Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More Thoughts on Models…and the Muse

After I finished my entry for yesterday’s post, I felt unsettled, as if something had been left unsaid. These weren't feelings of forgetfulness; these feelings nagged me to process and reconsider my words. I know now what was bothering me; what was not discussed: the question of anonymity.

Photographer Helmut Newton once said “an anonymous nude is a dishonest nude.” I’m not certain what he meant, or the context in which it was said, but his words have stuck with me. Perhaps this is because much of my work keeps the model anonymous. Often this is by design, as models sometimes ask to remain unidentifiable. Most times, it just works out that way. When I visualize my images, they often don’t include the model’s face. It’s how I see. It’s how I work.

And Mr. Newton, I don’t see my work as ‘dishonest.’

But to the question of anonymity, and Mr. Newton’s statement: why does anonymity bother some people – and why do some insist upon it? In my entry yesterday, I wrote briefly about the dominant views of nudity in our culture and society. In my opinion, the desire for anonymity is rooted in these cultural beliefs.

In the context of these ideals, anonymity allows all participants in the art to be active, to let go, to be immersed in the artist’s vision. Anonymity is a safe haven. No one will know we find pleasing lines, textures, and shapes in the bodies of others, that we can see beauty in the bodies shared by those of our own sex, even ourselves. We can remain a face in the crowd. Anonymity protects us from us.

Of course, there's a real world side to anonymity and figure modeling. It’s sad and it’s silly, but it’s true. Anonymity allows the school teacher, the lawyer, the police officer, to express their creative side, to share their beauty with the audience of the art and at the same time, keep their jobs.

How does the muse feel about anonymity? I don’t know. We don’t talk about it.

It doesn’t enter the discussion unless the model asks for it, and I often prefer they didn’t. Keeping a model anonymous is sometimes difficult for me as it changes how I think; how I see and visualize. Instead of simply seeing, I have to think about not seeing. If I ask you to not think of apples, what do you immediately think of? If it isn’t mentioned, if I allow the shoot to flow as it will, if I shoot as I see, then the nature of the work will take over and anonymity will happen. Most of the time. And if it doesn't? There’s always post production.

Don't believe I've never asked the muse to share her thoughts on anonymity. I approach; she keeps her distance. Always present, always hidden in shadow. Now that I think of it, I’ve never seen her face. I've only glimpsed her body. To me, she’s remained anonymous. For everyone that sees my work, she stands to face them.

Monday, June 29, 2009

"I never saw an ugly thing in my life; light, shadow, and perspective will always make it beautiful." - John Constable, painter.

There are two questions I’m asked most often about my work and both pertain to models.

The most common question people have is how or where I find models. They also want to know why I don’t have any images of male models included in my body of work. The latter is the easiest to answer, so I’ll start there.

The market for male figurative art, particularly photographic male figurative art, is so small it’s virtually non-existent. That’s particularly true for the area of the world where I live and work. I have photographed male models in years past and used to show their images in my portfolios, but I’ve never sold an image of a male nude. So, I don’t invest the time and cost in the production of work that will be difficult, if not impossible, to market. Simple economics.

This is interesting to me, as the vast majority of figurative art produced by the Greek and Roman cultures were of the male form. The male body was seen as the epitome of perfection; whereas the female figure was seen as incomplete and often described as “profane.” At some point, the cultural and world views changed and now the female form dominates figurative work the world over. To this day, male figurative art is more successful as statuary or drawings and paintings than photography.

So: where do I find models for my work? Most often, I ask people I know or those I meet to pose. There are also resources on the web, networking sites that specifically provide a way for models and artists to connect with one another. Model Mayhem, Model Coast, Model Brigade, and One Model Place are some of the more popular ones. I maintain portfolios on Model Mayhem and Model Brigade but haven’t had any real success with them as resources for models. I tend to do better when I look within my own community.

Finding models is challenging for any artist. The search for the model-muse eludes us all. One great thing about figurative modeling is it’s not restricted to certain body ideals, such as those sought for fashion or runway modeling. Anybody, everyone, can be a figure model. Granted, specific projects may call for a certain body type, skin color, age range, or some other criteria. But generally speaking, figure modeling is something anyone comfortable in their own skin, comfortable with who they are, can do. 18 or older, of course.

In a recent conversation with a photographer friend, he shared that he’s had good results finding models using Craig’s List. I was apprehensive about this approach at first; I had tried advertising for models without success in the past. I decided to try it again. This time I was able to make some promising connections. The image above is of a woman that responded to my Craig’s List advert. It's from a recent studio session, and coincidentally, it was her first experience as a model.

Asking friends and acquaintances to pose has worked quite well. But it's not surprising that nearly every day, I see women that would be wonderful figure models. Often, what I see as interesting about them are the very things they see as “unattractive” or “ugly” about themselves. Our cultural ideas of beauty are often based on unobtainable goals. Sadly, we live in a culture where merely being nude is considered taboo; being nude in a public place, or outside of one’s home, even on one’s own property, can be judged as a criminal act. These can be difficult barriers to deal with; but one thing I never do is to try to persuade or “talk” someone into modeling. I’ll give them a business card with my website address and contact number on it, briefly explain what I do, and let them know my work can be seen in a local gallery. It’s their decision to contact me or not. Fortunately, they often do.

I feel I do my best work with new or inexperienced models and I’ve wondered why this is. I've come to the conclusion it's because they have few bad habits to undo and no preconceived ideas of what the art should be. I’m also fortunate to live in a city where a prominent art school is located and where much of the community is receptive to art and the processes of art. Often, models I’ve worked with in the past will refer an interested model to me. My karma must be better than I know.

Models are critical to artists and artists are critical to models. The figure photographer cannot work without the figure model; the figure model’s work cannot exist with the figure photographer. On some level, model and artist are partners intertwined, bound together by the work at hand, giving and receiving in constant, intimate exchange, creating something that is simultaneously wonderful and beautiful.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Are you laughing? This is art! There's no laughing in art!"

I was recently reminded of a conversation with a friend from Atlanta. She worked with me as a studio assistant and later as a model during the early years of my work with the nude. After our third or fourth session together, I asked how she was doing, if she was comfortable working with nude people.

She laughed. “I’m fine” she said. “But you need to lighten up.”

I’ve never had much of a poker face so my surprise didn’t go unnoticed. “These women shouldn’t feel like they’re in a doctor’s office" she said. "If I was going to model, I’d want to know I was going to have fun, that it wouldn’t be so…clinical. This is art, not illustration for some anatomy textbook. Lighten up. Have a sense of humor about it.” She shut off one of the monolight heads; I just stared at the wall. She turned to face me. “Art should be fun.”

Art? Fun? Really?

Certainly, the definition of what art ‘is’ means many different things to many different people. For some, the definition of art is the same definition Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart placed upon obscenity in a 1964 ruling, “I know it when I see it." Put simply, art can be difficult to define. But fun? Perhaps. I like to imagine that’s why Leonardo da Vinci shared the soft smile of Lisa del Gheradini – the Mona Lisa - with the world.

I’ve thought of my friend’s comments often and have decided that yes, art should be fun, as should the process of art. The quote from Edward Weston, with which I opened this blog, would seem to minimize any aspect of fun and art; but having read his daybooks, I do believe that Mr. Weston was an artist that had a lot of fun with his medium. There are few things in this world that genuinely fill me with joy, and creating my photographs – my art – is one of them. And when I think about it, there have been many humorous moments in my studio sessions with models, nude and clothed, and even out of studio, working with no models.

So yes, art can be funny and art can be fun. Here's a couple of pictures to prove it.


The faithful among you who are following this blog through its infancy will notice I’ve changed the background color to white. Originally, the background was black and the text white. This made the images look fabulous, but it was, admittedly, hard on the eyes when it came to reading. Your criticisms have been heard.

So, while this is a blog with photography at its heart, where the images should always look fabulous, it’s also a blog that’s now easier to read. Continue, please.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Ah film.

For me, film means photography. Film is photography.

Despite the way that sounds, my intent is not to begin a “film vs. digital” debate; what I am trying to say is film is how I learned to work with light and shadow; film is how I learned about exposure, about seeing, about composition; film was the base upon which everything I know about photographic theory was built. There is now a generation of working photographers that have never used film. It is slipping away from school curriculums and truthfully, I’m having a tough time wrapping my mind around that.

If you’ve read any of this blog, and I sure hope that someone is, you know that I work in both mediums in my photography, though I wouldn’t say I do so interchangeably. When I shoot, no matter film or digital, I shoot as if I’m shooting film and I’m the first to admit doing so has caused problems. Just read my blog entry from June 21st.

Regardless, I honestly believe that because I learned photography in an analog world and continued to work with film long after the digital influx, I tend to be more careful when I work. However, as I began to integrate digital photography into my projects, I lowered my guard and grew more ambitious without regard for the art. It has now bitten me in the butt. Again, read yesterday’s entry.

I will point out the problems I experienced during the studio session have nothing to do with whether I was shooting film or digital. I happened to be shooting more digital than film, but in the same circumstances I would have experienced the same issues shooting more film and less digital. The medium is irrelevant.

Needless to say, after looking at dozens of underexposed RAW image files on my first edit, I was eager to develop the rolls of film I shot during those sessions. I’ve always been confident in my lighting abilities, and having sorted out the majority of equipment issues, confidence had once again taken hold - or at least had its foot in the door.

It’s important to understand some of this film was shot with a Holga toy camera. The Holga is an all plastic camera made in China and can be bought for around $35. Commercial photographers hate them; fine art photographers love them. They’re renowned for unpredictability with exposures, soft focus, and light leaks. Knowing this, I’m always braced for what the Holga may or may not give. While it frequently gives nothing, the images it can give are often breathtaking. I’m a huge fan. These two black and white images were made with a Holga.

Still, as much as I love the plastic-fantastic, I’m not brave enough to commit huge portions of studio sessions to it. I also shot with my Yashica MAT 124G twin lens reflex camera, a 35 year old camera I know to be rock solid.

When time came to process the film, I declared the guest bathroom off limits and set up the chemistry, drying racks, etc. I began rolling the film onto the developing reels in a small portable changing bag or “dark bag.” I’m particular about film processing and I usually only do two rolls per tank to maintain consistency. The first reel rolled without a hitch, but the second was difficult.

The actual development steps went smoothly. It was when I pulled the reels from the tank after the final fresh water rinse that I discovered the problem. The first reel I had rolled was well developed with good negative images, but the second reel was not. The crease in the film was still there and caused the film to stick to itself. Only half of the roll was properly developed. Believing the mistake was mine, I continued to develop, but on the next set of rolls, I lost an entire due to what I now knew was a bad reel.

In spite of all of this, and in spite of the fact I’d not had these problems if I had shot digitally, (I could’ve had a different set of problems altogether), I still love film. I love the way it feels, I love the way it sounds in camera, and I love the process of working with it. I even like the smell of the chemistry. (Some of it.) I purchased a new reel and things are fine. The later sets of negatives look good.

Working with film does present its own set of challenges when it comes to printing an actual photograph. While I can easily develop any black and white negative film at home, printing is another matter altogether. A complete working darkroom is needed to make photographs from negatives. The only other solution is a scanner, and a high quality one at that, if you want to print anything larger than 8X10 or so. Presently, I don’t have access to a darkroom where I can print, so my negatives are scanned and printed digitally. (I’m hopeful this will soon change; see my entry for June 17 where I talk at length about PURE.)

There are considerations with film development for scanning where management of negative contrast and density is concerned. The general rule I’ve heard is negatives that will be scanned should be developed with lower overall contrast – less density. I honestly don’t recall where or by whom I was told this. Speaking for myself, I was taught under the adage of “expose for the shadows; develop for the highlights” and it serves me well. I’ve no reason to deviate. So far, I’ve been able to manage my negatives in PhotoShop and print accordingly.

At the darkroom where I did my work in Atlanta, there was an underlying fear that film would quietly slip away; that it would be there one day and gone the next. The use of film has certainly diminished; and the darkroom, much to my dismay, closed its doors 4 years ago.

But film is hardly gone. In celebration of that fact, all of the images with today’s post were recorded on film - with no manipulation in PhotoShop other than cropping, spotting, and a few tonal adjustments - film stuff.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

New Studio Work; Plus an Exhibition Celebrating the Johnny Mercer Centennial

Here are two test images from a recent studio set with new models; models both new to modeling and new to my work. It was my hope these sessions would finish my shoot schedule for an upcoming gallery exhibition set for November of this year. Well, the sessions did bring things to a close, but not quite as I expected. It was also these sessions that started my thoughts on how I and other artists face fear and change, inspiring two of this week’s entries in the blog.

The sessions were done with each model independently over one eight hour day; shooting one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. In spite of my feelings, I pushed ahead with projects I knew should end, and in hindsight, this was a good thing. It served to clear my head, pushing the veil aside, allowing me to see that I was no longer adhering to my philosophies of simplicity and of sticking with the basics. But, as is often the case with things that “clear my head”, the process was not without a few painful moments. I was at least aware of my emotions, so I began each session with a very simple set: a plain paper background, single monolight and white umbrella. It was an honest start.

Still, I was frustrated and stressed during the sessions, and worried my feelings and unsettled energies were transferring to the models. The models did wonderfully and were, as it turns out, fine. (One did tell me she sensed some interruptions in my “flow” at times.) The real problems, as they usually are, were with my own attitude and stubbornness.

However, my troubles were not limited to my state of mind, as I somehow managed to change the shutter speed setting on one of my cameras. I had accidentally turned a control dial, something I didn’t catch for several minutes of shooting. Combined with other technical issues, this resulted in the underexposure of many images, some significantly.

All of these were easily avoided mistakes; mistakes that would have been realized much sooner had my mind not been blocked with frustration. It’s worth noting that had these been film sessions, I would have certainly been up the proverbial creek without a paddle, perhaps even a boat. I did shoot a few rolls of film with each model and have had an entirely different set of issues with that. I’ll save that tale for the next post.


The centennial birthday of singer, songwriter, and arranger Johnny Mercer takes place this year. Savannah is his hometown, and it’s a big event. At Savannah's The Gallery, where I am an owning partner, we are hosting a show in honor of Mercer and his music. Each artist/partner of The Gallery chose a song title from one of the hundreds written by Mercer and created a work around it.

My piece is a black and white photograph of the Savannah Gryphon, a terracotta fountain statue of the mythical winged lion. The statue was given to the city of Savannah as a gift in 1889, but from whom or in honor of what, I’m not certain. Unfortunately, in September of 2008, it was destroyed when a car driven by a drunk driver went out of control and crashed into it, shattering it into thousands of pieces. A full restoration is now underway.

"Frasier, the Sensuous Lion", by Bill Ballard

Mercer penned a song titled “Frasier, the Sensuous Lion” and I decided my image of the statue fit perfectly with the title. I put the image in the show, dedicating it to the memory of both Mercer and the gryphon. A percentage of the sale price goes to the Johnny Mercer Statuary fund that is placing a bronze of Mercer in the newly restored Ellis Square in Savannah’s City Market district.

The show will be on the walls until the end of June. I’m pleased to say "Frasier" has sold.

The irony of the situation is that I had decided not to put a piece in the show as I didn’t feel I had anything that fit well with Mercer’s work. But after being barraged by emails and phone calls from my gallery partners, I was persuaded to conceive “Frasier.” And so it goes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Strength of Our Fathers: A 2008 Exhibition Celebrating African American Fatherhood

Sometime during the fall of 2007, Jerome Meadows, a sculptor living and working in Savannah, noticed something as he drove through the east side neighborhood where his studio is located. He saw a father holding his small child.
A relatively unremarkable sight for many, the scene stirred him deeply. For some time, Jerome had felt disheartened by the stereotype many see black fathers labeled with by American society and media; that stereotype being they are often absent, uncaring, and disinterested in the lives of their children. Jerome knew there were loving and caring black men that are responsible to their families and society in every corner of the world. He wanted to get that message out; he wanted to bust the stereotype.

He envisioned an exhibit of photography; portraits of black men and their children that were emotive and powerful. He wanted the photographs to be recorded on film and printed using traditional processes in the small darkroom that was a part of his studio. The images would be exhibited in Indigo Sky Gallery, a gallery located adjacent to his studio.

Jerome approached one of the members of PURE to discuss the project and asked her to be the sole photographer for the selected fathers and children. (Please see yesterday's post to learn about PURE.) However, as the project grew and evolved, it became clear that photographing 18 fathers, their children and potentially their grandchildren in the time allotted was a daunting task for one person. Eventually, the corps of photographers swelled to five volunteers and shooting began.

Seemingly endless meetings for image editing and print selection followed and the show eventually came together, debuting at Indigo Sky Gallery in April of 2008. It was shown again for a special Father’s Day celebration at a local church, also in 2008.

For my part in the project, I was asked to coordinate with three of the other photographers and spend a Saturday shooting in an impromptu set built in the truck sized doorway of Jerome’s sculpture studio. The images were produced against a simple white seamless background in natural light. The “studio” was in constant shade throughout the day and the light meter never wavered. It was wonderful. We couldn’t have asked for better shooting conditions.

In the end, much of the project could not be produced using Jerome’s darkroom. I shot all of my images on film in an attempt to remain true to the concept, but was forced by time and other considerations to produce the prints digitally as were the other photographers. It’s no matter; good work was created and I’m not complaining.

The show was well received and the opening reception was standing room only. One fascinating aspect of the show was that each father and child completed a questionnaire about the importance of each in the others lives. Their responses were incorporated into the photograph titles.

Many of the photographers, me among them, turned the tables on the fathers by handing their children – often very small children – our cameras and asking them to photograph their dads and siblings. The pictures taken by them were wonderfully touching and were shown on their own wall in the gallery.

Although the processes of the project were often trying (if you’ve ever attempted to get six artists, plus a panel of gallery directors to agree on anything, you can understand) it was in the end, a beautiful and successful show.

The participating photographers were Bill Ballard, Asa Chibas, Annie Y. Patrick, Jessica Stelling, and Natalie von Lowenfeldt.

These four images represent my contribution to “The Strength of Our Fathers.” I hope you enjoy them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

PURE - Photographers Using Real Elements - A Group of Savannah Photographers Dedicated to the Art of Traditional Process Photography

"Fort Pulaski" by Kathleen Thomas

Photographers Using Real Elements, (PURE) is a non-profit organization based in Savannah, Georgia, working to preserve traditional film-based photographic processes. The goal of PURE is to establish a community oriented darkroom for those interested in working with film and chemistry. Additionally, PURE plans to develop educational programs to introduce the art of traditional process photography to those that have only experienced the medium through digital processes.

Wait - people still use film? Isn’t film…well…dead? Extinct? Kaput?

No. Well not yet, anyway.

Certainly, some aspects of film based image making have faded into obscurity. Kodak ceased production of all black & white photographic paper in 2004; AGFA completely abandoned all things photographic soon after; and many ancillary products like spotting dyes and washing agents are no more. The relatively few materials still in production are becoming more expensive and more difficult to find.

Community darkrooms were a common thing in most cities as recently as the early part of this century. Atlanta, Georgia had three of them at one time. Now, I only know of half a dozen still in operation across the whole of the United States, something to me that is very sad. PURE was founded in early 2007 by fellow photographers Kathleen Thomas and Michelle Phillips; I became involved soon thereafter.

"Witness" by Bill Ballard

So, the question begs: why a darkroom in the digital age?
The answer’s quite simple, actually: its how some photographers prefer to do their work. My background in photography is based on film and chemistry; light and paper. Even though I began shooting digitally over four years ago (much later than many, I might add) I am still far more comfortable doing my work in a darkroom. Another reason is that I enjoy the process. For years, I wore a near permanent ‘darkroom squint.’ In the time I’ve shown and exhibited my work, I’ve never had anyone look at one of my photographs and say “wow, you did that on a computer?”

Before I go further, perhaps I should clarify what PURE is not. PURE is not to purport film to be better than digital, nor was it created to foster the film vs. digital debate. As I said earlier, PURE exists to create an environment that will allow those wanting to do their work in the ‘analog’ world of photography, and those wanting to learn, the ability to do so – and that’s pretty much it.

From my perspective, there’s little difference in the methods of the medium. I use them almost equally. Both use a light tight structure and light refracting glass to focus reflected light through an opening in the lens onto a light sensitive surface. The result from either is a visible image of reflected light. A photograph.

The difference between the mediums is more with the photographer and the path he or she wishes to take to the visible image than the mediums themselves.

I can go to two cabinet makers and order new wooden cabinets. One will use pre-cut and machine formed materials, assemble them with pneumatic tools, and deliver them to my home by truck. The other will use only hand sawn woods, a hand saw to cut the wood to shape, a hammer and nails to assemble the cabinets, and a horse drawn wagon to deliver them.

Either way, I have high quality cabinets made from wood in my home. Are there differences? Yes, certainly. Are they noticeable? If both are done with due consideration given to materials used and the methods of assembly, not likely. At least not to an untrained eye.

Is there a difference in cost? Absolutely.

It’s much the same with film or digital based photography. I can use film based chemical processes or electronic digital process. Either way, I have a photograph. But one costs more to produce than another. And it’s fair to say at this point that while good digital color printing has been around for a while, such wasn’t always the case with black and white digitally produced prints. However, the gap is closing now, and it’s closing fast.

Darkroom equipment was very cheap to acquire in the early days of the rush from film to digital. Entire working darkrooms, often with professional equipment, could be bought for pennies on the dollar. Now, with equipment in good working order becoming more difficult to come by, the costs of building and operating a darkroom are increasing. The costs of chemistry, film, paper, and other essentials are also on the rise. Film cameras, however, are continuing to drop in cost. Many camera stores no longer stock them.

Untitled, by Michelle Phillips

Digital photography has presented peculiar considerations that film photography did not, particularly where equipment upgrades are concerned. With film, I always adopted the philosophy of using the least expensive body with the best lenses that I could afford. An upgrade was almost always to a lens and not the body, unless a wider shutter speed range or film speed range was needed.

Having the best glass to transmit the light was the goal and good glass is still vital to digital imaging. However, digital camera sensor resolutions continue to grow. Working professionals, particularly those in the commercial world, almost always have to upgrade when a higher resolution and faster digital body is introduced in order to stay competitive. In turn, higher resolution sensors create larger files sizes, so memory cards must also be upgraded. Computers used for image processing and storage often require an upgrade so that processing times and storage capacities stay reasonable. An upgrade to a printer capable of faithfully reproducing the higher resolution files will certainly follow.

A darkroom rarely required such extensive upgrades simply because a new body was introduced to the photographers gear inventory. The exception was if a larger film format camera was added, such as a 4X5 or 8X10 view camera. In that case, an appropriate enlarger and negative carriers may be needed. Otherwise film camera upgrades were generally an upgrade to the light tight structure only.

I work with both mediums and still use film fairly often, processing it in my guest bathroom at home. Until PURE achieves the goal of a working darkroom, I will continue to scan the negatives and print them digitally.

PURE will hopefully gain ground soon. It has been a slow and often frustrating process this far. Educating a community of artists and associated professionals to embrace a need they don’t readily perceive has been a challenge to say the least. Still PURE has hosted a successful gallery exhibition in the fall of 2007 and future shows are in the works. I’ll post show events here as they are planned.

I know of a few photographers, some very talented, that chose to end their career rather than shoot digitally. One continued to print his negatives until his supply of papers and chemicals was exhausted, then declared his work to be at an end. At a minimum, this is unfortunate, even short-sighted and selfish. The world is being denied very beautiful work.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


It was not my intention, when I sat to write today’s entry, to continue or even mention my discussion of fear and the artist. What I wanted to write about was change. However,
I soon found that trying to ignore or discount the relationship of fear and change would be damn near impossible.

People are creatures of habit. We drive the same roads to work and home from work; we follow the same morning routine every day; we shop in the same stores, etc. Resistance to change is an issue for all of us, but especially so for artists. See the image above? Showing a nude in color is a huge change for me. Some would even say it's out of character.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Right?

For the artist’s work to grow and evolve, for artists to meet the demands placed upon themselves by their own creativity, change must occur. If change is not present, the work becomes stale, old; perhaps even boring. Artists have been known to quit rather than change. Such an attitude borders on dogmatism, and in extreme situations, fanaticism. Often, all that is required to alleviate the pressure, and the fear, is a healthy dose of change.

But for many, the mere concept of change is scary and breeds fear. People stay in bad jobs and bad relationships because they fear change. Artists produce bad work because they fear change. Fear of change fosters fear of failure, and ultimately for the artist, fear of rejection.

For me the opposite holds true. I embrace change, often times too quickly and to my own detriment. My mother often told me I always wanted to be where I wasn't. "You're always on the way to somewhere else. Try to be where you are for a while" she would say. All too soon, I throw out the old before I should; I grab hold of the new before I’m fully aware of what I’m doing. Certainly, this has brought a good share of suffering and heartache my way. It has also taken me on many new and exciting adventures.

The image here is a classic result of how I embrace and deal with change. It is from my project called ETHOS, a project born out of both fear and change. I was feeling my work with the nude figure had become old and repetitive, stagnant and boring. The change I initiated was significant; a fantastic departure from mostly black backgrounds and sharp, contoured monochrome abstracts and full figure portraits. It swept me up fully. ETHOS was born from the desire of change, pushed by the fear of …truthfully I’m not sure what I was afraid of. A more honest answer is that I was bored and growing lazy.

I debuted the project in a solo gallery show with 15 framed pieces. Three of them sold on opening night. Two more sold a month after the show was finished. The gallery directors and I were pleased. I was booked for a second show more or less on the spot. Not bad.
ETHOS was a success.

But ETHOS turned the tables on me. I continued to shoot images for the project and there were problems. ETHOS required a complicated set with a minimum of three assistants. The lighting grew more complex with each set as I continued to experiment until I was using a combination of four monolight heads, each placed with great care and precision. The fabric scrims had to be steamed and stretched. Directing the model, when neither of us could see one another was a whole other challenge. It was complicated, difficult, and often frustrating.

Producing work I was happy with looking at myself, much less showing in a gallery exhibition, became increasingly difficult the longer the project endured. ETHOS had quickly gone from being something new and exciting to being a chore.

I found myself longing for simple sets and light arrangements; longing for those images that were minimalist to the core. ETHOS was a classic example of my rush to change things too fast, too quickly, without fully examining the need for change.

I have now ended ETHOS. My experience of the project taught me many things as an artist. It was a good lesson in how to know when the time is right for change, to know when to look more closely at what is happening already, and to look for ways to keep the flow going as it is. In my case, the change to ETHOS worked well; certainly it was better than had I seized with fear and did nothing, or simply quit.

So it’s back to simple studio arrangements and simple sets; back to the production of images that are quietly beautiful. To my eye, those are always the best.

Yet change continues and I welcome it. I've started projects that will take my cameras and models out of the studio and into natural light environments. It's new and exciting; even exhilarating. And it's laced with simplicity.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

“...just like a curse, just like a stray, you feed it once and now it stays…” - From the song “Until it Sleeps”, Metallica

Fear has been on my mind lately, born from an afternoon conversation with a fellow photographer, artist, and friend. I'm not talking about the type of fear that causes panic or literal fright, but the type of fear that grips and holds; the type of fear that can force one to change his or her life. I'm speaking of the kind of fear that, in it's most basic form, makes the artist ashamed or afraid to be the person they really are; fear that will make them deny the work they were meant to create.

Although I've always had an interest in photography, I only began to take my photography seriously within the last 15 years - and it has been one hell of a ride. My fears have manifested themselves in many different voices with many different faces. My work continues to grow and evolve, and the consequences of past choices are more clear now than ever. Fear, in it's own weird way, had become a refuge of sorts. If I didn't create the work, it couldn't be rejected. It's an oddly safe place to be, until you can't stand it anymore. The desire to create, the desire to do your work, will always exert itself.

Art is very personal. Art, by it's nature, takes courage. The artists I know all have a commitment to their work on every possible level. They suffer for it; they pour themselves into it, body, mind and soul, regardless of what it is, regardless of where it goes, regardless of the chances for success. In the book ‘Art & Fear’, authors David Bayles & Ted Orland say that because of this fear, the artist sometimes throws the work into a great, black void, giving the artist the first right of rejection. It’s true; I’ve often done it myself. It eases the pain of rejection. We strike first because for many of us, when our work is rejected, we are rejected.

Yet, the fear will linger, always whispering, and sometimes shouting - that ‘feed it once’ thing, you see.

Fear will never leave us, artist or not. Fear is part of being human. Fear is not to be defeated either. Fear just ‘is.’ It’s different for each of us. What matters is how we as artists deal with it. Mountains are rarely conquered by a single climber, and it is a round trip journey – once on the summit, you still have to survive the trip down.

The pursuit of their work is often a lonely and misunderstood journey for the artist, as well as those in the artist's life. Such a life is fertile ground for fear to take root in. There is strength in numbers, and in numbers, artists supported by community can turn the tables on fear. Artists must support and encourage one another and through community, they better their chances in the battle against fear.

It works. I’ve experienced it personally.

The challenge here is that artists by nature are often solitary creatures. Even amongst our own, we must find our quiet and alone time, often to work; often so we can work. Either way we must have that time and we must be watchful. The artist must return to the community, as fear will be reluctant to follow there. Community gives us strength and confidence to deal with our fear on our terms.

For what its worth, I've made it to the summit of this particular peak in my own personal range of fear. I haven’t survived the trip; not just yet. I'm still on the way to the base, to be grounded once again. But, I'd say my odds of making it are pretty damn good.

An assault on a new and unchallenged peak will begin soon enough, I'm sure. It always does.

"Photography to the amateur is recreation, to the professional it is work, and hard work too, no matter how pleasurable it my be." - Edward Weston

Hello and welcome. My name is Bill Ballard. I’m a fine art photographer working in Savannah, Georgia.

I create photographic studies of the nude human form, images that are unique visual explorations of the human body using shadow and light. My apologies for the silly ‘adult content’ warning on the opening page; these are photographs that hang on gallery walls and in my humble opinion, barely justify such caution.

I understand if artistic figure work isn’t your cup of tea. I ask that you understand it is most of what I do photographically. But don’t write me off just yet. My other work, which I see as fitting the genres of documentary and travel, will show up once in a while. Certainly, one goal of this journal is to introduce my figurative art to an interested audience; I also hope that it will serve to foster discussions within the fine art photography communities, regardless of the genre.

So regardless of your personal views on the body and nudity, I encourage you to have a look-see. Open your mind and fear not. Look at my photography and see what you feel, what you experience, and what, if anything, you leave with.