interview june 2021
why do you gravitate towards photographing the subject matter that you do? you know, like the stuff you have on instagram?
"i think the question really comes down to why do i photograph? to me, it has to be a challenge. cartier-bresson said that it's a certain recognition of an order - a spatial arrangement of things that is extremely satisfying. i have no interest in only photographing the spectacular, exciting venues, or only things that are amazing or beautiful. it bores the living hell out of me. i don't take pictures to wow people. i just don't find it that much of a challenge to photograph sunsets, or scenic travel destinations, pretty things, or the most photogenic people. what is a challenge for me is to photograph things that i'm familiar with - the ordinary, the otherwise dull and boring. these are the things in my own backyard. these are the things that get passed up by every other photographer. there are hundreds of photo opportunities in the very room you're sitting in. but it's the hardest kind of photography there is! to find a worthy photograph of something ordinary - something you see everyday. that's what tests your eyes. that's the hardest thing to do in photography. and at the same time, it's probably the most under-rated kind of photography simply because the subject matter is not that entertaining. you have to get used to being largely ignored and under-valued as a photographer."
from a phone interview march 2020
"It's a very tough thing to describe let alone show to someone who is not used to really looking at pictures. But I go by the premise that a photograph should look like a photograph - not some kind of digital concoction. And it should be real. In the end, it will always be the realness of a photograph that affects the viewer the most. That will be the thing that lives on."
So what techniques do you use when shooting digitally to do this?
"Well there are a few things I give great consideration to when taking pictures. For example, composition is of utmost importance. It has to be transparent so as not to call attention to itself, and at the same time, it has to evoke an understanding of the material being photographed. I try to photograph as the human eye would see, staying away from extreme focal lengths. And when I compose a picture and see it in my head, I try to see it as if it had already happened and I was looking at the print. I make sure the image is not too sharp, and the color should be believable."
So how do you choose what to photograph? How do you know what has meaning?
"Well, again, that's really tough to do unless you envision what the print might look like. But as someone once said, when we go out to photograph we look for meaningful things to photograph. But as it turns out, if you photograph something in a unique and honest way...anything for that matter, it will have meaning. The key I think is to be honest with the subject matter. Just show it as it really is. You see, a photograph is not a picture of something. It is a picture about something. It's meaning is often based on some kind of shared experience. So if you invent something, or it's not believable, how can it be shared?"
I know you know a great deal about the history of photography and have studied many great photographers, and as such you photograph with many different cameras including large format. How important is a camera to producing a great photograph?
"I enjoy cameras because they each bring different things to the table so-to-speak. The technique you use with large format film is entirely different than that of a quick modern digital camera. But the fact remains...you can produce a great photograph with any camera. It's more about seeing and looking within than it is about technology."
Do you embrace digital photography?
"Of course I do. But I have certain rules when I photograph digitally. I always make sure I print important photographs, and when I photograph, I don't take a hundred pictures of the same thing. I try to figure out how I want to say something, I take a picture, and that's the picture! Otherwise you'll not only bore yourself with your images, but you'll bore everyone else as well. It's important not to over-think things or to photograph something to death. Just let it be what it is and appreciate it. In the end, the people who are wanting head swaps and highly manipulated photographs are only fooling themselves. my wife and i shoot local weddings as well and it's interesting because we have very different and distinct styles of shooting...she tends to photograph a wedding like she doesn't want to miss anything, and i am a little more deliberate with the moments that i choose to capture. in the end, she usually takes about ten times the number of photographs that i do, but we compliment each other well, and the final package is really great."
As simply as you can describe, what do you think the difference is between a mediocre photograph and a good one?
Tough question, but i guess i'd say that if two photographers took a picture of the same thing and one gave us pause and the other didn't it's probably due to the way the photographer sees. The photograph has to be interesting to look at while being real. it is a snapshot of something that was and is no more. I once had a very famous photographer tell me that I had a great glance... so i think it's more to do with being able to spot imperfection and without hesitation frame it in a way that creates a memory. It's like movies...one is a really good honest film that affects you in some way and the other is a hollywood blockbuster big production. The hollywood film has pretty actors that are carefully cast. It has dialog that is carefully scripted and special effects...it over-sensationalizes everything and it soon becomes clear that it's main purpose was to sell tickets at the box office. it's pure entertainment value. the film is just honest. it has real believable people and honest situations. That's the difference between a good photograph and a not so good one i think.
Thank-you so much for your time. I have really appreciated talking to you and having your share some of your thoughts about photography.
"You are very welcome. It was nice."
From an interview December 2019
Q. First of all, thank-you for spending some time talking to us. It’s a real pleasure and privilege to chat with someone who has been involved in photography for a long time. What is the biggest thing that makes your work ethic different from let’s say the more casual photographer?
You’re very welcome. That’s an interesting question. I do come into contact with a fair number of photographers since I have an interest in teaching as well. I’d have to say that probably the biggest difference is that for me, photography is more of a hunt. For the average person, it may be an interest. Does that make sense? I rarely stop thinking about pictures or finding a picture. Most individuals can turn that off at will. So yeah…it’s a bit of a compulsion for spatial arrangement and what I can do with time I suppose.
Q. Photography is a different thing now compared to what it was 15 years ago. Do you enjoy the changes? Do you enjoy social media and sharing images? Do you enjoy getting feedback from followers?
Wow…right into the social media thing haha. Well, I have to be clear here I think. I’m really more of a private person. I always have been. I’m not very social. Although I do enjoy the ability to connect with other photographers who I highly respect, overall I do not enjoy the social media thing at all. At least not for where I am. First of all, I simply don’t subscribe to that way of doing things. I don’t do photography because of what fifty or a hundred people might think about one of my pictures. I don’t run on that business model. I've never been someone who requires validation to keep going. I learn how to do something. I explore it to the best of my potential, and I enjoy it to the max. I know when it's time to try a different approach or to move on to a new project. My main interest in photography has always been seeing and trying to describe things, people, places, situations in a different way. And to do that, I’ve needed to look inward - not to the external world for inspiration. I just can’t help but feel that the social media thing is like a whole sea of people vying for attention. Hey look at me! No! Don’t look over there! Look here! Ignore him! This is where it’s at! Haha. You know. I think sharing stuff with other photographers who have a genuine understanding of art, and the struggles, and who know how to look at a photograph. . .That’s cool. But in general, I just don’t care about social media. But for the connections with other photographers who I highly respect, it does nothing for me. It can be a huge distraction that in the long run, is meaningless. I don't ever want to be like a court jester whose purpose is to entertain people who really don't care anyhow. I only want to produce something meaningful for photography. I follow a fellow on youtube named justin jones - he's very knowledgeable about art, and like he said, if you want answers to a medical problem you go to a doctor, if you need a pipe fixed you call a plumber, if your car engine needs a new crankshaft you go to a mechanic. photography and art is no different. you need to seek out the people who are in the know to get good advice and honest critique.
In a very broad sense, social media can even be accused of doing a sort of disservice to the art world. many poor photographs are being promoted simply because of the nature of social media. They are liked because of being friends with someone, or they are spotlighted because you liked mine so i'll return the favour. at the same time, photographs that may be very good, get little or no attention. there are a few groups and pages on fb and ig that try to promote good work, and i give them credit. but in general, good art requires a proper venue...one that can rightfully discriminate between something that is noteworthy and something that has little or no value in the art world. social media being what it is, is no place like that, and you can't expect it to be. in the past, I've liked poor photographs simply because i'm trying to encourage or support someone. we've all done that. and that's my point. there is no filter at all on social media. that's why it's not very high on my list of priorities. you're never going to promote the visual arts at craft fairs or community gift stores or on social media simply because it will always be mixed in with work that really does belong there. i just have no use for it. but that's only my personal thing. for me, it's just an endless cycle of going 'round in circles. I suppose if you're trying to sell a book or promote a workshop it's a necessary thing. but from where i am at this stage in my photography life, it tends to get in the way and take precious time away from what i need to be doing.
Q. So if your purpose for taking photos is not so much in sharing, then what is it?
I find the whole “process” of looking for pictures fascinating. When I find something that could make an interesting photograph, i'm intrigued. I can then try to turn it into a photograph and maybe print it. Who knows, my kids may be interested someday in looking at places and situations that I encountered. I’m interested in the creative process…you know, boredom, dreaming, quest and discovery, making mistakes, ideas etc. I’m not interested in attention. At the end of the day, I just want to look back on my photographs knowing that I did the best I could under the circumstances. I have a little office at home where I scan my negatives, where I make prints. It’s good enough for me. and my old cameras are just fine. if an old leica was good enough for hcb then it's good enough for me. you don't need the latest in technology to make art. you need a set of eyes and a pair of balls and a hard work ethic. it's the photograph that excites me...not so much getting acceptance from others.
Q. You recently did a zine called “Time and Space”. What was your primary motivation for making those pictures and putting them into a zine?
My motivation is as I talked about previously…the process of finding things and seeing things in a different way. The reason I made the zine was because I felt the pictures were an important description of this place. It’s important to preserve time so that we can look back on it someday. I’m giving people - (people who care anyhow), a gift of the way things were. Not too many people these days seem to care. They’d rather be entertained than fascinated. There’s a huge difference.
Q. You’ve done so many wonderful photographs around your home town. Is that difficult?
Well, ask any photographer. The hardest thing to do is to take interesting photographs of things or places that you’re familiar with. I don’t travel all that much except maybe in the summer months. So, I’m here. What am I going to do? I could take two or three photos a month when we get a nice sunset, or when I see an eagle, or when a bear happens to walk through my yard. Isn’t that what most people do? I’ll never be that kind of photographer. I just can’t do it. I have no motivation to click a beautiful sunset or to turn night into day with a high ISO, then revel in the Facebook likes while walking away all proud. I believe there’s more to it. I believe you have to go deeper. There are infinite possibilities with the ordinary things of day-to-day life. The history of photography says so.
Q. Speaking of history, how much does photography history mean to you?
It means a great deal. It’s extremely important. It means a lot to me to know many of the works of great photographers. It should be important to anyone who has an interest in photography. Unfortunately, most people today who take pictures are camera owners as opposed to photographers. Many would have difficulty naming 5 famous photographers who had an impact on the art.
q. what is it about teaching photography that you enjoy the most?
I think I enjoy talking about art, what it means to be an artist, seeing, the struggles we go through...you know, things like that. I don't much enjoy teaching camera mechanics. I enjoy the socratic method of teaching where I ask a question and get the student to really think about it to come up with a solution. I enjoy helping students to achieve their goals. One very important question that i always consider is this...and i think that caregivers, teachers and anyone who is a role model needs to ask - am i assisting/teaching because i want to see the person achieve what they're trying to do and to get closer to their own way of seeing/living in the world, or am i helping/teaching to align them closer to my way of seeing and understanding things? there's a huge difference! it's absolutely necessary as a teacher or caregiver to see the world from the other persons vantage point even if their philosophies don't quite align with ours. they have to come to their own realizations in their own time.
q. what do you see when you look at a picture?
Lots of things. the general consensus of most people when they see a photograph is that it is largely - it is mostly, defined by its subject matter. for example, most people are drawn to photos of pretty landscapes or pretty colors. a subject that is strikingly beautiful always gets the most attention. the entire portrait industry is based on that assumption. almost all present day portrait photographers don't even deal with ordinary people. you're only going to see the prettiest girls in their photographs. why? because those photographs get the most attention. likewise, present day landscape photographers are mostly interested in grand sweeping vistas full of glorious colors, with the photos usually taken from extreme perspectives with rather extreme lenses. why? because they draw attention. in a good landscape photograph the composition doesn't draw attention to itself. it's transparent. it is an expression of understanding.
there are many things that constitute what a good photograph is - the composition, the frame, the exposure, the render, the moment, how has time been displayed etc. the appeal of the subject - although it does play a part, is not always all that matters. sometimes it matters not much at all in a good photograph. you see?
q. i think you've just opened my eyes a bunch! so how does a new photographer develop this sense of what makes a good photograph? is it learned from experience?
it's learned from experience and also from studying great art and great photographers...the masters. it is learned by doing some research on people like robert adams, john szarkowski, andre kertesz, eugene atget, william eggleston, robert frank, henry wessel, arnold newman, stephen shore, garry winogrand, yousuf karsh and many many others. it certainly is not learned by doing what everybody else is doing and following the flock so to speak. if your goal is to sell landscape calendars, just google landscape photography. you'll have thousands of images that mostly look the same to model your stuff on. if you want to take high iso night photos of the milky way just go online. there are thousands of them. if you want to get attention as a portrait photographer, then start photographing the most beautiful girls you can find. but if you want to create meaningful, long-lasting art, then you have to start to consider that there's a lot more to a photograph than just the subject matter.
Q. So what of the future? What are you plans?
Well. I’m slowing down a little. I think this year i'm going to proceed with my usual abundance of curiosity and drive, but in a much more relaxed fashion. between photography and my life's career in the medical field (from which I recently retired after 31 years), i feel like i've given so much and sacrificed a great deal of myself...i just have to reel it all in. the world can be very good at taking and expecting, but not really caring. however, I’m going to give back by doing what I do. And if some younger person comes along with a thirst for photography, then I’m always open to help. I love teaching. It’s a difficult situation in my small northern town. There aren’t many interested. There aren’t many with a desire to learn as they have other interests here. But as I said before, good photographers just put their heads down and keep on with the work.
Q. It has been such a pleasure to find out more about you. Thank-you so much for sharing a little more of your world and your thoughts.
You’re quite welcome. Thanks for your interest in photography.