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.

The Best Is Yet To Come

I take my photography pretty seriously and, as such, I am a very harsh critic of it should be.  Because of this I find that I am rarely really happy with what I produce and constantly feel that I can improve on my image making and post-processing skills.  Sometimes this is a bit disheartening because I find that there is completed work that I feel I could have made better and, since improving takes time, I am not producing as much as I would like.  But at some point one must move on. Nonetheless, a few mornings ago as I was walking to my car my thoughts took another angle that was much more comforting to a person who is trying to produce the best work they can.  What made me smile was the realization that with continuing to work at improving my skills comes the fact that, although I have been making images and prints for many years, my best work is yet to come......

I suspect the same holds true for many people!

David Stein

Just the other day I was talking with a friend that I have known for some time (not really for the some time part, it just seems that way) and the topic of my grandfather came up in the conversation.  I had a very, very close relationship with my grandfather and he died in the early 80's.  I was born in 1958, so I was in my 20's at the time and have very adult memories of him, as well as childhood memories. It is amazing how old photographs can bring memories back!  And I realized that in the age of the internet nobody is ever totally gone in the sense of all memories being eradicated or in the sense of never being able to be found again if someone from later generations wants to find you.  But since he died in the 80's and before the internet era, he actually is nowhere to be found outside of memories and photos, which are fragile.  So now he will have an internet resting place and at least his picture can be found forever (is the internet forever?....well, I guess not if the hosting fees don't get paid, but then again there is the wayback machine that caches old pages).

So.....this is David Stein (born Berci Stein and given the name David by immigration).  He came to the United States in 1918, leaving his family behind in Europe with a plan to find opportunity and ultimately bring them to the US as well.   He worked and sent back money to bring over two of his brothers (I think it was two) but the rest decided to stay in Europe, where they all perished during World War II.  He opened a butcher shop in Newark, NJ where he raised three children.

He was an extraordinarily kind and amazing person and I could write a book about him...but this is just a blog.  I obviously never knew him when he was the age he is in this picture. But I think the photograph expresses his energy and his spirit.  And he was a pretty good looking guy! So he has his place in internet history so he can be found for generations to come.  So Google, go ahead and get David Stein in your search database!

David Stein

Passionate Interests

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is a passionate bike rider.  Similar to the way I might go on a week long photo trip, she might go on a week long trip away to go biking.  She was describing to me the 'zen' of being out on the road or trail pedaling her bike when she made an interesting statement that caught me by surprise. "Howard", she said, "the amazing part is that you could be out there biking with a friend on a trail and be coming up to the top of a hill.  And, even though you might have biked that trail a hundred times before, the light might be hitting a patch of grass or something else on the top of the hill in a way that is different from every other time that you have seen it before so that it looks totally different and so you notice something new on each trip that you've never seen before, even though you might have been there many times."

What could I say?  I just told her that it is exactly the same when you are out photographing.  Maybe the same heightened perception occurs whenever one is involved with something that they are deeply passionate about, no matter what that might be.

The Photo As Artifact

Needless to say, in addition to being artwork, photographs can also serve as artifacts.  In fact, I suspect that the vast majority of photos out in the world today are artifact, with only a small percentage of them being 'fine art'.  I think one can derive this from the fact that there are , are you ready, 300 million photos uploaded to Facebook DAILY!  I suspect that since the advent of digital photography the actual number of fine art photographs as a percentage of total photographs has taken a steep dive. But, of course, that is not to say that there isn't great importance to the photograph as an artifact from an earlier time. It's just that these artifacts tend to have personal meaning that often can't be appreciated by many others.  This blog has always been about fine art photography, but, as we start the new year, I thought I would share a photo that I recently ran across that is an artifact.  My artifact.

My father is 85 years old.  I bought him a computer about six or seven years ago so that he could send e-mails to his friends and family and spend some time 'Googling' topics of interest to him.  He still has that same computer.

A year or two after I got him the computer he decided to take a class at a local community college to become a bit more computer savvy (when he was working I remember him always using a slide far we have come).  He was given an assignment to scan a photograph and combine it was some text.  Recently, my mother found that assignment and gave it to me.  And so here is my artifact, in the form of my father's class assignment:

Jacob "Jack" Grill

"The picture insert above is that of me when I was a very young kid, who had just enlisted in the Army Air Corps.  The picture was taken in Fusa, Japan, which was a little village about forty miles north of Tokyo. The village was just outside Yokota Army Air Base.  This base was a huge facility being developed to handle the first jet fighter squadrons in Japan.

After eight weeks of basic training at Keesler Field, Mississippi, I was shipped overseas to be part of a group which was to repair radios being used on all sorts of propeller driven fighter planes and bombers.  I was never given any formal training in radio repair and there was no one on the base who had the time or experience to train a bunch of young soldiers who knew nothing about aircraft radio equipment.  In order to overcome this handicap, a Signal Corps first lieutenant was assigned to the repair shop to whip us into "repair shape".  He accomplished this task by giving us "cook books" which outlined the various things that could go wrong with radio equipment and how they could be repaired.  To everyone's surprise, within four months we had a smooth working group of about ten radio mechanics who fixed everything from soup to nuts in radio equipment"

My dad went on to become a Civil Engineer and was the Assistant Commissioner for the New York City Building Department for many years.  This is about the earliest photo I have ever seen of him.

A Realization

I was to have gone photographing with my "Sunday Morning Photo Buddies"  last Sunday.  However, because of a requirement to potentially be available for work I could not join them, as the scheduled shoot was too far away and it would have been difficult to get to work in case I was called in.  So, instead, I found some locations very close to my home to go make pictures. While I was out shooting, a realization surfaced in my mind.  I say 'surfaced' because I think I have recognized it for some time, but being forced to shoot very close to home, and enjoying doing so, really made it congeal for me.

And this is the realization:

The more I photograph, the more I realize that photography is less about finding something that looks beautiful than it is about making something something look beautiful.  Taken one step further, this realization can have a profound effect on where one chooses  to go in order to make photographs.

New Family Member

I am interrupting the blog to report that we now have a new family 8 week old kitten! It was adopted from a nearby shelter, having been raised by a foster family until it was big enough to move in with someone permanently. We don't quite have a name for her yet. She was named Nile by the family that was raising her, but I think we are going to rename her. I am voting for Cleo (as in Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile), but we will see what the kids decide.

It is unbelievable how small she is....reminded me of bringing my kids home from the hospital that first time. My oldest was holding the transport box ever so gently, carefully and flat while we were bringing her out to the car....I told him "well, now you sort of know what it was like the first time I brought you home in the car!".

Just a quick break from photography for the announcement...and yes, I know the picture is blurry. It was taken by my wife, via cell phone from the shelter.



Today, I have a bit of a personal note. I will be giving a slideshow presentation on Wednesday, June 6 at the REI store on Pittsburgh's South Side. The topic is nature photography in and around the Pittsburgh area and is sponsored by REI and Venture Outdoors, a great group whose mission statement can be seen here. In association with the talk, I am also taking a group out Sunday, January 10th to Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve for a nature photography field session. Though the program is aimed at beginners, anyone out there who is in the area is certainly welcome to attend.

This is my first attempt at any type of photographic teaching, so I am really looking forward to it. I tend not too be 'big' on public speaking, but am excited about doing this. I just hope that I am able to convey, in some small way, how much I enjoy photographing and how it can really open up a deeper appreciation for and understanding of nature. I hope it goes well, as I think that it might be something that I would really be interested in doing more of.

I'll let everyone know how it goes in a future post!

Unencumbered By The Gravity Of It All, Pt II

A few days back I wrote about going out to photograph with my seven year old daughter using a cheap point and shoot camera and not worrying about 'making good images'. That post was entitled "Unencumbered By The Gravity Of It All". Recently, Heather added a comment saying, among other things:

"Kudos for sharing this amazing world with your daughter. I'd like to see some of her photos!"

Hey, I can do that!

I thought that after yesterday's post "Portraying The Unthinkable", something a little lighter would be in order. So, here is a selection of my daughters images from the trip described in the original "Unencumbered" post. They are taken straight from the camera with dad adding just a quick touch of sharpening for the web. I present Nature, as seen through the eyes of a seven year old armed with mom's point 'n shoot:

Oh, and by the way, Heather, if you are out there reading this, I tried to e-mail you a few weeks back but the e-mail got returned to me as undeliverable.

Integrating Photography Into Life

Lately, and I think it has something to do with warmer weather and the arrival of Spring, I have been feeling, rather strongly, that I am just not getting enough opportunity to do photography. Family and work obligations clearly limit the amount of free time that one has.

Don't get me wrong, the purpose of this post is not to voice complaints. Rather, I have been trying to think about ways that photography can be more easily integrated into the time that one has available. For example, as many of you know, I am a cardiologist practicing in Pittsburgh, PA. However, I spend, on average, one day a week outside of Pittsburgh, seeing patients in a small town in Ohio. I have found myself thinking about the possibility of starting a photographic project there, as it might not be too difficult to spend an hour or so photographing after work and before going home. I have to admit, if I had all the time to photograph that I wanted, that project would probably not make the top of the list, but I am trying to think in a utilitarian way.

Another thought that I had revolves around making images of some older and beautiful buildings near my home.

The mainstay of these ideas is that it would allow me to photograph without the one hour travel time in each direction that has been the case with most of my photographic excursions.

Thinking about these ideas makes me curious as to how others might have tried to integrate photography and photographic projects into their schedules. What has been an effective strategy? What has not worked out well? I would certainly appreciate any insight that people might have about these issues.

Unencumbered By The Gravity Of It All

I’m not talking about the force that keeps us tethered to the ground. I’m talking about gravity, as in seriousness.

Let me explain. Usually when I go out to photograph it is a very serious undertaking indeed. I get up quite early to shoot in the ‘good light’ and take a backpack of equipment carefully chosen based on where I plan on going and what I am hoping to try to make images of. For the most part, all of my ‘serious’ photographs are made with a tripod that is placed after careful deliberation and experimentation. I usually go out alone, as I don’t know all that many people that are into photography.

I had a very different experience a few days ago, which, in many ways, was like a breath of fresh air.

I have always hoped that perhaps one of my three children would develop an interest in either nature or photography so that as I, and they, get older, we might enjoy going on photographic trips, or at least hiking, together. Well, so far it sure isn’t happening, at least not yet and at least not with the two older ones.

So I decided the time was ripe to give my seven year old daughter a try. I have several waterfall pictures hanging in my home, and she has drawn crayon pictures of me taking photographs of the waterfalls. Several times in the past, I had asked her if she wanted to go with me to where I take these pictures and see the real waterfall, but she has always said no. Well, on this particular day, she had no friends over and I told her that if we went not only would we see waterfalls, but we could both take little point and shoot cameras and she could take her very own pictures of the falls. Reluctantly, she agreed.

In a moment, I will tell you how she liked it, but first let me get to the real reason I am writing this. I wanted to take her because I wanted to see the happiness on her face at seeing her first real waterfall and to give her the opportunity to take her own photographs. In my mind, the only reason I was bringing a point and shoot camera was to take pictures of my daughter. From the standpoint of taking any photographs of the park……well, the camera was small and cheap, the light was terrible with direct, harsh, overhead sun, and I had photographed this particular area so many times I was sure that there would be nothing that I would find particularly interesting photographically.

Just The Two Of Us

Yes, I took plenty of quick snaps of my daughter. But something else also happened. Walking around with just a little camera at the absolute wrong time of day was, well maybe exhilarating is too strong a word, but it was really fun. Maybe it was because I felt like I didn’t have to try to find nice shots. Maybe I didn’t even make any nice shots….but the point is that I didn’t care. The light was bright and harsh…….fine, I saw some harsh shadows that were nice to take some shots of. Everywhere I looked I started seeing things that I could just take some quick shots of to see if it ‘worked’. I even decided to tuck away a number of ideas that I had for when I did come back with a ‘serious’ camera. There was something uplifting and freewheeling about just going at the wrong time and trying to make ‘lemonade out of lemons’. I am starting to think that going out in this fashion might actually be very beneficial at those times when one seems to hit a creative ‘brick wall’ and nothing seems to flow. I am going to give it a try the next time I am in that dreaded zone. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Hanging On

Oh, and by the way, my daughter had a great time and wants to go back. I don’t know if she will develop a love of photography and be my ‘photo buddy’ or not….…but here is the devious trick I used to try to bring her one step closer to making that happen. Several times she would stop and ask, “Dad, is it OK if I take a picture of that?” To which I replied, “Sure you can. You can take pictures of anything you want. That is one of the really nice things about photography…...there are no rules!” Hopefully, music to a child’s ears. I will report back in ten years and let you know whether or not it worked!