life unexpectedly that you embraced and how it has shaped your life. Please post a comment and share your experience.

(Oh, and my connection with Jimmy Page? I was at the MTV European Music Awards in Frankfurt in 2001. Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit) was performing “Thank You” by Led Zepplin. As he introduced the guitar soloist, Jimmy Page strolled onto stage playing the solo as only he can. I jumped out of my seat in the 17,000+ person venue and roared my approval. To myself. It was a rude awakening that I was probably the oldest person at the show as no one else seemed to know who he was…)


Saying yes or saying no


It’s always a choice we make when made an offer of any kind. Brian Lanker, an outstanding photographer of our generation passed away last week. I never met him, but my mentor, Howard Stephens, offered to introduce me to either Mr. Lanker or his mentor, Rich Clarkson, when I graduated from college. I don’t exactly remember which one he offered – too many years have gone by – but the memory of this offer was jogged to life when I read the news of Mr. Lanker’s passing.

When I left school I felt the need (nay, it was fully expected of me) to be productive; my father and his father before him were businessmen, so I should be also. Not follow in their footsteps exactly, but go out and make my way in the world. (And a reasonable expectation it was, I believe.)

While I was doing some excellent photography in school, I had also been doing some reasonably good writing, been published, etc. Due to this recent “success”, when faced with needing to live on what I earned, I chose the writing path. This path, through many years of training, more school, opportunities and decisions, successes and failures, evolutions and morphing has brought me, ultimately, to where I am today. And it’s been a good journey.

The interesting or strange part is that I did not take Howard up on his offer. All he offered was an introduction; no guarantee of opportunity or employment or even an interview, just a chance that an acquaintance of his might give me the time of day to discuss the business and perhaps my opportunities. For whatever reason, I said no. No to the possibility of a conversation that might lead to an open door or even just move my career forward in some fashion. No to the chance to meet an interesting person and learn something from him. I have no idea why I did this.

While I don’t regret my decision to follow the writing and ultimately marketing direction, (although I am curious about the “what if” had I pursued photography from the beginning), I have learned over the years to say yes more than I say no. No, as I’ve written before is a showstopper. All action ends at “no”. Yes on the other hand moves things forward, for better or worse and from a sample size N=1, I say it’s usually better.

Saying “no” closes the door on an unknown opportunity whereas we never know where “yes” may lead unless we simply say, “Yes.”


Putting it on the table, literally

Just got back from NYC – a quick weekend trip for a portfolio review hosted by Powerhouse books. Portfolio reviews are like speed dating for artists; an opportunity to meet a number of key people in the industry in a short amount of time and get their opinions about your work.

The room was full of numbered tables and, depending on the photographer’s interest (gallery representation, magazine/book publishing or assignment work) the artist and the reviewers were paired up accordingly. Each session was 20 minutes in length. 20 minutes for the photographer to lay his or her work on the table, bare their soul, tell their story and get immediate feedback from these professionals. Over the course of the day, each photographer had five such sessions.

This was my first review and despite being published last month in Black+White (UK) and COLOR (US) last November as well as other publications over the past couple of years, I was surprisingly nervous. Maybe it was the very personal nature of the situation. With publications, you usually submit to someone named “Entries@” whereas on Sunday it was face to face, looking the reviewer in the eye and seeing their immediate physical reaction to your work.

Summary of the day: it was a great experience, at times affirming, at others, reflective. I knew going into it I was going to learn something and I did. I heard things that I already knew (“It’s a crowded world out there – lots of photographers in this digital age”) and things that I didn’t (“Your use of captions with the “Logo” graffiti makes them unique works of art, transforming parts of other artists’ works into your own piece”). I also learned that while the portfolio “Shadows” is, well, shadows, that the individual images stand alone and stand alone well; that the thread I’ve created between them makes them a surprising and cohesive body of work but that each of the images has merit on its own. I received reaffirmation that my eye is unique and that I do cool work.

That said, there were no “high-fives”, no contracts signed, no corks popped. There was a lot of encouragement to keep at it, keep pushing forward and keep sending my work “out there”. Beyond being an artist, one has to be a marketer to move their art forward and keep putting their work and soul on the table time and again.

One last thing I learned on Sunday: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (“Sorcerer’s Stone” in the US) was rejected by 12 publishing houses before someone finally agreed to publish it – a clear message that one just has to keep at it.

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