For this week’s photographer feature posts, I wanted to take a look at another one of my favorites: Vivian Maier. I first learned about her while I was going to school and taking a photography history class, and like many others, I quickly fell in love with her and her work. Here is a brief background on her from her website:
Vivian Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was an American street photographer born in New York City. Although born in the U.S., it was in France that Maier spent most of her youth. Maier returned to the U.S. in 1951 where she took up work as a nanny and care-giver for the rest of her life. In her leisure however, Maier had begun to venture into the art of photography. Consistently taking photos over the course of five decades, she would ultimately leave over 100,000 negatives, most of them shot in Chicago and New York City. Vivian would further indulge in her passionate devotion to documenting the world around her through homemade films, recordings and collections, assembling one of the most fascinating windows into American life in the second half of the twentieth century.
100,000 negatives. 100,000. It still amazes me that she took that many photos, without achieving any sort of recognition until after her death. And she was being praised as a one of the masters of documentary photography in my history class, less than five years after she passed. For me, she will always be a photographer who inspires me for several reasons.
1. Just keep shooting
Vivian photographed her surroundings for roughly fifty years. For about fifty years, she shot what interested her, and continued to hone her photography. When you look at her work, you can see how it changes and grows over the years, a growth that can only really be achieved with dedication time. And she never gave up. When I feel down on myself about my own photography, or facing a photographers block, I remind myself of Vivian Maier and her unwavering dedication to her craft.
2. Shoot for yourself
There was no social media or the like when Vivian was actively shooting images. Even if there had been, I doubt that she would have used it. She left over 100,000 negatives, undeveloped, at the time of her death. All these thousands and thousands of images she took, and never showed them to anyone. She photographed what she found interesting, for herself, and herself alone.
I think that says a lot. She fueled her own growth and her own body of work. She shot for herself, and she clearly loved it. And I think that following her passion, keeping it up for all those years, really shows in her work.
3. Reflections and shadows
I love Vivian’s documentary photography of the streets of Chicago and New York. But the images that stick the most in my mind are self portraits taken in a reflection. But not just a mirror. She has many reflections in windows of shops, or in silver plates. And her shadows self portraits, too. I don’t think I really paid much attention to my shadow before I saw her work. I thought of my shadow more as a nuisance, but Maier showed me how it can actually add an interesting element to an image, rather than take away.
So for my self moderated photography homework this week, my goal was not to crop my images. I want to be more intentional about my framing. Sometimes, I get so focused on one thing that I want to capture, that I forget everything else that shows up in the photo.
And if you shoot with the handicap of knowing you will crop later, it’s all to easy to get sloppier with composition. What if the thing you plan on cropping out later doesn’t work with your photo ratio? And if you have too much tunnel vision, and there are multiple things to crop out of the photograph, then there are even more things to work around.
All in all, it’s better just to get the framing right the first time. I want to make sure that before the shutter closes, the photo I’m taking works as a whole. Aside from helping me be a better photographer, this exercise also means less post-production. Which is always alright by me. I enjoy the taking of pictures, and documenting the things around me, more than the editing stage.
So this week, I did practice my no cropping rule. This rule also applied to the images of Evey’s very first haircut, which I documented earlier this week. However, in the spirit of not being repetitive, I wanted to post some images other than those from my previous post, without any cropping.
Sounds easy enough, right? Ehhhhhhh.
I really only have these three images to show for my homework. Honestly, I could say I didn’t get out to take pictures as much as I wanted to this week. I could also say there were other images that I did like, but as stand alone images, not as a group. But I felt that these three pictures turned out the best as is, and were a nice cohesive group. There’s a kind of moodiness I really like about them as a trio.
But to be honest, I also think I need to work harder on being intentional with my framing. I want good compositions to be an instinct, not an accident. So that I can document those fleeting wonderful moments in life in the best way I can. And in order for that to happen, I just have to keep on keeping on.
This is my first weekly post with this theme and I was unsure about who I I should to talk about, until about 30 seconds ago. I wondered if I should start with the old masters, and work my way forward. Or should I use this post to examine someone I don’t know much about? There are so many great photographers to chose from. Ultimately though, I decided to go with a photographer who has really influenced my own photography over the last few years: street photographer Eric Kim.
I first discovered him almost four years ago after googling street photography. I saw the term ‘street photography’ on LensCulture, and was immediately intrigued. Is that what they called people just going out and taking pictures? And they took pictures of strangers? It sounded awesome and thoroughly out of my comfort zone. But all the images they showed in the street photography category were magical, so I googled the term to learn more. And guess whose site came up first? Yep, Mr. Eric Kim.
I definitely fell in love with his site. He has soooo much content up, it’s insane. I quickly delved into a rabbit hole of articles on his blog on everything from his experiences and tips for street photography, to camera and gear reviews. Whenever I go to his blog, I usually end up spending at least an hour reading his various articles. And I have a few good reasons I keep going back to him.
1. His Content
Like I said, Kim has SO much information on his site. There’s always something new or helpful to check out. He has literally thousands of blog posts on his site, dedicated to photography or philosophy. He is passionate about the idea of ‘open source photography‘. To use his words:
One of my visions about photography is to tear down these walls of discrimination and allow photography to be open to all, regardless of the experience, gear, or interests that somebody may have.
This instantly struck a cord with me. I was adamant about learning as much as I could about photography, but had experience some of the ‘elitism’ Kim refers to in this article. And it was really disheartening.
So to see so much content, and really useful, great content, on his site to learn from was amazing. He was a successful photographer who understood this culture of elitism, and actively tried help those who were eager to learn was super encouraging for me. Which leads into my next reason for being an Eric Kim fan.
2. His Philosophies
I just love the way he thinks, and his approach to photography. One of his lines on his site that came up a lot was “buy books, not gear”, which I think has evolved into “buy experiences, not gear.” Both of these sayings really stuck with me. They seem simple, yet their meaning is powerful.
All the newest photography gear in the world won’t make you a good photographer. But learning from the masters, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, applying creative constraints, those are the things will help you the most. Travel to new places to find new things and new inspirations for your photography. Go to workshops to learn and network with other photographers. There will always be new gear to buy, and it’s all too easy to get sucked into an upgrading gear cycle.
This article makes a good case for simplifying your gear. Eric Kim is a the main reason I only have two digital cameras, two lenses, and a medium format camera. It’s not quite as simplified as his approach, but hey, I’m not perfect. But I agree with his idea that focusing on all the gear can be distracting from the art of making good photos.
My personal approach is to try to make sure I always have a camera with me. My x100F is usually in my purse with an extra battery, just in case. I can also fit all of my cameras and lenses into one camera bag, which is important to me. That way I don’t ever have to worry about leaving anything behind.
3. His Work
I feel like this would go without saying, but I also felt it would be weird to not mention Eric Kim’s work. It is so different than my own personal aesthetic, which I love. There is such a beautiful, haunting feeling to a number of his images, especially his Tokyo series, that I can’t forget. The lighting is so dramatic, there’s so much great contrast it creates a wonderful solemn mood. His compositions are always very interesting and dynamic, with great use of shape, lighting, and lines.
Seeing his work, which is so different from how I would approach things, really inspires me. In fact, his site is my go to place when I am feeling uninspired, because it always helps me get out of my personal rut. It forces me to see things differently, and to think outside of my own photography box.
Honestly, I could go on about Kim for days. But you should just check out his work, his site, and all the wonderful resources he has to offer for yourself.
When I started this blog, I knew I wanted to have a place to show my documentary photography, and post my images. A place that was all my own, that I could direct people to when asked about my photography. I forced myself to finally just start putting up content, because I knew that if I didn’t make myself start posting images, I would overthink the site into nothingness. So here I am.
However, over the course of the last week, I’ve really been thinking hard about what I want to do with this blog. Sure, I want a place to showcase my photography. But I also want more from this.
The photography I enjoy the most, is the kind that I do for me. I look for the things that interest me, things that I find compelling or beautiful. Usually with the hope that other people will find them interesting as well. But I try not to concern myself with that as much when I’m out exploring and taking pictures.
With that in mind, I wanted to figure out how to apply the same principle to this blog. I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t make this blog for me, at least as much as I can, posting here will become a chore versus a joy. And I can’t let that happen.
So, moving forward, I want to stick to having a few weekly posts that follow a theme. I already have my Feature Friday posts, but I am going to add at least one other weekly post: Photographer Feature or Self Help.
Essentially, my goal with these weekly posts is to make sure I keep learning and growing. I’m not in school anymore, so I don’t have the same kind of push I once did. I don’t receive weekly photography assignments specifically created to help me learn. It’s all up to me now.
So in the first weekly post, I will examine the work of one great photographer who inspires me. The best way to learn is from the masters, right? Well I think so anyway. They must have done something right in order to get where they are.
My other weekly post will consist of my own photography from personal assignments designed to ‘keep it (my work) fresh’. Like I said, I’m not in school. I don’t have a teacher to do this for me, so I need to do this myself. I need to do this to ensure my photography grows how I would like. And in order to do that, I need to make sure I keep shooting. Even if I don’t feel like it.
I really want this blog to be a place for exploration, growth, and creative expression. Yes, my motivation for setting up this structure is firstly for myself and my own growth. But I do hope that this blog could help provide or inspire that in others as well.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite past times is exploring and photographing abandoned buildings. Some places are relatively easy to find, and well-known within the local area. But there are those special places that I’ve only come across by chance, after driving around aimlessly on country dirt roads.
When I find a cool new place, I try to visit at least a few different times. I like to see how the light changes the scene, during different parts of the day. And I also enjoy capturing how the location changes and decays overtime, thanks to the harsh high plains winds and storms. But there are a few places, that I’m sad to admit, I’ve only been to once.
Sometimes, I’ve taken so many unmarked dusty roads, that I can’t remember how I got the abandoned treasure. Or it’s been so long, that I cant even remember the general vicinity of the place. Either that, or they are no longer accessible, have collapsed, or have been destroyed. For me, they only continue to exist in the few images I was lucky enough to snap.