Sam Abell

Sam Abell

Sam Abell

What an incredible gift to be able to listen to this man talk about his work. He shared so much of himself, his process, his motivation, as well as so many great photographic tips. I don’t even know how to write about it.

How about I start with some direct quotes?

  1. We are most deeply entertained when we are learning something.
  2. I am very loyal to my childhood.  Where we grow up defines us and shapes the kinds of photographs we make.
  3. Bad weather makes good photographs.
  4. Gray is the perfect compliment to all other colors.  Gray makes every other color better.
  5. The making of a photograph is the making of mistakes.  You have to work your way to a successful result.
  6. I deeply resent digital.  It doesn’t remind me of anything.  Not my dad.  Not my high school year book…
  7. Photography is about being in life.  It is a dynamic interaction with life.
  8. The object is not perfection but inevitability.  A photograph should look inevitable, not worked on.
  9. We live in the golden age of perfect pictures.  The goal is not perfection.  It is authenticity.
  10. Acute, intense seeing is what photography is to me.  I seek to be the master of seeing more than the master of photography.
  11. (When going out on assignment:)  Don’t fill your head with too many facts.  Leave room for discovery.
  12. Compose your shot and wait.  Setting first; subject second.  Back to front composition.  Layers.

“The vocabulary of my consciousness…”
Sam spoke eloquently about finding himself in his photographs.  In his late 20s, he went through all of his work to date, picking his favorites.  Then he analyzed what they all had in common to determine his personal style.  He realized that all of his photographs, no matter where they were made, reflected back to his childhood landscapes.

  • Strong horizontal line representing the horizons of Lake Erie – his home
  • Frame within a frame (macro composition combined with micro composition)
  • People photographed from side or back
  • Narrative energy as well as visual interest
  • Limited colors – almost black and white

(I was so impressed with his ability to describe his own style.  I wish I could do that for myself!)

Film vs Digital:

  1. Sam’s talks are sponsored by Canon.  He now uses a Canon digital camera.  He uses no flash or special filters, never has.  He keeps his camera on “P”.  He says it stands for “perfect.”  He wishes that Canon would make the camera lighter
  2. When asked how digital has changed things at National Geographic, Sam told stories about photographers at the magazine who “crashed.”  Many could not take never seeing their work.  Working in the film era meant working on faith.  It was difficult and hard on the photographers.  Sam says digital is better for the photographers’ spiritual and mental health.  But they suffer in a different way.  They suffer because they are watched more closely and because their assignments are shorter.

That’s all for now…  But I’ll be thinking about this talk for a long time!


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