I am ready for an adventure, please.
I had about a million hours of podcasts to listen to at work today, and the last one that I listened to before I left the office for the day was a special broadcast from the Third Coast International Audio Festival, via their Re:Sound podcast — an hour long talk from Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. Abumrad focused on the idea of finding, owning, and sharing your voice, and even if he does so in radio and audio broadcasts and I do so in photographs, I was staggered and inspired by his talk. It is hard to trust yourself and your voice, sometimes, and when it is hard, that’s the time you need to trust yourself most. Abumrad talks about how he and his Radiolab colleagues call it being in the “dark German forest”, that fear of your own work and fear of your work taking you frightening and new places, and it moved me to hear someone so talented talk so openly about his fear and lack of trust in his own work.
It made me want to go take photos, and do things that scare me.
You can listen to Jad Abumrad’s talk for Third Coast here, and I recommend that you do it.
Inspiring me today:
- PrismYard: a user-curated gallery of vintage cameras. Yum.
- Prague Daily Photo: a long-time resident of my RSS reader, I’ve been craving a trip to Eastern Europe lately thanks to them.
- These amazing photos from Dixie Pixel owner Tara Kneiser.
- Esquire’s photo shoot with Jon Hamm. (More diner photoshoots pls. Fewer bathrooms shoots unless you’re brilliant.)
- Everything about both This Is Colossal and Feature Shoot always delights me.
- Every Everything, my buddy Gorman’s upcoming documentary feature about Grant Hart. And, well, Grant Hart. If you also are inspired by Grant Hart, go over and hit up the Kickstarter at that link.
I used to post weekly inspiration bursts; now most of my links go to Twitter instead. You can follow me for photography, music, and pop culture links; musings on what I want to eat and what songs are stuck in my head; and season-long commentary on Evan Longoria’s mullet, which I plan to give its own hashtag this year.
For those of you who know me, you know that I have a long and complicated history with Comedy; comedy with a big C, a stand-in for amateur and professional improv, sketch, stand-up. For those of you who don’t know me that well, well: I have a long and complicated history with Comedy. I have, for many, many years, professed that I Did Not Care for Professional Comedy, with all those capital letters in my voice.
Despite those protestations, I actually know a fair amount about the history of improv in the States, mostly run through the Chicago filter, and enough about the practice of it to be conversant. I used that knowledge to write a few short stories years ago. Mostly, though, since I left Chicago, I just Ignored Comedy. It wasn’t there, so it couldn’t ping all my triggers and make me full of rage or angst or ennui.
I just finished off what was, hands down, the most exhausting and most rewarding stretch of the last three years to date, where I’ve worked and worked and made art and cried and thrown things and worked more and made more art, all in the name of being able to make it, eventually, as a professional photographer.
I shot 9 shows in 14 days, wedged dinner with some old friends, time with the Cowboy and time with the girls, and four baseball games in between them. I shot for myself — Dax Riggs — and for my friends — MagCo, Bull City Undercover, my beloved Two Cow Garage — and for Speakers in Code — Dawes, Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr. I processed photos instead of napping after a full day at the day job. I re-calibrated my shooting brain between every show, for Dax Riggs’ garage rock, for Two Cow’s cowpunk, for Dawes’ sweet Los Angeles jam-folk, for the Cradle’s pro rig and the 506’s muddy and sunburnt red lights. I shot bands on a whim and on my own bravado — Onward Soliders and the Black Lillies.
So much has changed in a year. Two weeks ago, four days before the show, I decided I wanted to shoot that Black Lillies show, with Onward Soliders opening. Last year, I would have agonized over the email to Onward Soliders’ publicist, waffled for four days, missed my chance. This year, I decided I wanted to go, wrote the email to Kippy, and blasted it off in half an hour. She said yes. I trust myself now. I’m good, good enough that people want my work. And if someone says no, it’s not the end of the world. I just move on.
I am exhausted; I’ve barely slept in the last two weeks; my back and shoulders and neck are a huge mess of knots from hauling my camera bag, and my right knee is complaining loudly about four straight days on concrete floors in flip-flops. I have a series of bruises on my shins and thighs whose origin is a mystery to me. But also: I had a couple of huge revelations — a boring for you but exciting for me revelation involving my taxes, and a second the night I rolled into a job in a dirty t-shirt, covered in cat hair, with bedhead and a huge zit on my lip, because that was seriously all I had the emotional energy to cope with, if I wanted to also do the job well. (I also wore pants. God, Ben.) I am not cool. I am not hip. I’m neurotic and anxious and frequently bad with people. Sometimes I drink too much, and I can be incredibly selfish, and I think skinny jeans are ridiculously stupid. But I’m really fucking good at what I do, and if you’re good at what you do, nobody gives a shit if you have bedhead.
And I fucked up, too, these last two weeks. A few weeks ago I managed to put a job on my calendar on the wrong night, and I didn’t catch it until it was far too late and I was double-booked for the actual date of that show. I had to cancel on a publicist I’m terrifically fond of, and I felt like a complete idiot. But in three years of working at this professionally, that’s the first time I’d managed to do that. Everybody fucks up sometimes. You learn from it. You can bet your ass I’m going to be triple checking every single date on my calendar against pitch emails from now on.
I had huge ideas, when I was awake enough that I could form them. I outlined my big series for 2012. I investigated Blurb because I want to make a photobook of my shots of rock star shoes on stage. I sent pitch emails and drank coffee and wrote smartass two sentence album reviews and updated my GCal every day with new shows and compared a band to salad dressing. I collected 88 of 90 stars on the first world of Angry Birds Rio during set breaks (someone come over and get three stars on 2-09 and 2-14 for me). I defaulted to listening to podcasts and my Bloodshot Records playlist on shuffle because most of the time I was too exhausted at work to figure out what I really wanted to hear. Mostly, it turned out, I really did want to hear Bloodshot artists. I even managed to keep kicking the day job’s ass — even on days when I just wanted to sleep under my desk.
And because I’m stupid, or a glutton for punishment, or because I want this to work and the only way it will work is if I keep busting my ass to get better and get out there, to let people know that I’m here and I care, well, for any of those reasons: tonight kicks off a run of 9 shows in 10 days; old favorite locals instead of my 2011 new discovery locals, old favorite non-locals I haven’t seen in literally years. Psychobilly bands that Pam sends me to see. Non-locals whose music I dig but who I’ve never seen live.
I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Until then, it’s just my bedhead and my camera and my own courage, asking for the scary things and keeping my chin up and working, not waiting, for the break I need.
Work is what you do for others, liebchen. Art is what you do for yourself. — Stephen Sondheim
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again — this time more intelligently. — Henry Ford
But things I’ve been collecting, in terms of inspiration, comma rocking my world:
- Postcards from America, a currently ongoing project by half a dozen Mangum documentary photographers. Their work in the American Southwest has been gorgeous and staggeringly sad, and their Tumblr is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking.
- Okay, not exactly inspiration, but college baseball rain delay theater is one of my favorite things, and this one is both funny and cringe-worthy. (Ugh, I can just imagine that poor kid going down and not getting up, and while he’s fine, oof, that could have ended badly.)
- These photos of Keira Knightley (I still love her best even if she should eat 14 sandwiches) by Ellen von Unwerth.
- “Photographers should write more. And I don’t mean blog more, I mean writing, actual writing. The type of writing that takes at least an hour or two to complete and then is edited the next day.” – Bryan Formhals
- Todd McClellan’s “Old Camera”. Wish I could have afforded that print when it was offered.
- Carlie Armstrong’s work.place, which documents the work spaces and processes of Portland, Oregon-based artists and designers.
- Photofocus on five tips for unmotivated photographers. I personally just go take photos of cats and farmers’ markets, and write pitch emails until the thought of actually shooting is way more appealing than emailing publicists, but that’s just me.
- The Creatives Project: DJ Series. An amazing series of portraits.
- The Reader’s Alphabet.
- Kyle Cassidy. His work, his life, the community he’s built and inspires and pushes to create. I am envious and in awe — he makes me want to work harder at what I do.
If you miss my regular inspiration posts, you should follow me on Twitter; in between running commentary on the state of Evan Longoria’s mullet and the Orioles’ bullpen and opening bands in the Triangle, I post a lot of photography-related links, mostly to projects, series and collections that I dig, which is, in fact, where the inspiration posts have decamped to, frankly.