DUMMY DOLDRUMS

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.

 

I HAVE NOTHING

It’s almost 8:30, Wednesday morning. I sit here because I’ve got to figure out what to write for drool. this week. I have nothing.

Isn’t that kind of like certain approaches to photography? You feel a need to do something, to make something, to leave a mark. The whole world exists in front of you (and behind you, too). It’s up to you to sift through that, to look for, and maybe find, some coherence.

You could go out and take photos, work on a project. Or you could just give up, scroll through the social media, make some pithy remark on Facebook or Twitter. Or vent your spleen at the current state of affairs on Planet Earth (as though anything is really new, unheard of).

Maybe you go make (another) coffee, look out the window and wonder what’s the point. (What is the point, anyway?)

A CERTAIN RECOGNIZABLE LOOK

Cities sometimes spawn, support and become known for a specific approach to, and aesthetic of, photography. Something about that city (an influential teacher, a certain demographic makeup, right time/right place, etc.) causes photographers there to produce work that has a certain recognizable look, feel and politics. That approach goes on to influence other photographers, in other places, and, thus, affects the history of photography. Think of Dusseldorf, think of Vancouver, think of Tokyo.

In  Kapital City a certain look, feel and (lack of) politics seems to have emerged. It’s not significant (or modern) enough, in terms of the ongoing history of photography, to become internationally influential, but nonetheless . . .

In a nutshell, and speaking generally, narrative (of almost any kind) is eschewed in Kapital City, the photographers here preferring instead to aim for beautiful aesthetics and a swell surface . . . a slick one dimensionality seems to be enough. And not that many photographers here go out into the world. Instead some aspect of the world is dragged into a studio and shoehorned, risk-free, “into an inert mannered emptiness, where objects and portrait sitters are painstakingly selected and framed, but still fail to elicit any meaningful reaction”, as Loring Knoblauch writes about a certain strain of contemporary photography. Along with (or because of) that, there seems to be a general lack of interest in current affairs and the histories, big and small, that are made day to day. That is: politics in almost all its forms is pretty much ignored (barring the highfalutin politics some attach, through specious reasoning in their artist statements, to their anodyne images).

I can sometimes be sort of seduced by the surface of some of these photographs but beyond that . . . well, there’s not much beyond that. (And, yes, of course there are photographers here who are doing complex, smart, nervy work; work where something seems to actually be at stake.)

So what do you do if you live in a city where the prevailing taste in photography makes you want to clear your throat?

First of all, I recognize that there are many grey areas within anything one would like to categorize. And it must be said that work I find facile, cliché, sentimental, simplistic, fetishized, might move someone else to tears (and win awards). So be it. I’ll give you that. I also admit that I have limited insights (some would argue: very limited) and I have bias (some would argue: a lot of bias). But I’m just not into blind acceptance.

Anyway, if you’re like me, the stupid me, you’ll try to change things. You’ll tell people that if they don’t just settle for what comes easily and for the obvious, photography can be about more than what’s readily available on the surface. You’ll tell them that if they embrace challenge and discomfort their work will have more complexity and nuance. But it’s a hard-sell because most people are very comfortable with their comfort.

(It must be noted that just about any discomfort experienced by photographers is usually quite temporary; they can almost always drive their car back to their house, have dinner, watch television and climb into their own bed.)

If you’re like the less stupid me you’ll try to find fellow travellers in your town, get together with them and compare notes. But mostly you’ll  find photographers around the world who are doing work you respect, you’ll reach out (most, if properly approached, are quite sympathetic) and compare notes, ask for (and maybe even take) advice. You’ll embrace the power of your convictions, and let the chips fall where they may. Thus you find community, thus you advance.

I’m not promoting the idea of living in an echo chamber. I think you’ll find that the photographers who are interested in the challenge of creating complex work through a process that embraces failure, discovery, politics and confusion, photographers who want something to be at stake in the creation, meaning and distribution of their work . . . those photographers, when you get together to discuss, will not pat you on the back and say, good work, let’s order another drink. They’ll challenge you because they challenge themselves. It’s in their makeup.

If that’s not your cup of tea, by all means go along with the status quo. People will love your pictures.