Every year lists of “the best of …” and “the worst of …” scatter themselves across the Internet and pages of magazines and newspapers because, being the attention-deficit society that we have become, we can no longer remember for ourselves the things that happened a scant four months ago, much less all the back to last January. These lists can be beneficial, however, when they cause us to look more toward changing the future, or encourage us with things we might have missed. So, with that thought in mind, I have four lists for you to carry with you into the new year.
1. 10 Non-photography Things Photographers Can Do To Improve Their Work
Photographers tend to be so focused on their work, on taking pictures, that we forget to look outside ourselves and our field. Remembering that we are small parts of a much larger work can do wonders for the quality and composition of our photographs. Here are 10 things that can make a difference.
- Keep up to date with contemporary forms of music. You don’t have to like any of it, because what we like tends to be the music with which we grew up. Music is one of the most obvious and telling forms of expression for a generation, however. To be out of touch with contemporary music is to be out of touch with the world.
- Read a lot. Fiction, non-fiction, magazines, trade journals, and newspapers from outside your home region. Reading exposes us to different ways of thinking, to seeing the world from different view points, to creative ideas and musings that we most likely would never have found on our own. Read voraciously and let the words inspire you.
- Socialize with non-photographers. Photographers like to talk, I’ve noticed. We like to talk about ourselves and our favorite works. Put a bunch of us in the same room, and we inherently will talk “shop” until the proprietor grows ill and tosses us out. Socializing with non-photographers forces our look outward, to see beyond ourselves and our cameras. There are amazing people with wonderful stories that was pass almost every day of our lives. Talking with them makes our own work better.
- Take a course in physics. One of the most valuable non-photography things I have ever done was suffer through the MIT Physics I course. Walter Lewin, now MIT professor emeritus, was a wizard in the classroom. Fortunately, many of his lectures are available online now for free. Take advantage of them. May I suggest you start with the lecture on rainbows. Lewin begins with this profound thought: “All of you have looked at rainbows, but very few of you have ever seen one. Looking at something is very different from seeing it.” Let the learning begin.
- Travel to places you’ve never been. Just as we can get into a rut from doing the same thing day in and day out, so our eyes grow too accustom to seeing the same things day after day. Before long, we miss minor changes, such as a change in the color of the trim on a neighbor’s house, or a new family moving in down the street. If we want to keep our eyes fresh and alert, we need to give them new and different things to see and nothing does that better than traveling to places we’ve never been. There doesn’t need to be an agenda. You don’t even have to take your camera (though you almost certainly will). Just go. Look. Enjoy.
- Pay attention to what is happening with and in social media. Many of the laws that effect what we can and cannot do as photographers also effect other forms of media. Yet, often, we are not the ones out on the front lines. We sit in our studios and enjoy the comfort of working in controlled situations. Social media is out thre, on the edge, challenging the status quo. Pay attention to what they’re doing and what happens to them, for any attempts to control or censure them ultimately effects photographers as well.
- Notice what people around you are wearing. Clothing styles identify a people, a culture, and a specific point in time. Know that by the time a style hits the sidewalks of Broad Ripple or Buckhead or South Beach it has already been declared passe` in the fashion-forward cities of the world. Knowing what’s out of style is every bit as important as knowing what’s en vogue.
- Hang out in a lot of bars and night clubs, but don’t be creepy about it. This is one of those instances where you really should leave your camera and your portfolio (or iPad) at home. You’re not here to pick up women by telling them they could be models. Ick. Sick. Instead, you’re here to do two things. A) get to know bar owners, because many change decor on a regular basis and will trade off-hours access to the club for good pictures. B) observe how people interact with each other. The second part is most important. Notice how people stand, the gestures they use, their facial expressions. These are all things that can/should influence your work.
- See the world through the eyes of a toddler. The best way to do this? Hang out with a toddler, of course! This is a common exercise for pre-school educators. Get down in the floor and observe the world from a height of less than two feet. Notice how different the perspective is for everything. Angles, lines, and shapes are all different down there, and is something worth remembering.
- Take care of your health. Generally speaking, photographers don’t get a lot of exercise, and, as a group, we’re not known for our stellar eating habits, either. As a result, we have, as a group, higher than average rates of diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease. The more out of shape one is, the more difficult it becomes to get up and down and to get into the position that offers the best angle on a shot. Trust me, I know too much about this one first hand. Take care of yourself.
2. Ten Things Models Can Do To Improve Their Experience
Just as there are things photographers can and should do to improve their work, there are things models can do that will make their experience modeling better. Take these to heart and you’ll have a much better 2012!
- Decide whether modeling is a career or a hobby and then treat it accordingly. Many models get way too uptight about taking pictures that will never go any further than Facebook. At the same time, others squander a chance at great careers because they fail to take the work seriously. Decide what you’re going to do and make the appropriate adjustments.
- Drink more water! World-class models know the value and importance of staying hydrated. Nothing effects your skin and your facial features more that getting plenty of water. If you’re consuming any alcohol at all, your water consumption needs to be three times higher than your alcohol consumption. Failure to do so will result in you looking like you’re 40 at age 25.
- Know who are the world’s leading models, the agencies they’re with, and the work they’re doing. Thanks to the Internet, this isn’t difficult to do. Harper’s Bazzar provides a good list of models on the move, while Forbes Magazine gives us the year’s top earning models. Vogue magazine just posted their Top Ten Models of 2011 and what’s interesting about this list is the ages aren’t always as young as one might expect. Know who they are, pay attention to their work, and learn.
- Socialize and form close relationships with designers. Okay, you’re probably not going to have dinner with Tom Ford if you live in, say, Nebraska, but no matter where you live chances are there are budding young designers who are trying to get their careers off the ground as well. Find them. Get to know them. Make them your best friends. The help you’ll be able to provide for each other can make a world of difference in both your lives.
- Pay attention to your health. We don’t tend to associate health issues with a group as young as models, but models, as a group, have a surprisingly high rate of infectious disease (mostly flu), digestive problems, and reproductive issues. There are been several studies into why this happens, and everything from restrictive clothing to high heels have been blamed, but nothing has been truly conclusive. The best advice given is to pay attention to your body and know that if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
- Learn to dance. No, I’m not talking about that booty-shaking thing you’ve been doing at the club. I’m talking about classical dance forms, such as those you see on Dancing With The Stars (which, with that statement, exhausts what I know about the show). One of the tragedies of our society is that we have, generally speaking, lost any sense of poise and grace. Dance is the best way I know to bring that back, and not only will it make you a better model, but you’ll have a world of fun doing it!
- Stay up to date with current events. There’s no reason to perpetuate the stereotype of a dumb, clueless model. You don’t need to be an expert, either. Knowing enough to participate intelligently in a conversation goes a long way in reminding those around you that not only are you pretty, you have a brain as well. People may like you because of your looks, but they’ll respect you more when you display your intelligence in a current, viable, and accurate manner.
- Sleep!! No one has a better excuse for sleeping long hours at frequent intervals than models. Sleep gives your body a chance to restore and rejuvenate, and since your body is your primary asset in modeling, you can’t ignore the amount of sleep it needs. No one likes seeing you with heavy bags and dark circles under your eyes. Go ahead, take that nap! Then take another!
- Take a business class. As a model, you want to make money but are having difficulty making that happen. Taking a general business course at a local college helps immensely. Not only will you develope a more professional perspective, you will likely be better able to manage your money when it does start rolling in. Understanding business methods reduces the opportunity for someone else to take advantage of you.
- Make regular visits to art galleries. Models spend a lot of time as the center of attention. With make-up artists and hair stylists and designers all fusing over you, one’s perspective can become a little skewed. Art galleries and museums have a great deal to teach us about beauty as it is, but for models there is the added advantage of spending time around things that are more beautiful and timeless than you are. Perspective is a wonderful thing.
3. Ten Things From The Past Worth Keeping
Just because trends and styles change doesn’t mean that everything from the past needs to be thrown out. There are things from the past that not only hold educational value, but can provide us with wonderfully unique photo opportunities over the years. Before you go through your closets tossing things out, consider keeping some of these things.
- Women’s hats. The British have one on us here in that they’ve never let women’s hats go completely out of style. Of course, they’ve created some absolutely hideous ones at the same time, but still, having a good collection of women’s hats is never a bad thing.
- Rotary phones. In this day of cell phones that do everything short of cooking our meals, we forget that communication was not always so ubiquitous. There is a classic style not only to those old analog phones, but to how we interacted with them.
- Tube-based non-transistor radios. You plugged them in, turned them on, then waited for them to warm up. Don’t leave your chocolate bar on top or it will melt! Not only did these radios produce a unique and easily identifiable sound, their designs were often genuine works of art that defined an era.
- Infant baby toys. Not that you’d let an infant actually play with them. As our understanding of infant development changes, so do the toys we give our newborns. The days of a simple rattle are gone. Now junior holds a hand full of flashing, colorful lights. The old toys are photo subjects just waiting for their close ups.
- Cigar boxes. Okay, so smoking is really, really, really bad for our health. We get that. Still, there is nothing that is as simultaneously artistic and practical as a cigar box. They have always been aesthetically pleasing while returning a high rate of utilitarianism. Most cigar shops sell them empty, so your chances of getting cancer from them are pretty close to nil.
- Manual typewriters. Imagine me attempting to type this list without the ability to go back and edit, correct spelling and grammar errors, or even change the type style for emphasis. Welcome to the world of manual typewriters, where a single error meant doing the whole page over again. Their aesthetic value will never diminish.
- Fountain pens. They were messy, the ink always leaked, and one had to let the ink dry or else everything you’d written would end up smudged. Still, they hold the standard for creating unique signatures that cannot be duplicated, causing heads of state to use them still today for signing important documents. The craftsmanship and styling of these pens is unparalleled.
- Old cameras. Never mind that we may not be able to find film or batteries for them any more. Just by keeping them on the shelf we are reminded of where photography once was and the unique qualities of the images they created.
- Books. Doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, literary classic or shill trash. As our world becomes more digital, every last tome of written word that is bound in paper becomes more valuable. The day when children don’t know what they are is probably closer than you think.
- Music CDs. Destined to go the way of 33 rpm records and 45 singles, CDs are rapidly becoming relics in an age of digital music transfer. Hold on to what you’ve got, and don’t hesitate to buy more. Let their art be inspiring.
4. Twelve People Worth Remembering
Every year, a number of people die whose deaths leave our world a little more empty of creativity and talent. There are always lists that try to include everyone, but here are twelve from this year that I think are worth remembering, one for each month. I won’t write much as they are all easy enough to find on the Internet. But please, take the time to find them.
- Milton Babbit, composer, died January 29. What Babbit did for contemporary classical music is what will set the 20th century apart. Always.
- Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud, Egyptian journalist, died February 4. The first journalist to die in what will forever be known as the Arab Spring uprisings, Mahmoud’s death reminds us of the inherent connection between freedom and access to accurate information.
- Dame Elizabeth Taylor, actress, died March 23. Known as much for her many husbands and opulent displays of wealth as for her acting, what Ms. Taylor did was define a sense of beauty and glamour that will live on for generations.
- Randy Wood, record producer, died April 8. The founder of Dot Records in Gallatin, TN, Wood was responsible for defining the sounds of artists such as The Andrews Sisters, Pat Boone, Barbara Mandrell, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and many others.
- “Macho Man” Randy Savage, professional wrestler, died May 20. A long and storied career, the Ohio native was one of the dominant characters that took professional wrestling from smokey gyms to a billion-dollar entertainment empire.
- Fred Steiner, composer, died June 23. You may not know his name, but if you grew up in the 1960s and 70s you know his music, from the theme to the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, to Perry Mason, Hogan’s Heroes, and Star Trek, he wrote the television themes that, once caught in the mind, never leave.
- Betty Ford, first lady, died July 8. The wife of a conservative Republican president, Mrs. Ford championed liberal causes such as the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, and gun control. Her own alcoholism raised awareness for addictions of every kind and led to the founding of the Betty Ford Center.
- Albert Brown, oldest survivor of the Batan Death March, died August 14. He was a dentist, with a wife and small son, when drafted in 1937. Captured by Japanese in the Philippines, Brown was one of 78,000 POWs forced to march 65 miles without food, water, or medical attention. Told he would not live past 50, he was 105.
- Ralph Lomma, entrepreneur, died September 12. If you have ever found any joy, or frustration in attempting to hit a golf ball in and around obstacles such as windmills and clown heads, you have Ralph Lomma to thank. He started it all in the mid-1950s.
- Roger Williams, pianist, died October 8. A classically trained pianist, Williams grew to fame in the 1950s and 60s with his unique styling of popular music. His gentle piano sound was so relaxing, it became the standard for elevators and waiting rooms, hence the term, elevator music.
- Bil Keane, cartoonist, died November 8. Keane’s single-panel comic, The Family Circus, has been a mainstay of American newspapers since 1960. Based on his own children, Keane captured the joys and trials of raising children in a modern world in a most endearing manner.
- Vaclav Havel, poet and politician, died December 18. While much of the world ballyhooed the death of a dictator, one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century passed quietly with little fanfare. A champion of human rights, he brought free and open elections to what had been a communist state.
There you have them, my year-end lists for 2011. It has taken a very long time to assemble all this, and perhaps they would have been better served to put each in its own article. Yet, as lists are, ultimately, mere reference points, placing them all together still seems as appropriate at the end as it did at the beginning. Enjoy.