Today we share the work of photographer Matt Connors.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in Burlingame, a suburb of San Francisco, but attended college in New Hampshire. I graduated in 1974 with a Theater Arts major, specializing in lighting design. After graduation, I moved to New York City to pursue my theater career. I was able to support myself in theater jobs for several years, but eventually decided the life was not for me. It was in New York that I first tried photography. My girlfriend at the time was interested, so naturally I tried it as well. I had an Olympus OM-2, a beautiful little camera. I learned the basics of black and white film, including developing the film and making a print in the darkroom. The pictures I took then were all rather forgettable, but I enjoyed it.
By the early 80’s I was back in California, starting a new career in software. I didn’t have access to a darkroom, was busy in my new vocation, and photography faded. Software, at the time, had a similar appeal as lighting design had. To be a good programmer, one has to be strong technically but also one has to be creative. You have to use your creativity to see a solution then use your technical skill to build it. On and off over the following years I’d take the usual vacation photos, and thought about engaging more seriously, but I never did. It wasn’t until after I retired in 2014 that I decided I needed to find out once and for all if I could be any good at it. My wife and I had moved to Carmel Valley, CA a few years before. I could not have picked a better spot to start my photographic career. The photographic community here is amazing. It’s really because of my involvement in the Center for Photographic Art and in the ImageMakers of Monterey that I’ve been able to develop as a photographer.
Besides photography, I volunteer at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, volunteer as a hike leader at our local park district, and I am the human half of a therapy dog team. Our Black Labrador, Norton, is the canine half, the one who does all the work. We usually go to the local hospital.
Where did you get your photographic training?
When it comes to the mechanics of photography, including post processing, I am largely self-taught. There are enough books and information on the web to find the answer to just about anything. When it comes to expressing oneself via an artistic medium, that’s so much harder to learn. Even though I have what some would consider an artistic degree, I’ve never considered myself an artist. The few workshops I’ve taken have largely been about expressing oneself as an artist.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Among the photographers I admire are Michael Kenna, Roman Loranc, and Minor White. Michael Kenna has a sparseness to some of his photos that I think is exquisite. Roman Loranc’s use of light, both in his landscapes and his interiors, is masterful, as is his printing. Minor White’s spiritual approach is appealing to me. His quote “One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are” really hits home for me.
Then there are greats such as Ansel Adams. I love the work of a local painter, Richard Tette. He paints California landscapes. There’s a wonderful serenity in his work.
Perhaps the greatest influence on me creatively has been seeing the work of the other photographers in the ImageMakers. There are so many talented photographers in that group, doing such very different styles of photography, all of it wonderful. That’s really brought home to me that what matters more than anything else is finding your inner voice and listening to it, and not trying to emulate someone else, no matter how much you may admire their work. So while I admire Kenna’s simplicity and Tette’s serenity, how that manifests in my photos has to be my own. Way easier said than done. There’s also Guy Tal’s writings about photography and being a photographer. He has a lot of important things to say, in my opinion.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
There have been several. Early on, Ansel Adam’s Tetons and Snake River really struck me as an example of the great American landscape photograph. The locale had meaning for me as well, having spent some time there on summer vacations growing up. My favorite Adams is his Dogwood Blossoms. I think it’s just a beautiful and sensitive image and shows you don’t need the grand landscape to make a powerful image. We’ve owned a Special Edition version of that (printed by Alan Ross) for quite a while now. More recently, there’s a Richard Tette landscape hanging in our bedroom that I love. It’s a beautiful, quiet scene of water, grasses, and hills.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Quite recently I was showing some of my work to Brian Taylor, Executive Director at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel (did I mention how incredibly lucky I am to live here?). I put together some of my more recent “greatest hits”. Almost as an afterthought I included an image of my two Labs walking ahead of me on a trail in a park near our home, with the morning sun streaming through the trees and casting a long shadow. I liked it, but dismissed it as not being “serious” enough. Brian and I talked about many things, but toward the end of our conversation he pulled that one out of the pile and said he liked it the best of those I had shown him. I was quite surprised, and asked him why. He replied that it had more “Matt” in it than any other image on the table. It’s too early to tell how that lesson will manifest in my work, but it certainly feels like an important lesson.
Why do you make photographs?
First and foremost, I have a need to create. There’s an urge inside, something that has to find an outlet. I find a great deal of satisfaction in working on something, stepping back when it’s done, and thinking, “Yeah, that’s nice”. The problem is, I have a paucity of talent in most art forms. I can’t play an instrument or carry a tune. I have no natural ability to draw. Fortunately for me, not only have I always liked looking at photographs, practicing photography does not require artistic skills I don’t possess. Such skills would no doubt help – witness Bob Sadler’s painterly work for example, and Bob Kolbrenner has a wonderful recording of Ansel Adams playing the piano – but I can get by without them. Photography allows me to explore my creative need within my artistic abilities in a medium I enjoy. That’s why I photograph.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
A good day for me is being out taking pictures. Preferably when the weather is not the best. Maybe misty, foggy or at least some good clouds. I often head to the coast, but lately have felt the need to explore inland more. So many places to go. I don’t mind the post processing part – I work digitally – but I enjoy being out there so much more.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
That’s hard to say. Maybe Minor White. It could be really interesting talking with him about how he saw things.
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
I don’t know that any piece of equipment is truly essential. I greatly value a quality lens, but then I see great stuff done with a pinhole camera or a cheap plastic lens, so maybe the lens isn’t so important after all. My printer’s quite important at present, but I may try my hand at some other processes that don’t use a printer. There’s a saying in golf that the most important few inches on the golf course are the ones between your two ears. Something similar is probably true in photography – the only essential ingredient is the photographer.
Whats hangs on your walls?
For photographs, we have three Ansel Adams Special Edition prints, a large Ryuiji and a small one as well, a Roman Loranc, a print by Jim Messer and one by Robertson Parkman, both fellow ImageMakers. We also have a number of Richard Tette paintings, some encaustics by an English artist named Loren Grey, etchings by Nancy Charles, and a scroll by Casey Shannon, a local artist. We also have two small sculptures, one by Douglas Downs and the other by Blaine Black, both local. Waiting for me to frame them are photographs by Richard Murai and Robin Robinson. A somewhat eclectic collection, but then we’re eclectic people.
Whats on the horizon?
Ah well, who knows? I’ve recently grown somewhat dissatisfied with the purely digital process. Simply moving a mouse cursor around the screen seems too sterile. I want my hands to be doing something more. I’ve started talking with Brian Taylor about alternative processes – he’s a master at most of them – so maybe there’s some platinum printing in my future. Time will tell.
Thank you for sharing your work.
To learn more about Matt Connors please visit his site at Matt Connors.