Friday Inspiration: Elizabeth King

Pupil Pose 1

“Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions.”

I am currently reading Seth Godin’s new book ‘The Practice’. More about that when I actually finish it. I was struck by the quote in the front of the book from Elizabeth King shown above and went on a hunt to find more about her. Frustratingly I couldn’t find the exact source of the quote but many people who attribute it to her but the journey was fun.

Elizabeth King is a sculptor who taught at Virginia Commonwealth University for 30 years before retiring to focus on her work. She is best known for her figurative sculpture that she combines with stop motion animation. Perhaps remarkably she was creating the articulated sculptures that were perfect for stop motion animation long before she had the idea for animating them.

I am always fascinated to watch artists at work, regardless of the medium that they work in. The behind the scenes look that you get in Olympia Stone’s documentary “Double Take’ is a real treat in this regard. It shows Elizabeth at work in her Church Hill studio as well as installing her work at various shows.

What is evident in the documentary is her attention to detail. She really cares about getting the sculpture right, capturing the imperfections in joints on the hands of her sculptures so that the fingers end up a little wonky. I thought she was describing my fingers as she described this detail in the documentary. She’s clearly looking and not just going through the motions and means that her sculpture stands up to the closest of scrutiny.

Of course her attention to detail doesn’t stop with the creation of the work. It’s interesting to see how much attention she puts into the installation to make sure that the pose of the sculpture is correct and that the lighting is just so to provide the correct emphasis to the face and hands. This is what separates masters from the journeymen.

Check out more or Elizabeth’s work at her website here and listen to her describe her work in the videos below. You can watch the full documentary at amazon.

The Gap – Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare

I often fall into the trap, as I suppose many people do, of being generally dissatisfied with the work that I’m producing. I make images that I like just often enough to keep me engaged but it can be tough to keep going especially when we’re surrounded by an onslaught of great work on social media.

The guitar teacher Tomo Fujita tells his students ‘Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare, Don’t Expect Too Fast, and Don’t Worry.’ Good advice for anyone whether they are trying to learn a new skill or to be creative.

The other advice that I turn to when I’m struggling is what Ira Glass said about ‘The Gap’ (see video 3 below). He’s describing the difference between what you know is good and want to be able to do and what you’re currently able to achieve.

Check out the illustrated video below.

The solution of course is to do a lot of work. Bang it out even if you don’t feel like it. Just keep going. You will get better, you will evolve and you will close the gap.

Checkout the full interview ‘Ira Glass on Storytelling’ in the following videos. This should be required viewing for anyone in the creative arts.

Friday Inspiration: Brooks Jensen

Brooks Jensen, Winter Trees, Mt Erie, Fidalgo Island, Washington, 2003

When I was thinking about what I had learned in the Portfolio Development class with William Neill, one of the things that I was reflecting on is how much you can learn from the other students. A good group that are freely sharing their previous experiences, understanding and viewpoint can really support your growth.

One of the students in the class turned me on to Lenswork – a magazine that I had never heard of and certainly wasn’t carried in the local bookstores at the time. I eventually ended up getting a subscription so that I could see what it was all about. Lenswork is a bimonthly magazine that emphasizes photographs not gear and is exquisitely printed – book quality printing. From what I understand the emphasis on photographs is very similar to the principals that were at the heart of Aperture Magazine when it was established and under the guidance of Minor White. To see some of the early issues check out this anthology.

The editor, Brooks Jensen, is an accomplished photographer and his work can be found at his personal site, Brooks Jensen Arts. The image above is from Brooks’ first Winter Trees portfolio – you can download a pdf of the portfolio here. I continue to be fascinated by this image – it has a depth to it, a three dimensionality, that I have not experience in any other photograph. I was fortunate enough to be able to get a print of this image when Brooks was still selling individual images and it is even more stunning in the flesh, as it were.

Brooks’ thinking about photography that he shares through his writing and podcast have had a profound impact on my thinking about the ‘photographic art life’. He makes really great points about in his article about what size should editions be, has suggested multiple ways of presenting your work to your audience including, Folios and Chapbooks and additionally was an earlier adopter of PDFs. I have learned a tremendous amount from Brooks and think you would too. Go take at look at Lenswork, Lenswork online and Brooks Jensen Arts. Listen to the interview with Brooks in the interview below.

Doing’ it for the ‘Gram

I learn all kinds of stuff by listening to my kids talk to their friends. Some of it immediately, some of it takes me a while to unravel.

It’s snowboard season here in New England which means trips to and from the slopes with groups of high school age kids for me. They are very much into making videos of their exploits to get feedback on how they are doing with learning tricks but also to post on social media. ‘Doin’ it for the ‘gram’ was the phrase used in a rather derogatory tone.

That got me thinking about what I post on social media and why and what are my expectations. I am playing a game with my posts on Instagram, or at least I have some simple rules that I am following. Must be shot and edited on my phone. No wireless transfer of files from any of my ‘fancy’ cameras, no transfer of files from the phone onto my computer for editing. All has to be done on the phone. Also the apps that I use can’t be mobile versions of Lightroom or Photoshop.

This of course is less of an amazing feat now that the phone cameras are so incredibly capable and produce high-res files. It goes without saying that phones themselves are way more powerful computers than the first desktop computers I worked with but then I grew up with a single rotary dial phone in the house if you catch my drift.

The result is a set of photos that are in effect sketches or studies. I’m trying out composition ideas using the phone and quickly processing using filters and effects in a small number of apps – typically Snapseed and VSCO. I’m often accused of being heavy handed with the processing – probably true, certainly lacking the kind of finesse possible on a desktop. Are these the high impact, portfolio best images that will garner lots of ‘likes’ not at all. But that’s not the point.

I’m having fun playing and don’t mind letting people look over my shoulder see my sketchbook develop.

How about you? How do you use social media?

Are Small Steps Everyday Better Than a Big Push Once in a While?

In the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you. — Hindu saying that Steve Jobs was fond of 

I tend to circle topics until I get a satisfactory answer – something that makes sense to me, is actionable or is a definitive end. It’s a funny trait that I didn’t realize I did until someone pointed it out to me recently. One of those topics is how to learn. I’ll certainly come back to this a few times here.

I was thinking about a story that I read in the book Art & Fear about a pottery class that was split into two. One group was told that their grade would be based on the quantity of work that they produce during the semester while the other group would be graded on the quality of work they produced. At the end of the semester the group that produced the most work also produced work of a higher quality. The act of making, making mistakes, correcting and making again had lead to a deeper understanding.

How can we apply this thinking to our photography to push ourselves forward? I am contemplating a project where I would post an image a day to Instagram and then review my progress at the end of a year. Would this spur me forward to actively create and finish more images? Would that help me get out of a rut and move me forward? I think it may be fun but would be an immense challenge for me. At the moment I rarely leave the house makes it a challenge or at least pushes me in a different direction.

Carrying a camera with me is not a habit that I need to adopt – my phone is always with me. I’m often mentally taking photographs – I still see the American flag, framed on 3 edges by fall leaves that I looked at for a week when I was dropping my daughter off at school but never took the photo – but I don’t take enough photos to be able to post one a day. Not yet anyway.

How about you do you carry a camera with you all the time and do ‘visual push-ups’ every day? Want to join me in the challenge? Need an accountability partner for your project? A year too long? How about a sprint? Everyday for a month? Let me know here or tag me on Instagram.

Friday Inspiration: Thomas Joshua Cooper – The World’s Edge

“Looking towards the Old Lands.” Thomas Joshua Cooper

I’m currently thinking about projects that I can engage with while travel is restricted and we are locked down. I feel like a good photography project, one that will keep you engaged for a while, is one that is multi-dimensional, one that engages multiple areas of your interest.

Thomas Joshua Cooper certainly found this with his Atlantic Basin Project. The ambition of this project was to chart the Atlantic Basin from the extremity of land north, south, east, and west. An enormous undertaking and one he has been engaged with since the end of the ‘80s. Longer than he’s been married and a project older than his kids!

The work recently reached completion with the publication of ‘The World’s Edge‘ and the exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

I find the work absolutely captivating, although I struggle to put my finger on what it is about his photographs that draws me in. The subject matter appeals to me. I enjoy being at the coast, I’m awed by the power of the ocean and can’t help but feel that the transition from land to water is a place of great possibility.

The images of Thomas Joshua Cooper for this project are abstractions with no real sense of place, not grand vistas but truly what it would feel like if you were stood at the edge of the land looking out to the sea. Often they appear to be long exposures, giving movement to the water which really gives you a sense of dynamics. There are images that provide visual breaks – the images taken during white out conditions on Antarctica or those taken during the winter solstice at the North Pole.

If you only get one book from this project get ‘The World’s Edge‘ if you want to dig deeper you could explore The Point of No Return, Eye of the Water Ojo De Agua, or True that represent images from major sections of the work. Watch the video below to hear Professor Cooper provide an entertaining and engaging description of his Atlantic Basin Project.

Friday Inspiration: Rachael Talibart

I must have been living under a rock to only recently have found Rachael Talibart’s seascape work. She is perhaps best know for her Sirens photos, a series of storm waves named after mythological beings. A book of the same name was published by Triplekite Books in 2018. As an aside I can’t believe I missed this book since I thought I had all of the books that Triplekite had published. I found her work through the recently published book, Tides and Tempests, that further explores her interest in storm waves but also the coast in general.

It sounds like Rachael has had a lifelong relationship with the sea having grown up on the South Coast of England, spending time as a child on the family sailboat. She describes herself as a poor swimmer and a poor sailor who is happier and safer viewing the ocean from the shore. Reading between the lines in the introductory essay to Tides and Tempests it sounds like she had lots of ‘fun’ on the sailboat as a child. These episodes really do shape your life both as an adult and as a child, either pushing you away or drawing you in. Personally I’m glad that she is drawn towards the ocean and chooses to capture the majesty, power and potential that the ocean offers. Check out more of Rachael’s work on her website here.

Also check out the videos that Rachel put together below. Scroll all the way to the bottom to hear Rachel talk about her work and her process.

Check out the mini-documentary/interview with Rachel that Sean Tucker put together below. Sean is worth a ‘Friday Inspiration’ slot of his own. Until then check out his YouTube channel here.

The End of Summer

For me just as the beginning of summer is when we get the boat in the water, the end of summer is when we pull the boat out of the water. This weekend marked the beginning of that process as we made the trek from our mooring to the marina in Norwalk where will be hauled.

This year we were accompanied by Jay our buddy from TowBoatUS who gave us a tow to the dock. If you have a boat a BoatUS membership with on water towing is an amazing insurance policy. I highly recommend it!