The Tenth Commandment - Always Keep Going and Always Keep Growing

Perseverance is of course, a huge component of success in any field ( and paired with social intelligence it is a formidable force), but it is not enough to just mindlessly repeat our earlier successes or the methods that we used.
You always have to be learning, growing, expanding your knowledge and your craft.

There are the inevitable points where you will feel stuck, creatively blocked or just not good enough.

These are the moments you should use to try something new: like learning a new technique or method, or perhaps embarking upon a new series or maybe just working on promoting your existing work and spending a few months just tending to business and sales. then you can come back refreshed and ready to create anew..

The journey of the artist is a life-long one and should not be led by current trends or purely money-making pursuits. It should ultimately be your personal journey of fulfillment and self-discovery.
Now that may sound all new agey and “Spiritual” to the more pragmatic of you .. but it is true.

The ultimate aim (conscious or sub-conscious) of the artist is to chronicle one’s journey on earth (with your thoughts and emotions manifested in a tangible form) and then perhaps - you leave something beautiful or poignant behind that touches people’s lives who haven’t even been born yet..
In a way, it is a quest for immortality - for a deeper meaning and it serves a primal and deep-seated motivation that all humans have - to be able to say on their death bed “I was here, and I mattered”
The journey of the artist .. is the journey of the soul

Light the Way by Thomas Dodd

Light the Way by Thomas Dodd

The Ninth Commandment - Follow Your Passion

This should be the simplest commandment to obey, but often ends up being the most difficult one of all..
Ideally you should create art because you are driven to do it. Because you are compelled to do it.
You shouldn’t worry so much about making a living at it. Follow your passion and create the images you are COMPELLED to create, and people will come to recognize and appreciate your genuineness and THEN the money will come.
But “Ideally” quite often butts heads with “realistically” in the very “real” world we find ourselves living in (of having to pay rent and bills).

So what usually happens is something like this:
You get the photography bug because you are inspired by some particular imagery or photographer..
You basically fall in love with it!
You start doing it as a hobby and are consumed by it - you do it every day and are driven to get better, to learn more.. You live, breathe and eat your art (even though you have a day job).
Eventually people start noticing how committed you are and tell you “you should be making a living at this”.

You agree with them and you start trying to charge people and get frustrated by the fact that no one wants to pay you for your work.
Then you start getting on online forums and searching for how to make a living with your camera.
Maybe you start listening to what “seasoned pros” tell you to do and accept their experience as wisdom.
Then perhaps you enter into a genre of photography that wasn’t really what you originally wanted to do, but you figure the goal is to make money with your camera - so you study hard start assisting, then eventually spend all your time and energy devoted to this money-making pursuit.
Eventually the money comes and with that comes all the headaches of running a full-time business.
But hey - you are indeed making a living with your camera!
You may end up very happy and artistically fulfilled AND with the gratifying feeling of knowing that you are making a living doing what you love.. or you may end up miserable and feeling like you lost your passion along the way.

Please note - it is VERY IMPORTANT for me to say here that I am not putting down any of these valid genres of photography that can all yield a very nice living for you if you succeed at them. Commercial work, Family Portraits, weddings, boudoir, architectural photography , corporate/actor head-shots etc. These are all varied, rich and diverse fields and there are plenty of extremely talented, passionate and financially successful photographers working within all of them.
The trick is, regardless of your chosen field, to stay passionate about photography - bring that passionate zeal you had as a newbie to your money-making pursuits. Continue to grow and to innovate and you will be rewarded in many ways - not just financially.

Above all things: follow your passion - let it drive you on you journey as an Artist….

Me, being “passionate” about teaching.. at Imaging USA 2018 in Nashville Tennessee (photo by Alex VanZeelandt)

Me, being “passionate” about teaching.. at Imaging USA 2018 in Nashville Tennessee
(photo by Alex VanZeelandt)

The Eighth Commandment - Be Genuine

And this is really what self marketing is about - not bragging about your accomplishments or talking about your gear, education, or credentials.
It is about getting to the crux of why you create and what your mission is as a human and as an artist. If you are sincere and speak from your heart and your lived experience, people will want to buy artwork from you..

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Advice to Artists - thought must come first!

"What kind of advice would you give to artists who want to develop their skills in digital photography in order to be considered fine art?" 

The great Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum said that "thought has to come first" and I wholeheartedly agree. 
You can imitate whatever is currently popular or even the Old Masters and you will still be missing something vital in your art. 

Being an artist means that you are using a medium to express something that is essentially inexpressible through language, something that enters the realm of archetypes and spirit. I feel that the more acquainted you are with the history of art, literature and human thought - the more concepts you will have to draw from and learn from and filter into your work.

And perhaps most important of all, I think anyone who wants to create "art" should listen to their inner voice, pay attention to their dreams and deepest thoughts. Draw your inspiration from within you and you will never be in danger of being a copycat or imitator of someone else's vision.. 

Odd Nerdrum.jpg

How to Make Your Photos Look Painterly (part 1)

A large part of the painterly look I get in my work is achieved BEFORE the image ever makes it to my computer. 

It helps to have an extensive visual vocabulary and a knowledge of classic paintings and the techniques and lighting styles that artists used (and still use) so you know exactly what it is that you are trying to achieve (for instance  - study the paintings of Caravaggio for lighting effects or look at how Rembrandt rendered skin tones and facial expressions).

“Narcissus” by Caravaggio

“Narcissus” by Caravaggio

Selecting the right model, wardrobe and set is also crucial. (i.e.- a glamour model with a fake tan and enhanced breasts is never going to look like she stepped out of a PreRaphaelite painting..sorry!!) 

Helmut Newton.jpg

And perhaps most important is the lighting. Flat studio lighting is seldom conducive for painting. The play between light and shadow is something that most master paintings depict in minute detail. 

“Sisters in the Light” by Thomas Dodd

“Sisters in the Light” by Thomas Dodd

Everything done in post should be merely an enhancement and rendering of what you captured at the time of principal photography (and all of this is coming from someone who is known primarily for "post-processing", but I always set things up in such a way that my post work will be seamless and organic...) 

“Nocturne” by Thomas Dodd

“Nocturne” by Thomas Dodd

An Interview with Thomas Dodd - by Combustus Magazine

Combustus: Folklore and myths figure quite prominently in your work. Can you tell me what draws you into these stories? If you were ever moved to do an autobiographical piece, which folktale figure would you invoke? Or are these all aspects of yourself already?

Thomas Dodd: I have always been fascinated with myths and fairy tales. I think because they elicit such a strong response from the subconscious mind because at their core they deal with archetypal forces and facets of human nature that we all share.
These ancient stories were how our ancestors codified human psychology through representing forces of the self and the universe as Gods, Goddesses and supernatural events.
I have been told more than once that all of these images are just different facets of my own being and I have to agree with that assessment, although I am not ruling out making an appearance in my own work as a mythic creature at some point in the future. . The one time I portrayed myself as a transformed being, it was as the crucified Christ. This was not only a link to my Catholic upbringing, but my way of showing that the Christ metaphor remains so strong in our culture because all of us have felt the death/rebirth experience many many times in our lives.

Combustus: What kind of response did you get to this piece, Thomas? Were you at all surprised?

Thomas Dodd: People seemed to really like it and wanted to see more self portraits. I was mildly surprised by that because I think the models I work with are infinitely more photogenic and interesting than I am!

Combustus: What we love is intimacy and authenticity and vulnerability. And courage. That is what connects us, one to the other.

Thomas Dodd: Yes, and I do try to infuse every fiber of my being into my work, whether it is a picture of a model or myself. I see what you mean though, that self-portraits are particularly “revealing” of the true essence of the person.

Combustus: Yes, I am intrigued with where Thomas Dodd fits into these stories. By photographing The Feminine in others, are you able to access this part of yourself? Is this one of the gifts being an artist affords you?

Thomas Dodd: I think that my art is a way I integrate both my masculine and feminine selves. It certainly allows my anima to be portrayed. I depict masculine energy in a completely different way than my portrayals of femininity. I view the masculine side as the voyeuristic half, beholding the beauty of the feminine side.

Combustus: Please tell me about “The Inquisitor.” It is decidedly different from the rest of your work and elicits very strong reactions, doesn’t it?

Thomas Dodd: The few times I have used males in my work, I’ve looked for older and more interesting faces. “The Inquisitor” came about when the female model told me she was willing to shave her head on camera. I instantly thought of the Spanish Inquisition and how the Inquisitors shaved the heads of the women who were accused of being heretics, to humiliate them and make them vulnerable and truly “naked”. So that is what this is depicting. I think the male has a face that tells a story; there is a malevolence and piousness about his look. And the female prostrated in front of him also speaks volumes as well.

Combustus: Thomas, how would you like to affect changes in the art world?

Thomas Dodd: I think my role as a creator in the digital realm is where I can affect change – that I can show people that art created on the computer is just as much fine art as other mediums are.

Combustus: In your video you made reference to the classical painters who have served as inspiration for you.

Thomas Dodd: Yes, I am definitely more influenced by painters than photographers. I love Rembrandt and Caravaggio for the way they rendered light and skin tones, Giuseppe Arcimboldo for his fusion of plant and human forms, the Pre-Raphaelites for their depiction of myth and feminine beauty, and perhaps the biggest influence on me is that of the Symbolists, because they perfectly united the metaphoric and the beautiful in their works.

Combustus: Critics of digital editing will say that there is an intimacy lost with this technique, compared to the days when we were developing our negatives in darkrooms. That hands-on experience of getting the chemicals on your hands, the odor… Yet you find digital editing to be an infinitely intimate experience, yes?

Thomas Dodd: Yes, extremely intimate. Although this is all taking place on a computer, it is definitely an immersive experience for me and I meticulously craft my images, layer upon layer upon layer.
I think some detractors of digital imagery perhaps think that it is a one click process or that there is some filter that is magically applied to the photos to make them look the way they do, but I can assure you that it is a craft like any other that takes years to get good at. I will say that although most of my work is done on the computer, I still think of it as an organic and natural process and I strive for the end result to show that.

Combustus: Are your models ever surprised with where you land when the image is completed? Do they say you have uncovered parts of themselves they didn’t know existed? Or that you have created completely new characters with their forms as simply the starting point?

Thomas Dodd: Some models have told me that I have revealed facets of their personality that they knew existed but hadn’t seen depicted in a tangible form yet. Others have told me that I “idealized” them in some way – made them a bit more beautiful or mythic. I always look for something deeper when I photograph them. A lot of photography is on the surface and yet so much of great art goes deeper than that and reveals the very essence of the subject being depicted. That is the kind of art that intrigues me and that is what I set my sights on achieving in my work.

Combustus: Yes I see this, very much. I imagine you as you walk down the street and make your way through your day seeing the beauty within those you pass, yes? Am I not too far off base?

Thomas Dodd: Yes, definitely, that is the gift of doing this. I have realized that everyone has something beautiful or intriguing about them in some way. My job is to find that and enhance it.

Combustus: A beautiful gift, Thomas. How it must enrich your life. Imagine if we all adopted this practice. How much different the world would be. Instead of looking suspiciously at one another, preparing ourselves to be disappointed, expecting the worse…if instead we could be looking, ever-vigilant, for the beauty that may only be partially hidden.

Thomas Dodd: Yes, and another tragedy is the way that so many people (women in particular) feel ugly or not beautiful enough because of the utterly false and misleading way that beauty is defined in pop culture. People chase after an illusion while failing to see how beautiful they really are.

Combustus: Did someone do this for you, as a child, perhaps? See the beauty, the potential, the magic, within you? Is this your way of expressing gratitude for being given this way of seeing?

Thomas Dodd: I had supportive parents who definitely encouraged me to be whatever I wanted to be, but I would say that I too have gone through periods of self-doubt and periods where I felt unattractive or like I was getting old and losing my looks, but photography and particularly the success I have had at it has made me feel more attractive and vital than I ever felt before at any point in my life ...Yet another gift from this journey.