Way back when (2001) I took my portfolio down to Toronto to show it to some of the folks there who have their thumb on the pulse of photography.
Last meeting of the trip was with Clare Vander Meersch. She looked through my portfolio and more or less ripped me a new one.
What Clare told me was (and my memory might not be totally accurate here), the photos were swell but were missing something. They seemed old-fashioned (or, maybe, already dated) and formulaic. Of course she said more, fleshed out the reasons for her reactions. It was a well-measured, though quite critical, response.
As I departed the meeting I mumbled to myself that she didn’t know shit. After all, I was having some success, right? And what the fuck does she know, anyway? Stuff like that.
(I should mention that I was having some success as an editorial and commercial photographer at that point. I was known for shooting classic-type B&W portraits. Lots of people dug them.)
Got in my car and began the 5 hour trip home, turning her comments over in my head the whole time.
Halfway home I wondered to myself, I wondered, what if she’s right? Could that be possible?
As I drove into my driveway in Kapital City I knew she was. Right.
That set off two years of struggle, soul-searching and exploration. I wanted to change my approach, change how my photos looked and felt and, mostly, change what they meant to me.
I won’t bore you with the rest of this story except to say that I finally, in a desert outside Los Angeles, figured out a new approach, a new (for me) way of working. It felt more modern and, somehow, true to me.
(I should mention that the changes in my work, from pre-2001 to now, are not radical. More, they are subtle shifts. Evolution, not revolution. This, in part it seems to me, is why the changes seem right.)
You see, I’m not the kind of guy who can think to himself, hmmm, my work needs to look more modern, and then just mimic someone else’s work I’d seen that struck me as modern (or trendy). Yes, there are certainly other photographers whose images have a similar look and feel to those I make (tell me a photographer’s name who has come up with something completely new in the last 30 or 40 years). But I had put in the work and the self-reflection, the trial and the error (so many errors), to arrive at this new point of departure and it just felt right. I was now at a location (in my brain) where I could set off down a new, different, path and look for new meanings.
I have always held that fateful meeting with Clare close to my heart. I thank her for her honesty and I thank myself for getting past my (bruised) ego. It changed my life.
Speaking of critique, opinion, change and progress . . . I want to mention that I’ll be teaching two Master Classes this summer.
One is about portraiture. It’s not a technical class (though there will be bits of that). It’s more about teaching an approach to portraiture that explores the space between you and the person you are photographing. The aim being to not just end up with a likeness of your “subject”, but rather to show you a way to work that allows for a fuller experience.
The time and location of each Master Class is yet to be determined, but they will each probably happen one morning or afternoon a week, for four weeks. The location will be The National Gallery of Canada or SPAO.