Corporate America: Death of an artist.

Alright, I am willing to admit that the title may be a bit too dramatic, but it is my firm belief that is also true in many ways.  Unlike many artists, I work for a big corporation, getting a steady paycheck and still attempting to fight an epic battle with the biggest adversary out there named Time.  But more and more, it seems, I find myself on the losing side.

While working for a company in New York, especially if you are a salary employee, it is considered normal to work sixty plus hour weeks.  It is considered normal to receive phone calls in the middle of the night, weekends and holidays with work related questions.  It is also considered normal for people not to take an hour for lunch.  In fact many companies invest into a nice little snack bar on the floor, or cafeteria or a small kitchenette only to discourage people from leaving the building.  Obviously if a person will grab a bag of chips and eats at their desk they will get more work done.  It is a sneaky ploy, but it works.

Working late nights and weekends is also quickly becoming part of everyone’s job.  If you are salaried employee you are most of the time exempt from receiving overtime pay or late night pay or anything else other than a pat on the back for that matter.  And it is better for a company to have one employee overburdened with work and forcing them into such a routine than hiring someone to help.

Where am I going with this?  Very recently I caught myself asking my boss if it was alright with him if I do a shoot on a weekend.  Luckily I realized how stupid that sounded before the words left my mouth.  Why should I run my personal time off with someone who in no way, shape or form should have a say about what I do with it?  But it seems that once you join a company you eventually get beaten down and broken down to the point where you give your time freely without even realizing it.  Your job is no longer your second home.  It is now your first.  People take time away from family, from hobbies and from their passions just to keep up with the firm’s ambitions.

I have met a lot of people over the years who were painters, poets, writers, photographers, sketch artists, actors and so on.  And when I asked them why they weren’t doing what they loved to do, I got the same answer in return: “No time, have too much work.”  And I will openly stand up and salute anyone who has managed to unshackle themselves from the comfort of a steady income to take a risk and to follow their hearts.

Unfortunately the term ‘Starving Artist’ is not just an expression and certainly not a joke.  There are so many people out there who have nothing but their art to sustain them.  And when that disappears, they find themselves on the street not knowing when they will eat next.  Once you fall down that hole, it is close to impossible to climb back out.  Your credit score is destroyed, you have no phone number or home address and you can forget about getting any prestigious jobs.

In today’s economy it is almost impossible to sustain yourself on gigs that could be here one day and gone the next.  The security blanket of a steady income is too tempting and too difficult to leave especially if you have people that you must care for.  Is there a solution to this?  Is there a plan of action other than standing on the rooftop doing a Howard Beale impersonation and screaming “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore!”  Each of us must decide for ourselves on how to balance our lives.  The only suggestion I can give is a small quote from the movie Home Alone:  “Never give up!  Never surrender!”

We are artist!


Are photographers artists?  Gosh darn right we are!  We are the seekers of truth and makers of history!  Do you see a painter on the battlefield, charging in right behind the troops and dodging bullets?  Do you see a musician help improve the fashion industry?  Or is there a sculptor who would go out and create a long lasting masterpiece in an abandoned and forgotten factory?  And even if he does, who would be there to capture his work?

Yes, my dearest readers, photographers are artists and so much more.  Art is not just about creating something from nothing.  It is not just about turning gelatinous goo into David.  Photography is a different medium.  It is a medium of freezing history in its tracks.  It is a medium of proving the unbelievable.  Photography will take the simplest garbage and turn it into a masterpiece.  Granted, there will always be Marcel Duchamp and his Fountain.  That sculpture makes me think that Marcel was a photographer at heart, but that is just me.

Yes, the photography world has been simplified and saturated by all those who wish to be those amazing artists whose names would ring through generations to come.  But which art style hasn’t?  How many would-be painters and sculptors roam the streets hoping to be the next Dali or Michelangelo?  Here I am hoping to be the next DeRuiter with this awesome blog.  Speaking of writing, how many millions of books and stories are out there?  Every genre is filled with writers with their unique styles and forms and ideas.

Photography is just the latest greatest format that has become accessible to the general public.  We, as photographers, should not get upset or discouraged that our, once fairly small, world is being invaded.  We are artists.  Each one of us has our own style, our own view of the world and our own way to capture it.  Do not be discouraged.  Learn from your peers, improve, and never try to be like anyone else.  Because art is about showing who you are through whatever medium that best represents you.

The story of Remora and the Shark.

A single thought terrorized me with sleepless nights, poor appetite and cold sweat upon my troubled brow.  The idea that photographers are not true artists, but rather remoras or sucker fish who just latch on to the greater being and rely upon it for sustenance and are never capable of actual creation.  Don’t get me wrong, sure we do contribute to the greater creature’s well-being, but are just unable to survive without it.  At this point many of you are probably outraged, some might be mildly confused, the few might even be intrigued by this statement so please let me elaborate.

A painter will take a blank canvas and with a brush and colorful goo create a painting to rival their imagination.  A sculptor will take clay or rock or whatever medium they desire and turn the unshapely mess into something truly unique and extraordinary.  A musician will mix and match sounds to create a symphony… and so on, and so on.

So, that being said, what of us photographers, why aren’t we true artists?  Well to create a picture all we do is use the elements in front of us and click a button.  Now, of course, those of us with fantastic imagination can go out and assemble complex scenes and then taking a picture of them.  But is the photograph the true masterpiece or the subject?  Is the model the true talent?  Is it the people that contributed to the model such as hair and makeup artists?  Could it possibly be the setting?

In this day and age how hard is it to go out and purchase an expensive camera and go to a remote destination and just snap a few shots off a mountain top.  Granted, these pictures capture a breathtaking view, but are they truly art?  Are these pictures not simply a cheap and quick imitation of reality?

Yes, photographers have to capture just the right moment, with perfect precision, lighting, at the correct angle.  They have to constantly worry about focus, bokeh, shutter speed, ISO, aperture, zoom, framing and so on.  But despite all those things, each photograph still takes roughly a second to create, not counting post edit of course.

To use computer terms, a photograph is just a screenshot of life.  So if we take a picture of a building.  We post that picture on the internet and someone goes out and takes a screenshot of our photograph of this building.  Then, they go to change the color scheme, add a little flower in the front lawn and superimpose some birds and some fog.  At this point is this new picture a copyright infringement?  The law says yes.  We, as the original artist say yes.  But could this person just as easily have been there, standing at the same exact spot taking the same exact picture?  But who is the original artist?  The man who built the building or the person who took a picture of it or the person who took a picture of a picture?  Or are they all artists after a fashion?

Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

Of snowflakes and snowstorms.

I think that browsing through as many photographs on daily basis as I do, has made me extremely impatient and prejudiced towards certain subjects and styles in photography.  At this point, I do not think I will ever take a picture of another dandelion for as long as I live.  I am very hostile towards dandelions right now.  I think next time I see a dandelion I will yell at it and tell it exactly what I think of it.

But seriously now, does looking through other photographer’s works stifle our own creativity?  I mean I could take a heck of a picture of a dandelion and be proud of it and set it as wallpaper on my phone and show it to people.  Only to find that there are about three billion similar photos already surfing the web and I’m really not that original.

I find that a lot of times when I work with other artists they always request for me to send them photos of the concept that I am thinking about.  At first I was confused.  How can I send someone photos if I haven’t taken them yet?  Then it was explained to me that I have to send photos that were taken by other photographers that are similar to what I want to shoot.  So I got to work looking for my concept photos.  After I was done I didn’t want to do the concept any more.

A snowflake is only unique and original when it is melting on the palm of your hand.  But when you look outside during a snowstorm, they are pretty much all the same, and you couldn’t care less what they look like individually, all you know is that you want the storm to stop.

I think that there is a narrow line between being inspired and mimicking a style.  After you see an amazing photograph in a certain style you yearn to reproduce it.  But you are never the only one.  And so, in comes a whirlwind of photographs in the same style of the same concept.  Yes, you have taken an amazing photograph.  But the creativity value of it is cheapened when you see other works that are very much like it.

Take the slow shutter speed on water style.  First time I saw it I was blown away by the beauty of such a photograph.  The water looked smoky; the sunset burned in the background and the details of sand and rocks was unparalleled.  But now I have seen hundreds of photographers use it.  And some photographers use this style exclusively.  Yes, it is very pretty.  But it is also boring and I think it’s time to stop.

A letter to Instagram.

Dear Instagram,

I love you.  You fulfill my narcissistic fantasies and give people like me a chance to be famous for ten seconds.  You have made photography accessible to everyone and not just the people with knowledge of Photoshop and in possession of really nice cameras.  It is so simple now to just walk and snap photos as you go.  Sure, an occasional accident and misstep may occur but it’s not your fault.

Thanks to you, Instagram, I can now see every single possible angle of the Eifel Tower and the Empire State Building.  I can now meet every would-be model or comedian.  You have opened a floodgate where every person in the world with a camera phone or a tablet can upload their work to the World Wide Web and get random people to see and comment on it.  Prior to you, one would need a website and a whole lot of advertising to achieve this, but not with you.

Oh Instagram, you are my love and my vice.  My hands feel empty without my phone; my nerves tense up if I don’t refresh the feed for over an hour; I get moody if one of my pictures doesn’t get a sufficient amount of hearts; and I must stop at every puddle I see to attempt to capture the reflection in all its glory.  How else, if not for us Instagrammers, would puddles, dandelions, trees, taxi cabs, rain drops, pebbles and skyscrapers get their time in the spotlight?

We need you Instagram!  You give people jobs!  Thanks to you, some people can now own companies selling Followers to people who feel cheated and unpopular, regardless of the quality of their content.   Others tend to post pictures of their products instead of paying for ads in newspapers or magazines.  So not only do you give people jobs, you also save businesses money.  Thank you Instagram!  You are awesome!


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