In Susan Cain’s TED Talk, she spoke of introverts and extroverts and the power of both. I think our world of creativity has become extroverted. We are being condition and taught that our image in the eyes of others is more important than our own image of ourselves. So in photography, it’s all about ‘putting’ oneself out there, about competitions, about having the appearance of a professional, about having a following, about having ‘likes’.
The unfortunate consequence is that we can truly not admit we know nothing, or are a rank beginner and feel good about it. Contentment with one’s level knowing that growth lies ahead with work and time is an enlightenment reserved for the few. More common is the purchase of a digital camera, followed by an online photo-site account, then maybe a personal website. As instantly as the images appear one becomes an instant Artist. A Photographic Artist. It’s as easy as the Auto Mode you use in your camera.
The result is banality. Millions of mediocre photos of sometimes pretty things - way too many birds, flowers, and sunsets. But, it does get you the most ‘like’s’ - the extrovert’s reward. Photography today is like a super obese sugar addict sitting in front of a table filled with cakes and pastries. They can’t stop eating and the instant gratification of the taste buds trumps any thoughts of the consequences. The sugar addict gets a quick fix but is never happy.
For some, photography is a hobby or social endeavor - it is fun, light, and easy. Others who are driven to create may find that they don’t know why they have to take photos. Trying to understand the inexplicable, they often turn outwards and very unfortunately get sucked into the artstyle of the mediocre masses.
Growth comes from introspection and from education. Education can be as simple as a critique, or a pile of books and classes. There are millions of classes and books on Photoshop, a few thousand on learning the “rules” of composition (or how to put yourself in a little box), and maybe a handful that teach you how to discover your reasons, motivations, and direction of your creativity.
After 35 years of taking black & white photos with film, I went digital in 2006. Joined a photo club, one with an appropriate number of moronically stifling rules. Used an online photo-site. Even got a webpage and wrote an “Artists” bio. But nobody could every answer the one question I kept asking: Why?
Why? I think that was the first word out of my mouth, just before mama. Why? People don’t like that word; it puts them on the defensive. But how can you do anything if you don’t know Why?
So, I turned back to myself. I’m an introvert so it wasn’t too difficult. I may not absolutely know why I am driven to take pictures, or be creative, for that matter. But, I know it gives me great satisfaction to make things. I like to use my hands as well as my mind. I built an airplane - 12,000 rivets into 12,000 holes. I’ve written stories. I bake french bread.
Thinking, I now understand why I like to show people my photos, or taste my bread. It is about sharing the positive experience that I get from the things I make. More people like my french bread than my photos, but that has to be expected. My bread is crusty, warm, with flavor that piques ones warm & fuzzy buttons. My best photos, that is, the photos I like the most are a bit odd, often with mentally dark overtones, or simplistic geometric concepts.
Getting to that introspective place where you show creations to share what’s in your mind is a first step towards education. When you only care what you think or feel about a photo, but enjoy others’ enjoyment, then you now own your creativity. Not everyone can relate. Often not those with closed minds or the masses caught in the wave of instant photographic mediocrity. Conversely, it doesn’t matter how many people like your image if you don’t like it.
Enter Carbon Gelatin Printing.
I said I like the idea of crafting with both my mind and body. I’d be a painter if I could but I don’t have the mental skill. It’s much harder to take a photo than it is to paint a picture. Painters get to start with a blank canvas and add the elements. A photographer has to see all of the elements and minimize those detrimental while emphasizing those significant. A photo succeeds less often. It’s why I love photographing at night.
In my Carbon work, the capture is digital, and that’s ok - a camera’s a camera. The initial darkroom is the computer with the first print being a large negative on transparency film. Making carbon tissue is a bit like cooking, and then it becomes an industrial coating process. Combining and UV exposing the negative and carbon tissue is hands-on, as is the developing in a tub of hot water. The image appears slowly as the hot water melts away the unexposed and unhardened black or brownish gelatin.
Every now and then a carbon print comes out quite fantastic. It’s a real achievement. It makes one feel good. I’m talking happiness. The kind of happiness you feel when you do your first solo flight in a small airplane; not to be confused with what people experience when they buy a new car or iphone, or get 5 likes on fb. Printing one good carbon print beats printing five hundred inkjet prints - just ask the fat man eating cake over there.