Sunday, December 19, 2010

Birthday Sets

(Snapped on 12/07/10)

I turned 42 a couple of weeks ago (yeah...tell me about it) and leading up to the gruesome event (I know you might find this hard to believe but) it never once crossed my mind to do birthday-themed self-portraits. It wasn't until I started getting the most wonderful outpouring of well-wishes on Facebook (which included several goading remarks about birthday suit pics. and a request that I feature a cake with lit candles) that I decided to capitalize on the big, horrific day, by documenting and even (sort of) celebrating the anniversary of my birth - in front of and behind my little camera. 

Typically, I ignore my birthday on purpose. Each year I consider it a non-event, really - and I guess I sort of secretly wish that if I don't acknowledge it...maybe I won't actually get any older. But this year, I hadn't intentionally forgotten to recognize the dreaded day, nope. This year I was legitimately so distracted by something else, that I plumb forgot it was approaching.

Some of you guys might already be familiar with my tumultuous, on again-off again/love/hate relationship with reddit, but for those of you who are not - rather than go into elaborate detail about our brief and torrid affair - I'll try to quickly and concisely get you up to speed.

I got myself on reddit solely for the purpose of promoting my blog, end of story - and it worked! I immediately noticed a dramatic rise in daily hits to my blog, aaaaand...beCAUSE of that - I continued to link different blog entries to the main page, completely unaware that I was breaking the "spam" rules by consistently directing redditors to my blog only. It didn't take long for the moderators to get all up in my face, and read me the riot act for ignoring proper rediquette. I was stunned. But I shan't waste precious time here, itemizing the reasons for my shock and chagrin. If you're curious to know more, feel free to click on this link (it should get you square on the sitch):    My Big Ugly Blog isn't Spam, it's the OTHER Canned Meat...

Thanks to a savvy, kindhearted redditor who saw me in distress and came to my rescue by suggesting that I post my stuff to a photography sub-reddit - I found my way to the itookapicture page...which at first felt like the perfect place for me to submit photos, and link my blog (without being reprimanded for doing so) in the hopes that I might obtain helpful feedback...the key words here being, "at first".

(Snapped on 12/08/10)

Long before putting my pics. up on reddit, I was sharing them with a limited, but mostly encouraging audience on Facebook, and Twitter and a couple of dating sites. The reason I started taking self-portraits in the first place, was to ensure that I'd continue attracting a revolving lineup of men to my dating site profiles, as well as - more followers on Twitter. I was (at that time) in no way chasing any sort of premeditated artistic endeavor. It was nothing more than a seat-of-the-pants gimmick - concocted solely for the propulsion of my old Big Ugly Blog. 

My biggest challenge back then, was to effectively straddle the great divide between subtly sensual, tastefully done nude and semi-nude photographs - and sexually overt pornography...and the results were predominantly, soft-pornish, pin-up style pics.. My kids were and continue to be, the reason I've never gone too to speak. I still stick to the same policy that I instituted in the beginning - of engineering shoots which produce pictures that I feel completely comfortable showing to my kids, and this is the gauge that helps me determine if an image is appropriate for the internet...or not. 

From the outset, the desired end-result in following this silly, little whim - has not necessarily been to establish myself as some great photographer. I kinda feel like the true artistry in my work (assuming there actually is any) lies in the oftentimes labor-intensive preparation for and staging of the photos, as well as the different people that I become in my self-portraits, and/or the physical feats that I'm able to accomplish - all in a matter of seconds. I mean if you really think about it, by using the 10 second delay - I never actually click the shutter - the camera takes the picture by itself. Additionally, I've always kind of believed that using inexpensive equipment somehow disqualifies me from being taken seriously as a "real" photographer. The fact that I use a (basic point and shoot) camera to bring a vision to fruition, is to me - somewhat secondary to the work that goes into composing and posing for the pics.. It was not a deliberate decision on my part, to pick up photography - and my initial intention was certainly not to master photography as an art form. Bottom line, I needed pictures of myself and using a camera was the obvious means to that end. Plus, I had no other alternative than to call upon myself to be my own photographer. 

Early on, the whole thing was entirely about drawing attention to my blog, and the positive response that I got in the beginning (from folks who seemed genuinely entertained by my pics.) was ample enough reason to perpetuate the momentum. The more pictures I took, and the more elaborate my shoots became - the more I found myself craving masterminding my next shoot, and before I knew it...I was irrevocably hooked...Soon I realized that my obsession with dash self-portraiture, had far more to do with my own enjoyment, than with luring men to my dating sites (et al). 

What started out as an accidental hobby, has morphed into an all-consuming passion. Just like with any field of interest - be it sports or cooking or music or whatever - whenever a single activity becomes a focal point in someone's life, the desire to raise the bar for oneself is part of the natural progression in striving to graduate from novice to expert. I firmly believe that by immersing myself so wholeheartedly in my self-portraits, I have grown and continue to improve as an artist...but maybe in more of a general sense, than as a photographer specifically, at the moment. 

Becoming a technically perfect photographer - so far, has not topped my list of priorities. Matter of fact - the thought of fine-tuning my photography skills, was something that never even occurred to me until it became startlingly apparent that my lack of know-how was a major bone of contention with a few of the big dogs on ITAP. Although criticism of the quality (poor) and content (redundant) of my pics. was frequently harsh, I never let it bother me. I was actually thrilled to finally be getting a healthy dose of non-biased input from complete strangers, and - never one to miss an opportunity to standup for myself - I did my best to respond to each and every gripe about my photos. Don't get me wrong though, it wasn't all daggers and arrows of skepticism. I applaud the brave souls who gave me props for my pics. and defended my style despite backlash from disapproving redditors...OH! And the mods on ITAP, I just loved 'em! They were so much more pleasant than those grumps on the main page. They always set me straight (when need be) with a tone of kindness and patience, answered my (many, sometimes ridiculous) questions without condescension, and on top of that - they did not make me feel like a second rate artist... 

(Snapped on 12/07/10)

The fleeting but furious flurry of controversy over my self-portraits on the itookapicture page of reddit, was a terrible lot of fun while it lasted. The only small problem with it, was that I was spending so much time reading and responding to the seemingly endless string of comments, that my poor photo blog was left sorely neglected. I did however, manage to tear myself away from my computer to go out and do a few shoots, and it was then that the impact of aaaaalllll that derisive feedback, took a negative toll on my work.

I found myself second-guessing what would've traditionally been a sort of devil-may-care approach to my pics.. I was overanalyzing every aspect of my shoots, from costume and theme to cropping and contrast during the editing process, and finally - in selecting which pics. to even share with an increasingly more hostile audience on reddit. The feeling of joy that my shoots typically bring, had given way to trepidation and anxiety...

For me the whole thing came to a head, after I posted a photo from one of the (four different) birthday sets, and the overwhelming response was thumbs-down...It was dawning on me that itookapicture may not be the place for me, after all (duh). As if becoming this sort of irritating flea wasn't bad enough, the inundation of "helpful advice" had started to squelch my spontaneity, and simultaneously my overall enthusiasm flagged.

I decided to split when I realized that I was kinda ruining itookapicture for folks who had seniority over me on the page, and because the short amount of time that I'd spent there, was proving more detrimental than constructive. It's my personal opinion, that the folks at the top of the ITAP totem pole, are mostly interested in the technical aspects of photography, like: composition, equipment, editing - and that's fine! But you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that upgrading to high-end equipment and using a tripod and photoshop will absolutely benefit my pics.. The ITAP elite are clearly less concerned with giving credence to the creative process and the elbow grease that it sometimes requires - which is precisely where I place the greatest emphasis on what I personally do, and I believe that it's the very thing about my work, that resonates with my most devoted followers. The unrefined nature of my pics., although palatable to and appreciated by a respectable number of redditors, was like nails on a chalkboard to the MFA-in-Photography types, who had no tolerance for the likes of me, and what I gathered that they believed to be a perceived photographic sleight of hand. Ultimately I think that I did us all a favor, by putting an end to our misery.

My swan song submission to ITAP - was the cupcake photo above. Taking the picture had coincided with the shit storm that swelled after several of my submissions were met with disdain, and the instant that it appeared on my computer screen - I smiled. But my happiness was tempered with, "Oh lord...I could never post this on itookapicture!"...and that's when it hit finally made sense. The cupcake picture was not indicative of any semblance of progression in my work. There was nothing esoteric, no "deep" hidden meaning, and true to form - the quality was only so-so. But I liked its simplicity, and that it harkened back to the days of my earliest self-portraits - which made me realize that I really haven't been doing this very long. And although I'm stubborn and hard-headed and don't like being told what to do, I am still slowly improving. It also served as a reminder and made me appreciate, that there is a contingent of people out there, who don't abandon or berate me, just because my pictures aren't perfect. And better yet, they stand by me whether my tits show...or whether they do not.


  1. That was so beautifully and well said! There were many photographers on ITAP who have spent years studying the technical aspects of photography, and amassing high end equipment, but for all that, I didn't see any evidence that they could come close to you in natural artistic ability, or create pictures that were any where as interesting, or had the soul, of your photographs made with that cheap little point and shoot camera, and using no one but yourself!.

  2. Tits or not, your loyalty to your creative process is paramount. The simplicity you talk about reminds me of one of my favourite bands, the Minnesota trio Low, who manage to express more in the harmonized hush of their wedded, intuitive, stately vocals, subdued yet occasionally screeching guitar, and buoyant yet unobtrusive bass, than a thousand other, more busy-sounding artists. What I mean is, there's a time for minimalism, and although you are sometimes far from minimalism, there's a DIY (punk) aspect to your work that draws people in, gives your work a warmth, a connection that I can't otherwise express. (This is David, btw, if that's not already obvious, lol.)

  3. Two of the most uplifting comments that I've ever gotten, here on the good ole Big Ugly...I can't tell you guys how much I appreciate your steadfast encouragement to keep doing what I'm doing, as well as your unwavering loyalty to me as a friend...Love you BOTH!

  4. The few professional photographers I know have regularly trashed my work as well, complaining of all sorts of technical errors. I guess I could address all those, but I'd much rather shoot images with heart than to get lost in being a technician. And I'd say that you have heart in spades! So by all means, keep doing what you're doing.

  5. Oh my gosh, you have any idea how good that makes me feel?! Seriously...such a huge boost, ALL of it! THANK You!

    Honestly though, I can't imagine how ANYone could find a single thing wrong with any aspect of your incredible photos (parTICularly the nighttime shots) but it's all relative I guess. It just feels good to know that you, as someone whose work I admire tremendously, go about taking your OWN pics., without letting criticism from others derail your natural's inspiring, really...Thanks so much!

  6. Delighted! But you already thank me... with your work! One other thing... I've discovered quite by accident that my best work, time after time, came about by specifically doing the things they tell you not to do: "don't shoot without a tripod in low light," "don't shoot towards the sun," etc. I often didn't know it at the time, because half the time I hadn't even heard the rules until later, but looking back, it's precisely the sparkle of the shots into the sun that gives them life, and the slight fuzziness of the hand-held shots at night that gives them heart. Far better to have an eye for beauty than to be a good technician, if you ask me.

  7. I've enjoyed some of your posts on Reddit, but I think maybe you've been posting a bit too much, or too indiscriminately. Not really sure.

    It's interesting that you started out using Reddit as a place to promote your blog. That in and of itself is generally frowned upon -- it's supposed to be a site where people post interesting things they *find*. Some self-promotion is of course fine. I think in your case it is OK because you are interacting in the comments, but please understand that some of the friction you are encountering might be due to a mismatch of goals.

    Anyway, I enjoy your work, and I hope you take some of the constructive criticism to heart. You can get better equipment and maybe a helper at the camera without sacrificing your artistic vision. :-)

  8. @Steve - I totally hear ya' on ALL of that! In general I think I get my best pics., when I follow my own instincts and work on a trail and error basis, as opposed to consciously trying to follow the "rules" of proper photography. There is this part of me that is completely fine with continuing to learn at this slow and steady pace, rather than bogging myself down with the confusing, sometimes conflicting advice that I've gotten from people who I'm sure really do mean well, but maybe don't fully get my m.o.. In remaining as "primitive" an artist as possible, I adhere to the credo - "ignorance is bliss"...and that mess totally works for me! I'm in awe though, that you can produce such drool-worthy, "tight" images, by bucking the system in your own way - inspirational! Merry Christmas, btw!

  9. @Tim - Ah, you're sweet...but to be frank, I've already kinda given up on the whole reddit thing. I figured out pretty quickly, that I don't fit into their mold, and so I've quit posting photos and the link to my blog.

    Hope your having a great Christmas!