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My New Regular Blog Post at Pictage

I am now posting a regular blog entry at Pictage on professional photography topics like workflow. Each week, I will be posting a small tip of some kind, so put the blog on your reader and watch for new entries.

This week’s entry is an introduction video, filmed in my office late one night last week with my 5D Mark II.

Titles Mean Nothing – The Photograph is King

I can understand calling a judge, “Your Honor.”  The Honorable, Judge Brown, etc…  There is reverence for the law and for those who have studied it and risen to the true top of the profession, as respected arbiter of the law.  While there are a thousand lawyer jokes, there are  not so many judge jokes.  I suppose that is because we honor them more highly.  However, when a mayor or a congressman wants me to use the title, The Honorable, I have to laugh.  Because the last thing I would call a politician is honorable.  Likewise it is pure silliness when Senator Barbara Boxer asks that General Walsh refer to her as “Senator”, rather than “Ma’am.” Even thought the title Senator contains no inherent honor, a Senator will remind you of their title every chance they get.

Titles are a funny thing.  Doctors and dentists put MD or DDS after their name.  Some lawyers even want to get into the suffix game with ESQ or JD.  Many of these titles help us to determine who has gone to medical school, who has gone through a rigorous accounting examination process, etc.  In that respect these titles can be helpful at identifying where we should go when we are sick and where when we are in need of tax preparation assistance.  But what I can not fathom is when a photographer gets carried away in the title game as though they had earned a medical degree or had been elected US Senator and thus deserve a special title with its accompanied respect.

I recently began to read an article in a photo magazine where Photographer A was mentioning Photographer B’s workshop and when they mentioned photographer A’s name they wrote, “..when Jesica Cornbluthe*, M.Photog.Cr., Hon.M.Photog., CPP, ABI, API, A-ASP, Hon.ASP. told us,…”.

You have got to be kidding me.  First, after quoting this, my spell check lights up like a dried out Christmas tree doused in napalm.  Second, listing five enigmatic acronyms after someone’s  name only help to confuse and annoy the reader?  By the time I got through the long list of acronyms and attempted to associate them in my mind, I had completely forgotten what the article was even about.  And third, if I were able to decipher one of the obscure references, the fact that Photographer B belongs to an association to which anyone can belong for $300 a year, gives me no further information about her other than she has at least $300 each year of disposable income?

As I attempted to cross the sea of shortened titles, I fell into John Nash’s abyss and immediately stopped reading the article and started trying to decipher the hidden messages in the code of the endless string of acronyms.  I was unable to find any Nazi war plans, or US government conspiracies, but with the help of Google, I came up with the following list:

  • M. Photog.Cr: Master of Photography and Craftsman. I’m not sure who gives the title.
  • Hon.M.Photog: Honorable Master of Photography.  This must be better than the first, because of the “honorable” part.  Although I never liked getting honorable mentions because that meant the work was not good enough to get an award.  So perhaps it means you are not good enough to get the title Master of Photography.
  • CPP: Certified Professional Photographer.  Is there a state agency somewhere that certifies one as a professional?  Wouldn’t a bank account and a photography business certify one as a professional?
  • ABI: American Bankruptcy Institute.  I seriously couldn’t find anything on this one except for this.  Perhaps she is a part time bankruptcy advocate?
  • A-ASP: American Association of Swine Vetrinarians.  No joke, this is what google gave me.
  • Hon.ASP: I have no idea on this one either.  Perhaps this is the judge (the your honor) for the A-ASP above.

By the way, I never returned to reading the article.

Besides loosing the reader completely, here is the philosophical problem.  There are plenty of people who put an acronym behind their name, they are call doctors, and lawyers, CPAs and such.  They save lives, or at least help you avoid taxes or help you out of a nasty divorce.  But, when a photographer not only comes up with , but actually places not two, but five acronyms behind her name; that is not only arrogant, pompous and self obsessed, but begs the question: why do the honorary titles and lists of meaningless accolades matter so much?

Bill Brandt (who incidentally has no acronyms following his name) would not, as a matter of principle, talk about himself. The person is of no importance, he would say, it is the picture that is important … I have to agree with Bill Brandt to this extent: honors and titles, degrees and associations mean nothing.  What defines a photographer (as a photographer) is his or her images.  Nothing more, nothing less.  By their fruits, you will know them.  Do they produce superior work on a consistent basis?  Then we can call them great, respect them and give them honor.

Show me your portfolio and better yet, your un-edited contact sheets and I will come to know you as a photographer and as a person.  Strip away your honors and titles.  Loose the acronyms, the association cliques and the name recognition and show me your images, just your images.  To me, nothing else matters. The photograph is king.

Jared Platt, CIP, Mn.HPD, GOP, APL, M.D., LLC, PPP, AIG, GM, BofA B.S. AZ, LR.

* The name Jesica Cornbluthe is not the real name listed in the article.

Remembering Bill Jay – Professor, Historian and Friend

Bill Jay being interviewed at his home in Mesa, Arizona by the BBC.

Bill Jay being interviewed at his home in Mesa, Arizona by the BBC.

I began by writing the title to my post here by writing “Remembering Bill Jay – Professor, Historian and Fiend“, accidentally missing the R on the keyboard, and as I moved the cursor back to correct the error, I laughed, because Bill Jay (if he has a blog feed of everything we are saying about him in the hereafter) would have laughed as well.  He would have quite readily taken the title of Fiend and run with it.  He was just the sort of self-depreciating, sarcastic humorist that could find a hearty laugh in any stinging insult one might thrust his way.  As I remember him today, I think of the twinkle in his eye that flashed as he smiled and chuckled warmly during almost every conversation I ever had with him and I am convinced that he chuckled again as I misspelled the word friend and instead called him a fiend!  But he might prefer a more embellished version of this title: Politically Incorrect British Fiend.

Bill Jay was my mentor and professor during my undergraduate and graduate years at Arizona State University.  I was among the very last of his students before he retired and I was privileged to be one of the very last to have him sit on my graduate thesis panel.  I took every class he taught, every semester, and when I wasn’t taking classes from him I was in his office listening to his stories about the great photographers of the past.  He had met, published work by and knew the sordid tales of more of the great photographer’s lives than most people will even read about in their life time.  And every time he spoke, I listened in wrapped attention.  In fact, I recall a semester where I did nothing but listen.  I think I completely stopped taking notes and just soaked in his ideas.

Bill Jay smoking a cigarette at his home.

Bill Jay smoking a cigarette at his home.

Bill was famous for his unconventional view of the history of photography and had a talent for pushing buttons across the world of art academia.  His lectures and articles were hard to swallow by the artist who surrounded him in the university faculty because his ideas were full of facts and historical documentation. He ridiculed the artist’s natural longing to create by accident and without method or schedule.  And discounted the irrational and emotional discussion of art without the grounding influence of history and perspective.

I will recall one article, in which he chided the art community for their hatred of advertising and reverence for art.  You know the argument… when an artist finally sells his work to be reproduced on a coffee mug, or a corporate advertising campaign, the other jealous artists who are still working at the ever so non-corporate Starbucks to pay their bills scoff and call him a “sell out”.

When I hear my colleagues pontificate on the purity of art versus the sordidness of advertising I have to wonder at their own grasp on reality. The boundary between art and advertising cannot be erected because there is no dividing line. This has always been true. Art, even so-called Fine Art, is no different in principle or spirit from advocacy. The chances are good that our ancient ancestors, like us, were equally complicitous in the selling/buying pact.

Recently I was reading a turgid tome speculating on the purpose of neolithic cavepaintings, in which the authors were blathering about magic, spiritualism, ritual, psychic connections, shamanistic practices, empathetic resonances, on and on. It seems to me more than likely that Og, hoping to be elected a tribal elder and so have his pick of the meat and women, is boasting of his prowess with spear and bravery on the hunt, and in an effort to sell himself hires Ugh to produce some visuals on the cave wall which when lit by the flickering flames of the fire look like television commercials.

-Bill Jay, Artist Rebells without a Cause

Bill discussing the selection process with photographer David Hurn. David was a consistent figure that appeared into my life once or twice a year. Hang around Bill enough and you were bound to see David Hurn.

Bill discussing the selection process with photographer David Hurn. David was a consistent figure that appeared into my life once or twice a year. Hang around Bill enough and you were bound to see David Hurn.

I listened to him discuss art from the rational viewpoint, its business, the political implications of it all and the light turned on inside of me.  Finally I was home in the art world.  I was raised by an artist and a lawyer.  My mother is a very talented art teacher, and my father is an intelligent hard working lawyer.  I am 50/50.  So I, like Bill, never really fit in among my artist colleagues.  I was far too rational to buy the gibberish that explained their unexplainable art work.  I knew I had a talent and an eye, but it was only when Bill spoke that I found a place in the world of the photographic arts.  There was actually a rational way to see art.  Yes, art is emotionally based and full of musical communications between souls, but it is also something that the rational human being can discuss, without developing a whole new circular vocabulary of catch phrases and hippie drug induced comma speak.
Bill ran the small but defiant Photo Studies program in the Photography wing of the School of Fine Arts at Arizona State University.  With a few exceptions, the powers of the Art School were hell bent on watching his program wither and die.  His little program consisted of four or five students who studied not just the act of photography, but learned how to research and write about the medium.  It was the goal of this program to create photographers and photo historians who could leave college with a useful set of skills, industry and academic contacts and the ability to earn a living in their chosen medium.  It was a “professional” program.  Translated for the artists: we were the “sell outs”.  So with Bill’s tutelage, our little photo studies program continued to defy, the conventional art culture.
It is funny indead to put it that way, most artists see themselves as defying culture, going against the grain, but in the end, they are falling right in line with their own art culture where everyone is just the same.  They must rebell to conform to the social norms of their peers.  Without the tattoo, the nose ring, a joint and full funeral black dress, they might stick out and look like a happy “normal” person, they might be too different from their crowd.

But in this crowd of artists, I and my fellow photo studies graduate students had found a less morose, and more intellectual home with Bill as our father figure, showing us how to step out on our own and do something truly unique in the art world, succeed.

Bill Jay being interviewed by the BBC.

Bill Jay being interviewed by the BBC.

For years after his retirement, I spent many mornings at his favorite diner having pancakes as he ate his eggs, bacon and hash browns talking with him about my latest efforts or listening to more stories about this photographer or that one.  He would encourage me to run with one project or another and I always thought, ‘I need to spend more time with Bill, record our conversations and document this man and everything he knows before he leaves us, because at the rate he salts his eggs, he can’t be around for much longer.’ Bill had already had a series of heart attacks, but he swore that life was only worth living if you could live it well.  And salt and eggs were part of life.

Soon though, he moved to San Diego for health reasons.  (Phoenix is to hot!)  And I recall meeting him at his apartment there several years ago, when I presented him with a small portfolio book of my wedding photography.  I suppose I presented it to him with the same eagerness my son presents his latest drawings to me.  I hoped that my “photographic father” would approve of the work I was accomplishing, even though I knew he probably wished that I had taken a more intellectual path, following in his historical footsteps.  But his response both shocked and thrilled me.

Perhaps it was that he had not seen the state of the wedding photography industry, but I like to think it was the work itself to which he was responding.  “Jared, this is the most amazing wedding photography I have ever seen.”  He continued to tell me how fantastic the images were and that it was great work, for it’s own sake, regardless of who’s wedding it was.  It was timeless work, he said, that would be important beyond the client’s spear, like portraits by Avedon or Penn (not that he was putting me on their level) that are important beyond their subject’s immediate use.  I was flattered and excited.  It was a confirmation that what I was attempting to create in wedding photography and portraiture was something more than images just for the clients who hire me, but images that would be important to anyone who saw them because of the visual and intellectual concepts in the photographs themselves: composition, emotion, shadows and highlights, movement, moments, metaphors, framing, lines, perspective…  Perhaps he was more complimentary than was warranted, but Bill was always genuine.

I learned something about myself that day, about where I tend to and should look for accolades.  It was his opinion of my photographs that meant more to me than anyone’s, more so than that of another photographer’s, even a master photographer, because it was his considered opinion that stood against changing fads and whims.  Because he knew the traditions, the movements and the alterations of the medium, he could see more clearly from a more objective vantage point.  It was the validation that my work might stand the test of time that I sought and received from him that day and no award that I can receive in this medium can match that small comment from one of the worlds most treasured photographic historians.

Bill Jay in California with one of his students. Bill took us on extended networking field trips to meet people who may be helpful to our careers in the future. But I think he also just liked being a tourist.

Bill Jay in California with one of his students. Bill took us on extended networking field trips to meet people who may be helpful to our careers in the future. But I think he also just liked being a tourist.

Unfortunately that may have been the last time I saw Bill.  We spoke on the phone on occasion, but he soon moved to Costa Rica, where I swore I would go as soon as I could to see him one last time.  I somehow knew that he would not be coming back and I missed the chance to see him again before he passed on.  I regret that missed opportunity, but his passing doesn’t bring me sorrow.  He wouldn’t approve of that anyway, sadness was not in his nature.  I have only once seen him with tears in his eyes, and that was for his youngest daughter as we discussed her challenges when she lost her leg in an accident.  But I think they might have been part sadness and part pride at her successes.  I rarely saw him without a smile on his face, or at least in his eyes.  I think that came from the furious curiosity that churned inside him.

He approached the opportunity to gain information with pure excitement and then to pass it on with even greater enthusiasm.  He used to tell me, “I have so much to get out into the world, I have plenty of papers in there that haven’t been submitted, just put your name one and get it out into the world.”  He wasn’t interested in the credit, just in getting the information out into the world for the benefit of the historical record.  I suppose I should have taken him up on that once or twice.

Perhaps the things I write and the lectures I give about photography are still his voice.  I found my voice through Bill Jay.  It was as though I had found my thoughts inside someone else head and as he spoke I recognized my own thoughts about photography and the world.  I don’t know what drew me to Bill, or why I rejected Law School to study with him.  Perhaps it was the intellectual and objective approach to the art.  Perhaps it was the historian.  Perhaps it was the sarcasm.  Perhaps it was the funny old englishman and his crazy stories.  Perhaps it was his rebellious spirit.  His independence.  His wisdom.  His beard.  But whatever it was, Bill Jay was my friend from the beginning  and soon became my guide and I hope as he reads his blog feed at St. Peter’s internet cafe’, that he has a good laugh as I call him a Politically Incorrect British Fiend.

Bill Jay and David Hurn. This is Bill signature laugh/giggle that was to common in conversations with him.

Bill Jay and David Hurn. This is Bill’s signature laugh that was common in conversations with him.