"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
November 1, 2010

Better After All?

Are you becoming a better photographer than musician? That’s the challenging question a few people have asked me in recent weeks. After all, my photos seem to be getting a lot more attention than my music has, of late. My answer is no, I don’t think so. But, in trying to answer the question a […]

Shooting at sunset, taken with iPhone 3Gs

Are you becoming a better photographer than musician?

That’s the challenging question a few people have asked me in recent weeks. After all, my photos seem to be getting a lot more attention than my music has, of late.

My answer is no, I don’t think so. But, in trying to answer the question a lot of quite challenging issues come to the surface.

The kinds of photos I take are, in a way, easy to connect with. I shoot landscapes, especially mountains and beaches and when I photograph people it is usually in “exotic” locations. These kinds of images, what we could call travel and cultural photography, have wide appeal. So, even if the images are only slightly better than OK, there’s a broad potential audience out there.

By contrast, Jazz music only appeals to a small percentage of the population. And, to be fair, the jazz world is pretty divided within itself according to different tastes. What I do is at the more electronic/fusion end of the spectrum, which will only ever attract a subset of jazz fans. That’s a pretty small potential audience.

Moreover, I’m posting close to a photo a day online, via a combination of Flickr, Twitter and this blog. Right now, I don’t have to shoot another image to maintain that pace till the end of the year, with the catalogue of images I still have up my sleeve from Ladakh and the other photos I’ve shot in Taipei, Adelaide and Hong Kong in recent weeks.

However, it’s hard to maintain that kind of constant output with music. Moreover, people can’t listen to music as easily at work or at home as they can look at pictures. Finally, I haven’t managed to integrate music into the blog the way I have with photos.

Finally, the level of craft, experience and knowledge that I bring to music is a long way ahead of where I’m at in photography. I don’t understand the way a camera works anywhere near as deeply as I understand how a guitar produces music.

That said, I’m clearly better at marketing my photography than I am at marketing my music. I’ve been more innovative and more effective at sharing my photos than I have been at sharing my music. It’s something to think about and perhaps something that hints at the differences between the photography and music as creative pursuits.

Tif Holmes 14 years ago

Hi, Fernando,

I find the topic of this post very intriguing, as I too am both musician and photographer and find myself making a lot of comparisons between the two as artistic endeavors, not only in the realm of marketing and accessibility, but in terms of personal expressivity.

I’d love to see you explore these comparisons more in the future. I’m quite interested in what you have to say about this. 🙂

All the best.

Toni 14 years ago

I’m sure it’s down to the accessibility thing as much as anything, and that’s BECAUSE you don’t know the camera so well.

In the nicest possible way, Fern, you’re too clever by half, and I suspect that the more you learn about photography, the greater the danger that your picture taking will become like your music – focussed into a technical and slightly exclusive area. It doesn’t have to happen, but you’ll need to be vigilant to prevent it.

Fernando Gros 14 years ago

Tif, thanks for your comment. There’s no doubt that what I express through music and photography are related, but not the same. There’s no doubt it’s a subject I’ll come back to over the next few months.

Fernando Gros 14 years ago

Toni, you are right that I’m plagued by cleverness at times.

One thing I didn’t get into was the personal psychology behind all this. With music, I’m struggling to overcome my “demons” and past hurts. With photography there is far less of that to deal with. I’ve learnt to have a healthier attitude to music, but with a guitar in my hands it’s sometimes hard to get past the need to impress. I don’t feel that with a camera (and maybe shooting lower end SLRs helps with that). I think that’s part of why I’m more content to leave a “simple” image simple and not overwork it. Even though I’m acquiring lots of new chops with Lightroom and Photoshop, I don’t feel the urge to apply them to every image. Whereas with music production I’m always catching myself adding stuff, just because I can.

That also happens at the compositional level. After all the photos I take are me editing reality. By contrast, the music I write is far more abstract and often involves creating new forms and fusions. There’s quite a different agenda going on.

I don’t know, maybe the lesson is that I need to approach music a little more like the way I’ve been approaching photography.

Toni 14 years ago

I understand the music demons thing too. We tend to be so easily hurt, because often we put ourselves into what we play, rather than just approaching it as a technical exercise. Here I am nearly 50, and I’m just on the way back to normal after nearly 2 years of struggling with being basically excluded from the musical side of things in the present church.

In a way I’m the reverse of you with pictures and music – I can get much more technical with photography than I do with music (though not necessarily with the content) and the technical side is part of the draw for me. Guitar is much simpler: all about feelings and trying to bring out the music inside the song.

Tif 14 years ago

Your most recent comment really hits home with me as well. Do you mind if I ask what specific musical training you’ve had? Are you classically trained?

I often wonder how many (especially classically-trained) musicians have been “struggling to overcome…’demons’ and past hurts” simply because of the intensity of the field, the training, and as Toni says: the fact that “we put ourselves into what we play.”

I put myself into what I shoot as well; however, there is a physical aspect to music that I haven’t yet experienced with photography. To a large degree, you either have the physical capacity to make the music (I’m a flutist, so breath support is a big one, and embouchure, finger agility, etc.) or you don’t. When a musician is criticized for being unable to express a specific musical thought, I find it’s a bit more personal because the product is physically a part of the being; in my experience “technique” is a very physical thing in music and is not so physical in photography (your thoughts?). I often find it easier to express a feeling or idea with a camera than with my flute because physical limitations or difficulties are not present (other than my horrible eye-sight!).

As for the training aspect, I have none in the field of photography and I have earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in flute performance. The demons are most certainly there for me, and to be honest I am struggling with them now more than ever because I have accumulated quite a large sum of student loan debt to pursue music and I now find myself wishing I’d studied photography instead. I would bet, however, if I had pursued photography with the same intensity as I pursued music, I may have ended up with the same demons and lack of motivation to create.

All I know is that with photography there is a huge sense of peace for me, a blank canvas, so to speak, waiting to be filled. No nagging voices telling me what I’m doing wrong or that I “can’t do it. ” With music, I have over twenty years of nagging voices pointing out every tiny little thing I’m doing wrong (and a few voices telling me I’ll simply never be good enough).

It’s so easy to lose sight of *why* we create, isn’t it? Humans are not perfect, yet we strive to create perfection with our art. Too often the result is a loss of creativity, inspiration, and motivation. Art should strive to express. Not perfect.

Or I could be rambling.

Fernando Gros 14 years ago

Toni – I was nearly 40 before I started to deal with the pain I had experienced playing music. It doesn’t make me happy to say that a lot of the worst experiences came playing in church.

I’m interested in the way you drew the distinctions between photography and guitar. I certainly feel like the technical side of photography, the bit where hands on skill meets reasoning, is different to guitar. I guess for me music is a language in a way that photography isn’t.

Fernando Gros 14 years ago

Tif – there’s a lot of what you’ve written that I can connect with. I was not formally trained in music. I started playing classical, but quickly moved to rock, blues then wound up playing jazz. I studied with some of the best guitarists in my home city, but only took formal courses later in life, through BerkleeMusic. However, even that raised an issue as the jazz circles I tried to break into were dominated by players who typically had formal, or conservatory training.

In the past year I’ve had some photography lessons and read a lot of books. Perhaps most tellingly, I’ve been careful to shelter myself a little. I’ve not joined any clubs, I don’t visit photography forums, I read a select few blogs, etc. I’m not trying to insulate myself from criticism, I’m just trying to be careful about who I listen to for the time being.

Kenny Werner’s book, Effortless Mastery helped me enormously in dealing with the pain and fear in my musical past. I still struggle to love the music I can play, as Werner puts it, but I do love the photos I can take in a much more complete way. I still have a lot to learn about photography, but when I take a picture I’m not trying to “prove” anything to anyone.

Thomas Bryant 13 years ago

I love this post a great deal. I will certainly be back. Hope which i will be able to read more helpful posts then. Will be sharing your knowledge with all of my associates!

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