I have managed to carve out about 2-3 hours each week for arting and art adjacent purposes. That’s an infinitesimal amount of time compared to previous epochs of my life. Almost non-existent to be truthful. But I’m still really proud of myself that I’ve found that time and that I’ve been able to maintain it most weeks. Because it’s fucking hard. I never know from day to day (some times even from hour to hour) how I’m going to feel, and I never know what else the day is going to throw at me. Train delay? Contrary toddler? Late leaving work because I had to put out a metaphorical fire? Have yet another doctors appointment (I have been to the doctor’s literally once a week every week for the last month, with at least another two weeks ahead of me 😤)? They all happen. All. The. Damn. Time.
When I initially started to play around with this set of images, I was concerned that I would lose my place. That, since there were such big gaps in time where I wasn’t working on them, wasn’t thinking about them, I would never “figure it out.” I was scared that I was never going to progress on them. And you know what? Yeah, I DO forget things. I sometimes repeat the same experiment on an image file or print, only to remember half way through that I’ve already done this. Or I find that I can’t always rely on my notes to myself to help keep my place. They’re unclear, contain too little information, or I just straight up can’t read my own damn handwriting. And yeah, it does take me forever to make even the most incremental progress, but it’s still more than I could have anticipated. I’m counting it as a win that I’m still working on them six months later.
Most importantly though, in the time I’ve been slowly crawling forward on this series, I’ve learned that I never know what is going to come out of the printer at the very end anyway. Regardless of how meticulously and specifically I have edited the digital files. Regardless of how methodically I approach the file in the hex editor. Regardless of what the final image looks like on screen when I send it to print (True story… Some of my images are so damaged by the time I get to the print phase that what the screen shows me isn’t actually the information the printer gets 😂). And of course, there’s always the variable of the printer itself. The trusty old 9880 and 9900 I’m printing on have some head issues that lend me even more unpredictability.
Somehow though, working this way hasn’t brought me the expected anxiety and insecurity I’ve come to expect from everything I do. Somehow it’s actually been relaxing and therapeutic to do it this way. It means that no matter how many notes I take and how methodically I approach the creation of each image, I ultimately don’t know what the fuck is going to happen. So then it doesn’t really matter so much if I’m having trouble thinking or focusing on a particular day, or if I’m not being as detailed as I should be in the process. It means that if I’m having an off day physically or cognitively, it’s not going to impact the work in a negative mannner. That’s so very encouraging to me. It gives me such freedom to work at my own pace, in my own way. It has also forced me to slow waaaaay down and focus on right now, as opposed to what might be next. Which, let’s be honest, has always been a downfall of mine. 🤫
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.
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.
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.
Hi. I know I’ve been gone an awfully long time. This time it’s not because I was being lazy, or avoiding things… It’s because life decided to really challenge me and my sanity. In the last two months I’ve had (in no particular order):
-a broken refrigerator
-a stolen scooter
-a broken stove
-a few teaching issues
-a flooded house
-extreme lack of communication leading to confusion and my community classes getting canceled
-an exhaustingly epic trip to New York City
-several crises in my private/personal life
Oh, and I’ve been working on job searching and applications and researching my written thesis.
Anyway, I promise I’m working on new posts for you all about the show and studio happenings, it’s just been slow goings. I’ll also share with you my trip to NY… Just please be patient. Please? I’ll bake you cookies… No, wait I take that back. Baking won’t help anything (except allowing me to eat my feelings) because then it will take me longer to get these posts out. THEY’RE COMING, I PROMISE! Until then, enjoy this picture. I even took it myself, with my DSLR!
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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’.
Wow. How the time flies when you are busy having insane hair days and watching Hennessy Youngman videos….
But on a serious note, I’ve been struggling through a great deal in the studio lately, and haven’t been able to achieve a whole lot, thus have avoided posting. My main battle currently, is that I’ve forgotten how to relax and play, both in the studio and in my life… This sounds absolutely ridiculous, but it’s completely true. I’ve been taking everything so painfully serious that I was essentially paralyzing myself and my work. I couldn’t even watch a movie or cook with out feeling guilty that I wasn’t making art. I feel kind of dumb that at nearly 30 years old, I have to reteach myself how to play, and that I have to learn how to have fun. What has happened to me!?! I sincerely hope that this is not a mid-life crisis because I am clearly not old enough for that…
In discussing this with faculty, the nearly unanimous advice was to attempt to work more intuitively, or at least a little less conceptually. This is a challenge I have embraced, but it’s freaking hard. Like really, super, PAINFULLY hard (at least for me). I’m sure if you’ve read this blog more than once, you’ll have picked up that I have some anxiety and control issues. My anxiety often comes out in situations where I feel out of control or sense that I am losing control, so to embark on any endeavor in which I do not have a plan mapped out is absolutely terrifying to me. My process, simply, is this: I have an idea, I plan it out to exactitudes in my mind, and I execute it. A to B to C to… You get the point. So I’ve been fighting that in the past few weeks, trying to accept that sometimes playing is OK, and that I don’t always need to have an explanation right away. Along with that, understanding that my practice cannot always be actively making things… That reading, watching movies, writing, and thinking are all part of the process, and I need to do those things just as much as I need to actively make things.
So, in answer to the call for action I’ve been given by faculty, I’ve started playing around with a bunch of stuff, and I have no idea where ANY of it is going… But here are some pictures!
This first bunch of images comes out of my trip north to Chicago for SPE. While the conference was OK, the best part for me was going to the museums and galleries to look. This series came out of a bunch of photos I took at the Art Institute, which I intended to act as visual notes for myself to share with my students and to possibly incorporate into future lectures. But… Once I uploaded them to my laptop, I was kind of frustrated by the fact that my reflection or shadow was in many of them. I was irritated because I wouldn’t be able to use them as slides in a lecture… But then, there was also something about them that, creatively, I was intrigued by. Many of these photographs or objects that I was documenting were part of my art historical and photographic education, and I was fascinated by the fact that, as they had become part of me, I had become part of them, but I had also, in a way appropriated them for my own use. It was also weirdly fitting that these “happened” while I was in Chicago, because I spent a good deal of time thinking about how I felt completely out of place at the SPE conference, and feeling a bit like a fraud. Anyway, I’m trying to continue playing with this idea, and have created the following images…
Again, playing with historical sources. I don’t know where these will go, but that’s OK. I just have to keep telling myself that. It’s OK if I don’t have the answer right away…
I’ve also delved into some material experiments…
I’m really quite skeptical about these in particular. As with most things, I find myself asking “why” I would or should do this… But people tell me that the reason will come and I should just see it through. So we’ll see if they go anywhere. I think the main thing for me is that I have these little things on the side to play with in the studio in between working on other projects. I figure that I can work on them until I start to over think them, or get frustrated, or start to ask “why”, and then put them away for a little while, until I forget that I was frustrated, and the work on them again. Slowly… Slowly I will make progress away from my obsessive compulsive control issues…
You’ll notice that all of this experimenting is centered around photography. For better or for worse I thought that if I was going to do something that I had no plan for, I might as well use things that I was familiar with on some level. The husband doesn’t necessarily agree with this logic. He sees it as me reverting to photography when I could be doing other things, but I think it’s good for me to have at least some variable to which I am accustomed. As for other people, well, the feed back is mixed. We’ll see how it plays out in my reviews two weeks from now.
So, what else is up at the old studio? Hmmm…
How could you? I mean, it’s the banner for this blog… In any event, it’s turned into this:
It’s become this insane visual representation of my thoughts and plans. I’m kind of considering making it a piece in and of itself… Mainly it’s been incredibly helpful as a way to remove myself from my thoughts, and see connections between the ways I’m thinking about the things I’m working on that I may not have put together otherwise. Its nice because as I’m working in the studio, regardless of what I’m focused on, if I have a thought, I can jot it down on a post-it and slap it up on the wall, then continue with what I was doing before. I can then go back later and consider these pieces at my leisure. I’m thinking that images may find their way in there soon. I love this because it’s so completely nerdy and me… Also I get a strange enjoyment out of using office supplies.
Finally, while it’s been awhile since I’ve done a performance, I’m planning on doing one next week at the 621 Gallery Art for Dinner benefit. I still have NO idea exactly what I’ll be doing, but I want to somehow play on the audiences expectations of what will happen, either by priming them with specific information (like a very leading title) or setting them up somehow to encourage very specific expectations of what my performance will be, and then having the performance somehow go against those expectations. My hope is that this will then put the audience in the awkward or uncomfortable position of having to confront disappointment or even anger that in a way they themselves created. I have no clue how to do this, but I know that it must be done. Suggestions? I could really do with some, because this is how I feel about it right now:
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!
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.
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:
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….
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