Hiking After the Rain

After what has seemed like weeks of rain I was finally able to go out and take photos today. I never realized before the impact that the weather has on photography, but it turns out that it's incredibly hard to take pictures in the rain. There were plenty of times that I wanted to take my camera with me, especially the Oakland Women's March, but I was too worried about damaging it and ended up leaving it behind. I went to Utah over winter break, hoping to get some photos of Zion National Park, but it was snowing so much that I wasn't able to do so. Thankfully, the weather has let up over the past couple days and it has brought back some of the inspiration that I lost over the past couple months.

My favorite thing to photograph is the nature in the Bay Area, and since the rain has prevented me from taking my camera out I lost a lot of interest in photography lately. However, yesterday I went out on a hike for fun, without my camera, and realized that I wanted to start taking photos again. It was actually nice that I didn't have my camera on that hike, though, because I find that there is a big difference between how I experience things with and without a camera. Today I revisited the same hike to take photos but I was looking at the same trees and creeks through the lense of what was appealing to the camera. Things that I found appealing the day before, like spots of sunshine hidden through the trees, weren't as appealing today if they didn't make good photos. Even though I love the photos that I did take, I feel that the integrity of the photos is sometimes compromised because I put pressure on myself to take photos that are just visually appealing and don't personally interest me.

It's not necessarily a requirement that the photos I take are appealing to me, but I think that part of art is that the artist has to have some intent behind their work. If I take a photo that doesn't affect me then what response am I expecting from a viewer? I shouldn't expect others to appreciate work that I don't appreciate myself, but it's difficult when the things that interest me aren't always the most visually appealing. I'm thinking that I want to start incorporating more written work with my photographs, as well as sounds possibly, because I sometimes feel that working in one medium isn't enough. Of course that could also be my lack of mastery in any one medium. There are certainly artists for whom one photograph can far surpass any written word, and writers who's poetry or prose produces an image more powerful than any visual medium. I don't think that either my photography or my writing are even close to being at that level, and so for me it makes sense that what my photos lack I could try to make up for with writing and visa versa.

The other reason that I'm drawn to mixed mediums is that I struggle with focusing all of my attention on one skill. When I am practicing photography then I wish I could be a writer, and when I'm practicing on my writing then I could be a painter or something. It's not enough for me to have one passion that I put all of my effort into. I'm just now beginning to start the process of looking at colleges, and one of the things that I've struggled with in the past is figuring out what I want to do in the future. I always thought that I couldn't find anything that I was passionate about, and that made me feel like I was missing some inspiration or dedication that other people had, but I don't believe that anymore. I now believe that my problem is that I'm passionate about too many things, and it is because of that that I can never settle on just one. That view on it doesn't exactly help me figure out what to do in college, but it makes me more confident about my interests and excited instead of disappointed about there being so many of them. Instead of trying to commit to one interest and then bailing on it once it doesn't completely satisfy me, I should try to incorporate my many interests into my life.

I'm going to keep taking photos as much as possible, but I also want to try out some new things. Maybe when I go on a photoshoot I also take some time to draw or write a few poems so that I don't get frustrated or sick of my photography. There's a lot that I have to explore in terms of what interests me, and I just hope that I figure out how to make them into a career or find some sort of goal to accomplish at some point.

Is Photoshop Inauthentic?

The subject of photoshop is pretty inevitable on a photography blog. There is so much controversy over whether photography should be photoshopped or not- it is often considered less authentic to edit photos, and of course there's the whole body image issue that comes with photoshopping models- and every photographer has to eventually decide how they feel about it. So far I haven't been able to decide whether I'm for or against photoshop, and maybe it's not a strictly for or against issue, but it's something that I need to consider.

I think at first I was pretty determined not to use photoshop at all on my photos. The concept of keeping art authentic sounds much more ethical than succumbing to the expectation of visual perfection. But we use photoshop in my art class, and so I started editing my pictures as a requirement and realized that it was actually pretty fun. What I also realized is that there isn't one "true" way to take a photo. There are all sorts of adjustments that can be made to the camera before taking a picture, especially digital, and two pictures taken back to back with no editing might look completely different. The aperture, shutter speed, white balance, lense type, and many other aspects change a picture drastically. Sometimes a photo might have a weird white balance and turn out looking blue, and then isn't it more authentic to color correct it in photoshop? I think so. I'm not sure then how much it matters whether a photo is edited before it's taken, with camera settings, or after, with photoshop.

A further dilemma for me, though, is deciding whether or not more dramatic edits are acceptable. There is certainly an argument that photoshop itself is an art, which I fully believe, but I also take some issue in the fact that photography is often viewed as a reflection of real life, and altering that seems deceptive. There are different kinds of photography obviously, and some focus more on portraying more realistic subjects, while others focus more on what the artist wants the viewer to see. Both can be beautiful, and most other forms of art are about artistic rather than realistic representation anyways, but somehow it feels different with photography.

If I edit all of my photos so that they barely resemble what I started with, even if the end result is beautiful art, then I start to feel like a fake. Am I really a photographer anymore, or am I a photoshop artist? It's sometimes impossible to distinguish because for the most part photographers need to use at least a little photoshop and photoshoppers need to be able to take feasible photos to work with. I'd like to toss photoshop away completely and focus solely on photography, but I don't think that's very realistic. There's no way to compete with photoshopped images when trying to get attention through social media or any format of attracting viewers.

I probably feel so conflicted about photoshop because I've struggled a lot in the past with social media. Photoshop and social media go hand in hand; both creating impossible standards which feel inauthentic and yet are challenging to fight against. I went through an entire year as a sophomore without any social media, and it definitely shaped my worldview so that I'm particularly adverse to inauthenticity. It was an incredibly freeing experience, and I found that I felt a lot better about myself without social media.

I also made a lot of other changes during that time- I cut my hair and stopped wearing makeup- but I think that deleting social media was the key that allowed me to make those changes. Being confident with your photography and being confident with your appearance are actually very similar issues. Sometimes I feel confident about my photos until I compare them to others and then I feel inadequate about them. When I didn't have social media, I realized that when I looked at myself in photos without makeup, especially compared with other photos of people, I hated the way my natural face looked. But when I wouldn't wear makeup on the weekends I would feel infinitely more love for myself when I looked in the mirror because I recognized that face as me, even if I didn't think that face was photogenic. Because I was such a big part of the social media culture I was swept up under the impression that being photogenic, was the standard for evaluating appearance and self-worth. When I deleted social media, I didn't look at photos of myself all the time, and I stopped wondering if they were pretty enough, and I stopped wondering if I was pretty enough.  

Without social media, I wasn't ever wasting time scrolling through my Instagram feed or sending endless Snapchats to my friends. When I was by myself I was really by myself, and spending time alone without any connection to other people is something that I have found to be essential to my well-being. The self-confidence and self-knowledge that I gained through rejecting social media was one of the most valuable things that I've experienced, and yet I've slowly begun using it again.

The problem is that after awhile of not using social media I felt myself becoming completely isolated from the world I was trying to be a part of. It's great to spend time alone, but when everyone else is in constant connection, it's becomes hard to connect with people when you don't understand most of what they talk about. If everyone at school is talking about a video they all saw, but you didn't because you don't have social media, then that's just one more conversation that you're left out of.

At first it seems like it's not a big deal to be left out of irrelevant conversations about viral videos and trends. A lot of times I was grateful not to be invested in things that seemed to pointless in the grand scheme of things, but after a year of being isolated from popular trends it starts taking a toll. Friends learn that they can't talk to you about anything going on in social media, which doesn't just involve videos and trends but actually involves people sharing what's going on in their lives. Everyone else has been completely up to date on their lives and can talk about everything that's going on, but I was the one person that needed to be filled in every time people would bring up anything, and after a while people would just dismiss me instead of explaining again.

It's great to be confident with yourself, but there are times when connections with other people are means for sacrificing some of your independence. I wanted to share my photography, and so I made a photography account on Instagram. It might not seem like a big deal, but making that step back into social media made a huge impact on me. I resent the idea that for my art to be seen I have to be part of such a competitive social climate, and now realizing how photoshop is affecting the popularity of photography on Instagram is causing me to feel trapped by social media again. The accounts with the biggest follower bases are those with perfectly manicured photos and not the more natural photographers. It's not right that in order to get people's attention your art needs to make an immediate impression. There is a reason that art is meant to be studied, and it's because it's worth more than a glance while scrolling through your feed, and yet only the images that instantly capture your attention with intense lighting and striking features get noticed.

The thing is that even though I don't love the idea of photoshop, I actually think that it's very useful and fun. It will be interesting to see how much I decide to edit my photos in the future and how I feel about my art because of it, but for now I'm just going to see what I can do with my photography and if something feels overedited then I will decide that I need to go back to what feels real to me.

David Hockney Project Plans

We're starting a new project in my photography class based on David Hockney's collage photography. I had a couple ideas that I want to try out, although I'm not sure how well I'll be able to execute them. One will be a collage panorama from the middle seat of my car, so that the image spans both side windows and the front dashboard. I already started working on this one (shown below), but in the final version I want there to be different scenes in each of the windows. It's supposed to represent how I view everything when I'm in my car, and each scene will be a different place I drive to show how that view is constantly changing. It might not end up as cool as I want it to be, but I like the idea and so I'll probably work on it more over Christmas break. It takes a really long time to take all the photos, and then assembling them takes even longer and is really frustrating to work with in photoshop. Because I'm choosing to use different scenes, I'm thinking that I'll need to create complete scenes from each location before I can pick which parts to mix into the final version. Basically I have a LOT of work ahead of me for something I'm not sure will turn out.

I think that's what art is supposed to be, though. It's something that should be enjoyable and exciting, something that you're willing to work on even if it doesn't turn out. My second idea is going to take even longer, and I'm hoping I won't get sick of this project before I finish it. I want to make a collage from a scene looking out at the bay, but to show the passing of time through the lighting from one side of the collage to the other. This means I will have to take photos of the scene over a long period of time so that I can catch the changes in the light. In theory, I'm planning to wake up early and start shooting right as the sun is rising, and then take photos every 30 minutes or so to catch different lighting. In reality, I'm not sure I'll want to wake up that early, and I'm not sure that I have the patience to wait for 30 minute intervals for multiple hours without moving far.

Commitment is what distinguishes artists. Actually commitment is what distinguishes any successful individual in their given profession. Sometimes I've wondered if photography is even worth trying to be good at because it's so easy for people to take photos now. What's the use of learning about photography if everyone can take stunning photos on their iPhone 6? I mean everyone gets lucky a few times and catches some amazing shots, even if they don't know how to take photos at all. The reason that there are still photographers, though, is that the real artists are the ones who take photos that can't be shot on accident. Real artists travel around the world for one good photo, or spend hours editing or shooting a timelapse. The standards definitely go up when everyone has the ability to take great photos instantly, but the boundaries of what's possible with photography are also expanded.

In the future, I want to be more connected with the intention behind my photography. My photos shouldn't be accidents, even if they are taken quickly or are unplanned. If I want my photos to mean something then they need to mean something to me during their creation, otherwise it's irrational to expect viewers to connect with them.

Creativity and Capitalism

I've been spending more and more time lately taking photos, reading, and singing- but a lot less time doing homework. I'm under the impression that there are two different sides to me: one that is academically ambitious and one that is creatively ambitious, but the two never exist at the same time. When I'm creatively ambitious, like now, I can't sit down and look at a math assignment for more than thirty seconds without being anxious and needing to turn on some music. It sounds like being lazy or being unable to concentrate, and it might be, except that I'm actually motivated to go take photos and do other artsy activities. It feels amazing to be so eager to create something expressive, and I'll never understand people who don't incorporate any form of creativity into their lives.

It makes me wonder, though, if an artistic career would be intellectually stimulating enough for me. I don't have the patience to sit and draw unless it's an assignment in class, and even after the longest time of being artistic, I always return to the more studious version of myself. There are times when I'm just as inspired by a couple hours of math homework as I am by a poetic song, despite how different the two are. I'm glad that I understand my necessity for creative and academic balance in my life, but how does that help me figure out what interests to pursue?

I hate to say that it's not logical for me to keep a balance throughout my life. Doing so would be constructing a boundary for my future before I even get a chance to experience it, and the people who set boundaries for themselves are the ones who end up following them for the rest of their lives. There are people in the world who have figured out their lives so completely, people who have figured out how to sustain their lifestyles without compromising their interests, and I want that! I just don't think that it's all that easy to achieve, otherwise everyone would be doing it. Instead, Jane Q. Public normally gives up her passion of playing the guitar in favor of a cubical in a corporate occupation. She does it because she needs security, and anyone who says they don't need security of some sort is lying. The trick then becomes finding security in an unorthodox way.

American capitalism, I believe, rewards two types of people: the game player and the game changer. The game player is a person who learns the exact workings of the system and uses it to their advantage. This person completes all their homework in school, performs to a standard, and grows up running straight into the familiar arms of corporate America. They will succeed because the corporate system is fun for them; it's a game but it's also their lives. The second person who benefits from capitalism is the game changer. The game changer is that idyllic American entrepreneur, the innovator who found a glitch in the system when no one was looking. Once they've succeeded, they become the model for emulation, but the irony is that their copycats can't succeed since their idea was only a success based on its uniqueness.

The rest of us in America, who aren't the game player or the game changer, are either lost in the illusion that we don't need to play into the system or that we can succeed by finding a way to be unique. A unique idea isn't half as effective when it's thought up in an attempt to be unique, and therefore is likely to fail, and deviating from the system without being definitively unique is even less effective.

Look at all the nice boundaries I've just set for myself! If I'm not unique then I won't succeed unless I play to the system. I know that it isn't true; I know that it's obscure, illogical, and unforgiving, but there's a part of me that buys into it despite myself. There are very few people in the world that don't buy into it at least a little. The philosophy of the American dream is the reason that students run themselves into the ground to get into college, why people give up their passions to pursue a more "realistic" life while others fail miserably in desperation to find a passion and be an individual.

Sorry if that's a horribly pessimistic note to end this on. I get cynical as hell when school is stressing me out, and finals are just around the corner. Maybe all teenage philosophies about life are fueled by the inability to enjoy life under so much school stress. Probably not, I'm pretty sure schools didn't used to be so goddamn competitive and teenagers still had pessimistic philosophies about life. I don't actually think that my life philosophies are all that pessimistic, I think they're just an attempt to understand the unsatisfactory paths I could take and figure out how to avoid them.

Coyotes and Wanting to Travel

I was out driving around the coast today, as usual, and I saw some pretty amazing wildlife. When I'm driving, I don't stop a lot to take photos because it kills the vibe a little to pull over, but I had my camera today and I ended up shooting a bunch. I was using my 70 mm lense which made it possible to take closer photos of the animals that I saw. There were some birds, some really neat vultures too, but what I'm psyched about is the coyote that I saw. It was on the side of the road as I was driving past and I pulled over a little ways down the road and started taking pictures from out of my window. The coyote walked into the middle of the street which made a great background and added perspective to the photos. While I was there, another car pulled over on the other side of the road to take pictures with a tripod. I love how many people I see around the Bay Area taking photos because it feels like a club, like I'm part of the photographers of Marin or something. There I was, on a coastal road without many other cars around, and me and a fellow photographer came to the same location to photograph the same coyote just across the street from each other. 

The Bay Area is definitely a travel destination for photographers, which makes me feel lucky to already live here. Still, I'm sure that most successful photographers don't just take photos of the area around their house. I can go to the city or around the coast, but after a while I want to change it up with different subjects and diverse landscapes. Most of my best photographs have come from traveling, and maybe that's just because traveling permits me to look at everything with fresh eyes. In Lebanon, everything was new to me; the architecture, the landscape, the people and their culture were all so different than anything that I'd encountered before. I was so intrigued by everything I saw that I took photos of everything, which ended up giving me a lot more opportunities to work on my photography and improve. Even people who might've seemed normal to the locals seemed incredibly interesting to me in a way that I find harder to feel about people at home. 

My trip to Wyoming and Utah had the same inspiring effect on my photography. There were so many open landscapes, which are vastly different from the mountainous coastal region I live in, and I wanted to capture how each moment felt to me. The feeling that I wanted to capture was that it was just me and the world, with no civilization in sight, and every breath I took was me breathing in the enormity of it all. 

That's how I want photography to be for me- an emotional experience rather than a random hobby. It's not exactly hard to become immersed in nature here, but I want to be able to change up my routine and travel alone. I'm not exactly hopeful that I will be able to, though, because, well, I'm sixteen and travel is a little more complicated when you're not an adult. In theory it shouldn't be that difficult; I can drive, I have money from work to stay places, and I know people in some other parts around the country that I could visit. In reality, however, I have parents who worry about me and I'm part of a society that doesn't particularly trust teenagers unaccompanied by adults in general. 

I'm running the risk of sounding like the most cliche teen ever but I can take care of myself. Please don't call me naive for saying that. I'm not saying that I won't ever run into a situation that I need help with, or that there aren't people and problems that I might be unprepared for, but who the hell is prepared for everything in life? Certainly the adults around me aren't, and while experience is definitely a big determining factor in situational competence, it's necessary to gain that experience through encountering unfamiliar situations and figuring out how to deal with them on your own. I want to take photos, not run off and join the circus. The definition of maturity that I agree with the most is being able to know your own limits. By accepting that I'm too young to travel on my own, which I believe to be untrue, then I'm not trusting my maturity to know my own limits. Instead I let society determine what I am and am not ready for, which in itself is an example of immaturity. Conversely, if I assert my competence, then I'm viewed as even less mature because if my opinion of my limits differs from that of the people around me then I must be wrong. Teenagers are screwed if they do and they're screwed if they don't. Catch 22.

But before I go down that rabbit hole (which I really could say a lot about), I'll end this post by saying that there is a difference between being naive about your own limits and knowing yourself enough to understand that pushing them is in your best interest. 

Photography is an Uphill Battle

I've been developing some new film prints for a street photography project. Film always gives photos a great aesthetic, but I have so many issues with it. Firstly, one of my three rolls turned black in the developing process. I've never messed up an entire roll that badly before and it felt pretty horrible. Right after it happened I was thinking back to an article that I read in psychology about how humans predict their own happiness. It claimed that humans predict that events in their lives will affect them much more than they do in reality, so we predict that we will be much happier about something, like buying a new car, than we really are in the long run. We also predict that negative events will devastate us for longer than they do, and I find this thought to be calming. Even though I was upset about my film, I realized that I would soon move on from it, after I accepted that the images were gone, and I'd continue working with what I had.

Photography is not a good hobby for someone who is high strung like me. I like things to be perfect in my life, and knowing that there was a photo opportunity that I missed drives me insane. I've had to learn to let a lot of things go, which has probably been good for me. Film especially takes a long time to set up, so it's easy to miss photo opportunities which can be aggravating. Once I've missed an opportunity or ruined a photo somehow, I tend to reflect on that photo as if it was the best photo I could've taken and now I'll never see another one like it. That's such a black and white view on things because this whole photography thing is supposed to be about learning and developing my style, not finding a single career-making photo that will fulfill all of my aspirations at once. The goal is, at least in theory, to acquire a skill set that can be utilized frequently and improved upon. If I miss one photo, then I just have to learn to be quicker, or to remember to fix the exposure right, and another opportunity will come along soon enough for me.

I don't think of myself usually as a go-with-the-flow type of person, and not as a creative type either, which is why photography has been so interesting to me. My approach to it is probably more analytical than it is imaginative. There are some people that I would peg immediately as artists and creative geniuses, but I think that anywhere I've gotten with art in the past has been because I had a goal, not because of any natural passion. Sometimes it's frustrating when I want to be making some sort of art, probably because in theory it's a great way to announce uniqueness, but I don't feel like I've ever had a single thing that I was passionate about. Some people just draw all the time because they really love it, and I'm learning to love photography, but it feels more like an uphill battle. The problem is that I expect it to be a talent that I'm either gifted with or that I'm completely without. Life would be so much easier if we each had one thing that we were good at, that we loved, and that we didn't have to think about.

Unfortunately that's not the case for most people, especially me. I get discouraged when I'm not immediately good at something, and admitting that I might improve only after starting from a place of ineptness doesn't come naturally to me. So that's what photography is in my life right now- it's the hobby that's challenging the way I view innate ability, causing me to reevaluate and instead find that ambition plays a bigger role in talent than I'd expected. Photography is teaching me that even when I think I've mastered a technique or understand a concept, I almost certainly haven't, but that doesn't mean that I have to give up by any means.

Putting myself out on a platform as anything other than perfection isn't a pleasant idea for me. Posting images that aren't absolutely stunning or writing a blog that might not be at the standard of a professional writer makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. It is giving people the ability to judge my work as failure before I get the chance to come to that conclusion first, but being able to do so is how people adapt and become better versions of themselves. It's easy for me to get caught up mulling over some idea in my head about being a photographer or a writer, but until those ideas tested, they will just remain ideas.

I was really just meaning to write about how irritating film can be, but maybe this blog is going to be a little more philosophical than I'd anticipated. How much honesty exactly is appropriate for a public audience? I write a lot privately but having an image attached to what I write will probably change the dynamic of my writing somehow. Or maybe it won't, in which case this should be interesting!

Sunset

I was up at Sunset this Friday and, as usual, the view was absolutely amazing. There's this one spot that my friends and I usually go to that overlooks Stinson and Bolinas. I'm not sure if the whole area up there is officially named Sunset or if that's just what people call it but it's definitely one of my favorite places. It's pretty cold up there this time of year but somehow I think that it makes the view more amazing.

I drove there by myself with a book and sat reading while the sun went down. While I've had a lot of fun in the past at Sunset with friends, there are times when being alone allows me to fully feel how spectacular nature is. Hiking alone is incredibly therapeutic, especially at times when there's a lot on my mind. That and driving are probably my two favorite things to do, although I'm sure the fact that I live in such a beautiful place is the reason. 

This blog is going to be a place for me to share photos and events in my life. I'm not exactly sure what my posts will be like or if there will be a sort of theme to this blog. It might just be anything that I find interesting enough to take a photo of like this sunset, shot on iPhone 6 by the way ;) but I might share other things unrelated to photography. However it ends up, I'm going to be posting my actual photography in the galleries section of this site and I'm excited to finally have a place to showcase some of the photos I take!