Thursday, July 23, 2015

Making Archetypes, Imagining Workshops

Every now and then I resolve to go shoot a pile of those awful archetypes that clutter up Flickr and 500px. Generally street/urban, so I don't have to drive all over tarnation and wait for the damned golden hour. My idea varies. A portfolio cranked out one afternoon to prove how easy this shit out to grind out. Sometimes I'm going to open a Flickr account and work my way up to thousands of followers which I will then monetize or whatever.

It always ends the same way. I go shoot for an hour. I load up 150 shots on the computer and sift it down to an A list of 3 or 4 or 8 or whatever, and a slightly larger B reel.

Then I can't bear to look at them any more. Usually I've got a small handful of photos that would serve. 'Process' them a bit, edit the EXIF so they look like they were taken with an expensive camera, and I'm good to go. I dunno if I can grind out terrible landscapes, but I can produce urban observational quasi-street at a rate of probably 3 or 4 an hour. Counting 'processing' and so on' I'm confident that I could pump out 2 an hour more or less forever. Except that I'd kill myself.

I just can't do it. It's not that I'm an honest guy and can't bear to go through with a scam. I'd love to scam a bunch of people on 500px. I can't bear to look at these photos. I can't bear to spend my time polishing these pigs up in the approved fashion. They're pointless stupid photos, by design.

So the whole project goes in the dumpster and I go back to something that's just going to cost money, with no chance of making any.

What makes this thing something of interest to me is that I have no problem at all doing precisely this at the piano.

Grinding out a decent rendition of Bach's Prelude in C (a very beautiful, very easy to play, piece of music) gives me great pleasure. I'm not trying to express anything, I'm just trying to bang the right keys in the right order, with a respectable approximation of the force indicated on the sheet music. Grinding this thing out respectably is, surely, pretty close to the same achievement as crapping out some terrible Urban Contemporary photograph.

There are a few differences.

Nobody listens to me noodling at the piano and suggests that I ought to take it up as a profession. People looking at photographs are notoriously wont to make just that suggestion, based apparently on the observation that your pictures are "clear" whatever that even means.

I do not kid myself that I might someday become a professional piano player. That simply isn't going to happen. I don't know much about piano playing, but I do know enough to visualize the vast gulf that exists between me and the lowest paid piano player.

I do not kid myself that I can teach the piano to anyone else. Sure, I have a few simple suggestions for the genuinely ignorant, based on memories of my own lessons, but it turns out that teaching piano is a profession in its own right. Again, I am aware of the vast gulf, etc.

Photographers are weirdly unaware of the same vast gulfs. They'll cheerfully start offering up workshops, and even more weirdly other photographers will sign up for them. Most workshops appear to be travel to a beautiful location and take an metric fuckton of snapshots while there, and every night get together with a bunch of like-minded twats to drink and "critique" one another's work. In other words, it's not really about learning anything. It's about hanging out with other gearheads on vacation.

There are no workshops offered in Bellingham, WA, although there are 100s of workshops being offered to photographers every single day of the year. They're all in Venice, or Hawaii, or Antarctica.

I try to envision the same thing for piano players. Go to Vienna, and hang out at the Bösendorfer factory, noodling away on pianos with other people who also cannot play very well, while receiving lessons from some dope who has no idea either how to play the piano, or how to teach people how to play? Then go get drunk?

Doesn't that sound awesome?


  1. Andrew,

    An interesting comparison, well made, but actually probably wrong. Check out "blues guitar workshop" in Google, for example -- like-minded twats come in all varieties. Piano being more upmarket (and more difficult!), substitute " amateur master class" for workshop...

    As for your (amusing) Ming Thein obsession, I'm reminded of the old joke:

    Patient: Doctror, doctor, it hurts when I do this!
    Doctor: Then stop doing that...

    Other websites are available...


    1. To be honest, I never did Google 'piano workshop'. Tsk. Baaaad researcher! It's possible the Vienna horror I described happens constantly. What a thought. At least photographers are relatively quiet.

      As for Ming Thein, well, it doesn't bother me that I spend a lot of time on him. He's a near perfect example of much that I dislike, which is why I keep coming back to him.

      My (increasing?!) readership is presumably rolling its collective eyes more and more violently reach trip down this path, and I sympathize with them. Perhaps I'll start yelling about petapixel, just to mix it up.