I was admittedly hesitant to share my thoughts on this perverse subject that I find so fascinating within the landscape photography community. So much hate, so much envy, so much petty criticism and critique of a man, and fellow artist, that up until a little more than a few years ago, I never knew existed.
“…To be, or Not to be”…Creative
I wasn’t given a choice, I just came into the world this way. I’ve been a creative since birth. My muse has taken many forms over the course of my life. Music was my first, Acting was my second. For close to three decades I had a thirst to learn techniques from artists that inspired my muse. As artists we take in vast amounts of creative inspiration from artists we admire. We learn from, copy, and reinterpret that which we aspire to emulate. Artists inspire Artists, which inspires more Art. All great artists acquire techniques from those that came before, and our contemporaries; we add these techniques to our repertoire and we make them our own within our work, thus the “Cycle of Artful Creation”.
Musical inspirations from guitarists David Gilmour, Neal Schon, Steve Lukather, Eric Clapton, Joe Satriani, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robin Trower, Carlos Santana, and many of the 1980’s and 90’s rock bands shaped my voice as a melodic rock guitar player. I fell in love with the big fat wall of amplified sound; the soulful, melodic, and grinding tube sustain of a Marshall stack launching bombastic ear piercing lead guitar riffs. Every lick they played, no pun intended, can be heard in my playing, it’s in there, somewhere.
Legendary actors Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, Alan Rickman, Steve McQueen, Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Sean Pen, and many others, fascinated my imagination on how they created legendary film characters with their ability to tell a story in what they didn’t say; their silence, their stillness, their physicality, their inner dialogue, their intuition, their instinctual knowledge of how a movie camera “sees the soul” of a character through their eyes, and the subtle layers of human behavior. “Simple” and “Small” goes a long way in the craft of film acting. I learned much from them. Their techniques inspired my creative interpretation, and can be also found in my acting work, they’re in there, somewhere, trust me.
“…To be, or Not to be”…a Fine Art Landscape Photographer
“Tempestas Viator”, Storm Traveler – Oceanside California. Limited Edition – 50 Prints
My introduction to Photography as a potential craft happened in 1974, as an elective class in High School. We learned about the basics of Black & White photography and darkroom processing. It was so long ago that I’d be lying if I said anything more than that. What I do remember is being given an old 35mm film camera, lying down under a tree and shooting into the sky. My eye has always looked for a different perspective instinctively.
Although I’ve had a camera close to me over the last thirty plus years, photography as an art form was not the subject of my creative focus. I was busy working on my acting craft; navigating Hollywood, working on film sets, connecting with producers, directors, writers, and casting directors, all in the effort to carve out a career as an actor. As with any endeavor in life, the old saying, “You get back what you give” rings true in degrees. Over thirty years and a hundred plus professional credits in film and television, I managed to build a decent resume, but it took an enormous amount of work; hundreds of auditions, and many, many failures. Along the way friends and family telling me “ I’m sure its fun, but you’re never going to “make it” or “when are you going to call it quits you’ll never be a big star?”
And then there were those loud little voices of insecurity and self doubt ringing in my ears when times looked bleak. And let’s not forget about the critics, those lovely individuals that somehow found their way to a position of creative “judge and jury.” Seated behind the anonymity of an innocuous avatar, in the comfort of a secret basement somewhere, they declare their analytical prowess as to the intimate details of cinematic storytelling and the craft of acting. The angry ones are easy to spot, frauds and full of negative crap. Easy to criticize, but coming short of any real world success as an artist, they are safe to hurl the “Slings and Arrows of outrageous fortune” to crucify that which has escaped their personal dreams.
“…To be, or Not to be”… An Artist
“LUX DEI”, Light of God – Limited Edition – 50 Prints
The triumphant “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, arguably one of the most famous pieces of theatrical dialogue ever composed, appears in Act 3, Scene 1 and raises the overarching question of Hamlet’s dilemma:
“To be, or not to be,” that is, “To live, or to die.” Hamlet poses this as a question for all of humanity rather than for only himself. He begins by asking whether it is better to passively put up with life’s pains (“the slings and arrows”) or actively end it via suicide (“take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?”).
Over the last several years as the glass ceiling of my Hollywood career started coming into focus, I knew that my creative muse was still strong, my youth was fading, and that I desperately needed an avenue to satisfy my never ending muse; my incessant curiosity, imagination, and creative intuition. When I started curating my photography collection I began sharing some of my work with close friends and colleagues for whom I trusted. They were people that were brutally honest as only Hollywood creatives can be. To my surprise, my work was well received by all. One such friend, Dan Peterson, a Los Angeles based fashion photographer of many years said that he was amazed by the work and that it reminded him of a gallery that he visited in Hawaii some years prior. He told me that he almost pulled the trigger on one of the artist’s prints. That artist was Peter Lik. I vividly remember saying to him “Peter who?” He said, “Peter Lik, you should look him up.”
“To be, or Not to be…” Commercially Successful
Having also been the target of the critic’s arrow over the years, walking through his LIK Fine Art Gallery in La Jolla California, I instantly understood why Mr. Lik was the muse of so much hate and controversy from the professional photography community, envy.
His gallery presentation is flawless. Gorgeous wood floors, perfect lighting and interior design, beautiful and vibrant museum quality prints; a reflection of his worldly travels captured and presented perfectly, with an eager, and at times over zealous sales staff more than willing to have you mortgage the farm to own one of his works. Everything about his gallery experience is a successful, well oiled, luxury premium brand provider. And herein lies the heart of my observation.
“To be, or Not to be…” Envious
Having a true career in the arts is a rare thing. The arts are filled with those that desire and aspire to greatness, and fail, and those select few that manage to succeed. Most are “gig” players who live hand to mouth. The angry ones see themselves as victims; not enough money, or gear, or the ability to travel the world as the reason they can’t break through. And when they see someone that is doing well in a career they aspire, they can’t handle it, they lash out, get bitter.
They grind into the minutia of a photographic purest mentality, pixel integrity, or cast dispersion as to what is “in camera reality” verses artful creative post processing. They very rarely, if ever, dig into why he’s successful, but chose to highlight the many petty reasons why he shouldn’t be successful. But in their misguided desire to level up by putting down his work, they often forget the most crucial aspect of what it is that we artists do, we make ART for the public to enjoy. We make artwork that hopefully transports the viewers mind away from the drudgery of every day life, even if for a brief moment of peaceful inspiration and stress relief. That is the purpose of our craft; to create emotional value with stories and imagery that inspires people to stop, dream and wonder. The public could give a rats ass whether the pixels are perfect, or if it was shot on a DSLR or Mirrorless, or whether or not the image was “In Camera” or how much Lightroom or Photoshop post processing is performed on the image. All that chatter is the noise produced by envy; photography purists that are so far down the technical rabbit hole that they fail to understand the purpose of art; to create imagery that connects people to a moment, Emotional Value; and if that moment is a deep and powerful connection, they will be willing to pay money in order to experience that connection for the rest of their lives. And so as to not ignore the elephant in the room, yes, we also create art in the hopes of selling our work so we can make a living. But rather than appreciate Mr. Lik’s success, they opt for long winded, passive-aggressive deep dives of envy, searching for any ridiculous reason they can find to release their personal anger and frustration at why they are not Peter Lik.
“To be, or Not to be…” Talented
I learned a long time ago that having “talent” and achieving commercial success is not mutually inclusive; in the arts desire, effort and outcome are not symbiotic, they’re anything but. I know some amazingly talented people, some would say even “gifted” that are incapable of the risk associated with achieving commercial success. They are just too sensitive to suffer the “…Slings and Arrows of outrageous fortune…” for there are many. Because of this, they subconsciously “…take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them…,” essentially ending any hope of an artistic life via career suicide, by simply disappearing under the false cover of “artistic principle”. It’s heartbreaking cause their talent and art will inevitably stay with them and never serve its noble purpose, which is to inspire and share their vision of our world with humanity. So they create in obscurity, casting doubt and throwing shade on the successful, complaining that it’s not fair, or it’s “not real” because it’s emotionally safer hang onto this flawed proposition.
“…To be, or Not to be…” Peter Lik
“PACIFIC ZEN” – Limited Edition – 50 Prints
Mr. Lik on the other hand is Brand creator and an excellent marketer. Whether you like him or not, his work and technique is good, his color and compositions are equally top notch. As with any industry, rumors run abound. I’ve never met the man, but I can say that I’ve worked with some amazingly talented people in my career that were loving and compassionate one day, and passionately difficult the next. Some days you got the good side, other days you’d best stay clear, that’s just the way highly motivated creatives roll, I am one of them, I am painfully self aware. As a photographer, there are equally talented shooters in the world, one just needs to search the internet. What makes Mr. Lik different is that he understands brand marketing and is willing to take a risk, both personally and professionally, regardless of what his contemporaries are saying. And to be brutally honest, he showed everyone that aspires to a successful career in Fine Art Landscape photography how to do it right, regardless if you like his work process or not. Being a visionary artist and an effective marketer takes a thick skin. You know you’re going to take shots from those that want what you have, success. And so the slings and arrows keep coming.
But what’s even more sobering is that the very people that seem to scream the loudest, will secretly seek to snuggle up to his brand in the darkness of the deep web, away from the eyes of the public. They want what he currently has, market penetration and brand positioning, but most of all, they want a piece his internet traffic. I am admittedly a “newbie” in the technical world of Internet Marketing and Google’s Search Engine Algorithms. It is absolutely NOT something that I find artfully creative. But every day I learn about something new that lands my radar. In my numerous and ongoing consultations with a seemingly endless supply of SEO and SEM “experts,” they have presented me time and time again the many examples of WHO, and HOW, so many of these passive-aggressive internet search assassins “do the dirty” in the game of SEO. I was frankly astonished. Page after page of Fine Art Photographers, fellow artists, that were willing to Keyword and Tag their Fine Art Prints as “Peter Lik Style”. What the fuck is that? How about showing a little pride and dignity in one’s craft?
Maybe I’m old school. Maybe I’m a victim of artistic integrity. Maybe I’m a just guy that is respectful of an artist willing to “…suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…” on his journey to climb to the top of the mountain.
I’ve been told by more than a few that I am principled. I’m proud of that. Personal and professional integrity are qualities I strive to maintain even in the face of “Well everyone else is doing it”. But I also know one thing that is for certain, I’m not desperate. I’m also proud of the things that I have accomplished through hard work, perseverance, discipline, and respecting my authentic self.
Building a Brand is a long and diligent process. I’ve been doing it for many years. If you don’t believe me, do a search, I’m not hard to find. Short cuts are never a long game play. They may garner a sale here and there, a little publicity, but how does one build a unique top tier Brand being a “Peter Lik Style” artist? If one desires to be a unique, respectable, and successful artist within the Fine Art Photography world, why would anyone choose to position themselves as anything but authentic? That is a Brand philosophy of creating a second, or at best third fiddle identity. It’s like admitting to potential fans, customers and Fine Art collectors “Yeah, I’m not the best, or the most famous, but I’m similar…and cheaper”.
“…Not to be…” Peter Lik
The concept of “sniping” a successful fellow artist and entrepreneur using sneaky SEO techniques just makes my stomach turn, regardless of how “Everyone is doing it.” It feels like something a thief would do. Instead of working an honest job to make ends-meat, they sneak in the back door and steal the fruits of your hard earned labor. Look, I’m not a naive idealist when it comes to free market capitalism, competition is healthy for all concerned. As eloquently spoken by actor Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko states that…
“…greed — for lack of a better word — is good.
Greed is right.
Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind…”
The “Greed” question as it relates to this topic, is can “Greed” exist within a moral and ethical business environment? I say yes, it can exist. Because we all have a choice of conscious regarding our Brand, our products, and how we choose to compete in the market. Competition motivates those at the top to stay sharp, and those not at the top to evolve; become better, prettier, sharper, faster, and more unique in order to grab additional market share. But declaring my art to be “Peter Lik Style” is like crawling under the carpet wearing a Top Hat. It is this misguided, short term “Greed” that tells the world that you don’t value your work or Brand, and that you’re desperate. How would one ever expect to attract respectable Fine Art Photography customers and Collectors to pay top dollar for artistic value, when you’ve already told them you don’t respect the value of your own work?
It’s certainly not something that I’d feel good telling my mother or friends about. And the many other photographers that are out there sniping competitors brands certainly aren’t telling the world that they’re doing it, I wonder why?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 30 years. I’ve started and owned numerous business. I’m not naive, I see the short term benefit of SEO Black Hat Marketing, but it’s just not a decision that I could feel good about. Creating a Brand that is respected and valued one needs to have a bit of moral courage and self respect. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions, eat little turds along the way, they taste terrible, and they’re a painful play in the long game. But “Value” has never been a simple commodity, you cant steal it, you have to earn it within the market. You gotta make cool stuff that people love, perceive value in, want to purchase, and share with their friends and family.
At this point the only thing I can control is my work and the decisions I make how to share the work; to continue growing artistically, being the ever curious, evolving, humble, and authentic version of Marshal Hilton. I’m proud of the things that I’ve accomplished, grateful to the people that have supported and provided opportunity, and I’m good with being “Marshal Hilton Style”.
Although I voted “No” on the whole “Peter Lik Style” SEO sneakery, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I haven’t looked at a lot of Mr. Lik’s work since being introduced to him a couple years ago. Hell, I get his ads in my social media stream every day, the dude isn’t shy. He’s had a long and successful career, he developed his unique photographic style, and he’s got a lot of talent in his operation. Some of his work I really like, some not as much. But that’s life in art, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. But I also peek at a handful of other Fine Art Landscape artists. I’m constantly learning and wondering “How in the heck did they do that?” I ask my fiends and colleagues in the film industry that are wizards in digital editing technology to help me reverse engineer the process. I watch a lot of tutorial videos of digital photo editing to learn new techniques every single day. Well, not every day, but I do watch a lot. Much like playing guitar, or acting, the process of learning new techniques by mimicking the “licks,” again, no pun intended, of artists that are inspiring, is part of the process of becoming a well rounded artist.
I have been fortunate to have had several personal mentors as counsel in the curation of my current Marshal Hilton Fine Art Collection, as well as offering helpful artistic and technical critique along this new creative journey. Photographer and Master Print maker Robert Park at Nevada Art Printers is the absolute best in the business. He creates world class museum quality prints that are second-to none. His advice on maintaining image quality and file integrity for large format printing has been invaluable. Photographer Serge Ramelli, and several others, for their tireless editing tutorials that have opened my eyes to creative digital post processing. I am also a fan, continuously flabbergasted, and in awe of the work and location tenacity of Marc Adamus, the man is simply a beast. And yes, I even admire Peter Lik, not because of his wild success, not because he’s this generations most commercially successful landscape photographer, but because of his personal fortitude and commitment to “…suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…” on his journey “To be, or not to be” Peter Lik.