It’s not hyperbole to say I see art, and inspiration to create art, everywhere. It might be seeing a passing image on the internet (such as the image above of a Shirana Shahbazi exhibit). It might be seeing a particular tree through my hot pink aviator shades. It might be a memory of reading Frog and Toad books when I was a small person.
I quite literally get ideas from any and every place.
I grew up in the late ’70s/early ’80s, and I find the aesthetics from that time have shaped so much of what I find pleasing. It probably didn’t hurt that many of my early years were spent outside, in an elaborate garden, marveling at the beauty and mystery of nature. I paid attention to tiny things, and that attention gave me an appreciation for minute changes.
Back in 1998, a colleague of my parents (they had long since become professional photographers) needed an office manager. His name was Shawn and he owned his own studio. At the time, he was the most expensive photographer in the area. I interviewed with him and was offered the job.
At first I was doing all office-related activities. I was masking negatives (yes, this was back when film was still the norm), scanning and designing albums in the (for the time) fancy computer system, and meeting with clients.
One day he told me he wanted me to understand how the studio lights worked in case he needed me to get things set up for him. I was agreeable and we spent maybe 15 minutes on studio lights. Another day, he told me he wanted me to understand how the Hasselblad worked (we shot all portraits and wedding formals with the medium format camera), so we spent no more than 30 minutes going over how to change the film in the detachable backs, and how to use the meter reader.
It was a cursory lesson at best.
The next week, he phoned me to let me know he wouldn’t be coming in that day. I asked if he wanted me to phone his one appointment for the day (a senior portrait session), and he said, and I quote: “Nope! You’re going to do it!”
And he hung up.
I panicked. I mean I panicked HARD.
Allow me to sidetrack here for a moment. Not only was Shawn the most expensive photographer in the area, but he was also one of the most technically and artistically proficient. People got what they paid for. So I was facing a portrait session where people were paying top dollar for Shawn, but were about to get ME.
A mother and father showed up with their son, and they were all lovely people. I took them up to the dressing room to see what clothes they brought and to ask where they wanted to have the outdoor photos done. We agreed on what he would wear and I waited down in the studio to shoot the formal indoor shots.
I did okay. I couldn’t believe it, but I did okay. We made it through the studio session and decided to venture further downtown to a park area. Once we got there, the high school senior seemed awkward so I tried to put him at ease. I was changing film in the camera and his mother actually made the following comment: “Well it’s not as thought this is your first shoot!”
Of course not.
I tried to refocus (no pun intended) and work at getting the best shots I could. We finally finished. When I sent those negatives off to the lab, I had no idea what I’d get back.
Two days later when the negatives returned, I was shocked. The images, while certainly not at Shawn’s level, were actually good. When the family came back to look at them on the big screen television, they loved them. I couldn’t believe it. They spent several hundred dollars and I just remember being dumbfounded.
Shawn was so pleased he had me shoot the next senior portrait session. That one came out even better than the first (and I still have a couple of prints from it somewhere), and I will never forget what Shawn said to me when we saw them on the television for the first time. “If the second shoot I’d done came out like that, I’d be a far wealthier man.”
It humbled me then and it humbles me now. He was one of the first people to really believe in me about something. I never wanted to let him down.
Over time, he shifted more and more of the shooting to me. I’d take seniors down to the waterfront for pictures, or travel wherever they wanted to go. Because of my age, I was able to connect with those kids and the shoots were always fun. Eventually Shawn had me start shooting more and more weddings with him until I eventually took the lead later on.
We shot a particularly lovely wedding and some of my work came out really well. He blew me away when he told me the studio would be using one of those images as our main wedding advertising.
When he told me he was selling the business a couple of years later, I was sad, I won’t lie. I loved working with him, and I felt like the photography world was losing someone truly talented. He had such ease with people and such talent and knowledge, well, it’s clear I still miss working with him today.
The time spent shooting for Shawn shaped how I see and approach art in any form. I’m always looking, always seeking, and always finding. There are times when I am emotionally overcome by the beauty of even the smallest of things (recently it was a small palm tree). Had it not been for my upbringing and exposure (again, no pun intended) to the art of the times around me, I have no idea what my tastes would be now.
This started as a piece where I was going to talk about art and artists that moved me (and I will put a couple of images below), but it turned into a lovely memory of Shawn and that period of my life where I was doing something I both enjoyed as well as was moderately good at.
Sometimes thoughts go where they want. These Thursday posts will be allowed to do that.
Apak is a husband and wife team from Portland, Oregon and I adore their work. It speaks to me on many levels. There is beauty and whimsy and it directly appeals to the child in me as well as the adult. This is one of my favorite pieces of theirs.
I came across some art/photography by Shirana Shahbazi in the past several months, and it set my mind whirling. As soon as I’m feeling better, I have several pieces in mind I’d like to create.
What art (or artists) speaks to you? Have you ever been compelled to create art?