2013-09-10

Letting Go of the Camera

How did I find this book? Can´t remember exactly, but it was probably a suggestion by amazon based on other things I have bought or looked at. A good suggestion, as it turned out, because I bought another book by the same author the second I finished this one. The title of this post is the same as the title of the book, "Letting Go of the Camera" - too good not to use, I think. The author is Brooks Jensen, an artist who also happens to be a photographer. He is also the editor of LensWork, a photographic art magazine. Clearly, this is man with many talents. He writes beautifully and is an excellent communicator of ideas. I find myself reading him and understanding things not even related to photography - or I thought they weren´t. Attending a workshop of his would be a dream.

I have been struggling with how to present this book. I very nearly underlined the whole thing. Jensen wants us to think about art. He wants us to think about seeing. He wants us to have ideas and work them through, finishing them, presenting them, and going on to the next idea. His best advice to a budding photographer (listen up, any kind of budding artist!) is to go through his or her whole production and pick out the best 100 images and make good prints of them. Or, I would say, put them on a website. Make them presentable. The point is, if no one can see what you are doing, you will get no feedback, no one will recognize you as a photographer of whatever you want to be, and provide you with ideas, contacts, invitations, all those things that propell you forward.  
The best way to do new work, to be motivated, is to complete the old work so that you can let go of it. We all know someone who has been nursing the same project for years and is no closer to finishing it now than when you first met them? As the old maxim says, “When you stay in the same rut long enough, it begins to feel normal.”

He does, however, have very sober views on what artistic success will be, to most people, including himself. I find a quote like this one both funny, discouraging and encouraging at the same time:
During your lifetime you can expect to lose all of your photographic equipment to burglars 2.7 times, on average. The good news is that the insurance company will give you full new value on all of your equipment just before they cancel your insurance policy. In the short term, you will gain because you will find you can replace your old gear with someone else’s stolen gear and pocket the difference between the used price and the new price. This will be the most money you will have ever made as a photographer.
This is what I think: if you can accept that you will not be famous and rich, if you can find a strategy to keep food on the table and a roof over you head and make art at the same time, you will be as free as an artist as you can ever be. And if you are free and work hard, then perhaps you are the one that will actually make something really, really ground breaking. You may even become rich and famous. Don´t count on it though, because if that´s your aim from the start, you will probably listen too much to what people want, which is always something they have already seen and think they want more of. But the artist´s job is to bring to people what they didn´t know they wanted, what they couldn´t come up with themselves. It doesn´t have to be complex, fancy intellectual ideas. It can be really simple, and the message can be emotional. Like this project, brought to my attention by a friend in the arts.
Most artists, in spite of the myth of the isolated and tormented soul, are firmly ensconced as a part of a flock. It is just so easy to march to the beat of everybody else’s drum. In contrast, the best art comes from the heart. Once technique and craft can be successfully used, the artist’s real challenge begins – finding and producing from the heart. The next time the flock veers left, try turning right just for fun and leave the rest of the herd. Wander off. Look for yourself. And if you find it difficult to make a decent photograph, know you are on the correct and best path that leads to the most important artwork of your life.
There is a quality of Dr-Phil-tell-it-like-it-is-m about Brooks Jensen. He knows what he is talking about, he has lived the life, worked it out, and he can tell you in a way that you can understand. I´m so entusiastic about his writing (and I believe you can find more of it on his website and at LensWork, I just haven´t had time to explore for myself) that I could easily violate his copyright just to convince you to read this book. Even if you´re not interested in making art, but just understanding what artists are about and why art matters (it´s not about celebrity!), I think this is the book. Yeah.

2 comments:

  1. "This will be the most money you will have ever made as a photographer."

    roflol!

    and i also loved this quote: "As the old maxim says, “When you stay in the same rut long enough, it begins to feel normal.”"

    so true. good advice here.

    i wish i could blame my equipment for my lack of photographic skill, but no. if i take 10 pictures of the same thing i can see why one is better than another, and it's usually framing or focus. i hope to get better using the equipment i have.

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    1. Most bloggers seem to get into photography sooner or later - it´s such a good tool for communication and really does a lot to give one´s posts that personal touch. Blogging really is a creative art all of it´s own, isn´t it? And very rewarding, I find.

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