Monday, January 23, 2012

Magic: But Then I Wouldn't Be Me

Against the Wall. Holly. D3/50mm. 1/200th, f/2.8, ISO3200.
Shot and retouched live at the Magic Fashion-Editorial Master Class.

Over this past weekend I had a great opportunity to discuss Magic and the philosophy behind Magic with the workshop photographers. Each one of the photographers brought a unique perspective to the class that made this a truly unique experience.

A truly unique experience...

As we wrapped up our 2-day Master Class, I was confiding in the group how I am myself constantly working against my own limitations. Some of these limitations I've discussed here on my blog. For example, I explained that part of the reason I "live in a cave" and don't read blogs, magazines, or flip through other photographers' work is simply to protect my own fragile ego. If I see amazing work from others I might not feel that great about my own pictures. So part of the reason I keep myself in the dark is so I can keep creating organically and not worry about not being good enough.

And that's just one of the many limitations that I have to work with.

At dinner today, I randomly admitted to my wife that I didn't feel like I was a great "manager of my own life". For example, if I wanted to be a photographer, why go through college and then 3 years of graduate school? Why take on dead-end corporate positions only to quit later? Why not apprentice under a famous photographer so I can skyrocket myself into the limelight faster? Because if I think rationally about my journey as a photographer, I have had many opportunities to make better decisions. For example, I am not actively pursuing getting published. Why? Partially because of fear of failure. Maybe even some complacency? While I shudder at the thought of complacency, I fear that it's the honest truth. If I looked at myself from a 3rd party perspective, I would do things a lot differently...

But then I wouldn't be me.

I wouldn't be a truly unique experience. I'd be someone else's ideal. A well-managed experience.

Maybe even a corporate experience...

The irony is that after I analyzed the situation in my typical analytical, glass-half-empty, left-brain dominant way... I immediately turned around and asked, "What if that's not the point? What if the point is to celebrate our differences so that we may lead truly unique lives? Rather than conform to the mean?"

And that's exactly what Magic is.

In the left-brain dominant world, we try and conform to the social norms. Pick at the flaws and annihilate errors. Everyone wears a suit-and-tie or some uniform and no one is different. Everything is clean, pristine, perfect, and orderly. But what kind of world is that? It sure as hell ain't a world of Magic.

I told the workshop group that when I look at other photographers' work, I'm turned off when I see stylistic effects that are too similar to that of my own. For example, if I see a random purple streak, a gradient map, or light leak lines that look like mine, I'll flip to the next image. Because I'm not impressed by copycat-styled pictures. I mean there's nothing wrong with that, but if you want to impress me, show me something I haven't already seen.

So rather than conform to the L U C I M A-style of photography, celebrate your own unique perspective. Dig deep and find something within you that is your own and feed that perspective. That's the origin of Magic. That's something that no one can take away from you. It's organic and it's intrinsically you. Think about the things that motivate you internally and cultivate that. Because it not only affects the way you post-process your images but also affects the way select concepts, wardrobe, lighting, and ultimately the way you shoot the model.

And the beauty is that it's purely you. You're not conforming to social standards or what other people think is "good" or "beautiful".

Because everyone's take on Magic is going to be different. And that's amazing. That leads to innovation. That leads to permutations. That leads to the stuff that impresses me because I haven't seen it before.

We're all fatally flawed. We're tragic characters in a Shakespearean play. We don't even have to try to be interesting. We are born interesting. Because we're each unique in our limitations. How we cultivate those differences into a bold new perspective is the silver lining to each of our stories.

So in the words of Wanda Sykes, "I'ma be me".


  1. One of the things I deeply respect and admire about your blog is the open honesty about your journey. This post is a testament to that.