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2018 In Review: Thank You For Playing

I’m done. Done taking pictures for the year, that is. We had our last shoot a week ago and while there are still enough images to edit that I’ll keep my photography website in fresh content through February at least, the stress and time consumption of putting together a photoshoot is over for the year. In fact, we likely won’t pull the camera out too often between now and March. That sounds and feels strange, but it’s a reflection of everything else that is going on at the moment.

What Happened?

Looking back over the year, as I almost always do at some point in December, the first thing I realize is the number of people I have to thank and at the very top of that list is my partner in life and in mayhem: Kat Franson. Kat not only does hair and makeup for the majority of our photoshoots, she’s full-time and constantly booked at Biz on Fletcher, a full-service spa/salon. If you like her work, you can try to get in with her there. On top of that, she still moms kids, hangs with friends, and occasionally finds time to go on dates with me. I rather like that last part.

There are plenty of other people to thank as well. Let’s see how many of them I can actually remember (what I’m about to do here is extremely dangerous–do not attempt on your own): Anneliese and Ali Klausing, Antesha Prosser, Skyy Wells, Wendy McLish, Emily Comstock, Cynthia Webb, Ashleigh Williams, Haley Challies, Jacqueline and Brandon Sobotka, Jasmine Grey, Loren Hewins, Madison Jones, Meghan Clark, Sarah Arvin, Blair Lawson, Colleen Grady, Kwani Young-Cornell, Samantha Lefler, Kia Love, Sarah Harris, Victoria F S Nieke, Rachel Notestine, Holly Hacker, Polina Osherov, Robert Moore III, Catherine Fritsch, Dlang Ferguson, Nikki Blaine, Keith Dellinger, Travis Little, Gary Watson, Brian Logan, Greg Fleckenstein, and Gabe Letbetter. Not much would have happened this year had these people not helped us out significantly.

Not everything this year has been especially positive, though, and that opens plenty of room for second-guessing. At the core is the fact that important numbers are significantly lower this year than last, and about half what they were in 2016. Without getting into gross and slimy details, this means fewer people are paying attention to our work. When that happens we would be remiss if we did not question why. As we find answers to that question, we raise another: what are we going to do to correct that movement?

Here I come to a quandry. On one hand, there are some things that are always popular, specifically nudity. Our most popular entry on the photography website is a 2017 article about nipples. It’s received more than twice the views of its closest competitor. At the same time, however, public attitudes toward nudity are becoming as divisive as the political scene. Many are concerned that such imagery encourages an unhealthy and misogynistic view of women, which is never our intention. Others view nudity as empowering, taking control over one’s own body, which we support. We are wondering if there is an acceptable middle ground between the two.

What Comes Next?

As we look toward the next year, some of the changes we have planned are already taking shape. We are submitting more work to juried art shows, for starters, and while there’s no predicting whether we’ll even be accepted to any of these shows, putting ourselves out there for consideration is something we’ve not done in a very long time. So far, we’ve had one piece accepted to The Dirty Show in Detroit. While that’s a big deal and more than a little exciting, this requires we think differently about how we’re shooting, with less focus on local preferences and looking at a broader, more international perspective. That’s a little scary because it means validation might be slow in coming and I like validation as soon after I put something out there as possible. I like knowing that someone is paying attention and art shows have a longer arch than I’ve normally pursued.

This past year, we put a ton of effort into creating work for publication and while that publication did eventually happen we were disappointed with the ratio of work to benefit. I don’t know that returning to an art focused approach eases that frustration any, but at least we go into that arena expecting a significantly longer time frame, as in work done this year may not reach exhibition outside the website until 2021 or later.

Shifting spheres from fashion/editorial-styled work toward more artistic concepts also means thinking differently about themes. Where this year we looked at and based work on fashion trends, this year I’ll look more at social issues. I’m slightly hesitant in doing so because addressing social issues risks controversy and I don’t have the energy for enduring the stupid people who feel compelled to comment. At the same time, I’m of the opinion that people, en masse, have stopped listening to words but still pay some attention to pictures. While that approach to information is flawed to degrees unimaginable if we can successfully make a statement heard we will have succeeded. For the moment, I’m considering working with the following themes:

  1. Censorship/socially imposed morality Two things drive my motivation toward this theme. First is Tumblr deciding to take a scorched Earth approach to removing “adult” imagery from their platform in response to an issue with child porn. That every other social media platform already censors imagery raises the issue back to where it must be discussed in the most visual ways possible.
    Second, and perhaps more troubling, is the socially imposed morality that comes on the backside of otherwise important events such as the #metoo movement. What is particularly at issue for the moment is whether it is morally acceptable for photographers to take nude pictures of the opposite gender. Expanding out from that is a sense of social morality that one is not aware of until it has been violated. Think Prada’s problems with the monkey totem. I can promise you that no one in the Prada organization was intentionally insensitive. Rather, their perspective was not broad enough to see how the design might cause offense. The company then gets punished for not having that breadth of sensitivity and they pull the totem. That’s still social censorship.
    Where’s the line? Who gets to say, “What you did was insensitive and wrong,” when it’s virtually impossible to be aware of every possible perspective on every issue and every action. To try and please everyone guarantees failure. How do we tell the social police to back the fuck off without looking like assholes ourselves? I’m interested in exploring that issue visually. We need to have that conversation.
  2. Mental Illness. One of the factors in health care that has really played into my center of attention this year is the prevalence of mental health issues affecting the national conversation and the severe absence of anyone doing anything about it. As a country, our attitudes toward mental health are still based on the ignorance of the 1950s. As mental Illness diagnoses have skyrocketed, as suicide has taken the lives of more public figures, our willingness to address these issues and pay for the care is severely lagging. This isn’t a new topic. This article from February 2017 reads as though it were yesterday’s news, just change the names of the artists affected. At this point, I’m thinking an art series that personalizes issues such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, adult ADHD, and other common mental health diagnosis might be worthwhile. The catch is finding people brave enough to tell their story publicly.
  3. Loss of artistic craft. An article hit my inbox this week championing new software allegedly solves a huge issue for photographers: stripping out backgrounds quickly while leaving stray hairs in tact. I’ve not tried it yet, but if it works it represents automation of yet another post processing skill that was once done by real people. In conversation with an artist last week, he raised the issue that certain difficult photo issues will likely soon be resolvable at the touch of a button and I’ve no reason to question the accuracy of that statement. This raises a frightening question: do we still need talented individuals to create art? What happens when we start letting our computers do all the work? How far are we from creating masterworks of art on our phones? This troubling issue keeps me up at night. Perhaps addressing it directly might help me sleep better (writes the person up typing at 4:00 AM).

Issues And Concerns

Of course, just because I want to do work in a specific area, style, genre, or issue doesn’t mean that we can conquer the logistics of getting anything done. There are challenges both certain and looming that could get ugly if ignored. Mind you, my intention here is to not be self-defeating but facing issues head-on so that solutions can be found.

  1. Scheduling Kat’s Time. Anyone who has tried making an appointment with Kat at the salon likely understands this challenge. She’s good at what she does and that means she’s busy. Her books stay full a large percentage of the time. One of the changes we saw in 2018 was that the salon started opening on Tuesdays in order to help meet demand. Not only is that one less day Kat is available for photoshoots, it puts more pressure on the days she has off to address household concerns. If I fill one of those days with a photoshoot, she then has to juggle that with things like getting kids to the pediatrician, meetings at school, buying groceries, and all that other fun stuff.
    The solution here sounds simple enough: involve other hair and makeup artists. The reality, however, is that anyone who is good enough to fill Kat’s shoes is just as busy as she is. Victoria F S Nieke stepped in on one shoot this fall, but her schedule’s possibly more crowded than Kat’s. Any volunteers?
    What I’m considering for the moment is looking toward scenarios where hair and makeup isn’t quite as important to the finished product, concepts where the model can likely handle a bit of powder, eye liner, and mascara and that be sufficient. Yes, that’s a bit scary because a lot of people don’t wear makeup regularly and suck at putting it on their own face. Out of respect for Kat’s time as well as others, that might be the best solution. How’s your makeup game?
  2. Equipment upgrades. This spring, it will have been ten years since I purchased a new camera. To say that the technology has changed a bit is a dramatic understatement. I’ve been hobbling along the past two years but I’m now facing a situation where I’m having to turn away some requests because I can’t trust my equipment to handle the job. It’s time for an upgrade.
    Of course, anyone in the field knows the immediate challenge: new cameras are fucking expensive. However, on the plus side, I wouldn’t have to go with the newest and brightest to provide a significant upgrade. My thinking at this juncture is that an intermediate model at a more modest price still represents a significant improvement over the current status. Sure, I’d love to drop $5-8K on a new body and glass, but the immediate economic outlook  renders such a move questionable.
    Of course, you could always donate to the cause. Hint, hint.
  3. Location options. I have shot almost exclusively out of the house this year. That has worked to a limited degree because of the concepts we’ve been shooting. However, that comes with some significant challenges. First, we have cats—seven at the current time. That limits who can safely visit us without becoming ill. One poor model didn’t last five minutes. Average allergy pills are not enough.
    Second, and equally as critical, we don’t have sufficient natural light in the rooms where we shoot. That has meant having to use artificial light for everything and while I’m thankful to have that option, I really miss shooting natural light and the depth that comes with doing so. Not having that option in my arsenal has dramatically changed the content of my portfolio.
    So, I’m looking for other locations, places I can schedule, drop by with a model, and shoot without disturbing or potentially doing harm to large numbers of people, preferably without having to set up a bunch of lights. I’m open to suggestions, options, and possibly even some trade.

Making 2019 Better

If we’re going to be honest, and at this point there’s no reason to fake anything, I’m not feeling all that positive about the coming year. Looking at what has transpired over the past two months frightens me and actions the President has taken just this week puts our lives at greater risk than we’ve seen since the Cold War. One has to be naive to not see the potential for the wheels flying off this wagon we call the United States over the next 12 months.

Kat and I were having a conversation earlier this week regarding the long-standing situation where we only see progress being made when the level of complaint is so loud as to force that progress. This doesn’t merely apply to government, but across the board in almost every sector one can imagine. Innovation rarely happens without the need to address an issue that has become critical. Even technological innovations such as autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things happen because of the need to address fuel consumption, decreases in consumer purchase power, and the impending threat of global climate change.

I’ve grown tired of having to complain all the time. The anxiety produced from being continually angry is exhausting. Yet, we are irresponsible if we let certain actions and activities pass without opposition. When we say nothing, those responsible for the offense assume we don’t care and proceed to do something worse.

What I would rather do is focus my attention on areas of hope. Take, for instance, the number of states increasingly decriminalizing marijuana and the resulting boom in hemp and other related products. I can think of nothing that stands to so dramatically improve the lives of so many people. From CBD-infused drinks to sustainable clothing and other products, to overturning countless drug convictions that were unnecessarily severe and improper, the opportunity for millions of lives to be improved is unequalled.

Progress in 3D design and imaging is also an area I think holds a lot of promise. I will admit to not knowing nearly as much about these technologies as I would like. I’m at the point where I really need a hands-on experience with someone who knows what they’re doing in order to move forward with my level of understanding. Still, despite only having a partial picture of all that’s happening, I can see unbelievable opportunities in this area.

A lot is happening in the science fields as well and nothing there is exciting me more than exploration of the cosmos and our increased understanding of what’s there and how the universe is constructed. While I appreciate that the immediate application of this knowledge escapes most people, what we are learning in space right now are the very things that could save us from extinction in the future and holds the potential for leading us to better lives and a better society. I could never explain everything in a paragraph or even a set of blog posts, but each new discovery brings with it a hosts of new opportunities. Breakthroughs are still several years away but the promise is real and that gives me hope.

If there is a challenge to 2019 it is that: finding our own hope, discovering those things in which we can believe, things that are moving forward without having to yell and scream all the time. We have operated too long without a positive vision for the future and we need to understand that we must create that vision for ourselves.

Group Participation Area

We do not, cannot, achieve any of the goals we’ve outlined above on our own. Ours is a world dependent upon interaction with other people, having subjects in front of the camera, having participants in larger conversations. We welcome this opportunity for other people to be involved in our work. As mentioned earlier, we’ve had some fantastic help throughout 2018. Now, we are hoping to more than double the size of that list as we move into the new year.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Step in front of the camera. Whether we’re addressing censorship or mental illness or craftsmanship, we’re going to need a lot of faces in front of the camera and the more faces and bodies we have, the better.
  • Tell your stories. I love a good story but more than ever we want to hear about your experiences, your journey, as we look for words to augment our pictures. We want to more directly touch people’s lives in very real ways.
  • Share your space. Have a place with great natural light? We’d love to come visit! Contact us and we’ll work out the details in a way that accommodates your schedule.
  • Make introductions. Know someone who would look good in front of the camera? We’d love to meet them. Have a friend who has horses? We’d love to meet them! Have an acquaintance who owns some really cool space? We’d love to meet them! If you’re local to Indianapolis and know someone, chances are we’d love to meet them. And if we’ve not done so already, we’d love to meet you, too!
  • Share our pictures. You know how this social media thing works. We get a lot of likes but few shares. We would love it if you would help grow our network by sharing our photos.
  • Buy our stuff. I never have been one to really push the stuff we have for sale. There are links on our pages and if you want them, then great. Let’s get real for a minute, though: we could use the additional income. There are books, clothes, and of course, artwork. We have something for almost everyone.
  • Contribute to the cause. For those who are more altruistic and feel like supporting us we have a convenient little app that collects donations and sends them to us. This allows us to accept credit cards as well as PayPal and other sources. Again, I don’t tend to push this opportunity too often, but it’s there.

2018 has been one of those years where, for the most part, we’re thankful to have survived with everything pretty much intact. We greatly appreciate everyone who helped and participated but we are also looking forward to doing more and better work in the coming year. Thank you for watching and playing along with us. Let’s work together and make 2019 the year that makes the history books (in a good way, of course)!

Before you leave, why not help us out?

Yes, I’m totally being pretentious but as I mentioned above, we could use some financial participation. After all, the number of you actually paying for pictures is disappointingly small. Click here to visit our Donation page. Thank you for helping!

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