NOVEMBER (SNOW)

Yesterday it snowed.

Overnight the dismal, forlorn fields and forests I was using as the landscape that would represent November have turned into picturesque, crystal fairytales.

During this project I’ve been wondering what kind of weather to use. I wanted it to be, well . . . atmospheric, but not melodramatic. I love how the dreariness of the brown land on a grey day seems like a harbinger of tough times.

(Of course, there’s nothing you can do about the weather. In my day-to-day life I rarely complain about it. What’s the point?)

As a photographer I get to choose what light and what weather will best suit my purposes. Typically I’m not a golden-hour photographer, I mostly prefer high-noon. I usually like everything lit and the content of my photos to be mediated by the thing in front of my camera rather than by some atypical, melodramatic atmospheric condition.

So I guess I’m more of a New Topographics guy than a proponent of the Todd Hido school (which, for me, seems like photographic hyperbole and melodrama enabled by too much Photoshop . . . akin to a velvet painting. Mind you, he is pretty darn famous and successful. And you can make of that what you will).

Anyway . . . I’m not completely wedded to shooting at high-noon and having everything I shoot look, well, clinical(ish). Parts of USER were shot at twilight and my most recent project, After the Fact, was shot in low light.

With my new project, November, I’m pretty much splitting the difference between clearly showing the thing I’m photographing and using typical November weather (grey, sleety, miserable) to facilitate some feeling.

But for this project the snow changed everything, it knocked me for a loop. Out today, looking, walking, thinking, framing, I was overwhelmed by the pristine prettiness of it all. But pristine, pretty and picturesque are not what I want.

We all take this World and mold it into some thing that represents our outlook. And photographers use a camera to manifest their viewpoint. So I’ll take what I’ve been given and warp it to my sensibilities. Snow or no snow.


AFTER THE FACT:: ANOTHER REVIEW

A very interesting review by Delaney Turner, where in he draws parallels between Official Ottawa and After the Fact.

While Official Ottawa specifically presented Canada’s capital city as the seat of federal power, After the Fact widens its viewpoint to powers we can neither see nor elect.”

You can read the review here. And buy the book here.

Makes a swell Xmas gift. Get one for someone you love (or just like).

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.