Innovation, Evolution, and Integrity
There is a local surf photographer who made his name well before the days of GoPro®, before the days of digital photography, where you had to take your heavy film SLR with its bulky waterproof housing, and sit just inside the break to get those priceless images of translucent blue water tubes penetrated by various shades of warm light ... and then, you'd have to wait to have them developed before you had any clue whether what was in your viewfinder actually made its way onto the printed image. It took skill, access, and courage. His work was amazing, and when we finally purchased our own home, we invested in a large acrylic face mount of one of his images - a warm image with tones of yellow and blue, silhouettes of a peaceful shoreline, and yes … a lone surfer. We proudly hung it above the couch in our living room, and we loved what it represented to us - it was our first piece of art, the work was distinctly his, and we loved that he was local.
"Innovation" is a pretty common word these days. I spent almost 10 years in the medical device industry, and at one point, nearly every company used the word in their marketing campaigns. Once the purview of large, technology-focused companies, innovation now comes from anywhere - often from the entrepreneurial college kid, who knows no boundaries, and tends to think that it is all possible. And … why wouldn't it be? Innovation and technology have become democratized: we no longer need complex equipment to take a great photograph - most of us have the ability right on our phone. As for big wave photography - the GoPro® has put water photography in almost everyone's grasp - so much so, that a recent Inertia article asked, "Have we cheapened the barrel?" As human beings, we are constantly pushed to evolve, lest our natural surroundings overwhelm and overcome us. There is an innate sense of competition, borne out of that Darwinian instinct that only the most fit survive.
I wouldn't consider my style of photography distinctly "innovative", though it is consistently different. I've seen similar photographs and styles - I was recently introduced to a mural in La Jolla by artist Catherine Opie that folks have mistakenly (and generously) thought was my work. Artistically, one of my greatest challenges is to keep things fresh, experiment with new techniques and subject matter, and remain consistent to the spirit that drives me. The blurry image is, after all, a blurry image. But it is the sense of feeling, the emotion, the experience that I try to impart … and the painted feel lends itself well to that construct. I purposely limit my edition sizes to 50 - it pushes me to keep innovating, to evolve, and not to rely on a single popular image. Of all of my images, the First Impressions collection seems to be the most eye-catching. Whether it's the fluidity, the water, or the combination of colors, I've found that these generate some of the most powerful reactions. Creating feeling in this style is more challenging than many of my other images - one has to predict a composition before it happens, and it takes several exposures - far more than I'd normally take, and the review can be time-consuming. But I will confess that seeing them all laid out, in a large format, ready to sign, always makes me smile.
I was told a few months back that our big wave surf photographer saw my work waiting for signature at the digital printer we both share - he has subsequently created his own version of a First Impressions image, a style that he says "he is just beginning to explore". He is well-known with a broad following, owns two galleries, and now proudly advertises this new image as his "fastest selling" image. The thing that makes me the most sad about this is that someone asked me at an art show recently if I was emulating his style. At the end of the day, no matter what your chosen field, your integrity - artistic or otherwise - is what defines you.
We've since sold our beautiful warm gallery piece that we loved so much - we put it on eBay, and it has happily made its way to Florida. The rest of his pieces that we own are still looking for good homes. The lesson has been powerful - and while I probably can't compete with him in the traditional sense, I will continue to innovate and evolve in my own way, grateful that there are people who enjoy my work and style, and hopefully recognize it as mine.