Posts in Essays
Shibari with K

This is from a recent shibari session with my friend Karissa.

To be frank, I consider myself an absolute beginner in this art, and it would be foolish for me to claim to have much more experience than that. My rope tying is improving with practice, but like photography, the real art is in the deeply personal communication that takes place during a session. Literally anyone can learn how to tie some knots, and with practice make it look good. But that’s just the beginning, not the end goal.

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When to Buy a New Camera or Lens, and What to Look For

One of my friends just got a new DSLR camera, and asked me what lens he should get next. The camera came with a wide-angle zoom lens, and he had just ordered a prime lens (aka, non-zoom) that is a newer version of one I have and adore. He had a kit that could work in almost any setting, and yet he had a case of what photography nerds on the internet call G.A.S.: Gear Acquisition Syndrome.
The key is to understand what you need, and decide if you need it occasionally and can rent the equipment, or if you will be better off owning it.

I’d also like to offer my thoughts on buying used equipment. If you are buying something new, you have a warranty guarantee— if you are starting out with a new system, or an autofocus lens, this is very useful. You never know if the previous owner dropped the camera, or what. However, if you don’t mind buying used (and almost all cameras made in the last 5 years are just fantastic), then you can pick up some amazing gear at very affordable prices…

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Why I started my blog (And why maybe you should, too)

Long story short, I realized that I wasn't very good at writing about my work. I could talk about it well enough over drinks with friends, but when it came time to clearly describing it for strangers, I struggled. I’d fall back on describing it as simply following my intuition, which is true to a degree, but misrepresents the amount of thought and time I have put into my practice over the years.

For a long time I gave myself the excuse that if I was good at writing, I wouldn’t be a photographer. This was BS— I am good at writing, and it has nothing to do with why I got into photography.

Talking about one’s work is a skill, and like any other skill, you need constant practice to improve. I decided to start up a blog so that I could have a reason to force myself to sit down and put my thoughts to text somewhere outside of discussion groups on forums or Facebook…

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EssaysShane Kingessay
Memories…

I love being able to capture a moment, a glance, a thought between words, and preserve it.  Some art philosophers say photography is about death, a never ending struggle to keep fleeting memories that are in reality already gone the instant the camera’s shutter closes. 

I disagree, I think it is about life: celebrating the moments as they happen, savoring them, and allowing them to be shared with others in a way that transcends space and time.  Long-gone civilizations have their monuments, our memories of love and laughter can last as long as paper can hold them.

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Inspiration: Follow your Muse?

I was recently thinking about inspiration and how people develop a personal style. There's a phrase, "follow your Muse." But what's a Muse?

In modern times, a Muse is considered a person or thing that inspires you. In Greek mythology they had a different idea: the Muses were goddesses of music, poetry, comedy, and other arts, and they were responsible for providing inspiration to humans. A song was not invented by humans, it was created by these goddesses who would whisper it into the mind of a musician. Divine inspiration.

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Being Appreciative of Time

It’s really easy to take time for granted. Even if the future is open, everything is finite. I may live to 110 or I may die tomorrow, but either way, there will be a finite number of photographs I create. A finite number of birthdays, a finite number of dinners with any particular friend. Cherish the moments you have, as you have them, because you never know when it may be the last.

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TASTE: How Artists Guide Audiences to Better Experiences

This isn’t a post about food, at least, not entirely.

This is about how we learn, how we find what we like, and how we savor experiences.

Think back, to our ancient history, to an ancient pre-human primate, discovering a fruit they had never seen before, hungrily taking a bite. Upon discovering how delicious it is, our ancestor brings some of this new fruit back to its tribe, offering it to the others.

”I found this. It’s good.”

In essence, this is what the curator and the artist do. The curator finds the good things, and shares what she thinks is the best. She may be a museum director or a DJ spinning vinyl on a friday night. Her job is to develop a nuanced appreciation for what is good, what tastes good to the soul, and bring it back to the tribe.

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M and I

This is an series I shot several years ago with M, a lover who is herself an artist as well. My goal was to make a personal memento of a passionate romance, with no intention of ever sharing it beyond a few close friends who understand what I’m reaching at with my work. I have been very hesitant to share this work since it is so deeply personal and private, but the friends I have shared it with have been incredibly supportive, and M herself encouraged me to share it publicly as well. Almost a year after promising another close friend that I would post this, I’m finally ready to share it.

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The Artist vs The Professional

Some time ago I heard photographer Bil Brown give a talk about what it means to be an Artist compared to being a Professional.

The gist of it is that the Professional has a set system in place to deliver the images that the client requires, while the Artist follows their own intuition, making what they are compelled to. The Professional is reliable, but the Artist is capable of innovation.

I think there’s some truth to this, even though the line between Professional and Artist is a hazy one, and probably best thought of as states of mind rather than two divisions of types of photographers. When working with a client, be it to cover an event or a boudoir session, I have had enough experience that I can confidently make good photos in almost any situation with almost anyone. That’s not special, that’s the baseline of what it means to be a photographer. The challenge is in shifting gears, getting into that Artist state of mind, where you try things that even you don’t know if it’ll work. Being vulnerable, shooting unfamiliar subject matter, facing what makes you uncomfortable. It doesn’t always work out.


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EssaysShane Kingessay
Retouching & Body Image

I was recently watching a time-lapse video of another photographer’s work retouching an image. The subject was an incredibly beautiful woman in perfect lighting. The retoucher’s cursor ran back and forth, cleaning up stretch marks, masking blemishes, smoothing skin, adjusting the shape of the woman’s eyes, and finally patching up a section of her eyebrow that apparently wasn’t up to his standards.

It made feel sad.

The kinds of imperfections that the retoucher was fixing were natural, real parts of what an adult human’s skin looks like. It made me wonder if the retoucher had ever been in love, when any flaw is an endearing trait to be cherished and treasured.

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What's the Opposite of Porn?

Today I was talking to a friend I shoot with frequently, and we got to talking about expressing sensuality in photography. In most commercial media, sexuality is something to be consumed by the viewer. Whether it’s actual pornography, suggestive artwork on an album cover, or an advertisement for deodorant, the message is the same: “Here’s a sex object for you to enjoy.”

The problem is that it erases the agency and personhood of the subject, as well as deadening the experience for the viewer. It’s the equivalent of free junk food— Here’s something salty and sweet, it won’t improve or even satisfy you but it’s easy enough to keep you wanting more.

What’s the alternative?

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EssaysShane Kingessay
Where the Camera Ends and the Photographer Begins

About twenty years ago, a shift happened in photography.

The automatic exposure and focus capabilities of state of the art film cameras finally got the ease of use provided by digital sensors. Taking a properly exposed photograph and making a print from it had required take years of practice, careful note-taking, and dedication to the craft of making images with light-sensitive chemicals. Now, the camera itself could more or less accurately judge the appropriate settings to make an exposure, and making that image viewable or ready was as easy as plugging in a memory card. Since then, the cameras and their computers have only gotten better, some even adding filter effects to replicate the style of film cameras. Now anyone can grab a camera and take decent photos with no experience.

The baseline shifted. Literally anyone with a modern cell phone can take great photos that would look great printed and framed on a wall. Taking a decent photo is now the expected default.

The photographer’s function now is to bring out the soul of a scene, or to see things in a different way.

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EssaysShane Kingessay
The thin arc of a Crescent Moon

Just before or after a New Moon, when there’s only the thinnest crescent of light illuminating the edge of the moon. When you can just barely infer the size of the moon, though its invisible in the twilight haze.

That’s what I strive for in my photography.

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EssaysShane Kingessay
Zen Mind

For me, doing photography has become instinctive. That is to say, some of my best work I did not think very hard about or pre-plan whatsoever. I see something that interests me, and I try to capture what I noticed before the moment passes. This makes it difficult to talk about my work, because I honestly don’t always know what I’m doing or why. Then, I’ll hear a remark from a friend or observer of my work, who will nonchalantly describe my work more clearly and more succinctly in ways that might not have ever occurred to me. I had thought that this was some flaw in my reasoning or my approach, but maybe it’s a more common thought than I had experienced.

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The Painted Word

If you haven’t read Tom Wolfe’s book “The Painted Word” I urge you to grab a copy at once. He’s an incredible writer, and the book is short enough that you could probably finish it in a day or two.

Here’s an amazon link.

In short, With the advent of photography, Painting had to become conceptual because it could no longer match Photography's depictions of physical spaces/scenes. With modernist art on to contemporary, the text of the statement *is* the art more than the painting is. Or at least, it is more important to the people who buy and sell art.

That isn’t to say that the artist statement is necessarily fundamental to great art, or even beneficial. I think the best art comes from something else, either the subconscious or some other ethereal realm. However, I would like to get better at writing about art, at the very least. Hence, this blog.

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EssaysShane Kingessay
Seeing in Black and White

Seeing in black and white is all about seeing things in terms of shapes, both in terms of a three dimensional form, such as a person’s figure, and in terms of a two dimensional field, the graphical composition of the photograph itself.

For seeing the form, you’re working with light and shadow with the goal of representing your subject in terms of volume, highlights, shading, and so on. Like drawing with a thick slab of charcoal, it may help to think about things in broad strokes without worrying too much about the details. One technique I use is to half-close my eyes so I am mostly looking through my eyelashes in order to blur my vision so that I am not distracted by the sharp details and textures of what I’m looking at— just the light and shadow sculpting the shape. Let the light or shadow carve out the shape of the subject of the photo.

For seeing the field, you must learn to re-frame how you are perceiving the subject, and regard the real life scene before you as a flat photograph. This is all about seeing shapes, thinking about how the eye will travel across an image (generally starting at bright areas and faces, following lines and curves, etc).

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