I had my first public photo exhibit recently. I was featured at a local venue for the First Friday Artwalk. It was pretty stressful putting it together, but that was due to the circumstances involved in getting the gig in the first place…
I was away for a while earlier last month photographing summer camp for an organization I’m involved with. It’s a camp for military youth who have had, currently have, or will have one or both parents deployed in military operations for extended durations. It’s a good thing. Anyway, when I got back I had an email that I hadn’t seen from a lady saying she found my website through a local service and asking if I’d be interested in showing my work at her business for the artwalk. I was pretty happy about the fact that my website had actually paid off and someone wanted to ‘hire’ me based on the work I show on it. But, the email had been sent a whole 2 and half weeks prior and I was sure I blew a good opportunity. Nevertheless, I replied a bit sheepishly and expressed my thanks, interest, and regret that I had received the email so long after it was originally sent. Turns out, yep, she had booked someone else.
Then she calls back a day later saying her guy had fallen through and asked if I was still interested. The only catch was I had to provide a theme, bio, and sample photos within 18 hours or so. I was excited to get the second chance, but pondering my whole artistic existence in so short a time became overwhelming pretty quickly. I mean, artists can sometimes take months, or years even, to put a show together.
Since I had just come from the summer camp, and knowing I was pretty excited about the photos I captured there, I thought that’d be the most convenient theme, so I settled on it pretty fast. Wrote the bio and picked out a few sample photos and sent it away. I had a few hitches along the way though. Essentially, I had 2 weeks to put it all together so I decided to order some ready-made frames online. The matting on the frames came in a half inch too wide and an inch and a half too short on the length for my prints. I used them anyway, but I wasn’t happy about it, and I still need to call the company to see what they’re going to do about it. I also changed my mind about the photos I was going to use and ended up ordering a few that didn’t make it in time for the show. Anyway, the short of it is it all turned out okay. A ton of people showed up, nice words were shared, and I have my first exhibit under my belt.
But the whole thing did something a little more for me- it made me focus. For the longest time I’ve been trying to be the ‘everything’ photographer. I’ve shot weddings, family portraits, products, and a few other things that, admittedly, I’m not that into shooting. I find some of those things extremely boring, if I do it the way everyone else does. I hate using train tracks, tall grass, brick walls, photoshopped softness, and all the other trendy locations and tired techniques that are used these days to sell photos to the average photo consumer. I drive myself crazy looking at the websites of photographers in the area who cater to this market. I despise the lack of creativity where everyone’s portrait looks like everyone else’s, but is exactly what they want. I just don’t understand it. And the fact is I can’t deal with it, nor do I want to. I do wonder, however, if people would want something different if it were offered to them….something that says a little more than we can look cute for the camera.
I’ve also been watching some photography critiques lately. A well-known photographer picks websites people have sent him for his critique. It’s really informative and my portfolio had taken a beating over the course of a few episodes. It still needs a few more blows I’m sure, but that’s never-ending. The recurring comment in so many of his critiques, though, is FIGURE OUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER YOU WANT TO BE.
So I have: editorial and documentary photography. There’s some breadth there to play with, but the story-telling aspect is what I’m most attracted to. I want to tell stories with photos. I may write a little to help things along in some cases, but for the most part I want to tell stories with my photos, so much so I’ll say it twice.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still do some of that other stuff if it’ll help me pay the bills. I’ll even enjoy some of it, too. And I hope people will trust me to do it my way and like what I have to offer. But in the bigger picture, it’s nice to have some focus, and to start working in the direction of a place where you know you’ll be happy going.