Almost There

Hey all!  I feel like I’m constantly apologizing for tardiness, so this time I won’t.  Instead, I will fill you in on the things that have been taking up my time, and you can decide for yourself if they are worthy time-takers.  First, I have been curating my first ever show at the Ross Museum.  Don’t get too excited, it is in the smallest gallery… but still awesome and exciting!  The exhibit is called “Mother,” and it includes photography and printmaking by Shelby Lee Adams, Alen MacWeeney, Lucien Clergue, Garry Winogrand, Donna Ferrato, Jerome Liebling, Ernst Barlach, Janis Mars Wunderlich, Joan Myers, and Letitia Tarrago.  The images show a range of maternal moments, both sweet and sour, including: C-section scars, mothers living in poverty with their children, a mother peacefully sleeping next to her infant, death and burial of a young child, and children playing near their mothers.  The show occupies the front gallery where you enter the museum, and is running in conjunction with the Senior Art Show, which occupies the back three galleries.

Of course the bigger time-taker at the moment is writing my thesis paper.  I thought I’d share with you the summary I gave to my mentors as their update: I’ve decided to focus on the scroll’s relationship to photography, of course with emphasis on my work, and particularly the experience of time in scroll imagery.  I’m interweaving some pieces about scroll-as-poetic form, using some great quotes about scroll-as-musical-composition to make a bridge.  I’ve found some great tie-ins to this in John Szarkowski, George Rowley (who writes about the history of Chinese painting), Hans Richter (who continually revisited scroll painting throughout his career, and wrote some very powerful things about what scrolls can do), Stephen Lawson (who utilizes a strip camera), and a few others.  My oral defense is Friday, and, after giving a very short talk to Crystal Tursich’s Photo III class (alongside Kim and Nevin), I feel prepared to field questions.

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Tempora Mutantur

I have chosen the title Tempora Mutantur for my thesis work; it is an abbreviation of a Latin adage, “Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis,” which translates to “Times change, and we change with them.”  In my thesis work, I am overlapping time, as opposed to freezing an instant, in order to create poetic images with rhythm, enjambments (continuation on a new line of the same thought, without pause), caesura (natural poetic pauses, places for the eye to rest), and stanzas.  I want to restore physical presence to a medium that exists as often in an abstract sense (in strings of 1s and 0s somewhere in digital ether) as it does in a material, physical way.  I am not saying that digital is “bad” and all else is “good,” but rather that the medium loses some of its vibrancy and connectivity for me when it is less embodied.  In traditional photography, for instance, we are very aware that the artist was present in the process, as film cameras, darkrooms, and traditional printing all require the hands of the artist to be active and present in every step.  In digital, I feel a disconnect between my hands and the work I create, as if something happens in the technological interim to remove my breath from the work.  This is the crux of the conversation I had with Dawoud Bey during our studio visit.  He indicated that he thinks the “free-form” or “jazz” (his words) pieces give off the feeling I want in a way that the more composed, intentional images do not.  I tend to agree, but after our last critique, I felt obligated to try some that were more aligned and arranged.  You can see and decide for yourself, but, for me, the more careful images are a bit lackluster and the poetry is gone.  Dawoud said that the less composed images were more surprising, which made him want to linger with them more.

Now on to the nitty gritty; my paper is on order from Hahnemuhle (for several weeks now) and the string of bad weather has continually pushed it back delivery-wise.  Obviously, I am devastated not to be able to print on the “real deal” and I’m beginning to really resent that overnight shipping was not an option.  Enough of my griping.  I will have the paper and be printing this weekend, but it’s not going to happen for critique (and probably not for pre-thesis review).  So I’ll be printing some smaller scale (like 7ft instead of 20+ft) maquette of the images for critique on a good but dissimilar paper.  These images have been value adjusted, so they may need a bit of tweaking, but they are close to the finished product in value range.  Today I am developing a few more rolls, so there may also be a couple unedited images if I can get them scanned and pieced together fairly quickly.  That is my goal.

Pre-Critique

I have critique tomorrow (sorry for the tardiness in posting), so I wanted to give a bit of an update/preamble.  My thesis work is taking the form of visual poetry created in film photography.  The experimental techniques I am using involve multiple, overlapping exposures over the course of an entire film strip, and I have altered my camera so that there are no breaks between frames (which creates the overlap/multiple exposure).  Each frame overlaps between 1/3 and 1/2 with the frame before it, creating a visual interaction between frames and no real break or separation.  Each whole roll image is then scanned and digitally printed, at a length of about 20 feet long by 2 feet wide.  You read that right, 20 feet.  The images hang from the top of the gallery walls and extend vertically down the wall and onto the floor for about 5 feet (currently).  I am hoping this creates an immersive experience for the viewer, and a flow that would be broken by ending abruptly at the floor.  Currently, I think I will have 5 of these long images together on one wall in the gallery.  My reason for creating this work is my own response to what I think of as the current state of photography in our precision and speed-obsessed world.  We keep making cameras more precise, shutter speeds faster, and our ability to record in heretofore impossible conditions (i.e. in the dark, in extreme temperatures, and under deep water) have reached crazy new heights.  In addition, anyone can “be a photographer,” at a time when we all carry decent cameras (in the form of smart phones) in our pockets at every waking moment.  So, what is the future of the medium when literally anyone with some money can buy the equipment to take “good” photographs?  In my mind, the future lies in an embodied form of photography that brings the hand and breath of the photographer back into the equation.  There are a number of ways to do that, and mine includes the anti-instant, a way of stretching time in image.  My strategies involve more than that, but we can leave those to critique, or not.  As we are constantly reminded (and probably rightly so), the viewer won’t really know all the methodologies of image creation, outside an artist statement, so those things become very secondary to the images at hand. For my critique, I will be showing a half-scale print (10 feet by 12 inches) and a full-scale detail (somewhere around 7 feet, I believe).  These images are almost completely unedited, so there will be some level corrections, dust/water spot removal, and a little cropping in future iterations.  I have also printed them on a paper of convenience, as I figure out what I want the physicality of the images to be.  The prints are on a luster paper, and I believe a semi-matte with a slightly warmer black might be the way to go for the final prints.

Quietude

I’ve been a busy bee over the break, as, I’m sure, have you!  I’ve taken a part-time job as the collections manager and registrar of the Richard M. Ross Museum of Art in Delaware, OH.  I was also working for the Canzani Gallery at CCAD doing some digital photo printing for the upcoming photography show.  I printed 50+ images for the gallery over break, with the photo department’s permission to use their wonderful suite of printers.  I’m excited to see the rest of the work when the show opens later this month.  It’s going to be a good one!

Of course, in addition to professional activities, I was also working a lot on thesis.  I did a substantial amount of shooting, and I look forward to developing my film this Friday (and probably Sunday, as I can only do 1 roll of 620 film per tank of chemicals).  I’ve also been doing a lot of reading for thesis, and I wanted to share a few of my recent reads that have me completely captivated.  The first is called “Between the Dark Earth and the Sheltering Sky: The Arboreal in Kiarostami’s Photography” by Erik Nakjavani in Iranian Studies (March 2006).  The article focuses on meditation and solitude in photography, particularly in the work of Abbas Kiarostami.  One of my favorite quotes from this article reads thus, “Captured photographically, the ever-lasting present moment in nature’s tableau puts us in touch with the whole of Time: past, present, and future as an indivisible whole.” (pp 35)  Another focus of this article ties in to research I did at the beginning of the school year on the symbolism of tree, earth, and sky, recurring elements in my own photographs.  Bottom line, it’s been a really insightful and enlightening read.

The other article I’ve particularly enjoyed is “A Note on Photography in a Zen Key” by Peter Zhang in China Media Research.  It’s a succinct article about the photographic counterculture that has abandoned hi-res instant digital imagery, highly Photoshopped and edited, in favor of something slower and, in the author’s estimation, more Zen.  Zhang likens Zen and black and white photography to “coolness” as opposed to the “hotness” of color photographs and the kind of interaction they illicit in a viewer.  The article talks about viewer relationship to image, and photography which has the viewer’s satori as its aim.

I’ve also been very keen on the work of Daniel Borden lately, and I’ve been gobbling up anything I can find about his process and the relationship of his work to time.  Hopefully that wasn’t too dull, but I’ve had things circulating in my brain and needed to commit a few things to the written word.

Toby Hale in Review

It is my honor to spend some time this week talking about a fellow artist/designer, Toby Hale. Toby Hale is a second year MFA candidate at Columbus College of Art & Design in Columbus, OH. I have known Toby for about a year and a half, and in that time, his work has undergone a lot of change. Toby came into the MFA program at the same time I did, and his work prior to the MFA had a very particular tone and voice; it was evident in the work that Toby enjoys material manipulation, particularly in pushing the boundaries of what a material can do, and that play and experimentation are a big part of his design process.

After a year’s sidetrack to pursue redesign of a standard pair of crutches, Toby is returning to his playful roots over the course of his thesis year. Toby’s current project involves designing two Transformers toys, versions of Hot Rod and Kup, which follow the style of a previously released Transformers video game. I am struck by the level of care Toby has put into researching the history of Transformers toys, and particularly the characters that are the basis for the toys he is designing. Speaking with Toby, and being present in his critiques, I am reminded that play and playfulness should not be mistaken for a lack of seriousness or care; Toby is incredibly serious about his design process and the product of that work, even if play is a major part of that work.

This is a Gif showing a lamp that Toby designed in his first semester at CCAD. It shows the playful nature of Toby’s work, but also the care that is part of the design. This lamp was designed as a kit that children and parents could assemble together.

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I urge you to visit Toby’s blog, http://hale-design.blogspot.com to see more of his work.

Sorry for the Tardiness!

Apologies for my lateness and infrequency of posting – this week/month/semester has been a little bit nuts.

Thesis Update: I have developed 20+ rolls of film this semester, and I have a stockpile of slide film that needs to be sent out (I sent it out once and it came back undeveloped because of a company policy change).  I’ve been doing a lot of surface explorations, and right now I’m pretty settled on this great Epson Cold Press Bright paper.  The paper is matte, but it has an underlying texture similar to many etching papers.  Just lovely.  It solves a problem I had with ultra smooth matte, which is that it flattened the images out.  I’ve started doing some sample prints on the 13×19 sheet version of this paper, and right now I’m thinking the final versions might be in the vicinity of 24×36 inches (lots of flexibility for that to change).  The big thing with the test prints is that I’m working with a new printer the photo department purchased, and thankfully Crystal Tursich was able to come to my rescue, because the Canon printers are very snobby about Epson papers.  We figured it out though, and I think it can only get better as I fine tune.

As for the images, I had a meeting with Elizabeth Fergus-Jean soon after my last critique, and we talked about the need to add more “particularity” into the images.  My mentors agreed, and I’ve been working to trend from the unconscious into a balance of unconscious and conscious in the images.  I think I’m headed in the right direction.  Working to create visual poetry, exploring a borderland state between two ways of thinking/being, and doing so through a process-driven practice are all challenging for me (in the best possible way, I think).  I have to embrace the fact that it requires a high volume of work to achieve the result I want, and there is a necessary large volume of failure due to the subject and methodologies.  I think this is making me stronger as an artist, because I have to let go of the images that simply do not “work” or evoke what I want, and I am getting better at self-editing.  I know those of you in CCAD’s MFA program feel like you’re not seeing me a lot in my studio, and I regret not getting to spend more time with our community, but I have found a welcome home in the photo department for the time being, and I am spending a TON of time there.  They have graciously allowed me to develop, scan, and print a few images, which has saved me a huge headache of feeding small sheets through our giant MFA printer.  I am very grateful to have 2 wonderful places on campus that feel like home.  Alright, enough of the warm fuzzies.  See some of you in critique later!

Update

Critique day is fast approaching, and I just wanted to give people a heads-up about the slight direction change in my project.  As I said during our initial presentation, I really needed to see the images I shot over the summer before I clarified my project direction.  Well, I’ve developed all of the black and white rolls I shot over the summer (about 8), and an additional 4 that I’ve shot in the past few weeks.  I have sent out all the slide and color rolls I shot this summer for processing, but unless there’s something radically different and compelling about those images, I’m pretty well set on black and white.

The most notable change in direction for this year is that I have (at least for now) stepped away from the idea of physically layered images/transparencies in favor of in-camera layering with multiple exposures.  I think my images are compelling without adding other layers.  I’ve also abandoned my focus on transitional states (that left with the idea of physical layering), and I am continuing to follow my interest in poetic image.  I consider the work I am making now to be an invitation to pause.  The abstraction in the photographs makes them more complicated and less easily deciphered.  My mentor calls them, “quiet, but very insistent.”  I think that is an apt description of the qualities that are emerging.

My research is rather broad at the moment, with the understanding that things will narrow and crystalize with continued work and time.  The topics I am currently studying include: latency, affect, Constructivist psychology, temporality, phenomenology, intuition (snapshot), and poetics, as they all relate to photography.  I am reading a lot of Walter Benjamin, Marcel Proust, Rolland Barthes, Susan Sontag, and Minor White.  I am looking at a lot of contemporary Japanese photographers, including Hiroshi Sugimoto (In the Praise of Shadow), Miho Kajioka (As It Is), and Yasuteru Kasano (Zoetrope), as well as Niko Luoma, Alberràn Cabrera (Mouth of Krishna), J.K. Lavin (Standing on the Threshold), Rocky Schenck, Uta Barth, and Ralph Gibson (Somnambulist).