Bloganuary Day 20: Favorite Photo

Photo by Denise Ruttan

Bloganuary Day 20 prompt: What is your favorite photo you’ve ever taken?

I don’t think it’s possible to pick one single favorite of the literally 10s of 1000s of photos I’ve taken over the last 10 years or so. I first ventured into photography with my first DSLR, a Nikon D5100, in 2014 or thereabouts. Prior to that I was a journalist and took photos on assignment with my work camera for small-town newspapers. My partner thought I had an eye and encouraged me to get a camera of my own, to finally abandon automatic mode and truly learn the inner workings of a proper DSLR.

At first I shot nature, landscapes and that sort of thing; then I decided I wanted to make it a side hustle, so I wanted to shoot portraits, and I needed a portfolio.

But I couldn’t get anyone to pose for me. One friend did a shoot with me that turned out great. I next turned to the Internet, to Facebook groups and later Instagram, to find models. My first foray into model photography was a Facebook post about a shoot workshop at Eugene photographer Allan Erickson’s home studio. This was a fantastic south-facing older home with wonderful natural light. I worked with a pro model and I wasn’t sure how I felt at first about art nude photography but soon I was hooked. I went back there many times in later years for future shoots.

Landscapes of the body.

Finally I was able to find more local collaborators, amateur models who did trade-for-photo arrangements (They provide modeling services, I provide shooting services and photos). This was for portfolios – some of them wanted to make it as professional models; others turned to sex work to make money and did boudoir or portraiture for the creative passion of it. Photographers usually made their money off commercial work like weddings and collaborated with models for their creative outlet. I ended up using freelance journalism to fund my photography habit, since I didn’t have it in me to hustle as a commercial photographer after all.

It was a fun scene for awhile. Thanks to an old group called ISOConnection and a now-defunct art nude site called Zivity, I was able to meet lots of models and photographers. The fun scene had a dark side, of course, as all these sorts of tight-knit communities do. Photographers taking advantage of models, and vice versa; unprofessional behavior; down to the flat out abusive kind of conduct, not just the wait six months to return any photos kind.

Did that for awhile and got burnt out on the scene, wound down my hustling and only did the occasional shoot when I felt really inspired, back in 2019. The pandemic hit in 2020, of course, and I stopped working with models for awhile but it was a long time coming. I needed a break. I thought I had quit for good; I had grown bitter about the community.

But still, I missed it. It was still a social outlet with fun, creative people, and I was feeling an itch to be creative visually again; so between outbreaks, I hired a pro art nude model and did another shoot this fall, which was great. Unfortunately, Omicron has meant I’ve suspended my portraiture work for the time being, but I’m keen to get back to it as soon as it’s safe again. I miss the light side of the culture. These are driven, creative people who love art and beauty – and often, cannabis.

This last spring I finally was able to upgrade my camera to my long-coveted full-frame. I now shoot with a Nikon D750. Photography is an expensive hobby, and the gear is only part of the expense – one of the things I burnt out on. Renting studios, traveling to Portland all the time. I loved many aspects of it but did I love it enough to spend what was essentially a decent side hustle income on it, precluding opportunities to travel or do other things with my time?

I digress; back to the photo. Gear is only secondary compared to what you do with it, how you use it, the composition you select. This was one of my favorite shoots from my intense years. I don’t want to get as intense as I had been in it; these days I just want to do a few shoots a year and only work with the same people, forming relationships to tell a series of portraiture work over time.

The model here is Devi, an Indian model from the Bay Area who goes by the moniker “Googlymonstor” on Instagram. I think this shot perfectly captures what I love about the art of body landscapes viewed with the female gaze. It’s probably one of my top five favorites from that whole five-year period; plus Devi herself was a wonderful person and a fun model to work with. This is why I plan to hire models a couple times a year, and collaborate with a few people the rest of the time. Shoots like this inspire me. Shoots like this remind me that a community is made up of people; some will bring you down, and some will inspire you to be the best artist you can be.

A collaboration with a model and photographer who are of similar abilities, vision and sensibilities is one of the purest artistic mediums out there. It won’t pay the rent, of the studio or your house. But sometimes capitalism alone cannot feed the soul. We need more than to just pay the bills. We need to survive, and then we need to live.

All natural light. Just shadows and curves. Nothing more to say.


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Bloganuary Day 5: Wished For Talent

Image from Pixabay

Day 5 Prompt: What is something you wish you knew how to do?

I wish I knew how to do a lot of things. I wish I spoke at least five languages, Japanese and Russian included; when I was a child I wanted to learn Arabic. I can knit but I’m not an advanced knitter. I want to learn how to crochet, how to sew, how to do all sorts of crafts. I want to learn guitar. I want to play flute better.

I am a hobby person but I am more of a jack of all trades than an expert in any one. I’m always learning something, trying to master a new skill, got my nose in a book. This year I want to learn script writing and write plays and comics. It builds on my current skill foundation in writing fiction. I am always studying, but never finishing a project. I start, then stop. I go strong for a month or two and then I give up for three.

But really, the skill I wish I knew how to do that I don’t think I would master even with hours of practice is drawing. I just don’t have an artistic eye. Maybe if I had done it for countless hours every day since I was six, like I have with writing, I would have a passable talent with it. But whatever the gift for drawing is, I just don’t got it.

There will always be people who say it is never too late to learn an art, that talent can always be practiced and learned. Believe me, I’ve tried off and on, but the most I can really manage with any success is filling in the lines on coloring books. If I really put the hours in my sketching sometimes shows promise with the way I shade or shape things. But then I’d need to put the hours in. And an incredible amount of hours for something I’m no good at to begin with.

It would make things so much easier, if I were only artistic. I feel like artistic people have a much more colorful imagination; I’m often struggling for ideas. I come from the field of journalism, where documenting what you see is more important than creating it from whole cloth. When I photograph models, I’m not good at conceptual art, organizing a creative team, and coming up with a finished product that doesn’t just look like a copy of someone else’s shoot on Pinterest. I am much better at documenting what is there, about organizing the constituent parts of an existing scene into a story.

Same too with my other skills. I think that is my weakness in writing. Storytelling. I’m excellent at character development, emotional responses and descriptions, but my plots are weak. My ideas tend to be concepts for settings and characters rather than “George is flawed. Stuff happens to George. George saves the day and changes as a person.” My sense of humor is similar. I laugh easily and I’m good at one-liners but I can’t tell jokes for the life of me. Telling jokes is really about constructing a story.

Same with my other hobbies. Music takes practice to become proficient but you are reading music or part of a band. With knitting, I am following a pattern. With baking, I am following instructions. With coloring, I have to stay within the lines. I’m good at routine. I’m good at following rules. Probably a little too good. I do not like change. I don’t take enough risks.

Instead I have projects that I never finish and skills that I dabble in but never master. My craft boxes are mausoleums of yarn, fabric, scissors and three inches of project. I have sketchbooks with three pages drawn and drawing tutorial books of which I’ve read a few pages. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. They just sit on the shelf. Waiting for me to develop some discipline and commitment.

Knowing how to draw would make things much easier. After I learn script writing I wouldn’t have to either hire an artist or find a fresh art school graduate to collaborate with in order to pitch a comic book project to a publisher. I could write and draw the whole thing myself. It would help with so many other things too, like graphic design for marketing. I’m okay at graphic design but I often can’t execute the ideas that I dream up in my head.

But I still keep learning, keep trying, keep dabbling. Maybe it won’t be drawing, but maybe I’ll finally finish more than one knitting project a year this year. Maybe I’ll bake bread. Maybe I will finally learn French or run a 5K or learn karate. Maybe I will finally get good at something. Maybe I’ll finally write a book.

But those are just skills. Just interests. They don’t say anything about who you are as a person. People who spend the single-minded attention to get good at certain things, insane professional-level good, are often very boring people. All they think about is that one thing. All they do is that one thing. All they can talk about is that one thing. They’re really good. But what else do you do? How do you live? Are you kind to others? You are more than your paycheck, your skill level or your productivity.

Because really, being a good human is hard enough.