It's Valentine's Day tomorrow and I can't think of a better way to relate to the day than a guest post from a very special couple Sheila and I met recently at an art show. It's funny that I would use the word "special" when we hardly know them, but after you read this guest post, you'll agree with me!
Sarasota has several great little art shows throughout the year and we try and go to all of them. Well, we walked by Russell Grace and Angie Kullman's booth and simply fell in love with the images...all of them! It's rare I see an artist displaying nothing but infrared, especially when each one was a "wow" print.
Well, that led to a short introduction about the SCU blog and me doing everything I could to not beg for a guest post. What I got has blown me away and that's why it's perfect for Valentine's Day. You've heard me say, "You can't create images that tug at people's heart strings if your heart isn't in it." Well, not only do Russell and Angie put their hearts in their work, but it's in their relationship and the passion they have for imaging and each other.
While it might seem a little long for a traditional blog - this is anything but traditional work. There was nothing I wanted to cut and trim down. If you want to see more of the Russell and Angie's work, here's the link. You will not be disappointed. And, check out their blog , "In the Best Possible Light"- you've got to love a couple with a tagline of " Images and Eclectic Commentary From A Photographer, A Philosopher And A Pug As They Travel The Country."
We like to say that while some couples have a song, we have a collection of black and white infrared photographs. It’s delightful. We get all of the magic without the awkwardness of dancing.
It started simply enough. As a lark, we took a few rolls of infrared film and an old Pentax camera with us on one of our first dates. The results changed our lives. We tumbled down a rabbit hole into an infrared wonderland; and through our adventures there, we found our voice as a couple and as a couple of artists. That’s why when we celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s about more than sappy cupid cards and candies. For us, it’s an opportunity to celebrate everything we have created together; a life, a marriage, and an artistic body of work that brings us great joy and makes us very proud.
The key to everything that came after that first infrared afternoon is VOICE. Both Russell and I share the belief that if you are picking up a camera, taking photographs and selling them in any way, shape or form, you absolutely must find your own voice. The good news is that you already have it. If you have the urge to pick up a camera and the courage to share your creativity with the world, you have a voice. The bad news is that it is becoming harder for aspiring photographers in any area to find their voice. There’s a lot of noise out there. There are websites and blogs with step-by-step instructions to achieve specific results, and there are software packages, applications and shortcuts galore. It’s incredibly easy to shoot and sell without laying the groundwork that leads to real success and satisfaction.
We came to our conviction that voice is everything from different directions. Russell had been a professional photographer for more than twenty years and owned a gallery in Tallahassee for much of that time. He attributes his success to the fact that he had a clear, unmistakable voice. People who look at his images know that they are Russell Grace photographs. His coastal and collegiate collection filled a special niche in his region. Yet he felt change coming. He wanted to do something new, so he sold his gallery; and rather than waiting for his muse in a corner bar, he took a teaching job and began to rediscover his medium through the eyes of his students.
I formed my opinions about the value of voice during my tenure as an art show organizer. Through the thousands of images that we reviewed while jurying our festival, I saw many talented artists with strong voices and unique work and many artists who struggle in this area. The artists who are struggling were often penalized because their collections lacked cohesion or originality. The part of this that I found most unfortunate was how often the jurors or judges would note that the body of work was not doing justice to the artist’s talent.
While it’s easy to articulate the importance of finding your voice as an artist, it’s much harder to offer guidance on how to actually do it. In a world full of shortcuts, there are no Photoshop plugins or tricks that will merge slivers of your soul into an HDR-style instant voice and vision. However, we did discover something rather amusing on our infrared dates. A lot of the questions that you ask at the beginning of a relationship are similar to the ones you ask when you’re embarking on a creative endeavor:
The reality is, if you don’t take the time to answer questions like this at the beginning of a relationship, you may eventually find yourself drowning your sorrows in a pint of beer or Ben and Jerry’s. Likewise, if you don’t take the time to do this work before launching yourself as a professional photographer, you will struggle to distinguish yourself from your competition. More importantly, you will also sell yourself short. You have a voice. You are already investing in it by spending time on skill development and money on equipment. Finding your voice is the only way to bridge the gap between the desire to create that makes you pick up a camera and the creation of a body of work that is uniquely yours.
We have created a collection of infrared photographs that embodies everything that inspires us, and our voice is clear to anyone who sees it. Using the pure radiance of infrared, every image is deliberately rendered to evoke a particular set of emotions in the viewer. Famous or familiar scenes take on a surreal quality, and unfamiliar scenes seem other worldly. We know we are succeeding because when people step into our booth they respond to our images the way we intended. They smile at the Blue Whale. They stand before our images of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or the Korean Monument in silence, or they open up about their experiences, their hopes and sometimes even their fears for our country. They share memories of their own travels or plans for trips yet to come. Using infrared film, we are giving people a new experience with their country: We are truly photographing America In The Best Possible Light.
It’s exhilarating to feel like you’ve found your voice, but there are also tangible benefits that impact your success as a photographer. Last year a judge at one of the top festivals in the country walked into our booth and asked us to tell her what was unique about our work. She asked every artist in the show the same question. Some people grumbled about it, but the question was more than fair. If we hadn’t been able to answer her, it would have made me question what we were doing and why we were doing it. Similarly, if you specialize in portrait or event photography, being able to articulate what makes your work special gives you a profound advantage when you are talking with prospective clients. If you are someone who becomes uncomfortable talking about money, this solid sense of self can also significantly increase your comfort and confidence.
We feel very fortunate that our voices blended rather harmoniously and that we’ve been able to parlay that into a life together and a collection that we believe is our life’s work. To celebrate, we’ll be spending our Valentine’s Day in a way that honors this - setting up our booth in Coconut Grove, Florida and preparing to share our work with a new audience.
Whether you’re just beginning the search for your voice or working hard to hold on to it in our cacophonous world, we encourage you to take a moment today to celebrate the passion that makes you pick up your camera, the burning creativity that drives you, and the courage you demonstrate every time you pour your heart into an image and share it with others. That’s a love worth celebrating on Valentine’s Day.