Alright, I’m done with school for a few years, but I have some things to say.
No, this isn’t a negative, complaining post — rather, a post on the topic of a misunderstanding of how I work. And I want to emphasize that — it’s my work flow that I’m talking about.
At the beginning of my final semester, one of my classmates made a comment to me that wasn’t bad by any means, but a great misinterpretation of my work process. She said “Jeff, you take photos every day.” I didn’t really respond at the time.
You see, that’s the thing. I don’t take photos every day. I make photos for myself maybe once every couple weeks, and that’s in a good month. The past year and a half, the only time I actually made photos every day was during the road trip, nine days of travelling and camping, there’s really nothing else I could have done.
But here’s the next kicker of this post — I’m not just making this post to say she was wrong, in fact, that’s very far from the truth. I’m actually here to say she should be right.
I’ve been a musician longer than I’ve been a photographer, believe it or not. I’ve been playing cello since fourth grade (2006). One thing that I’ve always remembered from my time in classical music training is you should practice every day. I never did that. I practiced a couple times a week. Even when I was a music major, I didn’t practice every day like my conductor told us to.
Ultimately it led to my downfall in music — while I still play, technically, and I do still produce electronic music casually, not practicing every day dramatically hurt me. But had I practiced every day, I would have wound up in a very different place than I am now. I would probably have graduated with a music degree instead of studio arts, I would probably be going into the music industry instead of the journalism world. Things would be very different.
Being a visual art student comes with its road blocks through the years. Those road blocks prevent us from being able to practice, study how we work, why we work. Looking back to the summer of 2018 after the road trip, I was studying like crazy. I went to Milner Library and checked out books on photography, I emailed my professors about more books to read and view. I was studying every day, either through books and articles, or through making photographs. This finally led to the creation of my next photo book, Aimless Home.
But since that summer, I haven’t been able to do that. The closest I’ve gotten to that consistency in studying was this past December — and I only had film cameras to work with at that time. This final semester was hard — I always expected my last semester of undergrad to be hefty, so it came to no surprise. However, I’m happy I was able to get out the handful of images I did get to make this final semester. I successfully developed my first roll and sheets of color film, I got to make photos in Cary, Ottawa, Peoria, and of course here in Bloomington. All of those places have photos that are staples in my portfolio.
Okay, I know I’m kind-of rambling at this point. But here’s what I’m getting at: I’m going to try to start making photos every day as much as possible. I already comb the internet every day for articles about photographers and theory, so that part is covered. But I need to practice. I’ve always told students to approach photography like you’re a classical musician. You practice every day, you put your series together like they’re a symphony or an album. A composer doesn’t sit down one day and write their greatest piece without any practice — they spend countless hours studying, working out the theory and progressions, making sure everything sounds right.
Despite the fact that I know what I like to make photographs of right now, I need to go back to the basics of fine art photography. Keep making photographs of everything that catches my eye and see what consistencies come up. Back when I was in Photo 1 many moons ago, I found I liked architecture photography, which led me to study Bob Thall’s work. That influence remains in my work to this day. In my photo 2 and first round of photo 3 days, I was in a limbo of trying to find what worked for me then — it was truly a time of transition, as the following year led me back into landscape after years of not even considering landscape photography.
Making photos every day is challenging, but not impossible. Lately, I’ve been trying to get myself to be more comfortable taking photographs with my iPhone (you can see some of those photos on my Instagram feed). I was greatly inspired by a Magnum article about one of my favorite photographers, Alec Soth, and how he’s been walking eight miles to work every day and began taking photos on his pedestrian commute. I’m strongly considering doing the same thing. I won’t be using my DSLR every day, I love that beauty dearly, but it’s a little cumbersome to carry around all the time (this is a reason I want to get a Fujifilm camera).
Now that I’m graduated and only working part-time for the time being, I’ll have the time to read, time to make photos for myself, and really hit the ground running to prepare during these years before pursuing an MFA.
There’s only one way to keep yourself working on your art — and that’s to keep making art.