I recently was honored to participate in the Wednesday Night Live lecture series at the Residential College of the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University. I spoke on two topics: Living as a Creative and the Power of the Still Image.
In preparing for the talk I stumbled upon the roots of my becoming a photographer. My Sunday morning ritual as a wee lad was watching Abbott & Costello at 8:30am, then stacking 5 albums and falling asleep wearing giant headphones, wrapped in an afghan sewn by mom and then falling into a deep, trance like state on the loveseat (the music weirdly was Neil Diamond, ELO, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, CCR). I would then get up and peruse The Best of LIFE. Published in 1972, it showcased the greatest images of the century and my brain, mushy with sleep and the Jewish Elvis, was infused with powerful photography. I used a selection of the images from the book to give a historical overview.
I started by showing instances when photography played an important role in making real change in society. One was in the creation of the National Park System.
Another example was how photography helped to bring an end to the Vietnam war. The images and footage coming back from the war zone was beamed into people’s homes, watched together as a family over dinner and in their face everyday in the morning paper. Paying witness to the wars uncensored cruelties empowered the populace and fired up the protest movement.
I took the opportunity to also show intense images from WWII and the Civil Rights era. It’s hard to believe but I gathered that if I didn’t show the students these images they may never see them, know these stories. It seemed like an honorable thing to do..hit them over the head with photographic and historical intensity. This was my chance. The over capacity crowd was fully engaged.
Also felt good to burst some bubbles. I talked about the difficulties of making a living as a photographer as well in most of the creative sectors. That I don’t know one person solely doing what they love in the arts and making a living from it (a slight exaggeration but just a bit). And, that if they are going to go for it they should take business classes and a strategic approach to entering the industry.
I showed over 200 images from my 2o year career and told a few epic tales from Mongolia, and other various travel escapades. Talked about how I feel about my subjects, telling stories, how I engage my subjects, why I shoot, the artistic aspects vs. the journalist ones. And how one can approach a story, a subject as well as when it’s best to not shoot, to just observe.
I finished by showing the work I do for nonprofits and my thoughts on helping those suffering in the present day as opposed to documenting simply for the sake of humanity.
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