SUCCESS

How do you, as a photographer, define success? And I’m not talking here about getting clear, properly exposes images, nor am I talking about returning from a vacation with pictures that help you remember and relive. No, I’m asking, why are you a photographer? What do you want to get out of it?

For me, success has almost nothing to do with receiving accolades or making sales, having a gallery show or getting a grant. Those are still all okay, make me giggle for a minute or two, but their effect wears off very quickly, somewhat akin to getting a bunch of likes on social media, so fleeting, and, I suggest, a very shallow way to measure your life.

This attitude might have something to do with my near-death experience 10 years ago. It might also have something to do with getting older and giving way less fucks. And, anyway, I don’t think those things (sales, shows, grants, pats on the back, etc.) were ever really that important to me. I am just stupid and stubborn enough to believe that what matters most is being true to yourself, discovering what that might actually mean, and then letting the chips fall where they may.

So these days I define success as applying myself and expanding my understanding through that application.

On the other hand, there are those photographers who define success as the attainment of popularity and profit. Yes, it’s thrilling to build up your biz and your rep, and easy to keep track of your progress: profile and profit. It’s even possible (though mostly improbable), if you are a certain kind of photographer, to produce commercial or personal images for money that have some kind of metaphysical value. But if you mostly want money and profile, if that’s what’s important to you, you’ll probably base your working methods and the look and feel of your photographs on achieving that, whether you know it or not.

Anyway, I understand what makes our world go ’round. And it’s usually not learning. Learning only seems to be good (useful) if it can somehow be monetized. Too often these days getting paid for adding baubles to the status quo seems to define success.

Of course you might wonder, if that’s the case, Tony, if you only do it for yourself, then why do you make any effort at all to distribute your work, why do you hype it, why go to the trouble and expense of mounting an exhibition and/or publishing books? Why not just keep it to yourself?

Good question.

I could give you all kinds of rationalizations here but won’t bother, because that’s all they’d be, rationalizations. Really, there is only one answer to that question: ego. Everyone has one, and it takes a special kind to go out into the world, register your reaction to it and then want to share that reaction. Yes, I have an ego. I admit it.

Seems to me, though, that problems arise when you fall in love with your ego. Once you stop questioning what you do, once you begin to believe it’s-good-because-I-did-it, once that happens you lose perspective. And as a photographer (or artist, or person . . . take your pick) perspective is really all you have to offer.

And here we circle back to definitions of success. And for me the problem with the fame/power/money version of success is that it warps your perspective. And once that happens you become something else. Or maybe, just maybe, you become what you really are.


CONFUSION

Ever since, or maybe because, I changed the working title of my new project my confusion has increased. I see that as a good thing. When you get lost you often end up in a place more interesting than the destination you set out for.

The shooting for this project was always more open-ended than was the case with the last 4 or 5 series I’ve done. The subject matter is way less defined as I comb the world for things and situations that resonate with my premise. I’m still wallowing in the process . . . searching, guessing, wondering. And at this point I’m afraid to look at what I’ve done because the only hope for this project will be through an edit and sequence that somehow makes sense of the sensless. And I’m not ready for that.

This approach reminds me of how I shot way back in the 1980’s (see the B&W pix above). And once again I am getting images that are beyond me.

I see that as a good thing.

STATUS REPORT

It had been quite a while since I’d done a portrait project, so when I finished Suburb, that’s what I decided to do: shoot some portraits. Initially I thought the project might be of/about young women. I don’t really understand them (as if I really understand anything) and one of the main reasons I initiate a project is to try to learn about the subject. So I began.

Then one of the initial images kind of knocked me for a loop. It was, nominally, a portrait, but it also seemed to be about something else. Or, to put it more accurately, it made me think something besides “portrait” or “young woman”.

click images to enlarge

So there I was with this photo that seemed to be trying to tell me something, seemed to be a signpost pointing somewhere. . . somewhere
I had no previous thought of going. But where was it pointing?

Time for a rethink.

And what I thought (and felt) was that the image reminded me somehow of the future, if you can be “reminded” of things that haven’t yet happened. For the next 5 or 6 months that was my working premise . . . to find the future. Of course, photographing the future is not possible in any literal way. But, as William Gibson says, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”.

So I began looking for and photographing slivers of the present that represent the future I was imagining. And I was imagining repression and regression, a changing climate, increasing uncertainty and fear.

Working title: The Future.

But that working title became too problematic for my tastes. It was so descriptive, too proscriptive. I was vexed. Then a new title (or, perhaps, premise) came to me, a new way of thinking about the photos I was taking, and the project morphed again. It has become more complex, more nuanced and more flexible, a (slightly) different can of worms.

What seemed to be a path forward has changed into something less defined. What that is and where it leads me is to be determined. But I’m determined to find out and looking forward to the trip. The future is unwritten.
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Thank you for your time
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NOTICE

Suburb, the exhibition, got a decent amount of notice in the local press. Great. Thanks. I appreciate it, really I do. It certainly helps to bring the
folks out to have a look at what I’ve done. It’s nice to be noticed.

Yes, there is a place for noticing, for celebration, for boosterism, but that’s really just public relations. Just (and only) noticing things sets the bar too low in terms of developing an artistic community. As well, it lends some kind of legitimacy to that which gets noticed, whether it deserves it, or not. (Whether something is deserving is an issue for another post.)

Add to this the fact that artists often frame their work for the media (and for their friends and for themselves) in the way that they, the artist themselves, want it to be seen. Of course.

But believing spin (even if its your own spin) is a mistake. It’s not up to the artist to tell people what to see in their work or to say their work is controversial or significant or a breakthrough. That must be the job of the critic and an informed audience.


And this, finally, brings me to my point:

I have long believed that the Kapital City Culture Scene™ has suffered from a paucity of informed public criticism, that the local media spends too much time noticing and not enough energy actively engaging with the work local artists present.

For sure there are institutions here, both public and private, that invest the time and the care and the emotion to present art within a critical frame work. But without critical thought engendered and brought forward through the media, without public attempts to contextualize, to analyze, to consider and, dare I say it, to educate, local artists and their audience remain at a disadvantage. And, by disadvantage, I mean settling for merely being noticed and entertained, rather than being challenged.

Don’t tell me what the poets are doing
Don’t tell me that they’re talking tough
Don’t tell me that they’re anti-social
Somehow not anti-social enough
from: Poets, by The Tragically Hip
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OVER
TIME

Time (past, present and future) is a component of my new project. But you can’t really shoot time, you can only allude to it. So one of the things I’ve been doing is, I’ve been photographing a couple of locations over the seasons.

A crude device, perhaps, when seen here consecutively. But sprinkled through a longer sequence these images have the potential to be echoes, to give a sense of deja vu, to reference the tilt of the Earth and its orbit around the Sun. Upon bumping into them over time you might wonder, where have I seen that before?

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REVIEW

Further to the bit leading this episode of drool. Peter Simpson reviews some local photo shows.

Peter used to work at The Ottawa Citizen, had a thing going there called BigBeat. He put himself about, went to see all manner of shows, thought about it and then wrote about them. He didn’t just notice, he actively pursued. A year ago or so he took the buyout, set to work on his novel, took on some other biz ventures. And in there somewhere he still manages to put himself about, go to see all manner of shows, think about it and then write about them. All this with the regular paycheque of a big media conglomerate removed.

That’s what I’m talking about.
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Thank you for your time
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