Character of Santa Cruz

It’s been a very eventful week for me here in Santa Cruz. I hope that you had a great one wherever you are in the inter web world. The wide world of wonderful things happening. Some things not so wonderful, some things tragic, but that’s the tapestry of life, the fabric of the universe. It’s a mixed lot, a sorted bunch, some saltier than others some sweeter everyone equally important. I’ve been thinking a lot about Santa Cruz, what it means to belong to a place, how do you think about shaping a place, whose right is it to shape a place, and I’ve been working on a series of photographs of Santa Cruz landmarks.

I have three main modes of photography. I do like to do landscape photography a lot, because it’s just you and the world and you’re out there looking for something you don’t even know what it is. It’s kind of like when you sit down to do a podcast or to write. There’s just something about that I really love. What about you? Are you afraid of the open page or are you excited by the opportunity? How do you approach the task of making something new?

To me that’s all it takes to be an artist is just to create. Now, how good it is, that’s up to other people, how it’s categorized how it fits into the larger scheme of things, that’s not really up to you. But really it just has to do with following through on this urge to make something to do something. That’s what it is: it’s being creative. That’s what being an artist is to me. And there are some great artists who don’t work for long periods of time, but I’m one of the kind who prefers to do something every day. I feel better, I feel more in tune, and I feel like the work just gets better the more consistently you do it.

So, I’ve been looking at some tutorials, also, because the internet is full of brilliant people sharing their ideas and it’s a great way to jumpstart some learning and it’s fun to play with some techniques for landscape photography. There are a lot of things you can do beyond just setting up a tripod, putting your camera on, finding the right settings, doing a long exposure shot. You can do focus stacking, you can merge together different exposures, you can do a long exposure zoom. I did one of those the other night that worked out really well, because I was out looking at different storefronts at night—this comes back to the Santa Cruz landmark series, as a Santa Cruz Photographer I feel like documenting these things is really important but I don’t want to just document them. I want to be creative and make what I consider to be artful photographs of some of the places I love, some of the places I use. I feel like this is one of the places where you really see the character of Santa Cruz, the businesses, the small businesses not the corporate ones that try to colonize us but the ones that are kind of mom and popish. Yet there are those corporate entities too and somehow we make them ours, we make them our own.

I started out photographing U-Save Liquors on the Westside which is a funky old spot. This is part of how a place gets its character, because when a business builds its sign, its storefront, its lights, its color design, its murals everything that goes into the outward appearance of the business a lot of the times it remains the same for a long period of time. So you have this sense of history, this datedness, this look of the past that persists into the present through the storefronts of businesses. And U-Save Liquors is a great example because it looks like it’s something maybe out of the 70s and its funky old cool lights and nothing contemporary nothing modern about it but I like it so I was photographing it. And then, I had parked over in the Safeway parking lot and I noticed that the Safeway sign had the a and the y out. I thought that it’s kind of funny when brands fail, too, and this Safeway is I think probably not very well tended to by the corporate headquarters because its got some problems. But it’s a great store, you get good deals there. I go there all the time with my daughter and get toilet paper, paper towels, coffee, I get Peet’s coffee there, I’ll get a six-pack of Sierra Nevada there and that’s pretty much it—toothpaste. I prefer to go to New Leaf to get some better quality meat, better quality vegetables and that’s really all I’m trying to get. Meat, vegetables, toilet paper, paper towels. Barbecue sauce maybe 6-pack of beer: I like to keep it simple.

But here I am in front of this Safeway with the Safew lit up and the Safeway symbol which kind of looks like a Superman S, so I do a long exposure zoom. So I set it up for about 4 seconds, I let it run for about 2 and then I zoom in and let it run for the next 2. I’m doing a sequence of shots where it has a timer and then it takes five shots in a row. So I zoom in, zoom out, zoom in, zoom out. What it does is records sharply the first zoom point and then the second one and so the Safeway sign is bigger and smaller in the same frame with a trail of light between the two. It looks kind of like the bat signal being projected out with the Safeway Super S, but the sign is missing two letters. So there’s something magnificent about it but something shabby at the same time and I feel like that kind of characterizes Santa Cruz and it characterizes American culture in general. I think that we have this obsession with superheroes because that’s where our myths are. Corporations too. The marketing of businesses really creates the character of our culture.

So back to the idea of the three kinds of photography I do, that one is landscape, cityscape, seascape. They’re all just me, my camera, the world and a search for an image that satisfies me that scratches that itch, that quells that urge. The second type of photograph I like to do is one that makes me money, which is product shots, commercial photography, lifestyle photography. In doing that type of work you have to consider your audience in a different way than you consider the other forms of photograph I like to do. When I do the landscape the fine art photography, it’s really just me that I’m concerned with and I hope that other people will like it too, but I’m really just trying stretch my own photographic legs and try something new and get out there and make something I think is cool. But when I do commercial work there’s a different set of audiences to consider. So if you want to do some commercial work you might want to consider these factors.

Who is your audience when you do commercial photography? First of all you have the client. They are paying you, so they have a primary position in your consideration. You want to make shots that they find to be flattering to their product to their service to their business, but they aren’t the final customer. They’re your client, but you’re making the images for them to show to their customers so you have to think about what their customers want to see as well. That’s where it can get tricky because sometimes your client might not think about what their customers want to see, they think about what they want to see and what they want to see is good looking images of their product, because they think that’s what is going to help to make it sell. So this is where the balancing act, the negotiation comes into play. You have to decide how much you’re going to try to coach your client to see that what is in their best interest is creating images creating content that their customers want to see. If it comes off too heavy-handed as commercial shots that are just product based sometimes that will work but sometimes that will turn off their customers. What their customers really want to see is something fun, something new, something interesting, something cool.

So as a photographer, as a content creator, that’s your job to navigate those waters and to negotiate between those audiences. Your clients’ set of needs and what their customers really want and that can be tricky but doing that successfully is what will make you succeed in your business efforts. And ultimately, your client is the one paying you, so even if you have to do something that you feel like their customers are not going to like. Sometimes you have to go ahead and just do that because they are the ones paying and sometimes they’ll want to hear your input and sometimes they already have a clear vision in mind and they just want you to execute it. That’s going to determine which clients you work best with and which ones you want to work with.

2 thoughts on “Character of Santa Cruz

  1. Great read, I agree with you and I used tu go to U Save Liquor on Mission to pick up my parents order of what they served at home and parties, a lot in the 60’s. I was 16 when I picked up a variety box of booze. No one said anything in those days. Keep going on your quest of original Santa Cruz. 🙋

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