A Creative Milestone

Funny, I’ve spent a few minutes here trying to write the first sentence to this entry and I just decided to head at it from a different direction.

Somewhere back around 1993, I was trying to find my way in several styles of photography. I felt like I had potential, but the reality of my images were not quite up to what I was imagining the would be when I snapped the shutter. I was using books from photographers that inspired me to learn from. I wasn’t copying their photos, but I was trying to find in my own work what I liked about theirs. Herb Ritts was a huge influence on me at the time. Still is, and I’m sad he’s gone.

But I remember laying out about 15 contact sheets on my small apartment floor and my model friend Shawn and I were on the floor on our stomachs going over the hundreds of images. Funny that a decade later my models and I are going over images on a computer screen. Contact sheets seem downright primitive in some respects! But back then, it was the cramped apartment floor and a couple of loupes to look at the tiny images and mark what we liked with grease pencils.

On that particular shoot Shawn was really being creative with paint and mud and all kinds of facial expressions and body poses and as we passed the resulting contact sheets back and forth I realized the images of her did have a certain Ritts quality about them. It was the first time I felt that I really achieved a look or a feeling that I was going for that was inspired by one of my photographic idols. Looking back on those images now, I don’t think anyone would mistake them for the lost negatives of Herb Ritts, but I did feel like I had created something very special with Shawn. She was very happy with what we did and I remember telling her as we lay next to each other that what I saw in these images was the same thing I saw when I would pour through the pages of my Ritts books. It was a milestone for me.

This weekend I felt that same familiar feeling. It seems like the past month or so I have been struggling with my creative demons. It’s been difficult to create pretty much anything I’ve been really happy with. It could be the pressure of my show that’s now less than two weeks away, but I think it’s been something a little deeper than that.

One of the areas I was experimenting with back in the early 90s was fashion. I walked away from it then because I wasn’t coming up with anything I felt was really amazing. Besides my work in travel and nude photography was really starting to feel strong to me and I decided to concentrate on what was working.

Recently though, I’ve been challenging myself to expand my photography and fashion always seemed to me like something I would eventually come back to. And so I have. Like anything in life, if you want to be good at something you really have to work at it. And even though I feel very accomplished in the images I’ve spent the last two decades creating, fashion is a completely different animal. It has been quite the challenge. It’s been a little painful to not be as good at something as I want to be. Almost to the point of wanting to run back to what was comfortable just so, for at least a little while, I could feel confident again about what was coming out of my camera.

Well for better or worse, as much as I felt I needed to, time and opportunities to shoot my body work seemed to continually evaporate before my eyes. Being unable to set up shoots with my naked people became as frustrating as not succeeding in creative the quality of fashion images I was challenging myself to make. I think the longer I went without really creating something that blew me away in either area, the pressure I was putting on myself to make amazing images began to take it’s toll on my ability to think creatively. It started to snowball and by mid January I was really starting to wonder where it all went.

My blogs as of late have certainly not hidden the frustration and stress I’ve been putting myself under. It has not been pleasant. I’m still not sure I’m completely out of the woods, but the images I created with Morgan this weekend had that same feeling of laying on the floor with Shawn and realizing that we had made something really special. Part of the reason for the success of our shoot might be the total immersion in it.

I met Morgan for dinner on Friday night and I think we both had a good vent about things that were on our minds. After an anxious wait to see what the my giant gallery prints would look like, they had finally arrived earlier in the day and the one crate I opened up to have a quick look revealed that they were indeed beautiful. I think just having that peace of mind allowed me to put that stress away enough to focus on creating new work. We made a few notes over dinner about what we wanted to accomplish in Saturday’s shoot and then got a good night sleep which neither of us had experienced in a while.

After I spent the morning running around to pick up supplies for the shoot, we met at the Belmont red line L stop and spent a few hours exploring the nearby shops and managed to put together a few good fresh looks that we both felt would inspire us to create some interesting images. We returned to my studio and got to work.

I can’t really explain why, but it soon became clear that Morgan and I were in a very good place to try new things and come up with ideas together that were working like crazy. She looked great and our mutual confidence in what we were doing really began to come through in the photographs. The more we shot, the better it got. And by the time we got done after midnight we both knew we had something.

The remaining crates of photographs for my show had been taunting us all day to crack the rest of them open and look at the rest of the show, but we decided to put it off until after we were done shooting. I made us a couple of cosmopolitans and Morgan put on some “opening the big show” music and we began unpacking the pieces.

Now I know I have written a few times about how big these prints are. But they really are huge. The are three feet by four and a half feet and as we began lining them up on my studio walls, both Morgan and I became more and more blown away by what was in front of us. We just stood there soaking them all in. As I told her it was so wonderful to have her there with me to see the show for the first time. It made it a little more real for me. After a beautiful day of shooting, it was so moving to get to experience this very personal moment in my life with her. This show is really important to me and Morgan is one of the many friends I am lucky to have in my life who have been so encouraging and supportive throughout the process of creating it.

Now it was getting to be about 3am and we had moved to Agavero and had managed to kill half of the bottle already, so Morgan wisely suggested that rather than heading out into the snowy cold night to get her home, she would stay and that way we could finish talking about the show and make a really amazing day last a little longer. And finish the bottle of Agavero!

I love talking all night until the sun comes up and that’s exactly what we did. Those quiet hours just as the sun is coming up combined with the afterglow of an incredible shoot day and wonderful conversation made everything that had been bothering me the last few weeks just vanish. The sun finally came up and we surrendered and hit the sack.

I cooked us a healthy breakfast when we got up and I took her home and got back to the studio to finish going through all the images we made. I completely skipped the superbowl because I was so excited about what I was seeing. It was another milestone – on so many levels. I couldn’t be happier about the images we made. The two I’ve put up here are from this shoot and are just scratching the surface of what we managed to achieve.

So I look back on that day about 13 years ago with Shawn on the floor looking at contacts and a flash forward to sitting at my computer monitor with Morgan loading the images into the computer from the camera smart cards and picking our favorites with keystrokes instead of grease pencils. The tools may have changed, but the feeling of successfully meeting a formidable artistic challenge remains just as I remember.

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