What I’m Doing To Improve As An Artist During Quarantine

Boston, street photography, sunbathing, sleeping, south boston, beach

First, I want to say hello to everyone, it’s been a while. I tackled a rather difficult project last year and it completely burned me out… It was hard to even pick my camera up again for a while. That’s a story for another time but I felt like I owed some of you a bit of an explanation.

Times are changing and the world has virtually pressed the pause button on much of our lives. Social distancing is the new norm and fear reins supreme. With that being said, I’m a firm believer in humankind’s ability to adapt and overcome even the most difficult challenges thrown our way and I wanted to talk to you a little about how we can do just that.

A little while back I wrote about my approach to photography/art in regards to how I spend my time. I think it’s even more relevant now than it was when I wrote it. In my mind, I feel like you can really generalize my approach to artistic endeavors to two main mindsets: Consumption and Production.

Leica, M10, M10p, cameras, photography gear, street photography
Invest in yourself. Though photo books tend to be expensive, they are well worth the investment if you plan on improving beyond what you are innately capable of.

What is consumption?

To consume something in regards to photography is to receive it (It being knowledge and/or inspiration). You consume when you read a book by another photographer, watch a photography tutorial, peruse photo sharing sites, walk through an art museum, or any other activity where you actively analyze other works of art. I regularly analyze impressionist paintings, abstract art, and anything else that inspires me. In fact, some of the work from my largest project was inspired largely by cubism paintings by Pablo Picasso. Consumption is required in order to move beyond the boundaries of our own mind.

BridgeLock Pano

Bridge Lock Pano by John M. Barbiaux, installed in the historic Union Trust Building in downtown Pittsburgh, was inspired by various art styles including cubism and Impressionism.

What is Production?

To produce… Well, this is kind of common sense. We produce anytime we put the camera to our eye, manipulate a photo in post processing, or sit down at the keyboard to share our thoughts and feelings for the world to read. When I think about the balance between production and consumption I think of paint. If all you do is produce, never consume, it’s similar to trying to paint a masterpiece with one color. Let’s say red… If you spread red around on a canvas long enough you’ll certainly get lighter and darker shades of red but that’s it. Using the same analogy, consumption would be the equivalent of introducing other colors (outside influences like other artists, paintings, photographs, etc.) with your red and mixing them to make an entire rainbow of other colors to produce a truly magnificent piece of art.

Look, I get it. It can be difficult to sit down and read a photography book, even one by a photographer you are fond of, when you could be out with your camera doing the thing you love. It can be especially difficult if you’re competitive like me… I see these great photographs created by incredibly talented photographers and while I appreciate them I immediately want to grab my camera and try to do it better. Which brings me to my next point, life is… was… all about balance.

kiawah island, leica, fashion, fine art, pool, abstract
Getting creative with the wife on a family vacation… She thought I was trying to kill her.

Being quarantined at home or spending much less time on the streets or in the National Parks means we have an abundance of time to practice consumption. In fact, lots of corporations (Leica, Nikon, and Canon to name a few) are offering free classes in an effort to encourage folks to stay home. Instead of lamenting our postponed adventures it’s time to suck it up and level up our skills. Besides, loving what you do and not being able to do it is a lot like being in a long distance relationship… When you finally get what you want you tend to tackle it with renewed passion, a passion you may not have experienced for a while. So, look forward to when things get back to semi-normal and you get to photo the heck out of whatever you’re lusting after.

There are a number of inspirational works that I’ve found instrumental in my endeavors. For instance, The Polaroid Book, The Last Resort by Martin Parr, Street Photography Now, Saul Leiter: Early Color, Guy Bourdin: A Message for You, Stephen Shore: Selected Works, 1973-1981, Lartigue: Life in Color, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Leonardo da Vinci, and Alex Webb: The Suffering of Light are just a few of the resources I use to study in order to improve my own work.

I’m a sucker for a good book so please leave your feedback in the comment section below. What is the most inspirational book you’ve read? As always, thanks for reading!

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2 Comments

  • I completely agree with your thought process here. I decided to start a photo project during this lockdown and after three weeks of constant snapping I’ve realised my glass is empty, I need to put down the camera and soak in some inspiration instead. On my to buy list is Sally Mann’s Immediate Family and anything by Fan Ho. All the best.

    • Thanks for sharing! I need to check out Sally Mann’s Immediate Family and Fan Ho is certainly inspirational. All the best to you as well.

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