The function of your organs is not dependant upon a Picasso centered above the sofa. You will, indeed, breathe without a bound set of pages filled with well-constructed lines of words about a wheelbarrow and chickens. Your heart will beat, albeit more slowly and evenly, without having ever heard the greatest rock and roll song of all time—whether that song is Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” or Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” or Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” You certainly don’t need movies to make your blood flow.
But try living without art. You can’t. I am willing to bet that not a single room in your house, including the bathroom, is devoid of it in some form.
In my small bedroom, I have eight original paintings, a mosaic, a silkscreen, a print, a photo, two lithographics, and a blown-glass vase made by an artisan. Some were gifts; some were purchases; some are the work of my daughter or me.
These are the things I value not only because they bring me joy when I look at them, but because I know how much heart went into them, how much work. When we buy something from an artist, sometimes what we pay for is the time spent on that single piece, but most often we pay for education, experience, practice, tools, materials, inspiration, and all the things that led to the creation of that piece of art.
It’s the same thing with accounting. You pay not only for someone to prepare your taxes; you pay for the education that taught the preparer. You pay for a roof and walls and materials and utilities.
So a photograph, simple as it seems, is not just a quick capture of a moment in time.
The other day, I took a walk down the street with a friend to shoot some of the pretty flowers we saw on the way home from dinner. I grabbed my camera and two lenses—about $3,500 worth of equipment—and we spent about 30 minutes walking, examining the flowers, composing our shots, and pressing the button that seems to determine the photo’s value in the minds of some.
My card had more than 60 images when I returned. I previewed each, selected the ones I thought had potential to be beautiful, and went to work. While flowers are pretty without makeup, my goal is to convey something more than an exact two-dimensional replica of a three-dimensional flower. I want to show you a world, a place you don’t often notice. I want that picture to swallow one of your breaths.
The beautiful zinnia you see at the top of the page didn’t look exactly like that in my camera. It was planted in a box in front of a neighbor’s house, and you could see a blurred-out background of mortar and brick, but it was a little too pronounced for my liking. When you’re looking at a flower, you’re looking at the flower; the background shouldn’t detract. So I blew up the bloom.
Next, I adjusted the color, clicked the Auto Tone button, adjusted the color again, clicked the HDR button and fiddled with those adjustments, pasted the previous version on top of the HDR version and erased the parts I wanted crispier before merging those two images.
Finally, I add a watermark in an inconspicuous place—not because I want to protect the image from theft (anyone with an iota of initiative can blot or crop out my watermark) but because it’s mine. I sign my work. It’s a pride thing. I didn’t spend thirty minutes editing a single photograph so that my picture could be another of the millions of anonymous images floating around without attribution.
Sometimes I’ll post that photo on my Flickr or Facebook page. If you like it, you will leave me a comment saying it’s beautiful. But the truth is that I want you to buy it. I want you to hire me to shoot your kid’s senior portrait or the headshot for your new book or your party.
And when I tell you that I charge $250 to $350 for a one-hour photo shoot, which includes 25 to 50 images on a DVD, you should understand that I took eight times that number and that each of those 400 images was scrutinized, that the final images were each opened and tweaked, that zits were blotted out, that skin was smoothed, that, ladies, your mustache was softened, your eyes were made to sparkle more, your tie, gentlemen, was enhanced. What you get is hours of work that’s hard on the eyes and the hands and the neck.
I want you to find the exchange of art for money a valuable, mutually beneficial one that will bring you joy for years to come.
So even though I have that photograph lying around, collecting pixels, taking up disk space, it’s not free. My name and a link to my website are not a fair exchange for the work that makes a work of art.
I don’t work for free. Period.