Snow Blown

March 5, 2009 

During the winter storm, snow features dominated our weekdays. Tired of scraping ice and plodding along unplowed streets, I performed snow-melting dances every day, anxious for when the streets would be clear and dry again.

I hadn't considered that the feature hunts would continue in cold dry weather, which is perfect weather for keeping people indoors.

Take it away, Cinderella.

So when a light dusting returned on an otherwise sunny day in February, I was relieved. After barely missing a couple feature opportunities I happened to cruise by Carmichael Middle School at recess time. I put on my sane face and got cleared to photograph the kids horsing around.

As I walked to the top of the hill, I experienced a symptom of photo overload, which my friend Zac Goodwin discussed in a blog post on A Photo A Day.

It's a pretty short post, but if you can’t bear to interrupt your Behind the Fold reading for even a minute, the crux of it revolves around a quote by photographer Alec Soth:

"I once had an assistant, Phillip Carpenter, who said
something I'll never forget. Phil started off
as a musician in Nashville. He was surrounded
by a ton of talent and learned about everything
going on. But this knowledge, he said, was
eventually damaging. Phil explained that the best
musicians often come from nowhere. They are in
their parent's basement in Idaho, don't really know
how to hold the guitar, and consequently develop
their own peculiar sound.

So here is the question: If limitation spawns creativity,
is the limitless resource of the Internet a good thing?
Does it do more harm than good to read all these blogs?"

Presented with good light and all that white, my first instinct was to attempt a style I’d seen best-executed by photographer Matt Mallams:

I snapped a couple of frames like this, blowing out the highlights and envisioning the leftover footsteps in the snow conveying a real-life (and not lame) version of Family Circus. However, I quickly felt like a hack in my attempts to copy.

It's not as if Mallams invented the technique, but the fact that I approached the situation thinking that I was going to make a Mallams-esque photo deflated my motivation to keep working the scene like I was.

Eager to prove my own creativity to myself, I sought out a non-typical snow photo and found this kid:

What initially drew me to him is what ended up driving me away from submitting the photo for publication. His solo rolling of a snowball seemed at a glance to suggest his Sisyphean task of making friends, and the photo isn’t nearly cool enough to have a lonely photo of him printed 40,000 times the next day.

I yielded to comfort and ease and snapped a shot of these two sneaker skiing down the hill:

Looking back now, I'm still torn about what I should have done. I find my shooting style moving toward what’s safe and generally preferred for publication, and while that may make my bosses happy, I'm not doing myself any favors in the long run. Any photographer who is passionate about what he or she does isn’t content putting out the same ol' same ol' day in and day out. Some accomplish this through content, traveling and seeking out the seldom seen, while others strive to see the old in new ways.

While I can’t forget to shoot the CYA (Cover Your Ass) shot, I have to remember to keep pushing my boundaries. Although some savants can explode out of nowhere, I think it's pretty clear that’s not me.

Running the risk of photo overload will just have to remain an occupational hazard.

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