Can you feel it? [artist series]

INTRODUCTION::  Sometimes, my blog posts are to everyone. Sometimes, more specifically, they are addressed to those artists among you.

 I love artists. I know how hard it can be to think like one and try to make a living as one… so I like to share things to help on that journey, as I learn a few lessons myself. Most often, I’m not posting so much from the ‘been there, done that’ perspective (after all, I’m only 30)… more from the AM there, DOING that perspective. I like hearing from others going through the same things I am, so I’m hoping you feel the same.

If you’re not a creative person, I hope you get something out of these posts anyway… especially this one, because I think the main point applies to everyone.
And if you aren’t an artist and rambling posts like this don’t do anything for you… (certainly don’t blame you), more regular photo posts are coming soon, and I’ll try and at least warn you from here on out by putting this at the beginning of the artist posts:

[ARTIST SERIES]

So here goes today. I posted some of these thoughts in the facebook page of a small artist group I’m really close to. We’re pretty honest with each-other. Sometimes that can be hard. But it’s (almost) always a good thing when someone can bring truth to your life, real truth- as long as you’re ready to hear it. My biggest lesson lately (I notice in others, but worst in myself):

emotion is not a truth just because you feel it strongly.

I first started thinking about this while reading ‘the Screwtape letters‘, a creative and playful work of fiction by CS Lewis in which one demon writes to another on how to keep a human from truth. “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy,’ writes the elder uncle to the less experienced nephew, ‘the enemy’ referring to God. Regardless of your beliefs, you can take that quote and easily apply it toward inspiration, or productivity.

That book keeps on as a sort of instruction manual on how to get a mind so wrapped up in itself that it can’t see the bigger picture for what it is anymore. ““Tortured fear and stupid confidence are both desirable states of mind,” says the uncle.

How much of our life- the ‘creating art’ part, the day-to-day part, the spiritual part (if you take that into account)- is ruled by emotion?

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As artists, we are more susceptible to this issue than any other group. Because no other group can claim emotion as an excuse  so easily… others even hand us this excuse, ALL. THE. TIME.

‘well, they’re an artist, aren’t artists supposed to be emotional?’

‘artists just FEEL so much more.’

‘I know he’s an a**, but he’s a creative type, you know? He can’t help it…’

…and then we hand that same excuse to ourselves. 

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My favorite example of this, is the movie, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. It’s a very quiet, unassuming little film from the Coen brothers, a director duo who typically tell crime stories (Fargo, No Country For Old Men). They ventured out of their usual genre to tell a quirky story about a 1960s folk singer. It’s a film that I personally believe to be a love letter/slap-in-the-face to artists everywhere. And we all kinda need it.

Take a look at the picture of the guy with the cat. That’s LLewyn. Kinda just looks like a lazy, mopey, loser that hates people, right?

Ah! But wait… now he has a guitar…. and suddenly our perception shifts… he’s a tired soul, full of pain and suffering and emotion and creativity. He’s a guy you want to love, for both his talent and for his pain.

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OH THE FEELING!

So he’s a little troubled. Part of his charm? Yeah, moody… Doesn’t always think about how he’s treating others. Ok, sometimes he’s downright selfish and mean and ridiculous. But it’s ok. You know why? He’s an ARTIST. He’s down on his luck. The world is against him. He’s not getting anywhere in his career.  That’s hard, and none of it his fault, and he’s perfectly ok to sit and revel in each troubled emotion that pops up, right?

You get so far into the movie and realize… no, not really. It’s not ok. Everything that’s wrong in his life… in terms of both his success as an artist and his proficiency in relationships… whoops, it’s all actually kinda his fault.

That’s a hard realization. It’d be different if, oh, he suffered from severe clinical depression… but no, that’s not the issue, (or at least, that’s not ALL that’s going on)… in the end, he’s just kind of a jerk. The perfect example of a person that got wrapped up in his own feelings for so long, he can’t feel anyone else’s anymore… nor can he even see how he’s sacrificing his own opportunities for the sake of keeping his bad attitude.

I am Llewyn. Not all the time, but more of the time than I should be. He’s all of us, as artists. We get down on our luck, things don’t go the way we want, we get scared of going any further, and then we succumb to the feelings that come as a result. It’s not that those feelings are wrong in themselves… there’s no stopping them from happening. But if we keep going the direction of actually believing those feelings and letting them control our actions, we stop making the work we should be making, we treat others poorly, and we become too overwhelmed with fear to take the opportunities we should be taking.

Because we live off our emotions, and our emotions tell us we’re failing far more often than we actually are. 

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Obviously, creating is emotional and we can’t just shut that off. Artists are made to feel things more strongly than some others. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t create. And I’m not dismissing issues with actual depression that many artists face… my dad was a woodcarver with severe bipolar depression, so I know those issues well.
What I’m talking about is letting the funk that you’re in, control the actions you take, because you’ve accepted the feelings that led to it as truth.  To paraphrase a quote I heard yesterday- what you’re feeling is real, but it doesn’t mean it’s reality.

The problem is, we mistake emotion as truth. It’s not. Even if it stems from a truth or leads us to a deeper exploration of one, or runs parallel to a real, concrete, truth. But our emotion, in itself, is not a fact just because it feels so much like one.

Which then leads us to my final question… what IS our actual source of truth?

For me personally, that source is God. I have to look to him throughout my day to re-establish what is truth, because I believe real truth can only originate from the one who set all this up to begin with, not those who live within this small portion of creation and can only base truth off the very little they can see and feel on their own.

That may not be what you believe in. But even if it’s not, I’d encourage you to still take this thought and run with it. How can you continually refresh your day with REAL truth, every time an emotion threatens to take over? Maybe you can do it with the help of loved ones or friends that you know that aren’t afraid to be blunt with you.

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Maybe you need to refer to a basic list of truths about your life, or even about what you’re working on this week, that you wrote down when you had more clarity. Lists like that can help a lot. If you’re feeling ‘stuck’, clear a significant amount of time to sit down and look at the big picture and write down some facts that you need to be keeping in front of you.

I’m in the middle of a huge, overwhelming project myself right now, and I’ve had to frequently rely on my wife and close friends and prayer to remind me that, just because I feel anxiety right now… doesn’t mean that I’m failing. Doesn’t mean the project is failing. Doesn’t mean it won’t get done. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. No matter how much it FEELS that way. In fact, those feelings of fear and self-doubt probably mean the opposite of failure.

As Steven Pressfield says in ‘the War Of Art‘,

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
So I’m going to go in a corner and cry now.

But then… I’m going to make my list. And I’m going to get back to work.

Cheers.

-Mark

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playing in the snow

Got outside with my kids last night. It was getting dark…. the streetlights were kicking on…and it randomly started snowing, a lot. I always, whether I mean to or not, notice the lighting going on… and in that moment it was kind of magical.

Instead of heading in like I’d planned, I grabbed the camera for a couple of quick snowportraits (it’s a word. as of now).

Loving the new 50mm 1.4D lens I got a couple of weeks back… as well as the new camera (Nikon D810). My replacement equipment is certainly proving itself!

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Goings on with spiva

I think one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do in my career, is partner with Joplin’s local art gallery (Spiva Center for the Arts). It’s easy to look at photography as a commodity, a hobby, or even a necessity (‘We HAVE to get family photos done before our kids move out of the house’…) but not always as art. Spiva’s dedication to photography as an art form, is always inspiring.

This is the time of year when a lot of Spiva’s focus goes into photography. Not just encouraging folks to admire it in a gallery setting, but encouraging whole families to directly participate in it.

3 things I’m fortunate to be involved in right now:

#1: Teaching a class for photspvia tweens.

Here’s the description from Spiva’s website:

“If your budding young photographer was disappointed to age out of PhotoSpiva Kids, and is interested in photography, have we got the class for you! This class builds on photographic skills and introduces fun challenges that will make the PhotoSpiva Tweens exhibit in April especially fun. Two photos from each participant will be chosen and framed for the exhibit.”

The class is THIS Saturday (the 14th), from 11am to noon.  Registration is $35. I will, *gulp*, personally teach the class…. so it may be a little crazy. 🙂 I’m so excited though… this is a super fun age, and I get to help the kids think about photography in a different way.

#2: Judging the photographs from photospiva kids.

The cover photo in this post is one such photo (photo credit to Addison Teeter). Here’s another (this one will receive a ‘most likely to make you laugh’ award, which will be awarded to Kathryn Hart):

My beautiful picture

These images were from the younger age group of kiddos, and it’s always so fun to be able to see the world again from their point of view. It was a good exercise for me to ‘judge’ photos based not on technical ability, but on sheer imagination & the ability to capture what it means to be a kid.  Lots of laughing and ‘awwwww’ing and moments of surprise as I looked through them.

The reception for that event is March 8th… you should come if your’e a Joplinite, if nothing else to see the looks of pride and excitement on a bunch of little kids’ faces as they see their work on a real gallery wall. 🙂

#3: Two of my own photos made it in to the main photospiva exhibit this year… I’ve made it in before, but never with more than one image, so that’s pretty cool.

For those unfamiliar with Photospiva, it is an annual, national photography competition, the longest running competition of its’ kind, and happens to be based here in Joplin, MO. Photographers from all over the country submit work- last year’s 1st place winner was from Brooklyn, NY. It is, of course, my favorite exhibit of the year at Spiva. My pieces are being mounted and framed this week to prepare for the show, which kicks off March 7th- in the meanwhile, you can take a peek at the digital versions of the winners below.

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This is a photo from a family session I did last fall, with some of my very favorite ‘regulars’. I’ve been taking pictures of this little girl (Caroline), her big sister, and her little brother since they were born; and while the madness increases with each shoot, I continue to be inspired by these little ones just as much, every time I work with them. I’ve joked about them being ‘muses’, since many of my favorite child portraits have come from sessions with them.

This quiet, ‘in-between’ moment caught my attention when I was trying to decide what to enter this year. And I love bright colors…

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This next photo I’ve showed a couple of times… it’s actually a senior photo I took, of an aspiring young composer with a lot of talent. Alex wanted something creative and original for his photos- basically, portraits that didn’t FEEL like ‘senior portraits’.

When he told me about his love of making music, the idea for this image popped into my head. No photoshop, by the way, for those who are wondering… just  his mom and sister, just out of frame, throwing papers. over. and over. Until we got it…

and yes, I know, it also looks like a Harry Potter tribute photo. We’re ok with that…

joplin mo senior portrait from 9art photography1

That’s all for now. Hope to see you around Spiva! 🙂

-Mark

Of Course Not…

I’ve meant to post about this for awhile… better late than never, right?

The title of this blog post is actually the name of the client I had the pleasure of working with late last year: the ‘power pop’ band, Of Course Not.

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The group’s front man Luke approached me last  year and told me that the band wanted to work with me… primarily, because they were looking for something really different, and wanted help fleshing out some pretty ambitious visual ideas to accompany the new music they were making.

I hadn’t done anything quite like what they were asking, but I said yes, and we got to work planning. I secured the location thanks to my very good friend Jason, who had an empty old house on the market that worked just perfect for our shoot. And I called in my friend Jordan to model since I knew she had the perfect retro look that I wanted.

We started with some simple band photos… some casual, some formal…

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The house came with an ancient player piano, a very fun prop indeed…

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For the new music the band was releasing around halloween, they wanted something a bit otherworldly… yes, even creepy, to accompany a new single that told a ghost story.  So I broke my ‘I don’t do photoshop’ M.O.’ and played around a bit. The outtakes are fun, where you can see how goofy Luke is- and the items being moved around (I photoshopped Jordan out later).

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finished shot:

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Then came my favorite challenge; in which I needed to portray a girl levitating over a bed in a ghostly sort of way. This was one of those shoots where I still wasn’t 100% certain how I was going to do it beforehand; but I knew we could. Can you guess how we did it, before scrolling down? 🙂

Luke, helping me figure out how Jordan could achieve our levitation look:

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20 takes of Jordan jumping- backwards, off the chair- while Luke held the chair in place. For those who guessed I photoshopped and for those who thought I got away without photoshopping… you’re both half right. The actual position of Jordan in the picture is NOT faked; she really was in a horizontal position above the bed, that high, frozen in that split second in which her backwards jump planted her in that spot.

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But I did cheat by photoshopping Jordan into a pre-staged shot that I took before bringing in the model and chair.

You have to cheat sometimes….

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It was fun. Looking forward to working with more musicians in the future… they can be kinda crazy, and so am I. 🙂

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-Mark