08 July 2016

On the Question of Greatness

Art Model, Covenant © 2016 Terrell Neasley
Let me just break convention here and start right off with my premise that staying in your comfort zone will preclude you from being better in your photo work. At least that's what I believe. I'm unconvinced that you can do the same thing over time and improve your overall skill set. You may not want to be great. In fact, to my recollection, I don't think I've ever heard anybody say they wanted to be great at photography. Its always "I want to be better". Either way, I'm going to say I'm certain you won't do so by simply "shooting the things you love"...without stretching yourself.

Art Model, Covenant © 2016 Terrell Neasley
Art Model, Covenant © 2016 Terrell Neasley
Let me get a little deeper with that. I shoot the things I love. I shoot the things that make me feel good about what I produce. However stagnation occurs in photography when you ONLY shoot the thing you are most comfortable with the same way you've always shot it. You don't grow and you don't expand your horizons to Betterland. I don't care what it is that you shoot, you can always add a little twist to it. Do the same thing but utilize a more involved process. Want to shoot landscape? Cool. But how about getting out more than just 20 miles from home? How about doing it at night? Pull out the tripod and cable release and get some stars involved. Ever head out when every body else is heading in from inclement weather? Maybe some light painting. Get creative. What else can you do at night. Leave the steel wool alone for a while though. In full disclosure, I've used it to some great achievements. But I'm sure as hell tired of dumb butts not being safe with it and stupidly destroying landmarks and local monuments.

How about a different lens perspective? You do portraits? Okay, well maybe stop shooting wide open on that 85mm f/1.2 and utilize a wide-angle lens intead. Switch it up to some environmental portraiture. Get out of the studio and bring in the subjects surroundings that may tell a story of where they live. I mean, after all...are we not trying to tell stories with our pictures? Ever try light painting? Maybe some figure work utilizing a slow shutter and dragging your flash? What about seeing how to implement that stroboscopic feature on your Canon flash (Repeating Flash for Nikons) and seeing how you can creatively incorporate it into your favorite genre of work.

Art Model, Covenant © 2016 Terrell Neasley

I mentioned that I don't hear many photographers ascribing to be great...only better. I can't say I know why that is. And I would imagine there are different definitions to the concept of "greatness" and maybe most photogs only aspire to be the best they can be as opposed to being recognized as the best in their field. And then I guess you'd have to find a way to measure greatness. Is it an attribution to how well-known you are? How popular you are? How much money you make or what you drive? And then can you define it by their greatness in photography or maybe their greatness in business. There are certainly those who are great at photography education. As well as those who are excellent in photography marketing. Do these go down in the annals of great photographers.

Peter Lik has sold the most expensive photographic work to date at $6.5 million. The New York Times makes the case that he is more of a businessman (to paraphrase mildly) who does photography in that despite selling an estimated $400 million in fine art sales, his work rarely fetches the original sales prices on the secondary market. So then those who buy his work as investors are purportedly in for a shock should they choose to reappraise their investments in the future. Don't get me wrong. I ain't hating on the guy. I'd love to have his business model. I can't fault it by a single shot.

Art Model, Covenant © 2016 Terrell Neasley
"Arguably, the person best versed in Peter Lik comparables is David Hulme, a fine-art valuer based in Australia for a company called Auctionata. For years, he has been getting calls from Lik owners around the world, and he finds the calls depressing.
“People tell me all the time, ‘I’ve been in touch with the gallery, and they say my photograph is now selling for $150,000 a copy,’ ” he says. “So they want to know what they can sell theirs for.” 
A tiny fraction of that sum is the answer. A subscription service called Artnet — which bills itself as the most comprehensive database of its kind — captures the resale value of Lik photographs by cataloging auction results, and the most anyone has ever paid for one his photographs is $15,860, for a copy of an image called “Ghost,” in 2008. (It’s a color version of “Phantom.”) After that, it’s a long slide down, to $3,000 for a copy of “Eternal Beauty (Antelope County, Arizona)” in 2014. Fifteen images have sold for between $1,000 and $2,500, and four have sold for between $400 and $1,000. Another handful failed to sell. And that’s it."

Art Model, Covenant © 2016 Terrell Neasley
So does he go down as a great photographer? You can't deny the man makes bad ass imagery. The only real question is is it worth what its selling for. I can't give you any advice on how to be great. I'm for damn sure not great, myself. I can tell you and teach you how to be better. I can do that. I can also define who I believe are great to me. Well, let me at least say who my favorites are. Everybody agrees Ansel Adams is the Michael Jordan of photography. Particularly for me, greatness is epitomized in Edward Weston, Harry Callahan, Gordon Parks, Sally Mann, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Carrie Mae Weems, Diane Arbus, Jerry Ulesmann, Spencer Tunick, Helmut Newton, and Imogen Cunninham.

Art Model, Covenant © 2016 Terrell Neasley
Of those, my personal faves are Weston, Callihan, Mann, and Parks. Of course, there are other photographers I like and many more who have taken iconic images, but I can't say I follow their overall work. I'm not a Steve McCurry fan, but who can not be a fan of "Afghan Girl". Of my aforementioned list, (of which, is not exhaustive nor comprehensive), only Spencer Tunnick is of a more recent ilk. For me, I think greatness is defined over the career of the photographer/artist, although I do include Mr. Tunnick as an exception.

Who knows? I guess if you're always striving to be better then greatness will take care of itself. At the very least, I think any photog owes it to themselves...NAY, even to US...the viewing public, to put out their best work. Anything less is cheating yourself and ME!


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