FIRST DUMMY

Well, I finally committed to a first dummy. I more or less settled on a sequence, made 5 x 7 1/2 inch work prints, stuck them onto 8 1/2 x 11 paper and slid them into an album.

Looking at the whole thing flat on a wall is a very different experience from seeing the images in a book. When you transfer the sequence from the wall to a book you experience the photos on pages and turns, you see how it works and doesn’t work. Because of this you inevitably end up moving a whole bunch of pictures around. So for the first dummy I like to use cheap photo albums that have sleeves, which allows for easy shifting of the images.

As I was sliding the images into the album I saw some stupidity right away and changed bits of the sequence then and there. Then, first time ever, once the prints were all inserted I closed the album and walked away. Usually I rush to an easy chair and flip through right away. But I’m trying to take it easy here, stay relaxed. If you don’t this process can climb on top of you like bad drugs. (You ever taken bad drugs? You end up bent out of shape on the floor, just trying not to die. Yup.)

Got up the next morning, had some coffee, made breakfast, ate it, then sat in an easy chair and had a look at what I’d done. Before I was halfway through I began rearranging images and, in the end, removed four entirely.

Then I showed it to Cin. She had mostly positive things to say (the best being, as she closed the book, “How the fuck did you do that?”). She also pointed out a number of bad choices as well as some confusion and, conversely, not enough confusion in the flow of images. Then we had a wide-ranging discussion about the work in general.

That led to further changes (refinements?) and then, over the next few days, I spent a fair amount of time having a harder look at the thing. That resulted in even more changes.

Now I’m gonna show it to all manner of folks, get more feedback. Then I’ll have to weigh a bunch of disparate comments, have a rethink, and get down to the second dummy.

Feels good, though, to finally have something in my hands.

(AND, PARENTHETICALLY)

(I might mention that I generated about 5,000 images over the year and a half I was shooting this project. That was whittled down, over two and a half months of edit/sequence, to the 45 that, at this point, are in the book.

The fact that there were 5000 to choose from is unusual for me. Most of my projects are shot on film. When I shoot film I approach the subject in a different way: I shoot more slowly, consider more, take fewer pictures, so the shape of the project becomes more defined during the shooting phase.

Of course it’s necessary to apply a tight edit/sequence no matter how you shoot the photos, no matter how many you have to choose from. In a lot of the digi vs film debates that used to rage, and still rear up from time to time, these differences [how the tool changes your relationship to the subject, the subjects’ relationship to you, what that causes and how you deal with the aftermath] . . . these differences don’t seem to enter the conversation too much. But it does make a difference.)

THE LATEST

Quite often a photographer’s favourite photo is the latest one they’ve made that doesn’t suck too much. That favourite image is then inevitably supplanted by their next photo that doesn’t suck too much.

Nothing wrong with measuring your success by admiring the endless parade of photos you’ve made that have, shall we say, worked out. Unless, of course, you view photography as something more than just liking your latest good picture.

If you consider each of your photos as a piece of a larger construct you will be forced to look at and judge your photos on merits other than “hey! this looks good”. You’ll need to assess them by how they fit into the larger scheme of things.

I mention this because of where I am in the edit/sequence of my new project. All the shooting, up to now, has been done without thinking about specifics too much. I had a general idea, shot a whole bunch of pictures that might somehow support that thesis, and trusted that I had enough options to make the edit/sequence work.

But now, at this point of the project, I realize I need a few more specific images to make the sequence smoother. One of them being a portrait-type photo of a young woman.

So I went out and shot it (yesterday). It has become my latest picture that (I think) doesn’t suck too much.

Whether it will actually work for the project remains to be seen. I have to print it, insert it into the sequence, and see what’s what. I hope it’s what I need, but there’s every chance it’ll join the big pile of photos that I like but just don’t work.

We’ll see.


ABOUT A BLOG

Last week I was wondering why my projects don’t all look the same. Same goes for this blog. I mean, of course there’s a kind of continuity here, dead horses I continue to flog. (Writer Martin Amis once said, “The only reason to flog a dead horse is for the pure enjoyment of it”.)

I think we’re all a bit like that, us humans, us photographers. We latch on to something (or other) and somehow (or other) the tables turn and the thing we’ve latched onto gets its hooks into us. That can be good up to a point, obsession must be part of any practice, mustn’t it? But what’s even better is when that obsession is tempered by a larger perspective, a longer view. That’s where theory meets practice, where the inner meets the outer, where old thoughts are tempered by new possibilities.

Anyway . . . drool.

I can tell you (and you probably know with being told) that some weeks I’m just itching to say something, something is on my mind, I’m affected by, and infected with, some verve. Other weeks, not so much. But I’m committed to posting something (or other) every Sunday. Like church.

I like the structure. And, sometimes, when I sit down to write, I’m blank, empty, depressed. I’ve got nothing, but the process of writing leads to something (or other). (Or not.)

It’s all really just a shot in the dark, isn’t it? But the important thing is to take a shot.

And, because of the relatively short gestation period from post to post, drool. reflects my state of mind in a different way than my photo projects.

drool. fulfills a function for me. Like my photo projects it’s a way to keep track and to reckon, to try to understand myself and the world, and to leave a trace of my passage through.

THE END OF THE FIRST BEGINNING

As I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, I made a few first beginnings of the edit/sequence of my current project. Then I put that on hold and painted my kitchen floor. Unlike editing and sequencing photos, when you paint a floor you know when its done. Satisfying in a nice, simple way.

I’ve known for a while that relaxing into an edit, allowing down time for the back of your brain to process, is important. After all, that’s how I approach shooting my projects: slow photography. Let the thing you are studying seep into you. Think just enough, but not too much. The time I spent painting the floor was most beneficial. Not only did I get a swell floor, it also gave me time to rethink my approach to the edit/sequence, and to wonder a bit more about what this project might actually be about.

After the floor was finished I spent about 5 days, on and off, really moving images around. Did at least 20 iterations that were between 15 and 25 images long. Just to explore possibilities. I worked on possible pagination,  flow of content and feeling, figured out possible ways of ordering the whole thing.

Then I walked away from it again, realizing that it just kept changing, that my perspective was, for now, shot.

But I learned a lot, saw possibilities I didn’t know existed (except in my dreams). It’s still pretty clunky and very unresolved. There are obvious flaws in how the flow of images might be read, bad page turns and all the other stuff that happens when you’re trying to figure out a solution to a puzzle with a lot of moving parts, a puzzle that has no one correct solution. But some solutions are more correct that others, right?

Then what I did was, I showed a PDF of this, the end of the first beginning,  to a few random, non-photography people who just happened to be visiting (like my niece, and a couple of droppers-by). Listened to what they had to say.

And I sent it off to Colin Pantall and Timothy Archibald, two photographers who, in the past, have provided me with shrewd insight into what I’m doing. Their comments and perspective on some of my previous work changed how that work was presented.

Their initial comments really got my brain going. They agreed on certain directions and images but had opposite opinions on others. (One referenced Robert Frank, the other David Cronenberg!! If this project could even approach a marriage between those two sensibilities I’ll be a very happy camper.)

I’m fine with, and expect, varying opinions. One of the aims of this project is to create a book where the actual subject isn’t too nailed-down. On the other hand, varying opinions from trusted sources add to my confusion. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m prepared to be (and to remain) confused. And I will continue to embrace contradiction.

So for now I’m just going to chill, do some thinking on my own and then get back to it again. And that will be the beginning of the second beginning.