Long Read

Photo Book Finds.

One thing that I love doing but haven't posted about here is finding and buying old photography-related books. These could range from essays, technique and theory books, portfolios or monographs, and stuff from any time period - in fact I tend to go toward older books for a number or reasons, not the least of which being that they tend to be the most affordable. 

I find these books almost anywhere, used book shops, "vintage" stores and thrift shops, online - and the great thing about technique, approach and work in photography, is that their soundness will always hold up, no matter the era. Even if old film-related information didn't specifically apply to my style of shooting, the techniques and general practice is largely the same, and one could stand to learn a lot from writers who taught and talked about older, slower processes of photography. 

On a recent visit to a local used book shop on South St. in Philadelphia, I came across these two books (and a third, a biography of Diane Arbus that I opted to eschew to save a few bucks) and had to snatch them up. 

fashion theory - carol di grappa
100 studies of the figure - john rawlings

The first is Fashion: Theory, by Carol Di Grappa. Written in 1980, it contains essays and anecdotes of fashion photographers of the time, including a few luminaries like Arthur Elgort, David Bailey and Horst P. Horst, along with selected images from each photographer's archive.

yvonne and nicole by erica lennard

I've only read David Bailey's essay, but have yet to see any theory aside from a few recommendations he has about what type of models to work with and when to shoot on the beach, but nonetheless it's interesting and something uninitiated fashion photographer wannabes like me wish existed but have trouble finding, especially regarding photographers of years past. It's definitely a cool little addition to the collection. 

The second is called 100 Studies of The Figure, the late John Rawlings' safely-titled 1951 book of nude figure studies. John Rawlings was a famous photographer for Condé Nast, featuring prominently in fashion for Vogue Magazine in the 40's and 50's. As I've been increasingly curious about shooting nudes myself, the book jumped out to me for that reason alone. What sealed the deal for me, however, was his totally unnecessary but graciously-included detailed notes on each image, including camera, lens and film used, developer and printing chemicals used, and time of day photographed. I don't think I've ever seen that included in a photobook that wasn't intended for purely educational purposes, definitely not an art book. But I like it. His decision to share his technical data in an otherwise purely artistic endeavor gives me the feeling he felt the way I do about photography, and was a total nerd to boot - just like me. 

evelyn frey by john rawlings
rawlings' technical data

I really enjoyed reading Rawlings' introduction - when I think of 1951, I don't imagine a general American society that was particularly supportive of works like these, although I couldn't say for sure - but the fact that he gets right to the point and spends most of the introduction dealing with the controversial nature of human nudity and morality would suggest that I'm not far off the mark. He pushes against the prevailing notions of morality and quickly does what he can to liberate the proceeding images from any unnecessary baggage the moral atmosphere of the 50s may have otherwise wedged between the reader and an appreciation of his work. It's dope. 

The photographs themselves look terrible - although this could easily be due to the book's age -  but the compositions are nice and I enjoy his approach. I won't pretend to be a photo book critic at all, but I've seen some really sub par photographic figure studies, so I do have some perspective. He works with one model for the entire book, and I think there's something to be said for that, though I'm not sure what, exactly. Mostly I would imagine that a prolonged visual conversation between photographer and subject allows for more to be seen and shown, no pun intended. Spending time with your subject and developing a working relationship would seem to be the preferable path, especially with something as intimate as nude photography. 

I'm rambling now. Just wanted to share some photo book finds, finally. 


Out with the Old, in with the New.

kanye-west-quote I wanted to make sure I squeezed in a looking back/looking forward post in before January had slipped away, so here it is, albeit quite late in the month. It still counts!

Looking back, 2013 was a year of wake up calls. Some good, some…just very needed. I hate to talk about these types of things as finite experiences that aren’t as amorphous and persistent as they actually are, but there were very specific things that happened over the course of the last year that really shed light on what I’m doing right and wrong, and I want to try to make the best use of those experiences.

As a noob freelancer, I’d managed to live a somewhat charmed existence. I came into the world of freelancing not having to do much in the way of marketing before I landed some pretty stable, repeat clients. This was awesome as it allowed me to generate income purely through photography - I didn’t HAVE to take on extra work to make ends meet, keep the bills paid and do cool extras like travel or feed my gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) - but what it also did was lull me to sleep as far as building new clientele was concerned, and as fate would have it, client work dried up suddenly, and quite categorically. The sneaky second issue was that I was ONLY shooting gigs - not work I wanted to highlight in my portfolio, and certainly not personal work I wanted to be hired to do at some point. By the end of 2013, work had come to a screeching halt - and while there were lots of opportunities to shoot really cool things and work with really awesome folks in the future, I had to scramble (and suffer) to make ends meet.

It’s a curious balance, divvying up one’s time between paying bills, lobbying for new clients and also honing your practice and producing portfolio work that helps your business grow and progress. You never know when you’re OD’ing on the wrong third of the equation. I won’t even pretend that I’ve figured it out, but I think the greatest potential lies in working backward from creativity. Working every measly gig that comes your way and never making time to flex your creative muscle means you stay in the same spot forever. Of course, you have to find time to market yourself and your work, and I’ve started to develop a system that makes it easier to integrate some of those efforts into my process, but I really do believe it starts with personal work.

...until further notice, that is. Ha!

Last year I also slowly came to the realization that I would like to explore the fine arts side of photography. I can’t ONLY be a photographer that works from briefs. It’s hard to just be a tool when you have ideas that could probably blow the brief you’re executing out of the water. Even more so when it comes to ideas that have nothing to do with promoting a brand. I guess what I’m really realizing is that there’s a place for everything I want to do. Some things deserve (and demand) precedence, and that’s the trick - prioritizing and managing my time accordingly. For instance, I also produce music, and there’s a music project that’s been bubbling inside of me for years now that needs to get out. Shooting gigs that don’t move the needle at all to the exclusion of stuff like that is a travesty and a personal tragedy.

Aside from life lessons - I have been shooting a ton of cool things that I can’t wait to show folks. I shot the S/S 2014 lookbook for my friend Wale Oyejide’s Ikiré Jones menswear line  - including some film stuff - and it looks pretty awesome. That should be launching soon, so I’ll be able to share images from that. Also, I’ve been working with my partners Taj and Rashid at WJS Creative, and we’ve got some really cool projects on the horizon, including a profile series we’ve been hard at work on called Short Journeys. I’ll go into detail about that with a full post when it launches, but it’s given me an opportunity to try things out, particularly with medium format film.

I’ve also been on the ground a lot more trying to shoot with models. It’s a tough grind - I find that between timing and desire, it’s hard to lock something down, but I like that since I made the decision to really push with these types of shoots, I’ve been pretty consistent with my efforts, and when the opportunity has presented itself, I was there with camera in hand. I’ve got a lot of learning to do but I know when I’m not willing to put forth the effort and it doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Much of what I experience professionally and creatively can often double as a metaphor for how I’m learning to live my life - do what you believe in and learn to do it better every day - much of what you want will follow. Kanye’s quote above really rings true with me. He’s expressed this idea in other interviews of late and I think it’s something he’s sat with a long time - I also think he’s working to get very comfortable with bucking that trend. Being creative and doing new things is very much about developing a process that starts with accepting those facts and pushing against them, often to the disapproval of the people around us, or to our own extreme discomfort. Not to get too philosophical here, but especially as time passes and I somehow keep getting older and older, the internal pressure to do what feels right regardless of conventional wisdom ramps up infinitely. I’d like to just keep these things in mind throughout the year going forward, whatever I may be doing.

Here’s to a happy, productive and amazing year to come for everybody!