Bernabe Answers Twitter AMA (Ask me Anything)
Go Ahead. Ask Me Anything
If you feel 2020 has been like a strangely dystopian episode from The Twilight Zone, you’re not alone. To borrow and paraphrase a colorfully descriptive lyric from the pen of musician Gordon Summer, it’s been one humiliating kick in the crotch after another for humanity. It began in January – as most years do – with Kobe’s tragic death and limped into February with the persistently hellish brushfires in Australia, where 40 percent of the koala population perished. It’s estimated that the total area of torched land there, when the fires were finally contained, was equal to the size of Portugal. March smirked, said hold my beer, and unleashed a global pandemic on the world that forced almost every human being into a self-isolating lockdown with nightly rolling death counts and frightening toilet paper shortages. April conceived a vision of what a 1930s-style Great Depression might feel like and gifted us a flying demon called the murder hornet. And if all that doesn’t Sting enough, we’re not even halfway through May.
So, at the urging of some Twitter followers, I sheepishly offered an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session with the hashtag #BernabeAMA on April 28 and 29, as a modest distraction from all the above. I chose some of my favorites and gave my answers here. I’ll try to address as many of the others as I can, but most were fairly redundant so an answer to one is an answer to many. I also tried to avoid most of the technical gear questions because….well, I think gear is boring, at least for what I wanted to accomplish here. I’ll get back to you personally about your camera gear and lenses. Hey, I do have the time.
So here we go. Thanks to everyone who participated!
What was your biggest photographic challenge? @IamnotMarilyn
My good friend Rick Sammon just completed a book titled Photo Quest: Discovering Your Photographic and Artistic Voice and I was honored to be asked to write the book’s foreword, which I happily did. With regard to “finding your voice” I attempted to make two key points. First, it’s essential that you know yourself. Know your sources of happiness, your deepest fears, who you really are and what you’re not. Be honest since this is where the voice comes from. Second, as an artist, you need create for yourself. Be selfish. Don’t create to pacify the critics or impress your peers. Don’t create for the sake of “likes” on social media and don’t create for commercial success either, otherwise it’s not your voice. It’s the voice of someone else. By being selfish, paradoxically, you ultimately achieve perfect selflessness since there’s no greater gift you can give your audience than a piece of your authentic self.
Now I hear many of you shouting into your computer screen or phone.
“That’s sounds great, Bernabe, but how can you be a professional photographer or artist and make a solid living if you’re not listening to the market and what editors, collectors, and clients want from you and your work? How can you survive financially?”
The long answer to that question would make an excellent blog post or essay for another day. The short answer directly addresses your question as to my biggest challenge.
I have always admired your photos with symmetry of animals. And this is very different from a landscape. So, what happens first: luck or patience in getting the shot right? @40GRAUSS
Luck plays a much larger role in wildlife photography than any of us would care to admit but it still runs both ways. I’ve been in situations where I’ve done everything right and prepared for every possible contingency and it didn’t work out because of something completely out of my control. Conversely, there were times when I couldn’t be more inept if I’d forgotten to remove the lens cap yet still managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat. You take the good with the bad but good luck does tend to correlate positively with the amount of time invested in the field. Patience certainly helps but preparation and research are even better.
Can nature and landscape photographs be “too pretty”? @gregerts
I don’t believe you can have too much beauty in your life, particularly during these dreary times. But instead of relying solely on superficial beauty to carry your image, why not make it meaningful too? Better yet, make the images all about what’s meaningful to you and the emotional responses to your experiences. The real subjects of your photographs should be raw emotion: awe, peacefulness, power, fragility, joy, melancholy rather than the shallow, self-indulgent sentimental beauty you might find in a Thomas Kincade painting or John Denver song. Your personal vision and interpretation of nature should be the shortest distance between your heart and your audience so they can feel what you feel, not what your camera coldly captures.
Did you do formal photography study such as at school/college? Did you do an internship or work with a more skilled photographer in the beginning of your career? @MelindaAlfred
No, I’m completely self-taught which only means I have so many bad habits to overcome that I now rationalize my flaws as giving my work “character.”
I have mixed feelings about formal training for artists. On the one hand, the more you learn about anything, the better as a general matter. On the other hand, an untrained, motivated, insanely curious person with a strong personal vision might have a more intuitive feel for creative expression, but that’s just my uneducated, unlettered opinion.
I’m allergic to the whole concept of style to be honest, to which anyone who has seen how I dress can attest.
When someone sends an email to say they’ve seen one of my published magazine photos while in the dentist’s waiting room, it’s a nice gesture that never goes unappreciated. But when they go on to say they knew the photo was mine because they recognize my style, I die a little on the inside. By having a style, it means I’m using the same conceptual formula time after time for each experience even if the location, subject matter, and circumstances are different. It’s muscle memory. It’s easy. It’s lazy. It’s not being creative.
I try to approach each situation with a clear and open mind, completely in the present moment, with zero influence from the previous day, week or month. Have a look at David Bowie’s body of work through the years. I respect the hell out of Bowie. He was always re-making himself and his music as something different from what he did before while still being different from everyone else. That’s why even now, Bowie’s music still sounds so fresh to me.
My process always starts with an emotional/intuitive/right-brained series of questions regarding how the scene or subject makes me feel. I’m searching for an emotional core around which I’ll build the image. The process then transitions into conceptual/technical/left-brain thinking about how I want to execute it. This is almost always the methodology I use.
You can only use one lens for the rest of your photography days. What will you choose, and why? The format is 35mm equivalent, and it must be a real existing lens. @awilliamsny
If you’re going to put me in that predicament, I’d hold my nose and go buy a Tamron 18-400mm “ALL-IN_ONE” lens. Honestly, I didn’t even know there was such a thing until 5 minutes before writing this piece. But in the real world, I would keep my Canon EF24-105mm F4L IS II USM (Soon to be the RF Version) since 24mm is wide enough for wide-angle, near-far landscapes and 105mm would allow me to do some wildlife in a pinch, with a bit of cropping. It is, of course, the perfect “walking around” lens and ideal for street photography and general travel.
Beyond photography, music and writing are there other creative art forms that interest you? @mauramullarkey
Are you saying there’s more to life than that? I mean, beyond food and the love of friends and family, is there anything else I need? I’m a fan of any type of creative expression – movies, music, art, even poetry – that has the ability to inspire or move me to tears.
After another long hard day at the office, travelling, or shooting in the field, what’s your go to drink? @life_with_louis
With the exception of an occasional signature exotic drinking experience tied explicitly to a particular place (aguardiente in Colombia, pulque in Mexico City, absinthe in Paris, etc.), I prefer to keep my libations pretty simple: water, a double espresso, or red wine, depending how good or bad a day it was.
What is your favorite Seinfeld episode and why? @themahoneyphoto
The Boyfriend. I grew up in the shadow of New York City and I’ve been a Mets fan since I was 4 years old. Keith Hernandez, Art Vandalay, did you sneak a peak?, the magic loogie. No need to go on. But I consider the very act of asking a Seinfeld question to be openly flirting… so I see you, Jason.
What is that one elusive goal you have yet to accomplish in your career? @KristaBower411
I’ve always wanted to get arrested and spend a night in jail, but that goal has been a spectacular failure. You’d think it wouldn’t be so difficult or “elusive” but it has, mainly because of the many caveats and pre-conditions I’ve demanded. For example, it must be a real arrest, not some phony stunt. It must be a victimless crime yet not petty and pointless like shoplifting or trespassing. I’d prefer to be arrested and incarcerated in the name of some righteous cause such as a protest or sit-in while battling a social or environmental injustice. I could actually be proud of that and wave my arrest record around in public like a badge of honor. Also, one night in jail. Just one, thank you very much.
Why? Curiosity mostly. That and my environmental activist friends tell me I can’t be taken seriously until I’ve been arrested at least once. But yeah, it’s mostly curiosity.
Hey, you asked!