or “A Lesson In Putting It Out There”
I’ve received a bunch of mail over the last year asking when the final installment of “Ways of Working” might appear, and I procrastinated because it seemed like the title, “Share”, said enough. Share your work with others; you might be surprised what happens when it’s out there in the world.
I’ve had a very interesting week in which I’ve put this idea into practice (more than usual) and it’s both emboldened and occasionally frightened me.
A month ago I came across a news story that piqued my interest. I looked around and there was local coverage of the story, but no substantial national press. I decided to quit my day job a week early and drive six hundred miles to Louisiana to see what was going on, with my own eyes.
Simply, I went to Jena to see what I could see. I brought a camera. I don’t have a laptop or great audio/video capability, so I was underequipped for contracted professional work. I went on my own dime.
I spoke with one of the accused, with family members, with the working press, with residents. I held a small voice recorder in my hand while photographing. I approached the whole thing as a freelance photographer who wasn’t working for a particular publication, but had personal interest in observing what transpired.
© MDM, Gotta Go, 2007
What I found didn’t necessarily surprise me, but it inspired me to come back home and “get the word out”. I threw together a quick youtube video, gathered links, and put it all up on whileseated. That’s when things got interesting. Suddenly there was another forum for people to learn about the case, discuss its complexities, and monitor developments as the week drew closer to a verdict.
Along the way, 30,000 people (a day) were looking at some pretty amateur work of mine. The photos weren’t special, my text was hardly objective, but the benefits of the discussion outweighed the fact that I know very little about photojournalism, and in reality, am just another guy with a camera and a blog. My merits and motives were questioned and I was personally attacked (in text, not physically). Many of the discussions devolved into the bizarre. But in a small way, I felt I was making a difference.
If you’re a photographer, think about how you might be able to use your skill to do something beyond getting your pictures in a gallery with a four-figure price tag attached. Volunteer to take portraits for a non-profit. Borrow a car and make a trek to witness a developing story that’s underreported. If you’re sitting around waiting for the phone call from the New York Times or that downtown gallery, get outside and chase things down. Seek out the stories or situations that will lead to the kind of picture(s) you’ve always imagined but have never been able to take; on the street, or off.
A few months ago, a friend shared some notes from a seminar he had with Martin Parr in which Parr said, “photograph things you don’t want to photograph” (not verbatim). If you’re whetted to the street, try something new! Shoot widely and see what happens. Do what’s difficult and learn new skills. Sharing your work, even in process, or when it’s about a controversial issue that might result in negative attention, can be beneficial. Not just for you, but for others who need examples for forging their own paths.
William Klein made a really wild movie. Robert Frank painted (right?). Garry Winogrand did an ad for Scotch. Diane Arbus photographed for catalogs. In the interview last week, Richard Kalvar talked about how his professional work funded his amateur explorations. Weegee was Weegee.
What I’m trying to say is there are a million ways to go about being a photographer, and starting on the street is as good a beginning as any. It’s as good a middle, and as good an end as any, too. If you see something (anywhere!) that’s important to you, bring it back and share it. Show us how it is. Whether it’s a good picture, an interesting story, a hacky youtube video, or a terrific series of great pictures, put it together, get them up on a site, and let people know. Quit stalling.
Sharing’s as scary as it is essential. Show us who you are, what you’re made of, and why we should care.
If you can’t, who will?