I was born the son of a Pentecostal pastor in the South. The congregation who attended the little country church often described the Pentecostal experience as, "Better felt than telt." Legendary photographer Ruth Bernard said much the same about photography, albeit a little more eloquently, "The creation of a photograph is experienced as a heightened emotional response."
Her description captures precisely what happens during one of our photographic sessions. Of all the photographs I have seen, or made personally, the ones that stand out in my mind are the ones that reflect something about the emotionally charged state of the photographer when he or she pressed the shutter release.
Although there were no professional photographers in my family, cameras have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My aunt Edna had an Ansco Buster Brown 2A, which was my favorite toy as a child. When I broke the leather handle on it, she bought a new "professional" Kodak Brownie Flash Six-20, and gave me the Ansco; I still have both cameras.
There was barely enough money for food and clothes in the household in which I grew up, let alone film and processing. When I was fortunate enough to get a ten-frame roll of 620 film, I agonized about how to use each precious frame. Although I started using digital cameras exclusively in 2005, thinking before shooting is still a fundamental principle.
Despite attending classes at Miami Art Institute, reading enough books to fill a library, pouring over the work of acclaimed photographers, and going to countless seminars, I struggled with photography. I understood the technical aspects of lighting and cameras theoretically, but could not get them to come together practically like I wanted them to. Too few compliments and too much negative criticism were personal and heartbreaking to me.
At some point, I read Ansel Adams' book, The Making of Forty Photographs, in which he comments about his Farm Family. Sixteen words from that commentary changed my thinking about photography: "Professional work depends upon 'assignments from without' and personal creative work depends on 'assignments from within.' "
Everything came together when I read that. I saw clearly that I had been trying to align my vision with someone else's. From that day on I gave myself the assignment of photographing only what I saw in my own mind. I reread so many books, and read so much obscure literature from little known photographers with the intent of discovering why - not how - he or she photographed something. Shutter speeds, f-stops, rules of light and so on were fairly constant across the board depending on the subject being photographed. What varied in every case was why the photographer chose to photograph a particular thing, and what he or she was thinking when making the shot.
I understood for the first time that personal photographic style had to proceed directly from one's personality. That understanding not only opened me up to think creatively, but also freed me forever from being overly appreciative of compliments from people who loved my work, and overly concerned about the criticisms from others who see and create differently than I. Finally, it was OK for someone not to like my work.
For almost thirty years, I combined photography and writing while working for an international publishing company in Los Angeles. In 2005, my wife, Jo, and I opened Studio 102 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Although Knoxville is a small rural market, we photograph fashion magazine style because that is what we love and understand. We work with the best modeling agency in this area, and have had some of our models accepted by major agencies in New York and Atlanta. The work appearing on the Studio 102 website is about half Jo's and half mine.
Once we establish the base exposure value for a shooting segment, we start building an energetic chemistry with the model, and do not allow ourselves to be distracted by too much technical stuff. It is absolutely inspiring to see people transform during a session. So often, subjects come into the studio convinced that they are not photogenic. But, when they look at the monitor and see the photographs that were made after they gave themselves over to what they were feeling during the session, hey usually stare in appreciative disbelief. Frequently, parents tell us that the studio experience, and the resulting photographs, changed the whole lives of their sons and daughters. Also, we both enjoy seeing our students "get it," and start making their own great photographs.
There are so many gifted photographers whose work I admire. I have been blessed to meet some of my photographic idols, including Ruth Bernhard. It is an honor for me to count true masters such as Jim Zuckerman, Jimmy Chiarella, David Mecey, and Merrett Smith as my dear friends and mentors. Although they have all influenced my work, when I compare my work to theirs, it is clear that the photographic road ahead of me is long indeed.
Setting long-term goals, or even medium-term goals, in the current economic climate has been frustrating to say the least. We would love to do more fashion work, especially for national clients.
Our BetterPhoto website has been great at making Studio 102 a web presence. Honestly, we chose BetterPhoto in the beginning because we needed something fast; the person who was building a custom site for us could not deliver on time. We intended to use it temporarily until we could get our site built. However, once we saw the color accuracy, photo resolution, choices of layouts, and ease of use it became clear that BP was the way for us to go. I especially like how BP is set up to build the backend of Studio 102's site. Having a great-looking web site is pointless unless search engines - customers - can find it. We get a ton of compliments about how our site looks, and how easy it is for customers to navigate. Our older customers really like how easy it is to use.
14th Anniversary Spotlight
Randy's Wish List
Photographers Randy would like to meet:
Peter Lindbergh is the one photographer whom I would most like to meet. Seeing his photographs and hearing him talk about how he thinks definitely lights me up.
What do you carry in your camera bag?
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