I stalk commercial photographers like a teenaged groupie. There, I said it and I'm not ashamed.
Like all photographers or creatives in any industry, I work so much sometimes that it almost becomes robotic, automatic, technical. I can't even tell sometimes if my work is good or inspiring or moving because I'm often so hung up on the technical aspect of image capture that I find myself miles away from what I was trying to achieve in the first place. So yeah, I stalk commercial photographers for some sort of divine inspiration to bridge my gap between robot and artist. Erik Almas, Melissa Rodwell, James Quantz, Joel Grimes, the list is endless, really. It's also a completely fruitless endeavor. My work is, was and will always be, my own. As much as I hate it sometimes, as much as it doesn't even mildly resemble the the artists I stalk and find myself inspired by. It's mine, like or not.
And in the process of becoming mine, something brilliant happens. Something wildly organic. Something completely out of my control and so beautiful that no robot could ever duplicate in a million, machine made image captures. During the process of trying to be technically perfect and achieve exactly what I want, I fail. I look down at my view screen and cringe at how awful the image looks. How is this possible? My settings are exactly what they're supposed to be. I stayed up late last night, for hours going over in my head, exactly how to shoot this one fucking image. And it sucks. The models are perfect, beautiful and patient, and clueless to my failure. They do whatever I ask because they trust me. They can't wait to see the images. They're excited. I'm mortified. This is not at all what I was trying to do today.
And then it happens. I quit. I shut down my lights, grit my teeth and curse under my breath as I walk back over to my bag to put my triggers away. "Are we done?", one of the girls asks. I don't answer. Instead I mess with my gear, head down while I go over scenarios of working at Home Depot. Because that's where I belong. Not out here pretending to be some pro photographer.
"Seriously, are we done already?", she asks. I'm forced to say something. And then, thank God, my inner pirate kicks in.
Fuck it. Let's just do something completely different and have some fun. Fuck it. Fuck it all. And we start shooting again.
I don't even really know what the camera settings are. I don't care. This is not at all what I was trying to do today. Other photographers will see these and cringe. They'll think, "What the hell is he trying to do? These are terrible." Fuck it. And fuck them too. I don't care at this point. It's organic, it's natural and it is what it is. And all of a sudden I realize, it's mine. It's not at all like the photographers I stalk but I kind of like it and now it's fun.
The girls see that I'm at ease now and moving more confidently, directing more, looking at my view screen less, shooting more. I almost don't care what it looks like anymore. I'm in the moment. I'm having fun. I realize how blessed I am to have these two girls in my life and what a great time we have when we go out shooting. And it becomes something other than a photo shoot. It becomes an expression of life and where we are at this point in it.
And then I realize where I am in my creative, professional journey; right where I'm supposed to be. Always learning. always trying, always failing and always trying again. The robot me thinks these pictures suck. The creative me is in awe of how these images were born. Had I not failed at trying to be one of my idols and shoot exactly like images I've seen in their portfolios, I'd never have this.
My father, who was the king of poetic metaphors used to say to me, "You can't begin any journey while docked in port. At some point you have to let go the ropes and trust the currents. You'll end up somewhere but it won't be here."
So yeah, I stalk a few commercial photographers and sit in awe of their amazing skills. I wonder if I'll ever be like them when I grow up. Either way, along the journey, I'm thankful for my inner pirate, my fathers wisdom, my amazingly beautiful and sweet step-daughters, and for the joy of technical failure. Because without it, I'd never stumble across the wonderful and natural process of organic creativity. Machines take pictures. People capture images. And the process is unique to us all.
Embrace your failures, let go the ropes and go where the current takes you.
CRAIG SCHIAVONE PHOTOGRAPHY 2014