Michelle R. From the 1990's.
I love the photography business. It's so chaotic and so personal. I know people who are making really good money doing work they love and I know others who are struggling to get ahold of each dollar and are doing any kind of work that comes through the door. Having done this full time (with brief sabbaticals to write books) since 1988 I think I have the business figured out. You have to be good at what you do, work well with people and get out and show your work all the time.
I hear all the time that the gear doesn't matter or that "a real pro could outshoot an amateur even when the pro is using a disposable camera," and I have to say that I don't agree. An artist is wed to his tools and, used well, the right tools help him create the look he's working hard to bring into the world. But what matters most is the experience and perspective that a photographer brings to the work and the joy that he brings to the process of doing the work. That's the crux of it.
I have some images in my filing cabinet and in flat files that I show again and again because people love them and I love them. The image above is one of them. Michelle is one of the most beautiful and engaging people I have ever photographed. Much of any power that resides in the image I like to think comes from the time we spent working on the process of getting a good image. We spent time to get to know each other and to align our intentions to make a wonderful portrait. We trusted each other to make good aesthetic decisions. We kept working until we both felt some certainty that we'd achieved some success.
In the end those were the ingredients that made the image one that I keep leaning against the wall, matted and framed, in the studio. It serves as a reminder in the dark moments of the business that we have been able to achieve an image like this in the past and there is a good degree of probability that I'll be able to do work as good in the future.
We talk about the tools a lot but the tools have changed and keep changing. Film was instrumental in the technical look of this image because of its unique characteristic curve. A larger format was helpful for the quick and graceful fall off of focus. A long lens was critical to create the combination of compression and narrow depth of field that rivets our eyes to her eyes. But we can make incredible portraits if we put our minds to it with today's tools, the digital camera and computer, if we want to badly enough.
The reality is that, going forward from right now, this is the golden age of photography. We are alive. We are working. We are successful. Not every photograph in the world has been done with my unique vision or your distinct point of view. How else to describe a "golden age." Rather than pine for the past the best people in the business will find ways to make their current tools sing beautifully and in five years, and then again in ten years, people will look back at the work we did this year and next year and they'll no doubt say, "Oh, those were the golden years of photography."
I'm proud to be a professional photographer. This is a unique undertaking and with it comes a coveted invitation to drop into the lives of celebrities and everyday people and to make images that reflect our understanding of their unique positions in the world and in this time and to celebrate them. To interpret them and share them with our audiences. Right now is the golden age of photography. Don't let anyone tell you it isn't so.
But to leverage all the promise of this amazing time we have we must go out and do our work rather than sit in the darkness and stare at the glowing screen of an online catalog full of the latest gear that promises to do only what we can really do if we fight inertia and entropy and stand up and get to work.
I managed to do that for most of 2014 and it makes me proud to have made a good living doing a craft and an art. I look forward to 2015.