Sunday, December 11, 2011

Quatrain #15: Three Hour Blues

The week ahead promises to have its fair share of excitement, and perhaps even drama, as the clock ticks the remaining precious seconds from the closing hours of the semester. In particular, I am thinking of the students I've been working with in a course called Portfolio Seminar, which asked them the question fifteen weeks ago, "what do you plan to do with the rest of your photographic life?" Finding the answer to that is not as easy as one might think or want it to be. In short, it's a course that provides the tools and techniques to create not only a final portfolio with visual continuity and integrity, but a professional identity, a brand, and a basic marketing plan that is going to enable the next step of their photographic life.

These fifteen weeks have been all about thinking, dreaming, planning, creating, construction, deconstruction, and aspiring to new levels of excellence in themselves and their works. One of my teachers, Sam Abell, used an expression while editing work that I'll never forget, and that I now use frequently; meet or exceed. It speaks to the idea of determining what the best work you've ever produced is, and then holding every image produced in the meantime up to that. If a comparison is being made to see if the new work is as at least as good, or preferably better than the best already determined, then the expression can be invoked. It's one of the most useful measuring instruments I know of that perpetuates personal and professional growth.

So what's up with the three hour blues? If I divulge that now, then I'll spoil it for my students, since word has it that they've been reading this blog, too. Sorry, but you're going to have to ask one of them what I mean by this a week from now.


  1. Your "meet or exceed" mantra is pretty much on infinite loop replay in my head when I'm working on things, but I do have a minor concern about it. It almost has a built-in roadblock from trying new things and going in new directions.

    If I feel I've hit strides and must continue to "meet or exceed", then trying new directions and knowing they won't be able to "meet or exceed" at some other level, immediately disqualifies my efforts at something new.

    I've learned to balance your voice saying "meet or exceed" with Eddie Soloway's voice telling me it's ok to make and keep a "sketchbook" of images. Painters, drawers, writers, etc all maintain a sketchbook of ideas and attempts and new technique exploration. Photographers should give themselves permission to do so as well.

  2. Be mindful that "meet or exceed" is primarily spoken while in the stage of final editing, just before stepping into the presentation phase. If the process is divided into four parts, capture | processing | editing | presentation, then I define editing as a period of time when all the tools are put away. You're just pushing images around on a lightbox. All your greatest hits are there, with all the candidates on the sidebar. Putting "meet or exceed" in this context is where I'm coming from.

    So keep the sketchbook flowing in an uninhibited way. You're right, using "meet or exceed" doesn't belong in there. That would indeed constrict the freedom to make mistakes and be irrational and such, so just kick that out of the flow.