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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

My Squirrel Hill

Most people reading my blog probably don’t know that I live in Squirrel Hill, about three blocks away from last weekend’s horrific Tree of Life Synagogue mass murder. This was not the Squirrel Hill I have known and loved for close to 30 years, a richly diverse community where all are welcome and all are treated like neighbors - what else would anyone expect when they are literally living in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Here, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of all colors have lived together in peaceful harmony for many years, taking joy in discovering each others differences. This can be seen in the ethnic restaurants, in the street fairs, and most easily by just walking down any street. Squirrel Hill is just about the last place in the world I would have expected something like this to happen. Sadly, if it can happen here, it truly could happen anywhere.

Perhaps nobody and no place is safe from a madman with a weapon who is intent on inflicting harm. Perhaps the mettle of a place is its response to adversity. If that’s the case, than I shouldn’t be surprised at the response of our community. Within hours of the murders there was a vigil on Murray and Forbes - the epicenter of ‘The Hill’ - which was organized by the local Presbyterian Church and several Taylor Allderdice High School students. Hundreds upon hundreds of people from our community and the communities that surround us attended. A wound that has been inflicted upon anyone here is treated like a wound inflicted upon us all. This was the Squirrel Hill that I knew.

The next day there was a more ‘official’ vigil/service for the entire city at Soldiers and Sailors, a large memorial hall “dedicated to honoring the men and woman of all branches of service, from all generations and conflicts”. This seemed uniquely appropriate given what our soldiers have fought for through the centuries - our freedoms, including the freedom of religion. On this night, there were not hundreds upon hundreds, but thousands upon thousands of people who came to show solidarity and support.

There were inspirational talks from the clergy of all faiths. There were words of support from our Mayor and other elected officials. Their words all led to the same conclusion - that we will not tolerate hate here. That we stand together as brothers and sisters to fight hatred and to call it out wherever we see it, so that it will not have an opportunity to grow.

The Muslim community has raised over $120,000 for the families of the victims and the synagogue. They have volunteered to do whatever is necessary to help, even stand guard outside our synagogues and other houses of worship (a short video worth watching). They offer this because, besides being brothers, our entire community, Jews and Christians alike, treated them with respect, dignity, and equality after 9-11. To quote (via NBC News) Tarik El-Messidi, the founder of CelebrateMercy “We are tired of being grouped along with the crazies, they scare us just as much as any American”. “We need the administration to talk about the 3 million Muslim Americans who just want to pursue life, liberty, and happiness just like everyone else in America”.

That night, as a community, we also all gave and continue to give gratitude to the police officers from all locations that converged in Squirrel Hill that afternoon and ran straight into mortal danger, risking their own lives for people that they had never met. We can only hope that the injured officers along with the injured, but surviving, congregants recover fully and quickly.

That night I once again saw the Squirrel Hill that I knew, a place of peace, a place where all stand together against hatred.

Squirrel Hill will never be the same, yet Squirrel Hill hasn’t changed one iota.

Image Fatigue

There was a time in the not too distant past when a photograph of a beautiful sunrise seen through fog surrounding a mountain range, complete with alpine glow on the tips of the mountains, would be an image that one would ponder for a bit of time. One could well imagine it hanging in a gallery. As a stock photograph it could be expected to draw two to three hundred dollars per sale. Maybe more. That time has seemingly come and gone.

One need only direct their browser (you don't even have to leave the house) to Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, or Google Plus to see hundreds, no, thousands, of photographs like the one described above. True, some are better composed, better processed, or convey feeling better than others.....but there is no denying that there are still many thousands that can be reached with a click that, frankly, are really, really good!

And as one  browses through such images they might find themselves scrolling through them faster and faster and faster. I believe it's image fatigue.......we get used to seeing so many images, photographs that in another era, before the internet was able to feed us image after image after image, we would have spent time pondering...... that we now just zip through spending a second here or two seconds there. Even photo genres that wowed us just a year or two ago (think milky way across a navy blue sky with a well light-painted foreground) are now available in profusion.

It seems that the strategy for some is to go photograph in ever more exotic and hard to get to places. I'm not saying that this is a 'bad' strategy, it's just that one has to have a good deal of time, money, and good health to make it happen. And, of course, while everyone wants to see something or someplace they haven't seen before, rare or unusual or far away doesn't necessarily make the images 'good'; it just makes them images of someplace most people haven't been to (think Antarctica or Iceland). And the more these destinations catch on, the harder it is to be original, even in distant locations. How many pictures of ice on an Icelandic beach have you seen, for example.

Image fatigue.

Others try to photograph from more and more precarious and dangerous viewpoints (think of those photos shot by folks standing on a wall at the edge of a skyscraper with no tethering or protection from a fatal fall). Yes, everyone wants to look at them, but doing these sorts of things to get more 'likes' is just plain stupid.

Lets face it, everyone with a cell phone is now a photographer. And I don't mean that in a negative way. "iPhoneography" has become a medium in and of itself, and there is an incredible array of apps and post-processing possibilities that enable one to make art (as opposed to snapshots of your lunch - I still don't get why people do that and why they think others care about it - but maybe that's just because I'm old). 

So......what is one to do to avoid having their work get lost in a sea of images, in order to try to maintain some artistic individuality, and to have one's work seen, and, dare I even say, to stand out from the crowd? I certainly don't have all the answers, but have been thinking about this quite a bit lately. Here are some of my thoughts on this, but please feel free to comment and chime in with some further suggestions. In fact, I would love for you to do so. Here are some thoughts and ideas:

  • Not to state the obvious, but shoot what you love, not the hot subject of the day. Only by shooting what you love will you make images that might move people
  • Shoot projects - I'm not implying that one shouldn't take 'best of' images that are meant to hang on a wall, but also do some 'project photography' - examine a person, place, topic, or subject in depth. I think that by photographing projects you are more likely to make meaningful images that reveal more of yourself
  • Consider learning a new technique to see where it takes you - for example, extreme macro, very shallow DOF, long exposure, stop-action, etc
  • Don't fret about having a huge audience - worry about having an audience that really cares about your work
  • Think about trying to have your work published - I think that we tend to look longer and harder at images that are in print, as opposed to flipping through those on Instagram and Flickr. Well, at least that's true for me, though I'm not sure about millenials who grew up with the internet. Images that are published also seem to carry more 'weight' 
  • Learn the art of making prints - yes, I know it's somewhat last century :), but the fact is that it is an art unto itself and, in my opinion, more difficult than making an image look good on screen. It gives the image a physical presence. Holding a print made on a fine art paper is a very different experience than viewing the image on a monitor. And it does set you apart from the many that don't make prints (or don't make them well). I believe it is an art worth learning

Please chime in.....