Every so often I have people let me know in some way or another how much they admire my work, my portraits. They've told me that they look forward to the next thing I post online. Some have even told me that they're inspired by it as photographers themselves. Let me tell you, these comments mean the world to me. They keep me chasing after what feels like an impossible dream at times due to all the challenges that go along with making it as a commercial photographer here in Atlanta.
Well, I thought I would share some of the photographers that I turn to for inspiration. Photographers that frighten me they're so good. These are the photographers that sometimes make me feel like I need to just sell all my camera gear and do something different. Their work blows me away -- they're what I aspire to be.
In no particular order, here are the top ten photographers that come to mind that I turn to for visual bliss and inspiration:
1. Mark Seliger :: Yes, I know I said no particular order, but I had to put him first. He has been the single biggest influence on my style I think. Look at his work, and look at mine, and you'll see it. The images in his book, Physiognomy, were what really drove me to want to be a commercial photographer and attend The Creative Circus photography program here in Atlanta. I couldn't afford the book when I first discovered it, so I'd just randomly go in my local bookstore, sit down at the cafe with it, and feast my eyes on it all. When it comes to commercial portrait photographers, he and Avedon are my favorites. Mark, if you by chance ever read this -- thank you. Thank you.
2. Patrick Demarchelier :: This guy and his book, "Photographs", was another one of my earliest inspirations. He is primarily a fashion photographer, and fashion isn't my thing so much. Beautiful work is my thing though -- and his work is beautiful. His B&W portrait work is my favorite.
3. Richard Avedon :: If you look at Avedon's "In The American West" series and are not impressed then you might need to get your eyes and brain checked. Read "Avedon At Work In The American West" by Laura Wilson and you'll have an even greater appreciation for the series. All his portrait work is great to me, not just this series. Seeing the actual prints from the series on exhibit one day is on my bucket list.
4. Rodney Smith :: I have much respect for this guy's work, because it has such a unique style to it. Such a surreal nature. I can just see it and pretty much always know it's his. That's how unique his style is. At one time I understood that he shot everything with a "normal" lens, or 50mm if shooting with a 35mm. 75mm-90mm range with most medium formats, 150mm on 4x5, or 300mm on 8x10. This is part of what gives his work a consistent look. Him being brilliant is what does the rest.
5. Loretta Lux :: Loretta Lux is another photographer with an extremely unique style that you will recognize almost immediately once you're familiar with it. Look at the color pallete in her work -- it's very subdued but prominent at the same time. It's amazing to me.
6. Jim Erickson :: Dreams come to life through his photographs. Look at them, they look like your dreams. Or maybe I just dream about them as a photographer because I want to shoot the same places he has, in the same conditions. I want to be Jim Erickson when I grow up. He has a huge body of work that makes me wanna find a corner, curl up in the fetal position, and suck my thumb in fear over being in the same business as him.
7. Parish Kohanim :: Parish is another one with a very distinct style. I can pick out his color work with no problems at all. I just happened upon his site one day soon after I graduated from The Creative Circus and was delighted to find out his studio was just a couple of miles from my place here in Atlanta. So I set up a meeting to hopefully get assisting work with him -- while there I shared my work with him and he actually complimented me on it. He instructed me to regularly check back with them to see if there was ever a time they might could use me. Well, at the time I stayed pretty busy assisting for a handful of other photographers here in town, which kept me from really checking back with him like I should have. Major fail on my part. Major. Parish, I'd still love to assist for you even today, despite me having already pretty much moved away from assisting.
8. Glen Wexler :: I met this guy when he spoke at The Creative Circus several years back. Interesting guy, and if you look at some of his work you will see that his mind is pretty out there. I love the whimsical nature of some of it. One thing that's always stood out to me that he told me as I had him sign one of his prints (that was given to me by Epson) was that he had stuck to his guns as a freelancer when things had gotten really tough in his career. Rather than just taking the easy way out and getting a regular job with a regular paycheck -- he kept chasing his dream. That comment has come to mind all the times that I've just wanted to walk away from photography as a career and do something different.
9. Jerry Uelsmann :: This guy is the Salvador Dali of photography to me (Dali is my all time favorite painter by the way). Check out his work, and notice how surreal it is. Notice that it looks like photoshopped composites. Well, it's not. That's all been done in a traditional black and white darkroom. It is amazing. This guy lives in Gainesville, Florida -- not too far away from my hometown. Sometime when I'm down visiting my family I'm going to do my best to see if he'll let me come by and do a portrait of him. It would be a honor.
10. Irving Penn :: It's Irving Penn, and that's all that needs to be said.
So, I guess the primary reason behind me sharing these guys with you is that I can't stress enough how important it is to constantly be looking at other artwork. Not just photography, but artwork in general. It will make you better. It will inspire you. It will lead to you pushing yourself harder. Don't compare yourself to your equals, compare yourself to the best. It's a recipe for depression, but it's what you need to do to truly excel.
On a more personal level, the photographers I've included in this post serve as a reminder to me. They're a reminder of some of the really lofty goals I have:
--I've wanted to shoot a cover for Rolling Stone magazine since the first time I saw Seliger's work.
--I want to shoot a portrait of Morgan Freeman.
--I want to be hired to do a portrait of a sitting United States President. Democrat or Republican. Doing a portrait of the CEO of a major company is a big deal. Doing a portrait of the CEO of America would be HUGE.
I say these are my goals, but at the same time I often tell myself that I just want to make a living taking photos, and that who is front of my lens is not an issue as long as the portraits I take matter to me, and those that I've taken them for. To really get to where most of those on the above list is I would most likely need to move to New York City or Los Angeles. I don't want to move to either of those places though. I like Atlanta.
So, where do you draw the line when it comes to chasing your dreams? At what point do you decide to just be content with where you are in life? These are things I spend a lot of time thinking about, because at this point I have chased my dreams and reached a lot of them. As a kid I dreamed of being a photographer when I grew up. Done. I went to and graduated from the school of my choice in the country for photography. I have more images than I know what to do with now, that at one point, I dreamed of knowing how to do consistently. I've had my work on billboards, in magazines, and nationally ran ads. The most recognized brand in the world, Coke, is a client of mine. These were all goals at one point that have since become reality.
|I included both this and the shot I posted above because they both represent a goal, dream, or milestone reached for me in photography. They're two of my favorite photographs I shot for Coca-Cola. It's shots like this that I've done that keep me going after things when I don't always feel up to it.|
I'm not trying to toot my own horn, I'm trying to express that despite having done so much, I still feel like there is soooo much more for me to do. I sometimes feel like a failure for having not worked hard enough, for not pushing myself hard enough, and for having wasted so much time. All while giving up so much just for photography. How about this -- I'm trying to avoid getting attached to anybody right now because I don't want to choose between a girl I love and photography. What on earth is better than finding somebody that you love that loves you back? Well, I've chosen to give that up for my love of photography, when photography doesn't always seem to love me back.
People, especially us artists, have such a tendency to compare ourselves to our colleagues. At what point does this and chasing our dreams become counterproductive to our well being? What goals do the photographers on this list still have for themselves despite having already been so successful? Once you get to the top of any profession you have to fight to stay there, because there is always somebody else that will happily take your spot. Sometimes, I wonder if I'm just as afraid of success as I am of failure.
So, who inspires you from a creative standpoint? What steps are you taking to get to where those people have inspired you to be? What lengths are you willing to go to in order to get there? What are you willing to give up for it?
I often tell people that photography is not just something you do, it's a lifestyle you live -- and you better be willing to live it once you get into it if you want to succeed at it.