“What I was before photography…”

I was a laborer much of my life, a “common laborer” as they say…mostly because I had a problem getting along with people, well, getting along with a “boss”, really.  But it was as if my “calling” was to be a laborer, I was a working foreman or a working supervisor of labor crews, which just means the boss tells me what to do and I tell the crew and we do it! Nothing sophisticated here, it was “work” in the purest sense, hard, physical labor you did by hand, using a chainsaw or spade or sledgehammer, or something else, but mainly with your hands and arms and back. It was the kind of work you did all day, finished, went home, then did the same thing or something like it the next day. There was no reflection or self-discovery involved, but there was a very real camaraderie you had with the other men, we were all doing the same work, I think we respected each other for that…everyone knew if someone was slacking and they were soon weeded out, one way or another. We worked outside in heat, sun, rain, mud, snow and bitter cold days…in a way it was “pure”, I think, and looking back I don’t regret it, I accept that this kind of work is what I could do well, visceral, physical, but at the end of each day, satisfying, and it was a place I could relate to those I worked with on a very basic level, and I had satisfaction that I could lead this kind of man. It had nothing to do with being clever or cunning or ambitious, but it had a great deal to do with doing your share of hard, sometimes brutal work, and being fair.
It may seem obvious that our experiences affect what we desire to shoot and how we shoot it, I think. I suppose I should qualify that by saying it affects how we shoot in certain genres, such as documentary, photojournalism, and perhaps fine art photography in many ways. I assumed that would be self-evident and yet I want to be clear. I had a desire when I returned from abroad to work on a subject that I was comfortable with, familiar with, and I chose the motorcycle club and bikers. And yet during the first few months of what turned out to be a two-year project with the bikers, I had the opportunity to shoot Lisa, my model that I have used for several thematic projects here, including “Obscure Poésie“, “Bronte dans le miroir”, and “L’amour l’après-midi” . The opportunity to photograph beauty…and grace…was exhilarating for me, it was the most formidable challenge I have encountered as a photographer. I like to think I just bully my way through photojournalism or documentary work, and working in the field just comes naturally to me, and yet the work with her required certain sensitivities and subtleties that challenged me more than anything else has. I have always prided myself in being able to remain aloof professionally, if not emotionally, from the work I was doing, the emotional impact of doing photojournalism and documentary work I have addressed in earlier blog posts, but I gradually realized this required a “partnership” with my model if I was to achieve what I visualized in creative portraiture…more to come on this subject. RG

“Reflections on my work…continued.”

(There are two threads of thought here, I decided to post them together…)
My camera has become who I am… I understand I am in a unique position, I shoot what I want, I don’t do photography for money, I have worked with NGO’s but always gratis, for expenses, and I retain copyright ownership of my images. So that kind of independence gives me a freedom so many photographers do not have, no only in what they choose to shoot, but in how they process, etc. I learned so much about myself shooting humanistic work, documentary, photojournalism…Something that always surprised me was my ability to remain stoic and detached while shooting so many unhappy scenes, unhappy human beings, gritty, sad scenes…but I quickly realized it was just how I dealt with my “work”, I could shoot these images and not flinch, but later, in post, I realized it was all still with me, I realized how much it had touched me, even hurt me, to see such sadness. And to this day I remember it all, each one…I’ve written about this before in earlier posts, so i’ll leave it at that.

I don’t believe in being dogmatic about my work, or my approach to my work, which includes everything from styling to composition to post.  I have images from two years ago that I am processing once again because my vision for the image has changed, I like to think it has “refined”, I like to think that when I revisit an image and view it, consider it, and think I can make it “better” in my own esthetic scheme it actually is. Does my personal sense of esthetics change about what I think is beautiful?  Is that my goal for each image, for it to be “beautiful”? The work I have done and show on my website of the homeless or poor, can those images that illicit feelings of pity or sadness be considered beautiful?

I see I need to separate the work…my documentary and photojournalism poses an interesting question about whether those images can be considered beautiful, and I will consider that in another post.
(2nd thread) I want to focus my thoughts briefly on the portrait work I have accomplished since returning from the Middle East, and specifically that dealing with the work I did with the model, Lisa, for seven months, that I have written about in earlier posts.
I wanted to write about this because I continue finding myself reviewing the work, selecting an image I am not satisfied with, thinking about what I want, and then returning to work in post yet again. I see so much work, particularly fashion work, that leaves me cold.  I understand the idea is to sell the garment, and yet the dearth of emotion to me makes it “just a picture”.
From what I have experienced from the viewers of my work it is that they are seeking an emotional experience and connection in a photograph, something they can relate to on that level, something that touches or excites, something that stirs them, and that has become the goal of my work! (…to be continued) RG

“Reflections on my work…”

roygunnels-new-6I was sitting in Starbucks today having coffee, it was raining outside, lovely and beautiful and relentless, and I was thinking about my work, about the idea of projecting power, with each and every image I produce. I know that when I view other photographers work it sometimes elicits feelings of peace, tranquility, a softness I don’t see in my own work. And I think that is so because I have always had one goal, for each image to project a power, whether a street scene or portrait from the studio, whether a gnarled biker, a child from the Egyptian revolution or Ethiopian streets, or a weathered lady selling her wares on any street around the world. I favor presenting my images in clair-obscur because it fits my desire for strength, less nuance in tone equals more raw strength to me. And color distracts, I wish for full attention from the viewer on the form of the image, and what the highlights and darkness are saying, are conveying!
I don’t do much introspection involving my work, but perhaps that is saying something about me as a person, not sure, don’t care much, I do believe the more important the work is to you the more you want to establish yourself personally in it, the work reflecting who I am. I’ve mentioned this before in other blog posts that my subscribers will note, that what and how I shoot reflects who I am, but also it’s how I choose to present it, why I favor clair-obscur and black and white over color, or even sepia for that matter. RG
** Thank you to my subscribers for your patience in allowing me to sometimes ramble on…Even though I am not a person who is given to self-reflection, I find that it is enlightening and even helpful as my work has become my “raison d’être”.

« petits morceaux de temps » “Small Pieces Of Time”

I receive comments on my work that amaze me at times, that are stunningly eloquent.  “You observe small acts of humanity that add up to something transcending their scale.”. And another, “Your work comes from the heart…you are a trigger of emotions.”, and “We can change and see the world through a new lens, like the lens that Roy Gunnels uses, and now I see only beauty.” And from a French professor of art history, translated, “A series of portraits in small touches…full of passion.” And a French/Iranian viewer, “A photo that makes me want to name it…my reading of the picture is made from right to left as a beautiful Arabic calligraphy.”
And a comment on one of my images that I used a very tight frame to channel the viewers gaze, “Yes it pulls in the viewer to take a closer look making a connection from the abstract to humanity.”
I am not only inspired by comments such as these, I learn from them, I see the image not as the photographer but as the viewer, which I have found is incredibly important, how others see your work, how they interpret what you are doing with the image, from the way you framed it to how it is processed and presented, and again how important a narrative, even a short one, is in allowing others to fully appreciate and understand the image.
I do not sell my work, I have never been able to reach an agreement with a gallery or agent that I felt comfortable with. I shoot it, I reflect and consider and labor over each image shown, many times for months, it is easily as much an intellectual pursuit for me as an esthetic one.
I am honored by these comments and so many others, and I am indebted to those that have taught me so much about my own work.  RG

“Photography is an introspective pursuit…”

Well, I entitled this in a declarative way, but of course, I do not think that much commercial photography, or that controlled by the dreaded art directors and editors and publishers and such is, of course, “introspective”. It is introspective when an image or series of images, or body of work, are conceived by the photographer as an emotional and artistic experience. For those that follow my blog, you are more familiar with some of my history, I majored in Philosophy at Texas Christian University, and my field of interest were the Existentialists, Sartre, Camus, Gide, Genet, Simone de Beauvoir, etc.  Does it flavor my work? Absolutely! Whether my documentary or photojournalism, my street or studio photography, it all is shaded by what makes me, “me”, I believe.
I think I first began to think about this, to recognize it, working in Egypt, and then Ethiopia, the conscious decision about what is important for me to capture, to document, to simply take a picture of. What I thought was important for those that view my work to see. Many times the simplicity and utter grace and beauty of life, of what someone called my work, « petits bouts de temps », “small pieces of time”.
When I returned from years abroad I began the “Outlaw…” series, that is now a significant part of “Texas Gothic…”, a major and on-going project. I also began doing studio work with a model over a period of seven months, an exhilarating, frustrating and stunningly introspective experience for me, as personally revealing as documentary and urban work had been for me abroad. My photography unequivocally reflects what I find important, or what I find beautiful, it reflects my perspectives in the most personal of ways.
Small pieces of time, yes, and so much more…RG

« Clair-obscur et photographie impressionniste… »

roygunnelsClair-obscur, or “Chiaroscuro” in the Italian, is a passion of mine…it fits my personality I think…As a photojournalist or documentary photographer your work has to be literal, I see so many photographers describe themselves as “storytellers”, and I sometimes wonder how literal their work really is.  So, after returning from living in the Middle East, I first began the documentary project “Texas Gothic: Where The Wild Things Are”, which has grown to become much more than what I first anticipated or envisoned with the original “biker” series, “Outlaw In Texas”.
I’ve described my experience working with my model in other blog posts, so just as a reminder, we worked on six shoots together over a period of seven months.  Also at the beginning I had acquired new processing software, so during the past two years I’ve become adept at using it, “skillful” I think, and more importantly, I have refined my aesthetics towards the work with her, what I want to show, the feelings and emotions I want to emphasize…I have processed selections in clair-obscur and just recently begun processing some as impressionistic.  I like the idea of not being “literal”, of having the viewer participate in interpreting the image, the emotions, the models or my own, or both of us, as well as what I desire for them to take away from it.  I think that can be the adventure in viewing a fine-art photograph of this style!
I would also like to do more low-light, grainy work, for the same reason, it doesn’t explain everything, it requires the viewer to use their imagination, to either interpret the image or to accept the delicious mystery of it…RG

“Photographing poverty…”

#RoyGunnels (60) - CopyToday I received a comment on an image I had posted on LinkedIn, well, a rather vociferous and emotional criticism.  The image itself was taken in Cairo, Egypt, and a part of my major documentary of Muiz Street.  It shows what is apparently a homeless man sleeping on a stone wall.  Now, if you have read my blog you know that I choose very carefully what images I show publicly, or what images I even keep, but the struggles in life are evident to all of us, and if I am to show a fair representation of what I “see” and “experience” in a country, then that becomes part of it.  The majority of images I show from my years in the Middle East and East Africa reflect courage, perseverance and beauty I believe, and yet that is not all I have seen, nor all I show.  I choose a balance of images based on my personal experience. I am not a social worker, I do not have an agenda other then to reflect what I see in a fair and balanced way.
Now, the person who criticized me is an “international artist”, who frequently posts pictures that all look like stills from a Disney movie fairytale, bright colors that do not exist in nature, scenes of tranquility that do not exist in the world we live in! So, if that appeals to you, that kind of escapist image, and it seems that it does to many, then i’m happy for you, but don’t criticize my work for jostling you out of your dream for a few minutes. Another person left a comment on the picture today, “Sad”, and for fear of being flippant my answer to them was “It’s a sad world…”.  In every country I have worked when assembling the images into a visual narrative for publication, I always accentuate the beauty that I have seen, but there is a contrast to that which exists all over the world, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, etc, and it is my responsibility and my choice to fairly show that as well.  RG
*The image is entitled “Sleeping On The Serpent’s Back”, from the photo-documentary, “Muiz: A Pastiche Of The Street”


#RoyGunnels #RoyGunnelsPhotography (17) - CopyI was processing an image tonight, one from Ethiopia, an image I have processed and posted before, but wanted to take another look at it, see if I could coax some more out of the image, see what had changed in me that would be reflected in how I presented it.  I had entitled my series from Ethiopia “Hearts of Gondor”, but really, it is “Faces of Gondor” to me, because each face I see in the images I’ve taken all over the world reflect a “heart” to me, a person, someone I do not know and yet captured their image.  Some of them were angry, some frightened, or happy, or indifferent, some in pain…most of those things are usually hidden from the camera, of course.
My last post I mentioned shooting portraits, it’s all about faces to me, I love shooting them and not sure why.  At this point in my life I am not interested in introspection, it is what it is, I am who I am, my work really speaks for itself, and I am not sure how comfortable I am sharing my feelings about it, but I continue to do so here.  You know, I never read a blog entry after I have posted it, for fear I might be tempted to edit it, or even delete it.  I like expressing myself in a raw, unedited way about my work because it’s real, there is no agenda guiding my posts, other then to be completely free expressing my feelings about it.
In Egypt I was shooting “scenes”, I spent years walking Muiz Street and it was the vitality of the street, the interactions, shopkeepers working or people talking, I was looking for that part of vivid humanity that gave that street it’s character, and had before Medieval times. I regret I didn’t focus more on the faces of Muiz…I don’t compose my work now the way I did then, I shoot close now, I want to see a person, a face, in detail, intimately, I want my camera to really see things, to capture the beauty, the intimacy, of the person I am photographing! I do think portraits are invasive, they are powerful expressions of who a person is, they cannot show the heart, but perhaps they can show just a part of it, a twinkle or a blink or a sigh…If my camera shows one small detail of truth about who a person is, truly, it is an amazing thing to me, and gives me great satisfaction.
I just felt like writing about faces tonight, I’ve been thinking about it for several days, what I am really trying to do with my portraits, the emotion and effort and hope that I put into them…god I love being a photographer!  RG