This is the story of how one conversation, a healthy dose of dissatisfaction, and a few glasses of wine helped me decide to make a major change in my photography, how I thought about where I live, and the kind of stories that I was really interested in telling.
At the beginning of the summer I found myself afflicted with a worrisome and specific case of writers block – I would shoot a project, but when I sat down to write about it the only things I could think of were “Here is a picture I took and I really like it” or “I shot this assignment recently for a client, the art director was super nice and brought sandwiches” basically the kind of disposable posts you have read on every photography blog, ever, in the history of everything (Okay, except for some of the really good ones like those written by John Keatley, Rodney Smith or Chris Buck – I’ll gladly read those any day), and I had gotten sick of it. I stared at blank screens for hours feeling like my brains were slowly leaking out of my eyes and that my writing skills were failing me (thankfully this mental state was contained only to my writing and did not affect my ability to take kick-ass pictures). It’s not that I didn’t like the aesthetics of the work I was producing, I just didn’t feel like these were the kind of stories that I was really having much fun telling.
The turning point came when I was talking with Karen DSilva about the direction my work was heading in and some of my past assignments. In thinking about the jobs and projects I had shot over the last few months, the ones that really stood out to me weren’t the conceptual images with the over-the-top ideas and they weren’t the images of bands for music magazines; the stories that I really liked working on are the stories about people who make and do cool things – everyday, perfectly normal (but notably awesome) people who were turning their passions and obsessions into movements. A lot of these stories were taking place right here in my hometown of Buffalo, NY.
I really love this city, there are some pretty awesome things happening here now. Buffalo is an incredible place to start something new, artists flock here, small businesses are growing and gaining momentum, people are innovating, creating, and doing fucking amazing things (You should make some time to read this short piece called Things American: Buffalo by Brian Mihok, it’s the best take on this city I have read in a very long time). Buffalo isn’t all the way there yet, but I’m fascinated with the city’s growth into something new (plus we have Wegmans – which is totally enviable if you have never shopped at one, Whole Foods has nothing on Wegmans). This city is an ever-growing part of how I view my life and work and I really want to tell people about all the cool stuff going on here. These entrepreneurs, artists, craftsmen, scientists, and athletes all cared enough about something to chase it down and try to make it real are incredible. This place is important to me.
While sharing some of the ideas I had about these projects with Karen, it was suggested that instead of talking about these ideas I should maybe actually go make them happen (radical and shocking thinking, right?). It sounds silly when I think back on it, but during that conversation I felt like someone had given me permission to work on what I really needed to work on. I was letting the idea of what I felt I should be doing get in the way of what I actually wanted to do, something I tell others not to do all the time and fell hard into myself. So I decided to make a change. It was a bit of a revelation.
Out came the super secret orange notebook that I keep all my cryptic project plans in and I started to comb through it for the lists I had compiled over the last few months – the ones about cool people I knew and what they were up to. One wine fueled lunch later (I told you there was wine involved) with my friend Erin Habes to compare our research notes (because she pretty much knows everyone that I don’t) and I was ready to start making those all important first phone calls. I spent most of the summer working on this first batch of stories, and the cool thing was that each subject I photographed seemed to lead me to three or four other potential subjects – because of course all these driven and interesting people hung out with each other regularly, in fact I’m pretty sure they have a secret clubhouse somewhere.
That brings us to now…..
A few weeks ago I let you all know that I would be taking a short break from writing this blog so that I could wrap up some important work. Starting next week I’ll be sharing the first of these stories with you. I’ll still occasionally feature some of my commercial and editorial work, frequent personal missives, and news here, but the direction of this blog is going to change overall and focus less on how I make pictures and focus more on why I make them and who I am making them of. The posts might be a little longer and will be featuring not just portraits, but also interviews and the occasional video too. These are stories about hard work, about people who believe in themselves and their ideas, and about people who are changing their lives and communities in small but important ways. The first story is about an ice cream company in Lockport, NY that grew out of a competition between two lifelong friends. I can’t wait to share it with you.