EARLY DAYS OF TRYING

Yes, some further ruminations on just what the heck I’m trying to do with my new camera. Plus: some installation pix of the show I’m in in NYC, more Ottawa Notes, and, finally, a commercial. Anyway . . .

NOT STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

One of the things I want to do with this new tool of mine is, I want to take photos that are unlike my previous ones. I see, though, in these early days of trying, that that’s going to be a tall order.

After all, one does have ones aesthetic and political predilections, doesn’t one?

On the other hand, I’m quite sure what I don’t want to do (though to rule out any avenue at this point is a chump’s game, I know), but what I don’t want to do is your classic “street” photography. The structures of, and expectations attached to, that genre strike me as pretty strict and old-fashioned.

The camera I’m using, though, is pretty much designed (or, at least, perfect) for street snapshooting. Time for a rethink.

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

Further to this (and because I believe in embracing my contradictions) . . . I just bumped into this article by Jon Feinstein: “Seven Photographers Who Are Rewriting Street Photography’s Rigid Rules”. Some of the approaches and possibilities outlined there seem right to me.

IN NYC

A few shots of the Beyond Addiction/Reframing Recovery show at Parson’s School of Design. And a link to an article about the show in the New York Daily News.

OTTAWA NOTES

SPAO hosted a one-night show by Ottawa photographer Gwyneth Orr, who won the Ottawa Arts Council Young Artist award last year.

The show, called AVIS, a series of images in which teenagers are compared to, and dressed up as, birds. The idea being to allude to the similarities between a baby bird leaving the nest and a child entering young adulthood.

You can tell this is early work . . . not completely realized and the influences are there on the surface to see. But that’s the way you begin, isn’t it. Then, if you persevere, you grow.

Gwyneth, a graduating highschool student, has been accepted into the photography program at NSCAD. I’m sure that escaping the Kapital City nest and spreading her wings there will be just the thing she needs. I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO PUBLISHING A PHOTOBOOK

Photobooks are where it’s at these days. A great way to organize and add worth to your photographs. Not to mention they also help get your work in front of folks who may care, be they friends, family or curators.

I’ll be holding a one day workshop at SPAO: A Practical Guide to Publishing a Photobook.

As the person behind Straylight Press I published 18 photobooks, by 12 different photographers. Let me tell you, I learned a lot.

This workshop is about, as its title implies, the practical stuff you need to know. Lots of resources, secrets, links and suppliers. As well, it will cover ways to edit and sequence your book, discuss various layout options, and a few, for lack of a better word, philosophical aspects of photobook making.

More info and sign up here.

A NEW CAMERA

drool. After a three month layoff I found the motivation (and need) to get back in the saddle. (If the first bit here bores you, scroll on down, there are four items in this week’s post . . .)

The main impetus for reviving this thing is, I bought a new camera with the intention of shooting a project with it. My first new camera in 10 years.

Often photogs think to themselves, “If only I had that lens (or that camera) I could really shoot what and how I want”. Of course, after they buy the object of their desire they usually discover that their new tool toy doesn’t actually help them do anything at all.

With me, it’s the opposite. I bought the camera precisely because I had no idea what I would use it for. My plan was to have no plan, to see what this thing could show me.

The camera, a FujiFilm X100F, is kind of a take-it-anywhere, one-handed-snap-shooter. Haven’t used a camera like this for, probably, twenty five years.

And this is the first time in, like, 20 years I’ve started a project with no real thesis, no “look-at-the-suburbs“, no “shoot-the-dystopian-present“. My plan (so-called) is to just shoot pictures and see what turns up and out, to see where that leads me.

I have to admit I’m a bit apprehensive about setting off on such an undefined trip. It feels like stepping into a void. But I have faith that something will come of it. I just have to keep reminding myself to take it easy, not to rush, to let Nature take its course, to see what happens.

Writing about my confusion and struggle helps me know my mind, so I’ll be making notes here, thinking out loud, as the project moves forward. Tune in and read along as I bark up the right and wrong trees, as I follow paths that lead somewhere and nowhere, even though there’s no such thing as the “wrong” tree, or “nowhere”.

BRETT GUNDLOCK: STORIES FROM THE MIGRANT TRAIL

Sure, you’ve all heard about the caravans of migrants coming up from Central America, through Mexico, trying to get to the the USA. The media shows them as a pack, as a phenomena. There is never (hardly ever) any insight into just who these people are, why they, specifically, are on the move. Typical lazy, formulaic, media coverage.

Brett Gundlock had had enough of that so he set off to talk to them, to show individual people and to listen to their personal stories. His work was published this past December in Mother Jones. I suggest you click on over, read and look.

He also, in association with Homie House Press, published a newsprint of this work, There might be a few copies left. Consider ordering one to have and to hold, to support this kind of necessary independent journalism.

BEYOND ADDICTION/REFRAMING RECOVERY

I’m excited to be included in a group show that considers aspects of the opioid crisis with the idea that recovery is possible. Curated by Graham MacIndoe and Susan Stellin, it’s on view at the Arnold and Sheila Arnoson Gallery, Parsons School of Design, N.Y.C. Opening April 6th.

Check it out if you’re in NYC. Or go to this dedicated website where you can look at some of the photographs and read about the show.

OTTAWA NOTES

Lorraine Gilbert hosted a one-night-only studio show this past Tuesday. A swell turnout got to see modern, well thought out images from British Columbia. Photos of often derelict Vancouver, and of the big-tree forests that exist on the West coast and are, too, derelict in their own way. It was great to see these images in such a casual, friendly setting. (I’m definitely a fan of alternate means of display and distribution.)

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a large enough space to hang such works, but I have to tell ya I really like the idea of artists sticking stuff on a non-gallery wall and inviting folks to come, look, discuss and, it must be said, chow down on a very sumptuous spread. It’s a pity the event didn’t run longer, though there is something to be said for a one-night-stand. More of this in Kapital City, please and thank you.

NOVEMBER (MIXED FEELINGS)

This loose edit is as far as I got for November.

I have mixed feelings about these. On the one hand, I sort of like them. On the other hand I’m not sure they mean that much to me, and I’m at the stage in my life now where taking photos that I just like doesn’t scratch my itch. I want more.

Some have told me that I should file these away and carry on this work next November, to add to this over time and, that way, end up with something more. Not a bad idea. But I’m not sure.

I reserve the right, though, to look at these later and to change my mind. Perhaps over time I will see something here that I’m missing now, perhaps they will move me and provide the insight I crave.

But at this point in time I consider this November thing a failed experiment. Nevertheless it is grist for the mill, and my mind’s a mill.

And on that note drool. will be taking a break. See you back here in 2019.

NOVEMBER (IS OVER)

Well, despite the bravado with which I ended last week’s post, I must report that November (the project) is over. The snows that came early this year threw a wrench into my plans.

With November, I knew exactly what I wanted to evince, and I needed grey and brown forlorn dreary landscapes to do it. Not to mention I had just thirty days and 30 sheets of 4×5 film to get it done.

But after spending some time this week out in the snow, photographing, and after scanning and considering the results, it became obvious that it just wasn’t going to work. The snow wrecked it.

When you go out to look for evidence that will support your foregone conclusion it’s entirely possible you won’t find it. Either that or you’ll see that there’s more to the story that you originally thought or wanted. If I had gone into November with a different mindset it would be a different story, I could have used the snow to add a layer to the thing.

But I was looking for something specific and Nature conspired against me. Believe me when I tell you, though, that I don’t subscribe to (most) conspiracy theories. Plus, I’m not taking it personally.

I’ll leave you here with a few snowy landscapes, and the words of the Québécois poet and singer Gilles Vigneault:

Mon pays, ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver
Mon jardin, ce n’est pas un jardin, c’est la plaine 
Mon chemin, ce n’est pas un chemin, c’est la neige 
Mon pays, ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver*

*
My country is not a country, it’s winter
My garden is not a garden, it’s the plain
My path is not a path, it’s the snow
My country is not a country, it’s winter

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).