I started the Arcanum in October 2016. It is the brain child of Trey Ratcliff and the idea was to provide the old style of mentoring photography. Now with the advent of the internet, there are numerous classes, videos and instructors all teaching the newbie how to use a camera, compose a photo and then process it digitally.
These instructional videos have replaced the old style of a mentor with a student, where the student watches and observes the mentor at work, asks questions and gets direction from the mentor as they lift their camera to their eye. Trey Ratcliff believed in the old style of teaching and learning and hence, the creation of the Arcanum. It is a place where there are personal interactions through webcasts, interactive hangouts and expected exchanges of photos and critiques. The Arcanum, seems loosely based on a Dungeons and Dragons type of theme, where there are masters who create challenges for the apprentices, and each challenge is awarded different experience points as you gain skills. Each master is responsible for about 20 apprentices, who together, help each other prepare to pass the challenges. Each apprentice is at their own level
So after nearly two months, I have gone through what’s called Sphere 0 training of 10 challenges and graduated to Sphere 1, challenge 11. The next 10 challenges in Sphere 1 will be geared more to my vision and learning goals, rather than just blanket goals. So the first assignment is about exploring who is your audience? Do you do it to have people put your photos on their walls? Do you do it instead to have someone commission you for a work? Do you have professional aspirations? Do you have a portfolio, a showing? Should you? Do you have a style and should it change? These were all important questions to reflect upon because, as the lesson mentions, this drives the kind of work and photos we take.
My audience is me. I do it for me. For my pleasure. I stay away from the Facebook likes, or the number of Instagrams followers. I do it because I enjoy creating, and I like to share that with others. Whomever or how many, that might happen to be. And so I had to ponder a couple of questions.
“If you audience is/includes you alone, what parts of the process are the parts you enjoy the most? Should you concentrate on the parts you enjoy the most for yourself? Do you feel best with the highest quality output of a single image, or a whole bunch of unique shots that may not individually stand out as exceptional?”
That last one is a hard questions to answer. When I think of that one best single photo with the highest quality, I think of some type of landscape or building that I would have submitted for judging. That would have received a ‘high mark’ and that I enjoy, especially if I win awards because of it. But truth is, most of the photos I really, really like, have not scored the highest. In fact, the two I did the best with, I only printed one of them and just because I thought I should and not necessarily because I wanted to hang these photos on my walls. There have been many landscape photos, the bluffs, an old boat in Peggy’s Cove, Stephan Leacock’s house, all these photos, not winners by any imagination, are photos I simply adore.
However, even more than these landscape/realistic photos are the ones I do and edit for sheer joy, mostly on my cell phone, but sometimes in Photoshop. The ones, I know I can never submit for competition. I know as soon as the judges see texture, it will be marked harshly. These are a whole bunch of unique shots that may not individually stand out as exceptional, but are those I thoroughly enjoy both creating and seeing the results of that creation afterward. They are unique. When Sue and I made a calendar for family and friends this year for Christmas, I had my winners in there, but I also had an assortment of ‘funky’ shots, that I just liked. My favourites.
So, in reflecting upon these differences, I do get great joy in creating an authentic, different and one-of-a-kind photo. I also enjoy scoring well and receiving awards and accolades. So, is my audience truly me? Sometimes. When I am taking a photo with my cell phone, it is for me. There is no question about this because I would never submit my cell phone photos into a camera club contest. There’s just no comparison between an 8 MP cell phone and an 24 MP DSLR with a f/1.8 or f/2.8 lens attached. I remember once a friend who took one photo and said “That’s for me,” and then took the next one and said “That’s for the judges.” I now understand that sentiment. Often, when I have my DSLR in my hand, my audience is no longer me, but rather, it is the judges. But once I leave the club and the congratulatory comments, these are not the photos I choose to adorn my walls or to post in Instagram weekly. I enjoy my cellphone photography and the creation of a photo, unique to me and of my own, so much more than just taking a photo of what is in front of me and enhancing it through post-processing.
I like to use my cell phone in the winter. It is easy, always available and at work, I spend less time on radio calls and more time at the hospital. There’s lots of time to edit and play. I like to do the 365 project, inside, where I have to expand my artistic vision to match the prompt. And then once spring comes, the outside beckons me, with my DSLR in hand, wanting to capture beautiful sunrises and sunsets as they are. Peggy’s Cove was overcast and raining, but my favourite photo is from that day when I was able to reproduce exactly what I saw and felt, while I looked at a worn out boat in the fog.
So, my answer ultimately? Is both. I still am my audience, but I enjoy creating a single photograph of the highest quality AND I enjoy a whole bunch of unique shots that might individually stand out as exceptional. I am a multi-faceted, complex person (or so I think!) Why wouldn’t my photography also encompass different areas, needs and expressions? And I am okay with that. I know what phase I am in now, or going into as snow continues to fall and winter battens down upon us. At least I am clear about my audience, my niche and what makes me happy in this photographic journey. I am thankful I am part of the Arcanum and for my Cohort and Master. I would never have thought to pause and reflect on such a question. I can go into the new year and challenges knowing I am clear about my audience and my preferences in photography.
So who is your audience? Yourself? Your friends and family? Clients? Where will they see your work? On a computer screen? On a wall? Should you be doing photos for a larger collection? What do you need to adjust or change to ensure you reach them? These are very good questions to reflect upon and all photographers should do so. I think I’d like to revisit these each year. In the meantime, what are your answers? I’d love to hear them.