Tuesday, April 3, 2012

hard work

FIrst things first. My work is featured this week on a street photography blog site here. When you have a moment, or two, have a look.

And a big surprise, I've been banned again from 500px.com. I'm going to look for another photo sharing site. If anyone has any suggestions please leave a comment for me.

I recently read a bit of advice that was offered by the artist Chuck Close:

“[don't] wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself .... If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great .... idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”

That pretty much iterates the idea in the quote I use as the subheading for the title of this blog. Nothing - no amount of intellect, no abundance of talent, no God given gift of dexterity - can take the place of hard work. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, repeatedly mentions the 10,000 hour rule which is that the key to success in any field is, for the most part, a matter of practicing a specific task for about 10k hours. The problem most mere mortals run into in implementing the rule is summoning the required discipline and intensity. 

When I decided, as a very young musician, that I wanted to play fiddle for Bill Monroe I closed myself into a room for hours every day and hacked away with recordings of Monroe and other country performers. To be honest, I didn't spend 10k hours before I had the opportunity to play for Monroe and he offered me the job. But once I started performing with him, I still worked like hell every day. After I left Monroe to return to New York and study classical violin, I heard time and time again that it was not possible to begin studying at such a late age (I was 23 years old at the time). Again, I closed myself in my room and spent 5 hours a day working hard at scales and technical etudes. I was accepted by three music conservatories, and world famous pedagogue Raphael Bronstein took me as his protigé. I continued to practice that way for the six years during which I pursued my Master of Music degree.

I say all this only to prove a point. I can't tell you how many times in those years as a musician I heard others say to me how much they would love to play the fiddle or violin like me. I would tell them they could do it. They just had to practice as I did. And they would respond something like 'I can't do that, I have a family' or 'I have a job' or 'I have so many other things I want to do, I don't have that kind of time.....' There's no answer to that, except to shrug my shoulders and say, 'Oh well ....'

The same applies to photography (or any other creative endeavor). When I was a student with my mentor, Mario Cabrera, I wanted to take pictures like his. I watched what he did, and I emulated him. So .... what did he do? He worked at it every day, all day - way more than 10k hours. From that point on, I never went anywhere without a camera. I was always looking and searching. I created exercises (not projects) to execute at first to learn how to read light and how to control the exposure. I worked countless hours in the darkroom. After more than 20 years I've gotten to a point where people who admire my images say to me (here it comes) 'I'd like to be able to shoot like that. How can I do it?'. I hear it all the time in my blog comments and in messages I get from the photo sharing sites in which I participate. The answer is the same as it was with music and the violin.
The secret is to love the process. I went out yesterday for a photo walk in New York. I wanted something different, a neighborhood I hadn't frequented much before. My feet took me to the financial district of Lower Manhattan. For shooting people on the street it's probably the most boring area of New York City. There's very little diversity: tourists, businessmen/women (better known in the vernacular as suits) and secretaries. I knew it would be a challenge. And honestly, I didn't get much, but it was a great exercise for me.

The first of these images is a bronze sculpture of a bull at the bottom of Broadway just before the historic U.S. Customs House. Tourists are drawn to the sculpture to pose for pictures at the head of the bull. The rest of the sulpture is protected by police barricades - never know when some terrorist will get it in his head to blow the bull's ass off. I couldn't position myself directly behind the bull to get the shot I really wanted, but this image, as it turns out, has a dynamic of it's own. I titled the image 'NYC Streetog's Necessity':

But that still left me thirsting for some people shots. So I sat for a few minutes and repeated my mantra that there's interesting people all over, I just have to open my eyes! And as I started to walk uptown on Broadway I passed this group of people. He's 'Mr Slick':


  1. He,he,he,I like this title.Mr.Slick.Very good article Gene,I enjoyed reading it!

  2. Well Gene, I'm amazed that you seemed to have alienated 500px again. You must be doing something right. I still post there but now get more traffic and great responses from google+ and, believe it or not, facebook. I had given up on facebook earlier but it seems to have become a greater focal point for lots of photographically inclined people. I still use flickr but don't work it enough to take advantage of it's full potential. I also gave up on that 72 something or other. Just can't keep up with posting to 6 or 7 sites on a daily basis.

    For now, Twitter seems to be the main driver for my networking(noticed @fiddlergene there). I know, lots of rambling here. It's too bad 500px has been a bad experience for you since I noticed that you got lots of good exposure and activity there.

  3. banned from 500px wtf? why??? take care, see you on your blog or elsewhere. If you find a good site... tell me too! Happy photography Gene, I am en route to Nepal for the rest of the month!

    Good shots!

  4. congrats on making the weeks feature, but what on earth happened at 500PX? What is it that rubs them raw all the time over there?

  5. Gene friend, I read your article about the inspiration, for my inspiration is the need to work, the need to constantly look, that is the inspiration

    a hug from your friend Manuel Tello

  6. Is Mario Cabrera the fiftyish new york photographer still in NYC?

    1. Mario has disappeared into the woodwork. I think he may be in the Washington DC press corps, but nobody seems to know.