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.

NOVEMBER (MIXED FEELINGS)

This loose edit is as far as I got for November.

I have mixed feelings about these. On the one hand, I sort of like them. On the other hand I’m not sure they mean that much to me, and I’m at the stage in my life now where taking photos that I just like doesn’t scratch my itch. I want more.

Some have told me that I should file these away and carry on this work next November, to add to this over time and, that way, end up with something more. Not a bad idea. But I’m not sure.

I reserve the right, though, to look at these later and to change my mind. Perhaps over time I will see something here that I’m missing now, perhaps they will move me and provide the insight I crave.

But at this point in time I consider this November thing a failed experiment. Nevertheless it is grist for the mill, and my mind’s a mill.

And on that note drool. will be taking a break. See you back here in 2019.

NOVEMBER (STUCK)

I believe that early success is not a good thing. Too often it gives a false sense of superiority and ease. It  can also lock you in and rob you of the perspective and growth that come through struggle.

Turns out that my first foray into looking for November yielded two images that I thought were quite successful. They seemed like signs pointing the way forward. Not bad considering I shot 4 frames.

The other two frames, which were quite unsuccessful, did, however, show me what I didn’t want to do. For instance this photo, taken in a moment of insanity (or, rather: inanity). When I saw these pumpkins all I could think of was: “After Joel Sternfeld”. The “after” here having, in my mind, two meanings. Other than that, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.

So, with that in mind . . . some successes and some stupid images that I’m not interested in in the least, I set out late Monday afternoon to follow through, to do some more shooting, to add to my successes.

I’m happy to report that the trip was a dismal failure. I drove out to the country (did I mention this project is going to be landscape photos?) and got bogged down.

Those first two successful photos were boxing me in. Sure, they were signs showing me ways to proceed. But they were also photos I’d already shot so there’s no real need to shoot them again, right?

So I spent a very frustrating afternoon stuck. Stuck on roads, stuck by the weather and the light, stuck with trying to figure out what to do and what not to do. It felt worse than the first day of shooting I’d done for this project. At least then I had a blank canvas.

Paradoxically, now that I have some idea of what I’m doing this is getting more difficult.

Addendum:
I went out again later in the week. Things seemed to go somewhat more smoothly, and I got to meet some horses. Slowly I’m gathering more images, more moving parts to November. Feels good. We’ll see.


ZEITGIEST AT SPAO

There, in the studio behind the SPAO gallery, is a strip of 16 images. Shot by the 2nd year students of the school specifically for the SPAO Open House. The subject: Zeitgiest.

The images are best served if read as a mash-up . . . the disparate nature of the group adding to the  complexity and nuance of the whole.

Often in art schools (and, indeed, after art school graduation) the default position, the perceived path to success, is to rely on formality and formula. Here that impulse has been subverted by the combining of these images. What results is a fractured whole that turns this cooperative body of work into a thing that is modern, vital, complex and engaging in more than a superficial way.

This work will be on display in the studio at SPAO until December 20th. It’s worth a visit.

The students who have work in this show are: Amanda Belanger, Lauren Boucher, Louise Crosby, Paris Escandon,  Kat Fulwider, Nicolai Gregory,
Benjamin Gregory, Katherine Kyriazopoulos, Pat La Prairie, Irene Lindsay, Daniel Lopez, Lauren Mcglynn, Diana McKinnon, Christine Potvin, Vivian Tors and Ian Warren.

NOVEMBER (FOG)

Went out looking for November.

November first was cool and foggy. I threw the 4×5 into the trunk and set out before dawn to find some field or other. To look.

Was thrilled and chagrined by the fog. Thrilled because it’s difficult to take a bad photo when it’s foggy. Chagrinned because it’s difficult to take a bad photo when it’s foggy.

Let me explain . . .

Sure, I want a certain amount of atmospherics in these pictures. But as I trudged through the field I found I was thinking about how I mostly like to photograph on plain days. I don’t really want my images to be about sublime light or any other kind of naturally occurring melodrama.

Too often photographs that use overly dramatic light, etc., are photographs of that light, those conditions. And I want my pictures to be about something else.

Yes, I’ll use crazy light as a backdrop to, in support of, the pictures I take. But that’s really all I want those conditions to be . . . backdrop and support.

Anyway, I found a field and set off through it, looking, thinking, feeling. The 4×5 like a heavy axe over my shoulder.

I decided to use the 4×5 for this because I want to slow down, to make my decisions on the ground, in the field. Couple that with the fact that I have 30 sheets of film and the decisions become, somehow, more fraught.

Yes, that can lead to a completely anal approach to the subject, but it doesn’t have to. I’m aware of that pitfall and am doing whatever I can (with my brain) to avoid, or at least embrace, the limitations I’ve set myself.

I’d see something I thought might work, set up the camera, compose the frame (and myself) and then wander around a bit, wondering. Then I’d go back to the camera, have another look, another think. More often than not I wouldn’t take a picture. I’d pick up the camera and continue my walk, looking for something else. I didn’t know what. These first days are complicated by the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing, don’t know how to get where I want to be.

And, funnily enough, I got lost in that field. The fog obliterated landmarks, I somehow got all turned around and couldn’t find my way back.

I took that as a good omen.

COLIN PANTALL ON AFTER THE FACT (AND OTHER STUFF)

Here’s a link to a review Colin Pantall wrote about After the Fact. And there’s a pretty funny (because it’s true) list in there, too.

You can support the book, this blog and my practice by going here and buying a copy.

SIGNS

Let’s begin with a thing about signs in photographs vs photographs of signs. If that’s not your cup of tea scroll down to the second bit where you will see a bunch of 4×5 portraits I’ve posted to illustrate some hype . . .

SIGNS

Signs. They advertise, direct, inform and clutter. They are used in official ways  by businesses and governments, and in unofficial ways by ordinary citizens. There’s no escaping them, they’re everywhere. Even, and sometimes especially, in photographs.

A sign in a photograph occupies some bit of the frame but is subservient to a larger complexity the photograph is pointing to. In other words, the sign informs the image but is not its point.

On the other hand, a photograph of a sign is, well, a photograph of a sign. We see the photo, read or look at the sign and maybe we grin or shake our head at the cleverness or the stupidity of the person who made the sign. But that’s it, it’s over.

Now, there are a lot of smart photographs with signs in them. After all there’s no escaping signs, they’re everywhere. Sometimes, too, a photographer will include a photo or two of a sign in a body of work. They have a place, if used judiciously, in any record of a person’s impression of the world they live in. Sure.

But heavily relying on photos of signs as a way to get your point across seems to me to be a shorthand way of making a one-dimensional point.

Of course, the surface meaning of the sign can be neatly recontextualized if they are smartly included in a sequence of photographs. Placing an image of a sign in a larger, complex string of images/ideas can subvert the initial meaning of the sign and move the thesis of the sequence forward.

I bring this up because of the time I spent on the edit/sequence of my new project. While I was shooting that project I didn’t really know what might be useful so it was important to have enough diverse, raw data to allow for options in the edit/sequence. To this end I shot some signs . . .

These all got edited out. In the end the final edit of my project contains two photos that feature signs . . . one of a sign, the other with one.


PORTRAITURE AS EXPERIENCE

There are only 2 places left in the Portraiture as Experience Master Class I’m teaching this summer. Four Saturday afternoon’s in June that will change the way you approach creating portraits.

Besides that, this course will give you something to talk about at the dinner table. You’ll be recounting the stories that happen when you take one small step forward towards more intimate encounters. Nothing scary, just a swell, slow approach to closing the space between you and the person you are photographing.

Go here for details and to sign up.

And . . . some portraits I’ve shot over the past few years with my 4×5.