Sunday, January 25, 2009

Then Again, Maybe Not

Okay, give me a second.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Clarity of Purpose

I have been talking with a lot of people recently about where my project should go, how to get back on track, and what I need to do to complete my MFA. I know, small stuff, right? The strange thing (or perhaps entirely appropriate) is that I have been getting a lot of the same advice.

Two very important people to me said different things that ultimately lead me to a joint conclusion.

The first told me to think smaller.
The second told me to be more clear.

What this ultimately leads to is a realization that what my work needs more than anything is a clear concept. A single-sentence, driven, tight, comprehensible concept. I am thinking smaller in the sense that I am not trying to tackle the world on statement and image making, and more clear in that the information I am trying to convey will be distilled into something sharp and poignant. I hope. That is the goal.

Of course, I am still working on what that concept is, but at least now I feel as though I have direction to lead me to a place where I can really start to make solid, definitive progress. Hey, don't mock. It is more than I have had for the past four months. Something, anything, is a step in the right direction at this point. I don't want the blank canvas anymore. I want to paint.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Does That Make Me NOT a Photographer?

I have been feeling a greater and greater need these days to make artifacts. Not just simple photographs, but things that are unique, individual, solitary items. A lot of what I want to make involves some sort of photography, but not all of it. There are a lot of things that I want to make that have nothing to do with photography. It is starting to concern me from a perspective of getting an MFA in photography. And there is something else that is bothering me, too. One of the elements of photography, one of its driving principles is the concept of reproducibility. One image printed thousands of times over again that makes a tangible, visual impact. That is what a photograph is. Digital media just make that a more pronounced and immediate phenomena, but it has been that way since the advent of collodian wet plate photography. A glass negative that you can make a positive image from, as many times as you like. My images, my artifacts, are not true to the medium in that regard. They are completely unique, more so even than a hand crafted print by Ansel Adams in that there are several stages of creation, several steps to ultimately craft something different, something new, something that can only be found in one time and place, in a tangible form.

It started a while ago, even at the beginning of this project, where six negatives would be sandwiched together, printed, and then a contact print made. That many steps make the likelihood of direct duplication more remote. Not impossible, but less likely. But what I am doing now, what I am making in my kitchen (quite literally) cannot even be called images. They contain images, but they make no statement about the medium, nothing in them screams "This woman is a photographer!" But I am not certain if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Yes it's true that there is a part of me that would rather not be labeled, a part that would exhibit sculpture next to drawing next to photograph, a part that I suppose would be labeled "artist" but I also admit a fierce loyalty to the medium, to that place where I first engaged my creativity.

In some senses I am worried about this new direction because it provides, yet again, more uncertainty than clarity. I need a little clarity right now. But the alternative seems loathsome as well. The alternative seems to be doing a project of Rin or tiny little shots of real ravens or even self portraits, but all of those seem like easy steps. They seem like giving up.

I have a successful photographer friend right now that I keep watching with some amount of jealousy. He is one of my dearest friends from back in the undergraduate program. He has come into his own as a commercial photographer with style and grace. His work is phenomenal, and it is 100% his. There is never any question of which image on the board was crafted from his quirky perspective. Getty now sells his images. The reason I look at him with some questioning is that he and I were always the top of the class. We were side by side in our advancement. Admittedly in two totally different veins, but we were growing together into commercial photographers. When I split from him and the others and shifted into the MFA two things started to happen: 1) he continued to grow and excel in a viable commercial sphere, 2) I started to get further and further from that categorization. Now he is going to run off to New York and take over the world, and it seems that I a doomed to live in a self-created obscurity. Sometimes I kick myself because I left the program, soul's ambition be damned. (Major problem here would be that the aforementioned soul's ambition has been so massively elusive as to cause general cardiac and pulmonary issues.) And now it seems that I am damning even photography in my work. There is hardly any of it left. And what is there are the last of my Polaroids, soon to be as dried up as my photographic ambition.

So what does all of this mean? Does this make me not a photographer?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Photo LA

Photo LA was awesome. Mostly because I was introduced to five photographer's work that I did not know that I really like and because I got to meet, talk to, and get my picture taken with Joel-Peter Witkin. I love him. I will blog more about this later because I think the experience was an important one, but I wanted to at least make a statement about it to some degree because I am still giddy about meeting Witkin. I love him.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Beginnings

I have been stunted in my artistic growth for several months now. It is actually difficult for me to admit this here, as putting those words in print forces me to admit it to myself as well. I have been blaming my artistic monsters, the program administrators, my greatest supporters, and even my highly admired instructors. Anyone and everyone but me. That is not to say that there haven't been issues in some of the other areas of my life, there certainly have, but a lot of the anger and frustration (with one notable exception) has been in regards to my lack of progress. Hence the previous post. I have been terrified of not being able to finish to the detriment of not even being able to take any steps forward.

I met with my friend Kara the other day when she stopped by on her fantastic journey for lunch, conversation, and a moment of rest and she and I discussed the concept of the black hole that I am so terrified of stepping into. I remarked that it is an emptiness that I do not understand or know how to approach, and she replied "Hmm, isn't it more of a blank canvas?" Alas, that would be where her optimism meets my pessimism, but she is absolutely right. The difference between viewing the future as a crushing darkness is wholly different, and much more stifling, that viewing it as a canvas of opportunity for the artist who seeks to express their ideas.

So, this year I am trying to instead focus on the blank canvas and begin to find ways of filling it up. It doesn't matter if the first few blotches are messy, inaccurate, or off course so long as they are on the canvas. The black hole had a way of sucking out the good in everything. New ideas were thrashed, the cruel words of some were given more weight that the supportive words of others, and the very act of taking a photograph was labeled useless, stupid, and wasteful. Without a specific goal in mind, without a task that I am trying to accomplish, I have found it difficult to take pictures. The glory of playing around was lost to me.

When I went home for Christmas I played around quite a bit because I was given a Canon G10. It has the air of playfulness compared to my more bulky and professional equipment. It allowed me to explore, to create, to play without retribution or condemnation (usually from myself) and it allowed me to at least start shooting again. Snapshots, true, but shots none-the-less. It was perhaps not the greatest break through, but coming out of the dark, any spark of light is welcome.

The artistic vein recently came back due to two other gifts. The first was a copy of Damien Jurado's album Caught in the Trees on vinyl. I have been listening to it incessantly. It is full of pain and hope and recognition. It is a particularly fitting album for me right now, on both literal and metaphoric levels, title included, and I am thankful for it. (Both to my husband for purchasing the vinyl and allowing me to use his record player and to the friend who introduced me to Damien in the first place on the last day of class.) The second was a first edition printing of The Boyhood Photos of J.-H. Lartigue. The images are stunning artifacts of frivolity and a carefree attitude in a time long since past. They are also some of the most artistic and beautiful images I have ever been exposed to. But part of the beauty of them is that Jacques was merely having fun with his camera. His eye for composition and penchant for exploration make the images timeless and unique, but the act of taking images for him was not a chore. I needed to be reminded of that in a delicate and visual manner. Lartigue was the perfect conduit.

What resulted of the combination of a change in perspective, a moving and lyrical album, and a reminder of joy was apparently the opening of a chasm of creativity and inspiration. I have had my hands thick in different media for the past week. I am seeking out the best combination of materials and methods to create something new. New for me certainly, but possibly new for the world. A different way to look at photographs, a different way to look at my subjects, a different way to look at myself. I have no idea where this is going, if anywhere, but it has been so long since I have even started that I am holding onto the present moment and continuing to put one foot in front of the next despite the obstacles and drawbacks that I encounter because I am regaining my faith in the process. I am not certain if this is a good or bad time to regain the faith, as I am heading back into structured coursework in two days, but I can't really worry about that now. All I can do is focus on what is in front of me, which, at the moment, is something new and exciting. If it works, fantastic. If it doesn't, then something else will. The only thing to do now is continue to create, continue to push, continue, continue, continue. This year is going to be vastly different than any other year before. This is where the New Beginning really starts.