I’m sure I’m not alone in my inspiration and excitement that the new year brings. I suppose that’s why most of my blog posts tend to start out strong around the first of the year and taper off into months of silence. Here’s hoping this year won’t follow suit; I’m once again hoping to move mountains in order to pursue my non-linear dreams. Much as I was this time last year, my path is unmapped, uncharted, unknown. In tandem with the demands of the day-to-day, the great unknown is quite frightening and, at times, discouraging.
I spent the first day of the new year with two very inspiring musicians and dear friends who have taken the jump and are chasing the dream full-time, which has reignited my momentum. I still desperately want this journey to be even remotely linear, so I suppose that means I’m in the planning stage. I have to know what I want, which I hope to distill in the next few days. More as a mission statement than the usual New Year’s Resolutions.
I also recognize this blog has been far too neglected and I really intend to utilize it as a means of discourse while I sort out what it means to be a Performing Arts Photographer. I had grand aspirations for my early posts, portfolio-esque even, but that isn’t the most realistic or efficient use of this tool. So much of my work and my general outlook is grounded in academia, so it stands to reason that I might be better served if I try to use this platform as an ever-evolving thesis. A graduate school alternative, if you will.
Despite having every intention to post with any regularity for the last several (ouch) months, I’ve been living in quite the whirlwind and, yes, some of that does involve my photography!
I am officially in business as Elizabeth Oltman Photography!
Website, business cards, etc. are all in the works, which is one of the reasons I think I haven’t been posting – every time I want to write an update, I realize I’m not as far along and don’t have as much good news as I had hoped to announce… so I try to work on that instead of writing. oops. Speaking of which… better get back to work!
I could probably be described as a very lazy control freak.
I’m not saying I am, but that I could sometimes be described as such. Occasionally.
And that would certainly apply to how I approach my photography – When I know I can’t achieve the image I want, I don’t bother. I’ll let the image find me.
Well, this year – or at least this month – I am attempting to shake things up a bit. Last year, I designated a Song of the Day for each of the 366 days of 2012. As much fun as that was, I didn’t think I could keep it up for an additional year (I may give myself serial challenges of one week here or one month there), so I’m taking on the challenge of posting a photo of the day. I know dozens of people who participate in creating and following user-generated schedules of what to focus on for each day (sky, trees, small objects, self portrait, etc.), but that’s just a wee bit too rigid for how I like to work. Maybe I’ll challenge myself to one of those months later on, but not for now. And obviously, this blog would be the perfect outlet for posting said photos, but I’ve been agonizing over when to post a collection of the images – at the end of each week, month, etc. – and of course 31 days doesn’t exactly divide cleanly for aesthetic purposes, so I’ve continued to put it off.
Well no more! I have designated my 21 photographs for the previous 21 days of 2013 and that divides rather nicely!
Additionally, this becomes a lesson in letting go of that artistic control. The photos I select for each day aren’t the images that describe my point of view as a photographer. They aren’t even the most compositionally interesting. But they are my life. And that’s good enough for me.
I’m actually writing this while editing my “year in review” post because I need to express something that would completely disrupt the flow I’ve spent the last hour cultivating. Now, to jump right in:
I am not a risk taker. I play it safe. But I like to pretend that I’m not.
Photography is my passion. I would spend my life making photographs. But I know now that, while I am still an amateur, I have no business in formal education (see: grad school).
Ok, I think I can say it now, after much reflection: I respectfully hated my latest photography class. Maybe I just wasn’t in-tune with myself artistically when I signed up, but I was never nurtured into developing an idea; I was pushed, almost dismissively. I did learn a lot regarding technique – and what types of photography were not my strong suit/invoking passion. It’s taken some time for me to get enough distance to realize that. I really (really) enjoy production photography (like you couldn’t figure that out), but because productions are few and far between, and my style is intentionally non-invasive, I could never find a way to tailor that to the weekly class assignments, so my final series was the result of awkward tug-o-war with my professor. Sure, I walked away with some striking landscapes and a better working knowledge of Photoshop, but I lost my voice as a photographer. I put away my camera, only pulling it out for staged productions and behind-the-scenes documentation during filming. All year. That’s it.
I’m writing this during a naturally contemplative time (end of the year, start of a new one) and am finally able to admit to what I’ve said above. But I have another: I’m scared of photography. And I’m still trying to figure out what that means.
A few years ago I received a copy of Annie Leibovitz At Work as a parting gift at the end of an internship, and it confirmed for me that photography is an essential part of who I am. The way she captured so much from each of her subjects, either by creating the moment or discovering it (isn’t it always a little of both?) in such a way that the viewer couldn’t possibly know for sure. But taking this volume of pure inspiration and applying it to my life? I was terrified! I thought for sure I could never do portraiture. I was too timid to lead my subject in the dance. So I assured myself that passive landscapes and lifestyle shots (candids) were all I really needed, and I would supplement that with my waning passion in the theatre and produce thousands of images of production photography.
Theatre is a gateway drug. It’s just one of those universal truths, don’t ask me how. So it comes as no surprise that my non-invasive style of production photography soon invited requests for head shots and I finally understood why so many great photographers shoot actors! Comfortable with exploring gesture and character alone or with direction, actors rarely ever shy away from the camera (or at least the ones I know). I think I’ve always worried that my portraiture would look more like the awkwardly posed senior photos peppering the final pages of high school yearbooks than the striking images I see published in books and magazines. And for that, I’ve never let myself try. But I’m putting an end on that silly behavior once and for all. Because I’ve finally realized something important: If I’m true to my photography, there’s no way I can fail. I’m just sharing how I see the world.
It seems almost cliche to write a “year in review” post, especially since my writing has been so sparse, but that’s not going to stop me! I’m ready to say goodbye to what’s quite possibly the most densely packed year I’ve ever experienced, for better or worse.
For me, at least, 2012 was a year of change. The End of an Era. (many eras!) It was a year of loss. The close of a chapter. I graduated from college (the end of the “formal education” era) with my BA in Communications and Political Science. I also lost several people very close to me, or the ones I love, as well as my two dear pets, throughout the year.
But the year also presented me with many opportunities. I found a job that really excites me and constantly keeps me on my toes. I’ve reignited old friendships and discovered new ones. I’ve started drinking brewed coffee and beer! I’ve traveled (a cruise to Cozumel and a trip to Boston/Mt. Washington for a wedding)! I got a new iPhone AND an iPad!
The best part? I’ve learned a lot from 2012.
For many reasons, 2013 is the start of something new. It’s the Chinese Year of the Snake (hell yeah!). It’s my first year on my own-ish (it still counts, despite having moved back home). Last year was a year en flux; I never really seemed to catch my footing. It was hard to find my rhythm, hard to know who I was or what any of it meant. But I’m taking owning this opportunity for new. And a very large part of that is how I engage with photography.
I’ll say it: I took myself too seriously. I took my photography too seriously. (I took a lot too seriously.) And much of my 2012 was spent grappling with the conundrum of many a photographer: where does “capturing the world” end, and “experiencing the world” begin. I’m still working to figure that out, but this time, I’m not going to deny myself of my camera (yeah, I actually did that) unless I have a “shooting assignment.” But all of that is about to change.
I’ve obviously been on a photographic hiatus (or at least a blogging hiatus) and I’m done with it! This week I’ve been photographing (my much beloved mentor) Kathleen Campbell’s last theatrical production at Austin College, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Last night’s dress rehearsal, I seemed to be tripping over the other three photographers invited to shoot the performance, which made me thankful that I had sat in on the previous 4 rehearsals (especially when my camera died before Act II and I shot the rest on my iPhone 4S). Seeing the other photographers, with various backgrounds in photography, though not necessarily as theatrical photographers, got me thinking about the work I began last fall in my Shapers paper and how I’ve had so many more experiences as a theatrical photographer since then. I’m strongly considering revisiting the study, and possibly revising it – perhaps as a conversation between myself last year and where I find myself today. Some of my assertions in Ethics & Practices (2011) don’t seem to hold water like my naive, undergraduate self had hoped, which is actually pretty neat. It allows me to learn from what I had once believed as gospel, as well as re-evaluating my last tie to my beloved theatre department.
— It really has been nice to feel that I am still contributing to the department, especially in a medium that isn’t necessarily saturated, at least not in the way it had been in years past. [Thanks, KAE!] Yes, there may be several photographers on campus for the various campus offices (College Relations, Yearbook, Campus newspaper, etc), but when I shoot, I do so to give back to those who made it possible.
Ok, I’m going to stop myself before I start revising Ethics & Practices here and now. But hopefully I’ll be back again soon, and this time, less rambly.
The last few months have been… hectic, to say the least. Or, maybe, ‘frustrating artistically’ is a better turn of phrase.
Those last few weeks of spring semester, I worked diligently on my Sherman. Still Life. series, yet I wasn’t granted a Senior Galleried Show. While I was understandably frustrated (I gave up auditioning for the final show of the theatre season and my college career, but such is life.), I ate my pint of ice cream and pressed on. I really poured over the things said in my last few critiques and produced some large-scale prints I was really quite proud of. So there was that. But then I moved out of my spacious little dorm room (no, really.), and my digital portfolio with my photography from the entire semester disappeared before I could post much of it online! Including thousands of shots documenting our production of You Can’t Take It With You.
Once I got settled in at home, the transition didn’t really take and I was pretty consistently blue. I had no photography to focus on, no people to surround myself with, a good friend in the theatre passed, my littlest dog passed without warning, and the job I applied for passed me up without an interview. Then, a little over a month ago, I got a call about a job interview that I hadn’t even known to apply for. It was everything I was looking for and never thought I’d find so soon after graduation. Almost immediately after, my dad took me on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico for graduation! It was a curious experience; took so many photographs and used my time away to reflect on the first half of the year and muse on things to come. During the drive north, I got the job offer I hoping for. I started the day after Independence Day and have been humming along ever since.
I think that, because of everything that’s transpired these last few months, it was really difficult to sit here and type it out. Nearly a month has passed since the cruise and I’ve only just looked at my photos and uploaded them to my various portfolios.
I’m hoping that, with this entry, I’ll start to strike a more comfortable balance between existence and passion.
Good news! Sherman Still Life was approved and I’m hitting the ground with a speed-walk mall walkers would envy running! My next critique is tomorrow (in addition to a scanner/photogram assignment), so it’ll be a very busy night!
Incidentally, I got the first rolls of film developed from the Slim Devil and it might be my new favorite camera! Luckily, I’ve been stock-piling the rolls Tracz has given me the past few classes, so, between the Slim Devil and the Lensbaby mount for my Nikon, I’ll be shooting with greater focus over spring break!
Now for the less-stellar news: last week, we had a demo of unique techniques when making photograms and without even developing, my hands and legs have started breaking out. It looks like I’ll predominantly be working in the digital lab this semester. Additionally, my standard formula for my morning coffee is slightly on the disappointing side today. So it goes.
This is quite possibly my last weekend to work in theatre. I designed the lights for Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story at Austin College – and I JUST found out that one of my photographs of the show accompanies the official press release! It is a very bittersweet time. Auditions for our next show, You Can’t Take It With You, is this coming Monday, but I have decided that I need to take this time to focus on my photography. It was a difficult decision to come to, but I know it is absolutely the right one.
Another difficult decision I made this week is in regards to my series for Art Senior Conference. I had originally proposed to explore the relationship between women and their makeup through the application of tribal warpaint, an idea I’m still very interested in, but I have to put it aside for now. I realized this week that I simply do not yet possess the skill nor the time to fully realize my vision and am enough of a perfectionist that to dedicate myself exclusively to an endeavor that may, in my eyes, fail is a slight waste of time. So I am modifying my intent for the semester and shelving the warpaint idea, instead I’m tossing around a few possibilities, like a pictorial love letter to my hometown. I recognize that to grow as a photographer, I need to not only play to my strengths, but confront my weaknesses and while my biggest weakness is portraiture, my strengths lie in what I’m calling Sherman Still Life. which would be an AWESOME title for a show… I really don’t know which direction to go… Maybe I should meet with Tracz and talk it out or maybe I should meditate on it more. Or better still, maybe I should continue to challenge myself while photographing everything and see what themes shake out.
Feel free to take a look at an assortment of my work. I would love outside opinions!
Continuing our work with unusual cameras (last week was pinhole – which I will post soon), my current assignment is toy cameras! I’ve borrowed the little black Slim Devil from the Art Dept. and am told to expect wide-angle shots with a little more lens flair. The Diana was a birthday present and this will be my first time to actually play with it, now that I can actually develop 120 b&w I have to send off my rolls of color, but the Art Dept should pay for it!!! and I haven’t used the little red since I was in the single digits, so I’m excited to see the results. The best part about my little toy cameras: I can easily fit all 3 into my purse!
I’m thinking of using this time, when I can find free time, to start WarPaint as self portraits and working outwards from there. If only color film processing was a little easier/cheaper, I’d do my whole series this way!