Social Pressure…..Less Creative

Steps Cortona Web

The value of an artists creativity has all but disappeared in the world of fine art photography.  Artists and art were once a highly sought after commodity in society. Photographers like Henri Cartier- Bresson, Ansel Adams, W. Eugene Smith and  Robert Doisneau to name a few were icons in their fields.  There has been a devaluation of the creative contribution of the artist to the work, their vision and use of the elements at hand to produce their images. Painters today learn to speed paint ‘trees’ or ‘flowers’ like an assembly line of clones for retailers walls. Digital technology has welcomed many aspiring artists but made everyone a photographer and flooded the market. Original prints or paintings have been replaced by new flat screen tv’s as the showpiece in most households. The rush a person gets from owning the latest ‘flagship’ product being launched or getting social media responses is short lived. The term ‘collection’ now refers to status symbols and toys not personal taste and appreciation for fine art pieces.

Ikea has become the art gallery of choice for many. No appreciation for the reproduction of true art. Just mass produced nameless posters in cheap frames to fill empty space on the walls. I am quite surprised when I visit a home that has original artwork hanging on their walls, even more when they know a little about the piece and the artist.

If most people were to look at their own walls and evaluate what is there most would find that it was purchased because it matched the paint on the walls of that room or that they now own it because you had to put something on the walls and fill as many rooms as possible within your decorating budget. No thought other than that it ‘would do’ enter peoples minds. They do not care about the artist, the story behind or location of the piece. They know nothing of the difference between original artwork and a poster or giclee. The subtle tones, brush strokes or vision that inspired the art to become a reality. The emphasis today is to know the specs on the toys you have acquired, not so much the functions, so you can impress with megabytes, frames per second, video capability or amount of gear in your bag. The more your toys are worth and that it is the latest version is the new status. Art on the other hand confuses todays generations of tech nurtured people. Why purchase an original piece of art that in some way you can connect with, can keep for generations and that might even appreciate in value, when your whole life is about disposable toys that depreciate immediately but impress others for a short moment.

In a social media world where the rush of fame can literally be a click away, many post unfinished images for the brief moment in the very small spotlight social media provides. No print is ever made and the portfolio is usually reduced to small uninspiring photos on a phone. In a world where a sense of immediacy has taken root, the need to bypass your own style, creative process of scouting locations, preplanning and having your own vision have become to much effort. The creative styles honed by past generations begin to fade away. The trend now is to mimic the photo you like from a particular location in an Instagrammer/Influencer pose and then move on to the next location and pose.

Photography is far from dead. It has evolved with the digital era in ways we never could have imagined. People have embraced the technology but many have completely missed their contribution to the creation of their image. The camera gear will do the part for which it was assembled, if you take the time to master the tools. As a hobby or career you only get out what you have put into any endeavour and that seems to elude many. There is no easy way to take your vision and utilize every element at your disposal simply by depressing a shutter button. The image is captured only after your ‘minds eye’ is satisfied that the image you are about to capture is as close to your style as possible, at that moment. It is only then that you set-up the camera to transfer your vision to the camera.

Hammer and the Nail

_MG_0673 16x24 HP copy                                                                                                                                        Ken McCurdy

Stop blaming the hammer for not hitting the nail on the head.

Take ownership for your photographs and either learn from them or accept that you are the key element standing in the way of your ability to produce stunning images.

Unfortunately, for most it is an unwillingness to participate in the process.  Other than lifting the camera and depressing the shutter button there is no weight put into becoming any more involved in the creation of art,  the collaboration of a creative photographer and the tools they use , but expect the results to be more than hopefully technically adequate snapshots.

The camera takes the rap even though you spent thousands of dollars on the ‘flagship’ model and on expensive lenses that make you look professional even though you are now broke and struggling as the aspiring artist. Rubbing the camera bottle like a genie lamp and wishing for images that will make you a rock star photographer. Not very realistic. I have actually been in the presence of people who own expensive cameras but never bothered to learn the functions or optimum settings for a particular shoot.  Constantly cursing  the system, which for the most part will perform its function perfectly,  for poorly executed photography.

“There is nothing worse than a sharp photograph of a fuzzy idea.’……..Ansel Adams

Professional photographers, who making a living with their skills, understand their camera system to the point that it is secondary now to the creative process. The focus must be on the vision the photographer wants to capture and the execution of that artistic endeavour.

If you think of the whole process involved in capturing a landscape image, for example, you have to start at the very beginning. Where did your inspiration come from? If your answer is trying to copy someone else to a tee, then you have to ask yourself a question. Are you simply in it for some kind of glory, ‘Likes’ or WOW factor, or are you actually interested in honing your creative eye?

What do successful photographers do that you are unwilling to? First, they stick with a camera system that suits their muse in photography.  Secondly, even if you can afford every lens in your system of choice, there is no need to carry around all your gear for show if you already have a plan and vision in your minds eye. ‘Don’t bring a gun to a knife fight’, it makes you look like an amateur to a pro. I’ve had to carry gear and packs for people who came on a photo hike with me because they packed everything, couldn’t carry the weight and in the end could have left most of it home. Most of us have been with people who miss shots because they spend to much time trying to decide what to use and unpack it. Some even pass on an opportunity because taking off the heavy pack more than a couple of times breaks them. All the while most of us are already shooting while listening to the questions about what lens we are shooting with, camera settings (even though we use different systems), use of filters and why they wish they had bothered to pack a tripod. This scenario continues because the person asking is not absorbing any of the information for future reference but simply taking a shortcut through another photographers vision and execution.

Photography has never been more popular, but has many pitfalls that bog down the process as opposed to traditional film cameras and process. It is easy to  look away or fall into lazy bad habits like learning way to many camera functions, learning new computer skills, overshooting a subject randomly rather than focusing on a vision, dealing with the impermanence of digital files, becoming a gearhead and unqualified camera owners calling themselves professionals because they purchased a ‘flagship’ system that will be replaced in 90 days with another.

The learning curve has to be completed, first technically and then creatively. If you can find a mentor willing to take you into their world be prepared to listen and for your sake learn what they teach. Learn.  A good student is hard to find but when we do take one on who listens and retains the years of knowledge about preparation, composition, light and gear and applies it to their own style then the student/teacher collaboration was a success for both.

‘The only way to do great work is to love what you are doing.’

Ken McCurdy/Cutter49






Lost Your ‘Phojo”?

Cutter49's Blog

_MG_1326_7_8Just a a writer suffers from ‘writers block’ from time to time, photographers have periods when motivation and inspiration seem to take a hiatus.

For me this is a time to assess myself and see if I’m on the road I want to be on and make the necessary adjustments to regain my focus and reboot the creative and inspirational ‘phojo’  back to my own personal vision as a professional photographer.

Others might think the solution is to get out and force yourself to create one photograph per day. To me this is akin to a writer simply typing out random words each day in an effort to break through a dry spell. While this may help to pass the time and distract you until your passion, hopefully, returns,  I think it is a good time to step back and remember why it was that you wanted to become a…

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Manufactured Pixels

We are all Story Tellers.

Nobody wants to see someone they admire fall from grace. In the recent years we have seen photographer Steve McCurry’s reputation come under worldwide scrutiny as evidence of photo manipulation and event staging has come to light.  This in itself is not new in photography. Photographers have been enhancing images since photography was invented. Most alterations are done through subtle dodging and burning and contrast adjustments, but with the digital revolution the tools available to the photographer are boundless.

Having worked as a Photojournalist I can speak from my own experiences with regard to the differences between the ‘Fictional’ and ‘Non’Fictional’ fields of photography when it comes to ‘Story Telling’. There are many stories that can be told from an event. Each photographer has a choice as to how they will portray the story as they see it or imagine it to be. The Photojournalist (non-fictional) will tell the story from decisive moments, where and when they choose to stand and what they capture and choose not to capture. All the moments happened unscripted that were photographed. But all the moments the photographer chose not to shoot or missed also happened. Those other moments may be captured by another photographer with a different perspective or what defines a decisive moment to them. Theses moments also happened unscripted but will tell a different non-fictional story of an event or place. The publications that Photojournalists shoot for may have their own agenda as to how they would like to see the story. They may edit out specific moments captured by a Photojournalist to make the story favour the stance taken by a writer or the views of the publication. There are many factors at work that can have one event appear as several different stories yet all be captured adhering to the code that a Photojournalist is supposed to follow of not manipulating an image using post editing techniques that will alter the true essence of the image as it happened. If the moment is altered enough that the viewer is no longer presented with an image from which they can formulate their own opinion then he/she has been unknowingly coerced into looking at what the Photojournalist or publication wants then to see and have damaged the ethical integrity of the profession willingly.

There will always be stories published that will lean towards or favour the views of a certain group but as long as the moments remain pure,  people will be able to look at an event from the perspective of more than one Photojournalist to formulate an opinion.

The line gets crossed between non-fictional and fictional story telling to often these days with the intent being to fool the viewer into thinking the image was a ‘decisive moment’ captured by a master photographer. It is to easy to manipulate an image to strengthen the contents for either aesthetics, political agendas or status. Competition and pressure for a photographer to get noticed or publications vying for bigger market shares to appease share holders. I think it is easy to say that fame, money and political motivations trump ethics these days.

When a photographer crosses the line between the non-fictional and fictional realms he/she is completely aware of what they are doing and the reasons why they are doing it. Maintaining a clear conscience is as simple as being up front regarding the manipulation and scripting/staging of events. It is completely accepted and admired by many, including myself, to have a great imagination and the ability to bring all the necessary elements together into an image that you created in your mind. When the photographer intentionally uses unethical practices and ego and status replace honesty then it is only a mater of time before they are in a situation where their perceived reputation is on the line.

A friend of mine recently compared this situation to the scandal involving Lance Armstrong and using drugs to gain an unfair advantage over his peers. That is exactly what is going on here but in a different field of professionalism. The fact that he denied the allegations to the end as the evidence became clear made his fall from grace that much farther. You can’t stand with your peers in a chosen field when you are consciously and willingly engaging in practices that give you an unfair advantage and claim you are innocent.

The public has the perception now that Mr. McCurry has been lip syncing portions of his career as a Photojournalist and claiming it is a live show. As difficult as it is for some people to swallow their pride and put away the egos it is the only way at this point. Stop blaming others and claiming that your peers and the public mistook you for a Photojournalist when you were not trying to associate yourself as one. You clearly have aligned yourself with publications which adhere to strict, not always perfect, codes of ethics regarding the truth behind content they publish. It is unprofessional and deceiving to claim to be a Nachtwey when you are secretly more like a Leibovitz (both of whom I admire greatly for what they do). It is a disservice to some very talented creative photographers who use their imaginations and skills to capture some of the most amazing images for clients and publications and to those Photojournalists who use every instinct they possess to be in the right place at the right time to capture a single moment. It is not some secret trick that has been discovered that his peers are just unaware of. They have chosen not to cross that line when no one is looking and maintain the level of integrity associated with the field of photography they work in.

Ego and fame unfortunately send good people down the wrong path. Was it better to be known as a Photojournalist or as Commercial photographer. By secretly tweaking and altering images and staging them to make them more pleasing, yet standing with peers and publications known for integrity you failed as a true Photojournalist (non-fictional story teller). As a Commercial photographer (fictional story teller) I have seen much better imagination from those known as icons in their field.

The thirst for recognition these days and ‘Likes’ is far more prevalent that in the non-digital era. Photography has both purists and those who are willing to step outside the boundaries and explore with their imagination to create. You only have further to fall if you put yourself on a high pedestal you do not deserve to be on. There are Photojournalists, Commercial photographers and Composite photographers, just to name a few fields. Each field has icons, celebrities and masters who are admired by peers and the public for their skills at telling their story.


Fine Art Photo by Ken McCurdy

‘You Can’t Handle The Truth”……or Can You?

279_RT8Ever want to know what unbiased people really think of those images your friends and family tell you are amazing and professional. Is the fear of having your best work critiqued by a professional in a specific field of photography, a road you are not ready to venture down. It was the path I chose long ago when I was trying to build a strong portfolio for my career in photojournalism It was one of the best moves I ever made and a humbling one too. I learned to trust the experience of those I sought out and accept their opinions without fear or ego getting in the way of furthering my career in photography.

If you admire the work of certain photographers and would respect their opinion of your work you must be willing to bare your photographers soul to them. Not an easy thing to do for most, but essential to move forward in the right direction and away from the false accolades your friends and family feel is their duty to throw at your feet. Did you really earn it? Maybe your images are deserving of praise but if they are only tested on Facebook you are not getting a true assessment of your work.

I have met numerous people who claim to be professional photographers and are usually the first to post every unedited, unprocessed or over-processed image via Facebook or iPhone hoping for a quick ‘Like’ from a friend or family member. This is ‘the fix’ that the majority of would be photographers seek out. That instant gratification and recognition that somehow reassures them that they have arrived as professional photographers.  The truth is that given the opportunity to have their photography critiqued by either a professional photographer or panel they will quickly back away so as not to be judged by established professionals in the photography community.

Purchasing an expensive camera system, to some,  justifies ‘professional’ status even though only the camera deserves it for most. Photography has become just another ‘tag’ people like to attribute to themselves for the ‘glam’ factor. Masquerading as a professional by association of the camera gear you own does not make one a great photographer. Having great images regardless of the gear you shoot with comes from within and there is no justification required.

I do not comment or ‘Like’ many images I see on social networks. When I am approached by an individual seeking some insight into photography I will always have a short conversation with them to assess which type of person I am dealing with. A ‘techie’ will always want to impress you with the gear they have, photography specs and the costs involved to acquiring the best equipment in their opinion . They actually think it matters to shoot with Canon or Nikon. The other I tend to avoid are the copycats. Photography ‘wanna-be’s’ to lazy to seek out their own locations and style and simply want you to draw them a map and guide them through duplicating your images. They don’t want to learn and are only interested in taking what you’ve created and making it there’s too.

To me photography is something create form the inside out. A personal inspiration with no agenda other than accomplishing the vision you initially sought after. The only person I seek for gratification is myself, and I am my own worst critic. Sharing my visions with friends and followers is the small gift I give without expectations.

Do not dismiss a critique if it is from someone that you respect as a professional or publication you admire. A mentor is an asset many amateur photographers are not humble enough to realize because ego gets in the way. I had a mentor when I began and value, to this day,  what I took away with me to get me to where I am today, some 30 years later in my profession.

Bottom line is that positive, or negative feedback is all relative to who it is coming from. Only you know if you are seeking a critique to grow as a photographer or simply a ‘ Like” to give you a fix.

Lost Your ‘Phojo”?

_MG_1326_7_8Just a a writer suffers from ‘writers block’ from time to time, photographers have periods when motivation and inspiration seem to take a hiatus.

For me this is a time to assess myself and see if I’m on the road I want to be on and make the necessary adjustments to regain my focus and reboot the creative and inspirational ‘phojo’  back to my own personal vision as a professional photographer.

Others might think the solution is to get out and force yourself to create one photograph per day. To me this is akin to a writer simply typing out random words each day in an effort to break through a dry spell. While this may help to pass the time and distract you until your passion, hopefully, returns,  I think it is a good time to step back and remember why it was that you wanted to become a photographer in the first place and what your goals were. Continuing to force yourself to shoot images that neither inspire you or fulfill the direction you want your style to evolve in does nothing to resolve the fact that you need to put yourself on that road that is calling you.

I’m not implying that one needs to pack-up their cameras for any period of time and simply not shoot, but rather to slow down and expand your thoughts beyond what you could shoot today, that likely will leave you feeling the same, and towards a project that inspires you before you even lift a camera. A project does not have to be a monumental body of work but should embody some forethought prior to it’s execution. Photographs with the intention to create images that you have already seen in your ‘mind eye’,  to utilize every aspect of your creativity and the execution thereof.

Choose a project or series that you can become passionate about. Don’t choose a subject that doesn’t inspire you simply because you like another photographers work. You like it because that is their passion and they executed it well. Find your own muse in photography and then explore everything that is available to help broaden your own vision and help you expand what you think you know into something that can drive  your  personal style. The more knowledge you can obtain the better the chances you will be able to achieve what your mind saw already but with a clearer view of what you want to accomplish.

My ‘phojo’ has returned with the sense of adventure that always fired me up to shoot and an understanding of what it was that may have caused it to take the hiatus it did.

When ‘Sharing’ Is More Like Stealing!

'the bicycle', Tuscany , Italy Ken McCurdy Photo

Have you noticed how many people on Facebook and Google+ are using other peoples photos, without crediting the photographer. Some would have you think the photo is theirs by simply re-posting it on there site void of any information from the original sourse. If you read the comments some actually take credit for the images when a follower acknowledges a great photo.

It seems some will go to great lengths to elevate their status on social media pages by re-posting great photographs that appear as their own work. A case in point is a person on Google+ who had a large number of followers due to a portfolio containing hundred of amazing photographs from around the world. Turns out they were not the creator of the photographs, and there was no credit given to the actual photographers either, although the original photographers name could have been included when re-posted. When you deliberately exclude the credit for a photographer or cite the original source it says a lot about the type of person you really are. Willing to do anything to appear popular, at any cost. Eventually this fraud was discovered and the person responsible was investigated and outed across the entire internet social community for there act, on every social network available. They systematically tried to erase themselves and create a new identity but was traced using software to track the photos over the internet and banned and shamed into ceasing the theft of others work for his glory. A reputation should not be taken lightly.

The only ‘effort’ it seems some will make to today is to use the hard work and dedication of another to set  themselves on a phoney soapbox as something they are not. It is a form of identity theft when your photography is used by another who claims it as there work. The time, dedication, travel and expertise encompassed into each image that is created are incorporated into what makes these photographs invaluable to the creator.

The internet is not a free license to ‘copy ‘or ‘download’ at will anything you want and claim it as your own simply because you post it on your social pages. There are written and unwritten codes of ethics that morally we should be obliged to follow in the internet social societies. Unfortunately it seems there are far to many who can’t resist the easy road to fame by stealing others work and claiming it as there own, which is the same if you imply that it is by excluding the original creators name.

Those who deliberately steal images for their own personal gain are being discovered and dealt with through the social pages (Google+, Facebook etc.),  photography sites (Flickr, 500px etc) and the courts in some cases after being sued. Then there are those who use others images to draw viewers to their social media page using images that will attract attention, but choose not to credit the photographer for the image they use. Ask yourself why someone else would want their image, quote or other creative work to promote you, if you are not willing to give them credit for it. If you are guilty of this, and your conscience will be your guide,  you have a choice to either continue benefiting personally off the work of others and not crediting those who you choose to borrow from, in which case the reprocussions can be severe. Or simply start acting morally and socially responsible on the internet when ‘sharing’ work that should be credited to its creators.

It is nice to find your work is being shared because people like your photography enough to look beyond the image at the creator of the work and credit them for it. It is another feeling completely to see your images on another persons site with no credit given to the photographer of the image you chose to re-post on your site. Even worse when you say ‘Thanks’ after a compliment is given for the photograph.

Citing the original source can be a simple as retaining the information regarding the author of the work when posting or searching the internet to find the creator of the work. The latter can be accomplished with  tools such as Google to reverse image search a particular photograph to find the source it originated from. This not only provides you with a link to other images created by the photographer but will let you ‘share’ the photograph responsibly on the internet.

The point is to make people aware that the general rules regarding an artists rights have not changed just because they are now available to a much broader audience through the internet. That being said peoples values and morals seem to have become much narrower in regards to other peoples photographic, artistic or intellectual property on the web. It’s time for everyone to start respecting the creative works of those that have shared their work on the internet. The last comment you want to see on your social page is the one from the creator of the work you could have credited before you posted it.