I was recently asked by a college photography student to answer some questions for a project, and I thought my answers would also be helpful and interesting for you as a reader of this blog. Many of the questions are not easy to answer in a short paragraph or two, but I tried to provide the most open ended answers because I think ideas and concepts are better than prescriptions and rules.
Just because this worked for me doesn’t mean it applies to you. But I do sincerely hope my answers inspire you to think outside the box about what’s possible when you are committed and determined.
1.In your bio you state that you love to teach, share and inspire others to become more confident in their creativity. How did you discover you wanted to inspire others?
I think that whenever something really excites you, especially when it enriches your life, it’s a natural tendency to want to share that with others. That’s always been a strong impulse for me, and it was just a matter of finding a way to make that possible. For me there’s no better feeling than sharing the beauty and wonder of nature with others, and helping them engage with their emotions on a creative level.
Once I realized I could share those experiences through photography, it was something I wanted to do as often as possible. Earning a living is important, but much more meaningful is helping someone realize they have a unique voice, something to communicate; and all that stands in their way is fear. That shift makes all the difference when it comes to the creative path we should all be pursuing.
2.I noticed in your bio that you used to be a music arranger and producer. How did you go from music to photography?
Well I could write a book on that, but the very short answer is captured beautifully by Seth Godin:
“The rule, then, is that you can’t give the client what he wants. You have to give the client work that you want your name on. Work that’s part of the arc. Work that reflects your vision, your contribution and your hand.
That makes it really difficult at first. Almost impossible. But if you ignore this rule because the pressure is on, it will never get easier.”
I ignored this rule in my music career, and became so creatively unfulfilled that I had to find a new path for myself; one that would be fulfilling. A combination of factors; love of nature, technology, and a willingness to work really hard, gave me the motivation to try something I thought was daunting and intimidating – become a serious landscape photographer. That was 10 years ago, and I am grateful every single day for that decision.
I would add that I don’t necessarily think of myself as just a landscape photographer, but rather as a creative explorer – on a continuum that values change and the unknown. That is to say I don’t rule out the possibility of finding new and exciting ways to share what’s meaningful and important to me in the future.
3.How important is it to have your own studio with printers and matting equipment?
It’s only important in the sense that having a dedicated space for your creative work gives that priority in your life. It means you value that activity enough to have a space dedicated to that pursuit. When you enter that space it will inspire you to spend that time wisely, doing things that are worthwhile.
It’s a commitment with yourself in a way. Too often people are afraid of making long term commitments, especially when failure is such a large but important component.
So it’s really about the mindset the space creates, not so much the equipment. The gear is really a function of what you need to accomplish, and doesn’t make the “art” any better.
4.I see that Canson paper sponsors you. Do they supply you with the paper you need and how did you acquire the sponsorship?
You can read about my relationship with Canson Infinity here.
5.When you realized you wanted to be a photographer did you have any challenges making a name for yourself? How did you promote yourself?
Another complicated answer since there’s no single strategy or plan I used to market my name and work. There are extreme challenges in an ultra-competitive field like landscape photography. But one thing I knew when I started was that the old adage “make great work and they will notice you” was a fallacy. Self-promotion is certainly crucial, so the challenge for me was how to actually enjoy the marketing given I prefer to simply “do great work.”
I think the key is being authentic and consistent. So I’ve tried to remain clear about what I want to accomplish and why, as well as what I’m not, and then incorporate that into various marketing strategies. Learning to write about my work and photography in general has been extremely important, as well as staying up to date with technology and the way people find things today. But most important I think is knowing what you’re about and why. That has been extremely helpful to me in clarifying my “brand” as well as my creative work, which always makes the marketing easier and more effective.
A strong online presence is critical because google is the way most people find things today. Whether you like that or not, it’s the reality. As I like to say, if you want to play the game, then you have to get on the playing field. How you play the game after that is up to you.
6.Did you start to freelance first, intern or assist for other photographers? Which of these is most important and why?
Because I started out as a fine art photographer, I went straight to working for myself. A big part of that had to do with my previous career as a musician and what it had taught me; confidence and self-awareness. I knew what I wanted and I also knew I had the perseverance and work ethic to make it happen; in other words the proper mind-set. That wasn’t the case in my earlier life.
But I think that interning or assisting is a great way to get started, and so I would suggest that whichever way gets you the most real-world experience is the best way.
7.You started workshops to help others create their own perfect picture. Do you have advice that you give your students?
Making good images is just part of the reason I teach workshops. I prefer to focus on helping students ask the right questions about their photography. What are you trying to say? Why does it matter? What do you want to share as a human being?
I’m not that interested in immediate results, but rather inspiring a different way of seeing that relies on personal vision. I like pushing students to see the world differently, from a place that comes from the heart. That sets them on a path that they must follow on their own, but hopefully one that is lasting and truly meaningful for them. My hope is that will lead to them making pictures that are personal, which are what great pictures are all about.
8.I noticed that you have been published in numerous magazines and books. How did you find publications? Are you asked to submit work to the publications?
Most of that comes from being consistent with my work and being easy to find online. I also believe in supporting causes I believe in, like conservation and education, so I try to be as generous as I can. There are also those don’t value the work of photographers as much as I’d like, so I am careful in making sure that others understand the time and effort involved in making meaningful images.
9.Is there any specific project you worked on that inspired you the most, and inspired you to teach others?
Certainly the work that has inspired me the most is my conservation work for Scenic Hudson here in the Hudson Valley. There is a tremendous sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing your effort as an artist will actually have real benefits beyond just personal satisfaction.
If I can impact the lives of others, especially future generations, through the preservation of nature and it’s importance to humanity, then that is truly more meaningful to me than money or fame.
Similarly I think my desire to share comes from the small chance that I might influence someone else to push beyond a self-limiting belief that prevents them from sharing their vision or story. I truly believe we all have something to share, and it’s just a matter of learning how to express that courageously. I want to help others see that they are capable of making a difference, small or large.
10.As a young photographer do you have advice for a photographer who would like to be able to help and teach others in finding their creativity?
I’d say be true and authentic to yourself and never let anyone else dictate who you should be. That’s such a pervasive thing in our society today, especially when you’re young and still searching for a firm grounding in who you are and what you stand for. And stand you must if you want to matter.
I also believe that a strong support system is critical, so surround yourself with people who push you and want to see you succeed. That’s also incredibly difficult but so very important. If it weren’t because of the people who have supported me and continue to support me, I’d probably have given up long ago. My wife Brenda is my biggest supporter and ally.
11.You host workshops throughout the United States for others. How do you determine the locations of the workshops?
I have a simple way of selecting workshop locations – I take students to places that I’d want to visit on my own. And usually these are places that I feel most connected to nature. They don’t have to be iconic locations, but they are places that provide rich visual inspiration and a sense of the wonder of natural world.
This might be in an rural setting or a national park. What is important is that students are feeling something inside, because that’s the most important element to making expressive images.
12.Lastly, for your workshops do you teach them solo or do you have assistants or other photographers that help you?
In general I teach the workshops on my own simply because I enjoy a smaller group of people that can really bond together. I love the camaraderie that comes from working with students side by side, exploring creativity together. and learning from each other.
Certainly I am there to offer suggestions based on experience and my personal convictions, but the beauty of art is that there are no losers, and there is always something to learn, to explore, and to be grateful for.
In that sense I approach each workshop with this quote and aspiration in mind:
“I am not a teacher but an awakener.” (Robert Frost)