EARLY DAYS OF TRYING

Yes, some further ruminations on just what the heck I’m trying to do with my new camera. Plus: some installation pix of the show I’m in in NYC, more Ottawa Notes, and, finally, a commercial. Anyway . . .

NOT STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

One of the things I want to do with this new tool of mine is, I want to take photos that are unlike my previous ones. I see, though, in these early days of trying, that that’s going to be a tall order.

After all, one does have ones aesthetic and political predilections, doesn’t one?

On the other hand, I’m quite sure what I don’t want to do (though to rule out any avenue at this point is a chump’s game, I know), but what I don’t want to do is your classic “street” photography. The structures of, and expectations attached to, that genre strike me as pretty strict and old-fashioned.

The camera I’m using, though, is pretty much designed (or, at least, perfect) for street snapshooting. Time for a rethink.

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

Further to this (and because I believe in embracing my contradictions) . . . I just bumped into this article by Jon Feinstein: “Seven Photographers Who Are Rewriting Street Photography’s Rigid Rules”. Some of the approaches and possibilities outlined there seem right to me.

IN NYC

A few shots of the Beyond Addiction/Reframing Recovery show at Parson’s School of Design. And a link to an article about the show in the New York Daily News.

OTTAWA NOTES

SPAO hosted a one-night show by Ottawa photographer Gwyneth Orr, who won the Ottawa Arts Council Young Artist award last year.

The show, called AVIS, a series of images in which teenagers are compared to, and dressed up as, birds. The idea being to allude to the similarities between a baby bird leaving the nest and a child entering young adulthood.

You can tell this is early work . . . not completely realized and the influences are there on the surface to see. But that’s the way you begin, isn’t it. Then, if you persevere, you grow.

Gwyneth, a graduating highschool student, has been accepted into the photography program at NSCAD. I’m sure that escaping the Kapital City nest and spreading her wings there will be just the thing she needs. I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO PUBLISHING A PHOTOBOOK

Photobooks are where it’s at these days. A great way to organize and add worth to your photographs. Not to mention they also help get your work in front of folks who may care, be they friends, family or curators.

I’ll be holding a one day workshop at SPAO: A Practical Guide to Publishing a Photobook.

As the person behind Straylight Press I published 18 photobooks, by 12 different photographers. Let me tell you, I learned a lot.

This workshop is about, as its title implies, the practical stuff you need to know. Lots of resources, secrets, links and suppliers. As well, it will cover ways to edit and sequence your book, discuss various layout options, and a few, for lack of a better word, philosophical aspects of photobook making.

More info and sign up here.

A NEW CAMERA

drool. After a three month layoff I found the motivation (and need) to get back in the saddle. (If the first bit here bores you, scroll on down, there are four items in this week’s post . . .)

The main impetus for reviving this thing is, I bought a new camera with the intention of shooting a project with it. My first new camera in 10 years.

Often photogs think to themselves, “If only I had that lens (or that camera) I could really shoot what and how I want”. Of course, after they buy the object of their desire they usually discover that their new tool toy doesn’t actually help them do anything at all.

With me, it’s the opposite. I bought the camera precisely because I had no idea what I would use it for. My plan was to have no plan, to see what this thing could show me.

The camera, a FujiFilm X100F, is kind of a take-it-anywhere, one-handed-snap-shooter. Haven’t used a camera like this for, probably, twenty five years.

And this is the first time in, like, 20 years I’ve started a project with no real thesis, no “look-at-the-suburbs“, no “shoot-the-dystopian-present“. My plan (so-called) is to just shoot pictures and see what turns up and out, to see where that leads me.

I have to admit I’m a bit apprehensive about setting off on such an undefined trip. It feels like stepping into a void. But I have faith that something will come of it. I just have to keep reminding myself to take it easy, not to rush, to let Nature take its course, to see what happens.

Writing about my confusion and struggle helps me know my mind, so I’ll be making notes here, thinking out loud, as the project moves forward. Tune in and read along as I bark up the right and wrong trees, as I follow paths that lead somewhere and nowhere, even though there’s no such thing as the “wrong” tree, or “nowhere”.

BRETT GUNDLOCK: STORIES FROM THE MIGRANT TRAIL

Sure, you’ve all heard about the caravans of migrants coming up from Central America, through Mexico, trying to get to the the USA. The media shows them as a pack, as a phenomena. There is never (hardly ever) any insight into just who these people are, why they, specifically, are on the move. Typical lazy, formulaic, media coverage.

Brett Gundlock had had enough of that so he set off to talk to them, to show individual people and to listen to their personal stories. His work was published this past December in Mother Jones. I suggest you click on over, read and look.

He also, in association with Homie House Press, published a newsprint of this work, There might be a few copies left. Consider ordering one to have and to hold, to support this kind of necessary independent journalism.

BEYOND ADDICTION/REFRAMING RECOVERY

I’m excited to be included in a group show that considers aspects of the opioid crisis with the idea that recovery is possible. Curated by Graham MacIndoe and Susan Stellin, it’s on view at the Arnold and Sheila Arnoson Gallery, Parsons School of Design, N.Y.C. Opening April 6th.

Check it out if you’re in NYC. Or go to this dedicated website where you can look at some of the photographs and read about the show.

OTTAWA NOTES

Lorraine Gilbert hosted a one-night-only studio show this past Tuesday. A swell turnout got to see modern, well thought out images from British Columbia. Photos of often derelict Vancouver, and of the big-tree forests that exist on the West coast and are, too, derelict in their own way. It was great to see these images in such a casual, friendly setting. (I’m definitely a fan of alternate means of display and distribution.)

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a large enough space to hang such works, but I have to tell ya I really like the idea of artists sticking stuff on a non-gallery wall and inviting folks to come, look, discuss and, it must be said, chow down on a very sumptuous spread. It’s a pity the event didn’t run longer, though there is something to be said for a one-night-stand. More of this in Kapital City, please and thank you.

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.