Robert Frank 1996

Robert Frank 1996

Today, like many days, I listened to one of my all time favorite songs to help get the juices flowing and to prepare for a long stint in my darkroom mess in the garage. A mess yes, but so many wonderful and moving memories of things produced there in that black hole.

Trying to decide how to write this blog, Roy Orbison and his greatness brought me to tears of joy just by listening to him and then knowing maybe that I could borrow something from him.

That very moving song he wrote and sang for me today about his dreams touched me so deeply that I had to write something of value to give back. I want to give us all a boost, just like the boost I get from In Dreams.

Many of us have dreamed of being a talented photojournalist and racing to various exciting spots in the world to make very exciting and meaningful photographs and then getting paid handsomely for our efforts. In dreams we enter that magic world of greatness in our photography. In dreams, we find subject most everywhere, but in our waking search for subject, we are baffled by not being able to recognize potential important for humanity subjects that are mostly found by the top “pros.”

Let me free the bored and dreaming photographers who are lost in the search for the “big time” photograph, that may have the power to move the viewer with its fineness and goodness and the great vision and skill from down deep in an area of ourselves we have little control over, but knowing that the heart and the camera are in the right place at the right time to produce an image that will bring a new level of understanding to all who view our image.

The great Robert Frank (shown in my photo from 1996) gave his advice to us all, when he wrote many years ago, that we should all be detectives when it comes to finding important subject.

So, why dream a dream of greatness, when the greatness in photography is next door? Next door there is a young boy who is visiting his grandmother for the day. The boy has come a thousand miles to be with his “Granny” for the day. Just a day. The old woman who has not seen him for so long is all smiles, with tears of joy in her eyes, for the apple of her tired eyes, but tomorrow her grandson will be gone.

All those dreams of being an important photographer doing important work can come to reality by jumping over the fence between your house and hers and making wonderful loving photographs of the old woman and her grandson Tommy. You explain that you are a photography student and that you want to make some photographs of her and Tommy. The camera must be close to the love and devotion that they both have for each other on this very happy day of two people and their bond. A bond which will be severed tomorrow when Tommy leaves.

The photographs have been made and Tommy has left the old woman alone with her grief. The film has been sent out for developing with the request that two of every image be made.

Now the greatness comes, when you give the old woman the wonderful photographs that you have made. Just watch her eyes while she looks at the images of her and her grandson and you will know the great gift that you and the camera have given her and then knowing that she will put the images up on her mantle and have Tommy every day now because you took Robert’s advice and became a detective, finding important subject next door, when all the time you might have thought that great pictures are only made by the top pros, but none for an average photographer like yourself.

The tears of joy that run down the cheeks of the old woman while she looks at your photographs of her and the most important person in her life will prove how important it was for you to have the courage and the insight to jump over her fence and begin to photograph greatness next door. The great pictures are always next door, if we become detectives. Every neighbor has a story, but the photographer must believe that greatness can come to them if they have the courage and the heart to do what is right. To do what photography is best at doing. To show man to man and each man to himself

And then to give them two prints, so that they can send a picture to their grandmother. Greatness is right next door.

What you give to others will always be yours.

This entry was posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips, The Human Condition.


  1. Aaron Harris April 28, 2017 at 1:21 pm #

    “What you give to others will always be yours.” – that is such a resonating, epitaph-like phrase.

    You inspire me immensely, John. Your work, your words and your witty wisdom are perfect accompaniments to my own methods when on a shoot – inevitably, I come back to ‘what would John do?’

    Love it.

  2. Jannie April 5, 2017 at 9:43 pm #

    Hi John,

    Reading your blog has opened my eyes about street photography. Thank you for such an inspiration.

  3. Juan August 12, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    Mr. Free thanks for this article and for all the videos you put on youtube i have seen them all and i can tell you that every single one of them has a ton of value, good practical value that can be applied right away.i would sure like to read a book with all your tips on street photography, i’ll buy it, where can i get it.

  4. Raoul June 27, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

    Goddamnit John you NEVER fail to give me inspiration and hope.
    Hope to see you soon

  5. Marius April 11, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

    In this digital world of ours .We forget the power of the print.You right .The emotions thst happen when you give the photograph to someone you have photograped.Amazing ! .Will be doing that more often from now on.Thank you for the Inspiration Sir !

  6. Alex March 24, 2015 at 11:17 am #

    You rock M. Free. True authenticity beside the words and the images they creates. Lots of Respect to you and your work. You are a genuine emotional catcher through your lenses or yours words. You connect to the very essence of all of us, direct to the heart.

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