J Michael Sullivan*

16.01.2012 in15:47 in Documentary, Trifle -->


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I think if you were to ask ten photographers to describe their artistic “vision” you would get ten completely different answers. So I won’t bother to profess to have any special insight as to how other photographers see their world much less attempt to explain how their vision inspires them to get up in the morning. Rather, I will give you my own personal vision in the hope that you will have a better appreciation for those of us who persue an art medium that often does not get a lot of respect.

Like all artists, we art-photographers have a calling to produce works of art that, in the end, reveal more about us than the world we document. Trouble is, while few people can actually draw, much less paint, nearly everyone is a photographer of one sort or another. Combined with an historical bias of photography as craft, it makes for a situation where you are constantly needing to defend your art and why it is worthy of art status. The most damning thing is how good amateur photography can be! (Trust me, I have learned to appreciate how special amateurs are! After all, the word amateur derives from the Latin for “one who loves what they do”)

I am fortunate in that today I don’t need to pay the bills by selling my photography. It gives me the freedom to pursue my vision independently of having to consider the bottom line. This freedom translates into a joy in what I do. And joy begets passion.

However, it was not always so. Nearly 28 years ago I was a professional advertising photographer and I typically worked from 8:00am to midnight nearly every day doing shoots, working with makeup and models, as well as the putting in the ubiquitous darkroom time. I can tell you from direct experience that there is nothing like having to make a living at something you love to kill your desire for it. After four years of advertising photography I had to go cold turkey from photography. I literally didn’t take a “serious” image for another 15 years. It wasn’t until 1996 that I heard my calling again, this time without the fear of worrying about whether or not I would once again hate the very thing I loved. That year, I went out and bought a Linhof 4×5 view camera, thereby forcing myself to slow down and focus and relearn my lost love of this wonderful art medium. Using a view camera assists one in developing a zen outlook if only because it takes so long to set up, focus, compose, and create your image. Impatient photographers need not apply. Buying my Linhof has restored my artful soul.