The Online Photographer: We Need Our Audiences

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

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We Need Our Audiences

This week’s column by Ctein

I know lots of authors, artists, and singer/songwriters. When we get together we talk about the creative process in remarkably similar ways. I’ve no doubt that my feelings and reactions are not universal (everyone differs) but they cut broadly across ages, media, and genres. What we all seem to need is an outside audience.

What got me thinking on this particular path was spending a chunk of time a few years back hanging, to my serious delight, with the brilliant and talented Kathy Li (who few of you have heard of and fewer have seen, since she doesn’t have a website of her work, damn her eyes, and I’ll be getting to that). Among many talents, she’s an avid amateur photographer*. On one afternoon, she showed me a candid portrait of me she’d made that I really liked; it is very much one of the more successful efforts at capturing me that anyone has done. Perhaps only DDB and Kyle Cassidy have done better. Then she showed me an extraordinarily evocative photograph of a luminescent red tide that had me intensely staring at her itty bitty iPod Touch for minutes.

You can’t see her work, because she hasn’t bothered to put together an online gallery. She doesn’t think she’s very good. But really, how bad can someone be if they show me two photographs I like that much in one afternoon? I mean, I ain’t the ultimate arbiter of taste, but I’ve got a bit of an eye. It can’t be crap. But, nah, she doesn’t think she’s worthy.

Another friend freezes up in the face of potential sales. He’s a good photographer. Intellectually, he knows he’s a good photographer. He’s not as divorced from reality as Kathy. But when it comes to selling his stuff, he makes me look like Steve Jobs, and I am pretty bad at this, truly I am. He doesn’t even have to dither over what to offer. People have already asked for his work. He just has to put it out there. It would do his ego immeasurable good. He always has an excuse. They’re palpably stupid and illogical excuses…to everyone except him. I’m convinced that on some level, he just doesn’t feel like he’s good enough to deserve an audience. Which is bulls*$#. And irrelevant.

Most artists have good days and bad days. Mostly we have meh days. Good enough, but…. And that’s when all the doubts creep in. Oh, there are those good days. I have actually made a handful of dye transfer prints in my life that I think are perfect. 99.9% of them, not so much; I can see a wart, a flaw, in design, composition, execution, something that keeps it from being ideal. I grit my mental teeth just a bit and move on. Same with my writing. I’ve written a few columns that were effortless and as perfect as I’ll ever write. My Jim Marshall eulogy and my Photo-Fetishist columns were like that. They just sprang, full-blown, from the brow of my muse on to the screen, almost as fast as I could dictate them, and they sang. Why? I dunno, ask my Muse. Maybe her Muse inspired her. Maybe it was just the right cup of tea that morning. Or maybe the phase of the moon. Whatever, she was rockin’.

Other times, she’ll just churn out the words, and I’ll find myself writing four, maybe five, thousand words in a day, because I won’t want to be doing anything else, and they’ll be fine, but not perfect. Good enough. And sometimes it’s a horrible slog; she doesn’t want to write, and I don’t want to write, but it has to get written. Then it gets reworked and rereworked into some tolerable semblance of publishability, and off it goes.

Except for those incredibly rare shining moments, whether it’s photography or writing, it feels only good enough. That’s where it starts to go off the rails. Because any even-semi-successful artist is one of their own worst critics.

This is not a character flaw; this is not an insecurity; it is not something that can be fixed by good therapy (or drugs). It is a necessary part of our success. We need to be more critical than most our our audience, so that we can be sure of getting rid of all the warts that they would notice. That’s the way to be sure (well, hemi-demi-semi-sure) that they will enjoy the experience we’re handing them. We have to be better than them; it’s what they’re paying us for.

Consequently, those of us who toil mostly in isolation, mostly in the company of our own minds, witty and entertaining as that company may be, mostly live with our own very worst critic. We lack perspective. That can only be provided by others.

I can recall, back when I was printing Jim Marshall’s photographs, that I reached a point where I started to doubt the quality of my work. Printing the same photographs repeatedly, I became intimately familiar with every single flaw and failing they contained. It’s not that the prints were bad or anything like that, but to my eye they didn’t look terribly good. In the back of my brain there was this nagging little thought, “Gee, I can’t believe Jim is willing to pay me so much money for prints like these.” Intellectually I knew that there wasn’t anyone else likely to be able to make better prints for him, but, still, the work I was turning out wasn’t making me feel very good.

Then one of the galleries in San Francisco mounted a major retrospective of Jim’s photography, the black-and-white work being represented by platinum prints and the color, of course, by my dye transfer prints. I went to the opening and for the first time saw a substantial body of those prints in their proper venue: nicely framed, well lit, and being admired by hundreds of attendees. Suddenly, I could slip into their heads and see the prints the way they were seeing them, and I realized that, damn, I’m good. I mean really, really good! Which is what everyone else had been telling me, but I’d been losing the ability to see it for myself.

That’s why artists need audiences.

©2013 by Ctein, all rights reserved

*(Author’s note: turns out there’s also a Kathy Li who is a professional photographer in London—that’s a different one.)

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

For anyone who writes, blogs, creates … this is an insightful, well-written article to which we can all relate.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree Morning Amidst Fuchsia … Watching Work

This morning. It’s cooler now, already in mid-August. The hottest part of the summer has passed and around here, we suddenly know that there’s not much time left to get things done before winter closes in on us. But for this day, this bright and beautiful perfect morning, I can sit on my deck amidst the fuchsia I’ve nursed since springtime.

The urgency of replacing the broken old steps to the deck, a job that has needed doing since early spring was finished. What is more delicious than sitting amidst flowers sipping coffee while two younger generations — four teenagers and one middle-aged dad — do the work. I love work. I can watch it all day.

There are few carefree moments in life these days, but this morning, to sit, drink coffee and enjoy my flowers, soft breezes and bright sunshine while younger backs hammer and saw … that’s good. That’s freedom.


Ours was the last generation …

I get a lot of posts about things that were common when I was a kid that you don’t see anymore. Rabbit ear antennas for televisions.


45 RPM record players. Vinyl records. Tape recorders that used actual mylar tape. Dial telephones. Galoshes. Roller skates that fitted your shoes and needed keys to adjust. Rabbit ear antennas for black and white televisions and of course, black and white televisions. And no remote controls.

My son’s generation gets this one:

rememberI’m sure my granddaughter’s generation will be the last to remember when you had to connect to the Internet using a modem … if she remembers. By the time she is a grandmother, who knows what technology will look like?

The thing is, my mother’s generation was born when seeing a horse and carriage was more common than seeing a car. Not everyone had electricity. Telephones were luxuries. Yet she lived to see men walk on the moon, something no one in my granddaughter or son’s generation has seen because we abandoned our manned space program and never revived it.

July 2012 - Farm Stand

Every generation sees the end of something and the beginning of something else. The 1300s, 1400s and 1500s saw monumental technological advances. The 1600s saw the industrial revolution which changed not only technology, but the way everyone lived. Talk about revolutionary changes, the world went from an agrarian economy to a city-based industrial economy. It was also the beginning of urban poverty and crime.

cows come home

The world is always changing. What is more interesting is not what has disappeared, but what has remained. Living in the country, we still see cows munching on grass and cooling off on hot summer days by wading in streams.

Stagecoach in Tombstone

We buy vegetables sometimes, when a farm has extra produce to sell, at stands that work on the honor system. Weigh the veggies and put the money in the can. Many people don’t lock their doors. A fair number don’t know where the keys are and couldn’t lock them if they wanted to.

cow in stream

Some of the old ways linger long in the country. But everyone has WiFi and cable or satellite. Everyone has a cell phone and all the shops take plastic. They will still accept cash, so far, anyway.

It’s not remarkable if things change. It’s remarkable when they don’t.

A Late Quartet (2012) – A Review

A Late Quartet refers to one of a group of string quartets written by Beethoven at the end of his life, in this case, specifically Opus 131.

Director: Yaron Zilberman
Writers (screenplay): Seth Grossman, Yaron Zilberman

The Cast:

Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Robert Gelbart
Christopher Walken, as Peter Mitchell
Catherine Keener, as Juliette Gelbart
Mark Ivanir, as Daniel Lerner
Imogen Poots, as Alexandra Gelbart
Wallace Shawn, as Gideon Rosen
Anne Sofie von Otter, as Miriam.

Garry and I watched A Late Quartet the other day. I bought it from Amazon a few weeks ago after reading some good reviews. It sounded like a movie for grown-ups and there have been a dearth movies that don’t star fresh-faced children. It turns out the reviewers were right.

It’s a lovely film. If anyone is a “hero” in this film, it’s Christopher Walken who plays against type with elegance and grace. Add Marc Ivanir, who usually plays Israeli heavies on NCIS and other crime shows (he actually is from Israel and is an actual hero) as the dedicated and ever so slightly demon-haunted violinist, plus Phillip Seymour Hoffman doing his usual workmanlike job and Catherine Keener on viola and as “could be better” wife to Hoffman’s second violin  It’s a great mix of characters and some of the best work done by Walken and company.

Their movie musicianship is realistic. I know they were not actually the group used to produce the sound track but it looked to this ex-music major as if they knew their way around string instruments. Some may have had some early training, others were coached for the movie. Whatever the means, it enabled the cinematographer to follow the actors’ movement closely, without resorting to long shots that disguise the real identities of the performers. Well done.

While doing a little side bar reasearch on the stars, I discovered — entirely to my surprise — that Walken actually attended the same college as Garry and I and probably was there during one of Garry’s years at Hofstra University. He was only there for one year and left for a gig in an off-broadway show, but it was news to us that he’d been there at all.

It is one of the many ironies of Garry and my education that most of Hofstra’s most famous graduates are not graduates, but attendees who left before getting a degree to begin highly successful careers. We had a very good drama department and perhaps the biggest measure of its success is how many of the students in the program were “discovered” before they got degrees and went on to fame and fortune without benefit of that all-important piece of paper.

Although it doesn’t hurt if you know some classical music and particularly, if you understand the cutthroat world of classical performers, but if you don’t, you can still enjoy the movie.

The plot? It’s the 25th anniversary of “The Fugue”, a classical string quartet. The world is catching up with them. Christopher Walken, their cellist and oldest member of the quartet has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and needs to retire. The first violinist is in love with the second violinist’s daughter, and the second violinist wants to be the first violinist … and sex in the form of “oops” infidelity adds enough spice to imperil the survival of the quartet if the rest of the problems were not enough.

Walken as the sensible, down-to-earth member of the group, dealing with his own burdens and unwilling to tolerate the childish carryings-on by the other performers, is wonderful. “The Fugue comes first,” he says, or words to that effect. It’s interesting to see Walken cast as the stable, adult, and not even slightly crazy member of the group.

The music — especially Opus 131, the late quartet — is magnificent. I’ve rarely heard this piece performed. It’s an exceptionally challenging piece of music, written when Beethoven was already swathed in silence by the loss of his hearing, yet still able to hear it in his head and write some of the most advanced, complex and intense music of his life.

I admit to being inclined in advance to like this movie. I love the music, studied classical music for many long years. I love Beethoven, probably my all time favorite composer, whose music I play as I drift off to sleep at night and whose symphonies have been my companion on many journeys throughout my life.

It did not disappoint us. It’s not a light piece of fluff, nor is it depressing or hopeless. Problems come, problems are addressed, problems are resolved. Not everything has a happy ending but within the limits of what is possible, these adults work out their problems, musical, health, personal and relationship, like … adults.

It is a nice change from watching stupid kids running around like stupid kids, clearly clueless about life and from the looks of things, not likely to become wiser assuming they manage to survive to grow older.

It’s very much worth a couple of hours of your time, if just for the music. But it is really better than just the music. The DVD is available on Amazon (which is where I got it) and the soundtrack is available separately.

Dragons rock in audio! Song of the Beast – Carol Berg

Song of the Beast is available on Kindle, paperback, and now, from

Song of the Beast | [Carol Berg]After years of waiting, the book finally came available as an Audiobook. Since I already have the book on Kindle (and as a hard copy), let me buy the audiobook for just $4.49, a bargain I was delighted to snatch. A steal!

After being terribly disappointed in the recording of Kevin Hearne’s Hunted (disappointed enough to ask for my money back), I was delighted this book was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. Maybe better. Narrated by Claire Christie and Jeremy Arthur, I was (again) surprised at how much more I get from an audiobook than from print. I think it’s because I read very fast. When I listen, the pace is that of human speech, perhaps slightly slower than normal conversation. I absorb more of the story listening than reading.

The dual narration works well. Aiden and Lara having their own voices and perspectives is appropriate. Usually I don’t like multiple narrators, but I like them in this book.

Song of the Beast is Carol Berg‘s is a standalone book. I wish it were a series. I have it on good authority that another story (short story — not an entire book) will be coming out based in the same world, though not featuring the same characters. I would prefer a book or two, but I will happily settle for whatever I can get.

If Carol Berg writes it, I will read it. I think she’s brilliant and not nearly as appreciated as she deserves.

I came to love her dragons. There is a faint whiff of Pern to these dragons, except no dragonrider of Pern would so mistreat a dragon. I’m a sucker for dragons. Any dragon. And these are fabulous dragons.

I found the story’s characters well-drawn and three-dimensional. Many relationships are between different species because, unlike her other books, not all characters are human. The relationships are logical extensions of the cultures from which they come. The slightly abrasive relationships between differing humanoids is fundamental.

The main character — Aidan McAllister has been imprisoned and tortured. His beautiful voice has been silenced, his hands brutally destroyed. His music, which offered solace and hope to war-torn Elyria, is gone. The god in whom he never lost faith and nurtured him and his music since he was a child seems to have abandoned him.

Yet no one has yet told him what his crime was. He has no idea what earned him such punishment. He has emerged from prison a broken man, battered beyond endurance, wanting nothing more than peace and safety … and the end of pain. Having lost himself, he must find his way back to himself, remember who he was because that’s the key to what happened to him, what is happening to the world and the dragons. There is, of course, a beautiful woman.

Through it all, Aiden remains a gentle soul in a cruel world, a man to whom violence is abhorrent no matter what was done to him. He’s neither vengeful nor mean. Music is his magic.

I wish there were a sequel to this book. I wanted to know what happened next, how this society evolves. The book left me with lots of questions. It isn’t a cliff hanger — not exactly — but it didn’t seem quite finished to me. There’s plenty of room for more stories as this world realigns and reconstructs itself in the wake of a new understanding of dragons.

I liked the book so much I was sorry it ended. I never want any of Carol Berg’s books to end.

Song of the Dragon is available via Audible download, on Kindle, and as a paperback. It was originally available in hardcover and I have that, too. Next up, Rai Kirah in audio! I have the first volume and this month will get another. Listening my way through all Carol Berg’s books, one series at a time is the best part of my life these days.