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.
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.
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 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.
Let’s begin with a thing about signs in photographs vs photographs of signs. If that’s not your cup of tea scroll down to the second bit where you will see a bunch of 4×5 portraits I’ve posted to illustrate some hype . . .
Signs. They advertise, direct, inform and clutter. They are used in official ways by businesses and governments, and in unofficial ways by ordinary citizens. There’s no escaping them, they’re everywhere. Even, and sometimes especially, in photographs.
A sign in a photograph occupies some bit of the frame but is subservient to a larger complexity the photograph is pointing to. In other words, the sign informs the image but is not its point.
On the other hand, a photograph of a sign is, well, a photograph of a sign. We see the photo, read or look at the sign and maybe we grin or shake our head at the cleverness or the stupidity of the person who made the sign. But that’s it, it’s over.
Now, there are a lot of smart photographs with signs in them. After all there’s no escaping signs, they’re everywhere. Sometimes, too, a photographer will include a photo or two of a sign in a body of work. They have a place, if used judiciously, in any record of a person’s impression of the world they live in. Sure.
But heavily relying on photos of signs as a way to get your point across seems to me to be a shorthand way of making a one-dimensional point.
Of course, the surface meaning of the sign can be neatly recontextualized if they are smartly included in a sequence of photographs. Placing an image of a sign in a larger, complex string of images/ideas can subvert the initial meaning of the sign and move the thesis of the sequence forward.
I bring this up because of the time I spent on the edit/sequence of my new project. While I was shooting that project I didn’t really know what might be useful so it was important to have enough diverse, raw data to allow for options in the edit/sequence. To this end I shot some signs . . .
These all got edited out. In the end the final edit of my project contains two photos that feature signs . . . one of a sign, the other with one.
PORTRAITURE AS EXPERIENCE
There are only 2 places left in the Portraiture as Experience Master Class I’m teaching this summer. Four Saturday afternoon’s in June that will change the way you approach creating portraits.
Besides that, this course will give you something to talk about at the dinner table. You’ll be recounting the stories that happen when you take one small step forward towards more intimate encounters. Nothing scary, just a swell, slow approach to closing the space between you and the person you are photographing.
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.