NOVEMBER (LIMITATIONS)

Looking back I see that I have almost always defined my projects by building in some kind of limitation: Follow the Passaic River, work for four years on one stretch of sidewalk, pick one suburb.

I suppose, though, that that’s the definition of what a project is. There must be limits and, if not a thesis, at least an end goal. After all, setting off to photograph the whole world and everything in it seems like an insane idea (or, maybe, a brilliant one).

At any rate, I do like to impose limits on myself. For better or for worse.

So now that the dust is settling on After the Fact I’m about to try something different. Trying something different is also an aspect of my how I move from project to project. Using the same tools and technique to render everything you photograph is, for me, the wrong kind of limitation.

When deciding what to photograph next I ponder a few things . . .  what am interested in doing and what do I want to learn. I also think about how I’m feeling and how that relates to my politics, and then I try to figure out a way of working that will allow aspects of those things (interest, learning, feeling, politics) to come forward. And, oh yeah, I want the subject to have some say in how I render it, too.

Once I decide what I’m going to turn my attention to I  pick a tool (i.e. camera)  that seems correct for the task. I think about how different cameras change how I approach a subject, and the subject reacts differently to different cameras.

With all this in mind I’ve decided to photograph November. And I’ve decided to photograph it with a 4×5 camera and 30 sheets of film.

And when I say I want to photograph November what I really mean is I want November to be a stand in for something else.

November. The month when things begin to die, when the weather turns inhospitable, when the light is something else. I have no idea what will happen, how it will turn out. I have a month and 30 sheets of film to find out.

Limitations.

AFTER THE FACT

Last week I mistakenly made a few prints on heavy archival paper. Rather than store them, or throw them out I had a special offer to include one in the next 4 copies of After the Fact that were sold.

There are two left. So for a measly 42 Canadian dollars the next two orders will get the book and one swell 10 inch print (suitable for framing). They have funny borders because of the way I printed them but, if you ask me, they’re still pretty sweet

Sad to say, because of mailing costs this offer is only good for folks in North America.

Go here to pick one up.

(note: There is now only one of these prints available.)

ARGUE WITH SUCCESS

First, a bit of opinion. Sure.

And if you get past that you’ll bump into a special After the Fact offer. Thirty-eight copies of the book remain, but there are only be four of these special offer-type things available . . .

ARGUE WITH SUCCESS

Keep it consistent, some will tell you. Don’t confuse the punters by making your photographs and projects too different from those you’ve already made. Especially if the ones you’ve made get lots of likes, if folks love the look of your images.

Mostly, I say, fuck that. I say “mostly” because there are photographers whose work I respect who have spent their lives plumbing one subject one way.

I think of my first teacher, Lynne Cohen, who spent, it must be, 40 years, photographing rooms. And Bernd and Hilla Becher, who perfected a typological approach with their images of coal tipples, water towers and so on. There are other photographers, too, who’s rigorous, single-minded approach to photography adds sophistication to the history of the art.

And of course there is room in a life-long practice of approaching one subject more or less the same way, for evolution, for the addition of nuance.

But mostly (and I know generalizations are odious) photographers get hooked in to some way of looking at the world and develop a formula for turning that into photographs. And formulas pretty much preclude discovery.

I think a lot of repetitive, formulaic work gets done for a few reasons. Amongst those reasons is a lack of imagination, getting stuck within the limits of how you relate to the world, and settling for comfort and the familiar.

Of course, some get into photography as a way to relax. And one way to relax is to not question what you’re doing, to blithely snap away, to know and follow the rules. I’ve got nothing against that, except for the fact that the images they produce usually prop up the status quo. And where has that got us?

Well, for some the status quo has worked quite nicely, thank you very much. It has allowed them to prosper enough to have the spare time and capital to pursue photography. Why would it even occur to them that things need to be looked at, approached and rendered differently?

It would seem that if you want a career in photography it never hurts to plug into, and exploit, the tried and true, the easily consumable. Give ’em what they want. And what they want is almost always familiarity.

And this gets me back to where I started: In the PhotoArtWorld™ repetition and predictability is usually gold. Find something that works (i.e.: sells, wins awards, gets lots of likes) and just keep doing it.

You can’t argue with success.

Or can you?

MY MISTAKE, YOUR GAIN

For some reason I made this print by mistake. Four images from After the Fact. Printed on heavy, archival Canson Baryta paper. Each image here measures 10 by 6.7 inches.

I’m gonna cut ’em out of the big print and include one of them (at random) in the next 4 orders of After the Fact. (They’ll be pretty close to borderless and labeled in pencil on their backs.)

Go here to pick one up. (North America only because shipping this, over 500 grams, anywhere else is way too expensive. But you can still buy a regular version of After the Fact and I’ll send it anywhere on the planet.)

“It shows near/far, involved/distant, literal/poetic images. Wonderful. It is intriguing, what am I looking at, what is the logic behind these photographs and combinations? The short texts, Brecht and Heidegger, well-chosen.”
– Hans Bol, Recto Verso Publications (Holland), on After the Fact.

CLOSE TO HOME

I always seem to get hung up in the things I’m pouring myself into. Can’t see the forest for the trees, you know.

Because I’m aware of this I remind myself, in the throes of my obsession, to take a breath, to step back and try to see the long view, to look for the horizon.

Easier said than done. But the insights gained by doing this are always worth the effort. Both during the creation of a project and in the thinking about it afterwards, in the seeing of what it reveals.

Of course, some of the things you notice only after the whole thing is done and dusted are totally obvious. For instance, I just realized the other day that 34 of the 45 pictures in After the Fact were shot within 1.5 kilometres of my house (that’s just under a mile for those who don’t know the metric). Heck, three of them were shot in my back yard and one right inside my house.

Thinking about this I re-realize you can make anything you want of the things that are close to you (and, maybe, the things you want to be close to you). You apply intellectual, aesthetic and moral filters to things familiar (or not familiar) and with enough work and thought, with the right kind of eyes, can turn them into just about anything.

If you look and feel and think right, close to home can be what you think it is, or what you want it to be, or what you can turn it into.

There are less than 40 copies of After the Fact remaining. Go here to pick up a copy.