Palm Springs, CA. 2015. Leica M240. 35mm.
Being a renowned photographer doesn’t make you renowned teacher. It doesn’t even make you a good teacher. Not necessarily. I’m also a difficult student.
I pushed one of the greats and she lost her mind on me. It’s okay, we ended on good terms. But you should have been there. Another student said, “Well, that was brave.” Could be the nature of my job. Could be how I was raised. But I’m going to say what needs to be said. To anyone. She was playing favorites in the class, spending an inordinate amount of time with some people over others. I told her. But obviously, at her stature, nobody ever challenges her. And so she came at me hard. The only way she could think to try to truly hurt me was to insult my work. Which she did. Relentlessly. I kept thinking of Whiplash. I let her go at me. It’s not my first time. She didn’t like my cropped photos. Told me not to crop 28 times in a row. Okay, got it.
The workshop is basically, go shoot. And then she’ll tell you if she likes it or not. Perhaps that is the privilege of being a master, but it’s not very inspiring.
Wayne Gretzky and Magic Johnson were amazing players. they were not good coaches. They don’t teach communication skills at an ice hockey rink, or at art school. “You have to inspire yourself,” she said to me. “I can’t do that for you!” Right. Except, being inspired is precisely what I took the week off from work to do. And it’s my goddam birthday. But she’s not a teacher, she’s a photographer. One of the greats. But you don’t pick up a camera so you can teach better. More likely, that is how you communicate. Through your imagery. Something gets sacrificed to be that good. “Just go out and do it” is how Gretzky coached. .473 lifetime coaching average. Not good enough.
Don’t meet your heroes. Their power to inspire you lies in their work, not in their personalities. Study them from afar. You can tell everything you need to know from where you’re sitting right now. And in all honesty, if they do spend time with other people, they do so for the glory of an audience. And for money. But the best teachers, they love to teach. Because fame and money don’t factor in. Their satisfaction comes from having given something useful to someone. And they love to inspire.
I can remember all my best teachers. I adored them. They made me better. In the classroom.
“Go out and shoot.”
Of course I went out and shot. You don’t have to tell me to shoot. I’ll do it no matter what. It’s my coping mechanism, too. But Palm Springs is a challenging place for street photography. There just isn’t enough people and it’s sort of sad and touristy. Nothing about it begs to be captured. Save for the kitschy cool Mid-Century Modern architecture and the San Jacinto mountains. But everyone shoots those things. I even drove to Rite-Aid and the airport just so I could actually see some people. Turns out Palm Springs is home to the world’s most desolate airport. On the way back I saw these metal mountain sculptures in the middle of the road. I parked and stood on that center divide and waited. And waited. And waited.
For inspiration to land.