I'm Brooks Jensen, ask me anything!

Hello NPN members,

No doubt I’m best known as the founder and publisher of LensWork — and I’m proud, thanks to our subscribers in 70 countries, that we are celebrating our 30th anniversary this year! Really, I’m humbled. But truth be told, I was a photographer long before LensWork and I’ll continue to be a photographer until they are throwing dirt in on top of me. Ansel Adams used to talk about “going into the final wash.” I’ve updated that. I’ll continue to be a photographer until I take up my final residence in the ink maintenance tank.

I know it’s theoretically possible to be a fine art photographer without being a landscape photographer, but I’m not sure how. I’ve always been drawn to the landscape, but perhaps for different reasons than most landscape photographers. I hope I make images that have inherent beauty about them, but it’s more important to me that I make photographs that search for truth, for relationships, for meaning, for connection with this moment — the only moment in which we can live. Photography helps us see and remember. More importantly, photography helps us question and seek — maybe even understand. Seeking takes place out there — in the land — as well as in our deeper selves. The pictures are the evidence of our search.

A short comment about my personal work. We inherited a tradition of finely crafted prints on the wall. We inherited a tradition of beautifully printed books. All wonderful. But we live in an era that offers us possibilities our photographic ancestors could not even dream of. Most of my artwork today appears in the form of digital publications and handmade, artist-printed chapbooks. Yes, I still produce wall art, but rarely these days. We live in a global community. I prefer producing fine art PDF publications that can be distributed globally, instantaneously, generously.

Maybe in today’s AMA discussions, we can talk about some of this. Or about publishing. Or about LensWork or LensWork Online. Or about LensWork Monographs like the one we did with David and Jennifer. Or about the creative life, or finding a project, or getting published. My favorite f/stop is . . . you’ll have to join us in the day’s discussion to learn that secret.

Portfolio Website - https://www.brooksjensenarts.com/
LensWork - https://www.lenswork.com/

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Of all the photographers you have had in Lenswork, is Cole Thompson your favorite? Asking for a friend…

Hi Brooks, I’m a huge fan of your podcast and your Here’s a Thought commentaries and I listen to them daily.

My question for you is this: how do you come up with the ideas for your projects? Do you think of ideas before hand or do they just naturally coalesce? Or both?

Oh, and what is your favourite f/stop? I’m just kidding! :wink:

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Thanks a lot, John. You do realize the no-win situation you’ve placed your humble publisher in. LOL!!!
I do have a serious answer, however. When we started LensWork back in 1993, we did so because I just had faith that there were lots and lots of talented people who never seemed to get published in the magazines of the day because they weren’t “famous dead guys.” Turns out, we were right. We’ve published some 700+ photographers who are doing great work. Photography is a vibrant and growing community of folks. This forum is a prime example of the collective talent. How could I possible pick a favorite?

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I was going to ask: was John Barclay’s question the dumbest one you’ve ever received?

But instead, I’ll ask this one: in your mind, where is the line between photography and fine art photography? I’ve always had a hard time exactly understanding that phrase, “fine art photography.”

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Tom,
The easy one first — my favorite f/stop is f/8. Because if you turn in sideways, it’s INFINITY. Cosmic, man, just cosmic.

Because I’m both a photographer and publisher, I spend my days with photography. Questions and observations just pop up naturally. I keep a revolving list with me always (on my phone, using OneNote) and capture ideas and questions as they pop up in the course of my daily life. Seems like I never run out. The world is an amazing place and I guess I believe that as artists, our job is just to respond.
Another aspect about this for me is that photography is not (or at least should not be) about photography. Photography should be about life. None of us have that figured out yet, so we keep asking questions, following our curiosity, thinking and feeling. Therein lies the roots of our artistic expression. It’s the questions that really count.

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Not sure why you’re asking this question. None of your work rises up to fine art… stop worrying about it. :slight_smile:

Hi, Cole. To me, the dividing line has to do with how we employ the camera. If we use it to create a reproduction of the world — like it’s some sort of Xerox machine — we might make beautiful and even truthful images, but they are still just copies of the world. And, as Rebecca West said, “Art shouldn’t make a copy of the World. One of the damn things is enough.” Photography becomes an art medium when we use it to express something about life, about humanity, about our response to being alive. Beyond “look at this,” I think fine art photography says, “Feel this, think this, know this, question this, respond to this.” Photography captures something out there, but fine art photography also says something about what is in us.
Is that a fuzzy enough answer to confuse the issue even more?

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love your reply Brooks. Indeed photography is about live and our camera is just a tool to do that!

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Hello! Brooks!
I have a goal to have my work worthy of publication in one if your books!

I submitted work for the series of 3 - and fell short which is fine. But would like to know how to improve my craft.

What do you suggest I do this year specifically to improve the quality of my fine-art work.? Critiques, classes, just keep going? In lenswork what area should I spend time gleaning from your expertise?

I love to listen to your retrospective podcasts! I am hoping

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Reminds me of something William Greiner had on his website as an artist’s statement sometime ago: “It doesn’t matter what I say, it only matters how you feel.” I’m sure I’ve bastardized it, but you know what I mean … I hope!

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These thoughts really resonating with me! I will quote you in the future I know!

How do you suggest develop our writing skills?
This is also a talent of yours. Generally, People don’t talk thus way anymore. But perhaps we need to. :sunglasses:

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Ariel, first, keep submitting! Not just to LensWork, but other publications, too. The more work you submit, the higher the odds are of getting accepted. Conversely, you will never be published if you don’t submit work for consideration.
Second, I detect in your message a premise I’m not sure is the right one to be asking. It seems you want to improve your work by improving your craft. There is always room to improve our craft, but I find that’s rarely the answer to improving one’s artwork. Dig deeper. Why are you doing photography? What are you trying to share? How will that impact someone’s life? These are far more important questions than learning about some new processing technique or the advantages of some new lens. Remember that great Minor White quote: “Don’t just photograph what it is, but photograph what else it is.” Photography as metaphor — but for what? Another quote I love about being an artist is from Anais Nin: “Do not speak unless spoken through.” Not camera as copy machine, but camera as window to your heart.
Yes to critiques, yes to workshops, yes to a mentorship program, yes to finishing more projects, yes to it all. But just don’t think the answers are in the craft. Craft supports the answers, but isn’t the end of the process. It’s just the foundation to what you have to say.

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Hello Brooks, thank for the work that you do, within and beyond LensWork, to push the boundaries. Your high- quality (not to mention free!) pdfs of Kokoro is a feast to the soul.
How do you decide if a portfolio/project has merit, whatever that means? Has there been instances where you decided not to publish anyone’s work in LensWork but felt the work resonates with you? Correspondingly, were there instances where you published someone’s work but it did not resonate with you?

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Alexis, I want to raise a yellow flag — that might not be necessary. In recent years, I’ve seen this idea pop up a lot — the idea that the viewer can interpret the artwork any way they want because the artist doesn’t want to foist their ideas onto the artwork or the viewer. I don’t buy it. That’s a very modern way of thinking about art that flies in the face of millennia of art history. I just can’t bring myself to think that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel with the idea that you could interpret his work any way you wanted. Nope. Artists are seers — in both senses of the word. They see the work in ways that others can’t and their role in culture is to bring their vision to life so others can see it, too. Artist have a bit of the mystic in them. The birth of art is a question, but the product of art should be (at least in part) an answer, or my answer. If Greiner means that the objective of artwork is to make you feel, I agree but would add not just feel, but think, respond, question, have revealed, etc. The point I’m trying to emphasize is that it is the artists role to lead people through their work to a specific destination. If viewers get more than that from the artwork, that’s a bonus. But they should at least get what the artist intends.

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Saikat, thanks for asking. Yes, we’ve sometimes published work that didn’t resonate with me, but it did resonate strongly with others in the staff. Beauty in the eye of the beholder and all that. It’s fair to say that everything we’ve published had resonated with at least one of us. Part of the reason that LensWork is an anthology collection in each issue is our way of hoping in every issue our readers will find something they connect with. Not everything will connect with everyone, obviously. Even so, maybe LensWork can help expand their experiences a bit, maybe introduce people to work they didn’t know they could like!
Merit — boy, that a tricky one. Partly it’s a matter of craft, partly an exciting way of seeing an old subject, partly a recognition of a new subject, consistency of style so that a project feels like it goes together. We look for a maturity of vision that indicates the images aren’t just lucky shots, or a collection of lucky shots. Depth of vision has a way of rising to the surface — perhaps that’s what an experienced photographer brings to the process. It’s hard to specify, but we know it when we see it. Often we now it instantly, the moment we take a look at the images. I wish I had a more precise answer for you.

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Hi Brooks: Long, long time Lenswork fan and subscriber. On the thought of “Fine Art Photography”; I really detest labels, especially un-necessary ones. “Fine Art Photography” If it is “fine” do we really need to say so, isn’t that decision in the eyes of the viewer anyway? Photography IS art, I’m tired of defending that to fools who say otherwise. Again, that decision is in the eyes of the viewer. I’ve stopped using either “Fine Art Photographer” or “Art Photographer”. I’m a photographer, proud to be so, nothing more or less, I’ll leave the labels to others and ignore the ignorant. What say you?

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Hi Brooks,

It’s fun to have you answering the questions.

My question is loosely about inspiration and the interplay between emotion and concrete thought. How they work together and how they work against each other. I find that you have an amazing ability to balance rich thoughts and reflection with the pure emotional side of making images. How do you find the intellectual part of being an editor and critic/coach influences your own artwork? Do you feel that it ever interferes with making your art?

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Hank, I hope you don’t mind if I got a chuckle from your comments as they reminded me of the numerous occasions I’ve been introduced to someone as “Brooks Jensen, he’s a photographer” and the ubiquitous rejoinder is the question, “Do you do weddings?” (Nope, never again.) I agree that labels can be limiting, but they can also provide some clarity. If you are introduced as “a writer” don’t you ask a follow-up question? What do you write? To which the answer can be simple and clarifying: a novelist, a journalist, a copywriter, a poet, an essayist, etc. We don’t have such terms to help people understand what we photographers do. “Fine art photographer” is clunky, but at least it helps them understand what we don’t do. Labels are only a problem if you allow them to restrict your work. Like the time I met a photographer at a review session, and he handed me his business card which explained that he was a “Fine Art, Large Format, Black and White Photographer of the Desert Southwest.” Just a bit confining!
I’m also reminded of the story about Edward Weston. He was mailed a set of galley proofs for a book of his photographs. The envelope was addressed to “Edward Weston, Artist.” He returned the proofs in the same envelope but crossed out the word “Artist” and hand wrote above it the word “Photographer.” Personally, I think he got it backwards. He was an artist who used a camera, not a photographer who made art.
So as a proud photographer, what is your fee for doing a wedding? LOL!!! I hope.

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Hi, Brooks,

Are you still comfortable using the micro 4/3 format? I ask because I also shoot using an Olympus camera, but feel myself pulled by the Sirens singing the praises of full frame, higher pixel count cameras. The are many occasions when the lens I’m using doesn’t quite reach where I want to go, and in cropping find too much noise in my image. Can you set me at ease?