When I was a child, I loved to draw and paint- I think this is to a large extent because of my mother. I loved cartoons and comic books, and she drew for fun- creating her own images (her own imaginary worlds), and I watched this and asked questions frequently. Early in my life she designed a calendar of birthdays, anniversaries, and other family events that she drew very meticulously for several weeks and then drew duplicates by hand, and to finish them she individually and uniquely colored one calendar for each individual family on my Father’s side (just short of twenty of these calendars); it was a very large poster-sized sheet with every month decorated with cartoon characters in their own environments and of course she wrote in names, dates, and other information about birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, etc.- the project took her months to complete. I saw how much joy and dedication she both showed and gained from this creative endeavor, and then how she was given so many complements when she brought the calendars to the family reunion and passed them out- she is still complemented to this day for those calendars (which are still up and relied upon by everyone who got one…twenty years later!). This was one of my first memories I can recall of seeing something important and special about art and artistic efforts (especially personal, self-motivated efforts- for fulfillment, as well as the praise and appreciation following completion). I have always had a vivid imagination and art was a way to indulge and nurture it.
In the first grade, during our arts and crafts time, I painted a Robin. My teacher was very impressed with it and proud of me, and she asked me if she could send my painting off to be displayed at a nearby college in an exhibit of artwork by the elementary children from throughout the county. I went with my parents to see my Robin hanging in the main corridor on campus- seeing other people walking through, looking at the images- I was thrilled by this “admiration” and interest (many of the other children were much older than me)– it was an experience that imprinted on me deeply. Following this I began to develop more openly, experimenting, and showing my images to others– the Robin was the first time I can remember someone giving my efforts praise and attention (other than my parents). That experience (I am certain) was very much a major factor in why I became an artist - it was a tremendous feeling- it gave me a feeling of purpose. If not for that Robin, I would likely not have pursued art (but rather, only science).
In the ninth grade, I entered a multi-state competition with a mixed media drawing of a Panda sleeping in a tree. The image was drawn from the cover of a National Geographic magazine. The contestants were numerous teenagers that came from five different states, and my image won first place– it was the turning point, and the beginning of an inspiration and the igniting of my desire to be an artist for the rest of my life. Over the next few years throughout high school, I entered many different competitions, winning first place in many different categories.
MY AWAKENING TO PHOTOGRAPHY:
Up until this time (the ninth grade), I had never really given photography much real thought or serious consideration- I did not even think of photographers really as artists. There were certainly many photographers I had seen the work of, but my mental image of “the photographer” was someone with a camera in their hands, shooting during their vacation or at a family event (trying to record memories or make snapshots)- that, or capturing images for a magazine or newspaper. I had books full of beautiful photographs of animals which I loved to look at, and my mother had a 35mm consumer camera that she used constantly though I barely noticed that she was doing it (despite the fact that she made hundreds of images of me when I was very young) – I did not recognize photography as an artistic medium- I saw it as “documentary” not “art.”
The year I drew the panda was 2001. September 11 was a profound turning point for me on many different levels– it was traumatic and terrifying, but it was also my awakening to the power, the relevance, and the unmistakable and unparalleled clear voice that only photography has. I was overwhelmed by the images- the feelings and the emotions captured in them (firefighters and policemen desperately trying to rescue victims and colleagues from the carnage- their fear and determination so intense). These emotions and detail was so inescapable and overwhelming. These “frozen moments” captured the terror in an unimaginable level of detail- this could not have been perceived were it not frozen forever so vividly in those photographs. There were so many documentaries and books about that day that I looked through and viewed repeatedly over the next few years. That day had powerful effects on many different parts of me- my views of the world, my relation to it, my views of the future and the past, my hopes and aspirations, along with changing my perception and receptiveness to many artistic medium(s) that I had not given appropriate openness or attention to before that time.
I spent weeks after that day, sitting outside of my school, waiting for my parents to pick me up- doing my homework, then taking the time to watch the sun set each day– always a spectacle and an ever surprising visual that I often longed to be able to record. I knew I needed a camera in my hands, but I did not know the first thing about photography and I cannot recall why I immediately went to video cameras, probably because they were most familiar to me. I grew up watching nature programs (the Jeff Corwin Experience, Wild Discovery, etc.), and I was at that time very much wanting to become a documentary wildlife film maker. I began researching video cameras and saving money. It took me six months to save enough money to buy the one that I chose: a Sony DCR-TRV530 (a video camera with the ability to shoot still photos). I chose the camera because of the strength of the zoom lens and the versatility of environments that the camera could be used in. The quality of the still images (looking back) was extremely poor, but I knew no better, and I was thrilled with every shot I took. I only looked at my images on the camera’s LCD or on my computer- I barely made a single print in the first three years I had cameras in my hands. During that time I did, however, shoot, cut, and produce a lot of carefully edited videos.
I used my first camera constantly- so much in fact, that I wore it out within a year and a half of purchasing it. I was photographing everything outdoors that I could find; at the same time I would shoot videos of things happening at my high school as well as at my Taekwondo School. I used its zero-lux (night vision) system to film and photograph wildlife outdoors at night as well as to film my nocturnal pets in my aquariums and terrariums inside the house. I exhausted my first camera in an obsessive attempt to capture everything and anything that grabbed me visually. I became my school’s photographer (that everyone saw as such), which made some sense that I had a reputation forming, but I was not in any way a trained, creative, or any sort of meriting photographer. My photos for those first years were just recordings of things seen- “snapshots.”
MY COLLEGE YEARS (PHOTO SCHOOL):
During high school, my mother set up a few doctors’ appointments for me to have moles removed off of my back and chest, and she felt really badly that I had to go through the procedure, so she took me to the local professional level camera shop (Peace Camera). I think we spent over two hours in the store without even noticing the time. The employee helping us asked what I liked to photograph, we both told him “wildlife”, and he began to tell us about a college with a photography specific degree program with four different focuses (photojournalism– he recommended for me). I looked up Randolph Community College as soon as I got home, but before we left the camera shop, we bought a forty year old camera (a Rollieflex twin-lens, medium format camera). It was a novelty possession. That camera and the day we bought it played a pivotal role in moving me in the direction of the life I have pursued. I did not have the slightest understanding of manual operation of a camera, until then I just saw a cool looking bug, then, aimed and clicked the button, scrolling through dials to increase the saturation or contrast of the image.
Once I was able to determine the location of RCC, we got the information we needed to schedule a tour of the Photographic Department…
Entering the building for the first time was like entering a bomb shelter (which was really exciting to me and fed into my vivid imagination). The first thing you went through was a featureless door with no window leading into a narrow concrete hallway with almost no details or distinguishing marks other than old cracked orange paint and apparent decades of age. Cage-covered lights hung down from the roof about eight feet overhead at intervals of every eight or ten feet; there was one thing out of place- the large, neatly kept wall display of prints by students off of their most recent projects. From there, you turned to face a black pair of double doors each with a tiny window- when you went through, on the other side, the floor was checkerboard black and white tile going in three directions. There was a large open work area with giant tables for laying out prints and cutting mat boards. On your left was the equipment checkout office (a room filled with thousands of cameras, lenses, tripods, strobes, and anything else you could imagine a photographer needing or wanting).
Our tour lasted about two hours. We went into all of the various studio bays (from the giant commercial bays, to the portrait studio bays), and in a few cases, watched students working on projects, but the most powerful and exciting experience was in the traditional darkroom- I knew what a darkroom looked like but had never been in one seeing prints being placed in developer fluid. It was like magic as a completely blank piece of print paper was placed into what looked like water, and as the fluid washed over the surface, an invisible image began to manifest instantaneously- I was totally mesmerized! I was enthralled but also terrified by what I was seeing, and knowing in actuality so very little about any of this, I asked if I was going to be able to come in with almost no knowledge and start from the absolute basics- from scratch. I was told that the program started at the absolute beginning and that those coming in with the least knowledge were the generally the most dedicated and accomplished students in the end. I was absolutely sure now that this was where I had to be!
I started at RCC in the fall of 2004. I was a little arrogant and egotistical (foolish)- before going to my first class, but with our first project I would be humbled- because with that first project, I was not even sure if I was taking an image with my brand new medium format camera. Our project was to shoot a person holding a “grey card” in many different lighting conditions; after shooting our images, we had to develop the film ourselves, proof the negatives as contact sheets, and analyze them individually with our instructor- the grey card in the prints had to be tonally matched to the grey card used in the images. I was instantly intimidated into humility and fear, but there was a motivating force in me to learn and there was a girl who I desperately wanted to know (and she had already proven herself ahead of everyone- having already worked in the darkroom our first week - and what she had made was proudly shown to the entire class by our instructor as a “really cool photogram” (an image made by placing random objects on print paper and exposing them to light then developing the paper). So much of the motive behind the quality of work I made in school was directly linked to wanting to impress Lauren. She was the person and reason for much of my improvement and dedication to bettering my work and driving me to create the beginnings of a style and become as technically knowledgeable as possible.
Looking back, the biggest regret I can think of (from those years) is how several times I could have learned so much more, but I was not a better student (dedicating and committing myself) to “my” craft and to all the resources within my grasp (the depth in my textbooks was immense). I could have learned early on, many innovative and far-reaching techniques and gained profoundly valuable knowledge that I could have applied to my artist’s palette, but instead I relied on my peers and those that were in the know- those who I could ask questions of (instead of investigating every facet of the medium that I enjoyed so much.
We had a class for “photography appreciation”, in which we spent slightly under two hours each day looking at photographs from different time periods and from many different photographers. We studied their subject matters, choice in equipment, techniques, influences, the lighting methods and the lighting effects created- the photographer’s timing, their philosophy for when and how, but also why to shoot; their works’ messaging, their perspective(s) on the world, and how those perspectives influenced other artists. Sometimes we spent a week on a specific photographer. Through that class I learned about many photographers I had never heard of. I became aware of beautiful bodies of work I would otherwise not have known of or sought out- in part, because I was not looking for deeper values in message or vision in visual arts I enjoyed- my preference in art was for clarity, detail, and vibrancy- I had a lot to learn. Quickly I was impacted and deeply moved and motivated by so many of these new artists- some I sought to emulate, and some whose work was just exquisite that I just could not get enough of.
I remember the fear inside me the first time that I showed one of my photographs in class. The class was a companion class to “Photography Appreciation.” Our first project called “Lines” was to make a photograph that made major use of lines (lines being the subject of the image- almost a graphical illustration rather than a photo. I photographed several dozen images and settled on a pair of trees that I shot from their conjoined bases looking upward into their canopies. I printed the image in a very high contrast way to accentuate the maze of overlapping “lines”- their branches, the tree trunks acting as “leading” lines into the image. Many different people in my class commented on my image, saying how they liked it, and how I was going to be the Ansel Adams of the class. I did quickly become known as one of the nature photographers in our department, and very soon I was one of the “official” landscape photographers in the program. I hiked when I had opportunities, and the times when I was not hiking were generally spent developing film and making proofs and prints in the darkroom (until 10PM- when the department closed for the night, and the staff ran me off campus so that they could go home). Lauren produced images that were very creative- always showing a tremendous strength of technical understanding (sharpness, exposure control, timing, and print values)- and she almost always had children in her images (which helped me in guessing which images were hers when we did anonymous critiques and print viewings). I was always a documentarian photographer, not so much a creative or visionary photographer- my desire was to be effective and detailed in technique- so as to match Lauren’s efforts in my own way and hopefully always impress her yet again.
Our first portfolio was due in the spring. We were to shoot images using Medium Format equipment. We could shoot anything we wanted, print it as desired, and mount it anyway that we wanted (size maximum of 11x14 per print). This portfolio was limited to five prints and it was when I first gained my reputation. I shot my images on three different hikes- all but one of the images in the collection were shot along the Haw River (a preserve on the edge of Raleigh). All printed the same way: black and white, strong contrast but in a way that maintained details throughout the highlights and shadows – my work, afterward, had to always be rich in tonal definition (tonally complete as Ansel Adams would say…) having detail throughout all ranges of highlights, midtones, and shadows. The images were printed 8x10 and then toned sepia and mounted on 11x14 black mat boards. Probably two hundred or more people were a part of the portfolio viewing that day. A journalism student friend of mine commented that my work looked like a spread from a very old National Geographic- all that was missing were the naked pygmies in the background. After the success of that portfolio, quite a few students began to come to me for my thoughts on their prints and their work in general- I think this because they trusted my judgment in making prints. I developed a strong reputation with my instructors, which was fantastic and emboldening, and helped me to grow in understanding of many things that were being taught in class because I was speaking with those instructors outside of class and they were giving me ideas for new and different things that I could experiment with.
Looking back years later, that portfolio was a bit simplistic in the captures and my selection of images, but the portfolio was conceptualized somewhat prior to shooting, and it had a stylized execution, and I am proud of its completion and success.
Around the same time, my parents went to Missouri to clean (and prepare for sale) the former home of my grandparents (my mother’s childhood home) in order to pay for my Grandmother’s medical bills- she had developed Alzheimer’s following my Grandfather’s death. While there, my parents found a huge collection of slides, negative film, prints, and a huge assortment of equipment that all belonged to my Grandfather- over sixty-years of his photographic life. Literally more than 4,000 35mm film images shot over his lifetime, along with film and prints he had protected and saved which had been shot by his father decades before [including some that were shot on the battlefield during World War II. It took me months just to look individually at each and every image.
I was given access to a special room at RCC containing huge light tables and I took out hundreds of my favorite images which I pulled out of their storage boxes and put into sleeves in a notebook. I laid them out to more thoroughly analyze and organize them. In the process, I discovered something about our family history – I found a photograph that told a lot about my Great Grandfather (Paul Hartmann)- who was actually a professional photographer with his own portrait studio, but more than that, he had a degree from a university [a degree in photographic technology (the same type of program and degree that I was pursuing- but his was from over sixty years earlier!)]. Paul operated a commercial portrait studio for years- I found many prints with thank you notes written on them from his clients. I am not sure how long my Great Grandfather lived, but apparently he must have died early in my Grandfather’s life because my mother barely knew anything about him. Roy Hartmann (my Grandfather) certainly had been moved by the experiences and life that he had shared with his father, both the hobbies of model plane building but also photography- both of which he loved his whole life. There was a portrait of Roy from the 1930’s as a young boy holding a model airplane- the image summed up so much of who he would be (even as an old man). A connection and a powerful love for photography formed in Roy which possibly came from his time with his father. It was fantastically reassuring and life-affirming for me to become aware of this part of our family’s history and to see the postcards that were sent to my Great Grandfather Paul from his clients- “Thank You” cards for his services both as their professional photographer- this was a newly found legacy for me to live up to….
THE YEARS AFTER PHOTO SCHOOL AND MY NEW MISSION:
I graduated from Randolph Community College with a degree in Applied Sciences: Photographic Technology – Concentration in Portrait Studio Management.
After graduating RCC, I moved back to Raleigh to work for several studios. I spent a few years working for studios around the state, and working on my own images privately. I did not have the right focus for a long time, and I was trying to investigate and learn to shoot many different genres of work. My progress was slow and sporadic, but I learned a lot during that time. During the 2008 recession, I went back to school and wasted a number of years and a lot of money on things I was not passionate about in the least bit (one of the largest regrets in my life). During this time, my resources were stretched thin and I barely picked up my camera. I lacked focus, ambition- I had forgotten who I had wanted to be, and I was lost without a driving force in my life. I would soon find the focus I needed.
As a child, my first memorable experiences were the individual new and amazing opportunities for education and growth found in books providing adventures and new perspectives. The most profound experience I have had in my life was a six month period in 2012. It was at the end of a long period of changes in me and a time in my life that photography was making a resurgence in my life and my work had restarted and was improving significantly, in which my work was really beginning to make some new leaps forward in technical quality and visual impact.
It was during that time that I met another girl in my personal life and fell head over heels for her. Unfortunately, I never would date her, but we did become good friends. She was a catalyst in my life to help me reawaken to things I had forgotten and the calling I should have never left. Things changed for all of us, on an unimaginable day a few weeks after her 21st birthday. She and her fiancée were on his motorcycle, when a truck pulled out in front of them- her fiancée was killed instantly and she was severely injured and left in a coma. She spent weeks in ICU, and months in physical therapy. This was just shortly following a series of experiences in my own life in which my mother was almost killed in a head-on car crash- and after coming to terms with and processing what I had experienced in that- I was worried about how my friend would face these struggles and likely survivor’s guilt. I could not imagine trying to come to terms with what she awoke to, and I could not imagine what her outlook on her own life’s continuation and future would be. I feel that we knew each other for a reason, and I have always believed in each of us have a reason and a purpose in our lives to find- that things happen for a reason. I came to believe at that time that perhaps this was a purpose for my photography (but more- my life) to find meaning and importance, and that maybe this was the reason for our knowing each other.
I spent several months at making a book for her of poetry accented with my photographs and peppered with dozens of empowering and valuable quotes. I have a myriad of poets and writers to thank for the book’s content. Every page spread was a theme of two words (one page having a negative term and the other page a positive antonym)- every page was to be a stepping stone along a path to the goal (and the end of the book)- to heal and come away stronger in time.
At this point, years had passed since photo school, and I had gotten pretty far from my photography (barely shooting), and I had in actuality forgotten my love and my respect for (and connection to) the magic of photography- partly by being absorbed into my foolish return to “school” but also a lack of time, along with a mounting debt that I was struggling to rid myself of. I had forgotten a part of me (and something that had been a profound and special component of so much of my earlier life); when I received her printed and completed book and read it for the first time- I could not help but cry because it was more than I could have hoped for, and it awakened a part of me and expressed some feelings I had not even realized I was struggling with. It was the first time in years that I printed a collection of images of my own work, but this was so much more. In the process, I had developed a new style to my work and a whole new approach to the color in my images.
All the steps and redrafts and revisions to the content of her book and trying to make sure it was as perfected as I could make it showed me things deep inside of myself, and clarified so much for me of what I was dealing with both consciously and subconsciously. Seeing how that book came together, how beautiful and complete it felt in message and presentation- and what it clarified for me, it lifted me up so much and gave me a tremendous fuel for the future- she and her book changed my life and began the first steps in the next great change in me as an artist and as a person- helping me to start over, a new and special and purposeful mission- realizing what my new work and my future must be about….
I was reawakened to how special it was to be an artist- one of a privileged few in this world who are seen by so many others as having a vision for interpreting the world and demonstrating that “vision” to others in ways that they themselves say they did not or could not see- it is a privilege and an honor to be any sort of artist, and I knew this when I was a child, yet I had lost sight of this along the way.
Following 2012, I returned to my old archives and began to recheck and rework (in order to replace the original versions) all of my old images in a newly found, striking style that had developed from the completion her book. Following that book, I had to build several books for myself to clarify some things for myself and to bring closure to old bodies of work. I paid off my debts working for Federal Express, and using my limited spare time, I completed the replacement of my old work and the completion of several new books, along with printing an entirely new portfolio. The portfolio was the first page in a new chapter.
In 2016, I began a new and renewed commitment to my photography and to recognizing and not taking for granted my blessing and privilege of being an artist. I seek now to use my gifts and my passions to inspire others and to make images that show the beauty throughout our world, to inspire and not waste a day. I want to be an educator, a conservationist, an art advocate, and someone who gets to share and demonstrate beauty and wonder- showing how special our world is and the people in it.
In my work with people, I want to capture the essence of who I am photographing, and I want to establish life-long connections (friendships) and continuing work in recording the lives and family histories of my friends and clients. Do not waste a day…and love every day and those we love for how special and important they are.
In the coming years, I am dedicating myself to travel and exploration and documenting the natural world and striving to reach ever new heights with each and every new photographic session and adventure….