Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What I See: Catching a Bit of the Luck

This week is a magical week -- leprechauns frolic and play little tricks, while everyone is happy and Irish; on Friday we Northern Hemisphere residents experience a long-awaited Vernal Equinox. Spring will arrive not one moment too soon! I started thinking about what a lucky week this will undoubtedly be for all of us. It's time to put aside all our doom and gloom and our worries. Even the fountains in front of the Obama White House are spouting green water. I asked four of our POE members about their lucky encounters; specifically, I asked:

"What's the luckiest thing that's happened to you as a photographer?"

And, lo and behold I got four wonderful and different responses. Each of these unique artists has something a bit different to say about lucky moments, yet there's a common thread shared in all of their stories -- persistence, hard work, being in the right place at the right time -- from which we can all glean inspiration. Thank you for giving us this gift just in time for the arrival of spring.

Vancouver Skyline by Everyday Kumquat

Wind Personified by EverydayKumquat

The Dead Bicycle by EverydayKumquat

EverydayKumquat: The luckiest thing that's happened to me as a photographer would most likely be when a local, relatively well-known actress requested I do her headshots last year. Headshots are one of those things that are passed around a lot, and I've gotten some lovely word-of-mouth publicity. Portraiture work has become easier to come by since then.

Montage: What's the luckiest thing? That depends on what one considers as luck! Or in fact, as life has it, to rephrase, I'd ask: 'What's the best decision you've ever made as a photographer?' I'd answer: The best decision has two parts. First, I made the distinct decision to TAKE MY CAMERA, and the second part is to STAY AND WAIT! These concepts can be applied to any number of incredible photographic experiences, but here's how I learned these concepts in a profound manner:

While I was on a Federal deployment a police barricade was put up along the street I was working, and everyone said the President of the US was coming. I didn't really pay attention because I was trying to get my work done and "trying to see the President" really didn't appeal to me, since it would be a mob scene anyway. Well, as you'd have it, I couldn't get my work done anyway because everyone decided to go and "try to see the President." I returned to my car to grab my camera, as I had the distinct impression to do so, even as I was thinking to myself, "I'm not going to be anywhere near him." Still, I listened to that impression.I walked up to the police tape where there were several Federal agents and local police on one side, and I was required to stay on the other side. I heard one police officer say to me, "You're not going to get anywhere near the President, and he may not even stop here." I dismissed their thinking, and here's where the second element factors in: I decided to Stay and Wait, despite the gloomy forecast by others, barricades, mob scenes and the unlikely nature of the event. I listened to my own inner voice, which encouraged me on. Well that inspiration ended up allowing me to get a very unlikely photo of the President holding a little baby girl in his hands in a very contemplative mode, and in perfect photographic composition. CNN, the state journal, and the local press were all "on the other side" of the police tape, and guess what? They didn't get the shot! I did! Not only did I get the photo, but when the President arrived near where I was standing, he promptly put his arm around me. I ended up with a real smile, as I had just had a great moment as an artist.

As much as we plan, surmise, prepare, well, often, we really don't know what's going to happen. As photographers we should stay tuned to the best life has to offer: The Unexpected! In fact, I'd say we should expect the unexpected. As we see things this way, we will find our work has that element of "what's next" factored right into it!

I later sent a copy of the photo to President Clinton, and he sent me a nice letter of gratitude.

Tell Me Gently by risamay

The Green Door by risamay

Risamay: There are many moments and places that I feel fortunate to have captured with my camera, but one that stands out in particular is a delicious door I encountered on a tiny island in the Bay of Kotor. Having come to Croatia for two weeks before going back to Budapest for one more week, I was looking forward to doing a number of day trips from my home base in Dubrovnik. I am obsesssed with Venice, one might say, and I had my heart set on visiting the tiny town of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site and former outpost of La Serenissima.

The weather wasn't what I'd hoped for on the designated day, overcast and drizzling a fine mist, but it was my one opportunity to see this special place, and so I set off for Kotor anyway on a chartered bus tour. Alone with my camera and strangers from all over Europe, I broke away from the pack of friendly Brits I'd attached myself to as everyone clamored into the pint-sized Church of Our Lady of the Rock. It was so beautiful outside, and as the doors to the church closed, I found myself enveloped by a stony and almost palpable peace. While I was anxious to head inside and learn the story of this artificial island and its charming little church, I couldn't help but linger a few moments more outside to study the mystic -- no, more like magical -- sea green door before me. None of my fellow tourists had given it any notice, let alone the long second look it so dramatically deserved. Surrounded by weathered white to gray blocks of stone, it was beautifully mesmerizing. Although I could have stood there studying the door indefinitely, I ultimately broke the spell by snapping two quick pics before passing inside. The church and its door remained in my mind's eye but melted or morphed into something of a surreal dream.

Back in Budapest, I returned excitedly to the Castle District, where but two weeks before I'd seen some of the most stunning wooden doors anywhere. I had in mind a particular door in dark green that I couldn't wait to see again and re-shoot. With their intricate design, larger-than-life size, and patina of peeling paint, they were an architectural travel photographer's dream. I'd been quite ill that first week in Budapest and had only had the energy to take a few test shots. But I wasn't to finish the job. In the city's haste to renovate and restore, I was horrified to find that all of the doors I'd fallen in love with only two weeks earlier were now freshly painted. No peeling. Still beautiful, but lacking the character and uniqueness that came with their aging and cracking coats. In frustration, I photographed my green door and its neighbors and went home disappointed. Until, in reviewing all of my images from four weeks abroad, I rediscovered the green door from Montenegro. If I'd taken no other pictures in that entire month, the lucky find of this special door would have been more than memory and reward enough for the trip. I thank my lucky stars that I had my camera, batteries charged, to preserve that place and that moment -- and above all that door -- for myself, my friends, for my family and for you. It's a pretty wonderful door, isn't it? It looks like luck itself, perhaps.

The Bliss Was Paralyzing by TiffanyTeske

Katie & Johnny by TiffanyTeske

Embrace Self by TiffanyTeske

TiffanyTeske: There are several ways I define luck, so I have several answers. When I was in University, studying photography, I had several "lucky" things happen to me. Now, I use quotes around lucky, because really, I feel these things happened to me as the result of hard work, and not just luck. The first involved having a duo show with another student in the school gallery. His work was color photography from a trip to Italy, and mine was a black and white documentary project I shot in Nicaragua. The next year, I had a solo show in the same gallery, a documentary I shot nearby in rural Maine. I was the first student to have group and solo shows in that gallery, previously there had only been group shows. I was lucky that the director of the photography program was a mentor to me. I also worked for William Wegman, the dog photographer, for my internship. He works in Manhattan, but summers in Rangeley, Maine, a town that was about an hour from my town. I wrote him a letter, asking to be his intern, and he said yes! I learned there is never any harm in asking, and it can pay off.

There are also those "lucky" things that happen to you as a photographer that come from someone seeing your work. One time I was contacted by a woman who was given a photo greeting card I'd made. She loved the image, of tulips, and kept it on a bulletin board for two years. She was in marketing, and when she contacted me, she was working on a website to represent and showcase rural Maine artists. She ended up hiring me to do all the photography for the site, which involved travelling to the studios of all of these artists, photographing them, and then working in the studio to photograph their work. It was amazing! I was paid VERY well, and in the end, I also had two shows in a gallery this woman opened and was represented on her website. AND, a man who worked down the hall from her was a music producer, and he hired me three different times to photograph recording sessions. My images ended up on three music albums. And I know there was more work, mostly portrait sessions, that came from that. So, ONE photo card that someone kept for two years brought me $10,000 worth of work plus many priceless work experiences.

The last way I feel I can speak to this "lucky" question is in the serendipitous things that have happened to me just because I picked up my camera and went out in the world. Those things that happen right in front of you that you never expected, and that you would never have seen if you had not gotten off your butt and went out to photograph. There are many, many of these, but some that come to mind include being in Haiti and being invited to photograph a baby just as it was born and on the same trip photographing a funeral procession as it went past our house. Also, being in Spain and photographing a peaceful march of protesting workers, and being in Sweden and photographing a wedding procession. Of course, these sorts of life events are happening all around us, and as long as we are camera ready, we can catch a bit of the luck.

What I See is compiled by Ann Wilkinson. A world traveler and self-taught photographer, look for Ann wandering around city streets and tromping through woods and hiking trails with her camera. After owning an international transportation business for many years, Ann has found her creative spirit again through the lens. See more at Ann's shop and her website, and say hello to her on her blog too.


From My Eye said...

Great stories, wonderful post and incredible images!

Tiffany Teske said...

Thanks for such a fun article, Ann! I just have to say that the mentor I was speaking of in my first paragraph, was actually William Wegman, the famous photographer who photographs Weimaraner dogs. Somehow his name was omitted. Cheers!

Tiffany Teske said...

By the way, I am sooooo envious of Montage's President Clinton story!

UrbanJunkies/zuppaartista said...

fantastic work and really cool stories!

Ann Wilkinson said...

Tiffany, thanks for the clarification about William Wegman. We are sorry that a few sentences from your response somehow didn't come through (we opened your message in Outlook Express, and I'm still puzzled about why they didn't show).
Thank you again, also, for particpating in this article! You've got some wonderful experiences to share with all of us.

Ann Wilkinson said...

Tiffany's portion of the article has been fixed -- the missing sentence was found and inserted.

Beholden-To-Nature (Kenna) said...

What a wonderfully written post, and such great photos to accompany it-- Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I loved reading these different approaches to "luck" and seeing the photographic results - well done to all :)

risamay said...

Thank you for including my story and work among that of such a great slice fellow POE artists. Great stories, great images, great piece! What an honor.

SouthwestFlower said...

This is a great article. Thanks for bringing it to us!