Today is October 21 and the Navigate the Chaos question of the day to consider is “how often do you wait for the light?” Today’s reflection stems from the career of New York photographer Noah Kalina who was born in 1980 and currently lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from the School of Visual Arts he got his start photographing restaurants and shooting $20 headshots off Craigslist in the early 2000s. In a June 24, 2020, interview with Molly Gottschalk published on the 99u blog, Kalina reflected upon his life and career and provided three specific reference points to consider.
First, he came to the realization what other artists have and that is one can create art and make money. The two are not exclusive to one another. In fact, as discussed in other Navigate the Chaos posts, many artists would rather not make money from their art. One can, of course, but one does not have to. For Kalina he had to learn about commercial photography, as opposed to artistic photographs, to have a career and earn money. On the concept of “selling out” and making money from your art, or from some other revenue stream, Kalina “thought that was bs and could blend the worlds and do both.” He did.
Fellow artist Melanie Reese echoed Kalina’s thoughts when she wrote “I wish I would have known how much being a working artist today requires you to be a small business professional with an understanding of art market trends.” Nothing the emergence of the internet, web sites, and social media platforms, Reese noted that artists of all mediums, practices, genres, and talent today have access to a new wave of art world–artist interaction where artists “have exposure in ways that those who came before us could only dream of, but with that exposure comes more of a responsibility for the artist.” For Reese “a website is a requirement, social media presence is a necessity, keeping an inventory is crucial, and an ability to sell artwork directly is not only possible but desirable and with that comes the responsibility of understanding the intricacies of the art market.”
Kalina’s second reference point for artists to consider, especially those early on in their career, is to “be as active as you possibly can. Say no to the things that are crazy, but for things that sound fun or are things that you might want to do more of, absolutely say yes if you can.” On this point he suggested the artist try to get even a nominal payment for their work. As he noted “free is kind of tough, for anyone. But even $100 is a token that you’re appreciated. Most people can do that.” Sawyer Rose, another artist, also stressed the importance of creating more art.
According to Rose “The standard logic behind this advice is that working in greater quantity loosens you up and you end up making more good work. And this is true, but also I find that when I speed up my workflow I'm not as emotionally married to the final product. Each gallery submission or residency application doesn't feel like a personal referendum on me as an artist. When, inevitably, rejection comes my way, it's easier to carry on when I can say to myself, "Oh, but that was old work anyway."
Finally, Kalina’s third, and perhaps most poignant aspect of his reflection during the interview was a lesson he learned thinking back upon his younger self. “Wake up early. And do not sleep too much. I usually wake up between 6–7am, and I am accomplishing more in a year waking up early than I did over a decade in my twenties because I slept in. Plus, the light’s so much better in the morning. I was always kind of like, ‘whatever, morning light, twilight’s nice too.’ No. The morning is amazing. Definitely just get up and don’t sleep in. Also, wait around. Do not just do it as quickly as you can and leave. Wait for the light to get better. I still fight myself on this one, but a lot of times you get there, and you just want to shoot it and you work with it. But you just gotta wait.”
This quote is particularly interesting because the reader witnesses the conversation he had with himself as his thought process changed over time. Life experience has taught him the value of getting up early, finding value in the morning light, and waiting for the light to be exactly right for the photograph to capture the essence of its subject. His reflection helped him understand these lessons and serve as a reminder to us all the power of thinking back upon our younger selves.
For today’s reflection, consider the following questions stemming from Kalina’s path as he navigated the chaos of his career.
He started photographing restaurants and shooting $20 headshots off Craigslist. In other words, he started at the bottom. Could you start at the bottom of your industry?
Do you believe you can, as Kalina discovered, be an artist and make money? If you make money from your art, are you selling out?
Are you allowing yourself to make money from a day job in order to maintain your ability to be an artist other times during the day?
Do you allow yourself to understand the value of multiple revenue streams?
How active are you in the search of your art?
When searching for work do you ask for even a nominal payment of services?
How early do you wake up?
How much sleep are you getting? If you woke up 15 minutes earlier each day of the week, how much more productive would you be?
How often do you wait for the light?
How often do you consider the value of the light or do you take it for granted?