Category Archives: Lessons Learned

Reflections on life, life’s lessons, parenting and just being a 40-something in Dayton, Ohio

The Epidemic of Throw-Away Hearts

So many people chase after an entirely false definition of success and in so doing, grow this culture of usery that not only permeates their professional lives but rapidly carries-over to their personal lives, reeking havoc. As a result most of us are starved for authenticity, affection and affirmation.

I believe it to be the epidemic that is destroying us from within.

It has become so bad and dark these days. Perhaps it’s because of my perspective at 52 years of age and so many experiences already behind me. Two failed marriages, one failed engagement and a plethora of failed relationships, mostly due to my own stupid fears. It’s complicated. I’m talked about as an “embarrassment to the family name.” I see it more of not settling for anything less than actual, true-blue love.

From all those learning experiences I can now clearly and unequivocally state the absolute disdain I have for the casual, business-like approach these days toward human intimacy. My anger is off the charts and I’m not afraid to admit it. It’s just like “my God!!!!! what the hell are all you people doing?”

How about that one for a “WTF.”

The human heart is sacred. It’s where the soul resides in this earthly existence. To play with someone’s heart – as if it were disposable like a plastic water bottle – will ALWAYS, ALWAYS lead to a darkness that no amount of money or self-medication will conquer. In fact both will bury the pit that much deeper!

The guilt and shame of playing with another’s heart can not be disguised either by half-efforts at pretend “friendship” and best budship after that line of intimacy has been crossed and a heart devoted. Here too, the pit only gets deeper and darker.

I speak from very painful experience. I know this to be true.

Everyone now has accepted life as one, big episode of “Survivor.” “I’m going to get mine and to hell with you.”

There is only one way out of that kind of life, if you can even call it a life.

What’s so disgusting these days is that it has become the norm for people approaching their senior years!!! And with grandchildren!!! Holy crap.

See, that’s what is so depressing these days. Back in my 20s I went overboard with those dark behaviors. I hurt people. I carry that to this day and always will. The difference today is that I see people well into their 50s and 60s doing it even more than when they were younger!

We’ve created these corporate/social environments that actually promote the very behavior that rips apart loving relationships and families, all in the name of profit and this demented view of “success.”

Kids are imitating it in schools and on college campuses. They are being taught that treating people as objects to be used for their own benefit is perfectly fine. The hook-up culture must be ok because they see their parents doing it, right?

Social media has intensified the game while furthering the detachment.

It is not ok. It is dark. It is wrong.

For those you mistakenly believe that there’s nothing wrong with dismal path of human usery, keep going and just see where you end up. I am going to fight for the real deal. Even if I never find it, or it never finds me, I’d rather be alone and true to love than live lonely and painfully mistaken. I will keep the fire. I refuse to settle for anything less.

Balance and Priorities and Lost Wisdom Teeth

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Last Friday I accompanied my 15 year old daughter as she went to the oral surgeon to have her four wisdom teeth removed. I am very fortunate to have the flexibility and freedom to be able to be there for her. It all went well with even a comical video or two of the after effects of the analgesia. I was happy to be there for her. Chloe is my youngest and lives with me here in Ohio. Her older sister Emma is 17 and will be graduating this year from high school in Texas where she lives with her mom. My son Philip, age 30, is making his own way and living his dream near the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Make a difference where it counts, and lasts. The achievements that will always stand the test of time will be those that positively impacted another person’s life. That’s job #1 in being parent and I fear that in all the political noise we’ve surrounded ourselves with has taken some the focus away from why we’re here and what we’re doing in the first place. And it’s just not the political noise. It’s the noise of our own insecurities and fears often amplified due to the inevitable and constant comparisons being made on social media.

As an independent artist and photographer I’m often challenged to constantly bring in new work in a smaller market where I’m well-established, and with growing competition from influx of new photographers and cell phone cameras. I put pressure on myself to introduce to the fine art print market striking, new imagery representing new locations.

It’s always there on social media, is it not? The hipster photographer traveling the back roads of the American West in his custom SUV or retro Woodie Wagon with a Husky in tow and every week a breathtaking sunrise along the coast or in some grand vista of a National Park.

How many photographers can actually make a living from such a “dream job?” Very, very few. Seriously, if any at all. What still surprises me is the number of people I come in contact with who think that’s me. It is not. In fact I haven’t traveled outside of Ohio since I went to visit my daughter in Dallas last October.

All those images I post everyday to my company Facebook page? Old stuff. Lots of it. Again and again. And you know what? That’s O.K. Just last week I posted a canyon landscape that I captured when I lived in Utah in 1999. Six months from now I will probably post it again.

There are some important points I’m making here. One, selling art is not selling entertainment, and unfortunately that’s what the bent has become for the vast majority of artists pushing themselves on social media these days. To entertain and “engage” by feeding this huge, nebulous audience of followers “new stuff” that shows just how exciting the life is being pursued by the most popular adventuresome hipster artist. I think it’s a shame that this approach is being perpetuated amongst art schools and colleges and in a way falsely convincing students that they will actually be able to make a living traveling, blogging and selfie-stick their way through life. They won’t.

The other point to be made is that when we finally learn to accept the blessings and opportunities that are right outside our front doors we find that often it’s through such local endeavors, no matter how “boring” it may appear on social media, where we find our creative voices and more importantly, the type of face-to-face, personal connections that in the long run will be far more profitable and fulfilling. For me one area of unexpected fulfillment has been expanding my photography practice to the field of teaching photography, through field workshops. To awaken the joy of artistic expression in a new photographer with a camera and with the right guidance is worth any National Geographic expedition to the most exotic locations.

The problem we are all facing today is this constant negative energy of adversarial relationships that arise from so many comfort zones and assumptions, especially between generations. Heck I’m already doing it with the use of the term “hipster.”

We need to return to common ground of learning, growth and collaboration. To remain divisive is to continue to keep generations isolated. That’s not good for anyone.

My other point is the most important. Don’t screw-up priorities. It’s easy to do, especially when you work in a field where there’s quite a few unrealistic expectations. That gets frustrating and it simply is not worth it to try to please all people all the time. Look to where and how your work has made a positive impact, beyond the bottom line and short term profit. Having worked as a photographer since 2003, in a number of different locations and for a wide variety of clients and students, I’ve lost count the times I’ve been told what a difference my photographs have made, how I’ve inspired someone to reach out and grow or how simply sharing an old favorite landscape image with some words of support made someone’s day.

And this gets back to the unexpected joys of parenthood. When my daughter selects one of my images from my web site for a project for her sophomore art class and for me to be there when they perform, maybe not all the time because of how things have worked out with distances, but to be there when it matters and to matter to them when it counts, and sometimes you get a goofy post-wisdom teeth video to share to boot.

I’ve put a lot of expectation for perfection upon myself. Artists tend to do that. But at 52 years of age all I can hope for now is just to make a positive difference each day, with my kids and with anyone I’m blessed to come in contact with.

Plant the seeds that no else sees, and anchor your confidence in the joy of the fruit to be harvested long after you’re gone. It will all be worth it.

Enter November | Regaining Your Soul in the Change

The quiet of November. The cold of night slowly releasing to the remaining warmth of the day. Morning mist filling the valleys. Frost-covered leaves and bare branches silhouetting the oranges and purples of early sunsets. There’s a calmness to November; an ease of being, a peaceful disposition before the arrival of winter.

November has always been a welcome respite; that quiet and beautiful month of transition. It is an opportunity to return to my photographic roots among the towering Hemlocks of Hocking Hills and along prairie trails in twilight.

There’s a soft and slightly melancholy feel to the early nightfalls and horizons set to hues between orange and pink and migrating flocks overhead. I welcome the change and I’ve learned not to dread the arrival winter for it is in all the seasons and the in-between months when we are reminded that life is in a constant state of change. The soul was never designed to be a stationary object but flows with tides and the waxing and waning of the Moon.

Change is to be embraced. It’s good. It’s necessary. It’s how we grow. What remains consistent is the energy of love and grace that stays with all the winds of change. Let us all be fully and completely present in all that change brings us and during the calm beauty of November to stop and be grateful for all we’ve be blessed with in our lives.

The Super Moon of November 14 2016 rising above the woods in Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
The Super Moon of November 14 2016 rising above the woods in Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
Dusk in November from Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
Dusk in November from Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
The Super Moon of November 13 2016 rising above the woods in Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
The Super Moon of November 13 2016 rising above the woods in Sugarcreek MetroPark near Dayton Ohio by Jim Crotty
Late fall evening in Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve Ohio by Jim Crotty
Late fall evening in Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve Ohio by Jim Crotty
Early November sunset along the Bridle Trail in Hocking Hills State Park Ohio by Jim Crotty
Early November sunset along the Bridle Trail in Hocking Hills State Park Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty
Misty morning in November near Bellbrook Ohio by Jim Crotty

Transcend | Dare to Believe

Only by peace can the human heart gain sovereignty over the darkness of fear and the desires of the ego. The world grasps and holds at what is only temporal, as if life is a mere game of competitive oneupmanship. The winners. The losers. The accounting and counting of what eventually amounts to nothingness. But the truth of the soul is a love that transcends this world, where the only measure is the heart’s capacity for the sheer honesty of its beauty and being and destiny. We are not sent to our fates by a cold and uncaring God. It is rather by our own choosing do we recede into darkness or proceed into light. Only by peace can the heart lead the way forward. The conscious decision to follow that path is a holy power, a divine gift. In the years that fall behind us may we all gain the awareness that is peace and acceptance and join our hearts in the grandeur that is love everlasting.

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Ethics and Value in Nature Photography

Early morning in May 2010 at Ash Cave in Hocking Hills Ohio by Jim Crotty

 

“I wanted to find out from you a few things. What kinds of situations have you run across that brings this to mind? Have you conducted photography lessons and made sure the students are aware of possible ethics? What are your thoughts?”

Well once I get started on such a great subject I can’t just simply provide a couple of brief example and answers. This is one topic which I feel the urge to elaborate. One, because it’s so timely, and two, because photography has been my passion for quite some time now, long enough to notice and experience trends, developments and impact the medium has had on society.

Ethical conduct in nature photography should be a priority. I’d venture to say so much so that one should establish personal, ethical guidelines long before advancing to the latest and greatest DSLR camera, those big lenses and all those ninja-like software editing techniques. Ethical conduct in any art medium and line of work first must have a foundation of kindness, fairness and respect for the sanctity of subject and environment. Yes, that’s something that’s honed upon and learned over years of experience but there’s the simple fact that part of such a foundation is rooted in personality and upbringing.

The vast majority of people are decent human beings who make an occasional mistake of bad judgment, true, but there is that small minority who will go after what they want no matter what the possibility of negative impact it will have upon others, other life we share this planet with and the environment. They’re capable of justifying anything and everything they do. Nothing I can write and share will encourage a change in their behavior.

This response and article is not for them or about them. My thoughts are directed toward the large majority who already have a sound moral compass and just need a few reminders of what not to do when in the field, involved and pursuing that wonderfully rewarding medium of expression known as nature and landscape photography.

The allure of capturing that one image that garners the most “likes,” lead to that book cover and result in that 1st place award at the camera club can be intoxicating, can’t it? It always has been but what has truly amped-up the enticement of this kind of competitive notoriety is the explosive growth and impact of online social media. It’s caused nearly all photographers to drift into the realm of the quick fix of online fame. It’s worth mentioning here because I think it does have a great deal to do with the importance of ethical conduct in this particular artistic medium. It’s served as “added fuel,” so to say, to forces at work that can push good, decent people over that borderline and away from what is right toward not-so-good behavior. Our collective ethical conduct has been watered-down by the gods of the internet and everyone aiming to be that rock star photographer.

By my very nature and the nature of my work I am an observer; a student of cause and effect within the environment. With my work it has to do with light, subject and setting. I tend to apply this same studious approach toward people. I look for the root cause. I believe strongly that the insta-fame of social media is what is driving a lot of questionable behavior of nature photographers these days. Herein lies the source of my examples. And I will add this – I am not been immune to it, that pull and temptation.

The situations that come to mind most often pertain to wildlife subjects but I’ve observed it in landscape photography as well. I’ve seen Black Bear cubs harassed up trees in Great Smoky Mountain National Park and raptors baited with store-bought mice. I’ve seen crowds of photographers fighting and clamoring for the same scenic vantage point. If seen photographers put themselves and others in danger in stopping along roadsides with traffic flying by, inches away (ok I’m kind of guilty of that one). Gardens have been trampled over, subjects posed on active railroad tracks and garbage and domestic animals brought out on trails where both are clearly prohibited. I’ve also seen bird nesting sites destroyed and alligators approached with nothing more than camera phones. In general, just a lot that leaves me walking away and shaking my head.

It would be easy to list simple tips on what not to do when actively engaged in nature and landscape image-making. There are the obvious – don’t unroot plants, don’t harass animals to the point of stress or abandoning territory, don’t trample through protected areas, etc. I think the better way to offer helpful suggestions is simply adapting an “approach of honor and respect,” which must first be grounded in solid, positive self-image, and then applying that approach into what I consider the five key areas of consideration within the medium and pursuit of nature photography – subject, setting/location, audience/viewer, fellow photographers and finally, the resulting photograph.

1) Subject: I briefly touched on this earlier but it is important to go into more detail here. Honoring the subject, with respect and appreciation, is absolutely essential. Whether animal, plant or landscape. The sanctity of the living space and life of the subject should always be maintained and not sacrificed in the name of the “good shot.” Besides when an animal is scared and stressed it will show in the resulting image. Here’s the true value of a good telephoto lens when it comes to wildlife photography, other than the obvious amazing optics. For birds and other wildlife I recommend at least a 300mm telephoto lens. The zoom lenses that come with DSLR cameras offer some telephoto capabilities – usually up to 200 or 250mm – but it really is not enough to fill the frame with your subject while maintaining a safe distance, unless with a very tame animal. Be a brief visitor and not an intruder. Go quietly and gently toward subject. Understand its behavior. Invest the time needed to observe before photographing.

2) Setting/Location: The natural setting could be just down the road at a nearby metro park or somewhere in the vast beauty of a National Park. Regardless here too I recommend slowing down and spending time to be quiet and observant rather than rushing onto a location, shooting away and moving on to the next spot. The rush will show in your images. I always find it more productive to spend time within a particular area, allowing the images to come to you, versus chasing one often photographed scene after another. There is so much more to be explored when being patient with a scene and allowing the light to change and unfold before you. Time and time again I’v witnessed groups of photographers constraining themselves with time and schedule limitations, rushing their image making and then returning with average photographs at best. Respect the process and the location well enough to let it bring the photograph to you. Established trails (and operating hours) are there to protect flora and prevent ground damage. Be careful with tripods because often legs are spread out to where they could possibly harm other plant life.

3) Audience/Viewer: Ansel Adams once said “there are two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” And he was referring to landscape photographs in response to a critic who complained about the absence of human subjects in his images! By way of the photographer approaching his or her subject with honor and respect the image also communicates honor and respect for the viewer. There is a dynamic of visual storytelling taking place that should not be taken for granted or glossed over. That dynamic should be positive-amplifying. If you should have the opportunity to listen to any one of the top pro nature photographers in the industry, such as Art Wolfe, you will leave with strong sense of his appreciation for both his subjects and you, a member of his audience. The best artists know to honor this dynamic – this “conversation” – between artist, subject and audience.

4) Fellow Photographers: Now this gets a bit more nitty gritty because I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last 15 or so years with the advent of digital image making and DSLR cameras. Nature and wildlife photographers are poaching the heck out of each other and are becoming entirely too focused (no pun intended :)) on outdoing each other, to the point of feigning online friendship for the sole purpose of gleaning information on locations, techniques, inside tips, etc. Yes, it’s good to be friendly and helpful but when one is continuously “pumped for info” it becomes easy to see the difference between honest connection and community and just being used for information, and then seeing one of your images duplicated. It might just be me but it just brings a negative energy into the medium that takes away from what makes an excellent landscape image so special in the first place. It detracts from the intimacy. Respect the work of your fellow photographers. Respect each other when photographing together or at the same location. Develop your own eye and approach and have enough confidence in your unique way of image making that you don’t feel the need to constantly imitate others. Yes, it’s good to learn and be inspired, but then apply it to your own unique vision.

5) The Photograph – Honor it. Always. Artists always have a tendency toward devaluation and trust me, there are many people who know how to profit from that type of self-devaluation. I know. All too well. The photograph is the culmination of our work and if you’ve been at it as long as I have you have less and less tolerance for those who want to assign value based on their own intentions toward profit down the road. How does this apply to nature and landscape photography and ethical conduct? Easy. Honor and respecting the final image will always increase its value because by doing so you communicate honor and respect for yourself and your subject. People react to that kind of energy. By appropriately valuing that photograph of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in beautiful morning light you are also maintaining respect for that species and its environment. Always carefully manage your copyrights and usage of your images.

Anyone involved in the artistic endeavor of nature and wildlife photograph should understand his or her role as a steward in the protection of the subject, the medium and the relationship between artist and audience. Honoring and respecting the sacredness of stewardship in the art and craft of photography will help ensure the variety and vitality of beautiful and inspiring subjects for generations to come and the amazing stories to be shared long after all the “likes” are done and the awards forgotten.

As we approach and capture the essence of our subjects – with honor and grace – so we accept and respect the honor and grace in each of us. Let no one detract.

Ethics and Wildlife Photography | At What Expense ?

This story came to my attention yesterday via posts and messages to my photography page on Facebook. What’s funny is that people posting and messaging me thought that I was the “Jim Crotty the wildlife photographer” interviewed in the story. I’m not. It just happens to be a coincidence that this photographer and I share the same name! But this news items brings up a good question regarding what is considered ethical behavior with wildlife photographers when it comes to photographing these animals.

The controversy in this story centers around the issue of “baiting” Snowy Owls for those “spread wing – open talons” shots. I agree with the other “Jim Crotty” in this story. I do think such tactics place both the animal and the photographer in danger. But that’s not the only area of controversy involving wildlife photography. There is also the issue of photographing captive animals in a natural environment and mislabeling the images as true wildlife photography as well as stalking wildlife to the point of harassment and harm.

Truth be told I have photographed the big predators – bears, tigers, wolves – at a wild game farm in Montana. I’ve also spent time photograph raptors at rehabilitation centers. Do the images look as if they were captured in the wild ? Yes. Do I identify the images as being captive animals ? Most times, yes, when it needs to be identified as such.

What I will add is the fact that in both cases the animals were very, very well cared for, and in some cases were rescued from deplorable conditions at zoos and circuses. Still, some “purists” consider this to be cheating. I can easily argue on behalf of the safety and care of the animals being photographed. At least I’m not pursuing a bird to the point where it abandons its nest and/our young or chase it into starvation.

But baiting-in wildlife for me crosses the line into what I consider manipulation of subject to fit the photographer’s needs versus capturing the true spirit and nature of the animal. Yes, it’s not illegal but as stated in the story, “is it ethical?”

One of the reasons this issue is gaining attention in the media is due to the large influx of Snowy Owls into the Midwest (and even as far south as Washington DC) due to the severity of this winter. Wildlife photographers all want that “money shot” of these impressive birds swooping in for the kill. But is it placing the animal at risk at becoming another casualty on the side of the road or tangled in the fishing line used to cast the toy mouse ?

It’s been my experience that people have a unique sense to tell if a photograph has been pushed too hard by a preconceived notion of the photographer, to the point of manipulating the subject into submission. It comes through. Perhaps subtle but most people can pick up on it.

I’ve learned that the images the generate the most positive, honest response are those that were unplanned and a result of a spontaneous interaction with the subject, whether it be portraits, landscapes or wildlife. The greater skill for the photographer is gained through patience and fortitude, and always, always, respect for his or her subject.

What do you think ? Can you tell which images below are of captive animals and which were taken in the wild ?

Jim Crotty Commercial Photography Wildlife Photography by Jim Crotty Great Blue Heron on Hilton Head Island South Carolina by Jim Crotty White-tailed Deer Doe and Fawn on the farm property of Photographer Jim Crotty Golden Eagle Aquila Chrysaetos by Ohio Nature Photographer Jim Crotty Wildlife Photography by Jim Crotty Red-tailed Hawk in South Carolina Maritime Forest by Jim Crotty Siberian Tiger at Triple D Wild Game Farm by Jim Crotty