The Conundrum of Photographic Titles

The Conundrum of Photographic Titles

The first school of thought is strongly against it. The image should speak for itself and there is no need to add any distractions in terms of a title or brief description. It is up to the viewer to see, experience and interpret the image. Based on heated conversations online, I suspect that most photographers subscribe to this notion. 

I don’t share this opinion. Here’s why. 

My entire photographic career is based on one important pillar. Photography is a form of conversation between the photographer and viewer. And as such it is required that both sides participate in this exchange or experience. 

This notion of a conversation has always guided my work, even if I don’t think about it. It goes even deeper. As early as my observation process I am already hunting for a visual narrative. I am not interested in documenting things although, given the minimal intervention to my images (no adding or deleting any elements, minimal post-processing), they could all be characterized as document-style photographs. 

This visual narrative is the starting point of the conversation. It is of prime importance in my work. Adding titles to the imagery enhances this process by providing the audience with a hint, an invitation, a sort of a mystery. For example, some of my titles are not directly linked to the image – the viewer is required to go deeper into the image and find the connection between the title and the image. Notice that I am not taking away the entire experience. Most of my work has some underlying abstract, making the combination of title and visuals one cohesive but highly tempting, mysterious summons. Most of my images are “unfinished photographs” from a narrative perspective.  

But there is another layer to this issue. After years of experimentation and mixing genres I now approach photography as a performance art. When I decide to share my image online, not only do I start a conversation, but it becomes a presentation – almost a stage act. Therefore, the way I present my images, context, frame, even time… becomes a part of the image and yes, I am a sort of conductor. 

Of course, it always starts with a strong image. That’s a proviso. You can spend a huge amount of money building the set but if the play is just written and acted mechanically, it won’t work. The same here. 

Last but not least, the entire process extends my photographic process well beyond the capture stage. When I teach my workshops, I dedicate a generous amount of time to what I call “Reviewing and presenting your image.” This is a valuable period when you spend a lot of time with your image – evaluating, experiencing and eventually deciding if you should share the image and in what form. For me it is like a second art – as if I was taking the image again – this time on a much deeper more personal level. I am not afraid to share this stage with my viewer. This is where the title comes in. I could spend weeks viewing an image and developing narratives around it in my imagination. But view it as an invitation to a highly personal experience between you and me. Yes, it is me who sends the invitation, but it is up to you to accept it so we can experience the image together. We both write the narrative. We become creator and audience, as one. 

Confounded
Liberation
Encounter
Evanescence
A seperation
Pieces of my memories
Broken Promises
Suffering of the mind

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

The Key Question

The Key Question

On my travels I usually carry two key lenses, or in other words two focal lengths: GF 45mm (35mm in ff terms) and GF 110 (85mm in ff terms). By carrying just two lenses, not only do I eliminate the tyranny of “perceived choice” but most importantly I focus on two different perspectives. 

In other words, when assessing a scene, I consider wider framing (GF 45mm or similar) or tighter framing (GF 110 or similar). Even when reduced to just two focal lengths, it is always a monumental task. This, on top of the already demanding evaluation of the environment.  

On the recent trip photographing rural Alberta and Saskatchewan (two Canadian provinces) I noticed I was more prone to using my GF 110 (tight framing) than usual. It doesn’t necessarily mean the scenes I encountered warranted such choices, but I found that such focused seeing allowed me to produce more compelling imagery. 

Here is the key question: When arriving at a scene which interests you, do you keep switching lenses or do you photograph the scene with one focal length (let’s say a wider perspective) and then re-examine the scene with the other (tight framing). Have you ever thought about how you examine the scene and make compositional choices? Do you switch lenses frequently? Do you exhaust all visual opportunities before you switch? How is your seeing tuned to the lenses you have?  

Next time…

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

Come Back Soon

Come Back Soon

For me it was a very important and revealing trip – photographically and personally. Travelling through the rural and remote areas of Canada has rejuvenated me and refocused my photography. It has birthed my new “Come Back Soon” project. While visually, the project focuses on the forgotten, unused and “what others left behind” it has a much more profound meaning. It is an invitation and challenge to study the past, which we are often so eager to judge and dismiss. Interestingly enough, it is not people who are at the centre of my photographic interest. Not in a direct sense. 

It is the public sphere. It is the rustic, unplanned, often agrarian landscape left behind or maintained by people living far from the chaos and tumult of large cities. Even though most visuals portray things, those elements, carefully arranged in the frame, tell the story of people present and those who left. “Come Back Soon” is a visual examination of “what is left behind.” It is also a personal urge to see, arrange and speak out. It is not about taking a stance – there is an oversupply of people who do that – but it is rather a visual exposé for you to decipher and savour. 

I have been longing for such a project for a while. I wanted my seeing to renew itself, to break with my past – to come back anew. “Come Back Soon” – indeed!   

Next time…

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

Staying Under The Radar

Staying Under The Radar

It has been a while. I am well aware of it. There is no question that both time and daily flow have been altered to a certain extent for all of us. It is especially visible in the photographic industry with currents accelerating and revealing a very different way of interacting, working, shooting and even presenting our work. 

These factors do not excuse my absence on this blog. Today I realized that I’ve been missing this special place and the interaction with you all. As I’ve said many times in the past, this blog is my home. This is where I feel truly free, personally and professionally.

Where have I been? For many years I had a very present and active persona, sharing with you here and on many other platforms my work and photographic thought. At the same time, I was working on multiple projects. It was an intense period. I learnt a lot, crafted many great images and met many fantastic people – including some of you. 

Last year I started shifting my focus to one project. To be honest, it wasn’t a deliberate decision, at least initially. Not at all. I have always loved writing, photography (of course!!!) and publishing. I remember as a teenager my parents’ kitchen was full of magazines of all sorts. My parents subscribed to them and we could all read them, enjoying the editorials and photography inside. Over the years as I grew up, I always loved the idea of the magazine. In other words, the curated mixture of ideas to view and ponder, slowly and deliberately.  

Two years ago, a strange and generous cluster of circumstances offered an amazing proposition: starting and leading a photography publication. Back then, it looked like another kamikaze project which could only find its way to a rebel, or rather heretic, like me. Everyone I talked to told me it wouldn’t work. Those who know me understand there is no better motivation for me than facing a friendly but firm army of sceptics. That is how the genesis of the Medium Format Magazine unfolded. It wasn’t even six full days. 

We have now been working on it for two years. My dream project combining editorials, content curation and photography is now alive and well. What a time it has been! You can guess where I’m going with this. Well, this is where my disappearance or rather rebirth comes in. After being a photographer out there almost 24/7, the Medium Format Magazine allowed me to stand back. Instead of photographing, writing and representing my own work, I have assembled a small team of capable and passionate people and together we emerged into the world of the best photographic and editorial content possible.

I loved it from day one. I will spare you the first few difficult months when sceptics and nay-sayers dismissed some of our efforts. Yes, it was difficult, financially and organizationally. To be honest, we somehow made it difficult for ourselves. We decided to work on the quality of the content, which is difficult to achieve. Every month was a balancing act between the financial aspect (yes, we do pay for content, design and editing), the right imagery and high-quality editorials. Every morning I woke up and faced a challenge of some sort. But it was not about my editorials or my photography. With my team we could sit down and discuss our direction, what constitutes great fine art photography and insightful editorials. These are not easy questions to answer but we dare to try. 

It has also been an incredibly humbling experience. As our magazine grew and subscribers supported our effort, I had a chance to interact with amazing photographers. Indeed, working on interviews has been one of the most difficult but rewarding aspects of this endeavour. I always wanted to go beyond the “How did you start in photography?” clichéd questions and go deeper into the photographic soul of each photographer. I had the chance to look at the quality of photographic work far exceeding my own skills and visual repertoire. This new role of curating such high-quality work was a fascinating challenge. It has been a constant tension of ideas and rewriting photographic definitions where you move the acceptance line up and down. You make choices and you stand by them. What does it mean when you say the  work is elegant? What is great composition? Why doesn’t this particular work fit? The questions were overwhelming but we faced them all.   

This work put me in the backseat, under the radar and…I loved every minute of it. I realized this month’s issue is somehow very special to me. We are featuring an exclusive interview with Dan Winters – a photographer whom I have admired for a very long time – and not only for his visual wit. His book “Road to Seeing” has been one of the most important photographic books in my life. After all, it is a book about life itself! It’s all about how Dan grew up and how his curiosity and hunger for knowledge led him to photography. Citing Dan’s favourite quote by Jay Maisel: ”If you want to become a better photographer, become a more interesting person,” I grew and learnt along with it. Indeed, it was an honour to interview Dan for the magazine.

Just for the readers of this blog, use the MF20 code for a 20% discount 

What about your own photography, Olaf? Honestly, I don’t know. Not knowing doesn’t bother me anymore. I feel this strange peace and conviction that everything will be fine. I will continue to evolve but without pressure to produce and share. In fact, I feel my photography is at a place just before a major turn – a few more metres and I will see more clearly. I am learning every day by looking at the work of the best photographers in the world. I am not talking about mega YouTube stars who are popular due to their personality rather than their photography. I’ve discovered a huge, hidden world of photographers who are not even on social media but who have been working for years on a single project and producing stunning work.

I am thrilled that I can enter this world on a daily basis, admire the craft, discuss the photography and learn so much. It is a humbling and character-building experience. In fact, I believe this is the best thing to happen to me and my photography.

And finally, regarding this blog. I thought about you, my photographic friends, and decided to make it even more personal, a sort of memoir with one proviso – I would love you to do it with me by interacting and sharing your own thoughts and experiences. What do you think?

As always, I leave you with some recent images taken with the GFX 50S and the GF 45-100. 

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

The Importance of Curation

The Importance of Curation

Many of us remain under more or less strict lockdown, giving us plenty of time to look into our own photography. One of the most important subjects rarely discussed is curation.

There is a common misconception that great photographers always shoot great images. Yes of course they do, but they also capture lots of mediocre images, like the rest of us. Over the years I’ve interacted with and studied the best photographers in the world and if there is one common factor, they are great curators of their own work. 

What does it mean to curate? Curation is the impartial selection and revaluation of a photographer’s own work for the purpose of presenting one image or a series of images. It sounds easy and straightforward, but it is not. 

The biggest problem with curation is our personal attachment to the imagery. In fact, during a conversation, I can easily sense photographers who are most likely to have a hard time curating their own images. The most common philosophy is “I do it for myself, so I don’t care what others think.” The undertone of this approach is that because I like my image, it must be good. This self-centred tactic is the most common trap preventing many photographers from becoming good curators of their own work. 

That’s not the only problem. The other issue is an inability to reduce the selection to an absolute minimum. With the ease of digital photography, we shoot and share too much. In other words, we shoot with “maybe it will turn out” and curate with “let’s see what works.” In contrast, great photographers are in full control at every stage of image curation. They shoot only when they are convinced they can craft a great image and then they make a great effort to choose the best among their already great images.

I have no doubt that the process of curation is essential to becoming a better photographer. It requires practice, perseverance and a certain visual proficiency but even at entry level, introducing the concept of curation or choosing only your best work and deleting all the rest, is one of the most important photographic procedures. In my next post I will expound on this important subject. 

Below please find some of my recent visual explorations. Due to the constraints of social distancing, I have been going out and exercising my visual muscles by embracing light and arranging line and perspective. I view it as visual notetaking of ideas, which eventually leads me to great final images. Most of the time I don’t share these “practice” images but given the situation, I decided to do just that. Talk about discipline! All images are taken with the GFX50S and the GF45-100 F4 lens. 

next time…

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

The Gift of Stillness

The Gift of Stillness

I love being with people and interacting with them. Maybe this is something from my European upbringing, I don’t know. Strangely enough, however, I mostly work alone—I mean physically alone—as do most photographers. 

In the last few years I’ve been lucky to work with many people around the world but the communication was mostly online. So, in a sense, the current limitations haven’t changed my lifestyle. Nevertheless, I do miss occasional meetings with my photographic friends and my students. I miss the physical presence of human beings, a smile, handshake, hug or simply a foolish poke. 

At the same time an uncanny thing has happened. Now, as most of us are confined to our house or have limited ability to meet others, I feel many people are reaching out to each other. In the last two weeks I spoke with many of my friends and not only the photographic ones. What’s more, our conversations have been longer, deeper and more intimate in the way we spoke about ourselves, our lives and photography. With so much tragedy all around us, many of us have put our guard down but in a good way. We are no longer occupied with daily tasks, objectives, projects, assignments, etc. to the same extent as before. For many photographers, all projects and commercial work have simply been cancelled. Our entire life, as well as the photographic one, has been put on hold. 

There is no question that this pause has caused stress and insecurity, especially financially, in an industry that had already been hit hard even before the pandemic. Many people I talked to have shared the feeling of quietness, peace and stillness, something few of us have experienced for a long time. This freedom and time alone have allowed us to reach deeply inside our own consciousness. We now have time to think about our lives, look at the signposts, the course, the outline. Why are we doing this? Many questions and personal inquiries have come to the surface, issues which were squashed by the busyness of our lives. For the first time, in this quietness, we have a chance to listen.   

Since this is a photography blog, it’s an opportunity to probe into our photography. There are so many layers to uncover and re-examine in this beautiful but difficult and demanding craft: from our artistic vision to its execution, choice of gear, objectives, tuning our photography to our own personality. The multitude of questions and insights is staggering. But this is the time to do that. Maybe this will be the only opportunity to be with ourselves and our photography. This is something I have always urged my students to do. You won’t find your voice in the busy and opinionated message boards or social media pages. You will find it in the stillness, which is difficult to achieve with your camera in one hand and your phone in the other. Maybe this uninvited but necessary stillness is an opportunity to reach deeply into our visual self and just be there for the moment, uninterrupted, honest and contemplative. What do you feel and see?

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

Visual Poet Experience Workshop goes online

Visual Poet Experience Workshop goes online

One of the greatest joys in my photographic career has been preparing, travelling and teaching the Visual Poet Experience Workshops around the world. I have met hundreds of students over the years, studying and shooting great imagery together. We have become great friends and many of my students now have successful photographic careers, something which makes me really proud. 

There is no question that our reality has recently changed quite dramatically and due to the inability to travel and meet, I cannot run the Visual Poet Experience Workshops, at least in the near future. I am as disappointed as many of my prospective students. However, I decided to do something about it. 

I would now like to announce that I am thrilled to take the Visual Poet Experience Workshop online. I have spent the last few weeks retuning the entire Simplicity-In-Seeing program. This is not going to be some sort of trimmed program or simply an online presentation. This is going to be a six-week, full-fledged Simplicity-In-Seeing program with interactive teaching, in-depth interaction, photographic assignments, revaluations and critique. We will be meeting every weekend (Saturday/Sunday) in a virtual classroom with the full ability to interact, ask questions and go deep into the craft of seeing. We will be spending about 20-22 hours together. We will also have photographic assignments which can be done from the comfort of your home. On top of this, each student will have a private, one-hour session with me. 

THE PROGRAM WILL BE BASED ON FOUR PILLARS:

  • SEEING THE IMAGE
  • CRAFTING THE IMAGE
  • EXECUTING THE IMAGE
  • POST-PROCESSING THE IMAGE, and
  • EVALUATING AND PRESENTING THE IMAGE 

That’s not everything. I’ve decided to include some additional material from my upcoming, brand new course “BECOMING A PHOTOGRAPHER” so I may share some insights about building a photographic business, presenting your work, writing and interacting with online publications. 

The Visual Poet Experience – ONLINE EDITION will start at the end of April and complete in early June. The cost of the entire workshop is just US$495, 50% off the usual Visual Poet Experience Workshop. This is a one-time even, which is highly unlikely to repeat. So if you are interested in this online edition – this could be the only opportunity.   

IMPORTANT: There is no question that some of us are more impacted by the COVID-19 than the others. If you planned to take my workshop before but your situation has drastically changed as a result of the pandemic, please contact me and I may be able to help.

Registrations are now open at https://visualpoetexperience.com

Hope to craft great imagery with you soon! 

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

From the confines of this (mental) space

From the confines of this (mental) space

At one point I had no choice but to turn the TV off. The doom-and-gloom that spills out of the screen has exceeded any reality a long time ago. Fortunately, with my refusal to live binge-watch the apocalypse came an unusual burst of photographic energy. Strangely, being confined to a small space has had an unexpected effect on me. 

First, I was able to slow my usual pace. The rest is deeper and the work somehow more fruitful. I was able to concentrate on my writing and reviewing the imagery I took in recent weeks. I usually do this swiftly and efficiently but this time I took a more deliberate approach. And it worked. I was able to stay with each image longer, pondering not only the visual quality but echoing the mental and physical circumstances when they were taken. I could place some images at the time of my seeing and evaluate the health of my photography at that moment.  

Second, this slow and personal assessment of each image led me to some unexpected conclusions, which helped me to answer a crucial question: Where am I along my photographic journey? I noticed a clear changes and patterns—some of them easily understood, others less so. Regardless, the change is real and I welcome it. 

And then this personal delineation prompted one of my best weeks for photography. It is strange that I haven’t taken many images during this period, at least not embedded on my memory card. This was the week when I walked around my apartment conjuring thoughts and the imagery which I suspect will eventually come. Most importantly, I see these images in the places where I am going to travel and, bizarrely, I have already started putting some compositions in motion as if I could create the future.    

Please don’t blame me for the lack of cohesive thought in communication. It must be one of the side effects of my confinement to this space and time. Strangely, I enjoy it and find stimulating. After all, it is rare that the cork in the bottle is ready to pop and you somehow feel it. I only hope this burst of seeing will last long enough to be realized outside this confinement.  

Stay safe and well my friends.    

…and let’s remember to wash hands frequently. Here is me practicing! Stay safe my friends.

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.         

RESET: This is the time

RESET: This is the time

There have been so many dreams, aspirations, plans and intentions. In my life I have met so many great people, like you and me, who have been imagining their future, preparing the boat, planning the course. The complaint is always the same: if I only had more time, I would learn to play the piano, I would start writing a book, create a family tree or start a new project. This desire is bouncing all over the canyon walls of our busy lives—loud and clear but strangely dismissed. 

Now most of us, those who are not fighting on the frontlines of this epidemic, are staying at home and wondering what to do with our time! Of course, there is the madness of TV watching as if the next news item will bring us some sort of relief. No, it won’t, even when things get better. This is the business of bad news and there will be always bad news because that’s what keeps us watching. The addiction is real.

Then there is Netflix and the plethora of other streaming services. I see FB posts of people watching and re-watching the same series for hours, days, weeks… No, I am not judging them at all. Especially in times like this we want to be taken somewhere else to a different world. What is strange, however, is that instead of creating our own reality and taking ourselves THERE we allow total strangers to pull us along in the sea of fake being. We behave as if we’ve stopped living, scared of the pandemic and reduced to human manikins transfixed by a reality of shadows. 

Maybe this is the time to reset our lives and muster enough courage to push the START button, firmly and decisively. I remember when I sat down at my desk and wrote the first words of my first book. I remember when I called my friend to help me with my first website. This first step takes the most out of us. It is simple, yet so hard to take. Once you’ve done it, you will become addicted to BEING and ACTING on a daily basis. Yes, you have lots to give to the world. Don’t tell me you are not good enough. Don’t tell me you need money. Don’t tell me you don’t know if this is a good idea. Don’t tell me anything now. Just act, my friend. I know you and I am confident that whatever you decide to pursue will be amazing. You say “tomorrow,” but what if there is no tomorrow, only now!  

Over the last few years I’ve embarked on numerous projects, some incredibly successful, others not so much. I don’t regret any of them. Each gave me a push to try something new, to reach out to new people, to create and fail, to create and succeed. Instead of spending time in front of the TV listening to the messengers of doom-and-gloom, reset your life and use this time to start the thing you’ve dreamt of all your life. This is the time, my friend. This is the time! 

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

Let’s take care of each other

Let’s take care of each other

One of the greatest surprises about photography is how it encompasses so much of our lives. From documentary to reportage, from landscape to travel or portrait and even commercial, we interact, observe and craft imagery from those amazing pieces of life that surround us. Burk Uzzle described it well when he said, “Photography is a love affair with life.” The connotations of this quote go well beyond sentimentality and include the challenges and obstacles we face in life, especially today. 

There is no question that the current situation with the COVID-19 affects our collective and individual lives in a major way. A very different rhythm of life is emerging from the current crisis. 

At the moment the priority is to find a way to minimize the impact and protect lives especially of those who are at higher risk such as our parents, grandparents, friends and people with immune-compromised conditions. This is a time when we must take responsibility and do our best to protect our loved ones at all costs. It doesn’t mean we should run out to visit them—quite the opposite (for obvious reasons)—but we should make sure the procedures are in place to limit their exposure to visitors. We should also take time to provide them with everything they need. This is a time to break our daily schedule to connect with people we may have forgotten because of our professional commitments. Let’s make sure we pause and take care of each other! It doesn’t take much. It could be as simple as ensuring we wash our hands frequently. We should call our vulnerable family members and friends or simply let others know we are here for them. 

There is another layer to this crisis. Due to the stoppage of most economic activities many people will be facing serious financial difficulties. Many professional and semi-professional photographers have been faced with an increasingly challenging industry even before the COVID-19 and have already found it difficult to pay their bills. In the meantime, we all face a new, much more dire reality. The consequences will be significant for large institutions and companies, but the hardest hit will be smaller organizations, independent artists and self-employed photographers as ticket sales, assignments, commercial jobs and public funding dry up. Many photographers will face an existential crisis. Therefore, it is imperative that we don’t forget about each other. Let’s make sure we continue supporting our favourite artistic organizations, artists, creators and photographers. Please make sure you visit their websites, donate to their Patron account, buy their books, products, support their podcasts, etc. It is going to be very difficult for many in the art/photographic industry. 

The role of art and photography is especially important in times of crisis. During the Spanish flu pandemic, New York prioritised art and entertainment to make sure that people kept their spirits up and didn’t “go mad.” With our photography and creations, we have a role to play helping people to cope with the crisis, providing solace and visual inspiration, so important at such times. We must provide an antidote to the often-apocalyptic news. I can assure you that better times are in front of us and we will go through it together.   

Enjoy the imagery below and please don’t forget to reach out to those who need our help and make sure we‘ve taken all the necessary precautions to protect those most vulnerable among us. 

Stay healthy and well my friend!

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.