The Light Brew Photography 2017 Retrospective
2017 was the year I got serious about photography and decided to take a new direction in my life. So many positive things happened over the course of the year; I’m fortunate to now find myself in a better place at the beginning of 2018 than I was one year ago. Since an endless “to do” list is part of the bargain when one is trying to build a new business and a brand (while still working another full-time job), it can be easy to get discouraged and back away from the never-ending challenges. Even when I have the energy to spend all my spare time working at photographing, editing, blogging, improving the website, social media and myriad other things, sometimes all I see is the many important tasks that remain unfinished at the end of an evening, weekend, week, month… or year.
Writing a retrospective celebrating successes is a great way of reminding one’s self of all one has accomplished in a short period of time, even when there’s so much more to do. I realize it’s a little late for a 2017 retrospective since it’s already the beginning of February, but I’m going to forgive myself for getting sick the day after Christmas, which undermined my plans for productivity over the holiday break, and for needing to step back from writing for a few weeks. I still want to take a moment to acknowledge and be thankful for all of the surprising and wonderful things that have happened for me in the field of photography over the last year.
I’ll only be hitting the high points in this retrospective, but for more recent subscribers to my blog it will serve as a good overview of all that’s been happening at Light Brew Photography (check out the Milestones graphic for a quick visual summary). I believe it will also help re-energize my efforts over the next year of challenges. I’ll finish up with a look ahead at the remainder of 2018 by sharing some of what I see on the horizon over the coming year.
Launching the American Dream Photographic Series
My year in 2017 began quite fortuitously when I was able to capture some photographs of an abandoned house blown off its piers outside Elizabethtown, Kentucky on January 20th. Working these photos through editing and into print resulted in one particularly moving photograph that I entitled, American Dream. This image had a significant and unanticipated impact on my emotional life, because I identified with it so deeply after losing my home and my own ‘American Dream’ several years ago. Consequently, it became the namesake for a new series I decided to pursue last year focused on abandoned and ruined places. This series became my own unique brand of therapy, as creating these images helped me to heal and find happiness again. You can see the photos added to the series over the course of 2017 in the American Dream section of my portfolio.
At the same time as working on building the American Dream series, I continued to pursue new photos for my on-going series, A Southern Sense of Place. Fortunately, I was able to add significantly to this nostalgic collection last year and to expand the subject matter beyond landscapes. Creating this series carried me back into my childhood and inspired reflection on my life that helped me to celebrate my heritage and the deepest parts of myself. The images I created helped me to recognize myself as a southern photographer, despite the many years I have lived outside of the South. Working on both series also inspired me to attempt to show my work and take my hobby more seriously. You can read more about my vision for these series here and here.
Entering Photographic Exhibitions and Contests
In 2017, I submitted entries to seven juried exhibitions, and got accepted into three, which I decided wasn’t too bad considering that I’m a newbie on the competition circuit. Consequently, I had works exhibited in three brick-and-mortar galleries in three different states last year for a total of about 14 weeks. My photograph, The Bone Collector, won an award in the Still Life category in my first show. This show was the Annual Regional Juried Photography Exhibition hosted by the Downtown Artist’s Collective in Clarksville, Tennessee, which is open to Kentucky and Tennessee resident photographers. I really enjoyed attending the opening of this show/contest and returning a few weeks later with my sister to take a closer look at all the accepted works. This experience gave me the itch for competition and exhibition.
My photograph, American Dream, was included in an exhibition under the theme Forsaken juried by Terri Cappucci at the Southeast Center for Photography in Greenville, South Carolina in early August. My lovely mother took a road trip with me to the exhibition opening and I received an in-depth portfolio review from the gallery director the next day. This exhibition is the one that really inspired me to set up an online portfolio (out of which this website grew very quickly). Plus, it required me to develop a defined portfolio of high quality prints from both series mentioned above. You can read more about this exhibition here and the portfolio review here.
In late August through early September, I took the opportunity to do something different by collaborating with two other photographers I met in 2017 at the Forsaken exhibition; Dale Rio and Nancy O. Albert (both based in North Carolina). Lenscratch hosted an open, online exhibition entitled, Photographs in Conversation. This was a great opportunity that resulted in two very different, collaborative diptychs posted indefinitely for viewing at Lenscratch. Each diptych contains one of my photographs juxtaposed with one from either Dale or Nancy and combined into a single digital image, or diptych. You can read more about my collaborative experience here.
In September, my photograph, The Bone Collector was selected for inclusion in the Regional Showcase of the Art though the Lens Exhibition at the Yeiser Art Gallery in Paducah, Kentucky, which ran from mid-October through November. There were a number of problems with this show, including issues with the entry process, poor communications, an outdated prospectus, and a show catalog suffering from a number of typos. However, this contest did teach me some lessons about how far removed my own work is from the accepted mainstream of “fine art” photography in the eyes of at least one juror. My entries resembled not at all the photos he selected for the international portion of the show. But, this is the risk one takes when entering an open contest with no theme to guide entries or selections. I was still very pleased to have a photo selected for the Regional Showcase.
At the end of 2017, Lenscratch again ran an open, online exhibition along the theme “My Favorite Photograph I took this Year”. It was difficult for me to choose, but I ended up selecting Number 609 for this opportunity and it ran on January 1, 2018. Happily, this photograph became a bestseller as soon as I posted it for sale. You can view the photo and exhibition here. Every time I look at this lovely fellow he makes me smile and remember the colors of late autumn at Land Between the Lakes last November. He also manages to remind me of who I really am deep down inside and the inherent worth of this life of mine.
Launching Light Brew Photography
When I learned that American Dream had been accepted to the Forsaken Exhibition in South Carolina, I realized being serious about photography requires posting and maintaining an online Portfolio to share with interested parties. Consequently, I launched the Light Brew Photography website in June last year. What began as a simple Portfolio and contact site quickly grew into a Blog to share my photographs, thoughts and experiences, and a place with full commerce functionality for selling prints.
The website required some long nights and many weekend hours to create and it still seems to always be under construction. This is primarily because I want to give my visitors a chance to connect personally with me and my creative vision, so I try to write something meaningful about every photograph on display. This requires much thought and many hours of work. I believe that combining interesting photographs with provocative writing is a worthwhile enterprise that results in personal growth and improvements in technique for the artist, and a deeper, more personal experience for the viewer. Unfortunately, there are always scads of photos on my site awaiting their companion prose, since I’m always adding new work.
It took me a few months to find my blogging “voice”, which I intend to be focused on ‘experiencing fine art photographs’ (the tag line for my site). Photographs are all about the emotional and visceral experiences they provoke in the viewers that identify with the stories they tell. They are deeply experienced and will (hopefully) have a lasting and positive impact on the viewer. The images we consume literally become a part of us, as the experience gets embodied in our being (more about that in another post). Few photographers realize the power of the written word combined with a single image to change identities, lives, and motivate action.
The Light Brew Blog became a central part of my marketing plan designed in increase exposure, encourage subscribers, and, ultimately, to sell prints of my photographs. Over 30,000 words later; I’m still at it, although it’s difficult for me to find the time to publish unique and thoughtful blog posts averaging over 1600 words in length every week (this post is over 4,000 words). I did manage to publish 18 blog posts in 2017 and one guest post I was asked to contribute to the very cool Dutch site MightyGoods.com.
My marketing plan also required designing and ordering business cards, pamphlets showcasing the two series I was working on last summer, and a set of postcards designed to attract interested fans unable to commit money on more expensive prints. I also attempted to raise awareness about Light Brew Photography and increase traffic to the site by running a contest for a free print of any photograph in any size chosen by the winner. Anyone that purchased a set of postcards was automatically entered in the drawing. The drawing was held on October 30th and won by Heidi of Chicago, IL. Eventually she chose a print of Solitude as a gift for her best friend. Heidi’s print order has been fulfilled and later this year, Solitude will find itself framed and hanging in a house on the Greek Island of Mykonos! I’d love an invite to come view it in situ!
Another important part of my marketing plan involved setting up and launching a number of social media accounts under the Light Brew Photography brand. I launched several different accounts to help spread the word about my photographs and blog, including a Facebook Brand Page, Twitter, 500px, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts, and a YouTube Channel. I set up these accounts while also working on the website and blog, and even produced the first Light Brew Photography video showcasing some of the works from my American Dream series (if you haven’t seen it, you can view it here). Finally, I acquired a second phone number dedicated to my business and posted it on my website contact page to make it easier for potential clients to contact me. Please feel free to text me or give me a call to share your thoughts and/or inquire about prints.
As anyone who has tried to market through social media knows; it’s incredibly time-intensive. Consequently, I eventually settled into Facebook and Twitter as my most active accounts. I hope to put more effort into the others over the coming year, but all of this marketing and blogging has eaten considerably into the time and energy I have for the practice of photography (the whole reason for all of my other efforts). I did work on finding a balance between the business side and the creative side of photography over the course of 2017 (although the struggle continues).
Growing My Body of Work in 2017
Thankfully, I have managed to grow my body of good work significantly over the last year, although I think I need to put more effort into improving my curation skills. I was lucky enough to take a number of trips devoted to photography; many relatively close to home and a few farther afield. I’m always looking for the time and opportunity to take a trip down the back roads of Tennessee and Kentucky looking for photographic subjects (I love road trips), and I got to do this quite a few times in 2017. These trips particularly helped me to expand my two series A Southern Sense of Place and American Dream, which I concentrated on a lot prior to my portfolio review in early August.
I also took a day trip to Bowling Green, Kentucky and made a weekend excursion to Chattanooga, Tennessee. In Chattanooga, most of my efforts were focused on landscapes at Lookout Mountain and the Chickamauga Civil War Battlefield just over the border in Georgia. You can read more about this trip and see more of the photos here.
Although Chattanooga is popularly associated with trains in the American imagination, ironically, it was the trip to Bowling Green that presented more opportunities to photograph trains. I was really pleased with a couple of these photos. I also captured some images of flowers that were useful in creating my Chimera Series, which I’ll return to below.
My most productive photographic excursions were the trip I took to Panama City Beach in the off season in May and the numerous drives over to Land Between the Lakes in Tennessee and Kentucky later in the year. Although I came down with the flu within about 24 hours of arriving at the beach, I was still able to create some beautiful images. I’m particularly happy with the beach photos I took over the course of one sunset and a few of an amazing storm that rolled in earlier that same day.
My most satisfying shoots at Land between the Lakes took place late in the year in November and December. I was so happy to have the opportunity to photograph the last of the autumn colors in this beautiful park in early November. Some of my favorite photographs of the year resulted from this all-to-brief day trip. It was wonderful for me to get out in the woods and paddocks to try to bring some of the joy and wonder I felt in those places back home with me to share with you. You can read more about this trip and view more photos here.
The success of the autumn shoot in November inspired me to return again on the cusp of winter in early December. This time, I focused on photographing more bison. Although the flaming colors of autumn had long since dissipated, the yellow and orange winter grasses added great texture to the photographs and the weather was exceptionally fine. You can read more about my buffalo round-up here, which ranks as my favorite blog post of 2017.
New (and Old) Photographic Directions
Last year, I also had the opportunity to begin exploring a few new photographic directions, as well as to resurrect and freshen some older work. I got more into creating composite photographs, started exploring a series I think I’m going to call Past Lives, and offered for sale my iPhoneography series shot at Red Rocks in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Fortunately, I was also able to return to spending some of my energy on nature and landscape photography in 2017 (my true loves), both of which have figured prominently in my photographic work in past years. The gift of a new lens and the periodic loan of a long telephoto from a friend helped make this possible.
Experimenting with Composites: The Chimera Series
In 2016, I dabbled in a few experiments in composite photography (combining elements of more than one photograph into one). One of these images in my portfolio last summer, Light Leaks, attracted the attention of a woman named Whitney. Whitney gave me my first commission when she asked that I produce a series of three composite photographs in the same style for her to hang on a large wall in her new home. I ended up producing a whole series featuring flowers and another featuring butterflies for her to review. The three she chose included the original Light Leaks. Thank you, Whitney! You’re the one that got the significant sales started in 2017!
A more focused series of images, called Chimera, evolved out of my experimentation with compositing. These photographs are abstract yet organic representations of the many miracles of the natural world. The base image is a photograph of a subject that supplies the underlying texture of the composite, such as rocks, ripples in water, or tree bark. While one or more overlaid photographs infuses the colors and shapes of natural objects and creatures, such as flowers and butterflies, into the composite. Adjusting the transparency of the overlaid images gives the impression that the objects they contain have melted or fused into the underlying, natural structure. You can read more about my work in compositing here.
The iPhoneography Retrospective
In November of last year, a Call for Entries from the Southeast Center for Photography under the theme “iPhoneography”, inspired me to root down into my folders in search of some images I took out in Colorado at the end of 2012 within days of moving there from Michigan. I had just lost my home and had been offered a place to stay in Colorado Springs while looking for work. I had no camera gear with me, but I was so moved by the scenery on my near daily (and breathless) hikes in the mountains, that I used my old iPhone 4s to shoot some photos of the landscape.
I had previously written off these photos, since they were captured with an inferior camera at low resolution, but when I found them and put a little work into editing them, I was really pleased with the results. Now I’m proud of what these photos have to offer, as I can see sadness combined with a faint hope in them, both of which were characteristic of my emotional state at the time. I guess others can too, since I was fortunate enough to sell my first metal print when someone purchased Red Rock within 24 hours of my posting examples from the series on the Light Brew Photography Facebook Page. The whole series is now available in affordable, durable and beautiful 11x14 inch metal prints. You can read more about this series here.
Past Lives: Mythical Identities for Purchase in Antique Shops
Finally, I tentatively began exploring a new series of photographs in 2017 that document figurative artifacts offered for sale in antique shops in the South. As an anthropologist, I’m always interested in learning more about how we commodify the past and what the used objects we purchase can tell us about ourselves, including how we have perceived people of different genders, ages, classes, races, and geographic locations through time. Antique Jesus; a photo from an antique shop in Hazel, Kentucky that is part of my Southern Sense of Place series, got me interested in photographing more in antique shops.
True pieces of Americana, such as series of whisky bottles shaped like frontiersmen, certainly tell us something about masculinity, but the forms of the bottles and their contents also tell us something about how we view ourselves as Americans. These Loaded Frontiersmen are imbued with the mythical qualities of the Old West and supported by the subtext of manifest destiny. They visually summarize a unique cultural history continually constructed by our reinvention and commodification of the past in the present. It is infinitely interesting to me that there is a market today for items created in the 1960s along with their dated notions of the relationships amongst the Old West, masculinity, and whisky. These bottles are simply one example of a cultural phenomenon worth exploring. After all, antiques are the props for the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves; when we purchase them and bring them into our homes they help us to construct a collective, uniquely American self-image.
Becoming a Semi-Pro Photographer and Getting Better
Happily, I quickly began seeing a return on the significant investment in energy, time and money I sank into photography and launching my new business in 2017. I attracted more new clients in the second half of the year and sold more prints than I ever expected. Although I’m still working a full-time job, today I’m also a semi-pro photographer with a growing business. How great is that? I have managed to reinvent myself in middle ageand take my life in a completely new direction, despite working outside the established community of fine art photography.
Most importantly, I am healing emotionally as a result of this journey and becoming more and more my most authentic self along the way. For the first time in years, I’m again experiencing my life as one full of possibilities, undefined by the hardships and trepidations of the past.
On the 2018 Horizon at Light Brew Photography
As I look towards the horizon in 2018, I see a lot more hard work that I trust will mean even more personal growth and success over the coming year. What I really hope to achieve is greater exposure and improved skills, both of which will lead to more opportunities and sales. Here are some goals designed to grow my business in 2018:
1. I’d really like to find the time to publish a few e-books on interesting subjects that will funnel collectors to my portfolio and blog (more on this later).
2. I started expanding into canvas and metal prints at the end of last year, which have become quite popular. I plan to update the Purchase Prints page here on my website to include those materials and new pricing.
3. I’m already working on getting prints displayed for sale in some local businesses and galleries to increase exposure. I find that when people see the prints in person – they sell.
4. I’m exploring ways of expanding my email subscriber base, which hasn’t grown as much as I had hoped in the last six months. If you’ve got any ideas, please share them with me!
5. I hope to have the opportunity to take more trips and photographs in 2018 to improve my craft and the selection of images I have for sale on my site.
6. Finally, I plan to focus more on landscape and nature photography this year. I also hope to get the lens I need to capture additional, high-quality environmental portraits of all kinds of animals, as I find creating these types of images especially fulfilling.
To all of my loyal subscribers; THANK YOU SO MUCH for connecting with me in 2017 (and for sticking with me to the end of this long post). I promise increasingly entertaining (and, hopefully, enlightening) fare over the coming year. As ever, If you like what you see here, please help me realize my modest dreams of success; SHARE THIS CONTENT on your social media networks using the Share buttons below. Happy (belated) New Year!
-- Angela Martin