Camera Lucida Gave Me an Anxiety Attack (Or How I Always Have My Artistic and Personal Revelations at Inappropriate Moments)

I’m going to give a disclaimer right here, right now:  This post might very well go to the dark side of incoherent ramble and there’s a possibility that no one will follow my train of thought.  But that’s OK, what’s important here is that I follow my train of thought.  Toot toot!

Not mine.  From a website featuring brain related comics.  Still funny... Or punny, whichever.
Not mine. From a website featuring brain related comics. Still funny… Or punny, whichever.

A few weeks ago, the grad photo seminar I’m taking was required to read Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida.  I wasn’t so concerned with this, as the book is super short, and I had read bits and pieces of it as an undergrad.  I was looking forward to revisiting it actually because  I remembered loving what Barthes discussed when I read it at UT… This idea that photography is a reminder of our own mortality, and his concepts of the studium and the punctum.  For realz.  It was a very… romantic… discussion of photography, and when I was first exposed (Ha!  Unintentional photo pun) to Barthes it just made so much sense.  But upon reading it again, I found myself increasingly  irritated by what he wrote and by the way he presents (presented? since he’s dead?) photography.  Now granted the book was written in 1980 before digital gained it’s foothold, and before photography became so completely accessible to everyone, but I just wanted to throw up all over the book.  Or punch Mr. Roland Barthes in the face.  Something.  I know, totally inappropriate reaction, but I was disappointed and frustrated.  It no longer made any sense, and instead of rediscovering something I thought I loved, I realized I hated something that I thought I loved.

I don’t know why I was so surprised and taken aback by this.  I have been struggling for the last two years with photography (before I even started grad school!), trying to figure out why it wasn’t working for me anymore, trying to understand why I love it but am so flummoxed by it.  Coming into this current semester, one of my goals had been to re-introduce photography into my practice on some level, beyond documentation of my performances, because I really missed it, and because it seemed stupid to me that something I had once loved so much, and was such an integral part of my practice, was something from which I had completely walked away.  And this goal was part of the reason I enrolled myself in the grad photo seminar.  I thought it would give me some space to address this goal.  In certain ways, it has allowed that, and has given me a lot of food for thought on the relationship between photography and performance art.  So that’s good…

But then we read Camera Lucida.

And then we discussed it in class.

And I had an all encompassing anxiety attack during that class discussion….

I’m not even sure how to plot the trajectory of this attack in order to explain it, suffice to say I came to class prepared to discuss this, and see how others had interpreted Barthes romantic vomit.  But then, as we began the discussion, I started to wonder about my own reaction and interpretation of this text.  I mean, somewhere, down underneath all the crazy, behind the performance art, I’m supposed to be a photographer, or a tiny part of me was at one point, right?  Shouldn’t that mean that while I may not agree with what the author had to say, I should on some level appreciate it?  That I could at least see it from a different perspective than my own.  But I couldn’t.  I just straight up hated it.  And that got me thinking about a) wether or not I really loved photography the way that I thought I did, or even at all, and b) if I should even be an artist if I hated a theory so much.  I mean, I felt like a fraud in so many ways.  I keep talking about why I love photo, I made a point to teach photography here, I’m going to the SPE conference in March… But I wanted to run screaming from one of the books on photo theory.  It was a big, hot mess.  I worked myself up to the point where I could barely follow the conversation, let alone participate in it.

Voila, anxiety attack.

I’m so good at that.

Anyway.  I was really upset over this.  And I actually cried on my way home.  I was that impacted.  So, I’ve been thinking this over a lot in the two weeks or so since it happened, without much progress.

In the intervening time, I had reviews, and several studio visits.  Each of those caused me more and more frustration and anguish, because not only was I questioning the entire foundation for my artistic career (photography), I was seeing this widening disconnect between my ideas and my actual work.  I had developed all of this work that visually and emotionally had no connection to the ideas and stories that were supposedly their basis.  “Cool” art as one of my professors dubbed it.  A clean, slick, pretty aesthetic, and yet nothing I am trying to address is anything but hot and messy.  The two are most certainly not jiving, if you’re picking up what I’m laying down.

I wanted to leave school.  I wanted to stop being an artist.  To be clear though, it wasn’t the faculty’s fault I was in this mind set.  The studio visits and reviews I had were actually very helpful to me in terms of clarifying and understanding the disconnect that I intuitively understood to be there, but could not quite grasp in reason or put into words.  It was me, feeling very much inadequate to the task I had set myself.  In short I was feeling like a failure to myself.  Ah… my old friend, we meet again.  Hold this thought because it’s important…

Well, so that’s how everything was sitting for the last few weeks of my life.  I was pretty much at loose ends.  I didn’t really touch anything in my studio, instead I just sat and stared at it a lot.  I dragged my feet on teaching related things.  I avoided people in general.  It sucked.  I’m sure I was a peach to be around.  And yet I kept having these strange moments of serendipity and deja vu.  Which had to mean I was somehow on the right path…

I’m sure if anyone ever reads this blog more than one time, they’ll figure out I’ve got a few psychological and emotional problems.  No, I’m not just “crazy” because artists are supposed to be crazy.  I actually hate that I’m “crazy” and that I’m an artist, what bad luck to be a stereotype!  I actually hate the word crazy, it’s a far to unsubtle and general a descriptor.  But that’s my issue…  What I’m trying to say here is that clearly I have a lot of things that need working on, and work on them I do.  I do both individual and group counseling, and it’s really helpful for me.  For instance, in my individual sessions, we talk a lot about how my psychological and emotional behaviors often play out in my art work, often times with out my realizing it.  I point this out, because I had this huge, amazing moment of understanding (which is where the subtitle for this post comes into play) that relates to my art work.

In my session yesterday, my counselor pointed out to me that people who struggle with expectations tend to deal with them in one of two ways; either become a perfectionist (which in some ways I fall into this category), or they develop avoidance issues (which I had never considered in relation to my own behavior before).  She suggested that I might want to think about how I avoid things when I feel that I can’t achieve my own expectations or goals.  I agreed and then went on about my day.

Several hours later, I was sitting in a lecture hall, listening to one of the many job candidates that FSU has been bringing in recently (FSU has something like 4 job searches going on in the art department), and I found my mind wandering.  I started thinking about situations in which I don’t deal with things, and I was trying to determine the reasons why I may not have dealt with whatever it was.  In most cases it’s because I feel like I can’t succeed in my aim, or that I assume the worst  case scenario in terms of outcome and I just gave up…if that makes any sense.  Then suddenly it hit me.  THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I DID WITH PHOTOGRAPHY.  I started a series about a year before I went back to school, around the same time that my work started to shift toward more interior, psychological and emotional issues, and I got frustrated with it because it wasn’t conveying my intent.  I was failing in my aim.  And then when this failure (in my perception) continued when I came to FSU, I completely walked away from photography.

Holy Crap.

Giant. Fucking.  Exclamation Point.

So right in the middle of this job talk, I have this moment of clarity.  And of course I’m freaking out, and can barely sit still, which I have to do for another 45 minutes.  Terrible.  I felt like I was going to explode or something, because once my mind started racing along about this, there was no stopping it.  Almost right away I realized how this idea impacted the rest of my work too.  This “cool” art I had started making.  I was avoiding the emotional content because I had been unable to incorporate the visual and emotional in previous experiments.  This was why I had stopped halfway through so many projects…  My mind was blown.    This is what my notebook page looked like:

See how insanely disorganized this page is?  Terrible handwriting...
See how insanely disorganized this page is? Terrible handwriting…

So this is a good thing I think.  I went into my studio and cleaned it, took everything off the walls, and put all of my stuff away.  Time to recalibrate and reconsider.  It’s a good point in the semester for me to do that too, because I’m headed to Chicago in a week for SPE, but I’m staying a week so I can go to museums and galleries and just look at some flipping art that isn’t my own.  I feel much more focused now for some reason, it’s strange.



So now I’m culling through my ideas and the projects I started this semester in order to get some perspective on them.  Writing notes to myself and deciding which I will continue in the wake of this epiphany and which I can discard as a means of avoidance….

The pink ones are my ideas, the blue ones are my questions or considerations. I’m slowly considering each one. I have a feeling this will turn into an explosion of neon colored pieces of paper soon. Color always happens.

You Didn’t Have to Be There…

As promised:

This is a link to a panel discussion on the relationship of photography and performance art, featuring RoseLee Goldberg, Babette Mangolte, Vanessa Beecroft, and of course, Marina Abramovic.  I think that this is a really great discussion of the topic, despite the fact that some of the the concerns don’t get fully addressed.  It focuses (photo pun!) mostly on the larger more central concerns of photography as documentation, such as the idea that photo compresses something that is time based and ephemeral into a single static moment, the fact that the photographer should at all times be a representative of the truth, and of course the question of when and how documentation becomes a work of art in it’s own right.  It’s difficult to clearly delineate these issues as they all become muddled together, one tying into the next, and feeding back out of another, however.


Personally, I think I struggle the most with the first concept, the fact that photography can never capture the entire scope of the performance.  The best that it can hope to do, is to give a good sense of how the performance looked, an impression of what happened where and in relation to whom.  It can never capture the “vibe” of the experience, or the dynamic between viewers/participants and the artist.  And yet, at the same time, the photographs exist as a type of proof that the event happened for galleries, press, or of course in our current situation, act as evidence for our next studio visit.  But, aside from proof, why must these images be created?  I go back and forth on this hourly…


Very early in the video, RoseLee Goldberg makes the point that often times people are told that “You have to be there (at the performance), to understand.”  Her response is that, well, she wasn’t at the Battle of Waterloo, or any other number of historical events, but she can still appreciate their significance.  In her view, experiencing performance via photography is legitimate.  I however, am not so convinced on this logic (Isn’t the saying that history is written by the victors?).  These “documentary” images of a performance are not the objective records we believe them to be.  Photographs can easily be misleading or even misused after the fact, leading to interpretation or opinions that may not be in line with what the artist intended.  In fact, you can have a terrible performance, or even one that never actually took place, evidenced beautifully in a still photograph.  Then, even if the images captured reflect, at least, the essence of what the artist was going through, they are very carefully edited and circulated by the artist themselves, there by controlling the interpretation of the work.  Chris Burden always had his performances documented, but culled the documentation down into one or two photographs that were then used to represent that piece of work for perpetuity.  Babette Mangolte also points out that art historians tend to follow a similar behavior pattern in their realm of research.  Instead of looking for many images from the same performance, the habit of art historians is to viewing only published documentation, thus narrowing the field through which the work is encountered.


All of this leads me to wonder exactly how right it is to “experience” a performance via photography.  Photography lies.  It always has, and will continue to, be it through the medium itself, or those who make use of/study it.  I think our society is more in love with the idea of a beautiful image than we are with the truth.  Marina Abramovic makes a wonderful point when she says that art historians typically only concern themselves with the still photo because it aestheticizes the performance in to  one single thing.  In essence, it that image becomes one single, easily digestible tidbit, which can easily come to stand in for the piece in it’s entirety.  Which is where we cross into the territory of the documentation become a work in it’s own right…


This is another aspect of this discussion for which I don’t have a really good answer.  While most of the art we look at is viewed through documentation, performance art is almost exclusively viewed this way.  Because of the fact works are often only performed once, or done for a specific place, or the artist has passed, the only way we can access those pieces is through their documentation.  So when galleries or museums wish to show a piece of work which no longer actually exists, what is there to do but use the documentation, making it an art work in it’s own right?   Finally, there is the need to take into consideration the idea of photography itself as a performance.  In this respect, Cindy Sherman could be creating a performance every single time she creates one of her images.  Think also of the Yves Kline image, Leap into the Void, a composited image of an event that never truly took place.


Some things I had never considered, that this panel brought up, was the concept of the importance of sound to a performance and it’s documentation, and the idea of “collaboration” with a photographer.  The idea of sound I think is a truly crucial one that photography has no hopes of addressing.  All performances have some type of sound associated with them, even if it is only the ambient sound of movement, or of the space itself.  That has an impact on the way a performance is perceived, and that is not captured in a photography.  When we look at photographic documentation of a performance, we cannot get even a sense of what the space sounded like, and so we lose that important information for our interpretation.  Lastly, in the panel, the question is raised as to how the artist relates to and works with the photographer.  Oddly enough, this thought had never crossed my mind.  But it makes sense, if you’re attempting to capture your performance, the relationship to the person documenting it becomes something of a collaboration.  You have to understand them, and they you…  There’s a necessity for being on the same page.  However, this then raises the question of creative rights.  Does the work belong to the photographer, do the images belong to the artist?

It’s murky water my friends.

A January/February Grab Bag of Rambling…

Words are failing me lately.  So I haven’t been posting.  I’ve slowly been working on this one for about a week.


I’m still struggling with exactly what I mean when I say I don’t want to make things.  And I’m still a little unclear on the specifics of some of the pieces I’m working on.  I know I should just sit down and write until my hand falls off just to get it out of my head and onto paper, but honestly I just haven’t had the time.  I rarely get more than an hour to work on any one thing at a time right now.  This semester is just hectic in the sense that I’m bouncing back and forth between VAST and campus a lot, I either teach or have class every day Monday through Friday, and I have a lot of home work and prep work to do in general.  The weekends are my only uninterrupted studio time, but those are also the only days I get to see the husband because we are running on completely opposite schedules this semester.  Yuck.  I’m hoping though now that the first set of reviews are nearly over, and I’ve settled into the rhythm of this semester things will calm down and I will find some uninterrupted time to sit down and write out the art thoughtz.  It’s about time for me to start the thesis anyway…


As always, I have several things in the works, and I’m considering adding a few more.  I had a studio visit for one of my classes last night and my professor suggested that I do some more quick, sketchbook type things using the video camera, just so that I don’t focus so much on some of the other things I’m working on, but frustrated with.  I think that’s probably a pretty good idea right now because I’m finding myself just repeating the same thing over and over like the outcome is going to drastically change…


So I have two video pieces I’m working on.  They might become one, who knows.  One is an extension of the Bleed videos I was working on in the fall.  For me its about destroying something and that destruction creating something beautiful.  I’ve had a pretty fitful start with this so far.  First I was shooting tests with my iPhone, then I had to build a table to shoot with, then once I started shooting again, I had to stop and troubleshoot the water that was leaking on my camera, I’m trying to master (or at the very least be adequate at) shooting video with a DSLR… It’s like this crazy new ball game to me… and so I’ve been having problems with focusing and depth of field, and then of course just to make it a little harder on myself, I’m learning a new video editing program, Adobe Premier (not that I really knew Final Cut that well…).  Oh and I’m shooting something that can’t be reshot.  Sometimes I can hear my mind laughing hysterically at me, saying:  “Figure your way out of this one!”  I’m thinking that once I do win this battle, the video will become one component of a large installation, but we’ll see.


The second video I’m working on revolves around the idea of communication and self-defeat.  I’m really not certain where it’s going or what form it will take in the end, but the idea popped into my head last week and I ran with it.  And that’s that…


I have a couple of performances planned revolving around the idea of saying no and setting oneself up for failure.  I’m kind of keeping the details of those under wraps until I actually do them because I don’t really want people to know I’m doing a performance until after the fact.  I’m concerned that if they do know, they are going to react or behave differently, and I want genuine participation, which means I may not be able to document them…  I also am still really unsure of how I’m going to actually do these performances.


Speaking of documenting performances, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on that subject since the fall.  I really go back and forth on it for various reason.  I have a blog post I wrote for one of my classes all about it… I’ll post it on here for your edification.  But basically I don’t know how I feel about documenting my performances anymore.  In fact I kind of don’t like the idea, because no documentation can ever fully express the experience of that performance/happening/action/installation/event…


I don’t know.  My brain is working overtime.  Both on ideas and school work.  Again it gets back to the idea that I need some uninterrupted time to sit down and write/think/enjoy silence.  But right now I need to go update my artist statement, and maybe eat something.  Why don’t you look at these pictures while I do that?




I some how magically made the spectrum unintentionally...
I some how magically made the spectrum unintentionally…

IMG_0121 IMG_0100 IMG_0099 IMG_0116

Messy, messy lady I am...
Messy, messy lady I am…
The studio, cluttered and busy because I've been working.
The studio, cluttered and busy because I’ve been working.


I'm sort of fixated on my iPhone's capability to take panoramas.  It's fun to mess with.
I’m sort of fixated on my iPhone’s capability to take panoramas. It’s fun to mess with.
Documentation from shooting some video... If you look carefully you can see my colored water leaking on to the camera.
Documentation from shooting some video… If you look carefully you can see my colored water leaking on to the camera.
Some documentation from an ongoing piece.  I've committed to wear these shoes until it's no longer safe to do so.  For me this piece is about unnecessary worry, and the idea that just because  something isn't perfect or precious, doesn't mean that you've failed.
Some documentation from an ongoing piece. I’ve committed to wear these shoes until it’s no longer safe to do so. For me this piece is about unnecessary worry, and the idea that just because something isn’t perfect or precious, doesn’t mean that you’ve failed.
One of the resultant graphs from my January FF performance.  There are a lot of them...
One of the resultant graphs from my January FF performance. There are a lot of them…
Sometimes reflections can be cool... but only sometimes.  And certainly not when you don't want them.
Sometimes reflections can be cool… but only sometimes. And certainly not when you don’t want them.


My most recent contraption for shooting video... I've solved the leaking problem.  Yay caulk!
My most recent contraption for shooting video… I’ve solved the leaking problem. Yay caulk!

IMG_0113 IMG_0105

A still from the video about communication and self defeat.
A still from the video about communication and self defeat.