Posts Tagged ‘annie leibovitz’

“the other thing about being a songwriter… is that to provide ammo, you start to become an observer, you start to distance yourself. You’re constantly on alert. That faculty gets trained in you over the years, observing people and how they react to one another. Which in a way, makes you weirdly distant. You shouldn’t really be doing it. It’s a little of a Peeping Tom to be a songwriter. You start looking round, and everything’s a subject for a song.”

Kieth Richards

While in England this past summer, I read Rolling Stones guitarist, Kieth Richards’ auto-biography, Life. While I traveled to different parts of the UK, it was the perfect companion. Richards writes about his early years with the Stones, how he moved from being someone who plays primarily covers to writing his own music and lyrics and his life on the road.

As I have mentioned before, I started taking photography seriously in about 2008, so although I have learned fast, gaining experience, I am still in the early stages of my artistic/professional life. I have felt myself hit that stage where I no longer just want to look at photographs and re-create them; I find myself taking certain pictures because I crave a certain feeling or mood, not just because I have seen something like it before.

In his book, Richards documents his transition from someone who is happy to make the same sound as others who came before, to experimenting and finding a sound that expresses something personal. Reading about his artistic progression made me look at my own;

Have I hit that point where I am no longer merely reproducing the art of those I look up to?

Both personally and professionally, this past fall has been a time of awakening. I have been exposing myself to new books, artists and ideas and many changes have occurred –  some a lot harder than others. Through these past months, I have been turning to my photography, both personal and professional, for solance. I have felt a creative energy and have been exploring the medium. Theorist Susan Sontag in her book, On Photography, asserts,

“the very act of taking pictures is soothing, and assuages general feelings of disorientation”

David Lynch, in his book, Catching the Big Fish(which I know I have mentioned on this blog  more than once in the past), writes about artistic struggles as something that limits  creativity.

“The more an artist is suffering, the less creative he is going to be. It’s less likely that he is going to enjoy his work and less likely that he will be able to do really good work.”

I found Lynch’s assertion interesting, since photography for me has always been a way to help me through times of anxiety, and that it is often considered, as Sontage asserts, a way to feel a sense of control.

But what about expressing disorientation? What about when it is your artistic life that begins to spiral out of control? Does this change the nature of your work?

Over the last half of 2011, I have undergone many changes.  I have moved back to my hometown in order to be close to my studio space.  My business moved in an unexpected direction, which thus presented new opportunities, which resulted in their own changes . Some of these changes meant saying good-bye to very close connections and completely re-thinking my approach to not only my business, but also how I view myself. I have had to face my (lack of) confidence issues and keep going on my own. Consequently, I have pushed myself more creatively and seen just how much people value my artistic perspective; I really don’t need anyone beside me to succeed.

Through all these  transitions, I have had little time for much personal shooting, writing or even reflection. When I think back on the fall, it all seems like a blur.  In the past, I  turned to photography to ease anxiety about other areas in my life. These months, have been unique for me in that, my photographic life has been through a number of significant transitions. As I reflect;

How have these transitions and change impacted my photographs?

Looking through the personal photographs from July to the past week, I can see differences.  Although I have not spent time going out to specific locations to take pictures, I traveled with my camera  and grabbed a few shots whenever I had the chance.

Since I have not had time to stage or think about much of what I have personally photographed the past couple of months, to relate to Keith Richards book (which – ironically- was something that I read before a lot of my change occurred), I feel I have not been “re-creating” or referencing other photographs because I simply haven’t had the time to do so. I have just had to take the shot instinctively, looking at every part of my life for inspiration.

Despite my apprehension about all the unexpected change and not having the time to spend “developing” my own unique photographic “vision,”  the challenges presented over this time have resulted the perfect environment  for fostering artistic and emotional growth. I also have been returning  to Yoga and meditation and exploring  Buddhist writers,  specifically, Alan Watts. I have reflected on much of what he has written about change and have used his words as a sort of mantra when struggling:

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

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Over the past couple of months, I have been working towards starting my wedding and portrait photography business, Arts and Craft Photography. Doing the paper work, website and establishing a business routine with my former assistant, now business partner, Spencer Clerk, drained both our time and energy and we both have not had as much time to put into creative shooting.

This week, I decided that I needed to get back to my own portraiture artwork and scheduled a fun shoot with one of my favorite people, Brianna.

Over the last year, I have been moving away from the fashion influence of my art and have been experimenting with ways to bring with portraiture into  fashion.

When I first experimented with fashion photography, I really looked to Richard Avedon’s 60’s starkness for inspiration. I loved using my grey background and using high key lighting.

I still love that look (its classic and soo soo cool), but lately, I have been changing. I have been looking at new influences and noticing some differences in what I have been shooting. I have been noticing that I have been moving towards softer colours and using much wider apertures to achieve more blur.

I have slowly been moving away from those “canon” photographers as my main source of inspiration (though I still love them all, and have been seeking out their art photography), as more less known photographers have been capturing the mood that I have been feeling and wanting to express.

Angela Grauerholz


sylvie readman

However, I wouldn’t say I have left my 1960’s fashion roots behind, I don’t feel like I have to never return to ideas and styles. I still love the high-end look. I just am looking to new ideas and forms of expression to evolve my style and try new things. Next week, I may  be struck with an idea and end up shooting a portrait that is reminiscent of Karsh, Avedon or Leibovitz.

For me art, is about a constant flow of ideas, inspiration and experimentation. I don’t just pick one style and stick to it. I consider person in front of the lens and see how I can bring out something in them.

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Male photographer: Hey, are you a professional photographer? Do you have a website?

Spencer: Yes, I am actually an assistant to Zoey Heath (points to a small girl with a very large lens)

Male photographer: Oh.

Small girl turns around.

Me: Hey, how are you?

Male photographer looks surprised upon seeing such a large lens on such a small girl.

Me: Ya, this is my real job.

Male photographer: Oh ya, who do you work for? Do you go to Waterloo?

Me: Myself. No I am not a student. I’m a professional photographer

Male photographer: So did they give you the equipment for the shoot?

Me: No, the equipment is mine.

Male photographer: So who do you work for?

Me: Myself.

Male Photographer: Oh.

This is a very common conversation for me. Even when I work  high paying jobs, like weddings, and have the biggest and the best gear someone walks up to my assistant, who is holding the reflector, and asks him if he is the photographer.

Why is it so unbelievable that a 5 foot tall woman in her mid twenties could own her own business complete with professional gear and have an (male…gasp!) assistant?

Considering one of the most famous photographers in the world,  Annie Leibovitz, is a woman, why do so many men refuse to take a woman with a camera seriously?

Could it be because the industry is changing?

MWAC (Mom with a Camera) is a term I have heard a lot of male photographers throw out. “MWAC”, as a derogatory term, refers to the amateurs-turned-wannabe-pros who start part-time photography businesses shooting mostly children and babies, who make a living by undercutting real pros because their spouses have high paying jobs.

Of course, these “MWAC’s” are considered a joke within the industry and any woman carrying a camera (and especially anyone who is also a mother!) is automatically assumed to be a MWAC and must be taking “real” business from the “pros” (men).

However, after a quick “women photography” search on the internet, I start to see why some  male photographers out there are getting threatened. Woman are really starting  to have a professional presence out there (huzza!).  There is even a website that is “taking back” the term MWAC and using as a term of empowerment (yes subversion!).

Before everyone started panicking about all these “soccer moms” flooding the industry, the term “Man with a Camera” was something that used to come up a lot.

A “Man with a Camera” is typically a young to middle aged man who buys all the biggest and best equipment and uses it to take pictures of half or fully nude girls. These types of photographers used to be the joke of the industry, however since the moms have become such a threat to the national security of the entire photographic industry,  even these guys are off the hook and are free to look down on us (women).

This needs to change and the first step to making that change is for women to come together in support. I have seen, through my male assistant, how friendly men can be to their competitors. However, I have not once experienced this with any female photographers when out on a job. Usually, we just stare at each other and stake out our spots. I have never been approached by a female photographer and I think I have mistaken that for hostility.

So I am taking it on myself to show support for more female photographers starting today!

Here are some fantastic local photographers who happen to be women:

Storey Wilkins (who happens to also be a mother) has been in various publications and also named one of the top 10 wedding photographers in Canada.

Ilia Horsburgh a fantastic local photographer, who has won awards for her photography and will have her own exhibit in Aug 2011.

Julia Busato (who also happens to be a mother), is a kick-ass, strong woman and mother, whose edgy, sexy photography is anything but safe.

Girl Crimson ::: Alt Portraiture has a different take on portraiture. As she says on her facebook page,”Girl Crimson does not identify as a Photographer – she is an Artist and a Stylist and uses the camera to capture her visions.

Denise Belanger-Spicer one of my class-mates in the photography program at Conestoga, has fast  become a force to be reckoned with in the wedding photography industry!

Cornelia Klimek, this woman, blows my mind. Such a talented fashion photographer!

…these are just a few…there are so many female (and male)  photographers that I find myself regularly checking out and I really want to try to show my support for them, instead of partaking in the silly competitive attitude that is rampant in our industry. I used this quote before, but it has become one of my mantras, so I am posting it again:

“Taking photographs…It is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s own originality. It is a way of life.”

– Henri Cartier-Bresson


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This Monday, I was lucky enough to attend a talk by David A. Williams. He was a fabulous lecturer and I would reccommend going to see him speak, if you ever get the chance.

He discussed ideas not only relevant to photographers, but to anyone. One thing he brought up that particularly struck me was the idea that photographs are not for you, but for your children and their children; or put more generally, they are the memories you leave behind to anyone who cares.

He asked the room (which was full of professional photographers),  who there did not like to be photographed. As usual, most people who take pictures definitely don’t want to be in them and a lot of the room raised their hands, myself included.

His response:

“How can you expect to take pictures of people if you can’t be in them yourself?”

I had never thought of photographs that way. I am always telling other people not to be insecure behind the camera and that the people who love you think you are lovely and beautiful no matter what. Being behind the lens myself, however does always bother me (and I never fail to close my eyes just when the shutter is snapped).

So, as of now, I am going to try to change that.

This week, coincidently, I had to do a self portrait assignment for my course. I struggled at first, but I think I ended up with a pretty fantastic image. I wanted to see myself the way I had shot so many other people; glamorous and chic (which never happens since I am a tad awkward and end up spilling things or falling any moment that I may come close to appearing sophisticated).

I began the process by finding some photo inspiration. I was a tad ambitious and looked at some of Annie Leibovitz‘s Vanity Fair work.

I blame not having that dress.

Yeah…not a great place to start.

I am not Cate. Even a little.

For some reason, I thought by having myself, a cluttered basement with a VERY low ceiling and two umbrella light stands, I would be able to do something that resembled a Leibovitz . How wrong was I.

She has dozens of people who run around her sets, with every piece of the environment perfectly placed. My lonesome attempts were a failure. The low ceiling and lack of space to move the lights made it difficult and after about 40 mins, I came up with a solution. Richard Avedon.

Although Avedon did shoot a different style of portraiture, he is known for his simple, stark portraits. White or grey backdrops and high key lighting. He shot many of his sitters when they were not expecting it, trying to capture his subjects (particularly his famous sitters), with unusual expressions.

I chose this style because it can be done with limited space and basic equipment. I also liked the idea that I did not necessarily have to try to be someone else. As mentioned, Avedon liked getting a sense of humanity out of his subjects.

“A portrait photographer depends upon another person to complete his picture. The subject imagined, which in a sense is me, must be discovered in someone else willing to take part in a fiction he cannot possibly know about.”

– Richard Avedon

So I moved an umbrella behind me, an umbrella in front of me and a light blanket on the floor. Focused the camera and started snapping.

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“Now smile – if you still can.

This is your zygomatic majour muscle. Each contraction pulls your flesh apart the way tie backs hold open the drapes in your living room window. The way cables pull aside a theatre curtain, your every smile is a premier. You unveiling yourself.”

– narrator, Diary

Jazz Hands! NOT an example of my photography.

Say Cheese.

We’ve all been there.  Whether it was one of those terrible school portraits where you had to sit with a desk (which was always too small) in front of a facade of a library, or your amateur photographer uncle who every year  insists on taking a huge group portrait at every family function (and no matter how hard you try your eyes always happens to be closed), photographers are always trying to get people to smile. They stand behind their camera and suddenly they’re looking at you expectantly and you realize that you are supposed to hold up your end of the deal, but what if you don’t want to smile?

I struggle with this concept myself.  Every time someone holds up a camera and attempts to take a picture of me my face just won’t let me smile, and my eyes close the second the shutter snaps.

If I smile, my eyes are always closed.

So why do we do this? Why do we insist on these smiley school, family, wedding  portraits? I guess if people didn’t smile, everyone would look miserable, but it would make looking back through the family portraits more interesting. Imagine the possibilities if a photographer just let a family sit in front of the camera and interact for an hour instead of insisting a smile; little Johnny and his big brother Bobby, punching each other in the stomach, dad, attempting to separate the two, ends up taking a hit to the groin, sister Nancy, screams for the ice cream, throwing a full out temper tantrum, all the while mum apologizes profusely for the families’ behavior and fights back tears. Now that is a family portrait!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really want to take horrible photographs of people, I just believe a smile is not what makes a photograph. When I approach a portrait of any kind, I think how I would feel as my subject. Even if I only have a few minutes with the person, I try to get in their skin. I talk to the subject(s) and try catch something spectacular. My work can be very stressful at times, especially if I have not spent a lot of time with a person or group of people. It requires a lot of attention to small detail; how a person responds to a word, or a brief moment of intimacy between a couple. This moment can occur at any second and usually it happens when people are not aware that I am even taking the picture.

One of my own favorite portraits. I find her expression striking.

I recently picked up Annie Leibovitz’s memoir, At Work, from the library and in the last section she discusses her attitude towards portraiture:

“I have never set anyone at ease. I always thought it was their problem. Either they were at ease or they weren’t. That was part of what was interesting about a picture. Setting people at ease is not part of what I do. The question assumes that one os looking for a nice picture, but a good portrait photographer is looking for something else. “

Sometimes a face is not necessary. A portrait of an artist, I took in Province Town.

However, sometimes a smile is perfect.

A portrait of one of my close friends taken last summer. This photo sums up her personality and the mood perfectly on that wonderful summer afternoon.

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