Developing muscle memory and fluid technique is almost as important as developing a sense of purpose.

Each race teaches us something new.
If you've been reading the blog for a while you probably know that one of my other passions, beside writing and photography, is swimming.  Which seems like something quite different from the other two activities.  But it is and it isn't.  All three depend on technique.  All three require practice.  Daily practice if you are to really master the crafts of swimming, writing and photography.  And to do all three at the level at which I'd like to do them requires discipline.  But more than anything else they all require a sense of purpose.  Why do we do these things?
What do they mean to me?  I don't photograph because I love the feel of the industrial design icons in my hand, I photograph because I see things that are interesting to me in the world and I want to share them.  I see faces that have emotions in them and I want to make the faces visual touchpoints in my ongoing dialogs about human nature and cultural existence.

I don't photograph landscapes because they rarely inform my running internal dialog about what makes people tick.

                                                                             I photograph people to share a point of
view about our shared existence.  I find the human condition, and growing old within the context of a constant cultural evolution fascinating.

If you are in photography because it seems like a "neat" hobby where you get to play with "cool" toys and show off technical mastery of one sort or another then you may have chosen the wrong hobby.  Or maybe you've just chosen to read the wrong blog about                                              photography because I will gently and         not so gently chide you to focus on only photographing in the service of
that which really interests you.  If it's beautiful woman I will respect you more than if it's to show off how sharp your camera and lens combinations are at 100% on your monitor.  The first just means you are attracted to feminine beauty.  No great sin.  But the second category means you are boring and that's just inexcusable.  Because the world around you/us is so rich and well stocked with things to be passionate about.  I'm in the camp that believes in the practice of photography as passionate sharing.
 So what does this have to do with swimming?  Swimming, at its core, is the mastery of dozens of interlinked techniques, an integration of interdependent movements, the understanding (both viscerally and intellectually) hydro-physics and a commitment to both mental toughness and commitment. (No,  I didn't write that wrong).

To compete with the people in these photographs you also have to be committed to doing hard daily work.
 Exercise.  The only way to swim well is to practice all the mental techniques and physical techniques every day.  And if you want to use these techniques to swim fast then you have to practice swimming fast, everyday.

Just as photographers only get better when they find more profound intersections between risk and immersion.  Immersion and technique. What made Avedon one of my favorite image makers was his relentless drive not just to photograph
but to push the boundaries of known
photography and to bring his vast technique (honed daily) to bear on things that he feared not being able to capture.  In essence you see better by looking harder and in different ways.  And all of that takes discipline.  And as you get older and life gets ever more fractured it takes more and more commitment to discipline to keep moving forward because there is always a temptation to attempt too many other things and to rest on your laurels.

When I look at these photos of the 2008 Masters National Meet, held at
 UT I see faces frozen in concentration and resolve.  I see people who've gotten up every morning for a decade or two decades or, in some cases, six decades and gotten themselves to a chilly pool in the early hours while everyone else stands in line at Starbucks waiting to slurp down some candy coffee and maybe a big scone and then get in their "couch on wheels" and head to the office to settle into a soft chair and work through "processes" all day long.
These are the people who've never
surrendered to the idea that it's okay        just to give up.  To give up on finding new ways to juggle time and energy that makes it possible to achieve.

I recently watched several people in my swim team pound out five thousand yards of hard swimming on a typical saturday morning.  They were swimming at an aerobic level that might do in people who are out of shape and half or a quarter of their ages.  I watched sixty year olds swim practice times that would have qualified them for Olympic trials in games a few decades ago.

And they pounded out (I should say, "powerfully glided through...") 140 to 180 laps of the pool before hopping out and heading on to start the same full days as everyone else.

And, in the end what is the benefit?  Well, statistically, if they are still swimming in their sixties they will live at least eleven years longer than the general population.  While they are living they will be more mobile and more fit.  Better able to deal with physical and mental challenges and they will have manufactured enough of their own self-discipline to master just
 about anything they decide to do.  And with mastery also comes confidence.

Again, what does this have to do with photography? Plenty.  Pushing through to a daily practice means making technique second nature and seeing with more focus and discernment.

Commitment to a showing the rest of us the beauty of your vision allows you to distill your vision down until it gains maximum power.  And like most

pleasures in life the daily habit means it's easier to change gears from other commitments back to photography without everything being a big deal.

I shot commercially yesterday and I have another job booked for tomorrow.  Today I've been doing pre-production on a two day food shoot for next week, but all through this schedule the one thing I want to do is walk with my camera, meet people and shoot for my own pleasure.  It's not the same doing jobs.  It doesn't matter how much you like the project or
client.  And so I resent not being able to leave the desk and shoot today.  Because that's part of my daily practice.

How do swimmers do it?  They decide they want to swim strong and fast and they make time for swimming.  If they can't swim at the crack of dawn they find an evening program.  The really committed ones jot down a workout on an index card and head to the local lake, pool, river and go.  I swim at 7am.  But I cheat because I have to drop off my kid at
cross country practice at 6:45am and
the pool is just around the corner from his drop-off.  I only miss a swim if I have a job booked.  And usually I head back to the pool when the project is over and make up the lost yards.

Photography is even easier once you've settled on what it is you love to look at.  What it is you feel compelled to share.  You don't need to get wet.  You can bundle up against the cold.  You probably won't get and ear infection....
But it seems harder to get started.
Remember when you made a New Year's resolution and you decided you were going to loose those extra 25 pounds.  You did it by starting an exercise program.  And it hurt at the beginning.  Your muscles were sore and you were out of breath.  The only way to make it work was to go out every day and do as much as you could.  Then you came home sweaty and tired but you liked the results so you resolved to do it again the next day.

Photography is like that. So is writing.
People are always amazed when I turn out a seven or ten blogs a week but really it's all practice.  It's writing practice.  And I get to experiment with words and structure and pacing.  And the more I write the faster and (I hope) clearer I become.  The more direct and focused my messages become.

Enough.  What makes photography fun? Learning what you love to show and learning how to craft an image that really shares that love and reaches out and makes a connection with a viewer.
 And how do you get there?  Once you know what conversation you want to have you re-write and re-write.  If you are a photographer you work on shooting and shooting again.  If you are a people photographer you work on getting out of your shell and learning what makes people tick.  And then doing it again but getting closer this time.

Funny thing about swimmers.  They can't really be gear heads.  It's basically just a set of goggles ($20 max) and a
swim suit (men $25, women $50) and
 you're done shopping for the year.  So that part of the technique doesn't get in the way.

One camera.  One or two lenses and you're done.  The important thing is how you use them and how often you use them.

I'm going to suggest: Daily.

Intention?  That has to come from you.  But I would suggest that, as a functional person, you no doubt find things in life that spark you up.  Give you pleasure, satisfaction, happiness.  That inflate your will to live.  Distill down to those things and make them the base of your art.  Then the intention will drive everything else.

I intend to be swimming well into my 90's.  I intend to have a camera along with me for the ride.....

Daily practice.  After work.  Before work.  All you need is your intention and the simplest of cameras.
But every day, rain or shine, world class athletes practice their craft.  How
can you expect to gain remarkable vision without daily practice?
When you leave work you might grab your camera and go out to explore.
And when you do you might find the thing you love to shoot.  And then you
can spend your life joyously making your message more and more
beautiful and easier to transmit.  The camera is meaningless without a
focused passion.  Find yours.

If your pictures aren't fun enough then you lack a sense of humor.

I see stuff all the time that tickles me.  Makes me laugh.  Makes me happy to be alive.  And I try to photograph it.  This image is one of those vignettes.  And believe me, there was no way for me to sneak a subtle, voyeuristic street shot.  Nope, I was using a normal lens on a big medium format film camera and I walked up until I was about ten feet away from these gentlemen, I smiled, raised the camera and clicked the shutter.  They let it all roll past.  I was a tourist.  A mild annoyance.  Here and then gone.  And that's fine with me but I'll always remember the moment of joy when I first saw them posing at one of the many side streets leading into the Piazza Navonna.  It was visual love at first sight.  Was I embarrassed?  Nope.  I was too busy trying to fight my natural, cultural resistance to directly interacting with strangers in public.  Was I afraid?  In one of the last bastions of civilization?  Hardly.

Medium format camera.  Normal lens.  Black and white film.

Old Cameras. New Cameras. Old Pictures. New Pictures.

Belinda and I were talking about the emotional differences between film and digital workflows as we sat in the shade of a skinny tree, on the little bluff overlooking the starting line for Ben's cross country race in Cedar Park.  It was 10:15 in the morning and the sun was already warming everything up.  It's not as far fetched a conversation as you might imagine since my wife is a very competent graphic artist and was one of the first designers in Austin to buy a Mac, along with an early, early rev of Pagemaker (page design software)  and start doing electronic print production back in 1985....

She's been figuring out the quirks and treasures of computer since long before many of her competitors were born.  And, interestingly enough, in early times there were no websites to consult.  No Lynda.com for training wheels and no online support for the relentless software and hardware conflicts.  Fast peripherals were SCSI, etc.  I remember that her Mac SE30 had four megabytes of RAM and a 30 megabyte hard drive.   It was pioneer days.

I was trying to work through my guilt at re-embracing medium format film and since she's the smartest person I know  (makes me look like I'm playing chess with only pawns....) I was bouncing my quandary off her.  Spending money on consumables in a down economy.  Trying to re-invigorate old tech instead of moving ahead....

Young people who were raised on digital can deal emotionally with: How ephemeral digital files can be.  How hard old files can be to find.  The reality that the work you did on a digital camera five or eight or twelve years ago can look and feel primitive compared to the model you are working with today.  And, finally, the ease of slamming stuff out and the lack of financial skin the game with each shot seems to relentlessly devalue photography.  You can see that in falling prices and the wholesale commodification of the industry.

By comparison, film has a permanence that's undeniable.  No need to migrate and migrate and migrate your work in order to preserve it.  A good filing cabinet and well ordered folders are all it takes to be able to access your work in minutes.  And if film decays during your lifetime it will do so gracefully.  Finally, the images we shot on black and white film in the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's still look as technically perfect as they always did.  They are still, for all intents and purposes at least the equal of most modern digital cameras (excluding the highest res medium format machines).

Now none of this will matter to a generation that never savored the magic of film and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that it's safe and sound and insoluble in the filing cabinet.  That, if a scanned file becomes corrupted at worst it means a trip back to the filing cabinet and back to the scanner...And I know the IT people who entered this field WHEN it became digital will have all sorts of counter rationalizations.  Be forewarned, I'm not a zealot looking for converts I'm frankly explaining my gut level dissatisfactions.....

Subconsciously, when I shoot digital cameras all the limitation of storage and retrieval, the need for computers and hard drives, the ambiguity of whether what I shoot today will be acceptable in ten or fifteen years (technically) all conspire to make me shoot with a ton of baggage heaped on my rational shoulders.

Belinda said it like this:  "I learned how to work in Premiere and a bunch of different programs to make websites and other web based advertising but the realization that no two screens share an objective point of view, that type invariably looks different on different browsers and different operating systems take away the purity of my design.  The uncertainty of presentation ruins my enjoyment of design.  I'm dedicated to being a print designer for as long as there is print.  I'll do websites and what-not but I don't have the passion for that medium which I do for print.  I can hold a print piece in my hand and share it.  But I can't send out a website or an e-mail ad and know that it will look the way I intended it to on someone's phone, a non-Apple pad, a poorly calibrated or uncalibrated monitor or on someone's 6 bit laptop screen and that bothers the artist in me."

By the same token, as I've said before, the intention for most film projects was to hit paper as a final destination.  That paper could have been a luscious sheet of double weight, fiber paper with a luxurious surface and an endless mix of subtle tones and colors or a post card or an annual report, but when it hit paper it had an objectivity that can't be matched and a permanence that seems emotionally and practically unavailable on the web.  When you add the hundreds of ways it can be compressed, re-profiled, re-sized and generally fucked up you cease to have the same pride of ownership and presentation and you quickly find that intended presentation on the web IS the thing that lowers all of your images to their lowest common denominator.  It's like making a beautiful prints and the putting it under four or five layers of imperfect plastic and then looking at the melange through tinted sunglasses in a badly lit bathroom......

If you haven't practice technique at the highest levels you can::  Locked down on a tripod.  Well lit and exposed.  With medium format film or an extremely high res sensor.  And then printed it out or had it printed out as large (20x20 inches and larger) premium quality prints you really can't imagine the difference in seeing images in print versus seeing them on even the best monitors.  

So, what do we do?  We can slow down, improve our techniques and aim for big print presentations.  Film or digital origins don't matter.  But until we work for objective metrics of perfection it's all just a crap shoot.

For me?  Portraits and art for me come in squares. Whether shot with a Pen or an Hblad on film the out put is the measure of success.  I'll shoot film when I shoot portraits for myself.  I'll shoot digital for things that go to the internet and I'm sure it will all cross over from time to time but......all these things are ideas we should examine.   At least when I pull a negative from 1979 it still has all of it's technical promise intact and can be scanned to breathtaking sizes, with high sharpness and quality.  I can't say that about a file from a Nikon D1 from just ten years ago.......

In the end I haven't solved any of the issues.  I've probably confused myself even more but the first step to resolving this kind of discord is the understanding that it exists.