1

May 9, 2015

The month of April flitted away with my illness; enfeebled I was by a ridiculously resilient bug.  It edged in, nefariously, simulating minor sniffles, proceeded hastily into infection, and triumphed at end with a pounding round of super tree pollen allergies. I am not whining, just stating the unembellished truth. I accomplished almost nothing, taking an unusual aversion to books and movies. Computer games, on the other hand, filled my days and weeks, a mind weakened me.

Gin Rummy online became the sole vehicle to combat inertia. I sat before my large computer screen and played, sometimes ten hours a day. Food and potty breaks were mandatory, but an inconvenience. Soon the robots I played revealed their subtle personality traits. I perceived slight differences in the styles of play between one robot and another. One was more aggressive, one a bit stupid, another shrewd.  Even the animated cards themselves amused me. The 6 and 7 of clubs, when paired, looked remarkably like a pair of flirtatious Argentinean tango dancers. Cute minis and tokens kept things pleasant but there was a strange dark undercurrent.

The robots, I believe, were not robots at all. Looking to outsource jobs, the Game Center had deployed a good number of the political prisoners in Guantanamo to play with their paying members. Our government was glad that terrorists could be kept occupied and that a US company could prosper at their cost. The prisoners themselves hated us, infidel gamers, but they HAD to play, and were punished if they did not lose. Sometimes when I won I felt I was being patronized. If a prisoner rebelled and won the game, there was hell to pay with the guards. Despite that they figured it was worth it to prove their superiority.  And, in the end, as I despise losing, I knew they despised losing, and I began to despise winning.

I am up and better. May is here.

Standard
blog

eye strain, lately

I was embarrassed in Grad School to admit that I didn’t really like looking at much photography, the area of concentration for my MFA.  Many of my peers and professors, though, had to know about everybody, see as much as they could, like in the early 70’s when one had to know the names and albums of even the most obscure bands to keep up, to be hip. I kept up with some photographers whose work I liked but I really just wanted to concentrate on making my own work.

When I started teaching photo, I did have to study trends, examine historical and contemporary work, and be able to speak cogently about it to students. The last few years were exhausting, because of the massive quantity of digital work online. There were times I found something I really liked, smart work or work with heart and genuine conviction. But most of the time I was indifferent to what I saw.

I feel the same now, of photography, fiction, and music. There are occasional pieces that stir me but not many. I am even more selective in what I care to look at, now that I have left teaching. The volume of mediocre images is mind boggling. Most of it is blah: emotionless, diffident, nonpartisan. Does it matter to me that some win critical acclaim despite their shallowness? No. Almost every day I receive emails from galleries and online magazines showing work that has no meaning for me at all. I look away, like I do from anything on television (besides the Weather Channel), because it bores me to death.

Am I a cultural snob? Maybe. If I read the first paragraph of a book and the words do not hit me like hail, I drop it on the hard wood floor, thumping it, allowing the pages to fold over awkwardly, punishing it for wasting my time. Music doesn’t get much better treatment, a few bars and off it goes. Photographic works gets less than one second. Say something or don’t bother me.

I am about to start a new project tomorrow and I am very nervous, feeling I need to screw up the courage to start. I have not shot in the US in a long time. How will I relate to my fellow Americans, when I am so isolated here, so unconnected to my own culture? We shall see. I cannot put it off any longer. I must get to work. It would be unhealthy to do otherwise.

Standard
Art stuff, blog

Into the void

Making art, whatever the medium, if done from deep need, reminds me of a young bird taking wing for the first time. The difference is that the bird gains confidence and surety with each flight, until it is as much part of its routine as eating bugs, seeds, or worms. For artists, that surety never really arrives. It is a blind leap each time. Equanimity and composure are illusive; self doubt more often dogs the maker. Satisfaction comes in the doing, with success or failure a mere epilogue, as fickle as wind. 

I have been thinking about Edward Curtis these days, having just finished a very good biography about the resolute pursuit of his dream. His intensity and drive were undiminished by financial or familial pressures. He had a vision and worked to exhaustion to achieve what he could before the inevitable eradication of the cultures he admired, respected, and sought to preserve on glass. Time was his greatest enemy. He could see from year to year the choking and dying of an era, a people, sacred traditions. 

Are artists hardwired to pursue their work, despite the consequences? From what I see and know, I would say yes. It is not a vocation one can walk away from without a great sense of loss. People sometimes ask me, “Are you still taking photographs?” not understanding that making my images is as elemental to my life as breathing. I have tried to imagine how I could continue to make photographs if I were blinded or bed-ridden, though I am not someone who makes pictures every day. Far from it. But, I think about it every day and wait for the spirit to move me to act. When I was younger I had to shoot constantly. Now I need to bide my time and sprint to the finish, like a runner of short races. 

There is rarely glory, often disappointment and frustration, hardly the reward for such self sacrifice. Such it is, though. We do what we do because we cannot do otherwise. 

Gratefully I say thank you, Edward Curtis, for leaving us the stories and images of what is long gone. 

picture-11_lg

Standard
1

The shameful hiatus

This respite has been unmerited and irresponsible. If one has the occasional reader, then respect is due and I have been remiss. I apologize.

I am no longer employed. Since I last wrote, I do not think I had committed to retiring. But, the deed is done and I am no longer a teacher. I am happy, fearful of my financial future, but I do not live in Syria and I should count my lucky stars each and every day.

Because I am no longer employed, it is important to do something worthy every day. It would be easy to stay in my pajamas and watch movies on my iPad all day, with a nap in between films, but I have restrained from doing that. I have begun writing a fictionalized memoir which I began in 1984 but left off when I let someone read it and they were frighteningly enthusiastic. This time is different. I write a couple of pages a day. I write with a pen. When the ink from a good pen flows properly, the story is just as fluid. I use a lined black and white composition book which says Composition Book on the outside.

A couple of pages feels right. Nothing too obsessive, nothing that feels compulsory. I have no idea what I will write, as pen moves to paper. That is a wonderful feeling, like the open road, like a photo of Robert Frank that I have in my head. I tell stories that are made up but based on an element of truth, something I have heard. Sometimes the strange events that occur there make me laugh.

frank_med

And, now, it is time to visit with my husband as he is employed and he deserves my attention.

Standard
1

beginnings and ends, ends and beginnings

2/15/2014

BlankWall

Bittersweet feelings about the turn of events in the last couple of days. I had a large exhibition scheduled for June in Perú and I have had to cancel because of the baggage limitations of the airlines. The airline, Spirit, the worst and cheapest, told me first that it was a restriction on the Peruvian end, an airport restriction. Now I find it is an airline limit. So, to ship the work would cost me $2000.00 each way, for the large crated images and boxed frames.

It doesn’t matter. I really don’t want to fight on every end, overcome so many obstacles in one hemisphere or another, just to exhibit my work. It is not the way things should be, if there is a real appreciation of the work itself. Why should the photographer have to jump through so many hoops to put images up on a bare wall? As one friend put it, “It’s like throwing a party for oneself.”

I am sick of the whole thing. I just like making photographs and creating images. I want to step back from the pressure to exhibit, whether self-imposed or otherwise. No one is knocking down my door to view my work, much less collect it. I don’t want to look for sellers or buyers.

I felt this way 25 years ago when I left graduate school in 1988. I saw the art world as a bullshit game, with success as arbitrary as tiddlywinks. I continued to make my work but began sticking my head out since the advent of things like websites, online galleries, and greater direct communication among photographers online. Then things started sucking me in. I began to show work, look for opportunities, and submit to publications. I have had some very nice invitations from cultural centers, museums, and magazines. I have had moderate success, good success in the view of some.

The nagging dissatisfaction with the process has not changed. My gut tells me that what I need to do is get back to the place where it began.

I want to take pictures.

I want to shoot film.

I want to develop film.

I don’t want to seek out venues.

I don’t want to think about an audience.

And, I certainly do not want to bend over backwards for anything or anybody.

In a way, I feel relief, somewhat liberated and, in another way, sad. It is mixed bag.

Standard
1, blog

The Times, oy.

2.4.2014

It’s has only been a couple of days since the Super Bowl, a stupid spectacle in my eyes, and the Super Bowl commercials, which are somewhat less irritating. This year I saw the Bud Light one with a retriever puppy and the Budweiser Clydesdales that reduced me to tears. Blubbering after a 6o second spot that promotes the drinking of beer is the height of lunacy but I succumbed.

What was far more annoying was when I heard about the Bob Dylan commercial for Chrysler. I didn’t watch it live, but my husband came into the bedroom after the game and told me about it. He was mildly surprised but I almost gagged.

Bob Dylan, the scrawny anti-hero of my youth. This was the guy whom I have looked up to as the King of Cool, rough around the edges, scornful, and cynical. At the last concert when I saw him live, he refused to even look at the audience but kept his back to us the whole time. Arrogant but at least in keeping with his disdain for convention and his jaundiced view of humanity.

I said, “Chrysler?”

“Yeah,” said hubby, “and it lasted almost two minutes. Weird.”

Then yesterday I watched it. Well, I watched half of it. I could not watch more than one minute. His grizzled grey hair was dyed brown and his accent, very fake cowboy. I tried to believe that he was singing for Detroit, the underdog city. I wanted to believe that he was donating all the money from the commercial to rebuilding a city that deserved to survive, but not because of General Motors, or Dodge, or Ford.

I was just fooling myself. When he started singing about the greatness of America, I wanted to yell, “Hey, what’s wrong with you, you dick? Did somebody tie you up, drug you, threaten you, and force you to get a dye job? What happened to the rebel who knew that this rhetoric about America The Great is bullshit?”

He just sold out. Like Dennis Freaking Miller. One day, a frothing radical, the next a Fox show host.  He became like his own lyrics. He serves somebody, but somebody that smells like a goddamn Republican.

“You may call me Terry, you may call me Jimmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say.

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Dylan_The_Times_They_Are_A_Changin_front

The Times They Are A-Changin’. They certainly are. Fucking A.

Standard
1, blog

A Truth and The Truth

A fellow photographer and blogger, Lewis Bush, on http://www.disphotic.lewisbush.com, posted a fine article yesterday about truth in photojournalism. One point of his is that no photograph can be trusted as to the message/meaning ascribed to it, for multiple reasons that he describes very well, the least being the manipulations of the image by the photographer him/herself.

Beyond the photojournalistic image, though, I think there is NO photograph that can reveal the truth; it can only reveal a point of view. There is a difference between A Truth and THE Truth. There are photographic images that hint at something that might have existed for that fraction of time. Beyond that, the rest must be left to the viewer to believe or not to believe. Is how we read it based on our biases? Think of other factors that filter the message.

Even snapshots succumb to the need for close scrutiny. We may think them less contrived. And, yet, remember the false smiles, the cheesy kisses, the demands of the photographer on the subject, for example, to simulate a happy occasion.

I like to look at images and see what I think they say.  Sometimes there are gestures that reveal something unintended by the person taking the photograph or by the subject in the picture. We see only one angle and conclude something, which might not be true at all. The photographer may have chosen it because of the message intended. This image is one example of how a photograph can be read or misread.

AwkwardFampic2

I see a grandmother with her hand on her grandson’s neck. They are dressed for a formal occasion, a Communion, a Bar Mitzvah, perhaps a wedding. Her corsage says wedding but I cannot be sure. The background suggests there is a hired photographer with backdrop, props, and lights taking the picture. I assume it is Grandma because both she and the boy have reddish hair, there is that age difference, and there seems to be a close relationship between them. Grandma’s red fingernails draw attention to her quasi-grip on the young boy’s neck. That is the funny part of the image for me, her hand like a ventriloquist’s, holding his dummy.

This is likely an outtake that survived. Had her fingers not been right there, we could have read this quite differently. Perhaps the one chosen from the contact sheets by the family had her hand behind the boy.  But this one made the list of Awkward Family Photos.

Here is another one I like in that same list.

awkwardfampic1

The members of the family seem prepared with props, wigs, or expressions for the photographer, with one exception, the little girl with her fingers in her mouth. She is caught unready or unsure of what is even happening. Again, the sister or mother’s gesture pressing her two fingers on to the little girl’s shoulder seem to say, “Don’t Move.” The little girl looks a bit nervous, sucking on two fingers, and the balloon just looks sad. To me, to me.

Final thought for the day. Does it matter that we recognize the subjectivity of the photograph? Well, apparently, it does. There is something so convincing about “seeing it with one’s own eyes” that even the most savvy viewer can be seduced by the illusion that it is real or true.

Advertising photography, intended to sell a product, creates a fantasy for us. We may know that, intellectually, but the sales push driven by imagery still works its magic. My current favorite is the Ralph Lauren fashion ad played before and after Downton Abbey, models parading turn-of-the-century-inspired gowns in front of an Abbey-like building. We become the perfect audience prepped for the pitch.

Whatever the image, trust not, at least not completely.

Standard