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.

GOOD GODDAMN

 

People sometimes ask me why my projects don’t all look the same.

I take it they mean they are a bit perplexed when my projects go from (for example) drug addicts to federal infrastructure to the suburbs.

Well, I only photograph what I’m interested in learning about and I believe that you don’t learn that much by just plugging some preordained approach or style into what you’re photographing. That’d be called consistency. And while certain consistencies are important in photography, other consistencies are just a way of going through the motions without really thinking (too much). The world is so complex, so multifaceted, that looking at it from just one angle really doesn’t do it justice.

Of course it goes without saying that the stress of our years since birth boxes us in, creates our biases and informs how we see and understand the world. But within that box (which is always reinforced by the powers that be) there is a lot (or, maybe, some) wiggle room.

I bring this up because I’ve been looking at Bryan Schutmaat’s new book, Good Goddamn.

GOOD GODDAMN

Bryan’s first book, Grays the Mountain Sends, is a classic. One of those rare beasts that is easy to like, popular and worthwhile. A beautiful collection of Western landscapes, interiors and portraits of men (except for the very last image, a photograph of a woman), all shot in atmospheric light. It’s impossible not to sense the feelings accrued in this book: lonesome, desolate, lovelorn, melancholy.

His subsequent book, Good Goddamn, is different in a few ways:
• The images here were shot “in Leon County, Texas, over the course of a few unseasonably warm days in February, 2017”.
• Those images show us one thing: a slowly (but not too slowly) unrolling event (or what many, especially those not connected to it, might consider to be a non-event).
• The photos are black and white and not always entirely sharp.

But Good Goddamn only looks different from Grays the Mountain Sends. The underlying feelings remain the same: mystery and melancholy, lonesomeness and desolation. They (those feelings) are just rendered in a different way, using a different approach. And in Good Goddamn the approach feels right and honest.

It’s great to come across photographers who don’t always fall back on the tried and true. Because so often what is tried and true for one thing, for one subject, for one time of your life, will not be true for another. It’s only by trying (present tense, as opposed to “tried”, past tense) that you have a chance of approaching some truth.  When you try instead of settling, that’s when honesty has a chance.

Bryan Schutmaat
A couple of actual reviews of Good Goddamn:
1000 Words
PhotoBook Store

“‘Comparisons are odious . . . . It don’t make a damn frigging difference whether you’re in The Place or hiking up the Matterhorn, it’s all the same old void, boy.'” ~Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums