You're Unique... Just Like Everybody Else!

The other day I wanted to write a review on iTunes for a podcast that is really neat and run by some great ladies.  One in particular is pretty fine, too!  But I've never written a review before, so I needed to come up with a username.  I took it that this would be my moniker for all future reviews so it's gotta be slick, right?!  So I went with ol' faithful, MikeD.  Apple graciously let me know that "This nickname is taken. Enter another and try again." No prob.  Hey, who wouldn't want to to roll with the name of one of the Beastie Boys?...especially the one that gets respect!

"I know! I'll use that!  I'll actually use, MikeDandIgetRespect" I said to myself.  "I'm so clever!", I said to myself.  Apple, again, graciously let me know that "This nickname is taken. Enter another and try again." Say what!?  I know there's a lot of users out there, and most are vying to make a statement with their name and profile and the like, but really?  I thought I'd get ridiculous and go with, Qwertyuiop.  That's the entire top line of alphabetic characters from a QWERTY keyboard.  I was reluctant because I thought I would be stuck with it forever after, but at least I'd be able to relate the funny story behind it, and I'd have a quirky name to boot. 

Times have changed, and if one is going to differentiate themselves, at least digitally, it’s gonna take a bit more.

"You have GOT to be kidding me!!!" I said to (not-only) myself.  My wife responded in proportion to my distressed voice, "What?!  Everything ok?"  I realize I'm taking this too seriously, but you agree this is ridiculous, right?  Must I be like everybody else and go with TheOneAndOnlyMikeD#651?  No, I shall not!  No I cannot!  For what it's worth, I tried a few more that my artistic conscience would allow and they were all rejected.  Sorry ladies.

I even tried Qwertyuioplmnbvcxza, all the away around, and it was taken!!!

I even tried Qwertyuioplmnbvcxza, all the away around, and it was taken!!!

Podcast reviews are not the only place this has happened of course.  Email addresses, band names, Instagram hashtags, and domain names are other likely arenas where you may be thwarted.  It's a far cry from the first username I had, almost 20 years ago now, with Microsoft...it was mdees and only had a four-letter password requirement.  Times have changed, and if one is going to differentiate themselves, at least digitally, it's gonna take a bit more.  This is no less true artistically, and so now after a lengthy introduction, are continued ramblings on the artsy side of the camera.

One of the ideas I had for a future project, maybe a couple of decades or so down the road, was rooted in the fact that I often find myself shooting while I drive.  Burst mode, right arm fully extended toward the passenger window, exposure and focus locked with a minimum shutter speed of 1/250th sec...click, click, click, click.  I've seen some interesting life out there via these means.  I'd like this future work to be a book.  Hmmm..."I know! I'm so clever." I said to myself.  "I'll call it Drive By Shooting."  Get it?

So prompted by recent events of digital appellation saturation (DAS), I thought I'd just do a quick double-check on the Internet... you guessed it.  There's already a book by that title (in the plural) and boy it looks great!  I just ordered it.  It contains photographs by David Bradford, an NYC taxi driver.  I'm sure I'll be enriched by it.  Nevertheless, I was reminded that a wise man once said, "There is nothing new under the sun."  What my scattered brain is struggling with here is how to stand out.  There are excellent images everywhere, so even when you think you've nailed something that stands out, there's a good chance that it doesn't.

In some of my reading for the recent post pertaining to Robert Frank I ran across this quote, "Frank learned that in order to create emotional photographs, he needed to experiment with different techniques in photographing, printing, and presenting his work. Brodovitch was experimental, and 'encouraged students to use blur, imprecise focus, large foreground forms, bleach negatives, radically crop and distort print, or print two photographs on top of each other, put gauze over lens of enlargers.'"  Frank was messy and imprecise which was avant-garde then, but now these methods are passé.  Who can hope to break new ground?  I'm sure there are boundaries to be pushed, but I'm no visionary.  For now I think my best bet is to focus on the essentials I'm sure of, press on with challenges I still face, and marinate on some longer-term projects.

Focus on the essentials

  • Always have my camera with me:  I can't tell you how many times I've left my camera at home and then see a striking scene...darn!
  • Get out a lot and shoot a lot:  There's safety in a multitude of images.
  • Creative compositions: Discern unique geometries, frame to highlight the desired ethos, move the camera up and down, envision what I want and make it happen.
This is Mike.  I wouldn't have known his name, a little of his story, nor had this pic had I gone with my fear of saying hi.

This is Mike.  I wouldn't have known his name, a little of his story, nor had this pic had I gone with my fear of saying hi.

Press on with challenges

  • Approach people more directly: I know this is a weakness of mine.  Sometime later I will gladly write on the goodness of sniping and shooting from the hip, but there's much to be said about images taken during interaction with people.
  • Get out a lot and shoot a lot: Laziness is the bane of creativity...get going, sloth!
  • Study and read: Patiently view and engage with images from the masters, and read some theorizing about imaging and other visual arts.

Marinate on some longer-term projects

  • Photo Essays: By this I mean a series of photos that are, as best as possible, trying to "write a story" with an extended set of pictures.  So for example, maybe a person can view the essay and walk away having discerned a theme via pattern.
  • Longitudinal Studies: I suppose this could be a subset of the above.  What I have in mind here is following the subject matter over time, even a long time, and showing the inevitable change that occurs.  Not merely physical changes which are pretty easy to see in images, but even, for example, a person's habits and worldview that are a bit trickier (if not impossible) to capture
Frank learned that in order to create emotional photographs, he needed to experiment with different techniques...
— Eric Kim

Well, that's it for the rant.  If you have any neat ideas for a long-term project feel free to share.  And so if you're in Long Beach and you see me riding my old red Cannondale and street shooting, reach out.  As the Four Tops said it, "I'll be there."