Not every shot is a masterpiece

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I love to look at photographer’s contact sheets. They’re private and intimate, like leafing through a sketchbook or reading someone’s diary. So often, we see a finished image and forget all about the process behind it. Henri Cartier Bresson likened contact sheets to the analyst’s couch, It’s all there: what surprises us is what we catch, what we miss, what disappears.” It’s amazing to think about all of deleted, discarded or forgotten photographs that go unseen. 

Some of my favourite contact sheets belong to the photographer, Robert Frank. While working on the The Americans, he took thousands of photographs however, just 83 made the final cut. His contact sheets helped him sort through huge amounts of film, while figuring out which shots worked best.

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Spencer Bentley sums up brilliantly in this PetaPixel article, “Great photographers don’t just take great photos. They build them, they work at them, they move about a scene testing, and probing, and experimenting to find that one shot that will be shared. While I’ll never be Bresson, I can do that. I can test. I can move. I can probe. I can experiment.” 

Contact sheets remind us that great photographs don’t just happen, they’re carefully crafted, considered, framed, and often, edited.

Not every shot is a masterpiece.

Insights rarely occur fully baked

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In Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday asks Scott Barry Kaufman, a leading psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on creativity, about how ideas happen. He says: “Insights rarely occur fully baked. The creative process is often nonlinear, with many detours along the way that inform the final product. The creator often starts with a hazy intuition of where he or she is going, but breakthrough innovations rarely resemble the seed idea or vision. This is because creative ideas, by their very nature, evolve over time, reflecting the colliding of seemingly disparate ideas.”

My ideas rarely appear fully-formed. I hope for successful images but never go out seeking them. It’s important that I remain open to outside influence while I’m taking photographs because I like to experiment and work with what’s available.

As Kaufman says, “the best we can do is sit down and create something, anything, and let the process organically unfold.” 

Unconcerned Photographs

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Unconcerned Photograph © Man Ray

“I deliberately dodged all the rules, I mixed the most insane products together, I used film way past its use – by date, I committed heinous crimes against chemistry and photography, and you can’t see any of it.”

– Man Ray

Man Ray’s Unconcerned Photographs are a series of images he created in 1959 for MoMA’s The Sense of Abstraction exhibition. Made in his Paris studio by swinging a Polaroid camera around on its strap, they epitomise his spontaneous, experimental approach.

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Unconcerned Photograph © Man Ray 
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Unconcerned Photographs © Man Ray

While messing about in his darkroom in 1922, Ray accidentally created a photogram by placing a small glass funnel, graduate and thermometer on wet photographic paper. He elaborates in his autobiography“I turned on the light; before my eyes an image began to form, not quite a simple silhouette of the objects as in a straight photograph, but distorted and refracted by the glass more or less in contact with the paper and standing out against a black background, the part directly exposed to the light.” 

His camera-less photographs, coined Rayographs, seemed to remove all traces of the artist’s hand, while incorporating negative space and shadow, randomness and chance.

Now seen in galleries around the world, Ray’s radical photographic experiments firmly established him as a Surrealist, pushed the boundaries and turned traditional art-making on its head.

If it wasn’t for the day job

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Photograph found in a library book

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have a day job. That instead of going to work in a library most days, I could devote all my time to writing and taking pictures.

Then I remember all of the odd, inspiring events that happen while I’m at work, like the kids who think our automatic doors are magic because they open by themselves, the photographs I find slipped between the pages of returned books and the interesting conversations.

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Photograph found in a library book

My job connects me to life and feeds into my art in unexpected ways. I mine these events, storing them for later. Thinking like this keeps me sane on the trying days, days when I have to deal with difficult customers or under-staffing.

So really, it’s not so bad. It’s this I’d miss, if it wasn’t for the day job.

Amanda Elledge

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© Amanda Elledge

I’ve been following Amanda Elledge on Flickr for a few years now. Her gorgeous, ethereal photographs constantly surprise and impress me; not least because I can’t figure out how she makes them! Just recently, I got around to asking her about her work and inspiration. 

Hi Amanda, please tell me a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in the USA but I have been living in northern France for 15 years now. Both countries define me and yet, neither feels like home, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same for most people in my situation.

I work in a laboratory for diabetes research, and more specifically, I am part of a cell therapy team that isolates pancreatic islets from donor pancreases in order to treat – and sometimes cure – fragile type I diabetics.

Like most people, I love photography, reading and music, but I also love red lipstick, the smell of musty basements, good champagne and listening to podcasts about microorganisms and mental health.

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© Amanda Elledge

How did you develop an interest in photography?

Of course, like a lot of semi-tortured young women, I went through a whole Diane Arbus phase (to accompany my Joy Division phase), but years after that, I had a French-New Zealander girlfriend introduce me to Flickr (online photography platform) and I was instantly hooked.

At first, I was one of those mommy-type bloggers, more into the community than into the imagery, posting mundane pictures from my daily life. Then, one day, I just kind of felt like a fake, only craving interaction and faves, losing myself in a world that functioned off of the “I like you/you like me” notion and – quite frankly – didn’t interest me at all. So, I decided to take back my own passions and life, and from that moment on, I only posted pictures that felt true to me and only faved photos that I genuinely liked. Of course, the transition surprised a lot of my followers at the time, but I didn’t care: I finally felt real and free.

Since then, I’ve always used photography as an intimate visual diary, a way to remember various moments from my life, as well as my own emotions. Whether the viewer gets it, or even likes it, is besides the point. Nonetheless, I do like sharing my photos online because I feel like it can act as a kind of filter and an SOS to other alike human beings out there; and from the messages I’ve received over the years, what I’ve noticed is that my photos generally impact the kind of person I was hoping they would impact. It’s always such a pleasure to discover and exchange with and/or inspire other people who seem to share the same inside joke as you.

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© Amanda Elledge
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© Amanda Elledge

What cameras do you prefer to use?

To be completely honest, I would love to use my Fuji Instax Wide all of the time (think: instant gratification), but since film is too expensive, I prefer to use my iPhone camera. It’s easy, it’s light, and most importantly – it’s always on me.

I’m not one of “those photographers”, that seems overly concerned by the technical aspects of photography and the size of the image. I’ve never had any formal training and I’m not that interested in having any – even though I have lost a few publishing opportunities because of my less-than-stunning image size and quality. I guess it would be more disconcerting to me if I was counting on photography to survive but luckily it’s just my passion.  Furthermore, it’s never really bothered me, the idea that a digital image might change according to its printing medium or format. I like the idea that slight variations of the same image co-exist, depending on the computer screen used to view the image as well as the discrepancies in our own eyes looking at that same image. It makes me think of how an analog photo might change depending on its raw materials or who developed it, or how it may change with time and through its environment. And, even if this was not the photographer’s original vision, I think that all of these “imperfections” give the image life.

All that said, I do use other cameras, including a Canon EOS 7d, a Lomo LC-A and a scanner.  My latest acquisition is Lomography’s La Sardina, but I have yet to use it. On that note, I have absolutely no qualms abouts mixing both analog and digital to create my final images.

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© Amanda Elledge
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© Amanda Elledge

Do you have a favourite photographer or artist whose work you admire?

I guess if you would have asked me this question a few years ago, I would have answered without hesitation: Daidō Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Jacob Aue Sobol and Anders Petersen (all while drowning in an amazing Godspeed You! Black Emperor album), but I think the real answer is merely an accumulation of everything I’ve seen and lived…graphic novels, music, art, fashion, cinema, language in all its forms, micro/macroscopic patterns in nature and in life, love, lust, loss, confusion, human relations and of course, the millions of photographs from both amateurs and professionals I’ve looked at in my lifetime.

At the height of my photography obsession, I was easily looking through 1000 images per day. One of my biggest joys is to quickly scroll through photography platform websites and find and fave images that move/touch/inspire/impress me. No contemplation necessary: it all happens within a split-second, either I find it aesthetically pleasing or I don’t.

A photograph is like a tiny magical portal into another world, and I don’t care about the techniques or the equipment used to create it.  I only care about whether or not I want to be part of that world, and for that, I just follow my heart.

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© Amanda Elledge

Thanks Amanda!

For anyone interested in seeing more of Amanda’s work, go check out her website or follow her on Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook.

Real artists have day jobs

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The biggest myth we are fed as artists is that we need to sustain ourselves solely on our art. This is ridiculous.

Sara Benincasa

Real artists have day jobs. History is full of creatives who kept clocking in, even after they’d found success. Poets, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams found time to write in between working long hours. Bram Stoker’s horror stories were inspired by his work as a theatre manager. Mark Rothko was a teacher whose work with children encouraged him to explore very simple visual language. Nannying helped Vivian Maier afford her photographic equipment.

If you’re an artist, you’ll know it. How you make your living won’t stop you. You’ll work on your commute, during your lunch break or when you get home, even though you’re dog tired and your feet ache, because you’re compelled to, because it’s your passion.

Ryan Holiday says “art can’t be hurried. It must be allowed to take its course. It must be given its space – and can’t be rushed or checked off a to-do list on the way to something else.”

If your art doesn’t sustain you financially right now, give it space. Maybe one day it will, and if it doesn’t, that’s fine. Think of your day job as your side gig. If your art is your true calling, no matter how you make a living, no one can take that away from you.