“Every child is an artist. The problem is…how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
I am frequently asked what were the events that lead to me becoming a photographer. As is always the case, it began at the beginning. It started with my very first childhood portrait session. You see, I have a confession to make.
I was the Gerber baby.
Those five words are perhaps the hardest words in the world for me to write, let alone tell someone. Being the Gerber baby is an event that has flavored everything that’s ever happened to me in the past fifty years. A day does not go by that I’m not affected by it. For example, take creamed spinach. Whenever I go out to dinner and on the plate is a mound of cream and green… spinach, I have wholesomeness flashbacks. God forbid if it should be on someone elses plate. It is silly, but I’m convinced that the moment the spinach touches their lips it will be…Bingo, light bulb over the head, I’m recognized.
You have no idea what it is like going through life knowing that your face, on the label of billions of jars of pulverized peas, has been seen by just about everyone you come in contact with. What’s worse is that I did not win this “honor” on my own good looks. The contest that Gerber Foods Corp. conducted was rigged. My aunt, the sister of the man who did my first portrait shoot, was the director of marketing. The guilt of knowing that the lil’ cherub of childhood wholesomeness was really a ringer was more than anyone should have to bare. The living of this constant lie was more than I could cope with.
Because of the burden of this guilt and the weight of this lie I was driven to become…a junk food junkie. As I mentioned before, it started at the beginning, when my mother used to feed me. Candied yams were my favorite. Warm or cold, I couldn’t care less. By the time I was in elementary school I was doing up bowls of Frosted Flakes before I had to catch the bus. During recess I would pop M&M’s….the reds. At lunch I used to snort the crumbs out of empty Frito bags.
The older I got, the more depraved I became. In high school I was scoring pounds of quarter pounders. Late at night I used to cruise behind the neighborhood Pizza Hut to eat the grease-soaked cardboards; even my face looked like a pizza. It was not until college that things came to a head. I remember one day reading an article in the school newspaper. It was an interview in which the ivory Snow Girl (Marylyn Chambers) claimed to have made love to the Gerber baby (me). Time stood still. Clammy hands and in a cold sweat, I tried to remember, but I couldn’t; just visions of sugar plums danced through my head. All I could think was, was the sex so good that it caused amnesia in my Egg McMuffin–induced euphoria? The next thing that I remember was that I went on a burger binge. It was on that day that I was arrested for attacking trees as I was looking for Keebler elves.
My life was looking up all right; it was flat on its back. I had become an empty jar of my former self. The only work that I could find was playing the meat in the movie Rocky. It was then that I decided to go cold Twinkie. I was enrolled in the Betty Crocker Center. They helped to pick up the crumbs. Life for me is still no piece of cake but I can face myself whenever I am in the supermarket. I cannot walk through the aisle of pablum without fear or dread. Except when I pass the candied yams.
Ahhh, but I digress…. It was while I was at the “center” that I discovered photography. While others were gluing macaroni to paper plates (I was asked to leave these sessions because of a mysterious disappearance of all of the library paste as well as all of the pasta—and my sudden weight gain.) I was seriously exposing myself to the latent image. As the years have passed I have seriously found a home in photography. I have flourished. Right after Al Gore and I invented the internet, I found my true calling as a digital fine art photographer who specializes in super hyper intensive teaching of workflow.
As many of you know, I do a lot of work training the military, and it was this combined with being asked to join a group called “twit-tographers”—a group of photographers who tirelessly tweet. Well, I thought, if they can have their own group and come up with such a finely contracted and descriptive name like that…. That is how I got the idea that has become my new approach to teaching workflow. As you know, one of the things that the military does for efficiency is to contract and compound words as well as create acronyms.
For example, Combat Camera becomes “ComCam.” So I got to thinking, I am a Fine Art photographer. So that would make me a FArtographer and the images I create would therefore be FArts. I use a Raster Image Processor or RIP when I print and the goal of my imagery is to create Gorgeous, Aesthetically Special Prints or GASPs. So it is safe to say when I RIP one of my FArts through a printer I make a GASP.
The point of all of this silliness?
You should take your photography as serious as you take laughing. Because it is in absolute spontaneity that you get you get absolute truth. You can only be one way when you are spontaneous and that is truthful. And there is nothing more spontaneous than a laugh. Be always willing to play. Be open to the child that was and is the artist. Children play, they don’t take notes. Adults take notes and they don’t often play. Be open to being silly and be serious about playing. Be willing to do what it takes to be the catalyst of the spontaneous moment. The way you feel in the moments that start as that giggle within you, is the place you need to be in to create the images that are your inner dream.
Photography is the only art form where people fall in love with an image, one that so moves them that they say to themselves, “I want to do that,” then spend the rest of their time with photography pursuing the technical, as if that is the secret to successful imagery.
Painters do not have “Popular Paint Brush” magazine and sculptors do not go to “Chisel World” and sit around discussing bit depth. There seems to be this unspoken belief that if you just make your images technically perfect that they will therefore be perfect images because of a technicality. Ansel Adams said, “I would rather have a fuzzy photograph of a sharp idea than a sharp photograph of a fuzzy idea.”
What is overlooked is the importance of imagination over technique. Cartier-Bresson said, “Give me inspiration over information.” And Sir Terry Pratchett said, “Teach a man to make a fire and he will be warm for the night. Set a man on fire and he will be warm for a lifetime.” It is all well and good to pursue the technical aspects of photography to the point where there is no technical rock unturned. But not at the expense of your vision, your voice, and your imagination. If all you do is explore the technical aspect of photography, you will, at best, be able to keep yourself warm for the night. But to go further, to truly allow yourself to be open to all of the possibilities, is to allow yourself to be on fire. When that flame burns you will have a creative lifetime full of moments that will be anything but dull. Be inspired by the images you create.
To better understand the imagination’s importance to photography one must first understand the duality of existence that occurs when you are so taken by a series of events that the experience and connection to that moment causes you to click the shutter.
Photography is one of the few forms of expression in which an individual is required to engage in the pursuit of the ineffable poetic dialectic. That is, specifically, an inner dialog that is expressed not in many words but in a few words that contain much imagery and meaning. To allow yourself to engage in such a poetic way of seeing requires the photographer having to exist in two places at once, and to be two people that manifest themselves in the same body while occupying two time planes. You must be both the person connected to the events that are happening and the person making decisions about how, what, and when to capture the photograph.
It is through the use of imagination that the photographer accomplishes this. Imagination is the ability to “see” things by allowing them to make a mental picture that is more feeling than rhetoric. It is being able to see the felt moments in such a way that the viewer is moved the same way you, the photographer, was. It is, most importantly, the way in which the photographer breathes the life of the moment into images that causes the successful ones to feel as if they walk off the printed page. During every moment that the photographer is engaged in allowing the image to take him, there must be an awareness of both the external circumstances (those that surround the totality of the photograph) and the inner chain of emotional moments that captures both the heart and imagination of the photographer.
It is important not to confuse imagination with fantasy. Imagination creates things that can be, or can happen. Fantasy invents things that never will be, never will happen, and are not in existence. Imagination is the creative process that leads the photographer. It is, as with everything else that is involved with photography, something that cannot be forced, only coaxed. When one just pursues the technical aspects of photography one does exactly that, forces something that needs to be allowed to choose the moment it is seen.
On the other hand, it is important for the photographer to not sit back idly, a simple spectator. To be taken by a photograph requires that you be an open and active participant in the moment so that when the decisive moment shows itself, the photographer can capture that moment decisively. There has to be laughter in your heart—serious laughter—and a confidence that even if you do not know what you are going to do technically with the file you create, you know that you can find what you need to know. Being taken by the gesture of the moment is the goal, letting the spirit that moves in front of the camera be the force that pushes the shutter. Only by having an imaginary muscle so well practiced is how you will find that place, that’s the place where the images live that were the ones you fell in love with. In everything you do, every moment you live, choose to be open to it. Because if you move through the world of photography this way, when you see the moment the moment will see you. It is in that moment of mirroring that the image lives.
The next time you hold a camera, I invite you to envision yourself on fire with the flame of imagination. To find yourself in the mind of the beginner rather then in the mind of the expert; in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few. If you can do that, instead of waiting and waiting for the picture that you want to take, the poetry of the moment will giggle a whisper that is its name and the pictures you see will take you.
Also remember in the times we live in to always try to visualize whirled peas.
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