Art, Science, Skill, Passion – What makes a good Photographer

Photography is an art.   From the days of glass plates, film and now digital, the invention of the technology that got us here, are the tools that the artist uses.  That is what most people tell me.  I believe that they are incorrect as no one is wrong.  As you read through my Blog and the articles on it you will either agree or not. This is of no consequence.  The goal is to get the dialog started so we eventually understand the complexity of capturing the image.  Anybody can take the amazing picture.  So what separates the pro from the amateur, the master from the apprentice? I believe it is passion and humility.   When I was about 25 years young, I started telling everyone I met this story.

It was about 10PM when I arrived at my friend Michael’s house.  He and his wife were sitting in their living room watching television and in the back of their apartment there was a Japanese man who had to be at least 70 years old. Michael was into the Japanese style of living and was having some renovations done to his apartment.  He was having a Tatami  room built, you know like the ones that have the bamboo floor surrounded by a pine walkway and the Shoji screen doors.  This 70+ year young man was building it by hand.  No power tools, no nails,  string to measure as if it were in the time of the Shogun (794-1867), this man was truly a master craftsman. His English was just good enough to understand what I said and to answer me.

After watching him work for a while, totally fascinated by the skill he displayed, I gathered myself and spoke to him.  the conversation went like this;

I said, “excuse me, I do not want to interrupt your work but i see you are a master craftsman and I was wondering how you learned this craft.”  He replied, “I am not a master, I am an apprentice”.  I was taken aback by his statement. I said, “Please explain, I do not understand.”

He told me his story.  “When I was a little boy about 10 years old my father had just become a master craftsman and was allowed to teach me the ways of this work.  For two years all I did was carry his tools and the supplies, however the Tatami I was not allowed to touch; he still carried that himself.  Then I was allowed to hand him the tools.  Each step took time. When I turned twenty I was allowed to cut my first piece of wood.  That was when I became a junior apprentice.  I learned that each tool has a way of doing the work and with my spirit and hands all I can do is hold the tool so it may do the work.  I am now a full apprentice and someday, should I live long enough, I will become a master.”  Then with a profound sadness he said, “I just wish that my father could see me become a master. He left this world several years ago.”  Then he said something in Japanese and turned to resume his work.

I write this story and share it with you for two reasons, first I hope I live long enough to become a master photographer and second, my father left this world before he was able to see me become a master like he was. A master in this craft of capturing images.  He taught me from the age of 5 and introduced me to the giants in the industry.  I learned something from each one.  The most important thing I took away in my learning is the tool a master photographer uses is light. The other things are just to record the image, and that is the least important tool in the box.

My Rebbe taught me, “G-d comes down each morning to paint the flowers and dares you to catch him.”  I believe what seperates the master photographer from everyone else is how he sees what is in front of him.  Someday should I live long enough, maybe I will be able to claim the title Master Photographer.

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