The price of branding and exposure.

Valya - 092612

I am in a conundrum.  To become a better artist and to try to make a living from it I have to promote myself more. I appreciate and understand that, but where is the balance?  How much of this exposure is about my product or about my own personal brand?  What is the price of branding and exposure?

A friend gave us an beautiful original platinum print a few years ago of a young Mexican woman standing by a fountain in a plaza.  That is a definite description of the product and could mean the print is worth a few dollars or a few thousand.  With just this description though, I would only pay the lower end of the spectrum.

A friend gave us a beautiful original Edward Weston platinum print of Frida Kahlo.  Just that sentence alone increased the photo's value substantially.  It has two very powerful names with Edward Weston as the photographer and Frida Kahlo as the subject.  It bears both their brands.

When building a personal brand, the creator's personality, accomplishments, failures, challenges, likes and dislikes, and creations are built into the brand.   Think about Edward Weston's brand - black and white modern photographer and pioneer of the art, fine-art nude photographer pioneer, lived in the US and Mexico, often took photos of his lovers or had intimate relationships with his models, part of the California photography movement, co-founder of the Group f/64, and so on.  He was temperamental, had estranged children, and other personal challenges.  All of this has become part of his legend and his brand and helps ensure his art continues to hold or gain value.

Out of all the prints I've sold, I've never heard anyone say, "I own a Sutphin photo."  I would probably hear, "I have a great photo of horses and windmills that I bought from this guy in California."  Only people that know me personally and know my work have a chance of looking at a photo of mine and being able to identify it by style, content, etc., that it is one of mine.  Most others just see the content.   My branding is weak in two ways, no one recognizes my name to my art and no one can look at my art and identify it as mine. 

Rocky Mountain Front near Heart Butte, Blackfoot Indian Reservation, Montana - 092612
The answer appears very simple - get my work and name out there.  Promote, promote, promote.  The cost of it though is what do I associate with my name?   I see I can have at least two very different categories of clients, starting with portraits and erotic fine-art photography.  I doubt my clients for either group really care of or for the other type of work I do.  Do I hide one (probably the nudes) to grow my other brand and business?  Am I ready for my personal history, warts and all, to become part of my brand?  Is my history exciting enough to add to my brand?  I think about this because as someone's notoriety grows, so does his/her exposure and discovery of personal history.  Both my friends/clients and my competition are going to want to know about me if my art star rises.  How will this information of my work and life affect those around me?

It is sad that we can't embrace sexuality, sensuality, and eroticism as an open art form without worrying about fall out from it.  I greatly lament this, but it is the reality and I must figure out my niche and how I can exploit it.  It's easy for me to think I wont worry about what others think of me, but if I want to grow my brand, I need to be concerned about it's value and appearance as well.  As much as I am growing into accepting who I am and trying not to worry what others think, that nagging worry will always be there. 


And the winner is... charisma

False Idols - 092312
"Charisma is a sparkle in people that money can't buy.  It's an invisible energy with visible effects."   - Marianne Williamson
Here is my attempt at a non-political post about the presidential election. I predict President Obama will win and my theory is not based on politics. It has to deal with the personality traits of his challenger.

Mitt Romney doesn't have the personality traits of prior successful presidential candidates that beat an incumbent president. He is not charismatic or communicates a well-articulated vision for the country. I am basing this off my memories of all prior elections I've been conscious of.

'72 - Do you remember who ran against Nixon? George McGovern. I was only three, so I don't have memories of this, but I know McGovern's name is pretty much forgotten in regards to this contest for me.
'76 - Ford was an incumbent and lost to Carter. This was partially due to the taint of Nixon's resignation and Ford's lack of time to build a track record. I throw this one out as a fluke due to the crazy events leading up to it. Carter still won though.
'80 Carter lost to Reagan. Reagan was the most charismatic Republican president in recent history. He had a vision for how he would lead the nation and shared it very effectively.
'84 - Reagan wins over Mondale. Other than Mondale riding on the power of having the first female VP nominee, he lacked charisma and vision.
'88 - No incumbent.
'92 Bush 1 looses to Clinton. Like Reagan, Clinton has plenty of charisma and was very effective in communicating his vision to the country.
'96 Clinton beats Dole. While Dole had a very distinguished military and political career, he didn't show his charisma, charm or vision.
'00 - No incumbent
'04 - Bush 2 beats Kerry. Kerry is not known for charisma or vision.
'08 - No incumbent
'12 - We will see. Romney is no Reagan or Clinton though.

I recognize this over-simplifies the details of prior elections and there were many more influences on the outcomes. With power of celebrity and popularity being such a key part of American culture (American Idol, America's Got Talent, etc.), the power of charisma and vision can't be ignored.

So with this, I bring a close to anything more I want to say about the upcoming elections and the issues/people involved. The current political climate disgusts me and I don't want to add my $.02 of poison into the mix.


Fall love

Katie - 091912

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. - George Eliot

I love autumn.  I fall in love with it every year.  I lust for it when the first inklings of its approach become noticeable in August.   I love the colors and light the most.  They make me excited for the winter and the angular sunlight making everything look both dawn and dusk at the same time  I love driving around the countryside a little too fast and watching the leaves swirl behind my car in the invisible air currents.  I love that one of my earliest, and most favorite photo shoots took place in late November, in the hills outside of Berkeley.  Katie was a super trouper leading the way to that magic spot to capture the glorious light. 

Katie - 091912
I wonder where my soul-love for this time of year comes from.  Part of it is the excitement of childhood and going to school with all new crayons, pencils and clothes.  Another part is how beautiful Montana becomes in October.  I should also acknowledge my Scandinavian ancestry a bit.  I think that old blood of living in dark and long shadowed lands courses through me and makes me yearn for those beautiful moments.  Maybe the turning of the leaves and shifting of the light turns me into a different beast much like a full moon does to the werewolf.  Awwoooooo

At times I think I live through spring and summer so I can thrive in fall and winter.  I feel more alive during this time.  I know my own life is shifting from late summer into early fall.  Maybe I am finally aging into my personal time where I feel most at home.  I am not afraid of what my own fall and winter brings.  I know the shadows will grow longer and the light more beautiful until everything becomes a shadow and night consumes me. 

Katie 091912


The mirror of memory.

Valya - 091312
I looked back in the mirror of memory
for a guide to which lanes are still open
to merge, swerve, and pass in.

The mirror showed me this lane was closed
due to too much time and too little use.
The mirror also showed me that lane was empty
but would take me down a precarious exit.

I looked forward again, through the windshield
of nearing destinations and arrivals,
nudged on the turn signal
and didn't bother to check my blind spot
for those dangers I can't let myself see.


What do you care?

Valya - 091212

What do you care about me?  What do you think about me?  These questions are the basis for many of my behaviors and how I interact with others.  What I chose to let out of my mind and share with others is greatly regulated by my concerns of how I am perceived by others.  That bullshit needs to stop.

I am in therapy.  With that statement, I am opened up to many prejudices, stereotypes, and misconceptions.  I don't really care anymore if people know about it.  I don't wave a therapy flag or force this bit of information in a moment of too-much-information.  I  find it humorous to see their reactions.  They are usually slightly shocked, hold and awkward pause, then very cautiously ask me, "are you ok?" For many, they are concerned, for a few though, the judgements start coming.

Why am I sharing this "devil may care" attitude about my personal life?  It is because of therapy.  During my last few sessions I started discovering that due to my concern of how people view me and by the potential of me letting them down, I am not truly living with the real me.

This self sense of being Mr. Nice Guy and trying not to ruffle feathers, smooth those that are ruffled, and avoidance of delivering bad news has held me back too long.  Because of this I tend to take on too much onto myself when others should be doing their job or make their expectations more realistic.  I lose track of too many tactical, cultural, familial and other types of obligations. I am spending too much time on this shit.

A year or so ago I had a dream where my wife told me "I am not going to help you clean up the façades you built around yourself."  This profoundly hit me and cuts to the core of my tendencies to placate.  I build up all these façades to keep the peace from falling into pieces.

While that revelation is big for me, it took a simple observation from my therapist when I told her of that dream.  "Those narrations in your dreams are written by you, not the person represented in your dreams."  Whoa...  For the past year, I've subconsciously believed that statement represented something from my wife.  While it may be something she believes, it is my projection on her, manifested in a dream.  Since it is my dream script the message is directed at me... from ME. 

I know that should be very evident and elementary in terms of psychology.  I have a degree in the subject.  Unfortuntely, I never thought that those things said in my dreams are my script and messages my soul, spirit, and intellect are trying to convey to me.  I may get inklings of the messages during awake time, but it takes a dream to live those messages.

Out of all of the therapy cliches, here is a big one - the role of my parents in my current psychological health.  I will put that net out wider to include all family, many close friends and coworkers.  For years I've said "yes" to many things while suppressing my real thoughts, ideas, and desires in fear of hurting and disappointing these people.  Once my therapist got this out of me she asked the next huge question --

"How does this affect your art?"
I have two self-identified types of art I create, the secular and "sexular".  The "sexular" is all my nude photos and those images that have overt erotic elements.  The secular is pretty much all my other stuff, portraits, landscapes, commercial work, etc.  If you go to my commercial website, you will find most photos are my secular works except for a harmless, tiny, implied nude of Candace.

Back to my therapist's question, "How does this affect your work?"

For my secular art , I am concerned that the craft and art in it are not strong enough to be appreciated or accepted by those who are important to me (see list above).  I love making these photos.  Most do not have deep contextual artistic meaning, but they are fun and rewarding to make.

For my "sexular" art, I am very concerned by how I am perceived by it.  I've published publicly very little of my work in this area other than on my blog.  I think all this angst over showing this work and how it is important to me to those who may condemn me makes me put up even more façades. 

This subconscious drive most recently manifested in my newest series I am creating - I Objectify Women.  In this series, I am grappling with objectification of women, and how I am part of it.  I am hoping it will help me answer some of my own tough questions and self-doubts.  In the end though, it is becoming a statement piece saying, "This is my art and this is who I am."  Maybe it is time for me to live that mantra in more areas of my life.

"This is my work and this who I am."
"These are my desires and this is who I am."
"This is my sexuality and this is who I am."
"This is my body and this is who I am."

It's time to drop so many of the facades around me.  I need that energy for more important things.


Why are they hidden?*

"What do I remember about med school?
'This is my air hole (pointing to her nose)
My sound holes (pointing to her ears)
My food hole (pointing to her mouth)
My pee and baby holes (pointing to the front of her pants)
and my poop hole (pointing to her tush)'
All other stuff is related to those holes. " Dr. Sylvia

I got that great quote from one of the physicians I used to work with after asking her a technical medical question.  All the other doctors and nurses in the room laughed as hard as I did.  She pretty much summed up most of internal medicine right there.

 I recently had to train a group of employees about retrieving key information from a drug side-effects database and I came upon two sticking points.  The first was an acronym I didn't know and the second was a medical term for a symptom to multiple potentially dangerous conditions.

I came across the term LMP and had no idea what the acronym represented.  I asked one nurse I work with and he blushed.  I asked his boss, another nurse who is a no-nonsense and just out right said, "LMP - Last Menstrual Period. "  For some dumb reason I blushed.  I knew though I had to get over my blushing since being descriptive is a needed part of medicine.

The second event concerned doing a search on the symptom - "blood present in urine."  I chose this term for a training exercise since it brought up many interesting bits of information from the data base.  One employee warned me that it could be an awkward topic when training fellow global coworkers in certain cultures and locations.  I ended up keeping the term in the class and push through any initial emotional responses from the learners.  In my opinion, its part of our job, get over it.  It wasn't like I was saying the event in crude terms like "blood in your nasty piss".

We all have these body parts.  They all have functions and purposes, yet we are shy about them.   I know some of these body parts have less-than-idyllic functions and purposes.  We still have them though and they are a part of us.  This need to censor our natural bodies goes to all parts of our culture, especially art.

I have an anus.  I also have testes and a penis.  All my nude models I've photographed (so far) have vaginas and anuses**.  We all have the holes (in one form or another) that Dr. Sylvia mentioned.

In my photography, I captured (both intentionally and inadvertently) all of these bits and pieces, however, have you really seen any of these in the photos I've posted before today?  Nope.  In our "fine art" world, many consider them off limits as elements of acceptable art.  Why do we hide these bits of ourselves that make us human, that makes us male or female?  I am guilty of hiding them by putting them into shadow, covering them, etc.  Why?  Why hide them?

Parts of this argument can get into the porn vs. art debate.  Other arguments may include the crassness and baseness of the subject matter pulls the attention away from the art and makes the appearance of these parts the only noticeable element of the piece.  I can see both points.

I have no societal answers to these complex questions on showing our basic parts.  For myself though, I've am evolving my own aesthetic on when to include or occlude/obscure them.  It needs to come down to my intent of the piece.

I am growing more willing to include these items in my "published" art (my photos that are going to live out in the world, beyond the film negatives and my hard drive).  This applies to anuses, vaginas, genital labia, penises, etc.  For me to include them, they have to:
  • be integral to the purpose of the piece
  • not overwhelm the piece, unless there is a purpose for it to overwhelm
  • be acknowledged and/or approved by the model, knowing that this part is being shown.
I think all parts of human body can be beautiful.  I haven't photographed a nude male yet (other than myself), but find all parts of the male anatomy to have a purpose and role in art as well.

I guess much of this has been hashed out in the porn vs. art debate?   Is my intent of showing these bits for profit and exploitation, or is there an artistic reason behind it.  I am hoping for the latter.

* As much as I've enjoyed the deep metaphysical/cosmological/chronological posts of the past few days, sometimes it is important to explore the basic and close-by things in our lives as well.

** Latin scholars may stipulate that plural form of anus would be ani, but after a google search, it appears anuses is the modern accepted term.


The "big" of it all

Time (featuring Gabbi)* - 090212
I want to focus on the big picture as a conclusion to my series of posts on time.  It is easy to focus on the now, the world within a few feet of me, and the people I can see around me.  Even though I have a well established sense of object permanence, I still tend to disregard the big world around me that I am not immediately interacting with. 

My mind knows that my wife is at a church a few blocks away.  I know that my parents are probably getting in the car for their trip to their church.  I am sure President Obama and Governor Romney are talking about the election to some other people.  Even though I know all this stuff, I am not really thinking about it. 

Right now I am looking out at grassy area on the UC Berkeley Campus, drinking a tea (trying to soothe a sick stomach) and writing this.  A wall is behind me, a number of men are sitting in a random pattern in tables facing away from me.  My whole world can easily be summed up by what I am seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting at this moment.  This sense of "immediate-me" creeps into all my senses, including one of the senses we don't really count as a sense - the sense of time. 

When I was getting my first undergraduate degree**, I took two influential courses in the same quarter, geology and and astronomy.  It was in both of those classes that my concept of size, space, and time were challenged.  I held a rock that was over two billion years old.  I learned I was made of dust from stars long dead.  One night, my astronomy class used a telescope and I became a speck.    We looked at  a very faint, distant object and my professor mentioned that it was a very old star and that I was looking back in time, probably a few billion years.  He then told us that star probably didn't exist anymore and if it had a solar system, all its planets were burnt up and dust.  After looking back in time, I let my eyes adjust to the dark while standing in the cold mountain air and looked at the Milky Way floating above.  I got a glimpse into how long time really is.  The enormity hit me and I had to sit down and felt tears run down my cheeks due to the magnificent grandeur of it all and how damn insignificant I really am.

Someday you will have to say "goodbye" to the sun.
You will bid farewell to the moon, the sky, the clouds, and the stars.
As all things that live, we dim out to a smoking wick, our quiet goodbyes to those things that were  always with us acknowledge we were the grain and they were the beach.
They may not hear our goodbyes, but their existence in our beings need to be recognized and bid proper adieu. 

After that moment, I felt so insignificant in the great sense of time and space.  In the universe, I am less than a grain of sand and in the dimension of time I am less than a atomic flash.   When compared to the extreme greatness of both, there is no microscope powerful enough or time piece precise enough to measure or observe my existence.  This was (and sometimes still is) a pretty depressing realization, until I learned of another truth - the order of it all.

Our universe is spread across time and space.  It isn't haphazard or random.  Invisible forces keep it in order and can help us theorize on what has happened and predict what will happen.  Stars form from the dust of other dead stars.  From that, solar systems form, life my grow on a few planets, then the star dies out, one way or another and it starts over again.  The same is for humans, we are born, we grow up, some of us procreate, and we die.  All I have to do is live in the time I have, try not to harm others, help where I can, enjoy and experience the awe of it all, and die.  In the grand scheme of things, I really don't have much to do.   The weight of the universe is not on my shoulder and I am a tiny piece of lint on its broad shoulders.

* Please click on this to see the big picture.

** I am not bragging about my number of undergrad degrees.  I pissed away my first (psychology) by not getting good enough grades by being lazy.  This laziness cost me the chance to get into grad school and finding a job.  I went back for a second degree and did much better because of the hard lessons learned from my first one.