The Violin Maker
Photographers fall into one of two camps: those who need to get closer to their subjects and those who need to take a few steps back. In photography, you set the standards by which your picture is judged. There is no golden rule like, “You should always be 6 feet away from a person with a 35mm lens.” We wish things were this simple. Somewhere between a satellite photo and a macro nose hair portrait lies an appropriate scale for the image.
Last year, during my Venice/Verona Workshop, I had the chance to work with photographer Rob Lemmon. He fell into the first camp (needed to be closer.) He is kind of my ideal photographer to work with. Why? Rob knows his camera, so we could skip the “Look at how amazing the aperture ring is on my Noctilux,” and get right into his pictures.
For our first review, Rob left the camera in his room and brought beautiful black and white prints for us to discuss. We looked at the strength and weaknesses of the images, which were mixed, but the overall impression was they were strong. The one question I had for Rob was, “Why are all the figures so small in the scenes?” Even in works by a painter like Edward Hopper, who Rob greatly admired, you can easily make out the faces of many of the subjects. I wanted to see what Rob could do when he was close enough to his subject that he could reach out and touch them.
Read what happened to him in Paris here: Rob Lemmon on Hard Work
Three Steps Closer
The challenge for Rob, as I suggested, was not just to get closer but to find a reason for getting closer. Over the next few months, we kept in touch. He would send periodic emails of well edited images and text to explain what he was thinking about during the shots. The following year was filled with good days, bad days and everything in between. Rob would write about periods of solid rain, hopeless situations where it seemed like a picture would never emerge and then in a rush he wrote to me about a Parisian Violin Maker.
Two things that Rob has done for himself, that I see others struggle with, are as follows:
Know when you’ve hit a wall: Rob knew at the start of the Venice/Verona workshop that he had hit a bit of a wall. He wanted direction. Instead of toiling endlessly, torturing himself with all the things that were not working, he went for advice. Sounds simple enough, right? I can’t tell you how many photographers I have met who hit a wall and stood in front of it for months, even years before they went for advice.
You don’t figure out 40,000 years of artistic traditions on
your own; DaVinci didn’t, Michelangelo didn’t and neither did
Picasso (though he probably told his girlfriends he did)
Time for a review: There seems to be some confusion on the Internet about how to ask for a review of your work. I get emails and Facebook messages that look like this:
“Thx Sir, please look at my page. (insert link)”
“Just finished my new page, would love your feedback.”
Those are two surefire ways to have someone NOT look at your work. If you want to ask someone to look at your work, try this instead:
Tips for getting your work reviewed
Look like you care. First, if you don’t take the time to address an email directly, don’t be surprised if it goes unanswered. Second, if you can’t string three sentences together as to why someone should look at your work, chances are they are not going to look at it. Third, send images that are already edited, and I’m talking about selections, not post processing. No one is going to look through multiple galleries of 40 images. Make the review easy and concise. You would rather have someone say, “I’d like to see more images,” than sending them your entire online archive.
Choose Wisely. Select your reviewers and the type of feedback you want carefully. Random Internet comments are of little value. I have about 5 people I go to for feedback. Ask yourself, “What do I want feedback on?” Are you interested in feedback for:
- Series Flow
- Fame & Fortune
As an example, I use Susan Bright to review my series. She is a curator and possesses masterful skills in editing selections based on the concept of the project. I do not use her for design advice…it’s not her thing. Use your reviewers for what they are good at and what you need. Asking an editor for design advice is like using a DVD as a fork; sure it might work, but there are better ways to go about eating.
Try to work towards getting a small stable of people who review your work. The chatter on the Internet is a mixture of feedback that is confusing, confused, and so lost it hardly knows it’s giving bad advice. Save yourself the headache and just go directly to a handful of select people. It will be infinitely more useful and rewarding.
You get what you pay for. Whenever I ask for review, I always take into account, does this person charge for their time? One time I had Alex Webb review my images. Alex charges…I paid. When I had Myron Barnstone review my work, Myron charges, and I paid….see the pattern here? Good advice is worth paying for. If you ask someone who charges, be aware of that first. It’s not any different than a job interview, in that if you are prepared, you will get more out of it and there will be a greater chance of you being asked back.
When I heard that Andrea was looking for photographers who were shooting the Leica Monochrom, Rob came to mind immediately. I dig his style, we keep in touch, and I think his work is evolving nicely. It’s a natural approach to having people look at your work. A little secret about the art and photography world is that most of the things I have ever gotten were through invite or introduction, not application. There are a few things that we all apply for, but for everything else, it’s a coffee, a handshake or an email. So when the opportunity comes up, give it a few extra moments of your time because the payoff can be huge.