Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Powers That Be

There was something relatively monumental about our last session. I haven't yet decided if it is something of great defeat or one of the more challenging, but ultimately beneficial, obstacles that we have faced as graduate students.

It was an incredibly hard session for me. I watched as my project became stagnant and stopped getting the reactions that spurred me into creative flurry. I suffered as Rin became popular with my classmates where I felt as though she was the opposite of everything that I yearn to do. I struggled as I lulled along in a plateau of stagnation, fear, doubt, and pain. All of this while trying to indoctrinate six new minds into our way of working, exploring a new seminar class, and hearing the ticking of the clock run down on our final projects.

Since the end of the session I have been standing on a precipice. On one side, I fall back into a life of quality auditing. It is a fall, but it is measured. I know where the bottom of the hill lies. I know what the lifestyle entails. I wouldn't be entirely happy, but I know how content I would be, and I would be able to pay the bills.

On the other side is darkness. A blackness so deep I can't even fathom its reach. It is not illuminated because I have no reference frame there. I don't know what could happen. I don't know what the life would be like. The fall could be much, much greater than the other side. But only this side has the potential to climb. Only this side has the potential for true happiness, for that highly sought after place of creative sustenance, happiness, success, and satisfaction.

This is where heroes are made. This precipice is not mine alone. It has the footprints of many souls before me, those brave enough to spurn the status quo, to try to embrace their artistic potential despite the trials and tribulations. But from here I can see those that turned back more clearly, and though I know that many have gone forth into the darkness, I cannot see their path. It wouldn't matter anyway. Their path is not my path. In the darkness you have to feel your way around on your own. There is no tried and true climb with trail markers, lined with stones.

But there is something I can see in the darkness. There are hands extended, glimpses of faces nodding and smiling, the slightest of encouragement that sends a momentary glimmer of hope to illuminate the next step. For the last two and a half years I have continued to take those steps. Sometimes I have fallen. Sometimes I climbed up. Sometimes I stayed level. And sometimes I was carried.

The perseverance to continue is no small feat. It is not something that can be chided and diminished and demeaned. It is the courage to face that thing you are most afraid of head on, to take a step in the unnerving dark. Some of those hands and faces are the ones that utter words of comfort and strength, but there are others, too. Claws that grip and pull and shred what remains of your strength, of your confidence. The darkness has as much evil as good. Sometimes the little blades of discouraging words, arrogant exclamations, and even the shocking pain of silence from a necessary voice make you bleed and stumble.

It is times like these that it is hard to see the progress up the mountain, hard to see just how steep the incline, just how rocky the terrain, just how far you have come. The next step seems so painful and foreboding. The fall back into a life of mediocre contentment seems so comforting, despite the fall, which has been rationalized to be not so bad, not so far, not so painful.

But there are still those good faces, those outstretched hands. In so many ways, the only way to live is to take a deep breath and lean into the fall. If I embrace the dark I am at least trying. If I trust that there is something out there, I will find the next foothold, feel my way to the next ridge. Even the pain of the fall is at least a real pain, at least not the numbness of defeat. I want to live. And if I reach for the outstretched hands they may be friends and they may be foes, but if I am very, very lucky, they may have the wings I need to soar beyond the dark and into the light.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I have been neglecting blogging about Rin because she and I don't see eye to eye. But, after lots of consideration of the current stall on my original project and the reaction that Rin got from my classmates and instructor when she was introduced, I feel as though I owe it to her, possibly owe it to myself, to at least give her some credence in the blogosphere. One of my classmates declared, upon seeing Rin, "You're done. There's your show right there." And my instructor encouraged me to try and find a way to bring Rin into my current work. My reaction, three times in a row, was, "But they are polar opposites." His response was that they ultimately both came from me, so they have that in common.

Ah, Rin. I sort of hate her. That is why I created her. Because I was angry at my lack of progress, angry to not be working on my project, angry that everything seems to go right for everyone else but for some reason never for me. I felt cheated and badgered and hurt by the universe, and Rin was my "Fuck You!" in response. She was supposed to be a demonstration of everything that is wrong in my life, the culmination of everything that I hate in one awful, vacuous, despicable, narcissistic, adorable character.

The inherent problem with this is that she is also, undeniably, me. Quite literally in one sense, and certainly there are elements of myself, my inner demons if you will, that I pulled from to create her. The assignment was to create an "Alter Ego" and to shoot as that individual for two weeks. What I didn't realize until I went to class is that I seemed to be the only one who's alter ego was created to be their opposite. I shoot film, Rin is digital. I believe in organic, natural flaws and evolution, Rin is plastic perfection. I can't speak another language, Rin does so without effort. I struggle for every penny I earn, Rin has everything given to her. Those are the characteristics that I created. The ones where she is my opposite. What I did not intend are the elements where she is closer to me than I would really like. She is a perfectionist. She shoots self portraits ad nauseum. She commits to her vision completely. These are the undeniable truths that shock me when I think about them. She is too close to me. She is revealing too much about me, when she was just supposed to be a caricature.

And so I cannot deny that Rin has importance to me and my work, though I have yet to truly understand and be able to assimilate that information into a working version of the new direction of my project. None the less, however, I have no choice but to give you
R I N.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Rin Hachaturi was born Miranda Glazer. Her birth parents were poor and uninterested in her. When they died, Miranda was adopted by a phenomenally wealthy Japanese aristocrat because she had a charming smile and large, sparkling eyes. Miranda understood this to mean that she was destined for positive outcomes in life as, even at the tender age of six, she knew that her parents did not care for her and she did not particularly care for them. Under the care and tutelage of Hachaturisan, Miranda became Rin and soon forgot not only her American heritage, but her originally given name. She quickly became fluent in Japanese and English as her benefactor was highly concerned that she retain some of her roots while simultaneously conforming to his.

Rin was afforded the best education in Tokyo. She did not use it to its full advantage. While the uniforms were intended to homogenize the students into students with muted identity, for Rin they merely accentuated her differences. Her adorable, smile, bat your eyes, and get anything you want differences. She was a huge success with teachers and students alike. Again, Rin attributed this to her predetermined positive outcomes. Some believe that she is the ideal optimist. In reality, unfortunately, she has an as of yet undiagnosed personality disorder that makes her chronically perky.

Rin has been exposed to great literature, extensive travels, burgeoning beauty, and incisive wit. Her favorite band is "Pop," which, sadly, is not actually a band, but a genre. Rin does not understand this. When she is confused about something, she smiles and giggles not as a distractionary technique, but because she finds it legitimately amusing that anyone would care about something she did not care about. She does not know what the word legitimately means. Rin, believing, due to her unfortunate condition, that she is actually a gift to the world, has been modeling since her youth in uninspiring self portraits that vary only in the backdrops provided and the level of Rin's adorableness. When photographers stopped wanting to shoot the same images ad nauseum, Rin learned one lighting set up and determined to shoot herself instead of hiring someone to do it for her. She believes she is a great artist as a result.

Rin is relatively vacuous, but is treated with respect partially because of the inherent respect found in her benefactor's nation and partially because of the wealth found in her benefactor. She is not particularly charming, though very perky. She is not tremendously interesting, though full of self confidence. She is not often right, though very often convinced she is. Although fluent in Japanese and English, Rin wishes to know (mind you, not learn) Portuguese because she heard a tourist once mention that it was a romance language. Rin believes it would suit her more than Japanese or English, so des ne.

Rin believes she looks best in curls, though she will straighten her hair when she is "quite moody." She has only one mood, so in most images her hair is curly. She has no concerns in the world. She is content to exist by the means of others, though she is convinced that most others exist for the means of her. She believes that the world will be an honestly better, and perkier, place because she is providing a prodigious amount of self portraits to lighten the hearts of those that see them. She takes blank stares as compliments. She chooses not to hear discouraging things, like rain or buses, which has been nearly the death of her on several occasions.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Sands

There were several stages of this series of images. Stages in shooting, in printing, in critique, in reprinting. Even the actual creation of the original raven in the sand had to be redone because when the tide came in, it washed away immediately, without the slow, organic decay that I was originally looking for. I worked within the constraints of what I was able to do. When the first raven washed away, I decided to have my assistant (one of the only images that I actually had someone else present during shooting) bring me water and wash the raven away and more slowly, with cup fulls of water instead of the power of the ocean herself, and the resulting images were prolific and highly varied.

During the processing, I must have accidentally been a little over aggressive, as there is evidence of surge at the edges, where the negatives were somewhat more dense. In the first round, this didn't really work to my advantage, as you can see in the images below. In this first one, the raven was carved into the sand with my finger. This is before I added the craft sand that I brought, which is inherently much darker than the natural sand of the beaches of Santa Barbara.

During printing, I had so many images to work with that I thought it would be to my advantage to create a story image. I haven't successfully created a story since Self Portrait V and it is something that I wanted to maintain. So, I attempted to lay the negatives out on the paper and create a contact print of the images degrading on top of the image of the raven's more skeletal appearing form after it had just been carved. The first attempt was not successful, but I thought that it was very interesting and liked the look and the concept that perhaps there is more to the image that the viewer is not privy to.

But I also wanted to get the shot that I intended, which just called for a great deal more burning at the edges to get some information in the side panels.

But I was also still curious with the concept of creating a new landscape, a new form composed of smaller forms that make a new meaning and a new whole. I am not really that pleased with this image, as the ultimate representation becomes not only too literal, but also doesn't make a greater statement, which is becoming more important to me as I progress through the program and try to fine tune what it is that my project is ultimately going to be about.

After bringing the above images to class, it was suggested that I find some of the deteriorating images from the side panels and make full prints of them, as they are generally more intriguing than the carved image. The concept of the evolution of the raven into its different forms, rather than my intended form for it originally, became the more important value to be interpreting. I went back to the darkroom and printed anything that I thought had a greater meaning, or a specifically interesting visual statement. I liked the way that the wing of this one was somewhat separated from its body which still maintaining a kind of contiguity. Besides that, the wind had picked up and the thin, black sand that had been poured into the carved mold and turned it into a wispy trail indicative of movement or speed, as well as a reminder of the insubstantial and impermanent nature of all life.

I thought that this one had an interesting background, like the sort of swirling, mystical void that I always associate with the concept of walking towards the light. It seemed like a good place to start, to think about the afterlife, the movement and transition of the bird, of the spirit, of angels and demons. My classmates, upon looking at this image, found several other ravens in the murder of this one, something for him to follow wherever the vortex might lead.

I was encouraged after the second critique to try and print something lighter and with less substance, to really accentuate the black sand on the lighter, gray sand. To make a composition that was more thoroughly the clean expanse with the forms of the disintegrating ravens in place. With this one, I couldn't help but see the second raven, the one leading the way into the sky and out of the frame. I titled this, the final evolution of the series, I Will Follow.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Evolving Landscape

One of the things that was discovered in my progression as an artist through the benefit of my colleagues was the created landscape of "From Dust." The turbulent, rolling nature of the happenstance negatives, the diffusion of light from crisp edge to blurred fade, all lead to an ultimate understanding of the creation of a contextual landscape in which the raven flies to its ultimate disintegration. After "Crossing Over" I was again interested in shooting someone, but in the style of Edward Weston, Ruth Bernhard, or even the Brooks contributor Christopher Broughton, I wanted this time to create a landscape of the human body.

Again it seemed that accident played a roll as the camera that I used for the process, my grandfather's WWII field camera - a completely manual twin lens reflex, I accidentally double exposed one of the frames that should have been of my shoulder but instead became a superimposed image of my shoulder and my back, with the raven tattoo I have sported since 2000 evolved into a violent apparition reaching for the ethereal escape at the top of the frame. Even though I love that particular frame, the image itself didn't really come together. The twin lens reflex could not focus at the distance at which I was hand holding it and that ultimately led to a feeling of trying to be "artsy" and "out of focus" for effect rather than some accidental necessity. Although I still want to try and explore the curves and alterations of a constructed, abstracted human landscape, the intent with this one was not fully realized. I never even named it.

However, the result was something tremendously beneficial. The minds in my class, those previously lovingly labeled "The Six," along with the beneficent guidance of our instructor led me down the road of working more closely with the precision of the moment rather than the desperately wanted (and therefore forced) happy accident. Of course, when you don't want it, again it rears its head and serendipitously provides you with an answer of sorts.

In this case I wanted to explore the feeling of being trapped, of being "permanent" in the way that a tattoo (despite the marvels of modern technology) stays with you forever. In truth, my tattoo, one that was painstakingly designed with the aid of a brilliant artist, was a cover up of one that I received when I was an impressionable teenager trying to please someone other than myself. It was a stupid move and the thought of having that mark of weakness was very distressing to me. So I designed something that mattered to me. Something that led to where I am now. A stained glass raven the marries the discovered ideology of my raven mythology and the nurtured spirituality of my Christian roots. I am a highly spiritual person, so the marriage to me was the only clear way to regain myself, to take back the part of my body that had somehow been appropriated at the behest of someone who is now insignificant to me.

But I also realized that the tattoo, the feeling of being labeled and trapped, was one of perception. A created cage that I imposed around myself and used, for many years, to label myself as weak and impressionable. I am neither. I may have been naive back then, but even then I had a strength of character that prevented me from giving up my other, very closely held beliefs. Even though my father may disagree (the tattoo is not his favorite of my characteristics) there are many worse things that I have been pressured to do that I never did. Not once. It is a badge of honor that you cannot see, but that most people who know me understand completely. So I believe it is unfair to label myself, and ultimately treat myself with all the associated guilt, of someone who is weak minded and small.

The cage here is perceptual. The raven, though apparently caged is, in reality, free. She is free to move, free to fly, free to escape the constructed shadow of her cage. The happy accident in this one was with my lack of preparation. Due to my need for a homemade studio in my apartment, I waited until all signs of life had quieted for the night and the final lights had flickered into slumber. I set up the camera, the lights, the bird cage suspended from a c-stand with a boom. I tied my hair up and positioned myself for the test shots. After I found the right location, the right distance, the right swing of the focal plane for the desired effect with the rear standard of my Toyo GX 4x5 camera, I went to switch from Polaroid to film and found. . .no film. Crap. What I did have, though, was a stash of Type 55 Polaroid that comes with negatives included. What I like so much about this image aside from the plane of focus and the intended use of the perceptual bars is the remeniscent edge of Type 55 on each of the frames. I think it adds quite a lot to the overall story, to the continuing evolution of film to digital. It was several weeks after I took this shot that I learned that Type 55 was no longer going to be made. I have a few frames left, but I cannot reproduce an image like this ever again. In some ways, that makes it more pertinent, and more precious, in the process at hand. In my own personal corrosion and discovery.

Monday, October 6, 2008

In Defense

Last Thursday was the First Thursday show for the graduating MFA class. Seven bodies of work hung in the Cota Street Gallery that are as diverse in approach and subject matter as they are in execution and personal style. It is a show that seems to marry these eclectic images with grace, courage, and infinite beauty.

Today I was privileged to sit in on the project defense of one of these bodies of work. It was my goal to experience a defense, to learn more about this work, and to support my friend. I was not ready for the grace, poise, introspection, and courage of the presentation. It was stunning. In some ways I felt like I was out of place, though in truth the defense had been classified as "open." But I am so glad to have been there, to have seen that the defense is not something to be feared or anxious about, but rather to be embraced as another opportunity to reveal a layer about the work. Something precious and imperative.

The work has always been stunning to me, as Bradshaw himself has been something of an enigma in my time at Brooks. For me, he evolved from instructor to mentor to employer to classmate to colleague to friend. The personal nature of his work, married with the incredible technical skill employed in its creation, has been a great inspiration for my own work. There is a symbiotic relationship between the meticulous crafting of his tiny rooms in heaven and who he is as a photographer, an individual. In a similar way, I find myself craving the tactile manipulation of my work and am more fulfilled when I have interacted with the materials, created the mythology, and visually constructed my own temperamental ideology.

It was one of my greatest honors being in that room today. It remains a great honor to be counted amongst the friends of such an artist. And it was a journey of discovery and wonder watching the stoic instructor from my early career at Brooks peel off the layers of his persona to ultimately reveal something so elemental and raw. In some ways it is an evolution I cannot mimic, as I may as well have cut my veins and bled upon the page from the beginning. His reserved and perfect demeanor has been carefully cultivated to the point that this type of revelation, this emergence from the depths, is something of a miracle in and of itself. And it is one in which I can truthfully say the real and achingly beautiful Robert Sky Bradshaw has been honestly revealed.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Crossing Over

This image goes back to my roots of wanting to shoot people. Although I find it somewhat contrary to the work I am doing now, I love shooting people. I love the studio, love to create moods, sets, lighting, contrast. These are the things that make me tick, and as I progressed with this particular project, I began to find myself wanting to interact with the living again. Wanting, so desperately, to be part of a collaborative effort that went beyond myself, somehow reaching out.

I have several contacts in the hair and make-up as well as modeling arenas and I threw out a request for anyone willing to do something above and beyond for the sake of art. My favorite make-up artist responded that she was very excited about the concept, and I found a model that had been wanting to do some other work with me who was willing to do both the Hollywood Glamor shot that she wanted as well as the shot that I wanted.

The trouble is that I wanted to do several things. I wanted to show an escape, and evolution, the embodiment of what it is that I am trying to accomplish. I wanted to show that part of the process that is inherently human, that is natural and organic and materially relevant to life. I am not fascinated with decay because I am morose, but rather aware of transition as demonstrative of evolution. I embrace change. I yearn for it. I want to be better and brighter and more influential tomorrow than I was yesterday. I want to see the world from a different perspective, embrace my mistakes and my obstacles as part of my greater whole. I don't yearn for eternal youth, just the common sense to learn from my mistakes, to trust my instincts, and to continue to evolve.

This image is the visualization of that drive. This image works on two levels for me. First, she is in motion, alive, evolving before our eyes. Second, she is representative of the founding principle behind the work of the spiritual transition from this world to the next. This is why the title is Crossing Over. She is becoming something different. She embodies both the momentary and the ultimate transitory sentiments.

As a side note, I shot primarily digital with this model, but I also brought out the 4x5 and shot several different images and poses. In this pose, I shot only these two shots. Printed together on one 16x20 sheet of paper, these images become the statement that I was trying to make. Below are some of the digital images I also liked from the shoot, but the image for the project is the one from the darkroom.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

To Ashes

And so we return to the work. This piece was originally inspired by a question from one of my classmates in response to the work From Dust previously discussed on this blog. The question was "why don't you use ash?" I know it may seem like a simple question, but the concept of the blackened phoenix rising from flames became a burning image in my psyche (no pun intended.) I was consumed with it, because fire is perhaps one of the most immediate and irreversible forms of degradation and corrosion that exists.

I was immediately faced with two problems. The first was how to get something that was burning to resemble a raven, the second was, quite simply, the actual burning. I was not afraid of using the symbolism of the phoenix in place of the raven for this image, though I was a little sad to be straying from the original concept so early. But I knew that I wanted the imagery to separate from the background, and flame being a light source (emitting instead of reflecting) I knew that I wanted to shoot in a completely black environment. This made the actual shooting more feasible because it allowed me to go outdoors where I could clear away anything flammable and shoot at night.

To get the semblance of the bird (phoenix initially) I carved a piece of this wood into the shape of wings and a head, with wood curls making up the more intricate feather tips. I drove a four inch nail into the carving and attached that to a light stand that I knew would be out of the visible range of the film as it was going to be illuminated solely by flame. I then set up a flash to illuminate the front of the wood to allow me to see the elements that were burning, and a flash behind to illuminate the smoke. I took a couple of test Polaroids to see where I liked the positioning. I then shot the first few frames with just the flashes and wood and no flame. The pyromaniac in me came out to play and I tried to light it all on fire at once. That was a miserable failure, but once the flame on one side was going strong I shot the role until the flame had petered out on the other side, the remnants of the bird form now curled and blackened around the nail. When I went to retrieve the remains, they melted at my touch and vanished.

Because the flame had devoured the wood in a chaotic and not nearly consistent manner, I assumed that this would turn into a test roll and that I would have to reshoot. I developed it none-the-less, pulled it out of the tank, and decided to print a contact sheet just to see what I was dealing with. Providence, it seems, stepped in again. The Polaroids had been appropriately exposed, as the Tmax or Tri-X that I usually would have used would have been. For the first time in practice, however, I used Acros film, whose main obstacle is that the ISO rating of 100 usually falls in closer to 32. So, I had a bunch of underexposed pieces of thin film with various portions of the intended glorious phoenix captured.

Pieces. This would be when the wheels in my mind started to turn and my eyes brightened. It would also be when I frantically ran to James Dewhirst's desk to see if he had any tape. I created what I had wanted from the beginning, the glorious bird aflame in flight in the dead blackness of night, from the pieces that I had unwittingly produced. The first stage of the final image consisted of six negatives sandwiched together with the best portions of flame from each segment. I was also now able to use the test shots of just the wood, which was immediately blackened beyond usefulness when the flint struck fluid. All of them together created the white phoenix rising in a pool of black. It was the perfect negative for my raven To Ashes. And since I wanted that phoenix to be a raven so badly, I contact printed through the paper to create my third black bird in the series of Organic Murder.

This is the resulting image.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Perhaps it is About the Wait

There are so many times in life when everything seems to go straight to hell in one fell swoop. Times when the acts of walking through your day, of getting out of bed, of breathing seem overwhelming and impossible. I have had a lot of those days recently, for a multitude of reasons. But yesterday I received several things that I needed desperately.

The first was a call from a friend who is convinced that I can still positively affect the world. Not just my sphere, but the world. The second was the opportunity to chat with my father and get some of his thoroughly helpful advice. The third was acceptance of my submission to Alamy images. The last, but certainly not least, was the accidental email sent to a woman who inspires me.

The last being so important because had the accidental email not been sent, I wouldn't have felt the need to send a follow up email, and I wouldn't have gotten the response that I did this morning. A brief but lovely email from her actually thanking me for contacting her as she needed a boost while she prepares a new show and is exhausted and spent. Perhaps artistic karma does work after all. Though I wish the circumstances for it kicking in were not so dramatic. None the less, had I decided to quit, to leave, to vanish into the Costa Rican jungle (yes, it most certainly was on my mind) then I wouldn't have had that contact, wouldn't have been given the small ray of hope that maybe art really can bring the world together again.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Well, I Guess That's One Way

I used to fairly heavily believe in the concept that everything happens for a reason. Even to a highly superstitious level. (Though, clearly, you must all recognize my superstitious nature by now.) But recently I have been extremely skeptical about the intentions of God or the Universe or Fate or whatever you want to call it. I am, after all, not finding any success in some very elemental parts of my life.

Let us step back for a moment. In the book "The Artist's Way" the concept of the Universe supporting you once you begin to find your artistic/creative path is woven into the mentality that you should free yourself to be a creative individual. It is this mentality that lead me back to photography. This mentality that convinced me I could pursue a Master's degree. But the concept also contains a belief that doors will begin to open, you will meet the right person at the right time, be given a chance to take the next step, find the next project, and make a difference. I know it may seem like a philosophy of manna from heaven, but the book makes no excuses for you and requires hard work and dedication to follow suit with recovering your artistic self.

Hard work I am good at. Pursuing the next project, continuing to follow the signs, allowing myself to be open to the possibilities - those things I can do with ease, now. Finding the right people? Being presented with the right doors? Those would be the things I seem to be having trouble with. I applied for a job in an amazing school, had excellent communication, positive feedback, was scheduled for an interview, and then they hired someone else. Before I even had the chance to introduce myself. I have been rejected by several magazines for several articles now. I have yet to sell a fine art print. Hence the overarching question of whether or not this path is right, or if there is a higher power, or a driving force, or any sort of reward for those who are persistent, dedicated, authentic, and honest.

Today I was thinking about expanding my interaction with the artistic world at large. There is one woman in particular that I have been fascinated with since I was first introduced to her work a couple of sessions ago by Tim. Thinking about being the operative language. I wanted to start conceptualizing how to contact her. What I should do, what I should say, how I should go about communicating without gushing, how to introduce myself without sounding arrogant, etc., etc. Instead, however, I opened an email to begin a draft to her that I could puzzle over and peruse for the next several days and, out of nowhere, my computer, evil little devil that she is, decided to send the email with a subject line that had two words. Only. Nothing else.

Great. So, I decided that I would test this whole theory of "everything happens for a reason" and I decided to send her a real email. One that apologized for my lack of technical abilities (hence the first email being sent) and that also introduced myself, said hello, and explained that I find her to be inspiring. I feel like an idiot.

So, I guess we will see what the Universe has in store, if anything. Keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Revamped Website

I have reworked my website to better reflect the work I am actually doing now. Although I may be a capable glamor photographer, it is not what I wish to do. It is not what I hope to be recognized for. The black and white work that you have seen here, the work on my updated site, that is the work that you should associate with me. Now and forever. It is who I am.

Check it out here: Amanda Quintenz Photography.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

From Dust

It has been too long since my last installment. Much has actually transpired artistically, but for the sake of you, the audience, I must retrace my steps back to the next important step in my MFA project evolution.

At this point in the academic sphere we were being asked not for creation of specific assignments, but to bring to the class whatever we wanted. There was a certain amount of expected participation, I suppose, but to each his own. We were asked to bring whatever imagery spoke to us, whatever imagery we found to be on track, in line with the path we had each chosen, even if only for the moment.

This is the image that I produced to bring in. Even though I have no intention to be at all deceitful or selfish in the production of this blog, I am not going to specifically reveal the particulars of this shot because it is far more evocative if you let your mind create its own story. It was in the presentation of this image that I learned several things about myself, and several things about the way in which people view images.

One of the elements of this particular image that has become a hallmark of all my future work is the way in which it is produced. It is, not unlike Self Portrait V, a series of accidental intentions that have lead to the ultimate image. For one, it is also a sort of test. I was testing the lighting to see if I wanted a hard edge or a soft edge on the frame. I found that having both in succession creates a sort of landscape in which the raven has been given sky and context. I also wanted to fit all of the negatives under one piece of glass, but only had this small piece of glass, which creates the rectangular graphic element that has become a sort of internal frame and point of interest that, on the whole, people seem to respond to and like in this image.

One of the things that I learned about being around photographers is that they recognize part of the inherent nature of the image that can only be realized by someone who is familiar with how silver gelatin prints are made, and how an image composed in this way is unique. No two images that I make in this way in the darkroom can possibly be the same. The reason for this is that each time I create an image in this manner, the negatives have to be placed on the paper by hand, the glass laid on top of them, which in and of itself can cause tiny drafts of air that move the negatives at the last moment, and of course the individual burning and dodging, which has to be determined once the light is enlarger is on, since I cannot see the individual parts until light is moving through them. Each image is entirely unique, until such a time as it is scanned to be reproduced in a forum such as this. But my images, my intent, is to continue using the traditional medium, because it cannot be forgotten that the silver gelatin print and the digital print are two very different creatures with very different ancestral lines. Distant cousins, perhaps, but they have been given too much power over each other. They are both photographic in the sense that cameras are used, but silver gelatin prints are photographic also in their printing, in the paper that you use, the negatives that capture the light, and the darkroom in which you create the final product. It is a much greater sense of painting with light, in every stage of the process, and should not be so easily compared to digital.

Digital has many advantages over certain aspects of photographic needs in the commercial, and even consumer, world. My argument, however, my belief, is that you cannot forget the equally diverse advantages of the silver gelatin print. It depends partially on where you are coming from artistically, what your goal and purpose are, but also your intended outcome, and, most importantly to me, why you create the imagery. For me it is a process of creation, of organic communication and growth. For me, it is imperative that I maintain my alchemist's roots, because it is as direct a communication of light, vision, and concept onto paper as any other medium I have found. There is great beauty in that communication, and it was through discussion with my peers that I determined that.

I will also never forget this particular class because of the comment that Tasha Moore made after there had been some discussion of the image. She asked me if it was intentional that I had laid the negatives down in a way that was, in itself, reminiscent of the flapping of a bird's wings. I remarked that I had not noticed that before and had merely placed the negatives as they seemed fit to be placed. It was through her that I also realized that there were things in my images, things that make sense and speak a great deal about who I am, that I am not aware of. It was also the last class that Tasha attended. The loss of her voice in the program was felt reverberating through the halls for many months to come. She is an intellect and an artist that I hope to reconnect with someday. But it was the cumulative voice in the room that day that, in many ways, started the greater progress of my project. It was determined with almost certainty at that point that my final show would be printed by hand in the darkroom.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Momentary Pause

There is a lot of turmoil in the air, a lot of questions about the future, about the instruction, about everything that has lead us to where we are now. We are a group of 6 now, having lost some wonderful minds and beautiful talents for a variety of reasons. But those that remain, the 6, the first 6 to move through the Brooks MFA program from the start, we are a unit stronger for the challenges that we have faced. We are bonded and connected. We are each unique, but also each a part of something greater that we all understand, though it needs not be put into words. Whatever it is that we have become a part of, we are not scoffing, not disrespecting, but accepting as a movement of 6 souls through a powerful and essential process. We are each stronger for having been one of the 6, each benefiting equally from the other 5.

The reason I am given pause is that the first year is rounding out. The first three studio classes and seminar classes are over now. Those with Tim Bradley and Jody Eng. Under their careful tutelage we have each whittled away our ambiguous chunks of creative energy and found the more focused, more pertinent form within. We have become fledgling artists more than we have ever realized we could be. Not something haughty or arrogant, but something essential and sharp. At times agonizing, at times invigorating, but always a pursuit of our own, unique, personal truths.

I can't lament the loss because of the growth and resounding progress we have each made. I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world. For the first time in a very long time I feel as though I am on the way towards doing something truly great, something meaningful and powerful. And no matter what comes at us as we move into the second year of this remarkable program, we are still the 6. No matter if one has moved to Santa Cruz. No matter if some are nervous about the second year. No matter if all will eventually scatter in the winds. We are a unit stronger for having been together already, and nothing will ever change that.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Self Portrait V

Perhaps it is time I begin to introduce the imagery. The purpose of this blog, initially, was to document the process of discovery and evolution that I am experiencing in this MFA program. It is a record, I suppose, though those of you that know me will understand why I am reluctant to call anything that exists as purely digital to be a record of anything. So let us call this a supplemental record of my work, my education, my evolution, and my flight.

This is the image that started it all, though it took several months for me to realize that, and for Tim Bradley to say the remarkable phrase that would start me off on not only my project, but my purpose and my vision from this point forward. However, that story will come with that image.

This story is one of self discovery. The assignment was "Take an image that can only be seen through the lens of a camera." A fellow student at the time, David Torrey de Frescheville (I hope I spelled that correctly) had done an image for our assignment titled "Save the World with a Ball of String" that so inspired me I dusted off a toy camera I had received as a gift and never used. The camera was a Holga, and it is one of my most treasured instruments now. At the time, however, I had never used a Holga and was still very much in control of my every move. I would EI test every film with every camera setup, I would meticulously calibrate my meter, my shutter speeds, my ability to handhold at how slow of a shutter for what lens. And so was my daily routine. It was, as Tim once told me, a technique that "made the photographer visible." It was something that did not bespeak my artistic side, but my scientific. I had struggled, up until this point, with the concepts of how to merge the two, and though the imagery had a certain commercial shine to it, it seemed to lack something elemental, something vital. So, with great hesitation, I ventured out on a photo shoot with an untested piece of toy equipment that had very little chance of being successful.

I couldn't, however, give up every sense of control. I wanted to take a test roll, which I would develop first and see how the film responded to the Holga. Once I understood that, I felt that I would be able to manipulate the final roll of film to be what I needed it to be in processing, feeling certain that I wouldn't get it in camera. But I braved the new territory anyway. There was something about using film again, something about not knowing the outcome, that led me, without reluctance, back to something of my past that had, for some time, been defining me. I was aware of it. I knew that I had been swayed by the raven the moment I first encountered the raven of my grandfather, even got a tattoo of a raven on my back, but something occurred to me that I hadn't really thought of before. I have never taken a picture of a raven with intention. I have a shot of a raven; a massive, carnal looking creature; standing on the wall of the Tower of London. He was very close and looking right at me, so I took the shot. It is remarkable only in the size of the raven. That is the only shot I have ever taken of this obsession of mine, of this fetish of necessity. So, with my fresh roll of Tmax 100 loaded into my Holga, I set out to photograph a raven or two in preparation for my "real" shoot.

I remembered having seen several ravens at the rose garden beside the Santa Barbara Mission. I headed down, thinking more about what sorts of shots I would get for the assignment than about the birds. When I arrived, there were three or four circling and gliding around the area, occassionally landing to peck at the ground for bugs. I saw one in particular land nearby on the opposite side of the roses. I don't think he saw me. I crouched down, camera in hand, and silently crept towards him. We rounded the corner at the same time. He looked alarmed, but jumped back only slightly. He took a couple more hops away and I moved in, set the Holga to the picture of the group of people for focus (rather then just the head, as it had been positioned on) and took a shot. He watched me, hopped around for a second, and turned the other direction. I shot again. This time he took off and I snapped again, following him with the camera as he slowly circled me in the air, furiously winding the manual reel to the next exposure, madly snapping and winding until he had encircled me in one fluid motion and flapped away and out of sight.

When I developed the film I almost cried. Due to confusion about the settings of the Holga I had overlapped the images, creating a new landscape, and a story. The bird starts out, turns, flies away, and returns. That is what happened when I took the images. But the outcome was the bird starting, turning, flying, me flying, and then the bird and I sharing a moment, sharing shadow land, sharing flight. It became the landscape of my life story.

This is the most important image in my life. This sums it all up. It is following the passion that started me out, turned me around, gave me wings, let me see from another perspective, and allowed me to coexist with the mythology that has created me.

It is titled Self Portrait V because there are five ravens in it. The four that everyone can see, and the one that I can now see.

Here is the whole story.

It is also called Self Portrait V in relation to an old rhyme you may have heard before:
One for Sorrow
Two for Joy
Three for a Girl
Four for a Boy
Five for Silver
Six for Gold
Seven for a Secret, Never to be Told

The rhyme is in relation to an old superstition about being able to "count crows" to determine the future. Five for silver has particular importance to me because of the diminishing art of alchemic photography. The reason this starts it all is that it got me back into the darkroom, back into film, back into my own self discovery. If ever historians look back at me and don't recognize this as a turning point, then you, who are educated and wise, can laugh at their ignorance and knowingly recite the truth.

Friday, April 11, 2008


I have recently been questioning a lot of the founding principles of my MFA project. I have spent my life becoming who I am. I know that sounds like a bizarre and common sense statement, but I don't think it is. I think a lot of people don't work on who they are, but rather follow someone else's rules, someone else's ethical or moral plan, someone else's dream. I suppose I was one of those people from the time I began applying to colleges until I quit my job and came to Brooks.

I wasn't following a dream when I went to Purdue, I was following what I thought was expected of me. Honestly, I was also trying to prove someone wrong about me. I had a physics teacher in high school who didn't believe in my ability to become a physicist. I knew that I could, so I wanted to prove him wrong. I didn't really want to be a physicist, but I had an aptitude for it.

I remember the first picture that I ever took that made me want to be a photographer. I was probably 12. My father let me use his nice camera, his SLR. I took a picture of my sister on a wall on some vacation. It was sunset light, her hair was blowing across her face, and something in me clicked. Some karmic or psychic or elemental bolt of lightning coursed through me. Ever since then I have been fighting a battle between doing what I was meant to do and following the cultural guidelines of success.

After my grandfather died, strange things started to happen. When I let myself follow my heart ravens and crows would be around. When I was choosing a college, which led me to Steve, I let the crows make the decision. After we graduated college I turned away from Steve when a giant raven landed next to me and sat there, watching. When I turned back, he had my promise ring in hand. Our engagement was announced via a cacophony of ravens out at Embarcadero park. It could be coincidence, of course, but for me it isn't. I don't know if it matters to anyone else, but it matters to me.

This project isn't just a final foray into black and white printing, it is the culmination of my life's journey so far. It is my personal mythology, and I am starting to realize that this particular mythology has roots in Nordic folklore, Navajo tradition, Spanish mysticism, and cult fiction. There is something visceral about the raven for many cultures, and for me, there is something equally primal about the process of organic photography, the surprises you get from uncalibrated equipment, undetermined circumstances, happy accidents, and embraced mistakes. It's raw because it is not perfect. It is life.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Foot in Two Worlds

The more that I engage myself in this project the more I start to question how far I can step into the concept of the Raven imagery without either becoming dark and weary or, worse, my images becoming tiresome and redundant. There has to be something of a shift in consciousness, a shift in focus. I am not sure what that is at the moment and am having trouble identifying how to accomplish what I have set out to do while also bringing something of meaning to the greater world. I suppose at this point in time the project feels narcissistic. This project has meaning to me, but how many other people truly connect with the Raven, truly connect with the burden of being a conduit between to planes. If I am to give over to the images as I did with the first five, I start to question if there isn't maybe a more accessible body of work, something that will affect and influence a greater audience.

I am reminded, however, of the power and instant popularity of Tim Cantor's set of images "Stalking the Scarecrow," "The Instrumentalist," "The Gathering," and "Midnight's Children." There seems to be something elemental about the raven imagery. Something that draws together people who have somehow connected with the mythology, or maybe even just connected with the deep and solemn stare of a raven of their own.

The most important mitigating factor at the moment is my extreme desire and need to shoot more of this imagery. I am not ready to let it go. Not ready to accept that it might not be a final project. It still feels not only vital but valid and necessary. Until I have succumbed to the ultimate project I won't be able to move on, and I think it is in the succumbing that I will ultimately find success and resolution. I cannot explain why I have stopped shooting. I intend to shoot again tonight. Right now. I will set up my strobes and begin the process again. I have to. There is no other path to take.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Origins, Part 2

After the introduction from two days ago I wanted to give you a little more perspective. The previous blog entry was associated with why I write, but the purpose of this blog is to understand what my project is about and why I am doing it.

I will introduce the project concept as we go along, but for now all you need to know is why the Raven is important to me personally.

I wrote the following poem when I was 16. This was the beginning of it all and it is a true story.


A phone call at two in the morning
I didn’t even wake
only an hour earlier
I woke to no sound at all
and no trouble
Sleep came easily back
nothing else ever does

It was 6:45 before I knew
that he had died
The blinds swing
as they always do
when the heat comes on
in the early mornings of winter
the light on the wall
cast through the holes
blinking on and off
on and off
with the swaying

Walking through the day
Tightly bound to the Earth
Heavy steps carry me while my mind
stops caring and my heart
grows stiff
Blinking over red, dry eyes
I see the crow, hear it utter
a low lamenting cry

I look not for where
his shadow touches the ground
but where his wings
touch the air
I fly with him
over the red brick pavement
and for a moment I am free

The next day we drive to Arizona
to see the empty house with new carpet
new paint on the walls
with the ghosted scent of cigarettes
in everything you sit on
in every breath you take

Two sons, three daughters
a new wife and four grandchildren
make up the family of the man
made corpse
lying on a mortuary gurney
in a blue suit
under a white sheet
Some of us pop Vicks and Halls
to make the pain in our throats go away
It is still there

We hold ourselves back and pretend
to listen to the elevator music
piping into the dead room
not giving in to the tears in our eyes
or the cry of our hearts
trying to laugh, nod, be brave and stoic
instead of being real

They block out the real
cover windows with curtains
drape dusty fabric flowers
in recycled vases
lay a gold painted
plastic crucifix on his chest
This is not my grandfather

I try to picture something
other than years of cancerous decay
of fumes and surgeries
and tube fed silence
but I cannot see beyond the pale flesh
until my father walks
to his father’s side
and whispers God bless you Dad
and breaks into tears
I remember

The war hero who flew sixty three missions
Saved the life of a pilot
by pulling him out of a burning plane
consoled a friend
by giving him a poem he wrote
when his mother died
gave his granddaughter a tree to climb

I never said goodbye

So I light all the candles I can find
they burn a real flame
I promise to grow roses, marigolds, trees
never to place a curtain over a sunny window
and when winter comes
the dawn light shining through
the swaying blinds
blinking on and off
I will think of you

At night when the sun is gone
and the candles quenched
I will join you on the wings of a blackbird
whose shadow
never touches
the ground

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


For those of you who know my work, you don't necessarily know why the work is the way it is. Thanks to James D. I have decided to start up a blog about the body of work and its evolution. This is partially as a motivational element to keep producing, partially a desperate need to do something MFA related even in the paltry two week break that we have been given, and partially the other form of creative expression that I am comfortable with, which would be writing.

Most of you know that I am an English Teacher now, but I am not certain of how many of you know that writing is a passion as well. I actually had writing before I had photography. I wrote my first novel, titled "Cat's Eye", when I was 10 years old. Granted, it didn't make a lick of sense, but I did it none the less. 175 pages of fantastical fiction about a boy named Terry and his adventures. I was infatuated with an author named Alan Dean Foster and fashioned Terry after Foster's protagonist, Flinx. It may be a crazy little book, but I still think some of the writing in it is lovely, even almost twenty years later. (I said almost.)

I wrote my second book starting at 16, finished at 22, submitted for publication, was denied, and am thinking about a rewrite to submit it again. The third book I started when I was 25, haven't quite finished it yet.

So when I say I am a writer, I hope that you will take me seriously. Odd, really, I consider myself both a writer and a photographer though I haven't been published as either. Someday, I hope. For both.