Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Become a Better Photographer

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I have been pondering about what it takes to become a real good photographer. I mean everyone can capture a decent photo – particularly with today’s cameras that take care of the basic handling. However, to make your photography stand out requires a bit more than just having a camera. The question is, how can we make that transition happening? Yes, understanding and learning the craft is maybe one springboard, but it can only take you this far. The difference between good photography and photography that stands out is subtle, but at the same time makes a substantial difference. As mentioned, I believe everyone can take a good photograph if they just put a little energy into the process. But the next step, how do we get there?

It’s actually not that difficult, either. Yet, it takes commitment and finding a way to connect with you inner self – and finally make that wisdom be expressed through your photography. I know, it sounds a little phony, but it’s quite how it works. There are no simple tricks, really, but just dedicated steps towards mastering photography at a more profound and more personal level. As with everything else in life, we are talking about making priorities, that is, if you really decide to become an accomplished photographer – and this decision gets ingrained in your backbone, then you can become just that, a photographer who creates captivating and even outstanding photography.

The obstacles, of course, are that it takes time, effort and sometimes even money to make such a commitment. In addition, it follows that you’ll need to downgrade other things in life, often things that you care about, things that you enjoy, or just things that simply is easier and more pleasurable to do. The difference between a photographer who creates outstanding photography and one who merely captures good photos, may be that former is the one that works relentlessly and don’t mind standing in muddy water for hours – figuratively speaking. Nevertheless, we can all make progress, and he are a few steps that can help you on the way:

Look to other photographer. Read photography books, go to exhibitions, watch other photographers’ work and find photography online. Surely, there is going to be a lot you will not like, but the point of this is just to find photos and photographers that inspire you. Bury yourself in what you find inspiring and that which gives you energy, whether it is workshops, photo books, exhibitions or anything else. Whatever it is, see as much photography as you can find in any media or outlet, and immerse yourself in it.

Work on a personal project. Nothing brings your photography so much energy and is pushing yourself more than working on a personal photo project. But keep in mind, complete freedom is not inspiring. Instead, set some limits you will have to stick with. Find yourself a project or even a couple of projects, and work within the limits you have set for yourself. Do not be tempted to expand the boundaries simply because it is easier and more relaxing. For something really good to come out of your photography, it must have a core of authenticity and a nerve that is being expressed in the work. That is something you won’t get through boundless and leisurely respite. A project can be done in a weekend or it can take years to accomplish. The theme is not important – as long as it somehow touches or is relevant to you.

Care for more than the photography itself. Remember, photography is a tool, not an end in itself. A tool must be used for something. Whether your goal is an art expression or to tell a story, that goal must be foremost in your thoughts, not photography as such. Some of the world’s best photographers do not see themselves neither as photographers nor as artists: James Nachtwey is primarily a social reformer, and the same can be said about Nick Ut, W. Eugene Smith, Sebastião Salgado and several other of the world’s foremost documentary photographers. This also applies to many of the world’s greatest art photographers, but in a different way. They often choose to turn to the world and the viewer differently, but the desire to tell, ask questions, provoke thoughts, to make the viewer smile, react and feel alive, remain the same.

Seek cultural experiences. Cultural impulses are important, even more so it’s important not only to seek impulses from the same field you feel familiar with. The Matrix films would never have come into being without the inspiration from cartoons and their idiom, and the same applies to famous and beautiful movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Sin City, just to name a few. Photographers such as David LaChapelle are possible largely inspired by film and music, and others are inspired by literature, sculpture, painting or numerous other artistic expressions and cultural forms. Keep an open mind, take your pick and expose yourself to different concepts, cultures, thoughts and impressions. Somewhere in there, you might just find your brilliant idea, which you would never know exactly how in advance.

Photograph a lot and often. It takes a lot of work to master a discipline such as photography. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect – no less true in photography. What you do a lot, you will excel in, and although 99.9 percent of your shots might end up being trash, in the process you have trained your eyes, brain and finger. Moreover, taking 1000 photos of which 0.1 percent is good, well, then you have gotten at least one good shot. Not bad at all, or?

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Art – What is Art?

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I often get asked how I would define “art”. What is art as far as I see it? Of course, it is an almost impossible task to write what art is in an absolute sense. Much sharper intellectuals than me have tried to define what art is. Nevertheless, I should still be able say something about how I understand the word and look upon art.

For me, what is and what isn’t art, isn’t a clearly defined line, though. There are no unconditional criteria. For me, art certainly does not involve an elitist understanding. An artist does not have to have an art education for the work to be called art, he or she does not have to express herself or himself within the classical art genres—or, on the other hand, having to be part of the avant-garde scene. There are no limitations for subjects art can deal with, the work does not have to be manifested into a physical object; and it certainly does not have to hang in galleries. Street art and street performers can be doing art just as much as a traditional trained painter or musician can.

Art surely isn’t something defined by a selected few connoisseurs or experts, by those who partake in the contemporary dialogue or discourse about art. Anyone have the right to define art as they want to, even if they don’t have an art education, even if they don’t understand the latest trends in art.

Maybe it’s easier to say something about what art is not, rather than what it is. However, at the bottom of it all lays a capability to touch our emotional sensations. For me, art also needs to challenge conventional thoughts. After all, creativity, which is where art originates from, means bringing into life, or bringing something new into existence. Art that repeats whatever already is isn’t art any longer. Vincent van Gogh was a groundbreaking artist, but if everybody afterwards imitated his style, that work by his successors would not be art any longer, no matter how good it might have been, on a technical level.

This much said about the non-repetitiveness of art, I want to add that, although art constantly changes and develops, just because something has come out of fashion, doesn’t mean it isn’t art any longer. Some time ago I came across some very interesting thoughts by the blogger Melissa in her post Perspective, in which she writes about her discomfort when looking at art from artists who have been taught at art schools and how they think about art: “They have been taught that they must participate in the conversation where it was when they came on the scene. They must not paint, because painting is dead. Had they all been born a few decades sooner, they would have been able to join the conversation at an earlier point. Say, before painting had been declared dead. According to this line of thought, all painting that happens today is derivative.” Of course, at least to my understanding, art is not limited to the latest fashion or the latest anti-whatever-was-before.

On a more basic level, art deals with human experiences. It says something about what it is to be human, not scientifically and factually, but in a way that allows us to interpret the artistic expression. As the photographer and artist, Carlos Jurado, once expressed it: “Art allow us to expand the dimensions of our everyday life.”

Art enlighten us, again not through scientific or factual means, but by touching our emotions and make us reflect about who we are as human beings with all what that encompasses. “True art is an epiphany, an enlightening spark dancing in the perceived gap between ourselves and everything else.” That is what Duane Preble writes in a foreword to the book Tao of Photography.

In her post Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge: Challenger’s Choice (Architecture) Sally W. Donatello wrote that “art is meant to illicit doubt, dialogue, emotions, joy, thought and uncertainty; it is meant to provoke in calming and unsettling ways and everything in between those reactions. It is the artist’s responsibility to give us something to consider, to digest, to ponder, to query.” I wholeheartedly agree with her statement.

So what is really art, then? As I opened this post saying, it is a difficult question to answer. I know it when I see it, but defining it eludes me. I sometimes see glimpses of it in others’ work. Limiting myself to photography, I know that great art is about compassion when I see W. Eugene Smith’s photograph Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, Minimata, 1972. I know great art is about reverence and humility in the presence of great things when I see Ansel Adams’ Clearing Winter Storm. I know great art is about optimism and endurance when I see Paul Strand’s work in the Hebrides—and I know it is about pessimism when I see Robert Capa’s photograph of the falling Spanish soldier. I know it is about the human search for spirituality when I look at the work of Linda Connor. I know it is about the loneliness of life when I look at the work of André Kertész. I know is it is about revelation when I look at the work of Josef Sudek and I know it is about the obscurity and the confusion of life when I look at the photographs of Robert Frank or Garry Winogrand.

In short, great art is never about the art work but seems to be about life, and possibly not, generally, the small things in life. The best artists appear to be engaged in the great dialog of life—the dialog that is usually the field-of-play for philosophers and theologians, for mystics or even political scientists. The great artists don’t seem to be asking questions about technique or the craftsmanship, but are asking the same kinds of questions that were asked by philosophers Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Nietzsche, or Freud—the same questions asked by the poets Aeschylus, Dante, Goethe, Victor Hugo and Mark Twain. What is man? Who am I? What is good? Why is there evil? How should we treat one another? Why don’t we? Why does suffering exist?

I have a Norwegian friend, Morten Løberg, who is a photographer also working with photo as art. On his web site, he has stated that during his 40 years as a photographer he has heard two good definitions of what art is. The first one stems from the then director Ole Henrik Moe at the museum of Høvikodden in Oslo, when he opened the Association of Fine Photographer’s anniversary exhibition in 1979: «A photograph is art when it shows a slice of reality seen through a personal temperament.» The other originates from the former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo, Jan Brockmann: «Art brings the viewer to new insights and understanding, or to the brink of this.»

Those two points of view complement each other. And together they bring an understanding to the term art and what it stands for, that for me, is as close to a definition as it is possible to arrive at. So maybe I can extrapolate from those to quotes something like this: Art brings the viewer new insights seen through a personal temperament.

Have you any thoughts about what art is?

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Challenged in Naples

Last week I had the pleasure of being challenged—photographically. Life can always surprise us with challenges, sometimes more than we can handle, but this one was completely of my own choice. I wanted go be challenged and I was happy being challenged, despite the struggle and despite the frustration and despite the feeling of failure that I had to fight all the time.

Why challenged? I attended a photo workshop with the Swedish photographer Anders Petersen. It took place in Naples, Italy. Petersen pushed all of us beyond and out of our comfort zone. And when we started to become comfortable with the original challenges, he pushed us even more. As I have written many times in this blog, growth and creative development is all about stepping out of the box, pushing oneself—or being pushed out of the comfort zone.

What you are afraid of photographing is exactly what you should photograph, according to Petersen. Close and very personal.

Anders Petersen is one of the most important European photographers alive today; he has shaken up the world of photography since his debut with raw and intimate photographs of late night guests in a Hamburg bar in the 1960s. Today, he is 77 and still going strong. His images are as provocative and intense as they have always been.

One of his mantras, which he talked about during the workshop, was for the photographer to be like an animal. Attack and be hungry—but in a gentle way. It’s OK to feel intimidated when approaching strangers, say on the street, we all do, also Petersen, but we still have to do it and when we do, we need to take control and not let the person we photograph be in charge. It’s our responsibility to create images that are the best that can be made.

Being able to photograph like an animal all comes down to being able to connect—connect as a person with the whole of yourself. Don’t do it for the sake of the photograph, but be genuine interested in the person. Be curious about the person—and be completely open about why you want to capture a person’s image. Photography is about communication, also the process leading up to a final image.

After the week in Naples, I was completely wringed up, we all were, I believe. But what an experience, what a lovely way to immerge completely in photography—and only think and do photography.

The photos here are but a few I took during the workshop with Anders Petersen.

On a different note, let me remind you of the possibility to receive my Sidewars, monthly thoughts and ideas about photography and creativity. Sign up and I will send it to your email once every month.

LET ME INSPIRE YOU. RECEIVE NUGGETS AND NEW IDEA FOR YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY:

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Finding a New Path

Summer time is time for re-evaluation. At least for me. During summer, life slows down, the daily pace becomes more agreeable and I get more time to ponder about changes or new moves I want to pursue over the next year or so. This summer: Social media.

My use of social media is something I continually assess. In fact, I find it more and more exasperating and time consuming—like most users, I believe—when the reality is that I am constantly running against time in my everyday life. Something needed to be done, and that’s what I have been pondering about during this summer.

The remedy is simple enough: Spent less time on social. And spend the time I am on social more wisely. Make priorities as to what I do and how I do it. That includes my blogging.

Blogging has been tremendously enriching. I have gotten new friends, not only in cyberspace but also in the real world. I have loved the contact I have had with you and all the others I have meet on my blog and other blogs. The regular exchanges and dialogues have given me a lot. Nevertheless, the reality is that it has been hard to muster the energy lately, as you may have noticed. The inspiration that I used to have for the blog simply isn’t there any more. If nothing else, that’s ironic when I actually intend to write about creativity.

I know what this looks like, so let me make it clear here and now that I am not stopping my blogging. There is too much about it that I appreciate too much. But I am going to downscale my activity. I simply needed to make some changes in order to find the inspiration again and feel like I can contribute to all of you who have followed me through the years.

The changes I am about to do, has already gotten me keyed up again. I think the result will be both exciting and better despite less frequent posts. First, I will indeed write less regular posts, going from one every week to posting twice a month. My goal is quality before quantity. I want to focus even more on the creative process and how we may spur creativity in ourselves. With less posts I will have more time for research, hoping I will not only turn my stack around but rather find new ways to induce inspiration.

What more is, and this is the second part of the changes, which I am quite excited about; in addition to my blog, I will also offer subscriptions to Sideways, my new monthly email ponderings about photography. Sideways will all be about photography, bringing thoughts, nuggets and ideas about how you can develop yourself as a photographer, improve your vision and bring your photography to the next level. Let me say up front; I’m not going to write about technique or cameras. If this sounds interesting, use the button just underneath to sign up. I’ll give you my eBook “10 Great Tips” for free when you do.

Both the blog and Sideways will be about creativity and finding inspiration, but the latter will only focus on photography whereas the former will be more general. As I said, I am excited for the changes and hope this will transpire to you and other readers.

LET ME INSPIRE YOU. RECEIVE NUGGETS AND NEW IDEA FOR YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY:

Back from Summer

Summer is on its final last stanza—for us on the northern hemisphere, that is. Days are already significantly shorter; at the longitude I am and today, 3 hours and 17 minutes compare to summer solstice.

Once again, we have had a summer out of the ordinary (and hopefully it won’t be the new ordinary). Like last summer, travel restrictions were imposed as we, as in the world, are still fighting covid-19. In fact, the numbers of infected are once again on the rise many a place.

Nevertheless, some travel has been possible this summer, albeit somewhat limited. I for one, were lucky enough to make it to Iceland before the numbers exploded there. (And yes, I am aware that opening up for travellers have been one of the reasons for the present increase of covid-19 on Iceland).

The main reason for me to go to Iceland was finally to be able to meet up with my love one. We live on different continents, and before Iceland, we didn’t see each other since the beginning of February—last year. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine how it was to be able touch, talk, spend time together and just be with each other again, after the prolonged separation.

Thus, I didn’t go to Iceland primarily to photograph or to experience the country. It was simply the one country that would accept both us coming for a visit. Of course once being there, we did experience as much as possible of what Iceland has to offer, and me being a photographer, of course had to capture images from our travel to this island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

These are some of the photos I captured. This post also represents a return to my blogging, and now I look forward getting in touch with you all again.

A Bit of Normalcy

Last week I had a touch of what some normalcy tastes like. I did my first travel since the world locked down one and a half years ago. Of course, it wasn’t totally back to the good old days. Still, on airports and when flying one has to wear a mask – and when arriving to a country there were covid-19 controls.

Nevertheless, I could travel! Which almost felt a little strange but most of all joyous. Just sitting back and feel the airplane taking off for a new destination was exhilarating, despite the pestilence of having to wear a mask. And then arriving. Touching down in a new place!

Nevertheless, for me the absolute best was finally being able to meet my love one after one and a half years of forced separation. In fact, that’s why Iceland became our first travel destination since the lockdown. It’s one of the only countries that would accept us both, without quarantine as long as you are vaccinated.

I have been to Iceland before, but it was back in the 1980’s, so it’s been a few years. Of course, generally the landscape doesn’t changed much over a few decades, although Iceland is one of few countries in which landscape changes do happen every so often, whenever a volcano erupts. In fact, this year saw a new eruption just south of the capital Reykjavik. Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted in March. After the first eruption, it’s been more of a low flowing river of lava, covering the valley of Fagradal and slowly moving towards the sea.

On the photo, I am overlooking Fagradalsfjall with the crater to the right. Not every day is it possible to see glowing lava, but it’s steadily creating new land. Nevertheless, it was a impressive experience to view.

I will get back with more photos from my trip to Iceland. However, I first need to edit and process the photos I captured. For now, though, I will take the rest of July off from blogging, but I’ll be back in August. Enjoy the summer (or winter if you are in the southern hemisphere). See you again in August.