Overcoming Inertia

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It’s starting to feel as though Winter is finally receeding in my neck of the woods.  I still have snow in the garden but it’s less and less every day.   How about you?

I feel as though I ought to have been out to photograph while we had all the snow and certainly now that the weather is getting better I should be getting out but I’m not.  It’s all too easy to stay in bed for an extra hour or to have dinner with the family rather than making the extra effort to get out with the camera.  Getting back into the routine of taking time one morning a week to get out with the camera when I’m at home is taking some doing.  I’m trying though.

I’ve had my eye on this little stream for a while now with the idea that I would photograph it when there was more water in it.  With the recent snow melt the water flow has gone from a trickle to a torrent in a very short space of time.  Increasingly I felt that if I didn’t photograph it now I would have a long wait and so I got out with the camera at the end of last week and had a fun hour or two poking around.  

Originally I had thought that I would like the reds in the weeds at the top of the image but when I got the image into lightroom didn’t really love it (the color version is below) and so made the switch to black and white.  This is still a work in progress, the first stopping point before I reevaluate and decide where to take it next.  

As always, thoughts and comments more than welcome.

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Friday Inspiration: Richard Misrach

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I am continuing to enjoy hopscotching through ‘contemporary’ photographers, spending some time in the last week looking at the work of Richard Misrach. Until recently my exposure to Misrach’s work had been the image above and few others in this series. This series of images are striking but I didn’t dig deeper into the origins of this work something which Misrach gets into in the video below.

I have yet to deeply explore the work that Misrach is perhaps most well know for – his on-going project called ‘Desert Cantos’, photographs of the deserts of the american west – spending more time looking at his work associated with hurricane Katrina and of what he calls ‘cancer alley’. These two projects resulted in the books ‘Destroy this memory‘ and ‘Petrochemical America‘.

While it could be argued that all of his work deals with man’s rather complex relationship with the environment the Petrochemical America project really struck home for me. Will we ever put long term sustainability before short term gains? I’m going to continue digging into Misrach’s work. For now watch Richard Misrach talk about his work in the videos below.

Friday Inspiration: Stephen Shore

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I’m continuing to dig deeper into the work of some of the photographers that were part of the New Topographics exhibition curated by William Jenkins in 1975. These were a group of photographers working to find ‘beauty in the banal’, making ‘photographs of a man-altered landscape’. In many ways it’s easy to dismiss this work as having a ‘snap-shot’ aesthetic and for some of this work I really struggle to connect with it. This week’s project has been Stephen Shore. If you read his biography one of the first things that is pointed out is that he sold his first photographs at age 14 to Alfred Steiglitz and that at 24 was only the second living photographer to have a solo show at the MoMA.

His work in the New Topographics exhibition was in color whereas the other 7 photographers were shooting in black and white. It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that at that time in the early ’70’s shooting in color was not what you did if you wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. Color was okay for magazines but not for ‘art’. Perhaps this further adds to the sense of these photographs being snapshots. In looking over this work and some of the subsequent work that arose out of these early projects I can’t help but think that this would be a great instagram feed and indeed you can find Stephen Shore on Instagram although I was surprised to find that I don’t connect with these photographs in the way that I do with the images in his books.

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I often feel like I’m missing the joke when I look at contemporary photography and so it’s been useful for me to listen to Shore talk about his work in the videos below and lift the veil, at least a little.

Stephen Shore American Surfaces from Spike Productions on Vimeo.

Stephen Shore Uncommon Places from Spike Productions on Vimeo.

Stephen Shore in Conversation with Peter Schjeldahl from Aperture Foundation on Vimeo.

White Hot and Passionate: A Focus on the Process Not the Product

In many ways this is a companion piece to making things with meaning while at the same time was written as a kick in the pants for me – to have something to remind me that pursuing the things in life that seem to create their own energy to pull you forward is much better than chasing after something in a lackluster fashion. Anyway here goes…

Once you’ve found the thing or things that resonate with you and not only want to photograph but can’t help but photograph it seems like all issues with writers block, resistance or what have you should evaporate.

It doesn’t though does it? Here’s the deal, if you’re struggling with the resistance, writers block or whatever people are calling it this week you’re either working on the wrong thing – something that doesn’t raise you to the level of white hot and passionate and cause you to become an unstoppable force – or you’re thinking too much about the product, the audience and how will this thing that your pouring your soul into be recieved.

In both cases stop right now.

Stop working on things that you aren’t deeply commited to, that don’t pull you forward into action and more action. Time is short you need to put your energy, and I mean all of your energy, into those few things that you are truly passionate about.

I don’t think that there’s a place for audience while you’re creating the work. Shut out the chatter. In fact my experience is that if you’re truly working on the things that you’re passionate about you won’t have space to think about your audience.

You can figure out the role of audience later – in many ways this is a separate creative act. It’s called marketing.

Your goal initially is to make a lot of work and to do that as best as you’re able. Does this mean that everything that you make will be wonderful? Of course not. By cultivating a circle of friends that you trust to give you straightforward feedback on your work you can get a second and third opinions to help sort the wheat from the chaff after the fact. The more you make the better what you make will become. Keep at it, keep making. This is not a theoretical pursuit.

Being Creative Means Making

Sometimes I catch myself and otherwise others give me a helpful prod but if you’re going to use the ‘creative’ moniker then that means, or at least should mean, actually making things rather than thinking and talking about the creative act. I’ll give you that pushing the button and making the image could be the creative act but for me the end product of creative has to be some tangible thing. To keep my feet to this fire I have been using my iPhone more than ever before to play and make images. I’m pairing these experiments with Artifact Uprising’s printing service to make little prints and now books all without leaving the iOS environment.

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I was very happy with my little book part one of what I hope will be a four part series, one book of images per quarter, and perhaps a ‘greatest hits’ compilation at the end of the year. And perhaps I will pair the images with a collection of essays that describe the journeys and experiences and maybe make a slipcase to put them all in and, and, you know how it goes. I have to remind myself one step at a time. Small doable chunks.

Around the same time I got my little book I got Magda Biernat’s little book ‘Adrift’. Biernat’s project Adrift begins a dialog about climate change in the pairing of images of icebergs in antarctica with abandoned hunting cabins of the Iñupiat eskimos in the Arctic. The natural and the man made are both adrift in increasing numbers as the poles warm, causing more icebergs to be cast off and the hunting cabins to be abandoned as the animals the subsistence hunters pursue either dwindle in number or their migration patterns change.

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What blows me away about the book is how creatively well done it is. There are a number of ‘what if’s’: What if we prepare the book as if it were a Japanese accordion book? What if we have the accompanying essays bound as a separate text block. What if the book opens on the horizontal, bottom to top, rather than the vertical right to left? All of which work and all of which serve to draw me in further.

It’s worth keeping these things in mind when you’re working on your own book projects, perhaps using templates from some of the big on demand publishing services, that you’re getting locking into a standard format. How can you work within that box and yet break it so that you have something that better serves the work and that is uniquely your own. Daniel Milnor photographer at large for Blurb continually is pushing at the edges of what is possible with the Blurb format and is well worth paying attention to as you think about developing your own projects.

Friday Inspiration: Robert Adams

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I first came across Robert Adams when I was looking for the answer to the question ‘why do people photograph’ and found his book ‘Why People Photograph‘ and then later I came across his book ‘Beauty in Photography‘. These small books are collections of essays covering topics such as collectors, humor, teaching, money and dogs and discussions of Photographers such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Laura Gilpin, Judith Joy Ross, Susan Meiselas, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Minor White. I have enjoyed reading these books and get something new out of them as I reread them with a deepening understanding of photography as an art.

Why People Photograph must have been on my bookshelf for almost as long as I’ve been taking photographs, almost 10 years now, and yet it was only last year that I realized that Robert Adams can not only write but he is a well know photographer too! How many other holes in my appreciation of the history of photography could you drive a truck through?

I’m at my beginning of my exploration of his work, and I’m doing so by starting with his most recent projects first. Photographs taken around his home near the Oregon coast of the forests, coastline and meadows, very different subjects to the photographs of the American west increasingly spoiled by the urban sprawl that brought him to prominence. This work can be found in ‘The New West‘ a new edition of which will come out in the summer.

Check out the interview of Robert Adams on Oregon Public Broadcasting here and the interview below from 2006 that supported his exhibition ‘Turning Back‘. Also below is a profile of Adams by Joshua Chang, curator of the retrospective exhibition ‘The Place We Live‘.

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ROBERT ADAMS – JEU DE PAUME from Terra Luna Films on Vimeo.

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Looking Back, Reaching Forward

I’ve been taking a dive into the world of JMW Turner in recent weeks. I still have not managed to see the new film although hopefully I’ll get to see that soon.

I’ve seen Todd Henry of ‘Accidental Creative’ fame discuss a model that describes the phases of creative growth – discovery, imitation, divergence and crisis. The phases are just what you would expect: A growing awareness of an interest in an area; copying of the masters; making work that is their own; and finally a recognition that to move forward the old techniques will need to be abandoned.

There are clear echoes of this pattern of growth in Turner’s work. A major inspiration for Turner was Claude Lorrain, born Claude Gellee, 1600-1682, and sufficiently famous to be known just as ‘Claude’. John Constable described Claude as ‘the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw’. The book ‘Turner Inspired – In the Light of Claude’ explores the relationship between the work of Turner and that of Claude from a century or more earlier and provides many examples of Turner’s recreations of Claude’s images.

There is a distinct evolution in Turner’s style with time. His early work closely resembles the paintings by Claude but slowly he drifts away from the precision embodied by Claude to something much looser. Eventually of course Turner’s work becomes very loose indeed, perhaps the result in his passing into the crisis phase?, which gave us work that was in turn to inspire generations of artists to come including the Impressionists and the case is made in ‘Turner, Monet, Twombly’ that the reach of Turner extended to Cy Twombly.

In this dive into the work of Turner I was struck by some of the comments on his use of color and in particular incorporation of ‘new’ colors into his work that gave it a sense of vibrancy bordering on gaudiness. As an earlier adopter of new paints that set him apart from his contemporaries I couldn’t help but wonder whether Turner over did it a bit with these paints in the same way that early adopters of HDR technology did initially (and still do in some cases!).

I do find it amusing that for someone like me who has largely ignored history I’m finally coming around to the recognition that there is much to be learned from those that have gone before us. Spending time looking back at the work of the masters can indeed help to propel us forward. Or as Mary Oliver put it in ‘A Poetry Handbook‘:

‘To be contemporary is to rise through the stack of the past, like fire through the mountain. Only a heat so deeply and intelligently born can carry a new idea into the air.’