What does the blurry, black & white photograph of a man skating on Vancouver’s newly re-opened downtown ice rink have in common with the following photo of a thoroughly humiliated tiger?

And how is that Victorian tiger rug related to a picture of my own feet (size 8 1/2 D), taken from the northernmost corner of my condo?

Or these wistful wisps of windblown grasses?

Fear not, faithful readers, for this is not (yet) a quiz. These questions, unlike those I’ll ask later, are wholly rhetorical in nature. The simple answer is that they’re this years’ orphaned images. Captured on a whim and appealing to me on a personal level (see “The Self Portrait“), they are the loose ends and the misfits. They’re not part of a larger story; they’re not marketable as stock; they’re not newsworthy, gallery-worthy, or noteworthy.

If you’re like me, well… first, you have my condolences. Second, you take thousands of photos a year and, in all likelihood, have at least a hundred or so that you actually enjoy looking at. But you have absolutely no idea what to do with them.

What do you do with your orphaned images?

That’s not a rhetorical question — I’d really like to know.

Assume, for example, that you have a jones for architectural abstracts and, every year, amass a couple dozen that your finger refuses to drag to the trash icon. What fate befalls them?

And is there any market for a portrait of Sandhill Crane with its mouth agape?

Or all those little “slice of life” street shots you’re obsessed with taking?

And what if you have a compulsion to photograph dogs, but the name on your passport isn’t “Elliott Erwitt?”

Clever readers will surmise that I’ve already answered my own question: “write a pointless blog entry, then fill it with pointless images.” Admittedly, it’s an effective way to deal with, say, 1% of the backlog — but what about the other 99%? What do you, my fellow photographers, do with all your leftover, orphaned images?

Don’t answer yet, because there are even more questions to answer in the next section…

The First Twelve Months

It’s been one year since I launched the ULTRAsomething photography blog. As a professional writer, I had my first article published 21 years ago and, as a photographer, I had my first photo published 18 years ago. I’m not sure why it took me until last year to think of combining these two disciplines…

When I conceived of this blog, I had three purposes in mind. First, I planned to review and discuss the various bits of photo gear that I use. Second, I wanted to write about the creative and intangible elements that make photography a “craft” and not a science. And third, I thought it would provide a nice home for all those orphaned images.

I began inauspiciously — writing several short, pithy lens reviews. Immediately after publishing them, I started to question their worth. Whether or not I like a lens should have little or no bearing on whether or not you like a lens. So how were my opinions helpful? I toyed briefly with the idea of brushing the cobwebs off my old engineering diploma, and devising a series of laboratory tests that would yield demonstrable data upon which I could base an assessment. But this is contrary to the way I think, work, and function as a photographer. Measurements don’t tell me how well (or how poorly) a particular lens renders a particular subject — real world experience does.

So, within the first two weeks, I’d seemingly rejected both of the traditional reviewing methodologies — subjective and objective. Unless I went avant-garde and employed the I Ching to rate product adequacy, something had to give. That’s when I realized that the best way to review a product was to review it within the context of a specific photographic need. The problem with most product reviews is they tend to make blanket assumptions about photographers when, in reality, we’re all under different blankets. You can’t say “Camera A is great” without qualifying the statement. Camera A might well be great for some purposes, but totally inappropriate for others. Once I grasped the necessity to define the scope of my expectations, my subjective evaluations gained relevance. This resulted in a kind of organic and personal approach to equipment reviews — in fact, I’d be hard-pressed to call them ‘reviews.’ Rather, they’re ‘impressions.’ Whatever name they go by, posts such as “Like a Leica” and “The M8ing Ritual” have been instrumental in bringing a tremendous number of readers to my site. And now, having grown comfortable with this form of ‘un-review,’ I plan to continue the trend in 2010.

It’s the reviews that drive the majority of new readers to this site each day. I’m grateful to all of you who read and link to them in various photo-related forums. Every link brings new readers, and every new reader is a potential subscriber. Also, I’m very grateful to Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape for linking to this site in one of his own reviews. Luminous Landscape is one of the most respected photography sites on the web. That single link lent my site an air of credibility that would, were it not for the fact that both Michael and I currently offer our content for free, be extremely valuable. And, speaking of free, I would be totally remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who actually clicked the DONATE button on this site. You know who you are, and I’ve let each of you know exactly how much I appreciate it.

My second goal, as mentioned earlier, was to write about photography as a ‘craft’ and not a ‘science.’ It’s my belief that too many photographers let their equipment define their photography. The web is full of photographers who think a photo is the sum total of its sharpness, barrel distortion, and noise floor. But a sharp, rectilinear, noiseless photograph of a dull subject is still dull. While a soft, distorted, noisy photo of a compelling subject is still compelling. We, as photographers, all want to capture images with the highest fidelity possible, but too many of us get so wrapped up in the gear that we lose sight of the image. My goal, when beginning this blog, was to balance all those equipment discussions with discussions about creativity, personality and soul. Obviously, you can’t teach “soul,” but you can remind photographers that they actually have one — and that they need to get in touch with it should they wish to capture images with a life and personality that reflect the photographer’s, and not the camera manufacturer’s.

When I began, I knew my ‘photography as craft’ articles would never attract as many readers as the equipment reviews. Human nature is what it is and photographers, being human, are more likely to search for the ticket to better photography within their wallets than within their own subconscious. Analysis of this years’ site statistics indicate that, sure enough, my gear-centric articles garnered twenty times the number of readers. But rather than being discouraged by this figure, I’m actually encouraged. To my knowledge, no one has ever posted a link to one of my ‘photography as craft’ articles. This means the reader base for these articles derives from those who initially visit the equipment reviews. Specifically, it means that one in twenty readers find my unorthodox equipment articles compelling enough that they dig deeper into the site. I can live with that because, frankly, I have no interest in writing a 100% review-focused blog — there are plenty of those already. Rather, as a fan of photography and a lover of captivating photographs, I have a self-serving interest in seeing more of such photos created. A camera doesn’t fashion a captivating photograph — the person behind the camera does.

Obviously, to continue attracting people to the ‘craft’ articles, I must also continue writing the ‘gear’ articles. I enjoy writing both, but neither to the exclusion of the other. But what’s the proper balance? Is there a tipping point between too many craft articles and too many gear articles? Are the articles too long? Too short? Too frequent? Too few? Your response can help dictate the evolution of this site as it embarks on its second year.

The third goal I had upon starting this blog — using it as repository for orphaned photos — is an abject failure. Flipping briefly through my Adobe Lightroom catalog, I see at least a hundred photos that I like, but have not published. Some are waiting for me to blog about them. Some seem too good to just toss into a blog. Others were commissioned by clients and, as such, are not really ‘mine’ to publish willy-nilly. Many are pleasing to my own eye but are so decidedly unfashionable that, if published, would probably diminish my professional marketability. Which brings me back around to my initial query: “what do you do with your orphaned images?”

These writings are, after all, for you — my donators, subscribers, and readers. What do you want to see in Year Two?


©2009 grEGORy simpson

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