DUMMY DOLDRUMS

As I have mentioned here (ad nauseum, I’m sure), these days I pretty much do the photography thing in order to discover and to learn.

The great thing about that is that I get to, well . . . I get to discover and learn. And once I’ve completed a project all I want to do is another. You know, more discovery, more learning.

But these days we must commodify our output, right? I mean, if we want a career in the photo-biz we’ve got to put at least as much time into careering as we put into creation. We’ve got to make the rounds and seduce (in our own way) the powers-that-be and the gate-keepers in order to get that exhibition, that grant, that acceptance.

So  . . .

I’ve been in the dummy doldrums. My current project is nearing its final shape and it kind of feels like I’ve gone through the peak-excitement phase of the process. But I realize I need to take this last project through, I need to fine tune it in preparation for its commodification.

The sequence seems (to my mind) set . . . now how do I turn it into a book? That’s what I’ve been working on, pecking away at yet another version of the dummy. But it’s inevitable that a designer be brought in to apply their expertise and show me things that have never crossed my mind.

One of the other things I’ve been doing to move this project towards completion is, I’ve been crafting a short, sharp, 250 word blurb that informs and intrigues. Not exactly an artist statement, more a prospectus.

Now, I like writing. I find that if approached in a certain way it can, like photography, show you something you didn’t know was there. And that’s happening with the writing I’m doing for this work, it’s teasing out some nuances I hadn’t noticed or thought about before.

But I don’t want the writing to give too much away. I’m pretty sure the work is able to speak for itself so the last thing I want to do is to direct, in any direct way, what folks should see in these photographs.

And I do want people to see this work, these photographs.

But I seem to always do this last bit, the publishing bit, grudgingly. The thrill of discovery is gone and all that’s left is the drudge work. I mean, sure, you get to fine tune and make stuff with your hands and deal with a million details.

But, really, I’d rather be out in the world turning over stones, seeing what kind of bugs crawl out.

 

QUARTER-FINAL DUMMY

It feels like I’m getting close to a final, or, realistically, a quarter-final dummy. Five thousand images have been whittled down to forty-six in a specific order. And, after a surprising amount of finagling, the text has been sorted, too.

I’m happy with the general look and feel, the flow of images and, for lack of a better word, the content. Now it seems that what’s left is a whole bunch of detail work (final design, fonts, format, image size, etc.).

The first dummy was made of 3×4 inch work prints slotted into the sleeves of a 5×7 album.

That served its purpose for about a week, a week of moving images from here to there in the sequence and some preliminary fine-tuning.  The images were too small, though, to show to anyone else, so I did it all again, this time using a standard print size of 5×7 inches in an 8.5×11 album. I also took this opportunity to fine-tune the prints a bit. Still not the final versions, but closer.

This is the dummy I showed to all sorts of people. Their feedback, and further thinking on my part, resulted in moving some images around, removing some  entirely and adding others. A general tightening up.

Then . . .

I had initially thought that each image should carry an equal weight, so all the prints in the dummy were the same size. But what would happen, I wondered, if I varied the size of the prints . . . what would that look like, how would it work?  And, what sizes should I use?

So I had another look at the dummy and figured out a strategy. I’d use the same sequence, but 3 different print sizes. Once that was decided it was sort of obvious which prints should be standard size, which should be bigger and which should be biggest.

So, as of today, this is where it stands. There will be more changes, but it’s beginning to feel quite tight, real right.


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RIPPED ME A NEW ONE

Way back when (2001) I took my portfolio down to Toronto to show it to some of the folks there who have their thumb on the pulse of photography.

Last meeting of the trip was with Clare Vander Meersch. She looked through my portfolio and more or less ripped me a new one.

What Clare told me was (and my memory might not be totally accurate here), the photos were swell but were missing something. They seemed old-fashioned (or, maybe, already dated) and formulaic. Of course she said more, fleshed out the reasons for her reactions. It was a well-measured, though quite critical, response.

As I departed the meeting I mumbled to myself that she didn’t know shit. After all, I was having some success, right? And what the fuck does she know, anyway? Stuff like that.

(I should mention that I was having some success as an editorial and commercial photographer at that point. I was known for shooting classic-type B&W portraits. Lots of people dug them.)

Got in my car and began the 5 hour trip home, turning her comments over in my head the whole time.

Halfway home I wondered to myself, I wondered, what if she’s right? Could that be possible?

As I drove into my driveway in Kapital City I knew she was. Right.

That set off two years of struggle, soul-searching and exploration. I wanted to change my approach, change how my photos looked and felt and, mostly, change what they meant to me.

I won’t bore you with the rest of this story except to say that I finally, in a desert outside Los Angeles, figured out a new approach, a new (for me) way of working. It felt more modern and, somehow, true to me.

(I should mention that the changes in my work, from pre-2001 to now, are not radical. More, they are subtle shifts. Evolution, not revolution. This, in part it seems to me, is why the changes seem right.)

You see, I’m not the kind of guy who can think to himself, hmmm, my work needs to look more modern, and then just mimic someone else’s work I’d seen that struck me as modern (or trendy). Yes, there are certainly other photographers whose images have a similar look and feel to those I make (tell me a photographer’s name who has come up with something completely new in the last 30 or 40 years). But I had put in the work and the self-reflection, the trial and the error (so many errors), to arrive at this new point of departure and it just felt right. I was now at a location (in my brain) where I could set off down a new, different, path and look for new meanings.

I have always held that fateful meeting with Clare close to my heart. I thank her for her honesty and I thank myself for getting past my (bruised) ego. It changed my life.

WORKSHOPS

Speaking of critique, opinion, change and progress . . .  I want to mention that I’ll be teaching two Master Classes this summer.

One is about portraiture. It’s not a technical class (though there will be bits of that). It’s more about teaching an approach to portraiture that explores the space between you and the person you are photographing. The aim being to not just end up with a likeness of your “subject”, but rather to show you a way to work that allows for a fuller experience.

Click this link for more details.


The other deals with sequencing, or, rather, it will introduce you to a philosophy, strategies and approaches to photography that will add nuance, depth and complexity to the work you produce.

Click this link for more details.


The time and location of each Master Class is yet to be determined, but they will each probably happen one morning or afternoon a week, for four weeks. The location will be The National Gallery of Canada or SPAO.