Category Archives: Rants

Too Many Voices in My Head

For a few months, I’ve had a real bee in my bonnet concerning the voices of photography. When I first started shooting digitally in 2002, most of what I was doing was trial and error. I didn’t have any mentors that I was learning from, so any voice of experience that I searched for either came from a web search for a specific issue I was having, or from buying a book at the local bookstores. Nothing wrong with those paths, and those paths served me well.

A few years later, several of us at the office were all shooting Canon gear, and for the last three years or so, we’ve been critiquing each others’ work, and helping each other as we’ve bumped into particular issues. One guy’s a gearhead, another is a Lightroom guy, another is a Photoshop experimenter… we all bring something different to the table, which has tremendous value. Most of us are selling our art locally, and are displaying in galleries and shows throughout our region, so we’re not exactly living in a bubble, mutually fawning over each others’ work. IDIC. In other words, if all all you hear/see/do is what just one gaggle says you should, then you end up with a real opportunity to shut out other voices.

A few months ago, I started getting the podcasts of a photographer who was offering his services to review your portfolio via his podcast. In fairness of full disclosure, I didn’t submit anything — I don’t have the cojones to do that at this stage of my game. While I’m sure there’s value in that kind of critique, I’m finding a great deal of constructive criticism with our little photo group, and that’s kept me plenty busy with my imagery.

When I listened to the podcasting photographer, my first sense was that he was pretty harsh toward the submitters’ portfolios. Now, that’s probably realistic in the big, bad real world of photography, but when he and his wife began cracking jokes at the expense of the images — to the point of using some of them as running gags while critiquing other folks’ work — well, my respect for this guy dropped off the map.

Where I come from — and this photographer is based only 150mi or so from where I was raised — you don’t poke fun of folks’ hearts when they’ve laid them bare out there for everyone to see. To quote the first Spiderman film, “With great power comes great responsibility.” There’s wisdom there. If you’re gonna lay yourself out as an expert in any field, there’s no requirement that you help another living soul. But when you ask them to come with their work in hand, there’s a certain amount of decorum expected as you deal with those invited folks’ “children.” That kind of treatment of invited folks led me to believe that this was a voice in my head I could do without.

And now to a separate topic, which I’ll tie together at the end.

For quite some time, there’s been a real bone of contention between the established wedding photographers (which I’m not) and the newly minted, freshly camera-bearing wedding photographers (which I’m also not — my doctor has enough issue with my blood pressure without adding the stress of event and portrait photography!). The new ones aren’t charging what the established ones think they should, and the old-timers are saying that’s eroding the price for the field, and therefore destroying photography as we know it. Or something like that. The new folks, of course, don’t have twenty years of experience against which they can justify higher rates, and frankly, the new folks’ work and products may not be the caliber of the old-timers… sometimes. Or it could be just as good or better, but in reality, it’s really up to the purchaser to make that call. You certainly can’t decide that based solely on the price charged. If the old-timer has a better portfolio, that should be pretty obvious, and then it’s a value proposition — is there enough difference *to me* as the consumer to justify the difference in cost?

If an old-timer has shot gazillions of weddings for the rich and famous in all the lavishness of those environments, that’s great. However, when Bobby and Bobbi Sue graduate high school or college and get married right before he ships to Afghanistan, they aren’t looking for a $2500-to-$10,000 photographer or package. Some newly minted wedding photographer may be exactly what’s needed. Frankly, with the economy what it is, it could be that you can even get an old-timer for a bargain rate.

That brings me to this weekend, and some photographic steam which has come to a head via Twitter.

I think of Twitter as a giant party room, with bazillions of conversations going on at the same time. It’s pretty easy to find a conversation that sounds interesting, featuring someone leading the conversational thread with apparent authority and confidence. At times though, I find that some of those folks that are deemed experts — by popular consensus (Twitter follower count) or self-proclaimation (oversaturated self-promotion) — in actuality have no more or less authority than anyone else out there. But at times, they act like thugs on the street, leveraging their empires against quieter, dissonant voices.

This weekend, another photographer started tweeting about his consultancy for a wedding photography house to combat another house that was way undercutting his client’s prices. Now, this guy’d been on the border with me. He’s attracted a pretty strong numerical following on Twitter, perhaps for his podcasts and website, but probably more likely for the frequent giveaways of photographic items he promotes through Twitter. I’d been getting pretty alienated by some of the views he held, but this weekend sealed the deal for me. He made comments that indicated all $500 photography is bad, and engaged in a slappy-fight in the Twitterverse with someone else on Twitter, making points steeped in lunacy, and I knew I had discovered yet another voice I could remove from my head.

I watched Superman II this weekend, and I think there’s some applicability here. In particular, I’m thinking of the scene where the villains from the Phantom Zone begin blowing hard to quell the home-spun resistance from the people in the streets of Metropolis after they believe Superman has been killed. The tie? If you’re enough of a blowhard, you really can try to quieten the masses with your apparent strength.

So, there may be too many voices in my head, but there are two fewer today than there were.

The Last Great Thing

Comments around the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing abound today. As well they should. For one shining moment, mankind stood on the edge of discovery unlike anything seen in so many years. And now, forty years later, only incremental gains have been made on the brave first step President Kennedy challenged this country with in the 1960s. To me, never since have we been united in such a vision, nor poised for such a giant leap of faith as Apollo 11 and subsequent lunar missions set the stage for.

Being born just about six weeks after JFK’s assassination, I grew up around the notion of man in space. My father worked at Cape Canaveral. I can remember seeing the splashdown of the returning astronauts, and listening to the only voice there was — Walter Cronkite — describing what we were all seeing take place in front of us. It was magic… or at least seemed like it.

In school, I was taken with space travel, same as many other kids starting school in the early 1970s. We were too young to understand the horrors of the war raging on the other side of the planet, too young to see and remember Star Trek on TV during its original run, but exactly the right age to be swept up in all the wonderful images from NASA and the books in the school library promising colonies in space. I think I checked out almost every book on astronomy and space travel in our school libraries at Harrison Elementary and Brown Middle Schools, and vividly saw the artists’ concepts of where we’d be by the time I was “all grown up.”

And being the age I am, I also got to watch the first shuttle flight — that of Enterprise, and how proud I was that the first shuttle was named that! — when I was working in the library at the middle school. Through a friend of my parents, I met an astronaut — Paul Weitz, a Skylab veteran, and later member of a shuttle crew — spending a whole day with him as he toured my hometown, preaching the virtues of the then fledgling shuttle program. I watched the early shuttle missions, and really, to me, that’s when things began to change. The shuttle launches became regular, and seemingly easy, and for years, they were lost on me as I reached into my early twenties, and began to consider what I’d do with my adult life.

I was sitting at the MEPS station in Knoxville TN on that day in January when Challenger exploded, and for six grueling weeks, I endured US Air Force basic training, hungry for any scrap of information that would tell me what had happened in this tremendous disaster. And for a while, it looked like we’d recede, pulling away from space, like a child burned by a hot stove. Suddenly, space was hard, and we all got that explained to us in the sacrifice of brave souls on a winter’s day.

The seeming ease and the sudden loss in the shuttle program have, to me, sabotaged the future I expected to see through the eyes of the child I was. Sure, the space station has enabled there to be few days in the last many years when there hasn’t been mankind in space, orbiting far above us. It still excites me to go out occasionally to see the ISS cross the sky, lit by the sun in our darkened sky, but it’s not as far as we should’ve been by now.

Kennedy challenged us — yes, as a country, but also as a species — to reach the moon inside ten years. And we did it. Even to this day, the impact of that challenge is felt around us in the technological advances that make our lives easier. And now, forty years after the dream was realized, we all engage in a certain kind of pride — as a people, not as a race or country — that we were there. To my view, it was the Last Great Thing — the last big scary thing we did as a people.

It’s an odd wistfulness that I hear folks look back on it though, somewhat akin to remembering “the good ol’ days.” Unless we were sitting somewhere in space, the Apollo missions shouldn’t be viewed as something quaint and somehow old, but instead as something of pride and wonder and inspiration, and as the first step to the mankind’s future.

Here’s where the skeptic in me comes out. Until we — again as a people, a planet — can begin to speak with enough of a common frame of reference, it’s just gonna be impossible to go much farther than the moon. A single country simply can’t bankroll that kind of exploration, even if it is set about with a single-mindedness akin to our response to Kennedy’s challenge. A visionary needs to step forward, a cause needs to be found before those next steps can take place.

Think about it. We had both in Apollo: Kennedy was the visionary, and the cause was to prove our might as a country, standing up to the Soviets. While I don’t think sabre rattling exhibitions of might are the best reasons to go forth on our next steps, I do believe that a common cause is needed before folks will truly line up behind such an effort. It just seems that there are so many obstacles nowadays.

Even within our own country, we can’t speak with a common voice. We are fractured, divided, divisive, simultaneously equally materially opulent and morally bankrupt at times, and that’s likely just within any given neighborhood. Multiply by a whole big bunch, and the scope of the problem becomes clear. Our culture has become too focused on what gains can be had in the short term, angling to take the credit or calling out where the blame must lie, rather than focusing on the long view and how we can all get there.

I heard it said well the other night in a Cronkite tribute. If you’re younger than your mid-40s, you probably have no recollection of the Apollo missions, no sense for the excitement, wonder and awe at what was achieved, and how much it meant. Folks born in the early years of the shuttle program are now in their early thirties, and my daughter, soon to be making her own way in the world, likely can’t see what all the fuss was about — after all, from the view of her years, we’ve always been in space, haven’t we? Those are the folks that need to get the fever to reach beyond our fragile planet. It won’t be my generation, and it may not be hers, but the foundation’s gotta be built upon, not for us, or our children, but for our children’s children and beyond. That’s why it’s important, that’s the cause.

This little rant started out as just some thoughts on space, the future that has yet to come, and my clumsy view of some of how we got to where we are. It’s a bit of a buggy ride, I know, fraught with crazy wild-eyed ravings. But tonight, in reflection of Apollo, I’m reminded of the future I was promised as a child, and crazy present that in so few ways lives up to those visions.

No Mail for You!

The Post Office is talking about eliminating one day of their current six-day-a-week deliver schedule. Oddly enough, they’re suggesting about eliminating something midweek, maybe Wednesday, which I would figure businesses would scream about. I have two observations about their observations about their business.

The USPS have indicated that they moved billions fewer pieces of mail from 2007 to 2008. Dunno about you, but with the elections in 2008, and the amount of junk mail I received — several pieces of election-related real/junk/hate mail each day, frequently several from the same folks on the same day — I can tell you that my mailbox got loads more mail in 2008.

They also indicated that they are losing money, I guess because of the billions of pieces of mail they didn’t move in 2008. It seems to me that if you set the rate, you can set yourself up to be profitable. Had this been during the summer, when fuel prices were so high, then I’d maybe give it some slack. But with gas prices easily half what they were during the summer, it’s gotta be getting cheaper to deliver all my junk mail.

I guess once the fall of civilization takes place, I’ll still have my junk mail — five days a week — to put in the fireplace to keep me warm. 🙂