For the pure joy of the photograph.

Sometimes I want to just pull a Vivian Maier and take a million photographs and never do anything with them. Just take the photos, nothing more. There is nothing so satisfying or glorious as the physical act of taking a photo.

For me the processing, editing and printing is a one long down hill slide.

My husband is always telling me I take too many photos. Or maybe I just post too many? He says I am too prolific and so will never be able to sell my work because there is no scarcity. Maybe this is true? I don’t really know.

But I do know that taking them is were all the fun is, everything else after that is just work.

I think Vivian Maier was on to something.
While I continue to mull this over, I have some pictures I want to post to the internet.

When was the last time you actually enjoyed taking a photograph?
How much effort do you put into promoting your work?

If you have not checked out the story of Vivian Maier I urge you to do so. It is an amazing story of a nanny living in Chicago around 1950 who shot 1,000’s of photographs and never developed them. They were essentially discovered by accident in 2007 after she died.    

Out of the mouths of babes…

I was editing photos from this weekend’s photo shoots and I showed this image to my daughter. Her response caught me off guard. She said: “I like it, but why?” I looked at her blankly and she continued… “You have aliens on bikes and swamp monsters in swamps, why is the swamp monster on a bike?”

Personally I really liked the image but I understood what she was saying. What was the story? What was I trying to say?

I am continually torn between a good image and a good image that also tells a story. To me that is where the magic happens. If only I could figure out how to take photographs with more intention, rather than photographing like a blind folded darts player.

Do you think about the story you are trying to tell? Or are you like me, and just surprised and happy when it all works out?

~ xxsjc

What Is Your Inspiration?

Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information. – Man Ray

I could spend my time explaining photography technique, talking camera gear or trading tips on editing apps…but I think a more interesting question is why do we (all of us toy photographers) take photographs of Lego mini figures.

I did not grow up with the toy, it is not a part of my history, it is not a big part of my cultural heritage. In fact I am probably one of the most inept brick builders on the planet. Think Emmet at the beginning of the Lego movie. My greatest skill I bring to my family’s Lego obsession (their’s not mine) is my impeccable sorting skills.

So what is so attractive about these little plastic friends? Is it our ability to project our own thoughts and dreams on the many different characters created? Is it a need to revisit our child hood and rediscover the joy of play? Is it sheer boredom? Is it a release from the stresses and pressures of life? Is it simply proximity and easy access?

What is your inspiration? What keeps you motivated and moving forward photographically?

Once you know this, life will not be able to side track you, no matter how hard it tries.

~ xxsjc

Ansel Adams, the WSJ and a bowl full of mush.

This morning while I was enjoying my morning bowl of mush and reading the Wall Street Journal I came across a wonderful article on photography. It had me on the first paragraph:

Ansel Adams, a piano prodigy before he picked up a camera, once declared that the photographic negative was like a musical “score,” while the final print was akin to the concert “performance”. – except from What does Art Look Like by Richard B. Woodward

This brought me right back to the conversations that +Me2 and I have been having about the pros and cons of printing your own work. Yes, printers are a pain in the ass and the ink expensive. Yes, you can send your files out and get a perfectly serviceable image back. But if you want to take your game to the next level there is nothing to compare to making minor and major edits to a print based on seeing a proof come directly out of your own printer.

When the world was only shooting in black and white it was not uncommon to have a dark room in your own house. With the advent of color printing this became unfeasible and most photographers where content to send their film to a lab for printing. Now with excellent inexpensive printers (a relative statement I know) plentiful, it seems a shame to send out what can be done easily in the comfort of your own home.

I’m not usually a control freak, but I find it indispensable to see what my images look like off the screen before I deem them worthy of showing and selling. Light, color, shadows, highlights all look different and once the image is on paper. I will often see corrections that need to be made that I could never have foreseen by looking at a screen.

So call me old school, but I agree with Ansel Adams and feel that to fulfill your potential as an artist you need to print your own work.

~ xxsjc

Go ahead and read the WSJ article I mention earlier, it refutes everything I just said. 

In further defense of printing, if I had not enlarged this image myself, I would never have seen the spider climbing on the rock. This is a detail that can only be seen at A2 or larger, but in my opinion it makes the image. 

K. I. S. S.

K. I. S. S. stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.

I was reminded of that simple phrase when +Christoffer Östberg posted this photo of Embo to G+ today. When you are editing photos on an iPad or iPhone it is so convenient to whip out an effects app to create a little mystery or a little sparkle.

It was inspiring to hear Christoffer say this mysterious effect was simply the smoke rising from a recently extinguished match. It was great to see him take advantage of the macro format as well as the unpredictable element of the rising smoke.

So not only did I walk away with a great reminder of one of the basic tenants of photography, I was also inspired to try something new.

Oh…and did I mention that I now have a serious case of mini figure envy.

~ xxsjc

Who are your influences?

We are all influenced in our work, whether we are aware of it or not.

Last fall I had to write an artists statement about my work that included its origins and influences. I named the usually suspects like Sally Man and Jock Sturges because I am first and foremost a figure photographer. These two photographers have been very influential in my work over the years, but I needed to bring my figurative work around to toy photography. As I wracked my brain one image came to mind immediately. 

Untitled (falling buffalo) 1988-89 by David Wojnarowicz

I remembered when I first saw this image in Aperture Magazine and it’s always stuck with me.  I think it may be the original seed planted way back in the dark ages of my youth that has blossomed into my current plastic passion. When I revisited this image I was startled to find out it was not a toy photograph at all. I had originally misinterpreted (or conveniently forgot) its origins. This was an image taken by David Wojnarowicz of a museum diorama in the late 1980’s. (For an excellent analysis of this deceptively simple photography go here.)
The humanity, agony and tragedy captured in this one off image quickly taken in a museum with a film camera with poor lighting before a guard stopped him is a very powerful image to me.  It’s one I turn too over and over again in the hopes that I too can create an image as powerful and simple as this one that will stand the test of time. 
So the question I ask you to consider is this: who inspires you? Who are your influences? What are the images that you have seen (in any relevant medium) that inspire you to do your best work?
If you care to share please leave a comment. I would love to know what stokes your creative fire.  
~ xxsjc

My Latest Near Win

I hope you had a chance to read +Me2‘s latest blog post “Day IV”. Even though he is already suffering from blogging fatigue, it was a good one. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the excellent TED talk on the near win by Sarah Lewis, I urge you to give it a view. If you would like the condensed version I refer you to the following quote by Imogen Cunningham

“ Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” 

As an artist I can qualify the near win into two categories. The first is the image that I have created that doesn’t meet my expectations. The image I present to you today falls into this category. I really like the image and I felt I got close to the emotion I was trying to convey, a mother watching over her new children. I wanted a leading line towards mom and I will probably need to rearrange them to better achieve that effect. The main reason I will retake this photo is the rock surface; I would have preferred a softer ground for the baby spiders more suggestive of a nursery setting. I do love a challenge and I will be taking this picture again as soon as it stops raining. 

The second type of near win is the dissatisfaction that comes from growing as a photographer. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen an image for the first time as it emerges from the printer and have been blown away by the finished product. But over time familiarity and the emergence of the next new image has me feeling dissatisfied with the first image. No matter how wonderful it might have been at initial glance, I now barely give it a second look. 

It is these near wins that keep me motivated to move forward and to keep making new images. I hope you will value your near wins and realize they are a natural part of growing as a photographer and as an artist.  

~ xxsjc

Challenge Yourself!

This month I took on a 30-day photo challenge offered up by one of the many toy groups on Instagram. I have always resisted the 365 photo-a-day project or other challenges. For one thing, I knew I did not have the discipline to post a photo a day and I also wanted to do my own thing.

But lately I have been feeling lost and unispired.

This challenge has been the perfect antidote. I spend most of my waking days rolling the various words around in my head to see what images come up. Basically this has become an all encompassing pursuit. Of course I will conveniently ignore the fact that I was stuck on the phrase “too much” for three days and be happy for the image I did eventually create. Sure I pulled a couple of photos out of my back pocket (so to speak) that have never seen the light of day, but thats ok. Some times images sit on my iPad until the right time to post reveals itself.

Personally if I end this challenge with nothing other than the image below, I will consider this a month very well spent. One good image in a month of shooting seems like a pretty good ratio to me.

So, if you are feeling blah about your photography or need a little poke in the butt – then sign up for a photo-a-day challenge. You might surprise your self, I know I did.

If you decide to take on a photo-a-day challenge, I will be there to cheer you on!

~ xxsjc

The Toys Are Alive

One thing that +Me2 and I agree on is that a good image is one in which the viewer makes an emotional connection with the image. As I look back through the last six months of my images I wonder if I can tell the difference. What makes one image of a small plastic person look more alive than another?

Is it the tilt of a head, is it particular movement of the legs, a small gesture of the curved hand or maybe just a trick of the light? It’s not like Lego is a particularly moveable, expressive toy figure. Yet some images seem alive while others just lie flat on the screen / paper.

+Me2 and I also agree on the importance of the eyes being in focus. Yet, not all the images I deem to have been successful include faces and in some the eyes are obscured. So while I know this is a part of the equation, I don’t think it is the answer.

This may seem like an inconsequential question but I have always approached my toy photography as an attempt to “bring the toys alive”. As a young girl my toys were very real to me. We chatted, they listened, they went every where with me and for lack of a better description, they were my friends. I want my viewer to feel what I feel while I document the lives of my little plastic friends.

As always some images are more successful than others and I cherish the ones that achieve that emotional element. I think I would be happy if I could crack the code and help people see how alive my little plastic friends are to me. Until I do, I will keep taking photos and hope people will connect with them as I do.

If you have any tips to help bring the toys “alive” I would love to hear them.

~ xxsjc