What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?
Probably my earliest inspiration for making photographs was my father. He was an advanced amateur photographer, and was always taking photographs. I’m certain that I caught the bug from him. When I was about 4 or 5 he got me a little Kodak Instamatic (which I still have), and kept me supplied with film cartridges for it. I imagine that my proclivity for the square format comes from the little square prints that the Instamatic produced.
We had a darkroom at the house I grew up in (in Los Angeles), and I used to help my dad on the weekends when he would process film and print. It was (and still is) a magical experience, seeing images emerge in the darkroom.
In my teens, I realized that a camera gave me license to experience just about whatever I wanted to. Early on, that meant fabricating a tale that I ran a music ‘zine. Music was my main passion at the time. I used to frequent the clubs on the Sunset Strip (the Roxy, the Whiskey, etc.) when I was in high school. I’d call the publicity departments at record companies and request a press pass for the concerts I wanted to attend, and nearly always received one. The earliest prints that I made in the darkroom and still have are from a Lou Reed show at the Roxy when I was 14 or 15. I remember coming home late that night after the show, processing the film, blow-drying the film, and making small prints that I took to school the next day. To this day, a camera empowers me to approach people or situations that intrigue me.
What inspires me to keep working in this field? Several things, I suppose. I have an insatiable curiosity about the world in general…a wanderlust, a need to explore. I use the camera, in part, as a journal…the photographs preserve the memories of my life experiences. Mainly, though, it is not a choice. I NEED to make photographs. Simple as that.
In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?
This is a tricky question. I think one should begin to try to get exposure for their work as soon as they have made a series of photographs that truly excite them. Let me qualify this though: you need to crawl before you can walk. You probably shouldn’t be approaching AIPAD galleries as an undergrad with 12 great photos from your Photo 2 class that rocked your professor’s and fellow student’s world.
Start with a very honest look at your own work. You should be excited about your own work, impressed with the work you have created. Edit ruthlessly. If you have exhibited a long-term commitment to photography, and you have a tightly edited, cohesive, and well resolved body of work then ask yourself a few simple questions:
- What is your work about?
- Who is your audience, and why does your work need to be seen?
- Is the work truly unique? Are you bringing something new to the table?
- What are your goals? (i.e. do you want to be an exhibiting artist? Do you want to publish? Do you want to have your work placed in collections?)
These may seem like obvious questions, however I am surprised how often I review a younger or emerging artist’s portfolio and they are unable to answer these questions. You need to know your work as well as you know yourself. It is, after all, an extension and reflection of you.
I don’t know that there is one defining action that I would suggest to a photographer to help them take their work to the next level (though a well designed and maintained website IS absolutely essential, and is a great way to start getting your work seen.) I think it depends on what their experience has been to this point. If a photographer does not have a MFA, and it is an option to take the 2-3 years to devote to an MFA program, I would strongly suggest that. The ability to focus on your work for an extended period of time with a group of peers and mentors is an invaluable experience. If he or she already has a MFA, I would take as much time as is feasible and focus on nothing but making work. Try to stay focused on one project, and edit, edit, edit. Then edit some more. And if a photographer has been working for a while and has a mature, long-term project that he or she is fully confident is ready to be out in the world, then I would suggest investing in one of the major portfolio reviews (Fotofest, Photo Lucida, or Review Santa Fe.) They are an opportunity to not only meet with the top professionals in the field, but also to spend time with fellow photographers. I cannot stress enough the importance of being a part of the photography community. Simply put, photographers are the best people. Our community is extremely supportive.
How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?
It has come about through a combination of hard work, research, opportunity, and preparedness.
I consider myself successful in that I have met a number of goals that I set for myself. I sat down about 10 years ago and drafted a list of what I wanted to achieve as an artist. That was probably step one. I had studied how “successful” photographers that I admire put there work out there. I went to PhotoLA for a number of years, beginning in the mid-late 90’s, and learned so much about the business end of photography.
I knew that I wanted to have my work represented by galleries, but also had realistic expectations. I understood that I needed to have a mature and well resolved body of work under my belt before I approached galleries. I was fortunate in that I gave myself a year to do nothing but work in the studio. During that time I developed the core of my series Seen and Not Seen (which I worked on for about a year and a half.) After I felt it was ready to be out in the world, I sought the opinion of several friends who are professionals in the field. Their affirmation gave me the confidence to pursue a gallery. There is an amazing photography gallery in my city, Etherton Gallery, and I approached them first. I was very fortunate in that they responded to the work and took some work in on consignment. Not long after I was offered representation and a show. Terry Etherton, the owner of the gallery, has believed in my work from the beginning and has been a great supporter. He introduced me to his fellow gallerist, Michael Dawson, who owns a gallery in LA. Michael saw my work at Etherton, and through that connection he began representing and showing my work. I also applied to the photo-eye Photographer’s Showcase, and began showing my work on their online gallery. This was in 2001.
The next year I began attending portfolio reviews, and was able to build on the momentum of the previous year. I recognized the importance of trying to broaden the audience for my work, and approached a variety of opportunities in different markets. I met with commercial galleries, not-for-profit galleries, museum professionals, publishers, magazines, etc. In essence, things snowball. Get something started, let the momentum build, and then keep up the momentum…make sure things keep moving forward. It’s important to keep making new work, and to continue to gain increased exposure for your work. Additionally, I now have a wide circle of friends that I have met at portfolio reviews. We tend to help each other out, and suggest each other to appropriate galleries, publications, etc.
I feel as if I have been extremely fortunate in that I have been able to find and maintain an audience for my work, which was one of my main goals. That is not an easy feat. There is a wealth of great photography being made, and despite the myriad opportunities for one to get their work seen it is still tricky to find an audience for your work and to develop a following.