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Commentary # 22 ~ August 2008
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Getting to Know  "Joe"  Photographer

Part One:  Portfolios and Prose

August 2008

- by Craig Wassel

I spent some time over the past few weeks making new contact sheets for a client who has been using alot of my work. I was more methodical that I have been in the past, prefixing each catalog number with a category description, like "land_sepia" for landscapes in sepia tone. It was an interesting exersize, because it gave me a look at what kind of subjects I am drawn too, a view of what style, if any, can be seen in my work, and map of the direction my photography is taking. The galleries on this site are thematic and do a little of the same, but flipping through a few pages of galleries with 200 or so images does not give the same perspective as looking at contact sheets of 750 or more.

Our portfolios tell alot about what we like, where we live, and where we travel. We want our portfolios to be seen, and we want to speak with them and through them, and a rapidly increasing number of photographers of every kind are putting their work online. A good number are also going beyond just displaying portfolios, and are also writing about photography on their sites. Ten years ago, there weren't many keeping blogs or writing online articles and reviews, but now it is not uncommon at all. Until last month, I had not stopped to add up how much I have written on this site. I was suprised the count stands at 22 commentaries, including this one. An HTML utility I have also told me that they average around 1,500 words in length.

That makes a total of nearly 32,000 words I've posted over the past two years, and I think that is something important to ponder. Each time a photographer posts something anywhere on the web, it offers readers the world over an opportunity to form opinions of him or her. It is truly a small world. The internet is making it an even smaller place; it is amazing how paths can cross, especially in a subculture like the world of photography. Online portfolios may tell visitors what a photographer likes, but a photographer's writing reveals a good deal about what that photographer is like. Writing, more often than not, is a fairly clear reflection of the character of the author.

I don't do enough analysis of this site's traffic to know how often the commentaries are read compared to how often the galleries are visited, but I know it is safe to say that mine is not a well known, highly visited site. But if someone does visit and reads all 22 (or even just 2) of my commentaries, he or she is going to form some judgements and opinions about me. Obviously, the only control I have over what impression is formed is by what I write and how I write it.

I am not some well known photographer, and as I said, I know I do not have thousands of readers. As I have also said, the main reason I write is it helps me better see the world around me, and that is ultimately reflected through my lens and in the photographs that end up in my portfolio, and on this site. It helps keep me moving. I also regularly read the writings of other online photographers, and some of them do have thousands of readers. I wonder how clearly some of them consider that what and how they write strongly impacts their standing in the world of photography. I have read some proclaim they don't care what anyone thinks of them, then read them subtlely protesting being called an idiot, then read them calling someone else a weenie. That's an indication to me that they do care. Each should stop to consider this: If I call Joe McNally a weenie, who am I saying more about - Joe or myself?

Let's talk about Joe McNally for a few minutes. If you are very active in photography or are a full time pro, it's very likely you know of him. If not, first know that American Photographer Magazine has described him as "the most versatile shooter on the planet", and his portfolio speaks to that. To see it and learn more about Joe, visit his site (link). In addition to being a world class shooter, though, Joe writes about photography. He has written books. He blogs. He teaches classes. He has instructional videos.

He does it all.

Although I would love to, I have have never met him or taken one of his classes. But I subscribe to his blog, have read a great deal of what he has written, and watched several of his videos. So although I have not met him, I have developed a perception of his character as a photographer. No where in anything of his that I have ever read or watched has he ridiculed another photographer or called anyone even a non-profane name. It's just been Joe, his astonishing portfolio, his writing, and his teaching.

And no where have I ever seen anyone say anything bad about Joe. Everyone seems to like him. It's interesting how that works, isn't it?

Joe's porfolio sets the bar very high for every passionate photographer, but the way he conducts himself toward others is also a benchmark for all of us. Me? I'm just another "Joe" photographer no one knows, but I sure would like to meet Joe McNally some day. I am quite confident I would find him to be just as he is in his writing and videos: friendly, skilled, knowlegible, and a consumate professional in EVERY way.

If (and this is a hypothetical) someday I found myself read by a good number of photographers, I would never want them to think the following of me, which hit me hard when I came across it in a book I have been reading:

"Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying . . . "

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

For most of us online writing photographers, our words will be the only way most people will get to know us, and will be all they have to form their opinion of us. Opinion is synonymous with perception, and peoples' perception of us becomes our reality.

There are many very talented photographers who magnify their portfolio with what they write and how they act toward others, and being able to read their contributions online is one of the great things about photography today. Joe McNally is definitely one those who sets a standard to follow. Falling far short of this standard detracts from and deminishes one's portfolio.

It's something for each of us to ponder.

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" . . . Online portfolios may tell visitors what a photographer likes, but a photographer's writing reveals a good deal about what that photographer is like. Writing, more often than not, is a fairly clear reflection of the character of the author . . . "

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