Art, celebrity and fame

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A form of exit.
Would it be any different/ more or less valid if it had somebody else’s name on it?

The perpetually asked question of ‘but is it art?’ is one that’s impossible to answer. I’ve tried, I know I’ve been found to fall short, and won’t event attempt to define it. But today I’d like to approach this topic from a slightly different angle: how are the three things in the title related?

It’s pretty clear that the art world – at least the high visibility portion of it – is nothing more than another industry. Yes, art is commercial; popular art, mass art, high end art – it’s all driven by numbers. There’s a lot of money that goes into the production of some of these pieces; Hirst must have spent a fortune on diamonds to encrust that skull; I can’t imagine shark corpses are too easy to come by, and Salgado doesn’t run with a zero production budget. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the rental for a decent-sized gallery in the right part of town, or the account balance at the House of Caviar after a few parties. You can’t serve lumpfish or moderately priced domestic nonvintage champagne* to people of means and then expect them to buy a very expensive art piece because you know about these things – validity of opinion and taste in art is signalled by things a lot more subtle than merely name.

*Futurama reference.

Whilst there may be a small number of people who dump money into it because they enjoy it, there are far, far more who are trying to get rich out of it – be it artists, agents, galleries or promoters. It is in the interests of all of the above – and even the buyers – for an artist to become famous; fame in itself extends knowledge and awareness, and somehow that affects value. In turn, those who invested in the artist – including themselves – stand to gain financially, often considerably. I say ‘somehow’, because there really isn’t a direct and concrete causal link between an increase in awareness and an increase in value – I suppose if X proportion of people like the work, the more people who see it increases the absolute number of people who might want to buy it, and since the supply is fixed…basic economics take over. (And that doesn’t count the people who want to buy it because they seek social affirmation from others because they own something that’s perceived to be popular.)

The more I look at the art market, the less I understand it. Subjectivity probably plays a big part in this – personal preferences and all that – but there is some real crap being sold for a lot of money; what’s worse is that after seeing some of it in person and speaking with the gallery owners, they themselves don’t really understand the work either – so how can they convince others that it has value or merit or…anything at all? Sometimes, there isn’t even any attempt at value – a relatively unknown photographer recently announced on instagram that he was selling 6×4″ prints – at $150 a pop, because he needed money and was broke – and made headlines because he received something like 200 orders in one day. I cannot objectively judge the work because it’s all personal preference, but I personally find it very discouraging that I can’t even sell a quarter of that number of Ultraprints at almost the same price to a much larger and more educated audience. Frankly, it makes me question the point of artistic integrity at all – certainly if the objective is commercial success.

And here we face the conflict: the artists who do whatever it is they do for the sake of doing it and to their own personal satisfaction – arguably the very definition of art – do not and almost certainly will not gain popularity in their lifetimes. They produce solely for themselves, and if somebody likes it, great; if not, no big deal. The work retains integrity of thought and purity of idea; it isn’t diluted or modified slightly to make it more accessible, affordable or understandable to a larger (buying) public. Ignoring what they say publicly, one wonders how many commercially successful artists actually manage to stick to their guns and works that actually satisfy them – independently of what the critics and buyers say. I suspect that number is vanishingly small. I know personally that I’d probably never be able to be an artist that creates non-identically-replicable art, simply because if I put that much effort, thought and soul into a piece, there’s no way I could let it go. I suppose it would be like selling one of your children. If I could only make a print once, I’d never sell any prints. And that would obviously be very bad for business.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical; maybe there’s a point in the career of an artist after which they can do whatever they want again – it’s much like photography, in that sense. You start out doing what you want because you can’t do anything else; when it becomes a job you have to create something that people want to buy, hope you get a lucky break or two, and then create enough stuff that your customers like and want to be able to pick and choose your assignments. At that point, if you still have any creative drive left, you pick the work that appeals to you at an artistic level – jobs that give you artistic control and the freedom to interpret and create the way you see fit. Hopefully by now your name is famous enough that you are given the benefit of the doubt and get hired on the strength of reputation; there will be some people who genuinely appreciate your work, and others that don’t but go along with it because they don’t want to be seen as standing out. Finally, you might be appreciated specifically for what you do – and assuming that creative drive still remains (and didn’t die out during the period in which you had to be a craftsman rather than an artist and create to spec) – you are finally free to be yourself.

What I see is that most do not make it past the craftsman stage, and if they do, they make a mess of the freedom they’re given. There are several big name photographers here in Malaysia who are hired on reputation alone, but produce utter crap – they have lost the eye, and they have spent so long creating to spec and letting the client do the thinking that they have lost the ability to create. It is also possible that after so many years of doing the same thing, the will to experiment is gone, and photography has become a job. I suppose not everybody is capable of making the transition to artist; it’s not easy to keep that fire burning when you are spending most of your available time and mental capacity on keeping yourself in business.

I am writing this article because I think I’m now at the point where I have to choose between photography as art and photography for purely commercial purposes; try as I might, the more time I spend photographing for pay and ‘to spec’ as a craftsman, the less artistic inclination I have. It affects the way you see; you approach every scene with the expectation that everything must be perfect and controlled, and if it isn’t, you don’t feel inclined to photograph. That takes the experimentation and spontaneity out of it. But, what I like to shoot – what I find intuitive and visually interesting – isn’t what clients want to use to sell their product. In fact, it’s an uphill battle to convince them that the product alone should do the talking (see my previous article). Whether I should focus on one or another is not a question I expect the readership to be able to answer, but if there are any a) artists b) gallery owners/ agents c) serious art buyers in the audience, I’d certainly welcome your input, below the line or offline…MT

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Comments

  1. Hi Ming – just found your site looking for gear reviews and am really enjoying it. I once studied physics, now paint abstract landscapes, do a bit of commercial photography and make websites. I’m much older and much lazier than you though. (www.davidhume.net)

    All I can say is it gets easier as you get older. In the old days I used to worry about this stuff, but more and more I just do what I feel like and not worry too much if the clients don’t agree – I’m sure there’s some cliché about the ones that matter don’t mind and the ones that mind don’t matter. It’s a question of finding the right fit. I take the view that if I’m going to the trouble of ironing a shirt to go to a meeting then I’m going to enjoy myself when I get there.

    Thanks for the site and good luck!

  2. I know the feeling totally.

    I have worked as journalist, and as an illustrator, where I also used photography as an aid, to my life nowadays, as a semi-retired bus driver, that’s quite a different world. But I know this:

    What I do for a living is not my hobby as well, and never will be. Professional work, in almost any trade, has to be on time, and in time, while art takes time.

    I have a young colleague, who used to be a wild-life photographer/cinematographer for BBC, at time spending months out in the wild, waiting for the elusive snow leopard, or whatever. And one day they too decided to do some down-sizing, so he was let go.

    After years and years of professional work as a photographer, he was out of a job, and after returning back to Sweden, for a long time, didn’t even touch his cameras. Eventually, he too became a bus driver, as a means of earning a living.

    Since then the local media has offered him jobs, but he just can’t find the thrill in being a ‘normal’ photographer on a local ‘rag’, so rather than doing that he drives a city bus, like me, and earns his keep that way, in no way as glorious a living as before, but he can now devote his photography to what he likes (using a recently bought non-digital (MF) camera, I guess).

    To me, the true professionals are those that try to expand their universe through their jobs, no matter if they are in essence artists, that has a more normal job, a bit like a traditional Japanese sword smith, that never ever would consider making a sword less perfect than that he made before.

    My niece is a professional painter, but, to make a living, she also has to work as an employee, doing more menial jobs, for better or for worse, but a mix of jobs is very good for your creativity, I find.

    I never write, or use computers, at work, not even those we allowed to use for our own surfing during the lunch, and never drive buses on my off time, not being a member of our veteran’s society (who own a lot of old buses, and trams), and never will!

    Learning more about digital cameras, lenses, bird photography, and camera gear, and PP, and writing about it, are my main hobbies, for the time being.

    One day I might return to drawing, but not just now ;-)!

    • The irony – and I think you and I can appreciate this – is that the escapism of creation in photography ceases to exist entirely when it’s your job. You have to suffer to be an artist and enjoy it, it seems…

  3. Peter Boender says:

    It has a lot to do with luck and timing; being in the right place at the right time. Not something you can envision or control beforehand. We all know the success stories, but for every success there are thousands of people who have tried, each in their unique way, but didn’t succeed and who will be footnotes on the pages of history at best.

    High-yield and highly visible art has a lot to do with patronage. Artists are at the whims of their benefactors and patrons. And the trouble with whims is that nobody knows which way they’re going to turn tomorrow. Patrons may be in it sincerely for the sake of art (and again, what is that?), but maybe just as well for the investments. High yields usually occur when one can show off a unique object, whether it’s a diamond-cladden skull or a very boring picture of an empty river landscape. It’s impossible to predict or get a grip on.

    Go figure. The emperor’s new clothes.

    • Jorge Balarin says:

      But, why to be considered succesful one must be rich or famous ? I’m more than happy with my daughter’s love.

      • Peter Boender says:

        That is a very good question. Probably the way society works. It has everything to do with who is doing the considerations. I’m with you: the true love of one’s inner circle is the most fulfilling. A lot of the “famous” stuff is often an empty shell. Hence my reference to the emperor’s clothes…

      • That’s because you have a daughter :)

    • Maybe it’s all a delusion, then: art is no better than commercial. There is no ‘make an outstanding product’ and it will succeed; it’s still ‘adapt to follow the money’.

      • Peter Boender says:

        I guess it depends on what one’s intentions are. If someone wants to make a fortune now through “Art”, he/she also needs to be commercially savvy, have a nose for what’s hip, wanted and where the money is.

        But I doubt that it works that way. I don’t think that the Keith Herring’s, Ken Done’s and Damian Hirst’s of this world set out from the start like “Okay, I’ve got this great idea about art and I’m gonna make a fortune with it”. They probably just followed their heart and their gut and started out with creating art. Just like thousands of other artists. The difference is they were picked up for some reason. Sign of the times. Karma. Luck. Favorable critiques. Crazy investor. Who knows?

        There’s also no guarantee in art when making an outstanding product that it will succeed. What is an outstanding product anyway? Judged by who? I visited the Chicago Art Institute not too long ago. I’ve seen objects in the Contemporary Art section that were made from the most mundane materials, yet these are regarded as art and displayed in a highly acclaimed museum. For the life of me, I don’t get it. Personally. But that’s me. People probably said the same thing of Da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh, Mondriaan, Malevich, Kandinsky.

        History will tell. Think hard who to bequeath.

  4. Martin Fritter says:

    Really a fantastic discussion at an absurdly high level. Now to bring the average down a bit:

    1. Teaching at the university level: this has been a refuge for many artists. Many of the golden age photographers had academic positions – Harry Callahan, the San Francisco school.

    2. Grants and fellowships – in the U.S. Guggenheims and such.

    3. Trying to get famous and popular through the pursuit of art is not necessarily anti-artistic. Verdi was a huge success. Mozart really tried to produce hits. (I’m more conversant with the history of music than the visual arts.) If producing work on commission meant lower standards, Renaissance art would not have been what it was.

    4. Find a good audience and useful critics – do not despise the views of the true cognoscenti – this can include gallery owners, curators and agents, not all of whom are bounders, cheats and frauds.

    5. With Mr. Pound: “Make it new.”

    Finally, I’m curious about who you and your readers regard as admirable contemporary art photographers. Here’s three: Abelardo Morell, Vivienne Sassen and Michael Jackson of Poppit Sands in Wales (http://www.mgjackson.co.uk/gallery.html).

    • 1. Not a bad idea – will have to move countries, though.
      2. Ditto. Very, very little appreciation of the arts in Malaysia…
      3. Perhaps one has to endure the popular gauntlet before being renown enough to have some creative freedom – and be strong enough to hold one’s own creative direction up to that point…
      4. Again, time to move countries.
      5. Trying!

      Will check out those names…

      • Martin Fritter says:

        Yeah, I imagine much of your dilemma is your location. I really admire the Jackson character – one camera, one lens and one subject (pretty much). Very ascetic. I think you’d really like Morell – technical issues are very much in the forefront of his work, he presents himself with absurd challenges and the results are quite beautiful.

        • Actually, that’s how I learned in the early days – experimentation and making do wit creative solutions because I didn’t know any better or afford the right equipment…

  5. I am not sure whether I can qualify to comment on whether your work is “real” art or not. But I bought two of your prints, and saving some money for your next print runs, if there’s any. There are two reasons why I bought your prints, the main one is that I perceive your work as art, the second one is as an investment, with the expectation that it will increase in value.

    If I have the money, I would buy more of your prints (especially one of the Ultraprints and also a version of one of the Heavy Metal Workers series). And that is where the problem lies, you are not attracting the right readers or viewers that are willing to fork out (or have enough of) money to buy your artwork. This website, with the highly academical and deep critical writings only attract photo enthusiast and thinkers, they are not known to have a lot of disposable income. Your readers might have the interest, the skills, the knowledge to appreciate your artwork, but they might not have the money to buy it.

    Maybe you should consult an art curator for help to curate which of your work is more marketable. Making art and marketing art are two different set of skills.

    • Thank you – and we still need to meet up so you can get the latest one – does tomorrow afternoon work for you? :)

      I’m flattered of your opinion, but like any sort of speculation cannot provide any guarantee it’ll be worth more tomorrow. But if you like it – I think that’s enough.

      There will be more Ultraprints, but there won’t be any Workers of Heavy Metal – the client owns all the rights to those, and has declined to let me offer prints. I agree that I’m reaching the wrong audience: photographers are not typically the kind who buy the prints of other photographers; I’m extremely humbled that so many people are buying mine, though. That said – photo enthusiasts, workshop attendees, and people who like their cameras do actually have quite a lot more money than we might think; and those who are interested enough to stay, appreciate and discuss the whys are also likely to be those who see enough value in my work :)

      Completely agreed on the curation part – that said, before the print runs go up, there is a certain amount of testing and external curation that already takes place ;)

  6. Marco S says:

    Hi Ming! As a lot has already been said, I’d like to share with you just one little thought (you’ll excuse me if I repeat things already said, as I haven’t read all the comments).
    I believe there are out there visionary artists capable of delivering messages and emotions with their pictures in a way many would never be able to do. Those people are the ones who have the best chances to make money with their art without dirtying their hands making too many compromises. But for the vast majority of artists out there, they need to draw somehow the attention of the public on their images in order to sell them. I mean, there must be a story behind them, there must be something alongside the technical beauty (which works only for “photo-nerds”) which makes the buyer proud to own that picture and to show it to other people. Your entire life should be a piece of art in some way, which should then attract the media and convince them you could be an interesting toping to talk about!
    I hope I have expressed myself clearly and I’d like to know what do you think about it!

    • Even if you’re a visionary, you still need to make your work visible to the public…if Da Vinci never showed his paintings, we wouldn’t even know he painted!

      • Marco S says:

        Yes, that’s why an artist has to deliver something extra, something “juicy” togehter with his pictures, which would attract the media and the public! There are “artists” out there who are much more into the “art” of selling themselves than into their “art” itself! And do good money out of that!
        Maybe you should work on your image as an artist at least as much as on your images themselves? (please excuse me, as I am saying this without knowing you at all…)

        • You’re probably right, but I’d rather have something worth saying than just a loud voice. There’s plenty of crap out there already and very little integrity. No need to add to it:..

    • It is interesting, to me, to think about this comment.

      Many performers and professionals do not seem to need to market their own personal lives in order to sell their product or service. To the best of my understanding even some .. some percentage of … film performers manage to maintain the healthy distinction between delivering a well-crafted work vs. living out their own personal lives. If this is less possible to do in the ‘art world’ it makes the ‘art world’ seem even more insidious to me.

      I’m not sure that twisting my entire life to appeal to the media is a healthy thing for a human being.

      The most I might envision being comfortable with would be to offer a bio or some glimpse into who I am or my story that would attempt to put my best foot forward as a human being. But to cross over the line into manipulating my life to deliberately to attract attention? Not good. In fact, I’m rather certain this choice will prove ultimately harmful to the person who pursues it.

      • Marco S says:

        Hi Thomas,
        well, you are now pushing my concepts to the excess… I mean, history is full of people who made a living of their being excessive, and some of them had to pay a price for it. I could just say “no risk no glory”, but I prefer to stick to the question: why should anyone buy a print just because it is nice looking and technically well done? You need a story behind it, the genesis of which doesn’t automatically imply that you have to twist your life. You have to find a purpose, to follow a path, to give breath to some dream or some obsession, and in the end it will show up in your work and it will be (ideally) recognized…

        • I believe a good number of people can respond to the idea, “Your entire life should be a piece of art in some way, which should then attract the media and convince them you could be an interesting toping to talk about!” by trying change their personal choices to conform more and more to the idea.

          Once the end-goal, “attract the media,” becomes present in the mind, I personally believe that many people just naturally start to make different choices with their lives: setting aside certain choices they would have otherwise made which don’t look successful to attracting the media, and picking and choosing the actions that seem to achieve that goal (“work on your image as an artist”). I suggest it is very easy for a life to end up twisted this way one small and seemingly innocuous choice at a time, which leads to the extremes I alluded to.

          “why should anyone buy a print just because it is nice looking and technically well done?”

          Well, because it’s a beautiful piece of art. I think this would be a good reason; maybe it doesn’t work for other people but it does for me. To make this more concrete there are several of Ming’s prints I should like to purchase because I experience them to be excellent work and this is enough for me. I would be pleased to hang them in my corporate offices and I don’t feel any need to divert conversation with corporate visitors to explain who MT is; the visual impact and beauty of the images is what I would like guests to enjoy and i feel that MT’s work brings it.

          • Your thoughts on beautiful prints: that’s my logic exactly. I don’t want to have to hype things to make them interesting, and then have the buyer feel a little disappointed afterwards; I’d rather present them as they are, let the viewer make up their own mind, and if I’m not making something visually arresting enough – then I need to try harder. I think that’s fair and has integrity :)

            • Marco S says:

              I really also feel that it SHOULD be as you say, but I am not really quite sure that quality alone would do the trick. I believe that nowadays if you relally want to pop out in this field, if you want to reach major galleries, quality is necessary but not sufficient.
              This said, I do beleive that quality will be probably sufficient to make a living out of it, which is also not that bad!

              • Actually, quality is NOT necessary. Shock tactics maybe…I seldom see quality in people who are in the position to make the most of it, which is sad…

      • It’s not healthy at all! Marketing yourself isn’t the same as changing your personality or becoming the Truman show…I don’t think there are any normal celebrities in Hollywood at all.

  7. I entered the world of commercial and advertising photography in the late ’70’s and ran my own business until the 21st century. What you are feeling is the same thing I noticed over several decades: a gradual shift away from craft, expertise, experience, and respect for learning fine imagery and lighting. In place of this photographic culture we moved to photographic rock and roll: images as thrill seeking, the studio experience as a party experience, a breaking of rules for the sake of breaking rules, i.e, a breakdown of aesthetics and earned wisdom, replaced by the notion of photography as a hedonistic exercise, a thing done for the sake of doing it, rather than for creating an object of beauty.

    For perhaps two-thirds of my shooting career, I enjoyed myself, even if I spent the day shooting pill bottles on white seamless. Once digital photography replaced 4×5 sheet film, it all went down, standards eroded, “good enough” became the norm, the value of my skill declined in the client’s eyes, and I could see no end to it all. Most assuredly, an era had come to an end, and this is the discomfiture you are feeling right now.

    • Ouch. With your experience, where do you see it going from here?

      • I have to believe in the durability of a fine still photograph; it will never go out of style. Just look at the Karsh portraits, as compelling today as the day they were shot. But now the marketplace has no need of a fine image at the level of a Karsh portrait, People are quite content to view movies on a smartphone, for heaven’s sake. Viewing images on screens is the new normal. There just isn’t a need for a fine image and that truth has to be accepted.

        That said, I remain an optimist because as I said above, a fine still photograph will never go out of style. Whether you will be able to make a living taking pictures is not clear to me however.

  8. GREGORIO Donikian says:

    Relax man ,You cant have It all that fast ! And your work tal to my Brain, not my soul, so there is my answer !

    Greg

    • I’m not worried about that. I don’t even talk to my own soul most of the time!

      • Peter Boender says:

        This got me thinking: maybe that’s your next step? I hope you hear me right, because I don’t want to be condescending at all, but get in touch! You are a very smart, knowledgeable, artistic and well-spoken person, but still a young person by age. I’ve found that the challenging and daunting part of life where one is becoming more reflective and contemplative usually occurs when getting older. But that’s not set in stone. Dare to live! Freely! Connect the yin and the yang. What if we see a little bit more of your soul? With your outstanding abilities it could be truly amazing! And also maybe a little bit discerning from the competition…

        • Not at all, Peter – and knowing you in person of course cements that. The scary part is I think you are already seeing my soul: deep down, I’m a very logical and structured person.

  9. Reblogged this on What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks? and commented:
    stunning shot

  10. plevyadophy says:

    Just wanted to say that the header shot is really nice. Over here, those types of windows are commonly found on public (i.e. state provided apartments) and not many of us think very highly of state provided homes so we tend not to think of them as potential for art. I like VERY much.

  11. I’m on a site called blog.mingthein.com and I feel like I’ve been hit between the eyes with a hammer. I see a print for sale – it’s a shot of a magic forest in Prague – and I have to buy it. I don’t really have the money, but I have to have it. I’m so excited by what I see that I pick up photography again after a long long time. I come back to the blog again and again for my regular ‘thwack’ between the eyes. You’re an artist.

    Your life is going to be a journey with some unexpected highlights – a huge personal talent and a stack of options to explore. If the inner voice is telling you that the cigars, the watches, the travel and the Bentley lust is too much to resist – give way. Go and do the commercial stuff. If the inner voice is demanding that ‘you have something to say’ – go produce art.

    Of course, you could opt for the ‘sensible’ compromise and attempt to balance the two in some harmonious manner. History will probably suggest that you were good, but not brilliant at both. Accept this with grace – statistically, almost all of us have/are/will fall into this category.

    I do have a suggestion for your dilemma, but it’s a selfish one…. You have a Hasselblad — go and take some more pictures.

    Feed me.

    • Haha, thank you – I’m flattered that you find me to be an inspiration.

      I’d rather be brilliant at one thing than good at two – perhaps it’s just my preferences, but I suspect that will also result in better rewards in the long term (but platy of short term pain).

      As for the Bentley, it’s a photograph from Prague only. The rest…I get in barter for pictures. ;)

  12. Kristian Wannebo says:

    I just want to add my appreciation of the introductory photograph.
    Exquisite!

    As we say in Sweden:
    Mondrian kan gå hem och lägga sig och dra något gammalt över sig.
    Translated:
    Mondrian can go home and to bed and pull something old over himself.

    Only:
    “A form of exit”
    ??
    Why just so?
    A form of entrance, also.

    For the salty air from the sea.
    For the sound of the seagulls and of the swell breaking on the shore.
    For silence.
    For anything ..

    Art?
    Perhaps: Love harnessed in discipline.
    Or: What endures the passing of time.

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      Preoccupied
      I made my tea,

      I was suddenly
      aware
      of the music around me.

      Now the music is gone
      and the candles flicker
      in the air coming in
      through the opened doors.

    • Thank you – I just enjoyed the view, the concentration in the hole, and the break in symmetry. Images to me are often something that appeals at a purely visual level, but turn out to have deeper subconscious meanings on closer examination…

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Exactly.
        And that’s, I think, how it is that photos we shoot when intensionally looking for them usually are less strong.

        • It’s because we have preconceived expectations and are willing to compromise them if the scene is nearly there…we can be weak here but just exercise discipline in the culling.

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            Yes, that also, but when we _search_ for motifs I believe we are in less contact with our subconscious seing.

    • jorge Balarin says:

      What you said is true. Because my father lives in Lima, Peru, in front of the Pacific Ocean, also I felt the salty sea wind coming through the window. Looking the sea, the horizon in Lima is similar to the one of the photo. It is an infinite horizon that makes you think that the next stop is the Polinesia. But in Ming’s photo I distinguish some traces of blue in the sky. In Lima – for sure during eight or nine months – we never have that blue. Due to sins that were not mine, our sky is a divine punishment, almost always uniformly grey, and in the best scenario tinted with a very shy light blue. Also pretty much regularly, a dense mist coming from the sea, is stopped by the muddy and high cliffs that protect much of Lima of an hypothetical tsunami. Ishmael, the narrator of Moby Dick, described Lima as, “the strangest, saddest city thou can’st see.” In July I will fly over there. I will see what can I do : )

      • Peter Boender says:

        Hey Jorge. Coincidence! I will be in Lima, Peru next week (end of May). Will bring camera. Praying for that very shy light blue. :-)

        • Jorge Balarin says:

          Peter, you have to be careful in Lima, because crime has gone up a lot the last years. How much time are you going to stay over there ?

          • Peter Boender says:

            Jorge, my job allows me about 48 hours total in Lima. It will be my first time there. The hotel is located in the Miraflores area. I’ve been told the old city is pretty interesting. Safe enough during day time? What about street photography? I’m thinking of taking the E-M1 and 12-40… Your knowledge is more than welcome!

            • Jorge Balarin says:

              Peter, in Lima you must always take care. Of course there are places and times that you must avoid. To start, it would be adviseable that your contacts in Lima send you a safe taxi to pick you up from the airport (in Lima it is not a good idea to take taxis on the street). Put your luggage and camera in the trunk of the taxi, not over the seats, because outside the airport happens that criminals break the windows of the car and take your luggage.

              Don’t go out of a bank with big cash. Better you do your business in other ways. During daytime you can do street photography in Miraflores, but always be alert and get your camera in front of you.

              Always in Miraflores I suggest you to visit the next places, which are very close to each other :

              – LARCOMAR. It is a commercial center with cafes and restaurants, with a nice view of the coast of Lima, the “Costa Verde” (Green Coast). Really the “Costa Verde” it’s not green at all, and in winter the sea has a “nice” dark grey color, but you could find some interesting perspectives from the top of the cliffs. From Larcomar, and looking the sea, if you walk to your right side, by the sidewalk that runs along the top of the cliffs, you will arrive to “El Parque del Amor” (The Love’s Park), a very kitsch place that perhaps you could exploit photographically. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihEIPAp4R_Y (video of Larcomar in Miraflores).

              – PARQUE CENTRAL Y PARQUE KENNEDY. This two small parks are really a unity. Over there you will see different people, like chidren, youngsters, retirees, street vendors, etc. https://www.google.at/search?q=parque+kennedy+miraflores&client=firefox-a&hs=1uO&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&channel=sb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=MBCAU4qAC4ncOarpgKAC&ved=0CEMQsAQ&biw=1920&bih=1038

              – HUACA PUCLLANA. It is the most interesting archeological place of urban Lima, and also it is located in Miraflores ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huaca_Pucllana ). Beside the Huaca Pucllana there is a very nice restaurant, were you could taste peruvian traditional dishes. So I can imagine you visiting the ruins, and after that having lunch in the Huaca Pucllana restaurant (you would kill two birds with one shot) http://www.resthuacapucllana.com/es/ (web page of the Huaca Pucllana restaurant).

              Of old Lima you could visit the PLAZA MAYOR, that’s the main square of the city. Go over there only during the day. You could do street photography but always take care. Don’t go with a watch or a golden chain, and put your money inside your socks. Don’t take your credit card with you. Better don’t adventure by the surroundings. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIqsjvilfiQ (video of the “Plaza Mayor”).

              Near Miraflores there is another district facing the sea, called “Barranco” ( looking the sea, it is at the left side of Larcomar ). In Barranco there are some nice old buildings. You have “El Parque de Barranco”, and beside that place, you find “El Puente de los Suspiros”, with some photogenic old houses beside. https://www.google.at/search?q=puente+de+los+suspiros,+Barranco&client=firefox-a&hs=F9O&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&channel=sb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=ohOAU_zFCseaO9nqgKgK&ved=0CC4QsAQ&biw=1920&bih=1038

              Well, I wish you luck in your travel. It is a pitty that I wil not be in Lima by the days you go. I will travel in July the eighteen. Suerte !

              • Peter Boender says:

                Wow! That’s a very extensive reply. Thank you so much for that Jorge, really helpful.

                I’ll let you know how things went. If I do manage to get some presentable pictures you’ll see them on my Flickr stream. I believe we connected there too! Shame indeed we’re not in Lima at the same time. It would have been a pleasure and nice opportunity to meet. But I’ll go again, so our paths may cross in the future. Buena suerte también a usted!

  13. Gastronauta says:

    Gosh, I’ve just read Tom’s post and the word “humbling” comes to mind…
    So…
    What he said!!

  14. Gastronauta says:

    Mondrian Thein :^) Lovely, clever, with that MT bit of Magritte escapes we’ve grown to look for.

    I teach complit using mostly the visual arts and this is a recurrent concern. No need to revert to amateur, though. We’re talking about the –by definition exceptional– demands implied by the –let us face it, on paper at least– privileged position of somebody who dropped corporate life and embraced his hobby (was it ever, really?) as a profession. Talk to any friends still in the rat race and ask them to show you their pictures…
    As for the rational-intellectual-clinical bit… why should it bother you? One can’t deserve ALL the words one considers compliments: put together they’d emphasize contradictory virtues in the same person. The virtues of the observer cannot (should not) be those of a participant by definition.
    Keep up the great work, always remain concerned by these considerations (they keep you alert and that cannot be bad unless they turn unhealthy), and remember to call it “anonymous bubbly” in the future
    :^)

    • :) One day, I’ll make a style that’s distinctive enough that won’t have another person’s name attached to it…

      I knew that if I didn’t do it properly – and knock one out of the park – it would never work. It turns out that the initial push was fine, sustaining it for years is proving to be a bit more challenging. Funny thing was that a number of colleagues left after I did with similar ambitions – photography, video production, graphic design – and all of them have either given up (some got married and are now housewives) or gone back to corporate. I was the first one out and the last one standing; I don’t know how that makes me feel.

      I only aim to produce work I’m happy with – what everybody else thinks is moot, because they don’t have to live with me :)

      • Gastronauta says:

        Well, it was meant as a genuine compliment: painting from scratch does indeed involve “vision” but finding such patterns cannot be done just by looking with the eyes… We’ll live to see they day some poor sod is compared to Ming Thein as a compliment, but in the meantime the diatribe between the Playboy mansion and the motorhome remains alive, I fear.
        In any case I don’t see you writing “I died for money, but was scarce…”

        • Hah! I doubt that’ll ever happen – we live in an era of enormous easy visibility for everybody, so it’s unlikely that one individual (myself) is going to get that much notoriety…

  15. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    Oh Mingo, I really feel the pain you going through. The life is a mixture of dreams and reality. It`s not either
    or. Renee Margrite was working most of his life in wallpaper factory designing a Bourgeois patterns to upkeep his family, and after work , coming home having a dinner with his wife, put an easel on his table and painted, we know what. Of course, he kept in touch with his crazy dadaist friends, the thing that kept him going on, and of course his wife standing by. Doing commercials doesn`t mean you`re selling out. You alone can set the limits of decency and integrity while using the revenue to take care of your family and
    pursuite your dreams.

    .

    .

  16. Carl1981 says:

    If you want to be an artist you have to accept that you will be most probably a poor man. That has not changed during the last 2000 years :-)

    Or with other words: The poorer the artist the better its art. People gets lazy when they become rich.

    … now choose.

    I think that your strength is intellectual journalism/writing … not art.

  17. Jorge Balarin says:

    I understand your feelings. When you must satisfy expectations that are not yours, the magic is killed. There is nothing like freedom to be creative. By other side, once you become a profesional, there is a risk of falling in common places, recurring once and again to certain “rules”, etc.

    • It’s what I think of as ‘defaulting to the safe’ because the client doesn’t give you time/ flexibility for experimentation, or they don’t want to try anything unconventional (despite having hired you because of your unconventional portfolio) or because you just want to get the job done and move on…

  18. Jorge Balarin says:

    I mean, the photography that you choosed to illustrate the article.

  19. Hello… and as always, thanks for the good work and the beautiful images.

    The best an most deep studies about the the market of arts were done by Pierre Bourdieu, a french sociologist. I don’t know what is traduced, so I will make an attempt to summarize roughly what I know about it.

    1. He gave to the art market in general the name of “market of symbolic goods”.
    2. That means that the one who hang a paint or whasoever in their hall or living want to show their social position.
    3. As a consequence one can throw an artist on the market as easy as a Boy Band or a organic ice-cream. Investors (and crooks) craddle around that.

    It’s very rough and cut-off, but that’s the idea. On can add that the most successful artists play in a identifiable (?) stream of the fashion. What’s not necessarily pejorative.

    4. As consequences of this consequence:
    a) one has better better time to have an agent to place his artistic production if one wants to sell a lot,
    b) produce what your heart wants (*),
    c) last but not least, luck has his big and heavy word to say.

    Never forget that a paint or a photograph is of no, zero, nada value until somebody looks at it, and create the value by his “wanting that” (attraction). Nobody is able to command that (in theory). That’s why the art market is fake what belongs to art itself and why History has to clean the household afterwards.

    With photographs there is another difficulty: most people mean than can do the same with their compact camera. So the success of textures or such, which suppose an involving or skill that the “common” don’t have.

    By the way, I remember having read from Ansel Adams himself that he thought that commercial work made him a necessity to be creative, but ok, at his times, art director and communication agencies weren’t probably so empowered.

    Thanks again for your involving.
    Serge Schmitt
    (*) There are so many galerists and agencies, that is it likely that one
    or anorther will be “touched” if you have a minimum of talent or… personality.
    Touched can mean “at the wallet”… ;-)

  20. Tom Liles says:

    Ming, there was a good line on here a while back, the last time we had a vintage blog.mingthein.com BTL chinwag about art, I think it was Dan (Sibley) that dropped it:

    [we should] … make money to feed an art habit, not make art to feed a money habit

    No need for further elaboration.
    (But! This is me; it’s the classic past midnight walk home from work, so…)

    I shan’t talk about art as I’ve done that before. I’d rather empathize with your struggle. And offer a reaction, it goes like this:

    In my inner life I often dream about just being able to be outside, rain or shine, and take photographs. Call into camera shops and touch the cameras; any cameras. I could be happy. Just with the walking and photographs at bare bones.
    Adding “and selling the work” onto that is like a flaming asteroid through my fantasy.

    This might be projection, but I think your article isn’t about professional photography as much as it’s about a more general and modern complaint aimed at having to play the money game in this life (and set up on the assumption that the option of doing a job we’d want to do is on the table).
    You might not be the same as me, but I find grown up life and having to make money oppressive. Whether it’s work I love or hate, either way: oppressive.
    (Because having to earn will soon kill the thing you love, if that’s what you earn from, and you truly love it. It’s the “having to earn” part, not the object that caused this resentment. I can see that there’s a possible objection along the lines of “is it really true love if it can be killed off by something as mundane as money?” And I take the point. And return that if real life shows us anything it’s that love can be as fragile as it is strong—we never really know which way love will turn out until things turn out… Even then the result isn’t settled. But this is an aside, love or hate—having to earn causes the stress.)

    So the idea of money polluting what I want to do revolts me. Not just that, I resent the fact I have to go out and earn at all, and can’t be left to my own devices.
    (I’m well savvy to the fact that all my own devices are impossible without money in the first place—but I’m not speaking from a premise of logic. In fact the keystone idea that everything has to have a logic and unibody coherence annoys me too: this is life, reductio ad logic makes me want to find the nearest window to jump out of.)

    I’ve done some photographs for friends and people I know. Some of it published. The pictures were successful (on the small scale I’m involved in). And I have been asked for more—and am being offered money now. I turn every paying offer down. And counter-offer that I’ll do it for free.
    This probably incenses people who make a living from the kinds of things I’ve been offered. I’m not especially worried and would invite them to introspect and explore who they are really angry at.
    It goes without saying that a pro could — and would — do a job on a different level of quality (i.e., better). I’m supremely confident that a pro is better than me in every single way. Every one.
    Unlike the pro, though, I don’t take photos for money; the act of taking and outputting a photo is its own reward and I need nothing more. That’s not faux humility or self-depreciation; this state of affairs is the zenith to me.
    I’m happy to do everything from a tourist’s “me in Tokyo” memento on the tourist’s camera, to a blog snap to a wedding photo to a product photo to a fashion magazine artsy portrait to a random street scene to a photo of my kids to a photo of me in my bathroom mirror. And I have.
    And the more I do, *the tighter I cling to my regular employment*—that’s what bank rolls me (and it’s independent of my photography). I’ve never had the thought “I’d like to do this for living.” I’ve never had the thought “I’d like a portfolio,” or “I’d like a site to showcase my ‘work’.” I have a Flickr; but it’s a way to communicate (via photos as well as words) with my photographic friends.
    All in, it’s just photos—this is a bivalent conclusion. Derogatory and devotional at the same time.

    And that’s where inner-life makes way for real life. I’m married, with a mortgage and three children. Wishing to be left to my own devices and freed of having to earn money is the pipe-dream of a teenage girl. I’m a grown man with commitments; there’s no need for me to start intellectualizing—just STFU and get to it. Get a smile on my face and get the money made. I can smile through the bullshit at work because my wife and kids benefit from it, and I even get to afford to do photography as well. I’m not sure what more in life there is to be had.
    I had 5,000yen left over after bills, savings, kids, living costs, etc., from my last paycheck; I walked straight to Yodobashi and bought a pack of Portra400 in 120 and a box of Fuji pro 400H in 135—I was literally smiling the whole way home and writing it now still makes me feel good. Not for any earning my way in the World type reasons, because the mere act of getting more photographic ammunition, knowing more photos are on the way, is it. I’ll be shooting the Portra tomorrow.

    I make money to feed my photography habit; not the other way around…
    Take it with a pinch of salt, MT, but perhaps giving up the “pro” thing and selling prints, etc., is the way to go?
    (To go back to)

    Be a (film) director instead.
    I’m serious.
    Or just go directly for the money in a suit and tie job if lots of money is a real necessity for you.

    If it paid my way, I could live with cleaning toilets. Serious again.

    All in, I’m happiest with Gordon’s referral to your own words, just be you.

    Now, there’s my door.

    • Amazing post Tom. Bravo! The film paragraph made me smile, too.

    • “I find grown up life and having to make money oppressive.”
      That…really hit the nail on the head. I found that I spent 95% of my waking time making money for the 5%, and then not enjoying it. The whole point of doing something I loved for a living was to make that ratio a bit more even; it’s better now, but still skewed wildly towards the making money bit. Surely that can’t be right?

      As for working for free and thinking a pro would be better – not always; that pro might be technically better, but because he’s doing it for money – not because he wants to – that modicum of care and soul might be missing. I think it was Gordon Moat who mentioned that he’s trying to only take jobs he’d do for free – that’s an interesting way of filtering assignments, and actually makes a hell of a lot of sense to me (assuming you’ve got that much flexibility and demand to be able to do so).

      What’s curious is that it makes you appreciate your normal job more – I think that says you’ve got a job you already enjoy a reasonable amount, and that perhaps the other trade-offs required to make photography workable don’t make sense for you. And that’s fair enough; there are some pretty big ones involved.

      The suit and tie isn’t going to cut it. It isn’t the money – though it was very very good indeed – it’s something fundamentally objectionable about what I do. Perhaps that resentment of being forced to play the game to make money just rankles. I was pretty good at what I did (I was a VP at a 5bn company by the time I was 24, and a senior director the year after), but something about it just felt wrong.

      Thanks for the thoughts and advice – lots to ponder.

      • Tom Liles says:

        Not at all, Ming—it should be me thanking you. You share your thoughts, you offer advice, you throw out things to ponder every day.

        I complain about my work in advertising a lot, and often mention my education and professional past in engineering a lot; but I was always a mezzo-mezzo engineer: I barely scraped through university finals (though this was more from lack of trying) and came very close to being found out many times in nuclear, where the guy across the desk from me had a masters in Physics, my boss was a doctor in Chemical Engineering (same subject I did) and the boss of our division was a similarly anointed mathematician—imagine it… So the tables are turned in advertising now, there are many well educated and sharp people, absolutely, but it doesn’t compare in the slightest—no one is going to ask me about d-shell electrons or mass balances for bits of process plant; and expect an answer. Advertising doesn’t compare to other stuff I’ve known from my technical past, and not even as an experience: from bicycling about between sub-plants on chemical plants in the ruralist of rural Japan to working in the high security humming megalopolis of a nuclear power station, and the inside of it—a place 99% of people will never ever see… from experiences like that to advertising. Working in advertising I’ve met some interesting characters, business leaders, famous people, and all that… but it’s fluff when measured up against the crane they use to drop fuel rods into a nuclear reactor, say, or batteries of heat exchangers for cooling process plant—or the company of people who understand the physics that drives things like nuclear reactors and heat exchangers. In advertising people talk and worry about what’s trending on Twitter…
        But yeah, you’re right, I think what I do now suits me more. But that may not carry the weight you imagine, as I say, it could be cleaning toilets for all I care—I just want to satisfy my responsibilities to adulthood and do right by my wife and kids. And protect the financial lifeline to my great hobby.

        I enjoy a line or two of Bukowski (Charles) — though the way he treated women in general and his wife in particular always chaffed at me — but I think he lived a similar thing. Bukowski worked in a post office, and grew to cling to his job dearly because he knew it could keep the funding up for ink, paper, and living costs… to support him to do what he really wanted to do: write, write, write. Which he managed to do a lot, and do well. He once wrote a novel in two weeks. If anyone’s ever tried, they’d appreciate how crazy that is, to write a bona-fide work I mean, not any old dross. So perhaps this illuminates it a little more for you MT… I cling to my job ever tighter, not so much because deep down I like it, but because I like what it allows me to do.

        You’ve been there with your 95 and 5%, and I confess with the hours I’ve been putting in the last 6months or so, I’m feeling my ratio is becoming similar. 12hrs is now my bog-standard work day… But I have learned to make peace with the idea that nothing is given and I thank the man above for the 5%. And that 5’s not for photography either—the lion’s share is for my family: my kids, my wife. I do demand a few crumbs for me and my cameras though! And, indeed, I also cheat on work a lot and take 1.5hr lunch breaks, which are really just 1.5hr photo walks… I eat while I walk, just to squeeze every last bit of freedom from the lunch “hour.” :)

        If my hobby supplied my money then strings would most definitely be attached, but not just that, the mere intrusion of money into it would poison the well, for me. I’m not some highfalutin artiste; think of it more like forced fun or something… plus it’s well documented on blog.mingthein.com, photos aren’t much more than one-liners to me, just photos, money would destroy the delicate bivalency of my current sentiments by making everything faux-serious and legitimately susceptible to highfalutin, pretentious, those kind of words. No one takes it seriously when it’s for free? That’s for me.
        It’s quite interesting to test the opposite route from the typical one—rather than try and put my limited but new skills to work-work, I actively seek to make them an asymmetrical kind of work, to de-monetize them. Not “anti-work,” because that’d be R&R; it’s work, but not as we know it (this reference points to more than just a pun—I want to live like Star Trek, no more money!).

        I didn’t mention it above, but a few of the people who offered me money to take photos for them later refused my counter-offer of doing exactly what they wanted, but for nothing. Funny old world eh.

        I burned a whole roll, 12 shots, of Portra, on my SQ this lunchtime.
        (In between 100+ photos on the A7)

        By the by, I’m not sure if he drops by anymore, but I enjoy the blog of one of your one-time commenters Glendyn Ivin—his site is Hoaxville. Glendyn is a film director. When I mentioned, seriously, that you should be a director I kind of half had Glendyn — not a copy, your version, obviously; this is a structuralist similarity only — in my mind… Your recent experience with and reaction to direction work seemed like you had found the promised land—work satisfaction. So, yeah, I thought going for it might be a thought… but then again:

        It’s your world, MT. I send all the goodwill I have your way and could only live with you ignoring all this genuine and great
        advice BTL here, and doing whatever it is your heart and mind sees fit to.

        In the meantime, back to work!

        • I have to say, though heavy, my physics degree didn’t get me very far – but then again, I had little interest in it, too.

          As for writing something novel-length in two weeks: I did the Camerapedia and Photographic Dictionary on the app in slightly less time; it’s no bloody joke. Keeping track of the entries itself is tricky – and let’s not event all about the cross-referencing bit. Unfortunately, like novel writing, there’s little certainty of any payout at the end of it, too.

          You might well be right about money polluting the experience, though. It just feels wrong; not sex-for-pay vs relationship-sex wrong (not that I would know), but you are forced to start being a bit mercenary, which is the complete opposite of doing something because you want to and you enjoy it.

          Star Trek only works because energy is so cheap and available that people don’t need to worry about paying for it, and mere things can be made out of energy – so there’s no more value to a diamond than a hamburger (if anything, probably less, since a diamond uses less raw material). By offering it for free – you’ve removed the perceived value for them, and made it feel trivial/ worthless. Back to the diamond hamburger problem.

          The directing was good until the board got completely dissected and reassembled by the client/ agency; I felt physical pain at that point. Perhaps this is normal though, and there’s always still the director’s cut version. It isn’t over yet, so we shall see how it turns out.

          By the way, try IV nutrition, or fasting. Frees up even more time for photo walks (and money for film), and no chance of getting sauce on your cameras ;)

          • Tom Liles says:

            I could do with the diet too—I used to be lean, wiry, mostly muscle… I’m like a walking blancmange these days! :o

            • You need a heavier camera. The problem is explaining to people why your right (camera) arm is so overdeveloped…

              • Tom Liles says:

                I’m going to man up and try Convict Conditioning.

                — Holla at me JeffC! —

                In the middle of a house move now, and some photographs of me from six years and further back emerged from the boxes. I skated everyday, did press-ups and that—was ripped, wiry, classic upside down triangle, looking good. KEY POINT: I wasn’t married yet :)

                I wish I had your metabolism MT. You seem rake thin regardless, and I know for a fact how much sushi and Pungency and other stuff you put away in Tokyo. Cherish that superpower mate. In my case, it’s not about lack of exercise… Listen, I walk like a mofo nowadays — because of the photos — at least a quarter to half marathon distance… I try not to eat too many sweets, no lasagne after midnight, etc., that sort of thing… and I still blew up. Quitting smoking once (now relapsed) didn’t help. Anyway, here I am, a fatty! With a camera! No way I’m going to a gym (that’s money that could be spent on developing film, buying more film). No way I’m taking a sport up (that’s time that could be spent taking photos or editing them)…

                So Convict Conditioning it is. I put my amazon order in today.
                I might go and get another tattoo just to cement the mindset!

                • I think it’s down to a combination of stress and the quantity of energy my brain burns in maintaining a high load for extended periods of time. I’ve seen several studies in the past that showed mental activity burned about the same amount of calories as moderate exercise…but now imagine doing that 12 hours a day!

                  You could always try shooting with a heavier camera, like Charles Bronson. After an extended period of M4/3, going back to the D800E (plus grip and Otus) definitely put a toll on my arms. But post-Cuba – no issues. I see it as training for the 645Z and its even larger lenses – the 90/2.8 is larger and heavier than the Zeiss 2/135, at over 1kg, and the 25/4 is about the same. Guess which two lenses I think fit my needs best…sadly not the pancakish 75/2.8 or the featherweight 55/2.8.

                  I did my best with the Pungency, I really did. But in the end, a case was just too much! :)

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Ha! :)

                    That was enough Pungency to sedate a pack of Elephants. I was surprised you guys even put a dent in it. Heroic.

                    I couldn’t keep the laugh in for “I see it as training for the 645Z…” Haha :) I’m sure you’re deadly serious, but imagine that exercise book in the Men’s Health section… The Boxing Workout, hmmm… The Yoga Workout, ahhh, The Schwarzenegger Workout, meh… The Heavy Camera Workout, mmm? the heavy camera workout, wait.. what? And what’s that, with foreword by Ming Thein :)

                    I’m dying to strap up Charles Bronson II (SQ-A I found in mint condition for 9,000JPY end of last year) and street him in anger, but the Cura rings are only rated to 5Kg… With the 40mm Zenzanon on, I’m at 6kg easy. I do go out with El Bronito though, Ming, in hand; it’s funny because that is a studio camera if there ever was one in my lineup—and I’ve never done a single controlled shoot with it.
                    Except one set-up (natural light, early in the am) black and white (TriX) photo for b-roll, for a friend’s shoot, and it ended up being a campaign poster. I have another chance to shoot for him in July and fully intend to Bronson it… some Acros monos and Pro 400H for color is my current thinking (I have a box of TriX, but supply has dried up in Tokyo so I’m saving it and I much, much prefer Acros thesedays—wow). D3 on set for insurance and light tests (Nikon-roid?).

                    So, actually, that’s quite timely advice, I need to get out with CBII and get the flow dialed in. Plan to shoot mostly with the 150mm and the 70mm Zenzanons.

                    (Fuji GA645 and CoolpixA for b-roll this time; if the A7 is nice to me, I might allow it a run out)

                    • Well, we did a reasonable job – I did, at any rate, because KH only had one bottle. I think he didn’t want early-onset diabetes :P

                      There’s one level above that: The Large Format Workout – it also trains you to hold your breath for hours in the darkroom.

                      There’s a Bronson II? And 6kg? Holy cow, that’s heavier than my Arca F-line 4×5. That said, I think the weight is probably good for stability. And ‘I-told-you-so’ about Acros :)

                      Use two Cura rings on each side?

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Yea, I got the second SQ body ages ago. It was, without doubt, THE best photographic deal I’ve ever achieved—I think the camera must have been a back up body for a pro or something as it was IMMACULATE, I mean, new, new, new looking; but the shutter timings were all good, and internals moved well… Body, back, prism finder, and Zenzanon PS 80mm 2.8 [there were two lines of Zenzanons for the SQs: the older S and newer PS, both are awesome but the PS were made in a brand new factory, the most advanced in the World, at the time, now it belongs to Tamron --> guess why Tamron lenses are so good these last years since buying out the dying Bronica business] and the PS 80 was precisely the lens I was looking for since I own 150mm and 40mm Zenzanons… So one sunny afternoon at a used store near me, I wandered in just to wander in.. and there turns up this SQ-A, which I had wanted originally (the A was the first iteration of the original 1980 SQ, my SQ is Charles Bronson I)—the SQ-A has mirror lock-up (not on the original SQ) and the shutter control has a few more slower speeds on it (the physical shutters are Seiko #0, in the lenses of course) and it retains mechanical shutter capability at 1/500, i.e., if the batteries die, the camera still shoots at 1/500… this was lost in all subsequent versions (SQ-Ai and the various tricked out limited editions)… Back to the story though, SQ-A, back, PS 80, huge Prism finder, everything in absolutely pristine new condition, except the meter in the prism finder was broken, and for this reason and this reason only the shop had listed the camera as “junk.” :o !?

                      I got the whole thing for 9,000 JPY. :o :o !!!??? :P

                      I do remember bragging about this at the time—but I get through so many cameras I’m sure no-one remembers this particular incident. And who cares what I have to say (‘cept me!). But yeah, have three FLs I wanted, a back up body (the battered but reliable SQ, Charles Bronson I), WLF and prism finder, a fridge FULL of 120: ready for war.

                      6kg because that 40mm Zenzanon — you might have seen it in Tokyo too? — is a serious piece of glass. Otus levels of weight, easily. I may have over egged my estimate; I don’t find walking around with the SQ oppressive at all, but then again I’ll happily walk about with the D3 all day too… the SQ must be tipping 5kg though, God I’m just going to have to weigh it and sate my curiosity now :) But at any rate, I’m not confident I’d trust Cura rings to bear the load—using two is a great idea! I might have that one MT :)

                    • I remember it but got confused between the SQ and SQ-A. That price is insane. It won’t even get you a focusing screen or winding crank in Hassy V land. And nobody really needs a meter if they’ve got trained eyeballs anyway – so long as it isn’t permanently coupled to the shutter, of course.

                      I remember that setup being heavy – especially with the polaroid back – but I didn’t think it was 6kg heavy; 3 perhaps. Not that different to my Hassy, CFV, HC4 prism and 50 FLE. Needs a handgrip better than an L bracket, though.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      With the prism finder, definitely needs the grip—luckily Bronica made one complete with shutter button. They even made a dedicated hand grip incarnation of the SQ with the grip built in, and it winds film on automatically—the SQ-M

                      About 20,000 JPY used over here :)

                    • That’s a crazy price. Double fr a button and grip?! That’s Leica-madness! :P

                      Actually, that grip looks detachable – like you could buy one separately and attach it to your SQ…

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Sure thing, MT. That’s what I’m saying, it was a parts option; became quite popular so they made one with the grip built in :)

                      Keep meaning to get one…

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      I’ve only just got the Leica joke :D

    • Thank you for that post, Tom.

      This discussion has reminded me of a few things that I probably needed to be reminded of.

      While we’re on this Earth we do need to work if for no other reason than to feed ourselves and, in great many situations to feed and care for our families as well.

      I can’t argue with the need to work, but on the other side of things the worldly system of money truly can operate in oppressive ways. I wrote above about how sad I find it to reflect on wasted human potential; part of it has included for me the situation of multitudes of people who find themselves economically cornered into doing work that is unsuited to them (or they to it) or that otherwise is substantially mismatched and substantially inferior to one’s best, ‘innate’, abilities.

      I do believe that there are greater purposes to work than merely feeding one’s own self. I also believe that to enjoy one’s work is a blessing / gift. (I suppose this would normally carry along with it implications of working to the best of one’s abilities and simultaneously working to the benefit of other people.)

      So I’ve sought opportunities to do work that I’m suited to doing and is the most engaging and satisfying to perform possible. A sloppy expression but easiest way to get across: on the best days my work “is” my hobby.

      It might better to express the notion this way: on the best days I don’t need a hobby because I’ve spent my day doing exactly what I should have been doing. Doing exactly what I should be doing is more richly satisfying than a hobby could ever be.

      To clarify, (1) one’s lifes’ work is probably the shorthand for “doing what I should be doing”, (2) by hobby I especially mean (a shallow momentary pleasure followed by later realization that it was nothing better than a selfish indulgence, and (3) I’m not meaning to write in opposition to healthy measures of recreation or refreshment.

      And before you think I’ve enjoyed exceedingly too many blessings … I’ve had many, many, many days that have not been even remotely close to the best. Even now I’ve been experiencing (for a while) a situation that feels as if about a million pounds have settled on me. The worst years of my life to date seem to have been visiting, and have had me hoping that days ahead will turn toward the better and that the present “chapter” would/will turn out (in retrospect) to be the worst that I shall ever experience.

      It’s nice to see you here, Tom. Best regards to you.

      • I think there are few of us who actually believe in (1). Most people I meet work to live, and nothing more. That results in them doing the bare minimum, mediocrity all around, and generally not giving two small bits.

        Every time I’ve been through a crap period, it usually turned out to be valuable in the end – if viewed objectively. But it doesn’t stop it from being any less crap…hope things work out for you.

      • Tom Liles says:

        Thomas — what a handsome and intelligent sounding name :) — thanks for that! I hope you catch this. Sorry I’m in the middle of a house move and we’ve only gotten reliable internet today. But even with internet on tap, I only have limited time to use it—the boxes and boxes and boxes of bumpf… No flippin’ way my wife’s unpacking it!

        Anyway thanks again and rest assured that like Devo, when the problems come I don’t complain—I just whip it :P

  21. Michael Matthews says:

    OK, now I see the reason for the intensity and detail of your previous post. This conflict leaves you feeling drained. It interferes with the satisfaction you expect to find in your work, and perhaps, at times, the work itself. Give yourself a break (a brief one, if that involves not making photos). Take a deep metaphorical breath. Exhale. There is no answer except this: there is no answer.

    And forget Thomas Kinkade, the most successful entrepreneur / marketer of shlock art in recent history. He piled up millions upon millions of dollars and died an unsalvageable drunk in his early 50s.

    You will do much better. In fact, you have.

  22. Tom Hudgins says:

    For art investors photography does not have the cachet of painting. Photography also does not have the industrial machine of art critics, benefactors, curators, gallery owners, and publishers whose success depends as much on their own promotional efforts as those of the artist. Photography not being worthy does not suggest that Ming Thein cannot be successful as photographic artist. It simply means that perceptions of photography as art will have to be altered with a new and convincing argument. Good luck!

    • I wonder if this has to do with the reproducibility of photography vs. non-reproducibility of other art forms? Perhaps a non-reproducible image would be worth more (destroyed negatives, deleted raw files etc…)

      • Tom Hudgins says:

        You’re correct about reproducibility as printmaking (etching, lithographs, silkscreen, etc.) is valued little more than photography. Limited editions do some better. The primary issue with photography is that cameras are thought of as recording devices, not creative tools. Interestingly, it’s periods in history like this that are ripe for a new creative movement. Perhaps you’re the one to lead.

        • Well, by that logic, pencils and brushes and paper are also recording media – just that the output is not easily reproducible.

          As for me leading, others with more skill or connections have tried and failed…

  23. Thomas Zimmer says:

    I forgot to mention in my last comment that the image on top is a truly outstanding piece of art. If I had shot this, I would be a happy man.

  24. “I know personally that I’d probably never be able to be an artist that creates non-identically-replicable art, simply because if I put that much effort, thought and soul into a piece, there’s no way I could let it go.”

    I’ve done a couple paintings I feel that way about. My sister told me my ancestors were going to be wildly rich when they auctioned off my stuff. I’d prefer that they keep it in the family, but what can you do.

    One of the funniest quotes I heard about art was from an exceptionally accomplished painter at a workshop – he said most of the art you see in museums is there because somebody needed a tax write-off. I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that a lot of art is called “art” because the artist (or maybe a skilled curator or gallery owner, as other commenters have noted) are really good at talking about the “meaning” or “value” of the product. And I’ve seen a lot of celebrity “artists” giving TED talks about “artwork” that is essentially nonsense. Good patter, though.

    Then I come to this site and gasp. The picture at the top of this post is just amazing. There’s a balance and a tension to it that just lifts it right off the page. That happens a LOT on this site – your work is consistently stunning. And beyond that, I can’t think of any websites that speak more eloquently about photography. I find it both difficult to believe, but also weirdly reassuring, that an artist of your caliber is having any sort of struggle finding a balance between your artistic and commercial sides.

    I usually just tell myself, “I’m HUGE overseas” and leave it at that.

    Thank you for all you do.

    • I don’t think I’m ‘of that caliber’ yet, but I’m flattered all the same. And we do have to eat and support our families and (mostly) pay for our tools, too – hence the commercial tradeoff… :)

      Would love to see said paintings if there’s any way of doing so digitally – I know it won’t be the same, but it’s always interesting to see what other people consider to be their best work. Fortunately with photographs, there’s a reproducibility that makes it easy for many people to appreciate without destroying the original. That said, I retain full and sole control of all of my negatives and raw files, and will always do so.

  25. Jorge Balarin says:

    That’s a fantastic shot. Really.

  26. Tibor Kadar says:

    You can do ART for yourself and then you are a hobbyist at best. Critics and galleries are creating artists. Magazines used to maybe still do. You may give examples on social networks, I do not know anybody in photography who became a famous artist through them (I mean exclusively). There are famous examples of counter cultures and counter art like Marcel Duchamps, who was against stardom and died as a park chess champion (and a poor man). There is Banksy as an anticulture example who became famous and probably wealthy. All this babble goes down to nowhere. You, Ming Thein you are a brand already. Just sit down and do BCG grid and SWOT analyses and act according the results. Spread your portfolio, maximize your strengths and abandon/eliminate or strengthen your weaknesses. It is either in line with the personal satisfaction scale or maybe not. But only you can decide on your next path.

    • I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s nothing wrong being a hobbyist/amateur; in fact, it’s a preferable state of affairs because you are free to create as you please.

      Forget the BCG analyses, most of the time they’re crap because they do not take into account disruptive innovation and sheer will (or perhaps stubbornness). Been there, done that, found it lacking. I should know, I worked for BCG for three years.

      As for becoming a brand – that was never the intention, and I doubt I can pinpoint exactly where that change happened – but you’re right, for better or worse I’ve got an image to maintain and expectations to satisfy…

      • Tibor Kadar says:

        OK, that was an intentional going to extremes with the analyses. But you got the message anyways.

      • Right after commenting here that people aren’t as narrowly skilled as coffee brewers, I now ironically feel a need to reply by suggesting that a lot of amateurs who might have human potential for artistic work are unable to devote adequate time, focus and energy to bring their skills up to “pro” level.

        A minority might have sufficient leisure time to make progress, and vastly fewer will be able to mess with a Red Epic and a ‘Blad and an Otus and a D4 and EM-1 and a GR and Zeiss glass and … (the last point being that hobbyists typically just can’t devote the financial resources, though rental economies might soften that hard situation up a tiny bit, but if they’re renting then they’re using unfamiliar equipment and you already know that carries problems of its own.)

        It’s probably much, much more common that hobbyists who have a desire and maybe even the human potential to do better work end up producing stuff that always looks like a hobbyist produced it and don’t make it past that point in their lifetimes. That could be quite unpleasant and frustrating as well. I feel sad just writing it because I dislike wasted human potential.

        I’d agree there are advantages to being able to produce work that is not commissioned by other people, or designed to appeal to buyers.

        Perhaps one of the advantages of being a professional in the domain in which one desires to produce non-commissioned, non-commercial works is that your skills are maintained and practiced in the very domain in which you would like to operate. And one’s financial investments probably coincide to an extent as well. There is a certain amount of focus or efficiency to it, non?

        • The overall standards are definitely higher now that access to equipment is easier and the learning curve is shorter. Yes, messing with lots of gear helps to foster experimentation, but I would make the same compositions with an entry level DSLR and kit lens. They’re nice to have, rather than necessary. And not realising this is far more limiting than anything else – it traps you into being a slave to your gear. There may well come a point when I don’t want to carry it around anymore and just use my iPhone (actually, that already sometimes happens). The images – at the appropriate output sizes – don’t look any different.

          I wonder if some hobbyists have no desire to go further? They know the trade-offs aren’t worth it to them?

          I agree on the focus/ efficiency part, though. I don’t spend money on distractions, and the distractions are now tax-deductible because they’re business related :)

          • Seabisquick says:

            I’m a dyed-in-the-wool hobbyist. I know I’ll never reach the level of proficiency of a true professional because I simply can’t put the time in. But I try to put real effort in when I am photographing to see better, to pay attention to light and shadow, to look for novel composition, to find more efficient ways to use the gear I have, and to learn to process images better. This way the time I spend I am actively improving, which really is the only measure…the race is against myself, not others.

            I have the luck of a job that pays well enough to support my family comfortably, and affords me the time to pursue my hobby. With that is the luxury of being able to buy nice gear without needing to monetize its use. And that gives me the opportunity to try out what I like and figure out just what the hell my own personal style is and what suits me. Also, it drives me to improve. I feel almost a moral imperative to become competent because I feel that buying expensive gear and then not developing the skill to use it is obscene, because, then it’s either just a self-indulgent shiny toy or worse, something to put up a pretense with. And I think it’s an insult to people with more talent but less means to not even try.

            And there is no excuses. I am acutely aware that the gear I have is capable of capturing compositions far better than I can come up with. If the images are weak, it’s my eye that’s the problem. I can’t photograph what I don’t see. I don’t want the pressures of clients or a mortgage depending upon how well I perform here. The payoff instead is the satisfaction of creating an image that I enjoy, nothing more.

            In the end, this is about making me happy. And I think the pinnacle of my own craft may very well be that I can create something that I am proud of, give it away as a gift to a friend or family member, and have them treasure it. A true labor of love. The trick I think is to make peace with not needing to have the approval of others.

            There is a wonderful meditation on the unsatisfying nature of fame in the Simpsons:

            Bart: So, what’s it like being famous, dad?
            Homer: People know your name, but you don’t know theirs. It’s great.

            In the end, who cares about that?

  27. Eric Perlberg says:

    There is this thing we call ART which is hard to define but which comes out of the human impulse to create. The artist Joseph Beuys suggested (I paraphrase) art is created with no other use than to be experienced. Then there is the question of what separates “good” art from cliché, mundane creations.

    The Art Market is an industry like any other with marketing, salesmanship, product positioning and all the other subtitles that go into selling toothpaste and toilet paper. The taste makers in the art market usually have a background in the history of their art form (painting, sculpture, music, textiles, etc.) but that doesn’t make them experts on what is “good art”. Besides their interest isn’t really in what is “good” but rather what can be sold at a profit within a specified time frame. They are really not much different than drug dealers.

    This year’s (2013) Reith Lectures by the Artist Grayson Perry available as a podcast through the BBC website closely examines this issue of Art and the Art Market with an honesty and insight which is rare, humorous and a bit depressing. Worth a listen if you’re interested in the subject.

    • And the conclusion is that it requires affirmation from external sources to succeed, just like everything else…

      • Eric Perlberg says:

        Only if your definition of the success of your work requires the affirmation of others. Mine doesn’t. To each their own.

        • Mine doesn’t either, but we need to eat, and financial success depends on other people buying your work…

          • Rene François Desamore says:

            Financial success depends on producing what people want, not producing art that they do not understand or appreciate

            • That’s where education comes in.

              But would you be happy producing kitsch crap in return for financial success if that’s what the market wants but it screams against every fiber of your being?

  28. S.Surace says:

    Since starting your blog, I think you have been preoccupied with photography almost non-stop. Allow yourself a break of one month without a camera and without internet. It will give you the time to regenerate.

    • I suspect that it will land up being a longer break because I’ll have no readers left after that…

      • Thomas Zimmer says:

        Don’t worry. Many bloggers are doing this. Thom Hogan for example, takes a long online break every year and comes back with more interesting stories.

        • Agree with the above – your brand is now established. Also, as you have a good ‘back catalogue’ you can repost a few articles from a year or so back. Mike Johnson does this occasionally at ‘the online photographer’ and it works well, though he can go back a lot further…

        • iskabibble says:

          Hogan often takes more than one break per year. He strongly suggests that this helps him improve as both a photographer and a writer. Sound advice I think, especially when burn out begins to appear.

          • I have to remember not to schedule stuff back to back so there is actually space in the calendar for a break…a scheduled break seems too ‘forced’ and like work. Perhaps it’s just an odd psychology on my part.

      • S.Surace says:

        Funny, people always say that, and of course this line of thinking is the major reason why burnouts even exists. The world will keep turning, no one’s life depends on you blogging every day :)

  29. Rene François Desamore says:

    I had an art gallery for more than ten years. Most clients wanted pieces that matched their curtain or their floor tiles. What is true is that artists create for themselves first. Once they produce on request, it is reproduction of some sort. Rarely art.

  30. Thomas Zimmer says:

    I think there are no differences between the art produced by people like Gursky and Art produced by the normal talented photographer. Imagine that the 4.3M Rhine photo is from me and I show it on my website. Absolutely nobody will care about it. Why? Because it’s just an ordinary artistic image. Lets be honest: the majority of people thinks the following: “This 4.3M image looks like a piece of crap. But because some crazy people pay so much money for it, it MUST be art. I’m just too stupid to understand it.”

    My conclusion is that this kind of art has nothing to do with the true final product, like the Mona Lisa. Everybody who looks at those classic pieces of Art immediately understands that it is something special. Nowadays, it is just marketing and a strange people cult. Gursky can shoot an iPhone image of his left foot while he’s sitting on the toilet and people will pay an absurd amount of money for it. Because it is from the great artist, it must be great art.

    For me, an indicator of Art is that you can identify a special photographic style. When you show someone an image and he says “that looks like a photo made by ” – and that without knowing the image, that is a strong hint that you are not producing ordinary stuff. This is my goal, to produce something that is unique. Currently, I’m far away from that.

    • That’s it, I’m off to the toilet with my iPhone.

      • Just remember “foot” and not anything else. ;) We don’t want a Malaysian Terry Richardson.
        How does he get to shoot Barack Obama and at the same time barely legal nudes? I don’t understand his appeal at all…?

  31. If you want to make it big, study, absorb and implement the language of curation.

    • Care to elaborate on that?

      • Sure.

        I’m going to start by drawing a distinction between what you might call Art vs Fine Art. My definition of Fine Art being technically competent images of nice scenes, which will sell to people who want a nice image for the wall – e.g. most Landscape photography. Art is images or artefacts people collect, regardless of whether they look nice on the wall because of the meta-meanings / concepts – e.g. Alec Soth. It’s a split that runs through all genres and forms of art to some extent.

        We asked An Artist on the edges of the high end art scene in London and sells sculpture for large amounts of money about how to succeed in “Art.” His reply was to schmooze curators. Simply, they are the gate-keepers to the better galleries and museums, if you aren’t getting curated into shows you aren’t really an artist worth seeing.

        The same rules apply to photography if you want to be in the Tate. I also attended a talk with the Photographer Simon Norfolk, who had work in the Tate at the time. He said something similar and also noted that the work needs layers of meaning and he also had to effectively bury his past career as a newspaper shooter before making the change into the Art/Documentary world.

  32. Electric guitar pioneer Charlie Christian once famously said: “I don’t ever take the guitar out of my case unless I’m either going to learn something, have fun, or make some money.” I find this absolutely pertains to every creative endeavor I’ve ever taken on.

    22 years out of art school, I remain very frustrated and disenchanted with the whole gallery “system” – popularity and I have always been strangers. At least now on the web I have a fighting chance at representing myself. (It means a lot to me to know that my hand-blown glass vessels are now dispersed – however thinly – across Australia and Europe.)

    Ming, given your remarkable achievements with this blog and with your photography, I can’t imagine the global marketplace not having some sort of niche for you. (I certainly know it can be a rough ride, though – after a long period of relative prosperity I am finding myself financially and creatively embattled, this year.) I hope you can step back, reassess and perhaps emerge from this funk you’re in with even greater commitment (or, failing that, find another calling that yields greater satisfaction).

    I sometimes have to remind myself how one of my great creative heroes, Edward Weston lived very modestly indeed. (Van Gough even more so…)

    • I can’t think of any other reason you’d get your tools out – working for free just undermines your value.

      As for living modesty: I don’t think they had much of a choice! But then again, if you’re really happy doing whatever it is you’re doing, the need to find external distractions or gratification pretty much disappears…

      • iskabibble says:

        “, if you’re really happy doing whatever it is you’re doing, the need to find external distractions or gratification pretty much disappears…”

        So very very true.

    • Patrick Downs says:

      Jeff, I found your website.. gorgeous glass work! I have to get over to the Chihuly museum in Seattle very soon and check it out too. Cheers.

  33. Hi Ming, nice article. you’ve done a great job to detailing the dilemma.

    btw, the Flickr link of the top image isn’t working. i was trying to check the EXIF …

  34. The answer is in your sixth paragraph: “Perhaps … be yourself.” :)

  35. Zerberous says:

    My Japanese girlfriend would probably say you would not never be happy in any job – she had said that to me before… There is some truth in it – but then again moving on can give new interesting opportunities :-) Just be sure you are not unhappy with your jobs the whole life ;-)

    • What was her key to happiness then?

      • Zerberous says:

        Maybe to try to make the best out of the current situation and accept it as a happy thing… Her positive attitude and good work have helped her to reach a quite good position in the Japanese government. There are not many women that get this far. However, I should ask her directly.

  36. A ordinary image “marketed” well will always outsell a strong image marketed poorly! If you can get the mix right you might do ok….but it’s ALL about marketing. I have spoken to many long term photographers about this aspect. They all say the same thing….there’s not a lot of cash in prints unless you are Peter Lik, Ken Duncan and position your marketing properly which is what they and others do.

    I sold my first 880 x700mm print framed for $950 the other day. I haven’t started marketing yet but all my time will be going into this over the next few months. I’m a little different though as my profits are going to charity.

  37. iskabibble says:

    Quite a bad week for you. The pain you are in comes through loud in clear in your writing. It’s agonizing to read.

    I hope it all works out for you.

  38. There is another alternative: figure out how to compartmentalize the commercial and artistic sides. I don’t think there is any shame in pulling out a bog standard template for unimaginative commercial clients: it’s like McDonalds making the same kind of burger all over the world. Call it crappy photographer style in your mind if it helps.

    As for art and money, IMO that’s been one of the worst conflations of the 20th century and one of the worst things to have happened to art. That art should be valued in economic terms at all makes no sense to me. Art is sometimes just expensive to make. Sometimes just to bring something into the world costs way more than you could ever sell it for. Does that mean it’s not worth doing? Of course not, but knowing that beforehand makes it at least possible to plan for it. One could also argue that many of the Big Science experiments are economically unviable, yet we do them, and the value they provide is entirely outside of economics’ ability to measure or predict.

    BTW, if you happen to live in the Champagne region of France, your domestic NV product will be pretty damned good. :)

    • The danger is that your crappy photographer style is what’s most visible and also what you’ll be associated with – no matter how good your art. And that would be artificially limiting, I think.

  39. I’m none of the above, but I see where you’re coming from and I think you’ll spark some interesting discussion with this one.

    The part about the photographer selling prints “because he was broke” is probably an example of slick marketing and psychology. It wouldn’t matter if his pictures were genius or garbage. He pressed the right buttons. It’s like Facebook: link to something with some meaning or depth to it, or try to start a meaningful discussion, and chances are nobody will pay attention. Put up a self-pitying, dramatic whine or a cliché that a ten year old could have written, and you’ll drown in “likes”. Classic lowest common denominator pandering which – unfortunately – works.

    I don’t know if you ever saw the episode of The Simpsons with a one-off character called Frank Grimes, but that describes to a “T” some of what you are talking about here. In a nutshell, Grimes was a self-made man who came through trial after trial through sheer hard work, and he came to resent Homer – who had a family, a job, and coasted through life while being a useless oaf. The moral, if there was one, was presumably “hard work and talent is no guarantee of anything”. Not the most motivational of morals, but not that far divorced from the truth.

    In photographic terms, I’m lucky in a sense – I don’t have to create for anyone but myself. I used to think that it would be cool to be a professional, full time photographer but now that I’ve seen and read what they’re up against (stubborn/stupid clients, hacks who get jobs by bidding lower than everyone else, and what you talk about here concerning personal work against paid work), I can see how tough it must be.

    I don’t have ESP, but when I read ” the artists who do whatever it is they do for the sake of doing it and to their own personal satisfaction – arguably the very definition of art “, I wonder if you weren’t thinking of Nick Brandt? That was the first name that came to mind when I read it. I suppose he has it right – he worked on music videos and made enough to indulge his real interest, and the results speak for themselves. This leads me to Frank Zappa. He would write these intentionally dumb (but funny and catchy) pop songs which most people could get into, and make money from those. He would then use that money to finance his “serious” music, which probably flew right over the heads of the same people who were buying the dumb – funny songs. His take on art was that it either entertains you, or it doesn’t; he didn’t really make a distinction between high and low art other than to acknowledge that one paid the bills and the other generally didn’t.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think I have any useful suggestions for your dilemma, but it’s good that someone’s putting these ideas out for debate.

    • It seems that there’s always got to exist that dichotomy – on further investigation it seems almost all of the artists did the craftsman/ workman thing in order to fund what they personally saw as worthwhile. One could argue that a different profession would make more sense and provide more separation, but then again I suspect the craftsman couldn’t exist without the artist and vice versa – practice vs refinement, or something of that sort.

  40. I’m certainly only a very appreciative observer of visual art, including photography. However, something you said in the last paragraph really resonated with me as a writer. You wrote, “The more time I spend photographing for pay and ‘to spec’ as a craftsman, the less artistic inclination I have. It affects the way you see; you approach every scene with the expectation that everything must be perfect and controlled, and if it isn’t, you don’t feel inclined to photograph.” I write a great deal of what I call “pay copy.” It’s mostly technical work, web copy or ghost writing, and it’s done to order. It saps my creative drive with language, and at the end of the day I almost don’t have anything left to offer. Don’t give up your artistic photography, please. I know it’s asking a great deal. I know I’m a random stranger. But beautiful imagery that isn’t necessarily staged is food for creative souls everywhere, no matter their medium. You and those who are also engaged with visual mediums in a non-commercial sense offer inspiration to the rest of us.

    • Thank you. I strive to continue doing it for myself, at the very least. But sometimes…that drive disappears. And it scares me, because it hasn’t happened before – in 13 years. It perhaps suggests I need to pull back/ take a break/ regroup before it’s gone for good.

      • Patrick Downs says:

        Ming, you’re struggling with the classic struggle. I worked as a staff photographer for 20 years at a world-class paper, and was the Picture Editor for their magazine for 2 years. I realized after many years in the business that about 60-75% of my assignments I would never choose to shoot for myself. Now that doesn’t mean that I didn’t get pictures I liked out of them, and I did, but it was the other 25% that made it worth it. I guess that’s why they call it work! Photographers who can shoot whatever they want to shoot and still make a living at it seem very rare and fortunate to me (or they have trust funds), but then many of them are still good businessmen, or are partnered with or married to someone who is. Jim Brandenberg of National Geographic is one … google and see his studio compound and gallery. Tom Mangelsen is another … I’m told that his print sales in all his galleries pay the overhead, and it’s the framing that is his profit margin. I am a terrible businessman, and it’s killing me. I am now spending my time shooting pictures I want to shoot and having more fun that I’ve had in decades with my camera, but damn if I can figure out how to monetize it. I can’t get traction, because I am a generalist. I like to shoot people, stories, street, landscapes, reportage, etc … too many things. Photogs now seem to have to specialize, and I find that very hard. Maybe you too. It’s all about creating a brand—YOU—and that’s a skill unto itself.

        I know you’ve worked hard on your website,reviews, and blog and maybe it’s just taking time to pay off? Some people like David Hobby, aka Mr. Strobist, make a decent living from their blog clicks, but I don’t know that he has a lot of time left over to do more than the ocxasional assignment and personal work. Shooting what you want to shoot, primarily, and making a decent living from it, is the hardest thing to do now. Even more so than being an assignment photographer, which is hard enough. When I figure it out, if ever, I’ll send you the magic formula.

        • I strongly suspect that doing a hit of everything is the key to being visually different and having a versatile skill set; more so if you try to do things that on the face of it, shouldn’t work – like reportage/ street with medium format film, or studio lighting with small formats. Finding the strengths of those odd combinations and applying them to other situations makes the difference, at least in my experience. But the happiness/ creativity/ productivity trade off? Maybe there isn’t one.

  41. Patrick Downs says:

    You don’t have to choose, imo… Eric Meola and Jay Maisel made very good livings shooting advertising and corporate work, and often produced personal work during those shoots too. Their great personal work, of which art directors were fans, got them commercial work. They aren’t the only examples. FWIW.

    • Patrick, I don’t disagree. I believe I’ve also seen examples that successfully flow the opposite direction ~ the commercial work successfully connects with its intended market and allows self-funded “art.” Personally I have a great deal of respect for people who’ve chosen to do it that way: they tend to their financial responsibilities and they create according to their vision as well. Not easy, but I personally find it admirable.

      • Patrick Downs says:

        Yes … It can be a circular thing, when it works perfectly (I’m told … I’ve not experienced it!). The work and the art feed and feed off each other.

        • Except it rarely does…

          • Patrick Downs says:

            Oh, I know. It’s easy to look at Meola, Maisel and the others, but they were at the right time and place, in the Golden Age of Photography. $5-10k a day for commercial work, and art directors banging on their door. Even then, they were superstars but there were also guys shooting rights-managed stock who were making $500k/year too, and more than a few of them. Now not so much! And now the ADs look at Flickr and Instagram for ideas or actual images, and sometimes say “Can you make this look like you’re an amateur shooter, using an iPhone?” It’s hard… I have some very established, successful friends who are really down, with their business WAY off … struggling. I wish I knew the answer, for me too.

            • That doesn’t happen anymore. Maybe if you’re at the very top end of the business, but frankly I’m not seeing where else to go in my local market and I’m nowhere near the bottom end of that figure. It’s a very different game for sure…

      • All the more so because it isn’t easy!

    • I love Jay Maisel. He’s incredible. I heard an interview with him where he said that he tried to only accept commercial jobs which he would have done for nothing, i.e. that he liked the idea of. Presumably this was when he was already so well established that he could pick and choose; not something that the average pro can do. A nice stage to aspire to, though!

    • I wonder how close the personal work was to the commercial work. It might well be a workable solution – so long as that disconnect isn’t too big.

  42. Really like this:

    the artists who do whatever it is they do for the sake of doing it and to their own personal satisfaction – arguably the very definition of art – do not and almost certainly will not gain popularity in their lifetimes. They produce solely for themselves, and if somebody likes it, great; if not, no big deal. The work retains integrity of thought and purity of idea; it isn’t diluted or modified slightly to make it more accessible, affordable or understandable to a larger (buying) public.

    Your work gets stronger every day/week. To me you are both an artist and a photographer. Also a Writer and Teacher. You seem to be able to do all of them in parallel.

    • It also means I’m probably going to die in a debtor’s prison, but my heirs are going to make a fortune off my estate…

    • Eric’s mention of your other activities got me thinking: do the workshops help you in any way – artistically speaking?

      I’m thinking that maybe your interaction with non-professionals, your students, may be refreshing. A sort of “back to the basics” thing. If it does, favouring teaching (private workshops, semestrial ones for art curriculums) as opposed to commercial work could do you some good.
      … or maybe not?

      • I enjoy meeting the people, the social interaction, shooting in different locations – but no, they don’t do much for me artistically. To do a workshop properly you have to be concentrating on teaching and your students all the time, not shooting for yourself.

  43. Patrick Downs says:

    I don’t and will never understand the fine art painting/sculpture world. Photos? Well, when some idiot is willing to pay $4 mil for Gursky’s Rhine II (i.e., if you can’t make it good, make it big), then it’s beyond my comprehension. When you figure it all out … let me know! http://freeyork.org/photography/10-most-expensive-photographs-in-the-world

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  1. […] absolute favourites. He is a phenomenal photographer, but also a very good writer. His latest post, ‘Art, celebrity and fame’, deals with being an artist, trying to remain true to your vision, but also having to serve other […]

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