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.

WHAT YOU KNOW

When it comes to going out into the world and photographing, some will tell you to photograph what you know, that that’s the only way (or maybe the best way) to make sure your photos have veracity.

Me? I don’t subscribe to that. Of course I’m not suggesting you parachute into a foreign culture (whether it be near or far) and apply some colonial mindset to what you see. We’ve had enough of that, thank you very much.

But I do think it’s possible, if you go slowly enough and are open enough, to get to know something other that that you are familiar with. Or at least to be able to render your perspective on, and your relationship to, that (other) aspect of the world. Your photos will (should) show  your biases and your ethics, morals and intelligence. If, that is, the viewer cares to look at and think about them from a critical standpoint.

Sad to say, though, critical thinking is something that is sorely missing in the way many view and consume photographs. All too often reactions to images are of the knee-jerk variety. And those knee-jerks are usually informed by current modes of thinking combined with some fundamental stance that was adopted long ago and has never been revisited or revised.

But without consideration of the histories of the world, the medium and, mostly, consideration of ourselves, that only leads to an orthodoxy that often (usually) excludes nuance, alternate perspectives, the long view. It only engenders the entrenchment of what we think we know.

LAUNCH REPORT & PAY TO PLAY

LAUNCH REPORT

Thanks to the brave souls who made it to the launch of After the Fact. They braved torrential downpours and two tornados to get there. And when they arrived they were met with a completely dark gallery because of the power outages that were happening all over the city.

Weirdly prophetic, seeing as weather, climate change, is partly what After the Fact is about.

Eventually the lights did come back on, snacks were consumed, beverages were taken to the face, photos were looked at and conversations took place.

Amongst the folks that came was Ava. Here we are, Ava and I, standing by the photo of her legs that appears in the book. (Yes, she is alive, the book is a work of fiction.)

The show continues until September 28th.

Here’s a review (or, maybe a reaction) to After the Fact, by Taymaz Valley, which appeared in apt. 613.

Buy After the Fact here.

PAY TO PLAY

Colin Pantall wrote a very interesting blog post about how photographers having (spare) money (or not) affects the photoworld.

Here’s an excerpt . . .

I was talking to somebody (who appears extremely successful and makes genuinely great work. But is actually broke) a couple of months ago and she wondered if there shouldn’t be a consideration of the wealth of the photographer in evaluating work. If you are stinking rich and can afford that army of assistants and those high production values, should there be a little cross against you was what she was saying. Should there be a red mark of wealth against you.

It’s a valid question and one lots of people ask – but not too loudly.

A few years ago I posed this question on Facebook:

Should photographers who have a good disposable income apply for grants? 

Well, a shitstorm ensued in the comment section.

First of all, many folks misinterpreted the question, they wondered how granting agencies might apply a means test to applicants.

But my question had nothing to do with granting agencies applying a means test. I was suggesting (in a passive/aggressive way, truth be told) that those who practice art and who have a trust fund, money socked away, a swell pension, a rich partner, etc., might consider stepping away from the grant money table, that they leave money there for those who actually need it.

It also was brought up that receiving a grant, being accepted by a jury of your peers, was always good for your career, good for your resumé and good for the good-old ego. And, sure, it’s difficult to argue with that.

I suppose, too, that that’s why so many photographers enter those pay-to-play contests . . . career advancement, acceptance, a line in your CV and having your photograph appear in some online gallery or (if you’re doubly lucky) as part of a group show somewhere.

Aside from a few that actually have some industry weight and a modicum of morals, most of those contests are just money grabs that prey on the hopes and dreams of photographers. You “win” but the only real outcome is an ego boost and another line on your resumé, another bit of news for your social media feed.

But, as Colin points out, having money is pretty much a prerequisite for moving your career along, and many (most) of the systems in place to “help” photographers do nothing to address that issue.

It’s good to see that, more and more, people in the photoworld are beginning to question certain foundations that world is built upon.

 

WHY ARE YOU SPEAKING TO ME?

In Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Bob Dylan (No Direction Home), one of the folk singers he interviews says that in the early days of the Greenwich Village folk scene the question one musician would ask another, when talking about some other musician, was, “Did he (sic) have anything to say?”. That struck a chord with me because when I look (and feel) at art that’s what I’m looking for: Do you have anything to say?

Another question I ask myself is: Why are you speaking to me? And that question, why?, is a minefield when it comes to the arts.

Do you do it for status? For money? Is it a career choice, one where you’ll subvert what’s really on your mind in order to hit the trendy sweet spot? Maybe (and here we come full circle) you have nothing much to say but have developed a platform to say it.

I hear the word “art” bandied about with almost total abandon, people often call the most banal, crafty busy-work “my art”.

We all know that these days reality seems to be what you want it to be or what you say it is. We decry the fact that for some (invariably the “others”) truth is not truth and “their” perspective and beliefs seem to be based on some totally foreign (to us) foundation. And once (if) we get past our emotional, knee-jerk reactions we wonder why.

I say it’s time to apply that same scrutiny to ourselves, to our motives and to why we say what we say.

PROOF

Got the proof of After the Fact this week. Looks bang-on to me.

It’s now on the press and I expect to take delivery by the end of this week.

Here’s some pix of the cover and the inside cover with the dust jacket removed . . .

It’s an edition of 200 and already more than 2/3 sold. (Thanks to all the folks who have supported this project.) Get your copy here.