Kick in the ass

Yes. I used PS Dark Arts on Myself - 012812

"It's great to have a passion, but you must also have a work ethic around it." Unknown*

For the past month or so I received multiple subtle and explicit messages to get my shit together.  Most of these messages concern my art.  All of them are basically saying, "Karl, You take pretty good photos.  You have an eye for capturing people in your photos.  Good boy.  Now you really need to move on to the next level.  You need to do it better and you need to get it done.  Not only done, but done right."

I  hired a graphic/web designer/artist to help me build a commercial website.  She designed  a new logo for me late last year.  I was impressed by it and looked at her portfolio of commercial websites she designed and was very impressed.  I showed her my half-ass, stagnant website and she gently tore it apart in a critique.  I knew then I had hired the right partner to help build the new one.  A month later, and many hours of writing text, selecting key photos, and many other tasks concerning SEO, keywords, aspect ratios, and categorizations, it is almost ready to go public.  I will co-premier it here and Facebook when it is ready to go.  I will also share her name and website in that post.

That experience taught me a valuable lesson.  If I am going to spend a good chunk of money and get a strong commercial site going, I had better go all in or pack up.  You can't go into business half way.  All in or fold.   Balls deep.  Shit or get off the pot.  Ok.  Enough metaphors for that.

While on Christmas break I saw a great a video clip of a George Carlin tribute with Louie C.K.  Louie C.K. is a comic genius and speaks so many truths for me.  In this tribute he shares the influence of Carlin on his career.  The key lesson is to keep reinventing his work and push his comedy further and further and get to what is raw, core, and never stop exploring.  Go deeper.   The gold starts at 4:55.

It is too easy to keep producing the same images the same way and getting the same responses.  I keep creating the same stuff, just with different flavors.  I keep getting the same results, and not going too far both in my art and in the success of my art.

The golden nugget from this video made me realize that I get the best feedback from my stuff that pushes me in new directions, new materials, new concepts, new people, new methods, and new feelings.  It is time to let some things go that are finished and run their course with me.  It feels like being given a new wild world to go out and explore!!!

So, if the first lesson was to go all in or go home and the second lesson was to keep reinventing and pushing myself harder, deeper, and into new areas, the third one was a hard criticism on what I have done.  It made me first question what type of photographer/artist I am in the sense of the quality of my work and then kicked me in the ass to do something about it.

I sent out a few proof portrait images.  The subject liked a few and then did something shocking, but also taught me a lesson.  The subject edited  one of my photos and sent it back with the list of edits.  Holy fuck.  Nobody has edited my photos before, especially without telling me first.

At first I was pissed.  How dare somebody touch my work like that!  I went for a walk around the neighborhood and came back and decided to look at the edits and compare them to the original I had sent out.  In came the head kick of humility and the lesson - Karl, your digital photo editing skills are kind of rudimentary and basic.  Karl, you do some digital photo editing really well, but if you are going to do this seriously, you really have to get better at it.

I use Adobe Lightroom for my photo workflow, everything from downloading and storage, through editing and refining, to creating a print or digital output.  It has many great tools that are similar to what can be found in the traditional darkroom.  It greatly complimented my darkroom knowledge and helped me make the transition from film to digital.   All along I denied the value of Photoshop.  I felt it was too complicated to learn.  It made my art a technical exercise, not a passion of the soul.  I would get lost in all the layers and gadgets and my art would lose its soul.  All of these were excuses, not reasons.

I am in the middle of an intensive Photoshop course now and am finally beginning to understand that its a wondrous tool box that can liberate so many of the limitations that straight photography places on me.  I am quickly realizing that I am not making the best art I can and honoring my subjects by my reticence to learning this important (and let's face it, industry) tool.   It is sort of like learning magic.

I've learned many new things that remind me of the Harry Potter universe.  Magic has both its good and bad arts.  In the books, all Hogwarts students had to learn the Magic of the Dark Arts.  For some it became their primary tool for power, for others it became a last-use weapon or a knowledge on how to defend ones self from it.

I think this is true of Photoshop as well.  There are so many ways to manipulate photos within that program.  There is the subtle stuff like correcting for perspective, saturating or de-saturating colors, reducing wrinkles, getting rid of pimples, etc.  There is the heavy stuff like distorting the body to look thinner, taller, whiter, darker, and closer to an ideal of what someone should like vs. what they truly look like.  All of these tools are available for the photographer to change the photograph from simple edits to a work of fiction.  These are some potentially dark arts that I need to learn and master.  How I use my knowledge and mastery of the dark arts will determine whether my intent was good or not.

Below is a video about the dangers of Photoshop.

I haven't written a blog post in the past few weeks due to all the work I am pushing into my art while still working my paying job and trying to maintain a life.  I am not getting any younger.  I know I have many more years behind me than ahead of me.  I need to get my art done before I die and I need to get off my lazy ass and do it.  I also have to do it better or why do it all?

*I hate it when I hear a great quote and can't find who said it.  Google can only do so much I guess.  I know it was an author. 


  1. It must be something in the air Karl, my world has been delivering much the same message for a couple of months now. My primary art is as a wordsmith, and all the old stories, the incomplete stories, are returning to my mind demanding to be finished, polished out and presented to the world. I'm starting to think in terms of finding if not an agent to get them into hard copy print then some major online vendor where they'll be seen by the folks who (hopefully!) like the sort of yarns I write.

    My other art isn't generally considered an art, even though it really is, and that is taking physics for a pallet and building new technology to serve some need, I've several major things in that venue as well that have languished for a decade or more. They like the stories are returning to my thoughts more and more often, details filling themselves in to conscious thought as the premise digs its' way through the sub-conscious channels looking for the best way to make it happen.

    It's definitely in the air, I suppose the real question is how did it get there? I'm going to take that ethereal whisper demanding we aspire to our best as a good sign, perhaps even a marker that the tide has turned (in Washington DC, as well as other fronts) in the deep psyche war of the last decades between the forces of mental repression and the champions of the human spirit. Things are changing.

    I've never worked with Photoshop as such, I've been using an all but accidental acquisition, Corel's Photopaint9 for such image work as I do, a bit of photomanip and digital painting set as illustrations for poetry. I've never had to "edit" or "post process" a photo beyond trying to get the shadows right and make the colors match well enough to blend when combining other peoples images into a new scene. I've gotten it close a few times, by accident, but never really known why. I've played with such concepts just enough to fully appreciate just what would be involved in actually knowing what I was doing. Frankly, I've never used the full Photoshop because it is way out of my price range, they're proud of it. The Corel offering arrived riding bundled with a copy of their "Draw" program I needed for some desktop work associated with the wife's one time typing business, a promotional offer, it rode the hard drive for years before I ever even opened it. When I went looking to see if there were any upgrades available I realized just how much they'd given away to get their product out there.

    All I can say is good luck and good hunting, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. K'plagh!

  2. When you work for clients, prepare to be critiqued, Karl. My experience is mostly with writing. The editors at the newspaper changed my leads, moved my paragraphs around, and made correct grammar into incorrect grammar, then put my name on it. If you think having someone edit your photo is tough, try having your story rewritten and still having your name on the byline. You do this because you become a professional and get a pay check.

    That's the reason I don't model for money. I want the right to say, Sorry, NO. But this is a second career for me. I've been red penciled and copy edited for decades and argued once in a while but always understood who was paying the check.

    Good luck with your photography career. It will be a delight and a pain in the ass, all at the same time.

  3. CD. If Photopaint works for you, huzzah! The only thing that matters in the end is if the finished product works. I think some people are too hung up on brands, Apple vs. PC, "Canonites" vs. "Nikonians", Ford vs. Chevy. I prefer Apples, Nikons, and Fords. PCs, Canons and Chevy trucks are good as well, just preferences.

    Good luck with your ventures and endeavors and thanks for the Klingon.

  4. Carla, Thanks for the encouragement. In this case it wasn't a client that edited my photos, but in the end it was for the better. I learned an important lesson that I need to step up my game if I am going to the next level.


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