Not for profit

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A Photography career generally starts as an urge. An impulse to create and indulge in a passion rather than an intended business venture. With good reason. There are easier ways to make a living. However, I have spent thirty years doing just that. Figuring out how to pay the bills with a camera. I smile when I look back at those years. Fun, crazy, most times a struggle, but profitable as well; always very intense. As the pace and pressure of my workflow begin to slow, I am discovering an inner pull to return to the beginning. To the reason I picked up a camera in the first place. Joy. Appreciation. Magic.

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My experience of portraiture has become more relaxed and enjoyable as the volume of sessions has eased. I love photographing people. So much fun to joke and connect and find a way to have a “real” moment within, really, a very contrived situation has been endlessly entertaining and fulfilling. The motivation in portraiture is clear, easy, straight forward. I function as more a craftsman for hire than an artist. I use my skills, clients pay. Joy is a byproduct.

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Scenics, at this point in my life, feel like unfamiliar terrain.  I have spent precious little time in the backcountry during the past three decades. When photographing the natural world, my role reverts to more that of an artist, and the craftsman becomes an assistant. An artist feels, listens, tries to hear what the subject has to say, he learns and discovers. It is a personal and private process. Photographing nature, I confront mixed motives. Years of business conditioning are ever present: Is this marketable? To whom, and through which avenues? Who are my potential clients? Conditioning that creates a barrier between myself and the subject. One cannot connect to nature when secretly harboring profit motive. Nature does not suffer fools and will not be flattered. This is sacred territory. Hallowed ground….take your shoes off. Get on your damned knees and purify your soul.  She will not reveal her most precious secrets to conquistadores. Only the penitent shall pass!

  This is why I enjoy the role of the artist. I get to wait to experience something spontaneous and authentic- then work to illustrate it visually in a way that helps me reconnect to that unique perception, and the emotion that accompanied it. If others happen to “get it,” so much the better. As an artist I resolve to photograph only what moves me, and then share it. No market considerations or selfish calculation. Nature likes to be appreciated, I have felt that. For her to then enjoy being presented in the best possible way, follows… at least in my mind. I’m romanticizing and anthropomorphizing nature, absolutely. It feels right.

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    Let’s face it, nobody knows if there is, or is not, something spiritual or a consciousness beyond the here and now.  Priests, Prophets, and Richard Dawkins will try to tell you they know, but they are all selling a story. Believing someone elses story will get in the way of personal experience in the same way self interest does. We may as well discover our own story based on personal experience; every story is as valid as another. Building your own story gradually, as a result of time spent investigating and enjoying the natural world is an incredibly rewarding and enlightening process. So, I personally am grateful that the mass market potential for nature images has largely dried up. It makes it easier for me to get back to to just having fun out there!            

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The Power of the Camera

Easy leads to cheap. The established pros are howling. “These kids and AMWACs (another mom with a camera) are ruining the profession!” Well, okay, this is America, anyone with a business card and a camera is a pro. Nothing has changed; it has just exploded with the ease and immediacy of digital. Germany has a guild system. If you want to charge for your work, you have to go through a strict protocol. There are advantages. But somehow, the chaos of the “American way” seems to produce some of the most exciting work on the planet. In the world of portraiture, however, this unregulated process is not without collateral damage. We are in, as Ken Marcus stated “the self esteem business”. The effect we have on our client’s emotional world is considerable. Especially in the young, and even more so in young females, whose worth is, unfortunately, determined too often in society by their beauty. To help improve an individual’s opinion of their appearance is as powerful as a drug. Self esteem colors every minute of every day. For good or evil. So, as Marcus says: “if you are going to play with people’s self esteem, you had better damned well know what you are doing!”

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If concepts like: precise facial views, corrective posing, and facial analysis sound foreign to you as a portrait photographer, seek out training. Photographing people for pay is a privilege and a responsibility not to be taken lightly. The “slow discipline of art” applies. (Robert Bly) Portraiture is a craft to be studied and perfected through effort and dedication.
So, click-on WAAPs! (wild-ass American photographers). Some will rise, some will die, but seek to learn your craft well and, as Hippocrates said, “first, do no harm!”

Dave Labrum

Master Photographer, CPP