I will shoot what I want

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Silhouette of a woman.

On the face of it, this seems like a very obvious statement of intention. For most people, this is not even something that gets called into question (see this article on why we photograph). Perhaps it’s an odd issue I’m personally facing, but the discussion of all things photographic and creative is the purpose of this site after all. Of late, I’m stuck between four places: photographing the commercial, as specified by the client; photographing what appeals to me personally, which is almost always not commercially viable at all; photographing what the audience of this site wants to see and photographing what the art world dictates I should be doing.

To understand the dilemma, we need to take a step back. Like many other professional photographers, I’m here because I choose to be here: I quit a successful corporate career in the somewhat mistaken belief that I was meant to be a photographer. This meant making an enormous number of compromises: income, free time, job security, social status amongst other things. I consciously knew this going in, and it isn’t a surprise to me that every single one of these compromises – and more – landed up being necessary.

The reason for the compromise was so that I could spend more time doing something I enjoyed, instead of working to pay for distractions from the fact I was doing something I didn’t – as you can imagine, this is not a positive cycle. The disconnect comes in my own expectations: there’s simply no way one can expect to photograph the things they enjoy photographing all the time and be paid for it; little of that kind of work has commercial value, even if the underlying techniques are still current. So, there comes the necessity to start producing work on demand to pay the rent: being a craftsman.

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The SETI message on my ceiling

But in the course of being a craftsman, and assuming you care about your images (otherwise why take the path I did?) you’ll eventually get to the point where you have a very strong opinion about the way a given subject should be photographed; you feel it and can visualize the result. A result which you know will be aesthetically pleasing and pleasing to your client. Your client tells you to stop wasting time, follow the brief and just copy this example – even though the composition or angle doesn’t work for their product. They then come back and complain that the image looks wrong, even though you warned them that it would be the case and suggested an alternative. Needless to say, this can be extremely frustrating. It’s even more frustrating when they supposedly hired you because of a) your portfolio, which contains images of the sort you want to make, not the kind they asked for, and b) because they “value your creative input”.

Sorry, but this has proven to be utter BS time and again. Fortunately, I discovered there is a happy medium: there are clients who really do value your creativity and give you the freedom to produce the work you want to produce – after all, that’s why they hired you in the first place – but these tend to be extremely few and far between. I value them like obedient solid gold unicorns that can also carry your lenses and serve as voice-activated flash stands. Even though we do our best on every job – we as photographer should be the standard-bearers of quality – we want to go the extra mile for these customers. It’s almost always a happily mutually beneficial relationship; finding them is the tricky part.

The third ‘motivational force’ – the ‘fine art*’ world – is one that has personal pull for me because it theoretically should give you the ability to make a living shooting and creating only the images you want. It seems that there is a fundamental misfit between myself and that universe, so it would be unwise to pursue it. In any case, the bigger question is: why does it matter? A number of comments to that post linked above have convinced me that it really doesn’t. There’s no reason why I have to match those expectations to be accepted, nor does anybody else. If you spend long enough going your own way and gaining your own following, well, that seems to be success enough so long as you can stay afloat. Going against the establishment and conventional interpretations of the world has always been a fundamental of art anyway.

*Insert usual quip about  ‘coarse art’ or ‘medium 5-A grade art’ here.

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Trio

So, the only possible conclusion I can arrive at is that in order for photography to be sustainable for me both as a career and a passion, the only thing I can do is shoot what I want: both the subject matter and the style, and for commercial and personal work. I know this comes as something of a reversal to my earlier position on keeping professional and personal work separate; I tried for a time, but found this to be far too frustrating and reminiscent of the feelings I had for my job before leaving the corporate world.

I’m sure this is going to mean more trade offs – turning jobs down, not gaining ‘recognition’, and probably other things I haven’t forseen – but this is something I’m willing to accept in return for feeling as though I’m making fewer creative compromises**.

**At this point I have to explain that it’s almost certainly a personality thing; I have some degree of Asperger’s. Understanding it and learning to work within the limitations of the way one’s own mind operates is probably a very good starting point to achieving balance and happiness.

It’s impossible to make everybody happy anyway. Sorry readers, but this means I’m going to post what I want, shoot what I want, and not care if you think it lacks soul or emotion is too technically perfect or isn’t blurry enough or I should get drunk before going out to photograph, because after all, it is my site, and everybody is free to do as they prefer. In fact, the fact that you care enough to comment strongly either positive or negative means that I did succeed in eliciting an emotional response. I should be more worried if all I got was a series of bland platitudes, or worse still, no response at all. I actually suspect this is going to result in more focus and direction for my personal work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it does of course mean that this site will never be like any oher photography website; for as long as it exists, it will remain uncompromisingly pure to the intention of the creator. I believe when I shoot solely for my own satisfaction, I am making art. Forget acceptance and acknowledgement by the establishment, I’m contented with that. And that matters, since the end goal is the translation of a vision, not equipment reviews and product catalogs. As usual, I’m going to end this by turning it around: do you feel like you’re compromising creatively to some other external pressure? Is there a good reason for it? MT

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Comments

  1. Most people will wish you success, because your success gives them permission to take their own shot at whatever it is they really want to do. If somebody against you on this, you have to wonder if it’s because they’re afraid to try. Don’t be angry at them: pity them, bless them and move on.

  2. I’m intrigued – what are the images your audience here wants to see? Also, why did you start this site in the first place?

  3. NeutraL-GreY says:

    Fantastic good for you Ming!

  4. Hi Ming,

    I feel your pain. After 35 years making my living as a photographer, I’ve been through all of the phases, except the one where I give up and stop. At this point, I’m even more passionate about making images than I was when I first picked up a camera.

    For many years I attempted to meld my personal work into my commercial work, and I found it very frustrating. It’s very difficult to serve two masters, yourself and your client, as both will be disappointed with the results. So for the past 20 years (I’m a slow learner) I’ve keep the two parts of my photography separated. And by that I mean that I only shoot for one entity at a time. The work I do on assignment is meant to serve a purpose, fill a hole, be raw material for something else, tell a story to someone else’s specifications, and in general to be useful to my client.

    Often, when you look at my professional work and my personal work, they don’t look very different, but on the most fundamental level, they are worlds apart. I don’t confuse my commercial work as art. I have no ego about what my client does with it, they can crop it, change the color, whatever, I don’t have any emotional attachment to it. I am proud of the work I do and work very hard to make the best possible images I can, and will gladly show it off to anyone. But it does not satisfy my inner desire to express what I feel and how I see the world. That is what my personal work is all about, and that is the work that I am very attached to on an emotional level.

    What I do have is a very consistent visual signature that easily leaps the divide of commercial and personal images. There are very few photographers that are able to only make the images they want for both commercial clients and for themselves. And there are many artists who shoot to satisfy the galleries that sell their work, and to me, that’s all about the commercialization of art. Much of what passes as art today is simply not that interesting or challenging, but merely looks good when printed large and hung above the sofa. But that is another discussion for another day.

    Do not lament the commercial / personal divide, but embrace it fully and make images that are uniquely your own, but be mindful of who must be satisfied with the outcome. Serve one master at a time, but never compromise your vision.

    Thanks for all of the work you put into this blog.

    All the best,
    Mike Peters

    • Thanks for the advice, Mike. Makes sense but I’ve always found the challenge to be a binary one: it’s difficult to make really good images you’re proud of but don’t ‘feel’ at a deeper level. If that emotional investment isn’t there, then motivating oneself to go the extra mile isn’t so easy 🙂

      I’ve kept things separate for as long as possible. But I don’t want to be associated with some of the stuff I’m asked to produce because honestly…it’s terrible. Being given a brief of ‘copy this’ is bad enough since it isn’t your work or style, but even worse when that style doesn’t fit the assignment or product or aim of the client and they refuse to listen but blame you when they’re not satisfied with the result…

  5. I just came back to your site to soothe my nerves. I needed to see great photography.

    I hired a photographer to provide some feature images for a website revamp, gave him free reign in a manufacturing plant, and asked that he illustrate two areas in particular – in any way he chose. I hope to decorate a dull site and often dull industrial subject, not illustrate a textbook.

    What I got were a few crooked images blurred with camera shake. Backgrounds not controlled. Miserable composition, people caught making faces or blinking, or posed like a goofy child. I don’t see a useable image in the set – let alone anything worth looking at.

    I sure wish I could hire a real pro. Keep it up, Ming.

    • Ouch. Well, I am available to hire for assignments and I have done quite a number of industrial jobs before… (heavy engineering, shipyards, tunnel boring…amongst others)

      • I believe I’ve read arguments in favor of giving lots of freedom to creative professionals to do what they do best. I understand the frustration experienced when a highly talented creative received client instructions that are downright counterproductive.
        But I’ve paid for a few projects here and there, like CME’s, in which a great deal of creative freedom was involved and the resulting work of the “creative professional” was entirely worthless. The creatives in some cases I’m thinking of had shown prior work that evidenced worth but the project(s) still miscarriaged. It’s not a nice experience to pay for essentially nothing. I have little doubt that those experiences lend some motivation for clients to shift toward less latitude in the work for hire.

        • Even if the pro gets creative freedom, this shouldn’t happen. The client should be involved at every stage to give input and avoid situations like this – if anything, the pro should insist on it. Failure on both sides, in my opinion. We don’t even get the option to try that here. Most of the time it’s just ‘copy what was being done in America or Europe last year’.

  6. Anatoly Loshmanov says:

    Hello Ming!
    “Silhouette of a woman” is amaizing.
    It is definetly THE VISION.
    Wish you the best.
    Sincerely,
    Anatoly

  7. knickerhawk says:

    Ming, find and read the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. It’s a hoot, and you’ll realize that your frustrations with clients and all of the BS about art has been going on for a long time. These days its the galleries and museums. In Cellini’s time it was the wealthy patrons and the Church.

  8. Reblogged this on Eileen Lyn Wah.

  9. Martin Fritter says:

    Trying to produce art that appeals to an audience and sells should not be written off as mere pandering: listening to Don Givoanni right now and Mozart definitely wanted popular success and money. Bach had to please the congregation at the Thomaskirche. Photographers seem to have had a hard time earning a living as artists. Strand, for example. Callahan held academic posts. And so on. Curious what you think of Jeff Wall’s work, btw. Apparently “A View from an Apartment” took him two years of planning and experimentation. Kind of like product photography run amok.

  10. Edward Pentney says:

    Bravo.
    Love the images in this article by the way.
    Been following your blog for a while now, and I am definitely seeing a change in the images you post.
    To me, your eye for spotting something unique and inherently pleasing has increased exponentially. Cant wait to see some of the new images.

  11. Hi Ming,
    Interesting article. My take; you can’t make real art if you are trying to predict and pander to what the audience want to see. You may have a degree of commercial success making “popular” pictures but that isn’t really art now is it? None of the real artists that I have had exposure to manage to create exceptional art through a process/motivation of aiming to pay bills, it is more as a consequence of working the way that they want to, doing what interests them, following that and developing that, in most cases with religious zeal. I think that is why there is a focus on the “process” rather than the outcome in tertiary art schools. Through immersing one’s self in the process one finds an artistic outcome.
    Perhaps the answer lies in truly following what you want to do (until you are able to do it like no one else) and through that, real art will develop and perhaps commercial success as well. Its something that I have pondered quite a bit in the last 15 years or so.

    • Oh and I wanted to say, I welcome you being yourself as much as possible. As a consumer/reader I feel more comfortable in believing that I am reading your true opinions and theories on things that interest you. If I wanted to consume some vanilla, politically correct, censored drivel there are a million other sites I could be reading and people I could be buying stuff from, I don’t have to agree with your opinion to want to read it. I enjoy your perspective, please keep it up.

    • Nope, it isn’t art because it’s catering primarily to somebody else’s expectations/ideas rather than my own. Sometimes there is overlap, mostly not. Reality is you can’t focus effort on something if you can’t pay the bills, either. That might explain why there’s no homeless master painters either 🙂

      Funny, because I was told quite frequently the process doesn’t matter either…ah well. Back to the same conclusion: shoot what I want.

  12. Guy Incognito says:

    It would appear to me, an artist has two choices to generate income from their work. They can choose to make the art they want (expressing their own preferences) and let the irrational and political art market value their work. Or they can mitigate pricing risk by choosing to produce work they know will appeal to the market (pandering to the preference of others). I don’t envy either option. In either case, more marketing and shoulder rubbing than I care to imagine would probably be involved.

    From my point of view, producing art for fame, recognition or acknowledgement is antithetical to the process of (my) art. I simply find it enjoyable and educational to do. Even if it is compulsive, frustrating or never seen again. It is a very selfish pursuit for me. Consequently I don’t find much joy in doing it for others. As a result I am not subject to any external pressure. If I am lucky, others might enjoy it. I am certainly not ambitious enough to consider that others might want to pay for my enjoyment!

    Perhaps you are addressing the wrong question? Maybe “what life choices and compromises do I need to maximise my happiness?” is a more appropriate question. The compromises are probably the more interesting part. Particularly if you have a family. You are charged with contributing your fair share to producing a stable environment. This means you need to earn more than the bare minimum required to support only your passions. I am risk averse. I would not attempt to provide for my family off the back of my financially risky passions. I need more predictability, hence, a job I am fortunate enough to enjoy. Although my job is not my passion, the stability it provides factors into my global happiness. If passions become profitable, you can do less work and reach a work-life balance nirvana. A worthy goal but not something that you can skip directly to.

    So… I personally think keeping commercial and personal work separate can be productive if the boundaries are distinct, understood and obeyed. Both the commercial, and personal work have different roles to play (although they can share common elements). Standing back, maybe you failed to keep them separate? Objectively do you think you succeeded? It seems to me that in attempting to commercialise your personal work, you let external influences shape your personal output? Not a failure of the strategy per se, but a failure to implement it? Perhaps re-evaluate what belongs where and how one serves the other?

    On the emotion front… Don’t get me started! One of the things that attracts me to your site are the philosophical articles and the discussion. The discussion in “Questioning the ‘art’ market” was interesting and polarised. There was both balance and people on high chairs, some with odd interpretations of art. It sounds like you took this to heart.

    Ming, de gustibus non est disputandum!

    • You may well be right. And it may be too late to separate the two.

    • Guy, I read your post and said, ” Wow, that’s me.” Today, my photography is very personal, just for me. Very selfish. Couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks. (It’s nice if my wife likes it because she puts up with my photo/printing/framing budget 🙂 If you like it , great. If not, ok. I did it because it made my heart sing. I have called it “visual masterbation” at times. Maybe TMI, but for me it fits. BUT I make my living somewhere else.

      Ming, when I shot for other people I accepted that sometimes I had clients who gave me a lot of leeway to put my own vision in a project, and sometimes not. I still had to pay the mortgage and feed my family, so bread and butter work was fine and part of the package. I always thought I was very luck SOMETIMES I got paid very well for doing something I loved and would do for free. I’m dating myself, but everyone should listen to Joni Mitchell’s “Playing Real Good for Free” if you haven’t hear the song.

      I once won an Art Director’s award for a brochure we did for a knee replacement product. The cover, which really was what won, was a sorta abstract sexy close up of this thing that looked like a Ferrari or maybe a sexy woman’s hips. I spent all day and they let me do whatever I wanted. The AD came in at 5 and looked at polaroids (dating myself again) and said, “Wow.”

      The same brochure had several 15 minute product shots of bone screws. Oh well.

      Ming, you’re very talented. I hope you get to shoot just what you want when you want. My perspective is, if you only get to do that sometimes maybe you are already luckier than most.

  13. Yes definitely! Especially after reactions to what you’re using. It’s easily to get caught up with everybody wanting everything… I remember back when fans wrote to complain on how harry potter ended! Gosh… It seems like they can’t get their lives in control but want to control everything else that happens around them!

    Cheers to you Ming.

    • Cheers! I think it’s precisely because they can’t get their own lives in control, so they’re forced to resort to exerting an opinion on the only place they can hope to be heard 🙂

  14. Lucy March says:

    While I am not sure that a disinclination to compromise one’s creativity is exclusively an aspect of the Aspergers’ spectrum (that seems to run across the gamut of personality types 🙂 I wouldn’t be at all surprised if your Asperger traits don’t contribute strongly to your particular artistic gift. Rather than focusing on the blatant emotional qualities of a scene, you consistently find elements, patterns and juxtapositions which go unnoticed by most eyes. Your great gift to the viewer is that when you point them out (and in a technically masterful way), we see them too. Unlike much that passes for art, your work clarifies rather than obscures, even as it also pays homage to the inherent mystery that surrounds us. As a viewer, this brings a pleasure of discovery — hey, there is indeed a woman on that lampshade! — that for me marks your work as uniquely Ming. It may not bring you great financial rewards, and I recognize the pain of that, but I do think that the shear number of your readers (and careful readers at that) means that your artistry is much appreciated!

    I look forward to seeing in what new direction you might be going.

  15. Hi Ming, I wouldn’t stress too much about trying to produce to suffice the art market. The art market in its current state is dying because it is a model that has existed is old. The market has lulled not just because of the GFC, it has lulled because in the great art boom leading up to the GFC artists stocks, particularly that of young artists was manipulated and inflated in value to the point of being criminal. What happened is you had early career artists, producing unproven work, fetching prices way beyond its merit (much like the toxic debt problem). Many of these artists today have basically been priced out of the market as its hard to take your prices down once you have put them up. Fire sales are not an attractive look for galleries… The problem with people entering the art market is they often do it for the wrong reasons, mistakenly thinking that there is some formula to making “successful” work. Instead of observing the world they have simply become products of it. There isn’t a formula to creating successful art, however there is a formula to making mediocre horseshit that appeases people with far more money than artistic sensibilities, (enter street art :P) . Isn’t that the same problem faced when making commercial work? Making it ultimately to please the client. Why trade one pair of handcuffs for another? I believe the art set are fur lined:P

    One thing that I liked about moving into photography and away from fine art (I believe there is a clear difference, they just often share the same wall space) was that much baggage was shed the moment work could exist in its native format and not actually be tangible. Although I am making work for print, I cant stop thinking that we have now 4>5K displays that will soon become standard. Much like the music market the problem facing the art market is digital media. Another thing happened around the GFC. The ipad came out. Yes It I believe there have been some culture damage caused to the traditional art market by our new image saturated devices. The digital realm is actually the most exciting opportunity for artists to reclaim art from the market and maybe give it back some its innocence. Regardless; digital now and its also the clear path forward with respects to image making, to me it make sense that digital is the most suitable forum. The beauty of the digital forum is its far more transparent than any white cube. Work cannot hide behind the illusion of context that the gallery often compensates many artist with. I see today’s gallery art market as nothing more than a baron temptress. Although I feel she’s gonna be one of those old stubborn bitches that refuses to die. Until then I would be looking elsewhere for satisfaction.

    • You’re absolutely right, and that’s the cause of my ongoing frustration with ‘traditional art’; especially when you get told point blank by galleries that’s the case. But I still want to believe there are others that are not like that, and stay in art for art, because they have to, because they are driven to and for the images. I think I’ve met a couple of those, so there’s hope for now.

      4-5k displays are something, and are going to make conventional prints look extremely ropey and ‘vague’ very soon (assuming one has the shot discipline). At 300+ PPI, we’re going to have to go further. This is one of the reasons for the Ultraprints, and I think they’re not really going to come into their own until a few years from now when there’s more understanding of precisely why you want more resolution and how to deploy it from both practical and artistic standpoints. But for now, I’m happy to be ready to go when that time comes.

      • Yes there are some really good galleries that are totally in for the right reasons and many try to tinker with the traditional model, but I think many galleries are honestly behind the ball in reacting to changes in how we actually consume images today. So far the impact has been that many galleries are lost due simply to disinterest. There is still a want for pictures on walls but the demand has dropped especially in the lower to middle brackets. Unfortunately many galleries just get eaten up due to the current market reality or unreality:P.

        traditional Art isn’t as culturally powerful as it used to be. Ultimately the ipad is the evolution of the painting. Static images have to work harder to wet the appetite and ultimately this is a good thing. As we become more image savvy, we will demand more. The focus shifts from money and starts to assess what is actually happening because it can all be consumed at some level for free. Popular music is going through this transition. Performing live is becoming the only way artists can survive, it is actually getting closer to what it is really about and less focused on record sales. This is a good thing for music as it pushes artists to actually perform live and like any product they better do a bloody good job for my $$$ Sure their will be big pockets of mediocrity but these are people that would otherwise have zero creative output. Maybe not a great selling point:P but ultimately a good thing.

        .

        • I agree: performing live is not a bad thing at all. That encourages them to bring music to other places that would previously have been ignored (Kuala Lumpur, for example) and up their game. It’s not an experience that can be replicated digitally anyway.

          The only analog I see for photography is in print: you can’t replicate a print digitally; it’s again a completely different experience. The challenge is a different one though: how do you convince people who’ve never seen a good print that there is an enormous difference? Even the blunt numbers don’t seem to do the job; e.g. a 5k iMac display at 12MP and 200+PPI still only gets less than 3% of the total information in Forest XII.

          • Wow had no idea there was that much loss. Maybe slap some ultra prints on a lightboxs and you have all bases covered 😛

            • Doesn’t work. Transparency material has a much lower resolution and gamut limit, so we have to use matte fiber-based papers. Those rather have a transparency limit 😛

              • Have you experimented with any high quality Japanese papers? From what I can tell these cotton rags the same stock used for relief printing. I used to do a lot of woodblock printing and and used a Kozo stock. Long fibre, ultra fine to the point that it is slightly transparent a a fine tooth that held amazing details. These are common characteristics in Japanese printing paper, I’m sure there are others that might be comparable. The reason many rag stocks are so heavy is that you soak in water them before printing to hold details. I imaging you are not soaking your before you run it through what I image is a highly expensive printing device.

                • Yes, we have; the challenge is limited dmax and gamut. For the stuff we don’t have to soak, there’s only so much ink we can lay down before the paper saturates and then the dots start gaining; conversely, there’s only so much we can reduce droplet size or pass time before you’re not laying down any ink at all. I’ve got some ideas for this kind of rice and cotton papers, but I must admit my biggest fear is handling by the recipient at the other end…we do make conscious compromises because it’s simply easier to have a 95% result that stays at 95% rather than a 99% one that can be easily damaged.

                  • Interesting. I’m still very green with regards to digital printing, but will be looking into this extensively this year. Just need to find a printer who is enthusiastic and doesnt mind my brand of deodorant :P. It seems your dealing with some pretty extreme sensitivities. I noted that this ultra printing method requires high MP files. Have you used applied Ultra printing techniques to push prints from something like the GR, or is it simply not worth the effort?

                    • Ultraprinting is transparent: you get out what you put in. So, you could ultraprint a 16MP image at 720PPI (native output) and get roughly a 5×7″, or upscale and print larger – but doing so just reveals that you didn’t really have enough information to start with.

                      We’re now experimenting with larger format ultraprints – about 24″ wide (paper width limitation; no sense in using 44″ paper since we don’t have the pixels yet) and up to 60″ long. The largest ones are rapidly approaching gigapixel territory.

        • It used to be that musicians sold albums only to get people to come to their concerts where they made their real money. It’s been reversed since the era of the mass-produced pop star started, but maybe it’s going back to the old model now since it’s transparently clear how much services like Spotify are exploiting musicians.

          Anyway, I totally agree with Ming’s point that seeing a print is a totally different experience. I have a few Ultraprints, and it is a totally different experience than seeing the web images. I saw the Koudelka exhibit at the Getty Center this weekend too, and that was when I really got what his photography is about. It’s an amazing exhibit: everyone should make an effort to see it. Everything from 6-foot long panoramas to little 1-inch book mockups. The guy was a true artist in every sense of the word, and very inspiring for me.

          He has an interesting path too in that he was an aeronautical engineer who gave up his job to become a photographer, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia happened about the same time, from which he made images that established his reputation (though the photos were anonymous for a few years due to fear of reprisals). I’m not sure if that’s good or bad luck, but he certainly made the best of it.

          • I saw the same exhibition in Chicago last year, and I have to say that the stark, massive and very Soviet panoramas were what struck me. Perhaps because the invasion images have been seen quite a lot; perhaps because one just appeals to me more at a personal level. Or maybe it was the newness factor. It’s curious (but not surprising) that we see again the popular work not necessarily being the most interesting (I won’t say ‘best’, that’s highly subjective).

            As for luck – it’s like light; we photographers have to recognise it and take full advantage! 🙂

  16. Inevitably you were going to get to this place, it’s a process. With too many readers I see shooting with the “latest and greatest” as a path to creditability and respect, not good. Personally; I saw as your best, at ease work coming from the Titan and F6. I’m not advocating for the Titan or F6 or film, just thinking that there might be a connection. It seems, the one contemporary photographer that has it working is Michael Kenna.

    • Yes, it is. But we have to go through the wringer to get there – either you come out on the other side having sold out, or remembering why you started this in the first place. I didn’t do it to sell cameras or review equipment, I did it to make photographs. Photographs that appealed to me. So…why compromise if you’ve already taken an enormous risk to be here?

      Shooting with the latest and greatest – up to a point – is about finding the right tool. As one’s artistic objectives change, the tool must also change (if you can). I know exactly why I’m doing it; it isn’t for credibility. I’m going to make a couple of moves with that logic in mind in the next week that will probably shock a lot of people.

  17. This attitude is what steps you out from so many other bloggers/artists and the reason i value being able to have an incite into your world.Thank you for taking the time to write and give us your time

  18. I’ve been out of the loop; are we doing the pay-per-review program you rolled out? I’d like to see the Sony A7 Mark II on the rotation please. Thank you.

  19. Ming, as others have said, this is a really great post especially to kick off a new year. There is no point compromising yourself even to pursue this as a career: life is too short.

  20. I just have to say that I miss your early street/cinematic work with the leica cameras. I dunno what made you change but I will keep watching nonetheless. You know what you like and we like it too. Go MT! 😀

    • Most of my cinematic work was done with a Nikon, actually. Street is overdone and oversold and frankly doesn’t appeal to me at a personal level; I did it because I didn’t know any better. We must shoot more things to know ourselves better, and not be afraid to move on, either.

  21. I applaud you, Ming. If I may quote a great photographer, Steve Simon, as saying, “Photography is a universal language and the more honest and revealing you are, the more viewers will respond to the work. If you stop trying to make images that look like what you think strong photography is supposed to look like and instead look inward, aiming your camera at the things most personal to you, following your curiosity —your work will be elevated. Honesty and passion shine through.”

    This is a great way to kick off the New Year, and I wish you a renewed passion in your photography and look forward to your work for 2015!

  22. Excellent….excellent….excellent! Bravo! Well said!

  23. There were two men who met by appointment in a city somewhere. One was a great well known photographer who had dedicated his life to photography and had made a living of it. The other was an admirer of photography and had no other wish than to shoot away and let it end where it ends.
    They took their cameras and went out there in the city-scape happily chatting about all sorts of common everyday stuff only interrupted by seeing subjects each their way, photograph it and move on for the next.
    At a certain moment while walking along the random route in the narrow streets, they both spotted a quite painterly looking building that had a mosaiced window they both spotted. Spontaneously they started to stare through the window. Inside were a living room which interior had a beauty that astounded them both. While pressing their noses flat on the mosaiced glass that painfully separated them from entering, they found the interior so irresistible interesting to shoot they forgot time and place giving themselves over to the moment of vision. They were standing there together with only one wish, to get in and shoot away.
    Since there were no chance for them to enter in any way they had to give up at last. Disappointed about the hindrance they moved on their random walk looking for new subjects to shoot. But the moment were never forgotten by any of them.

    The point is the professional photographer saw inside that room was the potential of one of his portfolios greatest shots, without giving the slightest attention to print and sell his art, while the casual photographer saw inside that room was the potential of one of his portfolios greatest shots that would have made the proudest man ever.

    Would somebody be able to distinguish the two mens visions from each other while they were standing there staring through that window and say they hadn’t had the same photographic vision each their way? The one who made a living from his photography and the one who wanted to shoot away until it ends?
    The only thing that actually did differ them in that very moment of absorption was the bloody fact the the professional photographer were financially dependant on the success of his art, the other photographer were’nt.

    My point is despite dependency there’s no compromises in life worth taking in exchange of being robbed the moments where vision and our doings merges and turn life into happiness. By doing what we love and envision we need to let everything else go. If risk is not there until we smell the danger, then don’t smell.

    Ming, may such moments become the many ones and be the briggs your future is build on. In happiness we shall all want to invest and the key to fulfilment lies therein.

    • Gerner…that room in Venice…aargh! It still haunts me today. Right down to the little details. We tried, we really did…but short of doing something illegal that only a fellow photographer would understand, no dice. I went back again afterwards to try and find that building again and perhaps the front door, but I couldn’t. I’m still wondering if that place really existed – I suppose it must have since we both saw the same thing.

      I believe if there’s a plan B there’s always a safe way out and we tend not to take that extra step needed to make something work. When there’s no plan B…there is no choice, and usually somehow we find a way to continue. I’m not giving myself that plan B 🙂

      Thank you for all of the support and positive thoughts!

    • Wonderful story Gerner, thank you for sharing. You have captured the reason why I photograph, and the double-edged sword that can be! There are images that I yearned to make, but couldn’t at the time, that still haunt me…I guess it’s a bit like the ubiquitous “fisherman’s tale” (aka “the one that got away”). These scenes would have passed us by if we didn’t do what we do, and therefore, no matter our personal skill levels, we are enriched by giving in to the lure of photography.

    • Great story you paint

  24. Hi Ming,

    I wish you well with your stated aim. If you can make enough money to survive, to whatever standard is acceptable to you you will have achieved the ultimate goal of most people. A goal most cannot even imaging pursing and which, because of that, will result in you receiving a number of brickbats whether you succeed or fail.

    Whatever happens you have my admiration for trying and for stating it so publicly. Even in my youth I enjoyed photography and wanted to become a professional photographer. My father would not hear of it and I became an accountant; this probably did me a favour. I also enjoyed fishing and in my early 30’s I had the chance to buy a fishing tackle shop. I quickly came to hate it and these days I hardly ever go fishing. Making a living from a passion took the soul out of it.

    I make a small side income form my photography these days but it will never become a proper business because I recognise that for myself to do this would cause me to sell out and take pictures that I did not believe in. Photography will never, for me, travel the path that fishing did.

    I wish you every success and will follow your progress with interest and enjoy your super imagery.

    Bill

    • Thank you, Bill. You’re absolutely right – the bricks have already started flying, though it makes it easier to ignore them if you succeed (or at least believe you will).

      Same thing with making a living from a passion. But I still want to believe there’s a middle path which lets you do both; there has to be some personal freedom in being able to pick the path that appeals to you at the time. I do realise I’ve got to find this before I start shooting solely for income and hating photography completely, which would be a shame…

  25. I’ll just add to the applause here. Thank you for the perfect New Year’s post that goes beyond photography to really touch on how one chooses to live one’s life. Best wishes for great success, as defined by you and only you!

  26. Thanks for posting this Ming and good luck. For thoughts and guidance on the Art World, you might like to look at Philip Hook’s book “Breakfast at Sotheby’s”, if you haven’t already. As well as being erudite and instructive, it’s also very funny, particularly about what sells and what doesn’t in the world of painting (with perhaps some applicable lessons for photography).

  27. Time for a change of venue. A golden land (at some point) awash in money. Bigger budgets administered by vulnerable people easily subject to influence — even intimidation — in matters of taste. Consider an extended tour of the US.

    The vehicle is the H-1B visa for specialists employed by American firms. A truly cutting-edge music production house needs a director of photography. It’s just that none have realized it yet. The first to do so (I think it’s spelled W-o-j-a-h-n Brothers) would enjoy a unique position in the industry. The duties of a DP in that arena can be infinitely customized to attract the specialist employee.

    Qualifications may include such niceties as language proficiency; for example, at least nominal fluency in Mandarin.

    I think you can see the possibilities.

  28. The best I’ve seen and read from you was when you’re were, clearly, doing what you wanted. I think, and hope, this will take you where you want to be.

  29. “Understanding it and learning to work within the limitations of the way one’s own mind operates is probably a very good starting point to achieving balance and happiness.”

    Sooo true. I would have loved to arrive at this stage earlier in my life. Although, I wouldn’t know what I do now if the path would have been different.

    You are a unique photographer from my perspective. I’m sure I will love your work no matter what you shoot. Best of luck! (To both… cheers!)

    • The other reality is of course that we cannot be the people we are today without having gone through the things we did earlier…so I suppose ‘knowing sooner’ doesn’t necessarily have a better outcome.

  30. A friend forwarded this message
    1.THE “earth” WITHOUT “art” IS JUST “eh”
    2.”Life is like a camera. Just focus on what’s important and captured the good times, develop from the negatives and if things don’t work out, just take another shoot.”
    3.In a forum, an U.S. Utah prof. said “every decision is correct, only differ in outcome.”

  31. nothingbeforecoffee says:

    Nice to see you arrive here Ming. Hoop jumping is almost always exhausting and the bruises it leaves on the soul are painful.
    I come to your site regularly, not because I like all of what you shoot or write but because I appreciate the underlying integrity that seems to underscore all of what you do. At our best, we continue to evolve… a task made all the more difficult when we sublimate our feelings. You may suffer financially or socially to some degree as a result of your actions but I imagine you will sleep better and walk taller as a result of your decisions. All the very best.
    terry

  32. I also wonder why certain people have nothing better to do than speculate about the finances of others out of ignorance, is it jealousy, perhaps?

    I make no apologies for working hard, being successful at commercial photography and enjoying the rewards. But I’m also under no illusion that a change to art means a very different income. I think that’s pretty straightforward.

    • Peter Wright says:

      Ming, I enjoy your blog (and videos, courses, prints) very much. Keep up the good work.

      There is a reason the corporate world pays so well. I can remember hearing the phrase “golden handcuffs” many times. Basically the individual quoting this would like to be a gentleman farmer, or a painter, or whatever, but couldn’t imagine not having the BMW.

      I met a successful artist who told me that collectors don’t collect art, they collect the artist (and it helps if you’re dead!) Clearly, if you want to get into fine art the best way forward for you, is firstly to become very well known for one particular style only, e.g. Salgado – heavy printed B&W, Eggleston – quotidian pseudo amateur colour. Even if it eventually bores you silly. You must therefore absolutely avoid demonstrating competence in the multiple styles you discuss in your videos because this will only confuse people. Next, maintain a lifestyle of outrageous, and preferably self destructive behaviour, (this will help you become well known) culminating with your sudden demise in dramatic circumstances – thus ensuring your oeuvre will not henceforth grow or change. You will then have no difficulty in filling a gallery anywhere, or selling your work. I guarantee it!!

      You had the courage to take off the golden handcuffs quite early in life, so I am sure you will be able to find the integrity to follow your vision photographically and in life in general. Good luck on your journey!

      • Well, that sounds like fun! 🙂 Surely one’s oeuvre in one genre also stays fixed if you change styles or genres…but yes, it seems commercial is really quite at odds with art – I wouldn’t survive if I only did one style (unless I was say a wedding photographer only doing cinematic). Death seems to be slightly extreme though. Perhaps I’ll just fake it!

  33. This is a powerful, watershed and New Year’s appropriate, post. I came to a similar conclusion with my painting and sculpture endeavors, several years ago. I hope that you are OK.

    The only suggestion that I have is to think about how you can push “your vision” even further. I’m sure that you have already done this to some degree, but it warrants continual reflection and experimentation. Good luck on your artistic journey!

    • Thank you, David. Never better. A moment of clarity driven by a change in personal circumstances, perhaps. There’s far too much to do, to see, to shoot, people you actually want to spend time with, etc. to bother with the stuff that doesn’t matter to you to gain popular approval. Might as well make the most of the one life we have!

      Evolution of vision is a slow process. But I do have some ideas to try for this year…:)

  34. “Sorry readers, but this means I’m going to post what I want, shoot what I want, and not care if you think it lacks soul or emotion is too technically perfect or isn’t blurry enough or I should get drunk before going out to photograph, because after all, it is my site, and everybody is free to do as they prefer”

    Yes, please, do that 🙂

  35. Peter Boender says:

    Bravo! The post I’ve been waiting for for a while now. I’m so glad you made up your mind, and continue (start again?) doing what you do best: translating YOUR vision into YOUR beautiful pictures, and don’t care about the world. No doubt this will attract some trolls (You are aware of that, aren’t you? But basically: screw them), but IMHO your proud stand will gain you much support and admiration from the people who truly care about photography, art and philosophy. And that, in the end my friend, is most important. I’m really looking forward to your bright future and what you will surprise us with! Have faith, be strong!

    • Definitely; I’ve already had to ban and delete some. But who cares…the jealous, the incompetent, those whose lives revolve around brand religion and a keyboard have plenty of other places to go.

  36. lensaddiction says:

    Ming you have explained several of the reasons why I will never go pro and thanks for confirming for me that it is the right decision 🙂 I don’t have your guts or your passion to take that kind of risk and I utterly and completely admire anyone who is prepared to go there. Good on you and best of luck I say.

    I am puzzled as to why you feel the need to apologise for posting images that you like on your blog – its your blog and surely you can post whatever you like? I guess there might be that dichotomy between the personal and the professional and hard to draw the line for any potential clients out there who could be reading?

    Being a newcomer to your work I can only say, first, that I love that you visit NZ and post images from here(and say hi next time you are in CHCH btw) and I adore that you work in BW, which I am beginning to have my own love affair with, if only I could do it with the elegance and panache that you do.

    Rock on !

    • I suppose it boils down to ‘I do it because I have to’. Sometimes I do wish I didn’t have the compulsion to shoot quite as badly; I’d be able to settle and probably be quite a bit happier otherwise. The apology is because there’s the dichotomy between personal and professional and once your name is associated with an image, it stays – that isn’t a bad thing, of course. I just don’t want my potential clients to think I can only shoot abstracts, for instance 🙂

      As for B&W landscapes – prints are always available 🙂

  37. Alex Carnes says:

    The problems you’re grappling with have exercised artists for centuries. One must be part of an industry but at the same time try to retain one’s integrity. I’m surprised your commercial clients aren’t more receptive to your creative input, though; it seems strange to hire a particular photographer only to insist they shoot like someone else! As for ‘acceptance’, I’ve never tried to earn my living in photography, but I still wonder just how much I should let other people’s advice or shooting style influence my own. I went through a phase of using rather saturated and unnatural colours because they seemed to be ‘in’, but the images make me cringe when I look at them now! (That said, my black and whites have generally been well liked by myself as well as others.)

    Back to the point, do you feel you’re anywhere near being able to earn your living out of fine art or is it a distant ambition at the moment?

    • I generally have much better luck with overseas clients than locally – though I’ve had the whole gamut everywhere…

      Earning a living from fine art is a distant, distant ambition. I’ve got more of a chance winning the lottery, I think 🙂

  38. Someone in an earlier comment said “People keep following because you are doing what YOU do.” That’s it exactly, so do what YOU want, not what others think you should do. We’ll still be here enjoying and being inspired to do better by your work.

  39. A very honest post Ming, thanks for sharing. I have thought about quitting my day job to focus 100% on photography however have always worried having to earn a living out of it would seriously damage my passion for photography. My current theory is that given you have to do do something of a commercial nature to pay the rent that may as well be outside photography as long as there are enough hours left in the day to pursue your passion (which sadly is not always the case but you can always find extra time if you try hard enough).

    • I was in that latter boat before; it doesn’t work. Part time work here pays hardly anything; full time work would really violate almost all EU labor hour laws 😛

  40. Finding great clients for commercial work is very similar to finding an audience for art. The two processes are nearly the same, and highly complimentary.

    The best I ever did with art photography financially was about break even. It’s a very fickle world, and without a patron to promote your work, chances of financial gain are extremely rare. Most of the names tossed around the art photography world, and internet photo enthusiasts, make the majority of their income from workshops, and even there is a very crowded field. The few really big names had the financial resources to promote their work, or run their own galleries. If that all sounds cynical, it is unfortunately very true. There is simply too much talent chasing too few admirers.

    You’ve followed an evolution where many of us have gone before. I suspect you will find a way to continue to push forward and evolve, though there will likely always be times that challenge your desire to continue down this path. Whatever the outcome, I still enjoy watching your journey, and I hope to see it continue, at least for a while longer. 🙂

    • It actually sounds pretty realistic to me. A tough game that needs luck, talent and timing to come together. There are easier ways to make a living, but I’m a) stubborn and b) pathologically driven to shoot, so I have to at least try so I can put that part of my mind at rest.

  41. And, there we have it: “… the end goal is the translation of a vision.” Bravo, Ming.

  42. Kristian Wannebo says:

    !!

    🙂

    I’ll even more look forward to visiting your site, Ming!

  43. I always shoot for myself. My way of income is non-photography oriented. My goal this year is to get a website up. Straight up.

    • I have that conflict of interest in that it’s also my income, but if there isn’t some self-satisfaction with professional work too, we’re back to square one…and that is unsustainable.

  44. stratiformus says:

    Exactly what I like to hear. I don’t visit your site to see you do what others want. I want to see Ming.

  45. Excellent, Ming. Life is short, there is little point in doing what makes you unhappy.

  46. I’m pumped! F*ck yea, Ming! That’s exactly right. People keep following because you are doing what YOU do. By the way, those are really strong photos and on the iPhone! So good!

  47. Agnostic Front says:

    “But it does of course mean that this site will never be like any other photography website; for as long as it exists, it will remain uncompromisingly pure to the intention of the creator.”

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but the way you wrote this implies what exactly about the “others”? They all somehow compromise, while you remain with pure intent? The internets a big place to be making such a call.

    • I’m not paid to write good reviews, nor do I have any ads. Every other site is plastered in them.

      • david mantripp says:

        I suppose when you say “every other site” you’ve actually got a relatively small subset in mind (i.e the gear review brigades)… The vast majority of photography websites I meander through have no ads whatsoever, they just exist as a means of expression. Surely you can’t argue that your site is non-commercial ? After all, you do sell stuff through it. It’s just that you only have one advertiser account – yourself. Oh, and B&H and Amazon referrals, too, regardless of what income they do or don’t generate. I’m not intending to offend you, just pointing out that things are maybe not quite as black & white as you sometimes seem too portray them.

        I dunno – I enjoy your photography a lot, but frankly, you might consider maybe following the advice of the late, great F. Zappa, and Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar. Translated as “let your photos do more of the talking”. They’re very erudite…

  48. Over the years I started going for the “wow” shot. Shots that would appeal and get likes/comments from other people on deviantArt, Flickr etc and slowly I lost the personal aspect, the very reason why I started shooting (to document my life and express myself) and eventually I didn’t even like my shots because I didn’t connect with them and I’m just a hobbyist.

    All the best and keep on doing what you do best Ming.

    • If in doubt…go back to the start. The tough part is we all seek acceptance/recognition…but in reality, what does 1000 ‘likes’ get you if you yourself don’t like the image? Why not save the image for private appreciation and be fully happy?

  49. Father Raphael says:

    I am quite lazy and read very little of what you write. Nevertheless, I feel I miss very little because for me, your photos tell it all. Thank you.

  50. John weeks says:

    Your soul, passion and vision is why I am here in the first place…only brave souls have the ability to strictly follow their dreams no matter what the price. Here’s to you Ming ( as I raise my glass)

  51. Very well said, Ming. Sticking to your guns is probably the only way to achieve satisfaction long term, there’s not much point in producing work you aren’t happy with personally, or you might as well be doing something easier for your day job and just shooting for fun/art. While I definitely see your work as technical/precise/analytical rather than emotive, there is no question that it is consistent and has a recognisable look to it. More than can be said of most photographers, myself definitely included, who tend to shoot quite scattershot and might never find an individual style. And your work has inspired me in some ways, particularly to work on my colour reproduction and to aim for a repeatable style/palette, inspired especially by the colours of your photo of ‘Prague evenings – Vltava River and St. Nicholas’ Church’. I would hope that people hiring you for your particular look would respect your suggestions on how to achieve it in the results, but it sounds like this is not the case! Very frustrating!

    • Nope, it’s not – there’s always this tradeoff between hiring you for your portfolio but asking something totally different (or worse, copying somebody else’s’ work they weren’t happy with to begin with…)

  52. “I’m going to post what I want, shoot what I want, and not care if you think it lacks soul or emotion is too technically perfect or isn’t blurry enough”

    I agree 100%. You are spot on and so is your work.

    I think about this a lot. I have this one photo that is in the reader pool that has zero comments and relatively low number of faves. I almost deleted it. But then I realized it might be my best shot… It is a photo that flickr does a poor job of presenting in such a small post stamp of a size that many see it in… Perhaps social media and other feedback on photos has me missing a gem or two…

    • Think of the end output – if it’s supposed to be digital/ online, then it doesn’t work. But if it’s meant to be a large format backlit transparency, then I’d be very surprised if it did; the Forests look horrible at web sizes, but quite something else when you see half a billion pixels on a 5-foot print 🙂

  53. Bravo, Ming.
    I recently came across this article: http://news.artnet.com/art-world/the-ego-centric-art-world-is-killing-art-197530#.VKOzfv9k1u1.facebook and after commenting on it on Facebook, a friend suggested I read this short piece by Tom Wolfe: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0028UBFG8/ref=mp_s_a_1_5?qid=1420432233&sr=8-5&pi=AC_SX110_SY165_QL70

    It’s quite short and very funny and puts the art world into much needed perspective.

    (Sorry for all of the external links)

  54. I have been shooting flowers for 30+ years and I don’t care what anyone says!

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