No Static, Only Signal

A few years ago, I was approached by a popular regional magazine that wanted to do a photo spread featuring my work. I was excited as anyone would be. Then we started talking details, and my excite quickly faded.

I asked about pay. I was told the only pay I’d receive is exposure to their thousands and thousands of readers which would lead to lots of sales. That exposure line fools a lot of inexperienced people. I wasn’t inexperienced. Wide exposure rarely results in any sales worth getting excited about, and is certainly not worth more than a paycheck. How would you feel if you boss told you that this week you were being paid in exposure? I politely said No, and let some naive photographer take my place that month. 

I won’t work my ass off for free while people profit off my hard work. That’s insane. I wish more artist would grow a back bone and stand up against such exploitation. Magazines (and other publications) worth anything have a set budget for every issue. People making the layouts are getting paid. People writing the articles are getting paid. Photographers are, more often than not these days, NOT getting paid. It’ll continue as long as people continue to willingly work for free. I value myself and work too highly to do that ever again. 

I only work for free when it supports a cause important to me. Everyone else can pay. For far too many people, that’s a radical idea. That’s a damn shame. They may fool hundreds of photographers, but they won’t fool me. 

People often ask how to pursue photography as a career. Step one is to demand to be paid for your work. If you think it’s not worth pay, then no one else will, either.

On my website, I use to keep a running list of my accomplishments, awards, showings, etc. It’s what every REAL artist does, right? If so, I haven’t been a real artist for at least a couple of years. 

Ultimately, the reason I took it down was because I don’t want to attract the people that lists like that impress. If you’re only interested in what I’m doing because I have a lot of shiny medals, then I’d rather you just keep walking. That’s not what I’m about, and it’s not why I create art.

My photography has been featured in dozens of publications, from books to magazines to websites. I was Landscape Photography Magazine’s (an international publication) photographer of the week, have done interviews, had my photos featured in gallery shows from North Carolina to Maine (along side Andy Warhol in one instance). I’ve been successful, if this is how you want to define it, outside of photography, too. I’ve had fiction and non fiction published, illustrations, and more.

Know why it’s not a selling point? Because as good as that stuff feels, it’s not a selling point! Not for me.

The people in the position to publish or award this stuff have probably seen a lot. Just because of the volume work they’ve seen alone, their opinion as it pertains to the technical side is a little more valuable than the average person’s. But the value of their opinion ends there.

Art is subjective, so their opinion comes from a subjective place. Subjective things can’t be judged objectively, so one opinion of my work is no more valuable to me than another, especially if they’re “gatekeepers”. 

I want you to enjoy my art for what it is, not what it has earned. I won’t hide my work behind the praise of certain people who think they have a more valid opinion than others because I know it’s strong enough to stand on its own. Consume it raw. Listen, and let it speak to your soul. Tune out the static.

It's a Matter of Perspective

People spend their lives searching for absolutes and objective reasoning. It’s our nature. We like everything packaged in tight little boxes sealed with a bright bow on top. Things that are too big to box like religion, politics, and morality. Sooner or later, we learn that it’s a fools quest. Black and white doesn’t exist, but only shades of gray. It’s just a matter of perspective.

Art is one of the greatest teachers of this principle. 

When I got involved in the artist community over a decade ago, I had all kinds of absolute opinions about the world, as many young men do. Despited having few life experiences, I knew how the world work, and was smarter than everyone else. Maybe this is to be expected from young people, I bet you know plenty of adults who still think this way.

The problem is that the life of an artist is a life of learning. If you know everything, you can’t learn. If you can’t learn, you can’t grow as an artist. 

This was a lesson that I learned fairly quickly. I lowered my know-it-all defenses, and allowed people and ideas into my life that I had absolute opinions about while never even experiencing them. Allowing myself to be wrong was completely painless other than swallowing that big lump of pride I’d built up.

Two people hold a paintbrush in two different ways, each believing theirs is the best and only way. Sound ridiculous? There are plenty of schools who teach that their methods are the only correct ones. Both artist can be right. How?

Perspective.

What’s right for one artist, may be completely wrong for the other thanks to that magic “P” word. Perspective is biased by all the things you’ve experienced. How you hold a brush, how you make a stroke, is all related to unique experiences you’ve had. It seems silly to say it’s wrong.

I was thinking about this when I shot this scene. From the valley, the world was shrouded in dense fog. From my perspective, the sky was blue and the fog rising from the valleys was breathtaking. How do you think our differing perspectives make us feel differently? Maybe those in the valley felt oppressed by the fog, while I was elated to witness it rise. Is it wrong for me to say that their perspective is wrong? Yes! It’s simply their honest experience that they’re expressing, not saying that what I experienced was untrue.

It’s hard for an artist to grow by placing death grip on their ideas in spite of other ideas. It’s made worse when an artist thinks their ideas are definite. You can easily substitute anyone for artist, and retain the meaning. Life is short. That’s one of the few things we can all agree on. How you spend it is up to you. I, however, will spend it learning and experiencing new people and ideas. 

By the way, interested in seeing fog rise like this from the valleys in person? There are many different scenarios when this may occur, but the most reliable for me has been to get on a mountain top on a hot day after a summer rainstorm has passed. I’ve rarely been disappointed.

Have fun!

Mom's Stroke

In the early hours of January 29th, my mom was found on the ground next to her car at work. Discovered, an ambulance was called. She was then flown over an hour away to a hospital that could better care for her. She’d had a stroke.

Upon arriving at the emergency triage, I saw the extent of the damage. Mom writhed uncontrollably in bed, Slipping in and out of consciousness. I wasn’t aware at the time that only half of her body was moving. She responded to my voice, making eye contact with me, but I’m still not sure if she saw me, let alone understood.

I spoked to the doctor. He said mom had an aneurism burst so deep within her brain that they couldn’t operate. It was unlikely she’d survive. if she did, she’d likely be unable to care for herself or even walk.

I was devastated, but didn’t cry. It was weeks before I allowed myself to cry.

I’ve never been described as a momma’s boy, but I have a good relationship with my mom. She has supported ever crazy endeavor I’ve pursued. She was often there as I climbed mountains in search of the perfect composition. The love of nature itself was a gift from her. She was the first to understand who I am, the second and only other person being my wife. Even as an adult with a busy life, I'd take my mom to lunch once a week. 

Devastated isn’t nearly a strong enough word to describe how I felt. I was pulverized. There’d be no more lunches. No more text messages. No more hikes. 

She was at that hospital for about two weeks. She bounced around from ICU to general population. Fevers and swelling was a constant concern. Mom wasn’t able to speak. She couldn’t feed herself well. But she seemed to see us and understand. She was later moved to a rehabilitation center about 30 minutes away from me. 

That cold morning, mom remembered having a sharp pain in her head. She lost control of her body and fell to the ground. A passerby asked if she needed an ambulance. She responded and remembers nothing of the next three weeks. I’ve often wondered if it was her body protecting her mind from the trauma of it all.

The thing that haunted my thoughts and dreams those early days was the image of her on that cold ground, alone. I had no idea how long she’d been there before she was discovered. I was tortured by the thought of her being cold and afraid. 

It was weeks before I learned, from mom herself, that she’d only been there a few minutes. She wasn’t afraid, just confused.

During this time, my sister and I were working frantically to secure mom’s insurance, begin disability enrollment, and all those things that people shouldn’t have to deal with under such tragic circumstances. My father is illiterate so he couldn’t help. It was up to me, my sister, and my wife.

I could go into what a nightmare it is in dealing with insurance companies and the government, but will spare you from what many already know. Let’s just say it’s convoluted at best. But we did it, and are still doing it.

The rehab facility had just been built. Mom had her own room with a large window that opened on a beautiful meadow that deer often played in — a vast improvement over the dirty cityscape of the room she’d just left.

Early on, mom regained some of her speech. Simple words. Yes. No. Victor. I think it was one of the things that really stoked the fires of the frail hope we’d been carrying for so long. 

I visited every day despite the hour roundtrip. My sister visited as frequently, and my wife would go with me on the weekends. You’d think that with daily updates, mom’s progress would’ve been barely noticeable. Wrong. Let me tell you something about my mom.

She’s a badass.

She’s worked hard all her life, and always with a smile on her face. Rehab work proved to be no different. We were constantly told by staff how much they loved her, and what an incredible spirit she had. She worked hard everyday, stayed positive, and defied ALL odds. There was a noticeable improvement every single time I visited!

It’s been months since she has left the rehab facility. She has her speech back, although she sometimes must search for a word due to aphasia. She can walk with the assistance of a cane despite numbness in her right side. She can even care for herself. She continues to improve each day.

Doctors make their prognosis based on the evidence available to them. Expectation of anything more is unreasonable. The thing that couldn’t be accounted for, the thing that saved mom’s life, is her spirit and drive. She’s fighter. I knew this, but am so proud that others witnessed it. 

I have a very small circle of people who care about me and support my dreams. Chief among them is my mom. I would’ve given up on many things long ago had it not been for her. Here I am, standing strong, because of her influence. After seeing her power and thirst to live, I’ve only become stronger. All who witnessed mom’s spirit manifest into something that propelled her into denying all odds became stronger.

Life is a damn mess. There’s no nice way to say it. It’s full of incredible highs and unimaginable lows. I survived the lowest point in my life earlier this year. Only because I’m born of a determined woman who refuses to take no for an answer. I’m sure this won’t be the only low point in my life. It likely won’t even be the lowest. But I know that I can overcome anything because I was cut from steel that’d make Superman envious.

Life With My Artist

Victor is an artist through and through. He marches to the beat of his own drum and doesn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks or says about it. He takes immense pride in his work and absolutely refuses to put his name on anything that isn’t completely perfect. A few weeks ago while out in the woodshop, his router slipped while finishing the edge of a board. Rather than calling it “seconds” and listing it at a discount, he tossed it away so as not to offer anything less than totally perfect. 

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No Talent

I hate the word talent. Folks use it with good intentions, but it bothers me when I stop to think about what it really means. It bothers me on a couple levels, actually. For one, it makes it sound like whatever I created came from some gift I was born with. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as I’ll explain in a bit. The bigger concern is that they are subconsciously saying, “Wow, this is amazing. I wish I could do that, but I’m not talented.” Both are untrue, and I’m going to set the record straight today!

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