ATTRIBUTION

OLD NEWS

Finally managed to get my hands on the issue of British Journal of
Photography. . .the one with my work in it. They arrive on these
shores about 4 weeks after they appear in the U.K.

1a

I’ve never really had a close look at that publication, always going
for the N. American default: PDN.

Well, let me tell you that, while the BJP is more expensive, it’s way
more interesting. Might be just because this particular issue was
about portraits, which is my primary area of foto-interest.

But something tells me that the BJP just has more substance than
PDN.

For instance: a 6 page interview with Malerie Marder (who has just
about the worst website in the world). To find out more about her
and her work you can bop over the Conscientious, where Joerg
just published a glowing review of her new book: Carnal Know-
ledge. (Here)

1b

1c

Plus there are pages and pages more of articles on other fotografers
and approaches. It all seems pretty sophisticated (in a good way) and
informed.

And if you need an occasional geek fix, not to worry. BJP also has
a section or two devoted to gear and stuff.

Anyhow, like I said, I would never have picked one up and studied
it if it hadn’t been for the swell article Colin Pantall wrote about
collaborative portraiture (which included some of my work). Goes
to show you that there are still plenty of stones left to turn over,
when it comes to any-and-all things foto. And it’s usually self
interest that makes stuff and discovery happen.

I suggest tracking one down and having a look-see for yourself.

ATTRIBUTION

Related, I think, to the past two week’s posts about whether
fotos are of or about something. . . .

You will often bump into fotografers who will tell you,
in no uncertain terms, just what exactly it is their work
is about. They attribute so much to their fotos.

Spare me the details.

First of all, I think I can make up my own mind, thank
you very much. And, secondly, by having such a clear
cut idea of what it is they are actually showing you, I
believe they are really just fooling themselves and trying
to fool you while they’re at it.

Of course, if you are careering, trying to establish your
credentials as an artist, it never hurts to take this tack,
to position yourself as an artist. All too often the public
will be led and persuaded by what you say, not by what
you do.

If you have all the pretensions of being an Artist, if that’s
what you sell yourself as (to yourself as well as your clients)
you can turn your palatable, beautiful clichés into money.

But doing it that way, attributing so much to the fotos you
take will, in the end. just hold you back. It will lock you in
to just doing what is safe, what you know. There will be no
discovery, no real progression.

The problem is you end up believing your own hype. And
once that happens you loose your perspective, and it’s
perspective that makes you an artist.

Best, if you ask me, to just go out and do your thing, try to
think just enough, not too much, see what happens, see how
you react to your chosen subject and let the people who look
at what you’ve done make up their own minds just what it is
that you have actually done.

ADVENTURES IN PUBLISHING

I figured I’d get some BLURB books printed, so as to be able
to send hard copies to potential publishers. Got them in the
mail this week and have to say. . .they’re quite nice.

The reproduction is more than swell and the look and feel
pretty much works, too.

ltt-blurb-dummy-006
LIVE THROUGH THIS (148 pages, softcover)

I like them so much that a part of me thinks I should forget
spending the time and energy looking for an “actual” publisher,
that I should self-publish and that’ll be that.

Of course, there are certain things a publisher would bring to
the table: better printing and paper; an editor; nicer binding;
distribution and, finally, some kind of ego gratification.

ltt-blurb-dummy-002
page spread (from BLURB version of LTT, which contains many never before seen fotos from the project)

I also have to tell you that I’ve been thinking about printing it on
newsprint, in a large tabloid format, and issuing it like that, for
something like $12 a copy, cheap.

I’m still turning this over in my brain and am just now beginning
to seek out other’s help and opinion. These days there are so many
options for hard copy production of things like this.

As usual, if any of you droolers have thoughts on this, I’d be happy
to hear them, either as comments here or you can PM me.

ltt-blurb-dummy-004
page spread (from BLURB version of LTT)

11
detail of the note from Stephanie, seen above

STRING THEORY, JAMES JOYCE and RICHARD AVEDON

SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS: OF or ABOUT

I was reading a thing about string theory the other day. It’s one
mind-bending way to look at quantum mechanics. No one, really,
can “see” what string theory is about. (It postulates that there are
10 dimensions of space and possibly 2 of time).

Anyway, the author used a phrase she had borrowed from James
Joyce, one he used in Ulysses (a book, by the way, that changed
my life). The phrase being, in relation to trying to get a grip on
something that is, for the most part ungrippable, “almosting it”.

As far as I can tell, that’s the feeling you get when your brain
almost fits all the pieces together, where you get a taste of
the vision you are wondering about, but it never quite resolves.

I bring all this up because whether a foto is just “of” something
or is actually “about” something can be a lot like trying to figure
out quantum mechanics. There’s often a lot of “almosting it”.

avedon
©Richard Avedon from: In the American West

Take these shots, for example. Seemingly ripe for being fotos “of”.
After all, they are humans against white seamless. . .specimens.

There are a million knock-offs of work like this and almost all of
them are merely fotos “of”. But Avedon’s fotos move beyond that,
become “about”.

That’s because of his (Avedon’s) intent and his talent and technique
and because of what he demands. Demands of himself and of his
subjects.

Too often fotografers settle for the easy solution; taking a foto just
because, and saying to themselves: “Seems to me that that’s that”.
A surefire recipe to end up with fotos of, really, nothing but surface.

I believe that a foto of almost any subject can be “about” something
if the fotographer won’t just settle for the easy way out, if the fotografer
demands more from themselves and more from that which they are
pointing their camera at.

Otherwise what’s the point?

RECENTLY PUBLISHED

Finally get to see, in print, a project I worked on for
the Carleton University alumni mag. Not only worked
on, but worked on with the better half, Cindy (who is
a writer).

We, for some reason, don’t get to work on too many
projects together. And, truth be told, it was Cin who
got me this job. She had pitched a story about Jesse
Stewart, a professor in the School for Studies in Art
and Culture. He’s a percussionist who plays in all
kinds of unconventional environments.

Fateema, the editor, bought it and then my name came
up as someone who might shoot the thing.

And a complicated thing it was, too. Had to choose and
then find 4 environments that were not only photogenic,
but were also righteous.

As well, each shot kind of needed to have a sliver of context
(i.e. percussion instruments) and show a lot of environment,
seeing as the story was about the weird places Jesse plays.

Kind of complicated. And, boy, was that cave ever dark.

2a

2b

2c

2d

You can see Cindy’s website here. I’ll bet you’ve never seen
writer’s website like hers.

Also out this past week, an interesting take on a rookie
Member of Parliament Ruth Ellen Broussard.

Ottawa Style asked 3 fotografers to shoot her to see what
would happen.

(For those of you outside the country, or those Canadians
who just don’t remember, she was running for the NDP
in Trois Rivieres West, didn’t expect to win and so spent
some of her time in Las Vegas rather that in her riding,
campaigning. She won.)

Here are the spreads:

c1

c2

The fotographers being (l to r) Angelina McCormick, yours
truly and Darren Holmes.

You can see the thing online here. Hit “next page” (top right)
for, duh. . . .the next page.

STEPHANIE (about, not of)

Part of the book of LIVE THROUGH THIS is going to be Steph’s
story, as told by her. We’re working on it now.

It starts with her earliest memory and just a few days ago she
started sending me words about when she first moved to Ottawa.

Just moving there I had no money and no family
and no home I felt alone so I started selling my
body just to have enough money to support my
habbit. I didnt buy food cause thats the last thing
on your mind. I remember thinking to myself “How
did you get so far from home?” I had no family or
friends and the most fearful thing is being alone!!

As usual, she is totally honest and brave in how she expresses
herself, what she will allow people to see and know about her.

These words are not “of”, they are “about”.

Here’s a foto of her from that time, the time she was still very much
living a junkie’s life.

She has been heroin-free now for over 8 months.

steph-feb-4-2011-017
Steph, February 2, 2011

OF or ABOUT

I have a feeling I’m going to write myself into a corner here.
Wouldn’t be the first time and won’t be the last. . . .

I’ve been teaching at SPAO, one-on-one with second year
students, portfolio development. I’m learning a lot while,
on the other hand, also entrenching myself more. Such is
the life of a Gemini.

OF or ABOUT

One of the things I’ve been talking about to the students,
and thinking about, too, is the difference between fotos
that are of something and fotos that are about something.

Now, because we’re talking (or is that: thinking) about
fotos here there will be a lot of gray area because, after
all, these things exist on not just one continuum but many.
(A continuum of continuums?)

For instance, say I look at a boring (to me) foto of a leaf
trapped in ice. (I won’t attach any samples here, you can
already picture it in your head.) It could be said that that
image is about the march of time, about Nature’s uncaring
power and so on.

But for me, it will always and only be a foto of a leaf trapped
in ice. That’s because it’s too cliché, too stupid to be considered
anything but. It’s really just about the surface, and that’s because
its creator (the fotografer) is shallow and/or lazy and/or afraid
when it comes to their fotografy. (There, I said it.)

On the other hand you have an image like this:

11
© Timothy Archibald. From: ECHOLILIA/Sometimes I wonder

And I pick this picture not because I know Tim, not because
I know the back-story to this image. I pick it because it was
shot close to home (a location we all have access to) and
because it seems to me that this image is undeniably about
something.

What it’s about I won’t go into here because, in a weird way,
that’s not germane to what I’m talking about and, anyway,
I’m sure you are already filling in the blanks just by looking
at it.

And that might be the difference.

While fotos of something typically describe a surface and
leave it at that, images about stuff add a layer of flavor
(or is that: depth) to those surfaces. They don’t answer
questions, they ask them.

And by the way, if you haven’t seen ECHOLILIA you should.
It’s here.

ADVENTURES IN PUBLISHING

Okay, I’m looking for a publisher for both USER and LIVE
THROUGH THIS.

How do you go about that? Who knows?

If you do know I’d surely appreciate it if you dropped me
a line with some hints or the booklet of instructions or
something, anything.

In the meantime I’m plugging away, trying to figure it out
on my own.

I spent the last week whipping both USER and LTT into
shape to get a few BLURB books of them printed. Not to
sell but to send to the lucky publishing houses that make
my list. (I’m looking for lists of potentially interested pub-
lishers, so if you have one of those send it to me, will ya!!!!)

lttblurb
All 148 pages of LIVE THROUGH THIS

userbook
All 64 pages of USER

Now, it’s true that the first publisher I showed the portfolios to
was quite interested in LTT. And thank you very much for your
interest. But I really want to turn over as many stones as I can
on this to see what kind of bugs crawl out.

Thus. . . .the BLURB versions, which are really just the dummies
of the books.

I figure I could direct any potentially interested publishers
to some web version for a look-see. But we’re talking books
here, to have and to hold. The old-fashioned guy in me tells
me that sending hard copies is where it’s at.

After all, the whole process of taking fotos and showing
them, it would seem, is not limited to just taking them.

The back-end. . . .post production, printing, hyping is
all part and parcel of the commitment and as I continue
my adventures in publishing I will keep you posted here
on drool.