Putting in the Work

Sudek's work on display at the National Gallery of Canada.

A few weeks ago I took my sons to the National Gallery of Canada for a day.  It was partly to introduce some cultural appreciation to their lives... and (admittedly) a selfish desire to visit the exhibition of Josef Sudek's work that was being hosted there.  I'd like to think it was a fair balance of both, but also I'd like to think I'd earned a little bit of my vacation time to pursuing my own interests. Don't judge.


Anyways, while I was walking the length of the exhibit I noticed a series of photos entitled, "The window of my studio," and it really intrigued me.  The images focus on the street/courtyard outside of Sudek's studio, often through glass obscured by condensation or highlighting the influence of refraction.  Truly, they were beautiful and powerful images, statements that reflected his life. Yet what caught me most was how he masterfully sidestepped many of the "rules," I was taught during my formal photography education.

Often he didn't concern himself with losing details in the shadows, or with framing, sharpness, or a dozen other of the things I'd embraced through the years.  He had somehow escaped what we would consider conventional guidelines, and captured a truly moving series of images that showcase decades of Prague from his perspective.  It's not that he always operated in some rogue photographic parallel universe, but that he just knew when it was right to do so.

My point in bringing this up is that he didn't just jump to that stage, the exhibit showcased more than just his work, it showcased his growth.  I walked the full exhibit twice just to see again how he developed and experimented.  The pieces reflected the years he put in developing the body of work that he did.  Each step outside of the "rules," was built on the back of years of experience that you can follow with the dates beside each shot, it's remarkable.

Everyone knows the old adage about how to get to Carnegie Hall, but the simple fact of the matter is that it's true (and it applies to more than just saxophone players).  When it comes to photography you really can't find any shortcuts to the top.  Sure, you can find tricks and techniques that make things easier, develop workflows, and buy gear that will help you on your way, but in the end you still need to buckle down and put in some serious hours behind the lens.

"Quality doesn't come easily.  There are no shortcuts and it often requires great sacrifice.  But if you deliver quality appropriately in every dealing you have, with everything you touch, success will surely follow. And it will sustain a great career." - Tony Corbell

Ps. If you happen to be in the Ottawa area I'd strongly recommend you drop into the Gallery and take it in. In the middle they were displaying a really interesting film on Thursday nights after 5pm are free!  It's on display until the 26th of February.

Signature block.