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.my 366 project

Everyone seems to be on the bandwagon lately of doing “A Photo A Day” for the year. I did a photo a day on Instagram for the month of January and it took the heart right out of photography for me. I already shoot a photo a day without forcing myself to (on my phone, of my kids, of my clients, of my friends). What I have been needing to do is to slow down and shoot less more purposefully. So, my personal 366 this year is to make one magnificent image each month-on film.

I did a photo a day “project” back in 2002 when my husband and I collaborated on one when we first moved into our house. We photographed out the window from the exact same place in our home at the exact same time every day for a year. I still have the film and have never had it scanned. One of these days it will be interesting to see it.

From an unfinished personal project, “Mother and Child” started in 2003

I remember when, a long time ago in 2006, I was oblivious to what was going on in the portrait photography world. I was clueless to all the endless blogs featuring the latest portrait project or daily photo. I was clueless to the fact that people were announcing to the world they were right now editing and processing the most amazing session. I was absolutely oblivious to the fact that even the general public was starting to use digital cameras. Although I used my first digital camera in 1991, I didn’t think the technology would ever get to the point where it is now. The digital camera I used was the Phase One digital camera back and was the size of a brick that attached to the back of a medium or large format camera. Only large companies or very high end professional photographers were using it. It cost $50,000. You had to take three passes to make one image. It sandwiched together red, green and blue exposures to make a full color, high res image. The other type of back was a scan back. You could stand on one side of the scene and after it scanned you, you could run to the other side and get scanned again. Obviously, these were not ideal cameras for moving subjects.

What I miss now is, that was my job and my personal work was completely separate and private. I only shot personal work with film and I rarely showed anyone what I was working on. I recently spoke to Aline Smithson and she recommended that I go back to that way of creating my own heartfelt personal work. To go deep and keep it sheltered until I am ready to share it. I have also been doing a lot of research lately on the history of photography for my upcoming LOUPE Workshop. I am including one entire chapter in my workbook on the history of photography-something most current workshop photographers never touch on.

While doing my research I came across a few wonderful written tidbits. I think they came to light to remind me why I should be reading more, shooting less and realizing everything that is happening right now is meant to be. Funny, because it is at a time when I am getting into a groove with my professional work: I am happier than I have ever been with my professional and commercial fine art work and I am busier than ever before working with the most gracious and supportive clients you can imagine.

I worked for a still life photographer for years and it just about ruined photography for me. But at that time, I thought I would never photograph people. It used to terrify me and I thought turning to retail portrait photography for a profession would be degrading. Thank goodness I have moved past this and can bring my love of the sky, the land and the ocean, my experience as a journalistic travel photographer and my years of lighting product and food photography into my current portrait work.

Here are several excerpts that really caught my attention recently and have helped me feel like it’s okay for me to go be me again. I could so relate to what these photographers are saying.

“If you could change one thing about the photography industry today, what would it be?

Just one thing? That’s tough. I think these days, there’s a weird dichotomy of competitiveness and homogenization. Back in the Life Magazine era, photographers were truly artists, each having their own established style and voice, and yet they collaborated and were fast friends and true contemporaries. These days, so much looks alike, and I think it’s bred an unhealthy rivalry among us. The Internet is a huge factor there. It’s just too easy to see what everyone else is doing, and follow suit. I do lots of critiques for professional photographers, and it’s always so refreshing to see someone doing work that is a genuine extension of their personality and values, that I wouldn’t confuse with anyone else’s. That’s why I love critiquing, to find what each artist does well and to encourage them on that path. So rewarding for me.” ~Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai

from the Clickin Moms Blog “Interview with Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai” by Sarah Wilkerson

…and from the amazing blog post on the Magnum Blog: Wear Good Shoes: Advice to Young Photographers by one of my most favorite photographers, Alec Soth. His story, his images and his words put my heart at ease give me the strength to continue on my own chosen road:

Alec Soth

“When did you first get excited about photography?
I spent most of my childhood playing with pretend friends in the forest. It wasn’t called art, but it was awfully creative. Things were a little trickier outside of the forest. I was shy and awkward and started to lose my way as teenager. But in 10th grade I had an art teacher, Bill Hardy, who opened the door back on the forest. I started doing sculptures with found materials outdoors. I documented these sculptures with photography. After awhile I realized that the joy came more from finding pictures than making sculptures.
What advice would you give young photographers?
Try everything. Photojournalism, fashion, portraiture, nudes, whatever. You won’t know what kind of photographer you are until you try it. During one summer vacation (in college) I worked for a born-again tabletop photographer. All day long we’d photograph socks and listen to Christian radio. That summer I learned I was neither a studio photographer nor a born-again Christian. Another year I worked for a small suburban newspaper chain and was surprised to learn that I enjoyed assignment photography. Fun is important. You should like the process and the subject. If you are bored or unhappy with your subject it will show up in the pictures. If in your heart of hearts you want to take pictures of kitties, take pictures of kitties.” ~Alec Soth’s portfolio

Alex Webb

“When did you first get excited about photography?
I didn’t get truly excited about photography (though I actually learned photographic technique from my father much earlier) during my sophomore year in high school. I had played around with making little (extremely bad) movies, using friends and family as actors, and rapidly realized that I did not want to work with lots of other people. I wanted to work alone. I began photographing in the streets of Brattleboro, Vermont, near the school that I attended, and in Boston, where my family lived. I discovered photographing in the street. I’ve been doing it ever since.
What advice would you give young photographers?
Photograph because you love doing it, because you absolutely have to do it, because the chief reward is going to be the process of doing it. Other rewards — recognition, financial remuneration — come to so few and are so fleeting. And even if you are somewhat successful, there will almost inevitably be stretches of time when you will be ignored, have little income, or — often — both. Certainly there are many other easier ways to make a living in this society. Take photography on as a passion, not a career.” ~Alex Webb’s portfolio

Christopher Anderson

When did you first get excited about photography?
My first memory of being excited about photography was seeing HCB’s “decisive moment” picture in a magazine (the picture of a man in mid stride jumping over a puddle) when I was 9 or 10 years old. I had no idea who the photographer was and I don’t think I even consciously thought about the presence of a photographer being linked to the image. I was just drawn to the image itself. I even remember asking myself why I was drawn to this image, and not really having an answer. I cut the image out and inserted into the cassette tape box as a cover for a mix tape I had made of my favorite songs.

There were some other key moments (finding a book by Leonard Freed in a garage sale, for example). In high school, I worked summer jobs and bought myself a camera when I graduated. During the next several years, photography became a hobby, but I did it in total isolation. I still had no concept of “Photographer.” I had no concept of a photojournalist or art or anything like that. I just thought it was fun to make pictures. If I thought about the idea as a profession, it was as distant as saying; “I want to be a rock start when I grow up.” It wasn’t until I was actually a professional photographer (which happened very much by accident, and I will spare you the boring story here) that it dawned on me that some people make their living making pictures. I had never pondered the question of why I take pictures or what is the role of photography or what kind of photographer I wanted to be when suddenly, I was a Professional Photojournalist. It would be another 10 years of working in that capacity before I would begin to ask myself these questions

What advice would you give young photographers?
Forget about the profession of being a photographer. First be a photographer and maybe the profession will come after. Don’t be in a rush to pay your rent with your camera. Jimi Hendrix didn’t decide on the career of professional musician before he learned to play guitar. No, he loved music and and created something beautiful and that THEN became a profession. Larry Towell, for instance, was not a “professional” photographer until he was already a “famous” photographer. Make the pictures you feel compelled to make and perhaps that will lead to a career. But if you try to make the career first, you will just make shitty pictures that you don’t care about.” ~Christopher Anderson’s portfolio


I am so fortunate that I have come to this realization: that I can pursue my own personal photography and still continue to do the most creative work possible for my clients. I feel that I already spent so many years shooting for me and only me before becoming a professional this time around, I have finally reached the point where I can give back to my clients unselfishly; where I have found my voice as a professional portrait photographer but I have yet to find it for my truly personal work. My sessions are for my clients and anyone who has ever worked with me knows that I will jump through hoops for them. Once hired, I am yours. I love what I do and am doing everything I can to stay an encouraged, nurtured and educated professional.

And I would like to remind and encourage all passionate photographers (including myself!):

1. Don’t be discouraged by the notoriety of the few-just because every blog these days links to them doesn’t mean they are the end all be all of photographic style and substance

2. Stay true to your heart in your own personal image making-if nature appeals to you, shoot nature, if photographing kids in tutus appeals to you, shoot kids in tutus

3. Don’t go into business as soon as you buy your first pro level camera-take the time to develop your style first and keep pushing your work by shooting self assignments

4. Get off the internet-go to galleries and museums to see historic and contemporary work in person. Read the artist statements. Look at the images and critique them: make notes on how the images were made, why you like or don’t like them, what you would do different, why the image works or doesn’t work for you.

5. Listen to music-what song sounds like the images you want to make?

6. Look at paintings, illustrations, mixed media-see how other artists express themselves and their world

7. Read more-read all types of literature: fiction, biography, fables, poems

8. Have faith-stay persistent and don’t give up on yourself. Take a break if needed. I took several years off making images for others and only photographed when I wanted to-for myself. It helped rekindle the passion of photography for me.