I think one of my favorite quotes may sum up how I feel about my photography (and life in general):
We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are. - Anaïs Nin
My art is a journey of self-discovery and self-expression. It is the process by which I choose to explore the people, things and world around me. I am fascinated by the subjective nature of events, how two people can have exactly the same encounter and have radically different interpretations and place different values on them. My experiences are both a source of pain and joy – my source of inquiry and inspiration. They are what I tap into when creating my art.
As a fine art photographer and someone who has purchased fine art photos to hang on my own walls, I have often pondered what makes someone buy a piece of art to hang on their wall and look at it everyday for years on end. Trying to answer that question helps me create meaningful work and sharpen my creative vision.
I don’t believe the answer hinges on the “quality” of the photo – whether it is bad, good or great, since one’s opinion on what makes a great image is not only endlessly debatable but very personal. What seems to be more is relevant than the subjective quality of an image is how personally compelling that image is to someone and how that image triggers emotions in the viewer. The more “successful” (i.e. popular) the image, the more it resonates with the collective memory, acting as an emotional Rorschach test that triggers many similar universal feelings in different people.
For me it is also helpful to define, as a kind of Litmus test of the work I do, what are some of the structural elements that contribute to a compelling image. I believe a “successful” image is one that shows, in a powerful way, something you see everyday or something you’ve never really seen before and does so in a way that resonates emotionally with something deep inside the us; A bird flying above sunflowers may represent someone’s yearning for freedom. A roaring lion may strike a deep cord with one’s yearning for power or need to express rage. Footprints ascending an 800-foot dune may connect with a desire to explore different places. A red 1952 Cadillac cruising down a Havana’s throughway may represent one's childhood.
I have found memory to be such a fleeting and fickle companion. Photography for me is a way of capturing unique moments that speaks to a universal human condition. One moment I can hold in my hands and relive time and again without relying on misfiring neurons and synapses. This is a way of hardening memory and emotion. You take your newborn child’s foot and make a clay impression because you know, the moment the clay is dry, that body will never really be the same. You know as time goes by, exponential changes that stager the imagination leave you thinking “was he ever really that small?, “could I have held that tiny foot in my hand?”. I create images to make emotional clay impressions of the things I see (or don’t really see, as the case may be) in my life. I press fresh joy, power, freedom, anger, beauty, surprise, happiness, into the mold of my imagination and solidify it so I can know it and enjoy it again. I use different techniques to generate my images; color, B&W, Infrared, SX-70 and Polaroid manipulations, digital manipulations and modifications because someone once said (and I believe) that sometimes an artfully created fiction is more truthful that the actual truth. I am after the poetic and lyrical truth of the subject rather than the literal truth.
Originally, I started taking photos because I was a music fan. I needed to capture that defining moment of each rock concert I went to and in doing so I felt my experiences were enhanced. After I published my first book on my concert photography, I started traveling and similar to my concert experiences, I felt a burning to desire to capture the beautiful moments I experienced. And once again the act of photographing the places I traveled to increased my joy. When traveling my camera acted as a bridge to the people I met and photographed. The more fun I had the better the images would be.
I am concerned with the “magic moment” and have made a concerted effort to make sure nothing gets in the way of that. Every tool I use to create my work is geared towards my philosophy of capturing that moment from my experiences. I use a small format camera because they are much more flexible and responsive. I switched to digital when the quality surpassed film. I now print digitally since the quality and longevity of the prints equals or surpasses traditional methods.
My passion to live drives me to hike to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, walk the giant sand dunes of the Sahara, float down Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, stroll Havana’s Old City, eat with Papua New Guinea’s mudmen, dog sled Greenland’s fresh snow, get bitten by twin baby tigers in my own backyard, face down a charging bull elephant in the Masai Mara, sail the Queen Charlotte Islands, jump out of a plane over the Kalahari desert, white water raft the Victoria Falls River – and my desire to crystallize those experiences and emotions drives me to photography.
I scratch at the surface of the mundane and extraordinary, forcing them to give up their secret transient moments so I may be fortunate enough to capture and share them. In the end I yearn to be the experience I chase after and shoot. I want to be that lion streaking across the Serengeti, that old man who fished with Hemingway, a newborn baby, that rock star playing to 50,000 screaming fans. I am greedy for experience. I want to live all the lives and moments. But I have to settle for holding up my round glass and catching reflected light.
My work, whether it be portraits, landscapes, animals or still life, is most successful when it speaks to celebrating the richness of life. When people see my work I’d like them to feel that moment of shared emotion and experience.
I am a seeker, a traveler, a gatherer of moments.
I photograph because I cannot do otherwise.