In the many conversations I have with myself, I frequently refer to the concept of creating “honest work.” So what does “honest work” mean to me?
• It is work that I have created from my Vision • It is work in which the idea originated from within. • It is work that was created for myself with no thought of pleasing others. • It is work that I love regardless of how others feel about it.
“Honest work” has become my most important standard. It is a test that I apply to myself and to my work to ensure that I am staying true to the principles that allow me to follow my Vision.
When I create work where the ideas and Vision are mine, then I have confidence in my creations. But when I am creating to win awards, gather likes and to please others… then the satisfaction is shallow and fleeting. Each “like” must be followed by another and another and another in order for me to believe that my work is good.
Creating honest work is the only way that I choose to work because it guarantees internal satisfaction. My work may not be liked by others, it may not win awards and it may not sell…but when I look at it I am proud of what I’ve created.
But for all the benefits that come from creating honest work, there are some things that it cannot guarantee. It cannot guarantee that my work will be unique or that it will be liked.
I’ve created two projects that I considered to be honest work only to find out later that were very similar to other people’s work.
The first was my Grain Silo series which was the first portfolio that I submitted to LensWork. Brooks Jensen responded that they had just published a very similar body of work by a photographer named Larry Blackwood. Ironically Larry and I knew each other and we were both working on our projects at the same time, unbeknownst to one other. (1)
I had created honest work, but it was not unique work.
The second example occurred just recently. For the last several years I have been working on a portfolio entitled “The Dunes of Nude.” The idea was honestly conceived and executed, but when I submitted it to LensWork it was rejected and I was told that they frequently see work just like this. (2)
Creating honest work did not guarantee that my work was unique.
Was I disappointed when I discovered that my work wasn’t unique? I was disappointed that it didn’t make it into LensWork, but I was not disappointed with the work itself because in a way the work really was unique…not unique to LensWork or the photo world, but it was unique to me.
Unique to me…what does that mean?
It means that I came about the idea on my own, I was not influenced by another photographer’s work and I created the images through my Vision. It was an honest creation, it was unique to me.
But shouldn’t my goal be to create work that is unique and different from everyone else’s? Unique is good, but only if it’s a by-product of an honest creation.
There’s something else honest work cannot guarantee: even if you follow your Vision, create for yourself and produce unique work…there is no guarantee that people will like it!
For a long time I believed that if I was sincere, worked hard and created passionate work from my Vision…that I would have a shot at becoming the next Ansel Adams!
However, that just ain’t so folks.
I have come to accept that the work that I create appeals to a very niche audience. And as long as I am true to my Vision and create honest work, my audience will remain small. But that’s okay because it’s more important that I love my work than to have a larger audience.
Would I like to have both? Absolutely! But I cannot control both sides of that equation, I can only control what I do…and I choose to create images that I love.
On my journey to find my Vision, I listed ten things that I was going to do that would assist me on this journey (http://www.ColeThompsonPhotography.com/2014/05/09/finding-Vision/) One of those items was to create only for myself regardless of the consequences. I recognized that in order to create from my Vision, I had to exclude all opinions except my own. I had to have what I refer to as “pure motives” in order to create “honest work.”
Creating honest work allows me to create from my Vision and creating from my Vision allows me to create honest work. It’s a symbiotic relationship that works for me and while it does not guarantee external success, it does guarantee internal satisfaction.
(1) Brooks led a round table discussion on this topic in volume 76 and began the discussion with the story of Larry and I creating parallel work, calling it “Fellow Travelers”
(2) Some would argue that this is one of the many disadvantages of practicing Photographic Celibacy; you don’t know what work is being created by others. I don’t see this as a disadvantage however. Even if I knew what others were doing, how would that help me to create better or more unique work? My best strategy is to not worry what others are doing and try to create my best work from my Vision.
I’ve been home from the Faroe Island for several months now and I am still working on my new images. I was there for a month and took 1600 images. So far, on my first pass through the images, I have about 80 keepers. Once I go through those a second time, I expect to lose about two thirds of those. If I end up with 25 solid images, I will be very happy.
The last time I demonstrated the processing of an image, I duct-taped my iphone to a tripod and simply recorded my computer screen. Well, I’ve gotten a little more sophisticated and have now purchased a screen recording program. It was easy to use and the quality is good.
For this demonstration I’ve chosen a fairly simple image, No. 71 above with a before and after.
As always, I follow my “Photoshop and Six Tools” processing format. You can read about this approach here: Photoshop and Six Tools (it’s a very short read and it will help the video demonstration make more sense).
Each time someone watches me process, it becomes quickly apparent that I am not Photoshop expert. Invariably people will tell me either what I’m doing wrong or how I could do it differently.
I know that I am not an expert and the thing is, I don’t want to be! I have found a very simple method of post-processing that allows me to translate my Vision into an image. That’s all I care about, and the simpler the better.
Are you familiar with LensWork? I suspect that most of you are, but if you are not…
I consider LensWork to be the world’s finest photography publication. Why? Because of the quality of the artists they publish and because of the quality of the printing, it is spectacular! The quality is better than most of the photo books I’ve seen and I think ofttimes better than the original images.
I’m not a print expert, but I do have a pretty extensive and varied print background: I worked in my own darkroom since 1968, learned digital printing in 2004 and I was an offset print buyer in the 1980’s and worked extensively with Gardner-Fulmer Lithograph (where I would run into Ansel Adams doing press checks).
My point is that I know good printing and LensWork has amazing printing. Ask anyone who has ever seen a copy.
You can subscribe or you can pick up a copy in selected bookstores. However I should warn you that because LensWork is physically shorter than the other publications, it often gets lost in the crowd. So if you’re in a Barnes and Noble and you don’t see it, check behind the other Photo Magazines.
And if you do decide to subscribe, might I suggest that you do it before the October 2017 issue comes out? Consider this an omen of things to come…
P.S. Sometime I’d like to tell a couple of Ansel Adams stories, including how I came to have a print of “Aspens” hanging in my home.
I am happy to announce that I will be participating in the 2018 Moab Photo Symposium. I am one of eight photographers who will be presenting and conducting workshops.
This event will take place on May 3-6, 2018 in Moab.
If you’ve not been to Moab before, that alone should motivate you to attend. But this Symposium is about so much more than location. It’s about learning and pursuing your Vision with a group of like minded artists.
I know this event seems very far off and you might be tempted to decide later if you would like to attend, but please be aware that registration opened last Saturday and all sign-up records were broken. This is not marketing hype designed to get you to act, I just don’t want to see anyone miss their chance to attend one of my workshops because they waited to long.
My presentation and workshop will be focused on Vision, which is my favorite topic, and because as I like to say: nothing else matters.
A huge thanks to Singh-Ray who heard that I had smashed my MOR-SLO 15-stop ND filter while in the Faroe Islands and then very kindly rushed me a replacement. Their generosity and thoughtfulness is greatly appreciated.
I am a big fan of Singh-Ray products. I use their polarizer, their Vari-ND and their MOR-SLO 5, 10, 15 and 20 stop ND filters. My primary filter is their 15-stop ND filter, it’s used in about 75% of my images!
Why do I use their products? Just one reason: the quality. I have used many different brands, and some of them are very good, but in my opinion Singh-Ray filters are the best.
I first learned of Singh-Ray when I heard about and purchased their Vari-ND variable ND filter. I was carrying that filter with me when I was visiting Auschwitz and the idea of photographing ghosts struck me. I could not have produced The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau project with a fixed ND filter, the Vari-ND made it possible.
Their 15-stop ND filter is the perfect number of stops for my work. With 15 stops I can shoot up to two minutes in bright sunlight and much longer in places like the overcast Faroe Islands. What happens when I need to go longer than two minutes? In the past I was forced to stack two filters which resulted in vignetting issues, but those days are gone with the Singh-Ray MOR-SLO 20-stop filter.
I love Singh-Ray ND filters!
P.S. I want to disclose that Singh-Ray has given me 2-3 filters over the years, including this replacement.
Well, only for a month…I am headed to the Faroe Islands.
I am really excited about this trip, not because I know what I’ll find there, but because I have no idea what I’ll find.
I do no planning or research when I am planning my trips. I do not look at other people’s images from that area. I do not consult the travel guides for the “must see” sites. My only preparation for this trip consists of renting an apartment and car.
Because I want to go with a blank slate, with no preconceived ideas or expectations. I do not want to know how others have seen the Faeroes or photograph the same sites that everyone else has.
That’s my goal anyway. My hope is that I’ll see something there that inspires my imagination and which will result in a new portfolio.
I’ll not be posting much while I’m away, but I will post some iPhone snapshots each day on my Google+ and Facebook accounts:
Photographer travels the world to capture black-and-white images
Cole Thompson work on display at Lincoln Gallery in June By Kenneth Jessen For the Reporter-Herald POSTED: 06/14/2017 10:04:18 AM MDT
Photographer Cole Thompson enjoys the creative process. His “Moai Sitting for Portraits,” shot on Easter Island, will be on display for the month of June at the Lincoln Gallery. (KENNETH JESSEN / Loveland Reporter-Herald)
This is a “before and after” of the Jim Bridger Power Plant that I created recently.
The before does not differ a great deal from the after, but there are a few differences. Can you spot them?
Hint: the first change is abbreviated b&w.
I like to use the word “create” rather than “capture” when talking about my images.
Because a “capture” implies that the image is an accurate representation of reality, as the scene appeared to the camera and eye.
I like “create” because it suggests that the image is not accurate, but rather it has been created through my Vision into something new and different.
And when did the “Vision” for this image occur?
When I first saw this power plant from I-80 from several miles away. As soon as I saw it, the Vision of the final image appeared in my head and guided how I shot it, how I exposed it and how I processed it.
Vision was the driving force.
Why am I always mentioning Vision? Because it breaks my heart to see people chasing equipment, technique and gadgets…thinking that these things are key to creating a great image. Those things can certainly be “elements” of a great image, but not key and not even always necessary.
So please, focus on your Vision! I spent most of my photographic life pursuing the wrong things and was lucky to have a mentor who was even more bull-headed than I am, and argued that I did not need document, but rather I could create.