DEAR PHOTOGRAPHER | Feature by Laura Wood

DEAR PHOTOGRAPHER | Feature by Laura Wood

 

PAST IMAGE 2016.jpgDear Past Laura,

You have no idea how much photography will come to mean to you. You have no idea how beautiful the world will feel when you learn to appreciate the beauty in the way the sun shines through windows you’ve forgotten to clean for weeks, that you will go for walks in your pajamas and wellies just to appreciate a sunrise. How it will feel to learn that being ‘overly sensitive’, a comment often used to critique your personality, will become your biggest strength in this journey and the key to your success – that you will feel a calmness in belonging to a group of people who are moved by the world in the same way as you are. You don’t know that motherhood will cause your heart to break and swell a thousand times and that this will become your reason for everything and the driving force behind all you do.

Dear Present Laura,

You are working a little too hard and are ready to focus on family for a while again – you are worried that you aren’t creating as much as you should be and fear that people will lose interest in your work when you take a step back for a little while. You have forgotten that having your first son was and continues to be, the inspiration behind everything you do and that welcoming a new baby will only breathe more love and life into everything you do. You will learn and grow again and create when you’re ready to and, as your priorities shift again, your work will become more honest and heartfelt than ever.

Dear Future Laura,

I hope you are taking time to seek out the art, places, and people who inspire you. I hope you have found a balance between family life and work and that your every day is as lovely as it is now. I hope you can see how far you’ve come and that you are proud of yourself. I hope that you still cry because you get it wrong sometimes and that you stay up late worrying occasionally – I hope you are still giving it your heart.

 

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ABOUT THE ARTIST :

I live in Yorkshire, England with my boyfriend Paul and son Arthur – we are eagerly expecting another baby in December. I am a full-time photographer/ work at home Mum and specialize in family photography. I try to see the magic of the world through the eyes of my son and to recreate his world through my images. My photography journey started when my son was born but I began to take it more seriously in 2016 and set up my business that summer. I was recently included in the Voice Collection 2017 in the self-portrait category and have received recognition from Looks Like Film as Artist of the Month and an Artist of the Year in 2016.

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DEAR PHOTOGRAPHER | feature by Carla Monge

DEAR PHOTOGRAPHER | feature by Carla Monge

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Dear past, present and future Carla,

I believe the message I want to give you now is relevant to all three of those people, for our journeys are fluid and we often lose ourselves along the way, only to dig deeper and reencounter a truer version of ourselves, over and over as we journey on.

The image above is from 2012, one of the first images you took with your DSLR that you were proud of. The first image that made you realize you could capture your vision of the magic in our everyday lives. The photograph was made in your Grandmother’s bathroom as your husband held your two-month-old, preparing him for his bath, just a regular evening in what was your regular routine back then. You were just starting out in this wonderful world of photography, and yet you had already been drawn to what you liked, that magical play of light and shadow – and baby bums of course, who doesn’t love those!? 😉 I know that at the time you weren’t able to fully recognize the things you were drawn to and the things you were not, but looking back on your most meaningful photographs now, I can see that the core ingredients were already there. As you were learning, I know you searched and searched, and tried a bit of everything along the way. Perhaps that had to happen in order for you to realize, later on, that your taste and your vision had in fact been there all along, and that uncovering them and refining them is not a final destination but a lifetime’s creative journey.

We often over complicate things and search outside ourselves to find our style and our voice, but it is already within us, it has always been within us, and that is where you must remember to keeping digging for it, nurturing and refining it. As always, no path is ever a straight line, so next time you find yourself on an unfulfilling path, questioning your work and your meaning, just remember to slowly make your way back home through the inside, not through the outside.

Love,

Carla x
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ABOUT THE ARTIST : 

Carla is a newborn and family lifestyle and fine art photographer, living in London with her husband and her muses, her two children. A former engineer who worked in finance for many years, photography has always been her creative outlet, now turned into her profession. Her passion first and foremost is that her kids may be able to see through her photographs, how she saw them whilst they were growing up.

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REDEFINE | DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY FEATURE BY KATIE WALLS

REDEFINE | DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY FEATURE BY KATIE WALLS

“There is only one sun. We can’t all claim to only have one way to use the light, but we can REDEFINE how we choose to express it. “

 What makes a strong Documentary photograph in your opinion?

Such a good question! Magnum photographer Eve Arnold said, “If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” So, what makes a strong documentary photograph, in my opinion, is a strong documentary photographer. Obviously, we all have access to the same super talented teachers and mentors – and social media gives photographers access to one another, for learning, growing, and friendships. Because of this wide access, I think we all know the elements: light, composition, moment. We know that a strong photo tells us more than the facts recorded in the image: it reveals the connections and relationships between people (or things) in the photo, it reveals the emotions related to those connections and relationships. I’ve really loved what Kirsten Lewis Bethmann has had to say lately about photos showing us how something feels. To come close to doing that, we as photographers have to also FEEL a way about the things we’re photographing. It’s so easy as working photographers (and here I really mean working moms because SO many of us in this family documentary genre ARE working moms) to focus on business, on delivering a quality product, on providing our clients with excellent experiences, all while maintaining the elusive work-life balance. But all that stuff crowds into the space that we need to BE and to FEEL. I’m awed by how many of the great artists, photographers included, had really messy personal lives. I say that not to imply that we working mom artist/photographers should throw our lovely lives on the trash pile and rush into Diane Arbus level craziness for the sake of our art, but I DO think we might need to embrace a little bit of selfishness in order to let our feelings surface more, and work from that place – the place of having an emotional perspective. If, as Eve Arnold suggests, the photographer, not the camera, is the instrument, then we should give our inner lives as much attention as we do to the gear and we choose for our work. We should spend as much time knowing ourselves as we do watch live critiques and taking classes and commenting on each other’s photos. Because a strong documentary photograph makes you FEEL something.

Tell us about your documentary work, how did you get started?

I was always drawn more to candid images than posed ones, but for a long time thought I needed to shoot what people want, in order to have a business. That’s not a bad way start out, because it’s good to learn to deliver, and it’s good to learn to build a business. And you need some money coming in. So my family and children’s work was “lifestyle” and “candid”, but it was still really mainstream. At the same time, I got good, I built a solid business, I made a comfortable living doing work I enjoyed. Then, (again, like many of us!)  I noticed a Creative Live course on natural family photography with Kirsten Lewis… and realized there was this whole approach that was sort of the opposite of what I’d worked really hard to get good at. And I WANTED IT! I say “sort of opposite”, because it wasn’t entirely opposite: all the great lifestyle work I’d learned to shoot, all the great natural light skill I’d developed, all the ability to make clients comfortable was VITAL to making a successful switch to a documentary approach without hamstringing my business in the process. I definitely started with my son – he was around 3 at the time I started looking at Kirsten’s work and learning more about documentary family photography. The summer that he was 4 years old, I did a summer-long photo-a-day project with him, and that really supercharged my passion for the approach. I made a LOT of photos and a few of them were good. I started giving my clients more and more freedom in our sessions in order to capture authentic moments. And I started suggesting to them different types of sessions that would give me more chances to shoot documentary images, even while still delivering the more directed images they were used to. Little by little I’ve invested in mentoring both in how to SHOOT documentary work, and how to MARKET effectively, and I’m so happy to say that I’m gaining more and more documentary clients, and bringing past clients along helping them love it too.

And then in fall of 2016, I also started shooting street photography. At first it was just as an outlet to counterbalance all the “cute” and “ideal” images I took for families. I wanted some grit, some weird, some hard, some ugly. Turned out, what I also wanted was some REAL and some CHALLENGING. Not only has my street photography work become a fully developed aspect of my art, it has become a pretty amazing training ground for family documentary work! And at this point, which you’ll see in the images I’m sharing with this feature, is now actually informing and influencing the way I shoot families! I’m working right now to develop a particular approach to family documentary photography that is informed by street photography – even to the point of actually getting out in the city with families.  

What were the challenges for you in the beginning?

 

Oh Lord. Everything. I wasn’t that good. I mean, I wasn’t awful, but all that stuff I said about what makes a good documentary photograph – yeah, I had none of that. And obviously I was also trying to cultivate a desire for documentary photos in my clients – all while producing really mediocre images. I’ll never forget a particularly hard critique at the end of a group mentoring class I took. Of the 50 or so images I submitted, most were completely ignored – the only comment being just, “No.” The ones that got feedback got mostly, “There’s no moment here,” and “Close but not really right,” and “If you had only just…”  I think maybe there was some positive feedback but it was lost in the painful truth that my best images were mostly just so-so. But – ugh – I NEED to hear stuff like that. It pushes me. I’m the kind of person who cleans my house when I get pissed off. I’m the kind of person who needs to get pissed off to push past my own comfort zones. So I was motivated, but I also felt lost as to how to improve. Fortunately, a fellow photographer offered her first workshop a few weeks later and it was JUST what I needed to push past some of my blockages. She excelled at pinpointing ways for me to expand, and she’s the one who helped me realize that my path lay in integrating my street and family photography approach.

The other challenge is one I think we all know well: connecting with the people who want this kind of work. I’m more convinced than ever that real connection happens when you start shooting from your gut and sharing that gut-level work. Some people will always just want a pretty picture that shows an ideal version of their family they can feel happy to see. But there ARE people who want something more. They want to see their families through the eyes of someone who really gives a fuck. …I’m working hard to make sure that not only do I truly give a fuck, but I also can make someone else give a fuck when they look at my picture.

 

Why are you passionate about your work being strictly documentary?

 

Full disclosure: I’m in the middle of the fall season shooting golden hour mini-sessions in parks for families in coordinated outfits. I’m not yet “strictly documentary”. But, I hope next year I’m not shooting these because I can feel it when I’m shooting: I don’t love them. On the other hand, every opportunity to put a willing human being in front of my camera is an opportunity to practice something, and right now that means practicing how to create images that have the feel of my street work, even when I’ve just got nicely dressed siblings in ideal light being a little too posed for my taste. Recently, a dad emailed me upon receiving his mini-session gallery and told me, “That black and white photo of my sons in the tree made me stop in my tracks. I like a lot of the other pictures of them, but that one is art. It reminded me of photographs I’ve seen in museums. You made something really special and I can’t stop looking at it.”  I learned that a documentary approach isn’t always limited to documentary sessions. When you shoot and process from your gut, that comes out whether you’re getting a kid taking a clandestine pee in their backyard, or a couple of nicely dressed boys in a tree in the park. And when you shoot from your gut, it gets noticed.

But as to why I’m passionate about shooting documentary work, I was about to say all that stuff about keeping it real, and capturing life honestly, and giving my clients beautiful images of their actual lives… and that’s all true. I DO love seeing the real, the raw, the true – kids are just fascinating and beautiful and crazy and parenting is a big messy, emotional, gorgeous process. Photographing that is AWESOME. But deep down, I’m passionate about shooting the way I want to shoot. About being free to grow and develop as an artist, about doing what makes ME happy. About pushing myself. About creating something that only I can create in this world.

I can’t say I’ll always shoot this way – I think I might, but the day may come that I want to create elaborately controlled images like Annie Leibowitz does or studio portraits like Irving Penn’s tradesmen series. I want to always be able to shoot what I want, the way I want.

 

What are the tips you would share with anyone trying to start shooting documentary? 

 

  1. Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” He said that while working with an 8×10 field camera on individual sheets of film. So I guess probably multiply that number by 10 for the digital age… So: shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot and when you’re sick of it, take a nap, and get up and shoot some more. You’ve got to get those first hundred thousand worst images done.
  2. Invest in yourself, but be picky as hell. There’s literally endless content and classes and mentorships available now. Selling stuff to photographers is a bigger business than photography will ever be. You need to learn/study/practice, but you don’t need it all. Be super picky and do the BEST classes – save up and put the money into one or two very high-value learning opportunities rather than every $30 breakout and $50 download. As much as possible, find the opportunities that put you face to face and one on one with people who inspire you, and who get good reviews from other people who inspire you. If you have a hero you’d like to learn from, skip a step and find out who THEY learn from, then go there.
  3. Learn about photography in general – that is, get past the big names in “family documentary photography” and learn more about the masters of photojournalism and the men and women who shaped the early years of photography. Look at contemporary photography. Don’t limit your education to the genre you shoot. I’ll never forget when Beyonce released her “maternity photos”. Family photographers all over the place were losing their shit over how “tacky” they were, I included. Until a photographer with more exposure to the modern photography world shared more about the artist who created those images – and I realized my mockery came from a place of ignorance. The more I learned about the artist the more I understood the meaning of the photos he had created – and the more I learned about Beyonce as a human being – AND the more I learned about my own cultural awareness and feelings about race and power. My point here is this: don’t be a dummy like I was. Expand your mind!
  4. Shake things up and try something new. For me, it was street photography. This is where I learned what it feels like to be completely “in the zone” as an artist. It helped me overcome fears about boundaries, and hone the ability to make lightning-quick decisions about light, composition, and moment. As well as teaching me patience and pushing my own work ethic. It also opened up a whole new sense of understanding myself and being bold enough to make work look the way I want it to look. All these things stretched me and brought me new insight. That makes me a better photographer of families too.
  5. I just read this quote from photojournalist/documentary photographer Abbie Trayler-Smith: “Think about what you want to say. Think about what you care about. And then photograph that.” Which reminded me of another quote from David DuChemin (I think – he might have been quoting someone else), “If you want to be a better photographer, read a book.” These are reminders to me that what I shoot comes from my perspective on the world. The more I develop a perspective, the more I know myself, the better I can convey something in my photos. And we all want to see photos that convey something – no one wants photos that leave us feeling nothing. So take a walk, meditate, tap into your views, get a great therapist, talk with people, get sure-footed about what you really think. Give a fuck.
  6. Be kind to yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you. Have buddies you can troubleshoot with. Give as much as you can, and take everything you need.

 

Has there been any education that you have done to further your work? 

 

Definitely!
Marie Masse’s 12-week Moment Seekers course on business/marketing and group mentoring.
Kirsten Lewis’s CreativeLive courses and group mentorships.

Stacey Ilyse Craft’s workshop and group mentoring.
Eric Kim’s extensive free content and in-person street photography workshop in NYC

Lots and Lots of great photography books and museum exhibits and gallery talks

Michelle Morris’s material on school photography which led to me shooting AND writing an ebook on DOCUMENTARY school photography which just released!!

 

On my bucket list:

a David Allen Harvey workshop, some kind of overseas street photography experience

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ABOUT THE ARTIST:

Katie Jett Walls is a documentary photographer, specializing in family photography, and street photography in the Washington DC area. With over 12 years of professional experience in the family and children’s photography field, her photojournalistic approach is supported by technical expertise and an easy rapport with adults and kids alike. She is the author of a book for photographers on shooting documentary school portrait photography. Her street photography work is a personal passion, and has been included in group shows throughout Washington DC, and was recently selected for the annual Best of IGDC Exhibition. Buy her new guide: Shooting + Selling documentary school portraits 

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DEAR PHOTOGRAPHER | FEATURE BY ACE FANNING

DEAR PHOTOGRAPHER | FEATURE BY ACE FANNING
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One of Ace’s first images

Dear Ace at 14,

I know right now, life sucks. I know you are tired. I know that right now, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I see the hurt in your eyes and the fresh scars on your arms. I hear your cries when you’re alone and I hear your prayers begging God to just get you through this. You think you are weak, but you are the strongest person I know. You crave to be just like everybody else but I love that you aren’t. You desperately just want to disappear into the shadows, but that’s not you… you were meant to stand out. In fact, one day… you will be loved for the things they hate about you. You will find your place and you will find your people– you will be successful, you will make an impact on others lives, and best of all, you will be happy. You haven’t been happy for so long that “happy” doesn’t even seem plausible… but I promise you, it comes. It comes every morning when you wake up next to the woman of your dreams, it comes in fetch every morning with a dog you treat like a real-life baby, it comes in the form of acceptance of who you are, it comes from that feeling everytime you help someone struggling, it comes from the burning passion you have for your craft, it comes from self-discovery and growth, it comes every night when your head hits the pillow knowing you gave that day all you had… it comes every single day, in the tiniest of moments, in the most monumental ones, and every moment in between. You are strong and you will get through this– in a few months, when everything goes dark, don’t ever stop looking for the light, don’t ever quit swimming for the shore, don’t you ever give up, because I promise you, one day… happiness will come. I am so incredibly proud of you.
Love always,

Ace at 27

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ABOUT THE ARTIST 

I am a portrait photographer who dabbles in the occasional wedding based out of Phoenix, AZ. I have a serious heart-on for teaching and mentoring– they have become a huge part of who I am and where I am going in the past year. My wife is my best friend in the entire world and is just as much a part of my business as I am. I enjoy being a hermit and getting overly invested in the lives of the Real Housewives. I am pretty overweight but dance like a stripper who’s got some serious bills to pay. I stick my foot in my mouth constantly and I can be a bit too honest, but life is too short to beat around the bush.

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Dear photographer | Feature by Chloe Ramirez

Dear photographer | Feature by Chloe Ramirez

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Dear Past Chloe,

Slow down. Close your eyes. Cover your ears. Limit all your senses and take the deepest breaths. Smell the earth. Feel your feet firmly on the ground. Feel your goosebumps raise on your skin as the wind blows delicately on you. Limit each sense until you have learned to appreciate which each one brings to the table. Now uncover your ears. Hear the birds singing, children laughing, and the wind blowing through the trees. Do you hear how lovely the earth sounds? Now slowly open your eyes and take in your life. It’s going to move fast so really drink in all the loveliness in front of you. See the beauty in the smallest of moments.

Live each day as if it’s the most precious day.

See the good and beauty in everyone.

Hear music where there is none.

Feel every moment.

Now go photograph the feeling.

-Chloe

 

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ABOUT THE ARTIST: 

Chloe Ramirez is a lifestyle photographer who loves to photograph deep and meaningful relationships.  Real human connection makes her heart sing and she strives to have love oozing out of every pore of her work.

Chloe resides in Sacramento California and there is nowhere she would rather be than spending time with her husband, 3 girls, and silly Bernese Mountain dog. When not photographing families she enjoys cold brew coffee, good music, adventures with her family and her Madewell leather tote. She has been featured in both print and magazine her most recent being: Capture the Moment, Popular Photography Magazine, Click Magazine, The Village Magazine etc. In 2017 she received an honorable mention for her self-portrait in the VOICE Image Collection.

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Dear Photographer feature by Erin Witkowski Photographer

Dear Photographer feature by Erin Witkowski Photographer
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circa 2010 
A Letter to my past, present and future….

Dear Erin (past)
You don’t know it yet, but watching your dad struggle with alcohol your whole life is going to help you see the world with compassion and strip you of judgment in a glorious way. Just wait. You don’t know it yet but your baby boy born with an extra chromosome is going to help you paint the world with more color, joy, and patience. Just wait. You don’t know it yet but the pain of losing parent will catapult your heart into a state of grief that will rip open your desire to reach deeper into meaningful connections with those you photograph. Keep Listening and Just wait.

 
Dear Erin (present)
Vulnerability and business is a fine line, you know this well by now… but don’t stop giving it your all. Your heart is thankful you use all its pieces when you’re documenting even when its tired and raw afterward, the risk is worth the reward. Be easy on yourself and continue to seek balance always and never ever stop listening. Never stop listening to those who trust you to photograph them, to your family who needs you and your heart who leads you.

 
Dear Erin (future)
I am sure your greatest struggle remains to be the inner critic, your vulnerable heart and your constant pursuit of meaningful work… well I hope these are still your struggles because without struggle comes complacency and that means you’ve stopped growing. So here’s to hope you’re still struggling in all the right ways and somewhere along the way balance has found you in every way….I can’t wait to see what you are doing now.

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ABOUT THE ARTIST :

I am traveling family photographer, visual poet, and mentor based out of Hudson Valley, NY. I’m raising up & wrangling four wild babes alongside my husband in my childhood home, rediscovering life with a side of nostalgia. My passion for art is strongest when standing alongside others in their most authentic state & when trust is handed freely to me, it’s there I am home.

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Dear photographer |An artist self relection post, Feature by Melisa Gorman-Walkup of Walkuptome Photography

Dear photographer |An artist self relection post,  Feature by Melisa Gorman-Walkup of Walkuptome Photography

 

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Circa 2014, One of her first images.

 

 

Dear Past Self,

Oh, Mel how much you have changed. Three years ago you weren’t even a shadow of the photographer that you have become. When you bought your first camera, the Canon 6D, you were intrigued by the prospect of your first full frame camera that did well in low light. You were still under the impression that the camera had a lot to do with the photographs that you could take. Soon you discovered that the photographs that would fuel your soul, increase your heart rate, and fill you with joy, would almost never happen in that low of light. In fact, your life, and your photos would happen all day long. If I could tell you to erase everything that anyone had ever told you about photography and just shoot the beauty that you notice all around you, this is when you would grow the most. You would not have believed it. Getting your camera to see what your eyes saw was the hardest part. Who would have thought that an art book on your idol Norman Rockwell, given to you by your boss would ignite a passion in your gut that was all consuming? That and a super wide angle lens, with a bit of distortion, would get you giddy inside, and help you make a name for yourself. This would change the entire scope of your photography. You will take a class and learn all the silly “rules”. You would dispute them in your head. You would throw light to the side, in trade for the most dynamic cloud formations. You were on a mission to show people that even with the distortion of a 15mm fisheye lens, art could be created that was so vivid that you would have them feeling like they were experiencing your life from afar. You were always a different sort of story maker. While your photography crushes would consist of photographers who would create the most beautiful photos, with the softest light and even softer colors, this was not you. Your photos would be enriched with the most vibrant and lively colors that people would notice from a mile away. You couldn’t help it. You always thrived on center composition, wide, wide angles, and everyday moments that were masterpieces in your mind. You wouldn’t care what others thought. You kept telling yourself “Anybody can duplicate what you do, but nobody can duplicate who you are”. You will always continue to encourage, support, and inspire other photographers as they had done for you. The photographs that you would soon take would help you in the most desperate of times. They would be a constant reminder of all you have to be grateful for. They would bring a smile to your children’s face and start conversations with strangers at any given moment. Your photography like your children would soon become the best reflection of your life and how you see it!

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GEAR USED :

Canon Mark IV, 24-70ii, 15mm fisheye are

always with me.

 

ABOUT THE ARTIST :

Melissa lives with her high school sweetheart, and three little humans in a small country suburb east of Denver. She loves capturing every moment of her babies lives and rescuing as many animals as her husband will let her. She is mesmerized by her children and believes there is so much magic in the chaos. She shoots mostly her family but can be talked into a client session every once in a while. She loves to explore, go on adventures with her family, and show her children all the beauty there is to be seen in this world.

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