Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Carl Sagan

When I was in high school we watched a video narrated by Carl Sagan. At one point he was talking about the make up of life and he said something that ended in the phrase "Billions and billions of atoms." If you know Carl Sagan, you know how distinctive his voice and delivery are, so you can understand that why, fifteen years later, I still remember it with proper inflection and aggressive Bs (said properly, there should be some spitting.)

This just came to me as I looked over the image of Rin in a previous post. She is starting to multiply and it doesn't seem long before there will be billions and billions of her.

Shiver.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Web of Mediocrity

There is an inherent hypocrisy in my work. Maybe the same is true for all art and artists, hence the perpetuation of despair. For, you see, I am not immune to the woes and vices that I see in America. I suffer from them as much as anyone. But I hope that the realization of these traits in myself is a sort of healing process, a way out of the muck and mire of transgressions against myself and others.

I am self-centered. I often think about myself first and others second, if at all. It isn't something that I am proud of. It is a sad truth, one that I feel is perhaps the greatest crime we suffer in a nation of me-firsters. Perhaps I feel that way because it is one of the things that I hate most about myself, that I fear most when considering being married, having kids. I don't feel as though I am good material to be a partner or a role model. One of my instructors at Brooks once suggested that I partner with a classmate of mine and make a business of our photography together. It was actually a wonderful idea. I have a keen sense for the business side of things and he is an amazing photographer, but I knew it wasn't something that I could ever do. Even when it was suggested, my hackles raised and I started to think about what would happen if I had to do all of the paperwork and administration while he was off doing what I wanted - while he was off being a photographer. As it turns out, he is a wonderful business man as well and is already quite successful without me while I am not even managing to get my work out there at all. If my hackles had stayed put, I might have been able to see the potential of the opportunity rather than how it could have done me harm.

A lot of this comes from a lifetime of working for something and being taken advantage of often and without remorse. My friend would never do that. He is a wonderful guy. But others have, and that has driven me to a place where it is difficult for me to trust people, difficult to take that leap of faith. And all of this has manifested in a self-protective shell that started out as caution and grew into a tangled bramble of narcissism. I am aware of it, but it is hard to break, hard to put someone else before myself, wholly and without a second thought.

Because of this trait I loathe Rin even more. Not just because she is a narcissist, that was by design, but because no matter how you slice it, the images are of me. A whole lot of images of me. Me, me, me. I hate the project for that reason. I don't mind so much the thought of the images on the wall, but very much mind that I don't mind. Does that even make sense? I want to shudder at the thought of having that much of my characature on the wall, but there is a tiny part of me that is gloating, a part that is excited to get to put its best foot forward - no matter how false that foot may be.

I am also lazy. I have told people this and they laugh outright. Go ahead, you would be in good company. But it is true, and no, my definition of lazy isn't different from yours. Let me give you some examples. Two jobs ago, back in the corporate sphere, I was rising to the top of my division because I was so effective. What no one seemed to realize is that I spent 90% of my time fooling around and only about 10% working. But when I would work, I was extremely, exceptionally, flawlessly effective. My mind works in a funny way that allows me to see the details and the big picture of a project all at one time. Because of that I can see the outline of a report (or essay, or letter, or article) in my head before I write a word. I understand where I am going and can craft an intelligent, coherent, and focused written piece that fits the needs of the moment in less than an hour. When I was working in that sphere (as a technical writer at times) I never wrote a second draft. Not once. The same is true for highschool and college papers.

My second example still makes me ashamed today, and I often use this particular story as a self-motivator to try and prevent making the same mistakes with what little time I have left. I never really applied myself in school. I was perfectly content to be average. When my parents figured that out, they enrolled me in a private school where the average bar was much higher, and I was perfectly content to be average on the higher scale. This phenomena shifted drastically my freshman year in college because I suddenly decided that I had to be the best. There was no other option. I wanted to be top of my class, top of every class. I needed straight A's, needed to get attention, and wanted to be recognized as magnificent. It was this need (and not the work ethic I preach about) that drove me. But then something happened that I did not expect. I wasn't the smartest person there. I wasn't capable of wrapping my mind around everything. I couldn't keep up with a few of my peers. That is when I gave up. If I couldn't have it all, what the hell did it matter? I dropped out of the Physics department (I was third in my class at the time) and shifted to a very poor film program in an underfunded liberal arts department at an engineering school. Even though it would have been very little effort on my part, I no longer got straight A's. I no longer yearned to be . . . well, anything at all. I did the least amount of effort possible and was still shocked when I didn't graduate with honors. (I had a 3.75, the cutoff for honors was 3.76.)

I promised myself that I would never let that happen again. I swore I would not squander another education, and I was true to myself at Brooks. I was true for the undergraduate program. I reshot every assignment that I didn't pass, even some that I felt I shouldn't have passed or that I didn't understand in the way I wanted to. I was the best student. I was not the best photographer. Again I ran into that fear of failure. A fear so pervasive in my life that I almost gave up completely. I switched into the MFA program because I felt that the stakes weren't as high. I could be a good student, which I was and am, without the commercial pressure. I could pursue my fine art degree without having to justify why I didn't have an advertising plan or hadn't sent out promos or why my work was subpar. The MFA was my way of not having to work at being a commercial photographer, which is what I really wanted but couldn't manage. Sometimes I still kick myself for it. The logic is that I will have a terminal degree - one of the many items on my "to do before I die" list - and that somehow that piece of paper will get me everything that I want with the least amount of effort.

Luckily for me, the MFA turned out to be something that I needed more than I realized and has been a growth process and a learning experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. But I will probably never be a commercial photographer. Some of those dreams are lost, just like graduating Magna Cum Laude or being an astronaught.

The trouble is that what I want more than anything in the world is to live up to my potential. If I would work at even 50% of my capability I would be so much more than what I am now, but instead I see myself falling into a life of mediocrity. It is my greatest fear, worse than failure or spiders or death, I fear being just like everybody else. Another cog in the machine. Another person who gave up on their dreams and accepted that no one ever gets what they want out of life.

I am not trying to be melodramatic here. These vices are the ones that I am specifically working against in myself as well as portraying in the work to try and snap other people out of their trapped existences. I want everyone to truly desire to do their best in life. I want everyone to want to do good, to think outside their own sphere and reach out to a world in desperate need of attention.

I am trying to act my way into thinking differently. I am trying to put others first, trying to celebrate others' successes earnestly, trying to be supportive to my friends, trying to lead by example and work as hard as I can no matter the outcome. Try and try again. Fail and learn, then try some more. I don't want to be Rin. I don't want to only be making a comment on my own failings. I want to work beyond them, beyond the web of mediocrity that I have created around myself and push back to dreaming - horrible, painful, scathing, wonderful dreaming. I think a great part of the problem, all these problems and vices, comes from a pervasive mentality that either dreams can't come true (so why bother?) or dreams should come true (so why try?)

I have no idea how any of these issues are going to work themselves out. I have no idea if the work is going to be successful. I just know that not dreaming, that losing hope, is the darkest, most desolate place someone can be. I want to be able to get those dreams back. I want to believe in something again. Rin is the darkest manifestation of me not believing, of my cynical (albeit playful) view on how we have ceased as a nation, as individuals. I want to be better than that. Bigger. Maybe Rin is really a reminder to me as well. A prod in the direction of remembering what innocent dreaming really felt like. And maybe, with her help, I can have faith in that again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Evolving the Unchanging

Rin is a tricky subject. Tricky because I am certain now of what I am saying with her but having much more difficulty actually convincing others of that message with the images alone. There are certain things that read - Stepford Wives, narcissism, plasticity - but the others don't - over consumption, entitlement, uselessness. It is the latter three that I am trying to push, that I want to demonstrate. As a culture I think we need to understand these vices and move away from them. We need to see what we have become, what we are turning our children into, and stop it, change it, fix it. And Rin is my way of holding up an ugly mirror to hopefully offend people just enough that they realize they hate the imagery because it reveals something nasty about themselves.

Of course then the question becomes how do you visualize entitlement? But not just the elite classes entitlement, but this pervasive entitlement that has overtaken the millenial generation? The belief that showing up to class alone means getting an A. The feeling of betrayal when something doesn't go their way, when they don't get the medal or the trophy.

And how do you demonstrate uselessness? Over consumption? I think I can manage the latter here, but how can I show everything in a limited amount of linear feet on a wall of a gallery? It's madness, I tell you. How can I evolve Rin when the greatest power that she has is that she never changes at all? Somehow the things around her must evolve and tell the story while she still remains vacant-eyed and clueless. At least the more I think about it the less I feel I am turning into her. She would never worry herself over...anything.

Here are the latest in the bunch. I am working with moving away from the "Stepford Wife" look, so some of these probably won't make the cut since they are more domestic types of tasks. The initial thought was to create images of things that she wouldn't be able to do while still looking perfect, like cleaning the house, but it seems to have read more as a gender issue. So I am moving away from that and introducing some new tactics.

Rin with cookies that she bought because she cannot cook.

This one I think is going to be a reshoot, even though it is one of my favorites in the whole series so far. I will post the new one if and when I reshoot.

Perfect cleaning supplies, unused, of course, perfect nails, perfect makeup, even perfect "working" hair. But, unfortuantely, she leans towards domestic. I see that and understand, but I also kind of like this one.

Perfect with the flu. This one is a favorite of some people. I think it reads plasticity. That is one of the topics, for certain, but I think it only reads plasticity. I am not sure if this is going to be in the show or not.

This was attempt #1 to move away from the thought of Rin as a housewife. Here, she is an executive, but hopefully in context it will start to seem like she is "mastering" way too many things. I am hoping with lots of these images side by side she will start to seem impossible, and then insulting. Because no one can be a CEO, an Olympian, a surgeon...etc. Lots of lifestyles and jobs that take a lifetime to master. That's the new direction.

I have also been sort of frustrated recently by certain activities that are in vogue but no one wants to really learn how to do them. There is a huge fad to be totally cute on the mountain without ever really understanding how to ski or snowboard. The last few times that we went out there were people who I swear stayed in the lodge the whole time just to look pretty. This goes for men and women, mind you. Having the latest outfit is more important that learning a new trick, or learning the sport at all. It seems that the inevitable Village at the base of every ski hill is more important to a lot of people than the hill itself. Even though the hill is the reason the Village exists. This is the sort of entitlement that drives me crazy. The thought that you are owed an ability, a degree, a reward, just because you go someplace. And the associated pouting that seems to accompany the people that don't ever get it.

This one is the first of the over consumptions. It is really pegged at the people who have four coffee breaks every day (notice the time) and always get the tripple grande carmel machiolatte extravaganza with extra whipped cream and cinnamon. I am alergic to coffee, so I have always found this phenomena absurd. Most other people in my class/life don't understand this to be over consumption at all. One even lovingly sheltered her coffee from me when I showed her the image. As a side note, whipped cream with cinnamon is tasty tasty! (Yes, I did consume this. Ironic, I know.)