On Using Public Space for Photography

Over the last few days there has been a mild uproar over signs posted in Faust Park in St. Louis County advising that “professional photographers” will be required to apply (and pay) for a permit to shoot in St. Louis County Parks. After a day or two of complaints by area photographers and some coverage in the local media, the signs were hastily removed. It is my understanding that the policy was not backed by an ordinance, and that the policy is now under review by the county.

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Going Farther

There is nothing more satisfying than making a photograph that you are really excited about. When I make a shot that really inspires me, I usually make a hardcopy print, and keep going back to it over and over again to relive the excitement. Sometimes I even put the hardcopy on my bed side table so I can look at it again in the morning when I wake up. This excitement fades however, usually much quicker than I would like, and is followed by a kind of creative depression.

A couple of days ago I made some images for my food blog that I was very pleased with. I felt that I had made a big step forward in the food work that I have been shooting lately. I was proud of the care and attention to detail I’d taken, the new direction I was taking my photography. That feeling of pride lasted until I woke up the next morning and decided the images were terrible, uninspired and worthless. This, of course, is nonsense. I should still be proud of the photographs, because they are a big step forward in both my technical skill and in my processes. They are images I should be proud of. Yet the aftermath of creative success is usually followed by a low point where I think everything that I do sucks. Then I stare out the window and wonder how could I be so stupid to consider a career in photography at all. I’ve been shooting professionally for many years now, and this happens on a regular basis.

I had a conversation about this with a friend who is a fine artist, and he admitted that this often happens to him too: he loves his work as soon as it is done, and then later (in a day, in a week, in five minutes) when that high of creating something wonderful starts to wear off, he immediately start picking apart the work and finding the flaws. Essentially, he loves his work up until the point that it is finished, and then he starts to hate it, and to want to do better.

The only true way to combat this post-creative depression is to figure out how to go farther. Ira Glass from This American Life did a piece a while back on creativity and one quote in particular has been making the rounds on the interwebs for quite some time. He said:

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just NOT THAT GOOD. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your TASTE, the thing that got you into the game is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is DO A LOT OF WORK. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s NORMAL to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through.” – Ira Glass

It really is an insightful sentiment. I like to think that I will never truly be out of the phase that Ira is talking about, because I never want to stop improving. I feel like every single photograph that I make, or at least every single shoot that I get needs to be better than the last one. I need to go father and to keep building. This is why the photograph I made yesterday isn’t going to be as satisfying as the photograph I’m going to make tomorrow. Each shot that I make teaches me something, even if that “something” is nearly imperceptible – it will show up in my photographs. Does this mean I will never make bad photographs? Certainly not. There is no way around making bad photographs, because the process of making those bad photographs is the process you go through to make the good ones.

The photographs I made earlier in the week? They are pretty good. I have every right to be proud of them, and in time I will. The reality is though, that they are not as good as the photographs I’m going to make tomorrow, and they are certainly not as good as the photographs that I’m going to make next year, or the year after that. Learning how to do more, be better and to go farther is what this profession is all about.

Is My Starter Started, Starting, or Stopped?

Bread Starter

Bread Starter, Photograph by Jonathan Gayman

One of the things that I want to do is photograph bread. I have been wanting to do a bread related project for some time – though I was scooped on the idea by Thomas Broening who does amazing table top work including a series on bread recently. The thing is, I would like to learn how to make the bread at the same time. Right when I first moved to St. Louis, my good friend Emily sent me some of her whole wheat starter, and unfortunately I was unable to coax the little yeasties to grow enough to make bread, a true tragedy because I’m sure they would have been awesome. I know now that I could have invigorated them with some commercial yeast.

In any case, I have decided to grow some starter on my own using commercial yeast (my plan is to try wild yeast next summer when it’s warmer). Thus far my bread has been edible, particularly as toast, but it has none of the depth and consistency that I’m looking for. And none of it has been photograph worthy yet. But fear not, I will be watching and waiting for my starter to be ready for action then BOOM, I will magically become an artisanal baker. Maybe.

Work Continues, Progress Happens. Slowly.

I have been working pretty hard at a couple of new projects. I’m learning a lot and attempting to set a foundation for the work that I’d like to do next year and moving forward. As a general rule I am going to be withholding this new work until I have a body of work. I’m trying to be more thoughtful I guess. In any case, more to come.

New Projects and Pie

I know, I know, it’s been forever and a day since my last blog post. One excuse is that I have been working my ass off since the middle of August and haven’t had much time. The other excuse is that I have decided to spend a few weeks/months working on business promotional ideas as well as some personal projects.

As long time readers will surely remember, it was just under five years ago that I made the transition from full time graphic designer to full time commercial photographer. Back then the internet was a valuable tool for me as I learned technique, equipment and best practices. As time went on I started learning from my own experiences which added to the collective knowledge that I’d gleaned from my peers. This journey is far from over – I will never stop learning and improving in my craft. While I will never perfect the art of the portrait, I can safely say that I have gained a level of skill and experience which allows me the ability to photograph busy executives in a professional manner and deliver excellent photographs for my clients. It took a lot of hard work to get to this level. I read everything I could get my hands on and took literally thousands of terrible photographs along the way. Now I’m feeling that since I am at this plateau of skill and comfort level, it’s time to push myself a bit.

To that end, I have decided to spend some time on personal projects (as much as the paid projects allow). However, I’m not going to be doing a ton of blogging about those projects specifically for the time being. It is certainly tempting to immediately post every new photo that I am excited about as soon as I make it. Rather than succumb to this impulsive need for feedback though, I am thinking that for the time being I am going to gather a body of work and then post it all at once, rather than look for the quick “attaboy” that I usually get when posting individual images. It believe that in order to improve I need to be more thoughtful about what I am working on from a personal standpoint. I need to edit more carefully, take more time to review the work, and only publish what I really feel is excellent, rather than everything that just looks cool. At least this is my theory for the time being. I’ll likely change my mind tomorrow. In any case, I’m going to do my best to keep up with the blogging a little bit here and there until I’m ready to share some of the projects that I’m working on.

In the mean time, enjoy the fall, yes? Nothing says “fall” to me more than pumpkin pie. Yesterday I made my first attempt at a pie from scratch using roasted winter squash instead of pumpkin and I made the crust from scratch. I’m pretty pleased with the result (it even tastes good!)

Oven Roasted Winter Squash ©2010 Jonathan Gayman

One small winter squash is the ideal size for one pumpkin pie, yielding just over a cup once the seeds are removed. I roasted the two halves in the oven for an hour or so with a tiny bit of oil on top to keep it moist. Once it’s soft, you can scoop it out of the skin and toss it in the blender along with the other ingredients. I used a modified recipe from the More With Less cookbook, a staple in good home cooking since I was a child. The crust recipe and technique were pulled from Alton Brown’s wonderfully instructive cookbook on the science of baking called I’m Just Here For More Food, a must have for any beginner in the arena of baking. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my results:

Pumpkin Pie (made with winter squash) ©2010 Jonathan Gayman

Fog And The City

I just got back from a week in NYC. I had a couple of jobs for early in the week and then stayed on for a few days to see my friends. It was a lot of fun to be back – good times were had by all. I didn’t shoot as much as I would have liked, but on the day I arrived I watched the storms roll through from the 37th floor of the building I was working in. Pretty impressive. There was a tornado watch in the city that day which never ceases to amaze me. My new midwest existence is not affected by hurricanes, so while we do have tornadoes and such, we don’t get the same level of crazy tropical storms that you get on the coasts. Here are a few images from that day.

St. Louis Hot Air Balloon Race

Xina and I stopped by Forest Park last night to see the hot air balloons. It was pretty impressive although we got there a little too late for me to get good sunset photos of the balloons. Like most St. Louis events, I found this one to be full of energy and people, but not crowded to the point of chaos. We are skipping the actual race this afternoon in favor of a Cardinals game, so I’m glad we got a chance to see everything last night.

Heading Home…Eventually

I am finally nearing the end of my epic photography projects that have kept me away from home for the last three weeks. My last three day trip turned into a 10 day trip, but I’m nearly done. The rest of the month is going to be nuts as well, but I’m hoping to get back to regular posting in a week or so. In the mean time, here is the latest image from my Vegetation series.

In the Air

I know things have been a bit quiet around here lately, but I have been intensely busy working on a large project involving a lot of travel. I’m going to be spending the majority of my waking (and quite a few of my non-waking) hours either at airports, on planes, or commuting between job sites until Labor Day. It’s a great opportunity and the work is going well, although it is probably the most intense schedule I’ve had to stick to. I have photo shoots on both the west coast and the east coast in a space of less than 20 hours early this week! Back to regularly scheduled programming once this series of project is over.

Weekend Fun + Work

Xina and I have the special treat of having friends from New York in town this weekend/week. We got a chance to get out a play both Friday and Saturday – went to an opening, explored new places to eat, met up with new friends, hung out with old friends, ate toasted ravioli and made another foray into the depths of the City Museum.

Now I’m back in work mode even though it’s only Sunday. I have to make a lot of necessary changes to my business plan for the next year, as well as some more abstract changes to the direction I want my business and my photography to go. As such, news here may be a little erratic over the next few weeks/months. On the other hand, whenever I say that I always end up posting more that usual. So we shall see. In any case, expect to see some changes around the site.