Photography "On the Side", and Why It's Necessary for Making Better Work
I’d like to make a weekly series about stuff in the visual arts that I’m interested in right now, as well as various thoughts I have about the industry. I would hope it would yield discovery and helpful discussion, only on special occasions will I ever let it become the Will Malone Rant Hour (because the internet is already plenty full of that stuff). I don’t have a name for this series yet, but I’m just going to go ahead and start making them and a name will come later. Think of it as the podcast (while the podcast is on hiatus), but in written form. You could consider the post I wrote about A Star is Born as the real first of this series.
I love that we live in age where you can say things like “Catholic Twitter” or “Painter Instagram” in reference to groups of people that have met up with others who share common interests and they form a community. While it can easily be argued that this isn’t always a great thing (which I think is the focus of our news these days), there are, however, ways that it is actually pretty cool.
One of these groups I’ve discovered over time has been “Cinematographer Instagram”. You think of Instagram as pretty much overrun with photographers, models, and people like me (like I said, models), but we forget that there are groups out there using them for a totally different purpose: Enjoyment.
I’m not sure anyone is really making money from Instagram other than select influencers (I have a long ranty post about this saved in a folder on my computer that I’ve so far abstained from posting), but I think of the groups of artists that really are not actively trying to become Insta-famous (but rather, just trying to make great work), cinematographers are at the top of the list. The king of the Instagram cinematographers Ryan Booth, known for his haunting snapshots during his commute and various other travels. He’s also the creator of the somewhat viral #fujiframez hashtag, which has alot of great stuff in it. He does it for fun and as an outlet. Imagine that.
If you dig a little deeper, you find a bunch of commercial filmmakers like Ryan Booth shooting photos of haunting scenes and beautiful stills of the world around them. To be honest I’m not sure if he started the movement of cinematographer Instagram, or simply improved it, but there’s quite a few people out there doing similar work. And sure, some of them are blatant ripoffs of his work, which always happens, but I’ve found some awesome work from other filmmakers who take up photography on the side.
There’s something to be said for that: taking up photography on the side. I spend every second of my day thinking about photography, and there’s inevitably a point where that becomes the tail wagging the dog or a snake eating its own tail or some other tail related metaphor. Photographers who shoot photos on the side have no one to sell to because it’s an outlet, and often times, that’s where some of the best photography work is being done today. I often wonder if I am limited in expanding my own world of photography because I’m just too close to fire in a way that someone who lives and breathes something else isn’t.
That’s why I try really hard to not live in photography as much as possible: I often follow chefs, writers, cinematographers, painters, etc to help take my work outside of what is expected of a freelance photographer.
In fact, I was reading the Momofuku cookbook (Chef David Chang’s restaurant) at Barnes and Noble the other day (Just realized how strange this sounds), and the photos in the book were stunning. Why were they stunning? They were photos of food and the chefs cooking food, but they were grainy, nasty, cyan and orange film photos. They weren’t the typical clean, white walled product of photos of food, it was like they grabbed a street photographer (…off the street) and said, “Shoot photos of food and us cooking.” Then the street photographer pulls out his Nikon L35AF point and shoot film camera (not sure if that’s actually the camera they used) and went to town. In fact, I found out later that the photographer was Gabriele Stabile who is in fact, a film-shooting street photographer.
The moral of that story is basically, through a different type photography not typically associated with cookbooks, the Momofuku cookbook stands out and is a billion times more interesting.
That’s what it takes to be different, and there’s a real risk to lose that ability the deeper I get into taking photos for a living. I never want to stop seeing things in a certain way, so I’m always looking for resources and inspiration to keep me out of a bubble. That’s also why, for me, shooting photos “on the side” is still as important as ever. If I’m not experimenting in my free time with new techniques and new subjects, what am I even doing?
I remember a few years ago I got really addicted to reading trucker forums where I read conversations between guys who just drive around for a living. What a fascinating and depressing universe (Don’t go read trucker forums).
Go check out cinematographer Instagram or cooking Instagram or some other Instagram that has really nothing to do with you. (I’m also a big fan of Painter Instagram).