not my club

I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.

–Groucho Marx, Groucho and Me

The internet is a powerful tool for bringing people together. Sometimes I think it may be too powerful. Let me explain.

I had two shoots yesterday (pictures forthcoming) that were absolutely amazing. One of them was a collaboration with a flow friend that was probably half improvisation, the other was a collaboration with a make-up artist and a model to shoot an idea that I’ve had for years out of my head. They were great fun, we laughed all the way through, the pictures I’ve worked on have been impressive and I would work with all these people again in a heartbeat.

But to be honest, the best part was the conversation. Not just laughing with a friend and making new ones, but snarking about a Facebook group we’re all in eccentric orbits around. That on top of everything else was worth a fortune and was a tremendous relief.

I like groups mostly. I like meeting people and sharing interests and discovering some new thing or another. Hell, that’s how I’ve fallen in to so many different scenes and hobbies since I moved to Seattle: samba, burlesque, fire spinning, toy photography, gaming… the list goes on. I like that there’s a social structure I can take part in when I want and can (usually) take time off when and if I need it without it becoming A Thing. And online the conversation ebbs and flows and you jump on and off as you’re interested. They’re great!

But I get frustrated when the group feels limiting. Especially in creative groups where the dominant conversation seems to be how everything is swell and golly where did people get their ideas. Creative groups where styles seem static. Now, I don’t want to be a jerk, I don’t want to make it personal, but I do want to say we can do better. More than this. More than the same. That we can flip the tropes and twist the cliches and maybe try to do more and better, right? Maybe?

It reminds me of some of my first encounters with deep geek culture online in the early days of the Internet. Where the thrill of finding others like you was quickly tempered by the schisms of disagreement and, in the name of civility, we will all agree that we like everything. EVERYTHING!

I tend to leave because I can’t shake the feeling that I’m the only one raising even a tiny fuss. Or, more recently, asked to leave because I rocked the boat and challenged some really silly ideas (a photo of a Lego cat is not animal photography! Ahem).

So this group we’re all in is devoted to open shoots and TFP (Trade For Print) exchanges so people can build their portfolios. We’re all in it for similar reasons at different parts of the process.

But the group feels monotonous. It’s filled with the same calls for boudoir shoots. Lots of pictures of women on beaches looking out at the water with bored expressions. A couple of weeks ago when someone posted a picture of a “milk bath” shoot (bath tub filled with milk or cloudy liquid, usually with flower petals or glitter for contrast), there was a run on that style and it seemed like every other day another photographer posted their take on the subject, which never seemed too different from the previous picture.

Was it me?

So to have three conversations, all of them at one point or another filled with laughter at the expense of the tedium of the group was so god damned reaffirming. What, another picture of a girl in a bikini on a motorcycle? Wait, it was a milk bath but with glitter! Goddammit, why was I not sitting down?! No wait, it’s a milk bath on a beach with a motorcycle… perfect!

I’m not keen to join online groups anymore. I don’t like that feeling of isolation in the face of unyielding and unchanging enthusiasm. I want to find the other malcontents and the weirdos and people with darker ideas and work with them in the face of homogeny.

So those shoots? Well I’ll be a little less involved in the day to day “activity” of the group, but I found a few more freaks and a few more oddballs, so I’ll chalk it up as a win.

Sometimes the best thing isn’t changing a group from the inside or reinventing the wheel. It’s just finding out you’re not alone with your opinions. That’s how you find real collaborators.

 

blazing trails

Open Flow June '17

Guess who got to play with fire again this weekend?

Truth be told, I’ve been wanting to shoot pictures like this for years.

Shortly after I started doing studio work on my own, I read up on the technique and then, lacking the contacts, I didn’t know quite how to ask or who to ask if they’d be game to play with me. I managed it once with a friend who moved to California a couple months later, and then… nothing.

Nothing until Spinurn last year and now I get to do this on a semi-regular basis for people who are blown away by the results. Blown away to the point that I feel somewhat awkward explaining the technique (long exposures with a flash as punctuation) to an enthusiastic and occasionally wide-eyed audience because, well, it’s not that difficult.

Does it make sense that even as I feel confident in my photographic skills, I’m flummoxed when people react so strongly to my work? Or even the ideas behind them?

On the one hand, this isn’t a picture you take with some preset on your camera. And I’m still finessing it and still figuring out ways to do a better job to get better pictures. But it’s almost standard for me now. It’s almost second or third nature to me. So the response and the enthusiasm is adjacent to an emotional space I don’t quite recognize. And it’s heartening and cool and a tad overwhelming.

I can understand likes on Instagram. Wide eyed wonder? Not so much.

But it’s cool nonetheless. And I’ll keep taking the pictures.

Open Flow June '17

never will i ever…

Before we go any further (and, indeed, as a way to postpone working on the couple hundred photos from a shoot last night. PROCRASTINATOR… AWAY!!!!) I just want to get something off my chest and on the record.

If my official professional photographer profile ever resembles this image, even in an ironic “jokey” way? I want you to do me a favor.

unnamed.jpg

SHOOT ME!

OK, maybe you shouldn’t do anything quite that actually drastic but the emotion is real. Even before I joined a Facebook group for open shoots and TFP photography, I would see this style of photo on a regular basis and now? Hoo boy. There it is: middle aged white guy with some scantily clad model draped over him like a stole or, occasionally, being ogled because, hey, he knows hot women.

I mean, that’s what he’s selling, right? This image isn’t about his skills as a photographer but his virility and his really… big… lens! Cue Robin Thicke. Or rather… please don’t.

Because like Robin Thicke, it’s creepy as fuck and I am flummoxed every time I see any variation on it. Hell, one member of the group can’t post an image from a shoot without at least one picture that’s of the model and himself, gurning like some kind of pervy comic logo because, hey, CHICK!

This is some low level Terry Richardson bullshit that says less about talent and more about the photographer’s ego, clinging to the edge of the frame and the model’s body like a lamprey.

Miley7.jpgYes, well…

And while I know he didn’t “invent” this crap, he’s the most recent poster boy for it and, as such, I don’t think he’s much of an inspiration as either a photographer or as a good person. At all. Fuck him.

I really don’t want to sound like a scold… much. But I think this kind of thing is creepy on a deeply profound level. At a time when there’s a growing conversation about toxic masculinity and this expectation that a lot of men (most? all? I’m not going there for now) expect women to be fawning and grateful recipients of our ego squeezings (aka cat calls, harassment, etc etc etc), is this the image you really want for yourself? To say “Hey, I get to touch girls I sort of know!”

Fuck that noise. You’re making us look bad. And on a purely artistic level that is ideally separated from the political and cultural value of these images, you look like a fucking hack!

Spare yourself. If you can’t spare yourself, spare us.

And if you ever see me pulling this shit? Well…

in which we play with fire

Spinurn 5/10/17

My therapist makes the point that spinning fire is elemental, speaking to a deep human yearning to control the uncontrollable. It’s primeval, it’s caveman days, it’s…

Me, I say it’s just bad ass. Plus, hey, you look like a wizard as an added bonus.

And cathartic. And peaceful. And sometimes I come home tired off my ass, arm hair singed, fingers covered in soot and ready to crash after kicking my own ass. It’s great.

About a year and a half ago I stumbled on this informal group who got together on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at Gas Works to spin fire and practice. One cold February night I lugged my camera down thinking I’d get a couple good pictures. I didn’t think it’d be my next Thing.

But after a month I parlayed my presence into a group shoot, picked up a prop shortly thereafter (I am a journeyman badass with a leviwand) and now I’m a regular and offering tips to new photographers and spinners alike.

Spinurn 1/11/17

I really feel like this, more than anything else I’ve done since moving to Seattle, really fits my particularly finicky Venn Diagram of Doing Stuff. I like going out, but I don’t like feeling obligated to go out. I love sharing my passions with others but find it frustrating when it can only be expressed in a group, like my time playing samba. One drum does not a samba make. I like being appreciated for a talent but I don’t like being pigeon-holed for that same talent. And oh please don’t tell me that, yes, we could go forward and learn or try something different but we have to wait for everyone else when I’m bored.

Spinurn 03/23

Here the challenges are my own. I can come and go as I please. Hell, I can go and make it clear that, really, I just want to be left alone in the crowd. I can take pictures when I want, flow when I want and never be pinned down with any one thing.

And always the chance to take the next, best picture.

Spinurn 4/26/17

Don’t mind me, I’m just going to be happy as a clam here.

about the jaded eye

eye see you

So who the hell am I to be talking about photography? And what’s my deal with being so jaded?

My name is Chris, I live in Seattle and I am a photographer. As I said in my previous post, while I’ve had a camera ever since I was in first grade, it was only after moving to Seattle and the rise of digital photography that I started to really dig in to what photography was about and playing around with all the buttons and settings when I didn’t have to spend fifteen bucks a roll of film to find out how crap I was.

I made my photographic bones shooting the local burlesque scene for about six years. I started with small shows at The Pink Door and the Jewel Box before moving on to the bigger venues like the Theater Off Jackson and The Triple Door. I shot pretty much everything, I made a lot of friends in the scene, started working in the studio and then I stared to burn out.

The letter to my sixteen year old self would begin “Yes, one day you too will burn out on bared breasts.”

Since then, I’ve realized that I’m not even close to being burned out on photography. I’ve moved into the studio, I make comics with Lego figures and other toys and I have not run out of ideas of what I want to photograph, what styles I want to play with. Not even close.

But I’m tired of photographs. I’m tired of tropes and cliches and the sense that, yes, it may be a different girl standing on a beach looking over the waves with a bored expression, but in the main it looks like so many other pictures of girls standing on a beach etc etc etc.

I want to push myself and I want to burn a couple of dozen things in effigy as I go along.

That’s the jaded eye. The one who looks at the portfolio of someone who says “Everyone is beautiful in their own unique and wonderful way!” and sees that the proof is a series of photos that look so mind-bogglingly similar that they might as well be a flip book.

Jaded. This should be interesting.

we need to talk about your camera…

the new beast

The first step in becoming a better photographer is learning that for all the bells and whistles, your camera is stupid.

This isn’t about brand loyalty. This isn’t about gimmicks. This isn’t going to be a curmudgeonly rant about how film is just better and “back in my day” because while I’ve been using a camera since I was in first grade, I only really started digging in to photography when digital cameras became affordable and I could futz around with settings and dig deep. I dabble in film, I work in digital.

But your camera and the computer that runs it, is stupid. And most of the time, that’s perfectly fine. That’s more than enough.

And then you’ll find yourself reaching for that shot that’s just beyond the camera’s understanding and you’ll be left staring at the resulting image with impotent frustration. Really? Now? The moment that really mattered? Why I oughtta….

That, I think, is when you start to learn. The camera is great, it’s got all the best settings, but you need to do more to get the best shot.

For me, it was shooting a burlesque show in a dark club with a long catwalk. I was still letting the camera do the bulk of the thinking so most of the pictures were fine except for one bit where a pale blonde performer took to the catwalk wearing nothing but white feather fans. Those pictures were so badly exposed that no amount of bashing it in Lightroom could redeem them. I posted some, they weren’t awful but I was frustrated.

The problem? The camera was metering for the entire image and figured (incorrectly) that I was as interested in the shadowy crowd in the background as the leggy blonde on the stage. The lesson? Find out how to meter on the fly or at least fiddle with the aperture when I recognized that the camera would be stupid and I wanted something different. Hell of a learning curve, took a lot of time, but by the end of my tenure, I was handling everything except for the focus as I shot the shows.

This is what throws people. This is what scares some folk off. I know, I once saw a friend hit this roadblock. He had a new camera, he wanted to take a picture of a neon sign but it kept being fuzzy or inconsistently sharp. He muttered about how he had to figure out the aperture or a tripod or something and… bah.

First lesson: your camera is stupid.