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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre General Photography Talk 
Thread started 28 Oct 2011 (Friday) 00:36
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Still conflicted about being different.

 
Clean ­ Gene
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Oct 28, 2011 00:36 |  #1

And I think it has a lot to do with the question of "is this art?"

Normally I just shoot what I want without caring if it's "art" or not. After all, I like photographing pretty trees and landscapes. Some of that work might be considered to be "art" by some people. But other people wouldn't say so. They'd say, "at most, this is just a decent snapshot of a wall or a tree. It's pretty, but it ain't art." And I'm fine with that. Because even if it isn't art, it's still a pretty picture of a tree or something.

But the perception (I suspect) might be a little bit different if the subject matter is NOT a tree, but is instead a dude getting sucked off. THAT subject matter seems a little bit more polarizing. It's either "this is art", or "this is just a well shot picture of a dude getting sucked off." At least with the tree, there's sort of a middle ground. My tree pictures might not be art, and hopefully they aren't merely snapshots. But people can appreciate them as occupying some middle ground. And even if they get dismissed as mere snapshots, at least they aren't PORN.

Meanwhile, Robert Mapplethorpe can get away with showing pictures of a dude getting sucked off. Me? i just plain don't have the balls to do so. The actual CONTENT is seen as pornographic. So there's a lot less wiggle room. I might photograph the exact same CONTENT, and it certainly wouldn't be as good as that of someone like Robert Mapplethorpe. My pictures might not actually be accepted as ART. The thing is this...unlike the tree, the CONTENT here is a lot less forgiving. If it ain't art, then the content pretty much sticks it straight in the realm of PORN. It might be well-shot and well composed porn. But there are tree pictures that fit between the categories of "art" and "snapshot". I'm fine with that, and I take plenty of tree pictures that fit into that in-between area. But if you are shooting highly explicit sexual content, and it fails to be "art", then what else is it other than just "well-shot pornography"?

And I'm really beating myself up over that right now. Not that I'm doing sexual pictures. If anything, I'm finding that I'm leaning towards a more Diane Arbus/ Joel-Peter Witkin/Marilyn Manson type of thing. A profound interest in freakishness, abnormality, and defying norms. Right now my thing is really bugs and death and decomposition. But there's a really fine line here. Mainly due to the content, I think. You can show a tree, and it might not be art. But at least it isn't necessarily just a snapshot. But if you show a man getting sucked off, then it's either art or it's porn. Unlike the tree, there doesn't seem to be any middle ground. Similarly, if you show animal carcasses being devoured by maggots and beetles, if you really focus on things like roaches and maggots and dead flesh, then it seems like you're walking a really fine line. Unlike the pretty tree, this seems like the kind of stuff that HAS to be "art", otherwise by elimination it's just juvenile shock tactics that you'd find in an MTV music video. That the content itself dictates a sort of dichotomy. Either it's art, or it's porn (be that due to sexuality or mere childish and primal fetishistic urges towards blood and scum and feces).

I'm usually pretty comfortable residing in that middle ground. "This landscape photograph may not be 'art', but it's pretty darn cool and it's more than a snapshot, and I can live with that." But I'm increasingly getting interested in stuff that pushes people's (most importantly, MY) buttons, yet I absolutely DON'T want to get labelled as a pornographer or a gorehound.

Content-wise, I've been looking over my past work and wondering where I'm going. And I'm noticing that even when I was doing pretty nature landscapes and such, that I was likely doing it to be different. That I was reading the syllabus and finding technicalities that allowed me to do the stuff that I knew no one else would be doing, because I thrived on being the ONLY one in the class doing that. When I was taking a commercial course revolving around standard portraiture and still life photography, I chose to do still life photographs of dead animal carcasses. Why? I don't know entirely. I think it partly had to do with the fact that, like all of the other photo courses I'd been in, I knew that no one else would be doing remotely the same thing as me. And on some level, I just plain think that I thrive on being the outcast. I think it factors into my recent fascination with bugs and dead things. Most of my peers AREN'T interested in that kind of thing. I've always felt left out and ugly and insignificant, and on that level I think I just have a natural attraction to focusing on things that most people don't care to see. Blood. Bugs. Death. I feel like I can relate. If I had to reason it forth in words, I think that I'm trying to cope with feelings of inadequacy and alienation by focusing on content which is either deemed to be insignificant or inherently ugly.

What I can't get a handle on, is if revelling in that is artistically valid. Make no mistake...nothing's shocking. Eceryone's seen hardcore porn and everyone has seen deliberately dark and gruesome content. I'm never going to go extreme enough to push boundaries and go beyond what anyone else has gotten away with. That's not what I'm about. Yet I do seem to revel in content which is a LITTLE bit different. If I continue to focus on taboos, and fail to push beyond the extremes set by artists a whole lot better than I'll ever be, does that make me just a pale imitation? Does that make me a pornographer who just happens to be a little bit better-than-average at lighting and composition? Photographing freaks has been done to death. If I do it and fail to add anything new, am I merely being exploitative? If I don't go beyond what's been done before, am I just the equivalent of a 13-year old pimple-faced kid trying to get his friends to join his Marilyn Manson cover band?

I have no problem taking pictures of a tree or a stream and not caring the least bit about theoretical questions such as "is this art"? But more and more I'm noticing that that question is having a LOT more significance to me in regards to the kinds of stuff that I'm noticing myself becoming increasingly attracted to. At some point, i just can't help beating myself up over the question of whether or not my work is art. Because given the content...if it isn't art, then what else could it be?




  
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FlyingPhotog
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Oct 28, 2011 00:49 |  #2

Ultimately, there are only three forces in the universe you need to be square with:

1) Whatever higher power you hold dear
2) The Taxman
3) You (and this one is a moving target which is why we all strive to grow and improve regardless of chosen genre.)

Aside from this very short list, provided you don't harm anyone else in a non-consenual way, any boundaries are simply self-imposed.

I understand what you're saying about people like Maplethorpe et al, but his bottom line was no different than yours or mine. We all seek the same satisfaction from knowing we've impacted an audience. He chose to hit his diametrically opposed demographic squarely between the eyes in as brutal a fashion as possible. Most of us are a little more in step with our chosen audience but the desire for recognition is, IMO, exactly the same driving force.

If you have an all-consuming passion for a specific type of photography, I say don't let the Turkeys get you down and run far and fast with wherever it takes you. I would just temper the enthusiasm by telling you the same thing I'd tell anyone who thinks they're driven by intangibles: You are the master and commander over as far as you can reach. Beyond your fingertips is the next guys space so tread lightly.

We all have our dark corners and I think the fact that you're willing to take a camera there makes you a fairly brave soul...

Best of Luck.


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tonylong
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Oct 28, 2011 01:11 |  #3

Have you ever seen the photos of POTN member "vmlopes"? Dark and moody! I don't know if he's made a dime from his photography, but Victor has a lot of fans here!

If you are shooting professionally, you shoot to please your clients. Or, you may be "specialized" where you shoot in your "niche". Otherwise, there are no rules, "no holds barred"!

Grim and gruesome may just be grim and gruesome, it may not be "art", but you'll never know if you don't explore. Of course, sexually explicit material has been "explored to death", some more "artsy", sure...Maybe Maplethorpe created a work of art, but maybe he only got "recognized" because he was, well, recognized. I've never put anything explicit "out" because, well, why? But I've put some thought-out nude photography out there in my own "way" of shooting, and have gotten nothing but good comments. No money, though:)!


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Kolor-Pikker
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Oct 28, 2011 03:35 |  #4

Rule #1: There is always someone who is _______________ than you.

Fill in the blank space with anything you want and this rule will always hold true. Think you're the best or strangest at something? Wrong! because there will be someone else who has already done it, and probably has done so to a greater extreme.

Don't worry about these things, thank to the internet I and certainly many others with more than a hair of curiosity have seen some pretty twisted stuff and there is really, honest-to-goodness, nothing you could possibly show me that would put me off. In fact, if you don't go all the way with these kinds of things it'll just come off as timid or lackluster compared to someone else's work. I'm pretty sure that if you have the desire to do something, it's feasible to find a like-minded demographic. At the very least, you're clear on that fact that what you want to do isn't mainstream nor would you attempt to sell it as such.

The most important aspect of art is how much ego the artist and his dealer have. If you want to be a true artist that can sell a person their own dirty mug for big cash, you need to have bullet-proof marketing and self-importance. One brilliant marketing move done by a photographer a while back claimed to have sold a photograph, only to be printed in a single example, for about $1 million... But did he really?
The news did spread to several photography news sites, and was extensively discussed here too, but the more important thing was that the aesthetics of photograph were largely unimportant and IMO, were not exactly at the height of creativity or craftsmanship.

You can bet your ass he didn't sell that exact photo for a million, but he did probably get a million worth of sales from that stunt after the fact.

Edit: If you build it, they will come. Just build yourself a portfolio and don't stress the details, if others start pointing fingers and start all kinds of drama, it'll probably work in your favor in the end anyway, because drama makes people want to see what's going on, and that's free marketing. Be bullet-proof.


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bpiper7
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Oct 28, 2011 13:16 |  #5

Clean Gene wrote in post #13318906 (external link)
If anything, I'm finding that I'm leaning towards a more Diane Arbus/ Joel-Peter Witkin/Marilyn Manson type of thing. A profound interest in freakishness, abnormality, and defying norms. Right now my thing is really bugs and death and decomposition.

Google Sally Mann. I recently saw an exhibition of hers that consisted mainly of dead bodies. Recently murdered and photographed where they were found in the woods.

It was in a fine art museum. I didn't care for it at all. But somebody decided it was art.

It just didn't speak to me.

Take pictures for yourself. If you find an audience other than you --great. If not you've pleased yourself and given your inner self an outlet.

But don't beat yourself up about whether it's "art" or not.

My 2 cents.


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Ross ­ J
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Oct 28, 2011 17:11 as a reply to  @ bpiper7's post |  #6
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Clean Gene, you're focusing too much on content

That's not your fault, almost all photographers think like this and that's the reason they are always asking "what is art?" Art is line, form, the science of color, shapes, textures etc. Art is not the content. In other words, a landscape picture is not art simply because it is a landscape. It is, or isn't art, depending on whether or not it contains the elements of art (form, line, contrast, balance, harmony, unity etc) Marilyn Manson might be "dark" and dead bugs might be "edgy"...but these are sentiments based on feelings and emotions directed towards the superficial content itself and have nothing to do with the elements of art.

Airfrogusmc sums it up best when he descibes how "Weston's peppers look like his clouds and his clouds look like his nudes." The reason has nothing to do with the actual content (subject matter) but instead has to do with form. Form connects what otherwise would have been random objects.

The #1 mistake that aspiring photographers make is to focus their attention and energies on content instead of form. But don't feel bad, I spent many years doing the same thing. Notice that all of the categories in this forum are based on superficial subject matter (people, landscapes, glamour etc)...none of it is dedicated to form and there are almost no discussions on form. If people are talking about subject matter, then they are talking about content and not form. Art is form.




  
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friz
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Oct 28, 2011 19:22 |  #7

If someone can without a doubt proclaim your work as being art or not, they should have a pretty concrete definition. They must be really smart considering that the some of the best minds on the plant can't draw that line.

Bottom line, if it evokes something in you, it is art. Art is defined by it's point of reference. That's what makes it special and everlasting. For example, a work of an early dutch master may now hold more significance because it is now viewed from a different point of reference and also provides a window to the past.

One thing I have learned is: People that have trouble appreciating art have generally never tried to create it.




  
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airfrogusmc
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Oct 28, 2011 21:21 as a reply to  @ friz's post |  #8

First most real artists don't create to create art. They create because they have to. They have something to say and the media they find to create in is their voice whether its in photography, painting, literature, music, motion pictures, whatever.

One thing the runs true in all good work is what Adams had to say when asked what a great photograph was.
"A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed, and is, thereby, a true manifestation of what one feels about life in it's entirety."-Ansel Adams

"To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature and humanity which live or are latent in all things. Impression is not enough. Design, style, technique, - these, too, are not enough. Art must reach further than impression or self-revelation. Art, said Alfred Stieglitz, is the affirmation of life. And life, or its eternal evidence is everywhere. Some photographers take reality as the sculptors take wood and stone and upon it impose the dominations of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and elevation." - Ansel Adams

How can you photograph something and make it more than what it actually is? See beyond the obvious. Make it yours.

"If there is any method in the way I take pictures, I believe it lies in this. See the subject first. Do not try to force it to be a picture of this, that or the other thing. Stand apart from it. Then something will happen. The subject will reveal itself." - Bill Brandt

"In a photograph, if I am able to evoke not alone a feeling of the reality of the surface physical world but also a feeling of the reality of existence that lies mysteriously and invisibly beneath its surface, I feel I have succeeded. At their best, photographs as symbols not only serve to help illuminate some of the darkness of the unknown, they also serve to lessen the fears that too often accompany the journeys from the known to the unknown."- Wynn Bullock

"This then: to photograph a rock, have it look like a rock, but be more than a rock. Significant representations – not interpretation." - Edward Weston

I've posted this before but thought it might help in this discussion.

This was taken from the bottom of the first page and I think this is SO IMPORTANT when trying to judge what is good or what isn't.
"The important point to remember is that we should all feel free to like or dislike what we will, on grounds of personal taste. HOWEVER, please note that there is a distinction between personal taste or preference and objective judgements of success or failure in a work of design or art. It is possible to recognize that a work is successful and significant, even though it does not suit our personal taste. It should be clear that unless one can lay claim to a high level of expertise it is rather immoderate to condemn a work as "bad" just because one doesn't like it. It is important for an artist to understand this distinction, and even more so for a designer, who will surely be called upon to do creative work in a framework of someone else's tastes and ideas.

It is possible to learn how these objective judgements are made. A lot of it has to do with this business of visual language, and learning more of that language is what this course is about. There are objective criteria by which we can determine whether or not a work is successful ("good")."

Heres the link to the above.
http://char.txa.cornel​l.edu/language/introla​n.htm (external link)

Remember this also. In the centuries of art its all been done but the one thing that hasn't been done is seeing the world as you see it. First you have to have something to say. Really say. Then the challenge is to say it in a way thats not the obvious or the way everyone else would say it but in a way thats yours as Adams said, " a true manifestation of what one feels about life in it's entirety."

Minor White said, "When I looked at things for what they are I was fool enough to persist in my folly and found that each photograph was a mirror of my Self." or this "all photographs are self portraits."

What you choose to turn your camera on is a reflection of who you are and all your life experiences. The higher the level of visual understanding the deeper and the more complex the level is of your work.

So if you are truly photographing honestly eventually you will find that your work is different. When you get to a point where you are making meaningful photographs that show people a little bit about who you are.

And no one has a problem with taking a photograph of a tree or a stream especially with the equipment we have today. The challenge has and always will be is, how can we see some of you in that picture of the tree or the stream? How can you show us something that you see in those objects and show us beyond the obvious or the noun? What is that tree or stream to you and how can you show me the viewer what that tree or stream means to you beyond the simple photo of a tree or a stream.




  
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airfrogusmc
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Oct 28, 2011 21:54 as a reply to  @ airfrogusmc's post |  #9

CG I also wanted to say that this is usually not an ahhh haaa moment (for some it can be) but slow and unfolding journey. It can absolutely take years so sit back don't worry so much about it and enjoy the journey. My advice is stay as open minded as you can and let the train take you to where you need to go.

Also if you are really interested the book On Photography by Sontag touches on the bigger and better shock syndrome in media.

The important thing is that you are actually thinking about it. But enjoy the ride. We're all on it.




  
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friz
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Oct 28, 2011 22:28 |  #10

airfrogusmc wrote in post #13322992 (external link)
CG I also wanted to say that this is usually not an ahhh haaa moment (for some it can be) but slow and unfolding journey. It can absolutely take years so sit back don't worry so much about it and enjoy the journey. My advice is stay as open minded as you can and let the train take you to where you need to go.

Also if you are really interested the book On Photography by Sontag touches on the bigger and better shock syndrome in media.

The important thing is that you are actually thinking about it. But enjoy the ride. We're all on it.

Well said. On that same note. I have learned to save my all of my photographs, because some of the images I have taken, I can't appreciate until I am separated from them for a while. At first my mind will not allow me to see past the difference between the image and how I envisioned it. The good news is, the better I get the narrower that gap is.




  
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Clean ­ Gene
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Oct 29, 2011 00:54 |  #11

Kolor-Pikker wrote in post #13319226 (external link)
Rule #1: There is always someone who is _______________ than you.

Fill in the blank space with anything you want and this rule will always hold true. Think you're the best or strangest at something? Wrong! because there will be someone else who has already done it, and probably has done so to a greater extreme.

Don't worry about these things, thank to the internet I and certainly many others with more than a hair of curiosity have seen some pretty twisted stuff and there is really, honest-to-goodness, nothing you could possibly show me that would put me off. In fact, if you don't go all the way with these kinds of things it'll just come off as timid or lackluster compared to someone else's work.

That's actually part of what's bothering me. I mean, if I was REALLY dark and grotesque and sick and morbid, then I think I'd at least be comfortable with that. Because then, like it or love it, I'd be getting people to notice. I'd be doing something to such an extreme that you'd at least have to admit that I'm excellent at doing something (even if it's disturbing or offending people).

But I actually DON'T have any interest in that. I go a little bit darker/weirder/more morbid than most of my peers, and it does get attention. The problem is, I think the attention is one of boredom. As in, "this guy is trying way to hard to be weird, but really half-asses it. And it ends up being just sad and pathetic". The ironic thing is that if I did try to "go all the way", I wouldn't be honest about it. That'd then actually be more fake and calculated than what I'm doing now, even if provoked more of an interesting reaction.

But I don't know. I wasn't even really necessarily wanting to get any advice, I was just sort of venting. I'm at a point where I'm really just trying to get a sense of who I am as a "photographer" and what my work is about, and I'm getting a little bit frustrated. On the other hand, I was never out to get a job or anything. So maybe for a while I would do better to just say "**** it" and spend a while really just revelling in doing exactly what I want, regardless of what people think. That's probably a bad idea in the long term, because I tend to think of honest criticism as a good thing. But my previous rant was mostly about OTHER people's perceptions. What OTHER people think. And while that is indeed important, it seems like I might be a little bit too concerned with that. I think I just need to get back to being a little bit more honest with myself and open about WHAT I express. Then I can start soaking in more criticism concerning HOW I expressed it.




  
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Oct 29, 2011 00:59 |  #12

'Art' is subjective. Frankly, I have never found either Picasso or Maplethorpe to have created 'art'. That is probably why it is classified as 'art'!


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Clean ­ Gene
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Oct 29, 2011 01:13 |  #13

friz wrote in post #13323101 (external link)
Well said. On that same note. I have learned to save my all of my photographs, because some of the images I have taken, I can't appreciate until I am separated from them for a while. At first my mind will not allow me to see past the difference between the image and how I envisioned it. The good news is, the better I get the narrower that gap is.


I don't save ALL of my photographs. There are a certain percentage that are just really really terrible and automatically get deleted. But I certainly don't hold onto just the "keepers". I like to keep around most of my subpar or "pretty bad" pictures for at least a while. Every once in a while I like to just browse through some of my old crap, The stuff that got rejected. And while it's rare that I end up finding a lost nugget of gold amongst the rubbish, I think it's valuable seeing my previous work from a different perspective.

I mean, hell...I'm hopefully a different person now than I was even a year ago. What I thought of my body of work two years ago might sure not be the same as what I think of it now. At the least, it's just interesting seeing what I was doing back then. And at best, it could at least potentially help me to get a better idea of who I am, what I'm about, and how I'm progressing.

Anyway, storage is fairly cheap. I'm not saying that I keep ALL of my pictures. Some of them definitely get deleted outright. But I make a deliberate attempt to save even many of the pictures that I think are bad. That's potentially a record of what a different version of me was thinking and feeling. There might be some good ideas in there that were never properly executed, but if nothing else it's really just fascinating and oddly surreal to look at old pictures (even the bad ones) from the vantage point of an older person.




  
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mpix345
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Oct 29, 2011 01:37 |  #14

Clean Gene wrote in post #13323475 (external link)
That's actually part of what's bothering me. I mean, if I was REALLY dark and grotesque and sick and morbid, then I think I'd at least be comfortable with that. Because then, like it or love it, I'd be getting people to notice. I'd be doing something to such an extreme that you'd at least have to admit that I'm excellent at doing something (even if it's disturbing or offending people).

But I actually DON'T have any interest in that. I go a little bit darker/weirder/more morbid than most of my peers, and it does get attention. The problem is, I think the attention is one of boredom. As in, "this guy is trying way to hard to be weird, but really half-asses it. And it ends up being just sad and pathetic". The ironic thing is that if I did try to "go all the way", I wouldn't be honest about it. That'd then actually be more fake and calculated than what I'm doing now, even if provoked more of an interesting reaction.

But I don't know. I wasn't even really necessarily wanting to get any advice, I was just sort of venting. I'm at a point where I'm really just trying to get a sense of who I am as a "photographer" and what my work is about, and I'm getting a little bit frustrated. On the other hand, I was never out to get a job or anything. So maybe for a while I would do better to just say "**** it" and spend a while really just revelling in doing exactly what I want, regardless of what people think. That's probably a bad idea in the long term, because I tend to think of honest criticism as a good thing. But my previous rant was mostly about OTHER people's perceptions. What OTHER people think. And while that is indeed important, it seems like I might be a little bit too concerned with that. I think I just need to get back to being a little bit more honest with myself and open about WHAT I express. Then I can start soaking in more criticism concerning HOW I expressed it.

To me, the bolded part is critical if you want to be a true artist. As soon as you start worrying about what critics, peers or the public think you are becoming someone who is trying to sell something (be it for money or simply approval). I think those who become great and successful artists at least start out being true to their vision with little regard for consequences. That freedom allows you to get every bit out of yourself.


  
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FlyingPhotog
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Oct 29, 2011 02:03 |  #15

The truth though is that most photographers are forced to shoot "mundane" subjects to pay the rent and fund the projects where they shoot what they want to shoot.

This is certainly true in my corner where it's not unusual to find that even the best aviation shooters have architecture, weddings, youth sports and commercial product images as a part of their broader portfolio. You could count on one hand the number of photographers who draw their entire sustenance from strictly aviation work (and two of the four or five I'm thinking of also double dip as magazine editors so they carry an entirely different set of baggage around with them.)

Oh, all of them also write and shoot video as well...


Jay
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Still conflicted about being different.
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