Do you have moods? You do, don’t you? I have them too. Happy, sad; sure, unsure; elated, depressed; strong, weak . . . who knows?
Today I just don’t know.
I could pretend I know, that I’m sure. Or I could wait to write this until I do feel sure (because I’ll feel sure later). I could curate the face I show here, package it up into some as-close-to-perfect me as possible. I could live the lie.
Fuck that shit . . .
Photos tumble out of my X100F. The result of confusion and some kind of concerted effort. But nothing seems to be making much sense.
Don’t get me wrong, though. After all, this is what I set out to do . . . to be confused, to look for some new kind of sense. And now here I am . . .
At least I feel alive.
As far as I can tell there’s pretty much nothing I want to note, photo-wise, in Kapital City this week. And when I say “to note” what I mean is there’s nothing happening that, in my opinion, moves photography in Kapital City forward. I don’t need to agree with whatever is being presented, but I’d like it to be smart, modern (or historically pertinent) and well conceived.
The important bit from the above being “in my opinion”. After all, I’m just a guy with a blog, doing the best I can. (And some weeks I do better than others.)
Sometimes I wonder if I might (should) write something critical here when I see photographs presented for consideration that fall short of the (my) mark.
After all, as I’ve said before, there’s too much “noticing” and boosterism in this scene, and not enough actual criticism. And it seems to me that if you present work for consideration perhaps you should want, and expect, people to consider (rather that just notice) it.
Or maybe some photographers don’t want or expect their work to be considered. Perhaps, for some, just being noticed is enough.
Let’s start with the continuing saga of me and my camera. If that bores you, well, there’s also a thing about the Dave Heath show at the Nat’l Gallery of Canada and an excerpt from the Jonathan Blaustein review of After the Fact.
So . . .
The X100F is a perfect tool for snap-shooting, carrying everywhere, making random notes. And that’s how I thought I might use it.
But after a few weeks of doing that I’ve come to a preliminary conclusion. And that’s that I’m not a random kind of guy.
Hold on, maybe I am a random kind of guy, but only in life. When it comes to photo projects I need some kind of hook to hang on.
Of course we all need some kind of hook, even if it’s just I’m-going-to-photograph-random-street-scenes. Or I-shoot-birds. Or yes-portraits-that’s-what-I’m-interested-in.
At the outset of this new project I set out just to see and react, and to bring the results of that seeing and reacting home so I could look at it, think about what I’d done. Then, as often happens, I saw one image and something in my brain went ping!An association was made, some synaptic path opened up and I saw a way forward. Focus was found, or at least intimated.
This is the photo that set it off. I don’t really like this image, will probably never use it.
It did, however, serve a purpose . . . it fixed a word in my brain, one word. And that word, which I am not yet ready to say out loud, has given me direction. Like a sign.
When all this was going through my head I bumped into this description of the process behind Brian David Stevens book: Doggerland. It was timely for me and seems to hit the nail on the head, about how I will pursue this thing I’m doing now . . .
“. . . found images, but images all looked-for : sought, perceived even a little in advance . . .”
The beauty of the camera I’m using is that it facilitates that mode of working. I’ve been enjoying carrying the thing around, and now I have a better idea of what I’m looking for.
The Dave Heath exhibition, Multitude, Solitude, at the National Gallery of Canada is a must-see. A slightly overlarge view of much of the work he did in Korea and, famously, New York City in the ’50’s and ’60’s. Plus recent colour work, book maquettes and a bit of miscellanea.
Perhaps a little too sentimental in places for my tastes, but there is no denying the power and (specific) universality of these renderings. And, having known the man, it must be said . . . the work is true to his sensibilities, vision and outlook. These photographs are impossible not to look at closely, and that looking will affect you. What more can you ask for?
The NGC link here will take you to a place where you can read all about it.
I have to say, he really got it, not only what it was about, but also the cyclical form of the sequence. Here’s the main bit of his review.
And, by the way, there are still 20 copies left. Go here to see the sequence, and here to buy a copy. Support independent publishing.
The cover is a dream-scape in silhouette of black on blue, with ravens and a tree and the sky.
This will be a repeating motif within, birds, and while I was OK with it, maybe it did seem a bit obvious.
Open it up, and there’s a globe. The North Atlantic Sea is prominent, and I think it’s a pretty damn smart way to ground the story.
Then, a disaffected portrait of a tall guy crammed under a short ceiling.
Then bleak, cold, yet undeniably beautiful landscapes of what I take to be Canada in Winter.
We start with a smart quote by Bertolt Brecht about singing in the face of darkness, which I took to mean that we need to make our art, to speak our peace, to sing our songs, in particular when we think things are going to shit.
(And of course many people regard our current situation as a particularly dangerous one, relative to the Post World War II era.)
Then, some redacted text, and then a slew of excellent images.
Like I said, the bird theme is a bit on-the-nose for me, and I normally don’t use that expression. But I’d also like to ask that people stop including pictures of trash on the street or sidewalk. (We had them in last week’s book too.)
What do you say, folks? A moratorium on garbage in the street pictures?
But other than that, the photography is spot on.
The portrait of the dog in the muzzle? Amazing.
The yellow brick road, the policeman’s gun, the bloody bed, the sad portraits, the public places, it all adds up to a feeling of dread and impending doom.
Impending doom is the same as maybe-not-yet arrived doom. You can feel it coming, but is there still time to affect the outcome? To hope?
There’s a guy in camouflage unfurling a wire of some sort. Mennonite women, a power-company worker at night, more sad portraits, dead-people feet, power washing a building, and then that little girl looking right at you, from the side, like a young-21st-century-Mona-Lisa.
Towards the end, the book’s title page, “After the Fact.”
Then, another quote, this time from Martin Heidegger, “The possible ranks higher than the actual.”
Idealism before realism, I suppose?
Next, another portrait of a guy looking away, (behind the hoodie,) the birds, and a cold Canadian landscape.
A last credits page, which quotes Joe Strummer, “The future is unwritten,” and states, unequivocally, “This book is a work of fiction. The real people, places and incidents portrayed are used fictitiously.”
Is it, though?
If you open it in the back, and start here, doesn’t the book make just as much sense?
You get opening quotes for context, and you’re explicitly told to see this as a work of visual fiction.
It opens similarly, motif wise, (birds/landscape/dude portrait,) and this way, it includes the title page in the beginning, where it would normally be.
Plus, it’s just so easy to flip-it back to front, given its design.
There are narrative waves and repeating motifs that work just as well this way, and even better, you can reverse direction whenever you want.
It’s a good reminder, perhaps, that we not get too rigid in our thinking. That books should be made this way. Or that.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.