My thoughts, inspired by Art and Fear

Art is not for the weak at heart. If you want to do something easy – go get a real job and frankly, get out of our way. You must have passion for your work and the energy to follow it through. I photograph because I must. I get up every morning with lots of thoughts and a full heart that must be dealt with before the end of the day. I photograph because I don’t know of any other way to mark my place in this world.

Being a photographer or any kind of artist is not just about making a picture or creating a product. It is about the process of maturing, of individual growth and gaining an understanding of history...for me, it is the history of photography, of myself and my subject matter. It’s about what experiences I have had in my life and how I live my life. The act of seeing photographically and finding images that speak to me... “make my picture”, comes from a summary of everything I have ever done and felt, good and bad. It’s this total body apparatus that makes a photograph, not the camera. The camera is just a tool, a box with film or some crazy electronics in it that needs to be handled correctly.

Knowing the history or your medium helps you to understand where you fit in. You can learn a great deal from those who have gone before you. I don’t mean that you should copy them by any means. That’s not good art. But after you have looked at enough work and processed what you have seen, you can begin to identify what works for you and develop your own style. This comes with time. It may take years of hard work to get on track or it may happen naturally and quickly. But I do believe that time, life experience and constantly working at it has made a difference in how I see. With time and attention, things become much clearer as to what is being seen and how the mind and heart are going to deal with it.

Like any artist, the photographer must believe in what he or she is doing and work with great passion. If you truly commit to this, you will be taken care of. Your life and your work will progress forward as you are learning to see more clearly. It’s not important how many great photographs I can make. For me, it is more about emotion and how many lives I can touch along the way that matters. Making a living as an artist is a gift. Sharing this gift is the most important part of the process--either by teaching or exhibiting my work. The rest will come.

So, you see, it’s really about commitment. It is required at every level and becomes a continuous effort. Commitment to a high standard of craftsmanship or technique is basic. You can’t speak the language if you don’t know the words. Commitment to staying long enough in a place or with a particular project in order to understand it and have it speak to you. This takes time and resources. And of course, commitment to discovering how to give something back to the process by supporting or enlightening others.

Join some art organizations or bring some art friends together and make your own group so you have people you can share experiences with who can help you get real with your expectations and fears. You must face those fears and push past them in order to succeed. Everyone feels uncertainty when headed in a new direction at first. This is normal and is all part of the discovery process.

This will seem like a strange statement but photographers need to learn photography. I see so many people who think they are photographers who are mindlessly clicking without engaging the brain into the mix. They are creating thousands of mediocre images hoping that one of them will work or that they can fix it in Photoshop to make it work. They spend a lot of time talking and thinking about the gadgets and not enough on content and craft. Only a handful of my students ever come to me understanding why I always ask them again and again: “What is this a picture of?”. It would seem pretty basic but many can not answer the question. After a couple of weeks with me, they get it. It’s about photography, not equipment. It’s about learning how to see better, crop to the essence better, compose better, understand light better – it’s about photography and the intellectual baggage that you bring to every photograph.

The possibilities are endless at first but become more clear for each individual image the harder you look at your subject. One must slow down for this process to germinate. It doesn’t happen by shooting hundreds of images in the hopes of getting a good one. Less is more. This is why some enlightened young photographers are going to film. They want to think like a film photographer and then use the new technology to the fullest advantage. Remember, the camera is only a tool, a recording device. The important tool is the one holding the camera.

It is imperative to set longer term goals beyond your current projects or you will never get there. Yes, I know, it is all about the journey but the journey will be richer and more productive with goals. Write them down. It really helps.

You need to learn what photography and life is really about and combine that with what your heart is telling you and what your equipment can do. Living a certain amount of life helps this to make sense. Love things and experience life…. good and bad, so there is a valuable base for your reaction to your environment. Now add that to an understanding of technology and you have great potential. My mantra: Live it, Love it, Shoot it.

Author's Bio: 

Nancy J. Ori obtained a BA degree in Fine Arts from Elmira College, Elmira, NY where she became increasingly interested in film and photography. She received an MS degree in Visual Communications from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.

Ori, owner of New Jersey Media Center, LLC in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, is respected internationally as an industrial photographer and video producer for over 30 years. She also enjoys teaching photography and painting workshops each year throughout the United States and Europe. Nancy has been affiliated for many years with the Ansel Adams Workshop in California. She is also on the faculty of the Visual Art Center of New Jersey in Summit, Peters Valley Craftsman in Layton, Morris Museum in Morristown, Somerset Art Association in Bedminster, and the Watchung Adult School in New Jersey. In 1990, she established The New Jersey Heritage Workshops, a series of painting and photography workshops, which she holds each spring in Cape May. And in 1995, she co-founded the New Jersey Photography Forum, which is a group of professional and semi-professional photographic artists that meet regularly at the Visual Art Center of New Jersey in Summit to discuss their work as well as exhibit within the state. Since inception, the Forum has grown under Nancy’s direction to become the largest group of fine art exhibiting photographers in the state and has now expanded to include the Digital Arts Group of the New Jersey Photography Forum.

Photographing in the West Coast tradition of her long-time mentors, Ansel Adams and Morley Baer, she expresses her own interpretation of the landscape and architecture. Her photographs reveal a love of light, shadow and form in natural and man-made settings. The haunting ruins, magical landscapes, celebrated churches as well as the obscure are transformed by Ori’s unique internal vision into powerful documentations of the land and humanity’s intrusion into the landscape. The photographs speak to the timelessness of the land, it’s spirit and the simple, poignant architecture that was inspired and challenged by Nature. Ori also regularly focuses her camera on Union County. A six-time winner of a Union County HEART Grant, she has created numerous exhibits of photographs made in the parks, gardens and historical sites of the county.

“Since 1970, I have traveled throughout the world working on various photographic and video projects which has given me the opportunity to explore many popular and cherished places with my cameras. These years of labor have taken me again and again to the American West and Europe. Landscape and architecture has become a source of inspiration and discovery.”

Ms. Ori’s work is widely exhibited in museums & galleries throughout the globe & has been chosen to participate in the 1995 New Jersey Fine Arts Annual at the Morris Museum, Morristown; Art in New Jersey 1996, Ben Shahn Galleries, Wayne; Distinguished Artists Series, Essex Fine Arts Gallery, Montclair; 1997 Newark Arts Council Mentor/Celebrity Artist Program, New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Received numerous awards & grants including: 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 & 2005 HEART Grants from Union Cty Freeholders, 2004 Woman of Excellence Award in Arts & Humanities from Union County.

In permanent art collections at: In New Jersey: Ilford Photo Corp., Paramus; Bergen Museum of Art and Science, Paramus; Noyes Museum, Oceanville; Newark Museum, Newark; Merrill Lynch, Princeton; American Cyanamid Company, Princeton; Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA, Novartis Corporate Headquarters, NYC and Museum of Modern Art, NYC. Numerous international private collections.

Call for information on purchases, classes, workshops, or private tutoring. www.nancyoriphotography.com