95…94…93…92…

I am at the 92 Day, 23 hour, 58 minute and some odd second mark until my thesis show opens.

 

And I am struggling.  But what’s surprising about that?

 

You see, I have once again gotten myself into the difficult situation of having come up with this insane idea, but of having no clue as to how to pull it off.  Aren’t I nice to myself?

 

My initial proposal went something like this:

 

For my thesis show, I would like to create an archive of a performance through documents and artifacts.  The performance which is evidenced through this archive may or may not have taken place.  There is potential for the archive could be created out of found objects, repurposed materials, etc.  These materials would then be presented to the audience in such a way that they are then required to piece together the “narrative” of the event.  Conceptually, I see the performance revolving around the themes of failure and success.  Preferably, I would like this to take the form of some type of universal failure or experience with failure, something which would compel the audience to invest time and energy into discovering the story.  The main idea behind the archive and its manner of presentation to the audience is that, while it documents and shares an experience for which the audience was absent, it also mediates and distances them from that same event.  This inherently creates misunderstanding, miscommunication, and potential meandering in meaning.  In this way the archive in the traditional sense, fails performance art, in that it cannot provide a clear or concise replication of the principal happening for posterity to experience.  Nor can it hope to truly preserve artist intent or meaning through time.  As our cultural references and understandings evolve, the documents  themselves remain stagnant.

The contents of this repository will be as wide ranging as possible, but operating within the traditional confines of an archive.  I intend to include photographs, video, sound recordings, writing, any props or objects used for the performance, as well as any artifacts created through the performance itself.  These documents will be incomplete in someways, forcing the viewer to use all parts in conjunction with one another in order to obtain the “full picture.”  These various parts will be displayed throughout the gallery, almost in “stations,” to both explain and mediate the performance for the audience.  I also anticipate providing the audience with some sort of takeaway which could function as a map, a treasure hunt, or something which would help them to tie together the various pieces of the performance.  This takeaway could then become an additional piece of documentation.  Photographically speaking, I am considering two options.  The first is having images which change periodically, and the second is presenting images that were supposedly printed with disappearing ink.  In the first option, images could be rotated on a time table, or a small group of images could be displayed on a screen or projected for a finite period of time before changing, never to be seen again.  In the second option, the images could be printed in disappearing ink, or just be stated to have been printed as such.  The audience would then be forced to rely on written captions or titles, or another individual to describe to them what was in each frame.  Similarly, the video component would be designed so that it could not be relied upon to share the narrative in its entirety.  I see it as either taking the form of a soundless video, projected or played on a screen.  Or it could also simply be a glitchy video which periodically drops out, or becomes pixillated so visual information is lost as well, similar to the way that Digital TV received via antenna is unreliable. When it comes to any objects included in the archive, I’m anticipating these being presented much as traditional art objects or historical artifacts in a museum.  Moreover, I plan on incorporating some type of sound or written element to supplement the object.  This could take the form of an audio track variously describing the original object, the history of the object, discussing the use of the object within the performance, or maybe just the sound of the object being used.  Alternatively, this could also be accomplished through a written placard accompanying the object. As a final piece of the archive, I intend to have an audio feed that provides audience members with a general interpretation of what the performance and show were about.  To accomplish this, at some point during each viewer’s experience at the gallery, they will have the opportunity to enter a sort of “confessional,” in which they can share their interpretations, impressions, or experience of the performance.  This will then simultaneously be recorded and broadcast into a “listening station,” where others may go to hear this second hand audio archive of the performance.  As with the presentation of the objects, this could also take the form of a written archive if the audience were uncomfortable with speaking or being recorded.  Additionally, I would somehow like to incorporate other audience generated archive materials, such as pictures they took, or social media posts they made relating to the show.  This could then be incorporated into the presentation of the performance in the museum after the opening….

 

And then it goes into discussing research routes and technical challenges.  Sorry if you read all of that.

There are several problems with this idea, despite the fact that I am so excited about it and have the support of my committee to take this risk.  The first of which being, I HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT THE PERFORMANCE IS GOING TO BE.  And I can’t piece together anything else until I nail that down.  Frustrating!  Like I mention in the proposal, I want it to related to failure, but how do you make failure completely universal?  It’s pretty crucial in this situation I think, to make the performance something that is relatable and understandable in terms of theme and content.  Otherwise I feel like there would be NOTHING for the audience to grasp since there are several layers happening here, and I’m not 100% certain that everyone in attendance is going to understand that as I look at it, archives are failure…  Something, something, something, something?

I submitted that proposal in December, and have approval to attempt this madness, and ever since then I’ve been thinking about what my performance might be, if it were going to be live, or take place before hand, how I might engage the audience in piecing together the archive…On and on.

For quite sometime, the only conclusion I had come to was that there had to be a live performance (the night of my opening at least), so that the distinction between experiencing the archive and having a first hand, potentially participatory experience could be made for my audience.  But then, how do I make sure that ALL visitors to the show can experience that contradiction?  I can’t perform in the museum the entire time the show is up.  I can’t afford to pay performers to perform in the museum the entire time the show is up.  Do I make my audience become the performers?  And how do I keep the performance hidden, secondary in some ways, so that the audience could experience everything else first and THEN discover the live performance?  Should I make some sort of scavenger hunt, where the performance becomes the pay off in the end?  And how do I ensure that my audience complies?

Then over the last few days, I’ve started to think that I’m attempting to combine too much into this show.  Trying to use too many ideas simultaneously, and that I should try to simplify where possible.  This also made me think that maybe I should try to really simplify my intents for the performance itself, and maybe attempt something on a smaller scale…  But I still didn’t know what it would be.

But I think I had a small break through today.  In one of my posts from November, I talked about how I was thinking about playing telephone (almost literally) for a performance, and shared my discovery of  an essay titled The Viral Ontology of Performance Art.  Something else I read today (also out of Perform, Repeat, Record) started to make me think about performance telephone and Viral Ontology again.

  “Documentations magic lies in its explosive power, it shatters the reclusive planet inhabited by the once-lived into a radiating galaxy of astroids.  Each astroid carries some memories of the once-lived, each in turn extends, renews, or replaces the vitality of the once-lived; each has the potential to grow into a different planet.  Thus, the once-lived lives again and lives on not as itself per se, but as itself altered: dismembered, redone, augmented, partially replicated, diminished, burned into ashes, or consumed as legends.”

Suddenly I remembered a game a member of my cohort taught me and that I would frequently play with the kids at Lafayette Art Camp.  It’s called Telephone Pictionary.  To play this game, you sit in a circle with the other participants (as with traditional Telephone, the more people, the better), and each player has a stack of paper or note cards.  On the top card, each participant writes a word or phrase.  They flip it over and hand it to the person sitting next to them.  That person looks at the word or phrase and attempts to draw it on the back of the same piece of paper.  The drawing is then passed to the next individual who looks only at the drawing, and writes out a short phrase or word that describes what they think the drawing is of. And so on and so forth.  The pay off obviously comes once the cards have made the full round of the circle and come back to the original owner, where the evolution of their original word or phrase is seen.

And I thought… Why can’t that be the performance?!  It’s so perfectly simple.  It doesn’t require anyone to constantly be performing.  It’s wholly participatory, but un-agressively so.  It creates it’s own archive by default.  It’s subtle enough that it doesn’t make a spectacle of itself and could be taking place in a self contained room…  It’s so flipping simple and perfect, it’s brilliant.  It embodies the very idea of viral ontology and audience centered experiences I’m so keep to explore.  It is also sort of the very definition of failure, and I don’t even have to manipulate the situation  to create the failure!  Why am I so obtuse sometimes!?!

I’m not entirely sure how this all fits together into my crazy scheme yet, but I think I’m going to test run this idea at the 621 Cabaret in a few weeks.  Every year 621 Gallery does a fundraiser in which local artists and performers create an act and then put on a cabaret style show, and since I’m sitting on the board this year, I got suckered into performing…  But I think it might be a good venue to explore this idea, if I can make it happen with in a 10 minute time frame…  Always gotta make it hard on myself.

 

More soon.

A Press Release…

It’s been a lazy, kind of busy holiday… But I’m back and better than ever.  Fired up to finally pop out this thesis and the accompanying arts.  An update on that another time.  Today I just quickly want to share with you all the press release for the Live Amateurs exhibition I’m participating in, which opens this Saturday!  Feel free to share it around.  🙂  See ya kids soon.

 

LIVE AMATEURS at MINT Gallery-Press Release

 

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Positive Experience/Negative Reinforcement

It’s obviously been quite some time since I’ve been around here.  I can’t even say that it’s been time well spent doing things to post on here.  So instead, I’m going to pretend like I was never even gone…  Yeah.

Anyway.  I (finally) did a performance last weekend at SMALLS here in town.  The idea for the performance sort of came to me randomly, and as a bit of a joke.  Recently I’ve been contemplating the reasons why I love photography (the process, but not the product) as well as the way our culture depends upon photography to record our memories.  The thing however, is that most of us, with our super smart phones and the dozens of photos it takes every day, NEVER LOOK AT THOSE PICTURES AGAIN.  We literally mediate our experiences in order to create these photos, and then forget them.  Oh, sure, maybe we might see them when we flip through quickly to find pictures to delete to make room for more pictures, or we might see them briefly when we look at their comments on Facebook, but we certainly never print them, or cherish them in a photo album.  So then, to me, the question is, do we even need the photograph to remember that moment?  No, I don’t think so…

So I set up a mini photography studio at this local alternative space, and invited people in to have their photograph done.  Using a 4×5 camera, I created portraits by working with each individual, asking them how they wished to be photographed.  I then issued them a number and told them I would get them their image before they left.  Additionally I took copious notes on a post-it with their number on it, about what they were wearing and what happened during our abbreviated session.  What my subjects didn’t know, was that my film holders were empty, and that when I went in to the “darkroom” to process their images, I was simply pulling out a sheet of undeveloped film from a box and placing it in an envelope along with a hand written note from me.  The note was a summation of our experience together, culminating in the phrase, “You do not need a photograph to remember this experience.”  I then signed and dated it.  Each participant was given a sealed envelope with “their picture” in it to open at their leisure.  At first people were confused, but in the end, I think a lot of people really enjoyed it, even got a kick out of it.

I chose a large format camera for a couple of reasons.  First of all, this allowed me an individual negative for each person I photographed.  Secondly, it never fails to impress visually, and people automatically take it seriously.  Along with this, using a view camera is somewhat more time intensive.  You can’t simply point and shoot.  Finally, and this is a piece that really only I knew about, but am amused by nonetheless… I used Kodak Ektachrome slide film.  A totally obsolete technology.  I only happened to have some (which was outdated), because a professor of mine donated a couple of boxes to me in undergrad.  I’ve been hanging on to it for years, thinking I would find some really good reason to use it… But never have.  I think this was a perfect use.  🙂  This amuses me because people were so excited when they found out they would be getting a picture very quickly.  We most certainly live in a culture of instant gratification… and I gave them not that.

A lot of this plays on the importance of the experience I try to emphasize with in my work.  I think that as a whole, people have forgotten to live in the present.  We live in the future, we live in the past, and we live our lives digitally mediated through various devices.  We put those devices between ourselves and the experiences around us.  For me, this performance was just a way of reminding those present that they don’t really need a photograph, or to make a photograph, to experience or remember a given moment in time.  All they have to do is live it.

Show Time!

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Yes… That’s a safety harness. It’s all part of the performance.

While I may or may not have been avoiding blogging here recently, I have been up to many other things, including (what I hope to be) a really rocking collaboration with my friend Craig (you can find him over at Craig Ryan Studio). I’ve been sworn to secrecy on exactly what we’re doing because he’s terrified it will turn out terribly (maybe that anxiety is why we get along so well? lol) so I can’t go into specifics, but I’m going to share some generalities and pictures with you.

It’s really been a trip to work on this installation/performance with Craig because in a lot of ways we are total opposites. He’s a bit of a sociopath (I mean that in the nicest way possible), and likes to pretend he’s mean and too good for everyone, but really, if you take the time to get to know him, he’s an amazing person. I, on the other hand, and too damn nice for my own good and secretly hate most people. When it comes to our practices and the work we make, we are like day and night though. Craig is completely materials focused and has astounding technical fabrication skills. He wants to make beautiful things that people want to touch. Clearly worlds away from my own conceptual, relational approach, but in reality these two approaches met and made beautiful art babies. His technical/materials focus has augmented and supported my conceptual intents, and my insistence on having a theme have focused his sometimes erratic material investigations. It worked somehow. I’ve learned a lot about the way that I think and the ways that I share my ideas, simply through the contrast between our approaches and communication styles. It’s been fun and exciting and I think we managed to transcend our differing approaches to find a wonderful balance in what we hope to present on Friday. We’re both excited about what we’ve got planned. And that never happens.

 

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A piece of the installation. There will be about 8 of these in the end.
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A general schematic of the performance. Make sense of it if you can!

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While Craig and I each have drastically differing takes on what this piece will be or mean in the end, for me, this collaboration grew out of some things I had been contemplating a researching this summer, including ideas about the relationship between performance art and it’s photographic documentation, and the trustworthiness of photography in general. It was also driven in part by my desire to move into more relational works. I think that I’ve hit that intent on the head with what we have planned. But I also think that it’s starting to address some other really interesting issues, like mediation of experience, trust, balance, self-preservation, control and a certain amount of playfulness. I’d really like to look back at this and be able to say “Yep. That’s where my thesis work really started.” It’s going to be epic.

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Have you seen my shoedas ?

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WMD_NEW_0100 as Smart Object-1 WMD_NEW_0054 as Smart Object-1 WMD_NEW_0025 as Smart Object-1 WMD_NEW_0105 as Smart Object-1

 

 

Alright. In several places on this blog, I’ve mentioned in passing about my shoes. My stupid shoes. The flipping Converse that I’ve been wearing incessantly since mid-January. I hate them.

Basically these Converse are a durational (Thesis vocab, what?!) piece I started back in January. When I began the project, I had this idea that it was going to be something about being worn down by anxieties and the fear of failure, but the fact that the shoes would be damaged by my wearing of them was not a failure, but rather a success on the part of the shoes in protecting my feet and doing their job. A work about letting oneself get caught up in small trivialities that eventually exhaust you. My intent was to wear them all day, every day (no smart asses, not to bed, and not in the shower… And yes I really did have cohorts ask me that), any time any one might normally wear shoes. I planned to wear them until it was unsafe for me to do so any longer (ie the bottoms completely wore through and I couldn’t wear them while riding my scooter without shredding off the soles of my feet). I planned to photograph them every week, once a week, more as documentation than anything else, and that was as far as my planning ever got. I figured that I would decide on display and what not later on down the line.

So I started the project. Mind you this is out of the ordinary for me to start something without having everything planned out or answered (at least for the time being) a head of time. But I was trying to just “go with it” as they say. Well, whew, what a hot mess that was. I got distracted by the photography aspect, starting thinking that it was a photography project, got a lot of silence and strange looks when I talked about the project in studio visits and reviews. I got very lost along the way.

In any event I’ve been photographing them every week since I first put them on in January. I only missed one week, when I was out of town in Chicago. I’ve watched them deteriorate. I’ve noticed small changes from week to week that one would not normally see in their shoes. I saw the first bit of rubber fall off the heel of my shoe, watched the backs break and the supporting plastic erode away. I’ve been watching the laces slowly unravel and stain, the tread wear away… I’ve been hiking in them, wore them to the beach, went camping in them. I wear them on my scooter, doing yard work, going dancing with my friends. I wear them with completely unlikely outfit combinations (like my black lace cocktail dress)… I’ve witnessed drastic alterations that happened quite literally overnight, like the pink spray paint incident. I have 60 gigabytes of images. SIXTY GIGABYTES. I am hyper-aware of my shoes. And maybe it’s because of this hyper awareness I think about the aims and intents of this project daily, and I’m coming to realize that it’s something other.

 

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I will spare you the majority of the drama that ensued around me trying to figure out that my visuals (the photo documentation) didn’t really do much for me, that my initial concept didn’t really make sense, and that I never really did resolve how to display this project in it’s original conception, and my general confusion about art and instead give you my resolution:

In a very loose, round about way, this project is still related to ideas about failure and anxiety. I see it much more as a meditation on the constancy of change and the idea that maintaining the status quo, or rather the inability to do so, is not failure, so much as the way of life. Evidence that one should not fight the inevitability of change, but accept it rather than wearing oneself ragged. Also, if I should ever exhibit this anywhere, it will be just the shoes and a brief statement about the piece. Forget the photos (blasphemy!). Forget making an installation. Forget anything but the point, which is the shoes.

The only problem is that now I’ve figured that out, I’m sort of over the whole thing. I pretty much just want to chuck the project and get on with life (and start wearing other shoes again), but this point in the project, I’m too stubborn to give it up, even though it’s driving me nuts. All this actually having to go to the studio and to photograph something. It’s like I actually make art or something. I think I need to keep going though, until my original stop point of un-safe-ness. And yes, continue photographing them. Gah. I never want to edit all of those RAW files… SIXTY GIGABYTES PEOPLE! And I’ve got more on the way. Sometimes I’m not as smart as I’d like to think…

While I’m pretty certain that this project will never be exhibited, it has been incredibly useful in allowing me to accept my conceptual-ness, and in helping me to see the connections between failure, anxiety, change, and life.

Anyway, I’ve also reflected on several other things in relation to this project. Most boringly of all, consumerism. I’ve worn the same pair of shoes for six months people, with only the notable exceptions of the gym (because my body cannot withstand exercising in support-less Converse), two days when I was in Chicago (due to snow and my extreme dislike of wet/cold feet), and a handful of days where my shoes were just too wet to wear (again, my total hatred of wet/cold feet). And for the most part, NO ONE HAS NOTICED. I’m not joking. I was expecting funny looks and comments when I started rolling up wearing my Converse EVERYWHERE with EVERYTHING, including to the beach with my swimsuit. But no one has said a thing up to this point. Interesting, in light of our consumer driven, external appearance focused culture.

 

And sorry for the ridiculous What’s Eating Gilbert Grape allusion, but I kind of love that movie (Johnny Depp before he got weird and Leonardo DiCaprio before he got hot!) and I do frequently refer to my shoes (any of them) as “shoedas”.

SO MANY THINGS!!!!

I have studiously been working on a post about my on going shoe piece, applying to shows, reading/researching, teaching kids about art, and cooking, but while doing all of that, SO MANY THINGS HAVE HAPPENED THAT I JUST FREAKING CAN’T KEEP UP!

ALL THE THINGS

The next blog post I was going to write (once I finally posted the one about the shoes) was going to be about performance art and popular culture smashing into one another and making weird offspring. I was thinking about this specific topic because, A) I make performance art, B) I’m not entirely sure people understand what performance art is, and C) my Sister the Psychologist posted this about Amanda Bynes potentially being the greatest performance artist ever. That all got me thinking about Lady Gaga (never thought I’d be talking about her on my blog…), and the interpretations of her as a performance artist that were rife about 2 years ago, and then about the more recent Tilda Swinton and James Franco performance art… But before I had even had a chance to sit down and sift through my thoughts on this matter, much less properly research it (ie not just Google “Lady Gaga Performance Art” or “Tilda Swinton Sleeping” or “James Franco Performance Artist”, and copy and past the most recent link I could find… Like I might have just done….), I get an email from Hyperallergic telling me THIS HAPPENED.

If you’re like me, and didn’t have the damn Vine app (but unlike me refuse to download it, even for this epic something) here are some images of JAY-Z RAPPING AT MARINA ABRAMOVIC AT PACE GALLERY IN NYC. (I whole heartedly admit that these are not mine, I found them doing a Google image search. The first is from blouinartinfo.com, and the second from vogue.com):

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Yeah, in case you missed that:

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That one’s from hipinion.com…

I haven’t even had time to process this. I feel like I need an adult or something. I’m not even sure what to say… I can’t keep up with all this arting! Hennessy Youngman help me out here! Give me sometime to think about this and do some reading and I will totally get back to you on this topic. Until then just… Um, I guess make some performance art?!

Oh! And this happened too:

Dry spell officially watered!
Dry spell officially watered!

More soon!

To Be or Not To Be (Conceptual)

Not wholly applicable...but still funny.
Not wholly applicable…but still funny.

More years ago than I really care to admit (or at least it seems that way), a professor asked the students of a photography course in which I was enrolled, whether we defined ourselves as photographers or as artists.  I have no recollection of what context this discussion was happening in, nor what anyone else around me said about the matter, but I do remember shooting my hand up in the air instantly, declaring that I was a photographer.  Of course.  Duh.  When my prof asked me why that was I also recall being a little confused and somewhat defensive as to why I was being questioned on this point.  I said something along the lines of:  Well, I am a photographer because I take pictures, and use a camera, and it is easier to explain myself as such to other people because they always assume I mean painter or sculptor when I say artist, and I take pictures damn it.  Such a rock star answer from my brilliant 20 year-old self.  For whatever reason this moment has stuck with me for a long time, and I’ve thought about it frequently in recent years.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that at least one draft of my letter of intent for grad school applications involved this story.

For all intents and purposes, I am still defined as a photographer by some people… Like my family.  Try all I want, I cannot seem to make them understand what I do.  And since I frequently teach photography, my students assume I am a photographer.  But thats sort of par for the course I think…  I also just sort of love photography in a totally nerdy way, and so people just sort of assume…  My point here, if I really have one, is that I think I’ve fallen on the other side of my own argument, despite what others think, and despite my love of photo.  I am not a photographer, and in fact, despite my ridiculous, undying love of the photographic process, I’m beginning to believe I never was, at least not in any traditional sense of the word/occupation.  Which sounds super weird coming out of my mouth, but if you think about it in the context of the photographer versus artist question, and a few other things, it makes absolute sense.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned on this blog a time or two about how much I. F*#$*@%. LOVE. PHOTOGRAPHY.  And that I have a deep, nonsensical adoration for being in the darkroom.  This is all completely, 100% true.  But that love has also, in some ways, been my undoing since I graduated with my BFA.  While all of my work has been conceptual in some sense, my training has always been to turn my concepts into a tangible object.  It has also instilled the rather rigid view in my mind that in order for one to be productive, one needs to be constantly, physically making things.  Obviously my realization a few months back that I just didn’t want to make objects any more completely contradicted everything a good deal of my notions on art making.  Talk about  cognitive dissonance.

The really funny thing here though, is that looking back, I never really cared all that much about the physical photographs themselves.  I rarely printed more than 1 copy of any image, and frequently found ways to get around matting or mounting them (because to quote a professor, my mats were always “caddywhompus”).  I will take my cameras just about anywhere and do just about anything with it, meaning they get the crap beat out of them.  My negatives… well let’s just say they’re not really kept in archival or secure conditions.  But I persevered in my quest to be a photographer-artist person.  My work became photographically based installations and objects.  I tortured myself finding ways to turn experiences and ideas into a traditional art object.  I struggled in stupid ways because I refused to step away from photography.  I had allowed it to define my practice and myself.

It wasn’t until I got to grad school that it even occurred to me that my practice could be entirely conceptual, and that I needn’t rely on photography.  But I kept fighting that, trying to turn ideas in to something tangible, trying to make emotions and experiences concrete.  Attempting to find excuses to make photographs.  I’ve also felt a great deal of pressure (whether real or imagined) from various sides to be less conceptual and perhaps more intuitive.  Most of my peers here are very materials based and object focused,  offering critiques and ideas which lean in that direction, because that is how they think and what they relate to.  Even faculty has been trying to prod me into making things.  That’s what all of those material experiments and photographs were all about.  But I feel more and more disinterested in all of that…   Because even if I’m taking my old negatives and damaging/altering/manipulating them, they are ultimately still a thing and will be displayed as such.  Yuck I say.  Yuck.

There’s also this entire guilt aspect to wanting to make objects… I mean, as I said before, that’s the way I was trained (for lack of a better word).  So not only do I feel badly for ignoring what I was taught by some amazing people, I feel super criminal about not using my studio, if that makes sense.  I mean, I’m not building things, or painting something, or what not…  I spend more time thinking, reading, and experiencing things than I do actually making.  Its probably like an 80/20 split.  Thinking versus making.  I keep thinking to myself:  Shouldn’t I be making better use of the facilities?  I don’t know about any other programs, but its kind of like a mini contest among grad students around here as to who spent how much time in the studio doing what.  It’s like this silly reverse peer pressure thing where I feel like since other people are spending hours upon hours locked into their studios, I should too.  Even if there is no reason for me to be in there.  And on top of that, there is some serious guilt tripping thing that goes on when the faculty talk about how amazing our new studio facilities are and how we should be making better use of the space….  Ah.  It’s like a really great recipe for an anxiety attack.  And we all know how good I am at doing that.

In any event, I think a huge part of my graduate school journey thus far, has been coming to terms with the fact that I am, in actuality, a conceptual artist.  Not a photographer.  Not a photo-based artist, but a flipping conceptual artist.  Acknowledging that the object holds little importance to me other than as a record of the experience…  And it has been an insane struggle.  Especially in this last semester.  I don’t know why I keep fighting myself on this.  I don’t know why I can’t just ignore faculty and cohorts who try to aid and abet me in my self defeat.  But in the last few weeks I’ve become much more comfortable with this idea… Ideas.  I want ideas and experiences to be my art work.  I don’t want to make things anymore.  And if I do make things, they will be in support of a performance, or an installation, most likely completely ephemeral and not meant to be turned into an “art object.”

So while I will most likely always love photography like the big nerd I am, even though I will probably never again be a “photographer”:

I AM A CONCEPTUAL ARTIST, AND IT’S TOTALLY OK TO NOT “MAKE” THINGS.

As my friend Sunny would say:  D. U. H. Courtney.

D. U. H. Indeed.

Whoops.

Hi.  I’m going to tell you a secret… I’ve totally been putting off (AKA avoiding) writing a post.  Which is why it’s been two months.  TWO MONTHS!  Whoops.

Whoops
Whoops.

By the time the semester was over (two weeks after my last post), I was completely brain dead, between thesis writing, grading my student’s work, final projects, etc.  As such I never got a chance to write a post before my final reviews (which went pretty well, just in case you were curious), and then the joyous month of May came.  This is actually probably a pretty good thing, because knowing me, I would have posted excerpts from my ridiculous thesis draft… *Shudder*   Anyway, May is my favorite because there is literally NOTHING that I HAVE to do.  There are always things I want to do, and probably should do, but no pressing deadlines, no anxiety inducing readings to complete, no meetings… So I kinda took a vacation… for the whole month of May.  Whoops.   I went camping with friends, spent entire days on the beach drinking, went hiking, cooked and baked up a storm, sat in my backyard reading…  It was pretty swell.

 

Sunset on St. Joesph's Peninsula. I saw dolphins here for Pete's sake!
Sunset on St. Joesph’s Peninsula. I saw dolphins here for Pete’s sake!
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I mean seriously… Who’s going to do important, grown-up things while there is this?!

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And who wants to be in the studio when they can be exploring this!?
And who wants to be in the studio when they can be exploring this!?
Different day, different beach... This is why I <3 Florida.
Different day, different beach… This is why I ❤ Florida.

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Some how this is the only cooking I photographed...
Some how this is the only cooking I photographed…

 

But here’s the thing… I was in the studio a few hours (like max 4… Shhhh, don’t tell my faculty!)  for most days, putzing around, but not actually doing much.  I was also doing some seriously voracious reading.  In fact in the month of May I read more books than I have in a long time, and they weren’t all for fun.  Bet you can’t guess which ones were for fun and which were for research!

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/The Chamber of Secrets 

Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography 

Photography Changes Everything

The Antidote:  Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

After Photography

Photography: History and Theory

The Unphotographable

The Great Gatsby

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Photograph 

 

 

Aaaaand, on those camping trips, hiking expeditions, and beach days… I spent a lot of time filming somethings which one day I will post up here, as well as talking and thinking about my work/practice.  But I kept avoiding writing a new post, because a) it had already been a long time, and b) that meant it was time to put my thoughts into words and to admit somethings.  Also I’ve been having serious guilt/anxiety attacks about NOT being in the studio.  And if I’m not in the studio, how could I justify spending time writing a blog post?  But you know what?  Not being in the studio has been the best thing ever for me lately.  My month long vacation has allowed my brain to reset and I feel like I’m in a really good place.  I’ve got tons of stuff I want to research, and a few ideas for work that I’m pretty excited about.  

In any event, I’ve got somethings on tap for the rest of the summer, even though I haven’t started most of the things on my to do list, like start the job application/hunt process.  *sigh*  I should probably talk to one of my committee members about that soon.  New posts soon with actual thoughts and art in them.  Even though I’m back working at Lafayette full time this summer (which is awesome but exhausting), the next six weeks should be pretty productive.  The husband got a residency for six weeks at the Contemporary Artists Center at Woodside in upstate New York, and he’s leaving Wednesday.  And everyone else that I hang out with is either going on vacation or moving away :(…. Sooooo, I’m on my own, which is a great excuse to lock myself into work mode and ignore the wider world.  Love it!

Now, I need to go photograph those shoes of mine… Yes that’s still a thing.  We’re on week 19.  And I hate it.

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Photographs Not Taken

The cover of the book... Obviously not an image of my own...
The cover of the book… Obviously not an image of my own…

 

 

I just recently finished reading a short book of essays on photography called Photographs Not Taken, edited by Will Steacy.  The essays in this book are written by numerous photographers, including Mary Ellen Mark, Zweelethu Mththwa, Todd Hido, Alec Soth, Elinor Carucci, Laurel Nakadate, and many, many more (there are 60 some essays). In each essay, a photographer addresses the idea of a photograph, that somewhere in their past they didn’t take for some reason, or they wish they would have been able to make, and their feelings about what Lyle Rexer refers to in the introduction as “pictures without photographs”.  This is a book that’s been on my reading list for awhile, but I finally broke down and downloaded it to my Kindle last week because I started thinking about how photography, and more specifically film, is a failure, and what implications my avoidance of it has had on my work.

 

As a teenager, I always carried a camera with me, and photographed everything (and I do mean everything) around me.  However, at some unknown point, this started tapering off, until it completely stopped.  And then I stopped taking photographs all together.  Photography, for me, became frustrating and disappointing, because what I caught on film never seemed to reflect the essence of what I saw through my lens, so I simply stopped trying.  I never really considered the idea that I was missing photographs, that these unmade images might haunt me, or even that photographs could be disappointments (as opposed to me just failing), but this book has made me reconsider my abandonment of image making.  Additionally, many things that the photographers write about in their essays also echo some of the things I’d been thinking about after reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others.  This collection covers a number of themes, too many to discuss in great depth here, but below I’ve shared a few that stuck with me.

 

The introductory essay, The Art of Missing Information, tries to locate this idea of the untaken image in the realm of contemporary art, placing it among a “history of voids, negations, refusals, anti-art strategies, and marketing sleights of hand”.  I am not certain that this is where these essays belong.  After reading the entire book, it seems to me that these essays are more about a moment of privacy, a moral choice, a decision to remain in the moment and not exclude yourself, or simply an emotional moment which cannot be captured by the lens, nor contained by a photograph.  Instead, I might place these “pictures without photographs” in the realm of story telling.  The images written about cannot be seen or visually experienced, unless you are the one to experience them.  Instead they act as short stories, allowing the listener or reader to compose the scene in their own mind, but without have had the immediate experience, resulting in a purely aesthetic recreation.  Later in the introduction however, Rexer goes on to state that the experience of having missed a photograph, for whatever reason provides an impetus for the image maker to continue in their work:  “That gnawing lack is precisely what drives photographers to seek more pictures and regret lost opportunities– and poets to write more poems.”  I think that this is true.  To capture what you see, what you feel, or what you are experiencing, and to find yourself with an image that truly reflects that is powerful, and ultimately the goal for photographers.  If you disappoint yourself at that goal, then you must continue to attempt to prove yourself in the future.  So this collection of essays could also be viewed as a meditation on what it means to be a photographer and the implications of creating images; the choices, the sacrifices, and the experiences that create, or prevent images.

 

I think that photographers exist in a difficult place sometimes.  On the one hand, they love to make images and do so for a career, but on the other, they are often expected to become image makers and record keepers for life in general.  Sometimes this is accepted, but sometimes this becomes a problem for the photographer.  Do you choose to experience things through your camera, or do you desire to remain fully present and active in the moment?  Many photographers who have written essays for this book talk about this choice, to photograph, or not to photograph, in the context of their personal life.  In Elinor Carruci’s essay, she sums the feeling up, saying: “Every moment I had to choose between photographing and mothering, and when I did choose photography, every photograph became a second of guilt, a second I neglected them [her twins Eden and Emmanuelle], a second I thought about light, composition, exposure and not about them.”  She beautifully describes the lost images as being “stored in my eyes” but as making her the photographer she is, which is ‘torn’.”  Other photographers, like Jim Goldberg, admit to using their cameras to mediate a overwhelming moment:  “Immediately when that long-ass needle went into her spine is when I reached for a camera to shield myself from fear”, realizing only after the fact that their choice to not photograph at that moment could keep them from missing something incredible. The decision to photograph or not is also present in less private situations.  In his essay, Joshua Lutz discusses his inability to create images on the morning of 9/11, finally concluding: “It’s not that I don’t want to have a photograph of the moment; its more that I would rather be living in the moment than worrying about capturing it.”  Photographer Simon Roberts struggled not so much with wanting to be present, but the idea that a moment should not be dissected through the lens, rather lived, concluding his essay about his missed photograph (One of an AIDS victim, a young girl raped by her uncle, at a clinic in Zimbabwe)by writing:  “No image, however accomplished, could have captured the agonizing poignancy of that moment.  It was a moment to be lived, not framed, analyzed, or reduced in anyway.”  Each in its own way, these essays get to the heart of the fact, once you raise the camera to your eye, you cease to be a part of the moment, you are experiencing it through the lens.  You make yourself an outsider of sorts and cease to live in the moment.  In a way, this is relatable to the current debate over Instagram, where it becomes a question of experiencing and being fully present, versus photographing.  As Nadav Kander states in his essay “…sometimes you just get an instinct when to put the camera down and be fully present.”  Personally speaking, I think this is what I find most difficult about photography, you can never fully experience the moment you so intensely want to capture and share. For me, there is so much to be had in the experience surrounding the image, and that is lost to the photographer because they are much more focused on the composition, exposure, lighting, etc…  This is where I get frustrated.  I want to share the experience and allow my viewer to feel something, but I don’t believe that an image does this.

 

The other theme prevalent throughout Photographs Not Taken, which ties so well into much of what Susan Sontag gets at in Regarding the Pain of Others, is the moral choice photographers often have to make regarding image capture.  Particularly when it comes to the genre of documentary photography, photographers are faced with witnessing many things that they may or may not feel they have the right or even stomach to capture.  In her essay, Misty Keasler tells the story of her experience living in Transylvania and visiting a ghetto of gypsy families.  In general, she says that conditions were bad, dark, crammed, no running water… But then one of the men came out of a room:  “He started yelling at me to take pictures, that he would show me how terrible life was for the people living in the building, how sad and tough things were for them…He proceeded to lift both girls [his daughters] by their shirts and slam them into the concrete wall in front of us.”  Despite the man’s behavior, her horror and anger at the situation, and the potential good she could have done, Keasler chooses not to make the images, saying that she would never be able to reconcile the fact that she had documented violence, and that it was violence which had been created specifically for her.  How can one justify the creation of such an image, much less sharing that image with others, which in some ways makes the behavior therein acceptable, no matter how much we denounce it.  Another example of this awareness of responsibility is present in Peter Van Agtmael’s essay about his first trip to Iraq in 2006.  He tells the story of being on patrol and witnessing an army chaplain peeing on the grave of an Iraqi child, and only being able to gawk in that moment.  He is unsure of why he couldn’t photograph the scene, only later recognizing that his failure to make the image lay in his feelings about the American presence in Iraq:  “..a stark realization of the odious nature of the American enterprise…and the insight that even its spiritual leadership was not immune to its dehumanizing effects.”  As we talked about with Sontag’s book, sometimes certain things should not be shared, nor do we have the right to unload them onto others.  We should always be aware of the power of the images we capture (or choose not to capture), and understand how they could affect others.

 

As photographers, one of the most fundamental decisions we make–perhaps the most fundamental decisions we make– is when to actually ‘take’ what is before us and transform in into a photograph.  By engaging in this calculated act of apprehension, we bestow certain moments, whether they are decisive or not, with value, importance, permanence, relevance, meaning, and a rather cryptic sense of significance.  Ostensibly, one could conclude that this implies that all of the other moments, which are allowed to pas by untouched, have ben judged as not particularly important or sigificant, or at least not important or significant enought.  Yet, as in the case of the instances listed above (and many more), sometimes we find ourseives faced with the opposite:  a moment that is ‘too’ something– too dangerous, too intimate, too immediate, too complex, too intense, too terrifying, too fleeting, too painful, too private, too invasive, too emarrassing, too exciting, too schmaltzy, too cliched, too ecstatic, too imagined, or simply too impossible– to ‘take’.

—Aaron Schuman