Since issue #25, I’ve been recountingmy experiences as a young photographer forging a creative identity. The idea for this series of essays came from my trying to trace how I became the artist I am today, and the realization that my meandering career path has defined me as much as I have tried to define it. On Off Camera, I talk to so many creative people about their path and choices; and while there is no correct, sure-fire approach to being an artist, I’d say curiosity and restlessness are present in every one of our guests. It’s what fuels the hard work, makes rejection bearable, keeps them beating down doors to sate their curiosity and seek the next answer.
Everyone with that kind curiosity and restlessness started out by falling in love. My friend Eric watched the first Star Wars – in the theater – about 27 times. He knew exactly how long Luke Skywalker had to hold his breath when he went under in the trash compactor. He knew all the dialog. Everything. And this was before fanboys, DVDs or anything like that. He’d hide in the theater bathroom between screenings so he could see the next showing for free. Quite simply, he fell in love with something about that film that led to an interest in computer programming and artificial intelligence, and eventually to a PhD from Oxford and a fascinating life. His curiosity consumed and defined him.
Sometimes I wish I were like Eric. His life seemed to prioritize itself so seamlessly, like cogs and gears lining up to spin a mechanism in his brain that ordered his time. Computers, then everything else, all decisions stemming from that first love. I, on the other hand, was fickle, falling in love over and over again. First it was KISS, the band my parents loved to hate. That led to piano and guitar lessons, my own bands, and a love for music that has never lost its pull on my heart. Soon after KISS there was skateboarding, another 40-year love affair that is still unwilling to let me go – just ask my physical therapist. Then I discovered movies. Raiders of the Lost Ark made me want to be a cinematographer, a director, and a special effects model maker. Then Bob Dylan grabbed my affections, and I wanted to be a writer, a poet, and a meaningful songwriter. But Joe Strummer came along and I was enamored with the idea that a poet could be a punk. An idea could become a movement, and loud guitars could change the world. Haircuts ensued.
I discovered photography rather late. I’d always loved looking at pictures, but never made the connection that the images that moved me and provoked thought were made by somebody, and that somebody was an artist. When I was really young, I used to pour over the images in a book that my parents had called The Family of Man. Looking back now, it seems insane that the only photography book in our house was this volume, a collection of 500 images from 68 countries and 273 photographers attempting to prove the universality of the human experience and photography’s role in its documentation. I fell in love with this book, and would pick it up in quiet moments, studying the faces depicted on the pages. I had no idea I wanted to be a photographer, but I knew I loved that book.
I finally took a photography class in my sophomore year of college, around the same time I met Neil Blender, a professional skateboarder, musician, artist and complete original (Google him). He lent me a camera and showed me how to use it to make good skate photos. Something clicked. A cog in my brain turned. I started to look forward to the smell of fixer. I loved the darkroom and would spend long hours experimenting with chemicals, stop bath, toning, bleaching, burning and dodging, generally using this research as an excuse to experience the excitement, over and over again, of seeing an image appear in the developer tray and taking shape before my eyes. I loved that moment more than any other – the moment you get to see the result of an idea, its success or failure no longer an abstraction, but a visceral image. I mourn the passing of film and chemicals one reason only: that gap between taking a picture – sometimes an hour and sometimes a week – made me the photographer I am. Digital photography asks the brain to be an evaluator and critic while it is busy being a creative receptor.
But I digress. My point is that I fell in love with photography, hard. I connected with the idea of transferring a human emotion from one eye to another in the way those very emotions were transferred to me as a little boy pondering The Family of Man. I devoured photography books and spent hours at the library pouring over the works of the great photography masters, from the earliest plates and still life experiments to the counterculture street photographers to the surreal colorists. I visited museums and galleries, surprising myself with my studiousness –a trait I’d never possessed before that point. I was, unknowingly, trying to figure out what kind of photographer I wanted to be by searching for the photographs that moved me most.
If you’ve followed these serialized ramblings for the last nine issues, you know that I was still actively searching in 1993, when I came to the conclusion that documenting the action on film sets as a unit photographer was probably not for me. In the next issue I’ll share how my early fascination with a photograph’s ability to convey emotion led to my next journey.
Chris Moore may not have known what he was going to do with his life when he was young, but he knew he was good at talking his friends into doing stuff. What better description of a producer is there? In this issue, Chris answers the very difficult question, “what exactly does a film producer do?” with this astute observation about his early life: He could get his friends excited about doing almost anything, and he had the ability to set the wheels in motion. That in itself is an art, but Chris is more than just a creative film producer. He is a keen observer of “the humans” and what moves us. That fascination not only drives him, but makes him question and examine every facet of the strange business of Hollywood with a point of view that is always original, often divisive, and ultimately, defining. I think Chris’ real passion is storytelling, and that passion goes beyond wanting to see great stories become great films. He wants to show us how those stories are made, and, in an increasingly fragmented media landscape, to ensure we can continue to find and be thrilled by them. That, my friends, is true love.
– Sam Jones, August 2015