NOVEMBER (STUCK)

I believe that early success is not a good thing. Too often it gives a false sense of superiority and ease. It  can also lock you in and rob you of the perspective and growth that come through struggle.

Turns out that my first foray into looking for November yielded two images that I thought were quite successful. They seemed like signs pointing the way forward. Not bad considering I shot 4 frames.

The other two frames, which were quite unsuccessful, did, however, show me what I didn’t want to do. For instance this photo, taken in a moment of insanity (or, rather: inanity). When I saw these pumpkins all I could think of was: “After Joel Sternfeld”. The “after” here having, in my mind, two meanings. Other than that, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.

So, with that in mind . . . some successes and some stupid images that I’m not interested in in the least, I set out late Monday afternoon to follow through, to do some more shooting, to add to my successes.

I’m happy to report that the trip was a dismal failure. I drove out to the country (did I mention this project is going to be landscape photos?) and got bogged down.

Those first two successful photos were boxing me in. Sure, they were signs showing me ways to proceed. But they were also photos I’d already shot so there’s no real need to shoot them again, right?

So I spent a very frustrating afternoon stuck. Stuck on roads, stuck by the weather and the light, stuck with trying to figure out what to do and what not to do. It felt worse than the first day of shooting I’d done for this project. At least then I had a blank canvas.

Paradoxically, now that I have some idea of what I’m doing this is getting more difficult.

Addendum:
I went out again later in the week. Things seemed to go somewhat more smoothly, and I got to meet some horses. Slowly I’m gathering more images, more moving parts to November. Feels good. We’ll see.


ZEITGIEST AT SPAO

There, in the studio behind the SPAO gallery, is a strip of 16 images. Shot by the 2nd year students of the school specifically for the SPAO Open House. The subject: Zeitgiest.

The images are best served if read as a mash-up . . . the disparate nature of the group adding to the  complexity and nuance of the whole.

Often in art schools (and, indeed, after art school graduation) the default position, the perceived path to success, is to rely on formality and formula. Here that impulse has been subverted by the combining of these images. What results is a fractured whole that turns this cooperative body of work into a thing that is modern, vital, complex and engaging in more than a superficial way.

This work will be on display in the studio at SPAO until December 20th. It’s worth a visit.

The students who have work in this show are: Amanda Belanger, Lauren Boucher, Louise Crosby, Paris Escandon,  Kat Fulwider, Nicolai Gregory,
Benjamin Gregory, Katherine Kyriazopoulos, Pat La Prairie, Irene Lindsay, Daniel Lopez, Lauren Mcglynn, Diana McKinnon, Christine Potvin, Vivian Tors and Ian Warren.

NOVEMBER (FOG)

Went out looking for November.

November first was cool and foggy. I threw the 4×5 into the trunk and set out before dawn to find some field or other. To look.

Was thrilled and chagrined by the fog. Thrilled because it’s difficult to take a bad photo when it’s foggy. Chagrinned because it’s difficult to take a bad photo when it’s foggy.

Let me explain . . .

Sure, I want a certain amount of atmospherics in these pictures. But as I trudged through the field I found I was thinking about how I mostly like to photograph on plain days. I don’t really want my images to be about sublime light or any other kind of naturally occurring melodrama.

Too often photographs that use overly dramatic light, etc., are photographs of that light, those conditions. And I want my pictures to be about something else.

Yes, I’ll use crazy light as a backdrop to, in support of, the pictures I take. But that’s really all I want those conditions to be . . . backdrop and support.

Anyway, I found a field and set off through it, looking, thinking, feeling. The 4×5 like a heavy axe over my shoulder.

I decided to use the 4×5 for this because I want to slow down, to make my decisions on the ground, in the field. Couple that with the fact that I have 30 sheets of film and the decisions become, somehow, more fraught.

Yes, that can lead to a completely anal approach to the subject, but it doesn’t have to. I’m aware of that pitfall and am doing whatever I can (with my brain) to avoid, or at least embrace, the limitations I’ve set myself.

I’d see something I thought might work, set up the camera, compose the frame (and myself) and then wander around a bit, wondering. Then I’d go back to the camera, have another look, another think. More often than not I wouldn’t take a picture. I’d pick up the camera and continue my walk, looking for something else. I didn’t know what. These first days are complicated by the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing, don’t know how to get where I want to be.

And, funnily enough, I got lost in that field. The fog obliterated landmarks, I somehow got all turned around and couldn’t find my way back.

I took that as a good omen.

COLIN PANTALL ON AFTER THE FACT (AND OTHER STUFF)

Here’s a link to a review Colin Pantall wrote about After the Fact. And there’s a pretty funny (because it’s true) list in there, too.

You can support the book, this blog and my practice by going here and buying a copy.

NOVEMBER (LIMITATIONS)

Looking back I see that I have almost always defined my projects by building in some kind of limitation: Follow the Passaic River, work for four years on one stretch of sidewalk, pick one suburb.

I suppose, though, that that’s the definition of what a project is. There must be limits and, if not a thesis, at least an end goal. After all, setting off to photograph the whole world and everything in it seems like an insane idea (or, maybe, a brilliant one).

At any rate, I do like to impose limits on myself. For better or for worse.

So now that the dust is settling on After the Fact I’m about to try something different. Trying something different is also an aspect of my how I move from project to project. Using the same tools and technique to render everything you photograph is, for me, the wrong kind of limitation.

When deciding what to photograph next I ponder a few things . . .  what am interested in doing and what do I want to learn. I also think about how I’m feeling and how that relates to my politics, and then I try to figure out a way of working that will allow aspects of those things (interest, learning, feeling, politics) to come forward. And, oh yeah, I want the subject to have some say in how I render it, too.

Once I decide what I’m going to turn my attention to I  pick a tool (i.e. camera)  that seems correct for the task. I think about how different cameras change how I approach a subject, and the subject reacts differently to different cameras.

With all this in mind I’ve decided to photograph November. And I’ve decided to photograph it with a 4×5 camera and 30 sheets of film.

And when I say I want to photograph November what I really mean is I want November to be a stand in for something else.

November. The month when things begin to die, when the weather turns inhospitable, when the light is something else. I have no idea what will happen, how it will turn out. I have a month and 30 sheets of film to find out.

Limitations.

AFTER THE FACT

Last week I mistakenly made a few prints on heavy archival paper. Rather than store them, or throw them out I had a special offer to include one in the next 4 copies of After the Fact that were sold.

There are two left. So for a measly 42 Canadian dollars the next two orders will get the book and one swell 10 inch print (suitable for framing). They have funny borders because of the way I printed them but, if you ask me, they’re still pretty sweet

Sad to say, because of mailing costs this offer is only good for folks in North America.

Go here to pick one up.

(note: There is now only one of these prints available.)