One of the great results of the internet is the ability to read the musings of others around the globe that would otherwise be inaccessible. As a photographer, one of those I enjoy reading is Ming Thein. Ming’s black and white photography has always inspired me – both in tone and composition. However, Ming’s philosophical side has also inspired me. Ming’s latest post – Managing the creative commercial populist disconnect (what pays isn’t always what’s popular or what I want to shoot), has inspired that side of my brain this morning. Since my thoughts were more verbose than a comment field might hold, I decided to post my comment as an article instead.
Ming’s question, I believe, is an age old thought process that the masters in art have long pondered. The question of what does the artistic side of my brain want to create today versus the logic side inquiring what do I need to do today, is tougher for some than others. Let me tell you why.
In the general population some are stronger in logic or reasoning and others in creativity. This is equivalent to being left-brained or right-brained. We could argue whether the reason was due to the biological structure of the person’s brain or whether the person exercised one side in excess of the other. However, the fact remains that each person has a tendency to exercise the stronger side. Then there are those who are fairly balanced between the two. I have always believed Ming Thein is one of those and the proof is in his article today.
One of the postulates that could result from Ming’s idea is that creativity is not equal to profits, or at the very least, that the overlap is very slim indeed. Whether the concept comes from the conservative nature of business, as Ming suggests (stiff, formal and regular), or because large dollar photography jobs are due to the encapsulated and structured mind set of a high-level corporate executive instead of the creative side of the artsy types, the result is the same. Profits come most efficiently from a small group of photographs that provide large amounts of income.
As Ming continues, popular photographs have no commercial value. I would adjust that slightly to say that the images have value, but the profit derived from such an image is measured in pennies compared to large commercial jobs. Thus, a photographer really creates those images at a loss and cannot sustain a career from such work. However, that work is necessary in order to continue developing the creativity of the photographer. Hence, the work and life component.
In order to feel fulfilled in life, one wants to contribute something to society. Most often this is measured through success in work and some level of profits used to sustain life outside of work. I am not saying one wants to be rich to feel fulfilled, but that certainly would be one way to achieve that level. Artists are caught in a trap from the very beginning.
Most artists work is not valuable until either a) after their death, or b) after they have sold their work for a very small sum only to find others resell it at larger amounts. This means an artist is no longer subsidized like early Roman and Greek eras where they created works for the pleasure of a dictator, but also funded by the same. The internet and digital photography has only made the artist’s life more difficult. The ability to quickly create something and spread the word is now in the hands of every amateur through every professional. In the same way an amateur photographer can study and learn from those abroad without leaving their chair, a professional is caught in an online trap fighting for the ability to be recognized among the volume of amateur work. Ultimately, I believe this is beneficial. However, this is what causes the need for work to enjoy life and have the ability to pursue creativity.
What does the bucket list have to do with this? More importantly, what is the bucket list? The Bucket List is a movie that was created in the US in 2007. The plot is essentially two old gentlemen, one rich and one not, who are terminally ill. They become friends in the hospital despite there very different lives and values and create a list of things they want to do before they ‘kick the bucket.’
I am the variety of photographer who has practiced over his lifetime the art of image making. I started using film before I was a teenager and taught black and white photography lab at a large University while in school. I still use both film and digital work, but in a different light (no pun intended). I have a full-time job to support my family which is completely unrelated to art or photography. I am an accountant (or CPA for those that know the term). My challenge in photography is different indeed.
I look for ways to mix my life (which includes a family) and my work to better my creativity. However, what I want to photograph has very little to do with my work or what I must do to make a living (profits). So as part of my creative release, I created a few bucket list items of my own that are specific to photography. Yes, I create family works of art only valuable to a very few. Yes, I create work that I believe would ultimately look great displayed in someone’s home unrelated to me. Have I sold work? No. Would I like to sell work? Sure. But the process will never be at the level to quit my day job.
My solution has been several fold. First, I create the images that have the most artistic merit to me and hang them in my business. My employees have chided me that the office is also my art gallery. This means I enjoy my work daily and it inspires conversations with clients and others alike. I also have several goals in my bucket list, one of which is to achieve a mastershot in the LFI gallery which is a magazine devoted to the Leica brand and reportage. LFI is also a place where Leica photographers can post images of their work and submit work for judgement by a few well known in the field of Leica photography. Last month I crossed off that item on my bucket list as one of my submissions was accepted.
Other items on my bucket list are to finish a series in photography to share what I have learned – both left-brained and right-brained – in the hopes that the art continues to evolve and multiply. I would like to publish some works, but most importantly, I have a few specific social issues I would like to raise awareness of. I don’t know if I’ll complete my list, but it gives me something to work towards.
I am jealous of Ming’s position although I believe he would tell me I have a choice and I could be a full time artist for hire if I wanted. He would be correct if that is what he told me. I am sure it is the conservative nature (read, business) that tells my left-brain to do what I need to make a profit while my right-brain tells me to find a way to build upon my creativity.
Ultimately, all my experiences are intertwined and the results are what builds my creativity and allows me to see the world as I now do. My photography is a way to release that view and try to share it with others. I believe that fits the definition of art, so that any work I do, even if it isn’t popular or what I want, will contribute to my growth as an artist. Both work hand in hand. Thank you, Ming Thein, for inspiring me to write this.