Sunday, October 28, 2012

No One Was With Her When She Died

I knew there was a reason I fixated on that NPR story about E.B. White and the 60th anniversary of Charlotte’s Web recently.  I blathered on Facebook the other day about the breakdown I had after searching down the exact phrasing from the last section of the book.  Talk about visceral reactions.  Man. 

But I’m not going to get hung up on all that just yet.  All I want to mention right now is that I had another of my long run epiphanies today – and that phrase (above) is going to serve as the working title for my new project-type-thing.  I’ve got a fairly clear idea of how I’m going to start getting at this, likely beginning during my upcoming residency at Hambidge this winter.  That phrase so clearly activates (for me) so much of what I’m constantly thinking about and working myself around in circles trying to get back to.  I make work because it excites me to think about ideas and how to apply them to the realm of the photographic, but those ideas (for me) are always first and foremost about poignancy – and beauty and all that crap, and of course loss and longing as well.  I don’t really care if it (poignancy) is seen as an empty word to some – it’s somehow managed to sustain the whole of my life up to and including this very moment, so I’m going to keep working on it.

I’ll delve more deeply into my thinking around the formal and process strategies I have in mind for the unfolding of this work in the coming weeks.  I do know that it seems a logical next step for me to continue sorting through the (my) recording/documenting divide as well as recent thinking around notions of animation.  I know that I want to both reveal and conceal the artifice in certain scenes/situations and use both organic and man-made materials and spaces.  The image included here is from a very quick test I shot today.  Just going to sit with this thinking for a bit…

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Re-visiting Goldfields

I’m tired today.  Expended a lot of energy over the last few days thinking and chatting and questioning and pondering – with some very good friends and some decent enough wine.  It’s exhausting though, really, that kind of banter – but in a good way, of course.  We were gathered at a conference where I co-chaired a panel on time and memory in lens-based media, which included presentations by Lisa Zaher and Leigh-Ann Pahapill, who also co-wrote the essay for my video installation of the Goldfields work in Australia this last summer at Screen Space.  So, it was great to get a chance to bring that thinking back around to some things that came up on the panel as well as the dialogue between Lisa and Leigh-Ann that is archived within the essay itself.

Like I said though, I’m tired right now and my brain is a tad mushed.  So, I need to sit with this all some more before I can write coherently about it.  Because I need to.  For several reasons. I’ll be giving a talk on this work in Asheville, North Carolina in December as part of the Media Arts Project (MAP), Off the MAP lecture series, and so I’d like to write up a new talk that pulls in my recent research in relation to that work.  I’ll also be showing this work again in Portland, Oregon in February (no contract in hand yet, so I’ll wait to officially announce venue) and giving a talk there as well.  And then I have the amazing opportunity to show the video in relation to the still photographs in a large gallery space at Murray State University in Kentucky next August.  I plan to possibly reconfigure the video sequences for this show and play around extensively with installation in terms of projecting video onto variously sized and placed surfaces (moveable walls) and also with the scale of the photographs and presentation methods.  And finally I’m planning to write up a response to the dialogue between Leigh-Ann and Lisa that points to the role the still photographs play in this work alongside the video (as the dialogue within their essay refers to a specific incarnation of the video work as a triple-screen projection, and not to the project as a whole – if there even is such a thing).

But, I went back and looked at an old email that I sent to Lisa and Leigh-Ann after the essay for the catalogue was finished, and I think this serves as a good starting point for my own writing/response.

“On another note, I wanted to be sure I let you both know how much I appreciate your incredibly close read of my work.  I struggle quite a bit with reconciling form and content and am often left frustrated by conversations with others that fixate too much on one or the other, without taking time to consider how one informs the other - often resulting in a lack of authentic engagement and/or a type of engagement that is detrimentally bound to an assumed discourse.  It's really hard for me to keep working photographically sometimes - but I think I just need to keep working toward finding the right audience.

But, my point is - I'm left incredibly encouraged by the response the two of you had.  You've both beautifully articulated so much of what I've been thinking about/working toward over the last several years.  It's like a big fucking sigh of relief!

Quickly though, I just want to share a passage from each of you that I had a strong response to, and that related perfectly to my thinking:

from Lisa,
" But in Goldfields, what is the entity that becomes known, and who or what performs the acts of knowledge?  Do we interpret Goldfields as addressing selfhood and Being, or cultural memory and historical belonging, or medium-specificity?  Or, is there something about the nature of Goldfields, its subject matter, its media and form of address, that brings together an inquiry into the ontological status of Being, history, and photographic media in a manner that is not a trivial overlapping of three divergent questions, but rather a claim to the fundamentally integral character of all three?

from Leigh-Ann,
"I want specifically to raise the issue of the relationship of lens-based practices to truth, and in particular to wonder what is at stake when the documentary image shifts in and out (as I feel it does here) of ‘authenticity’ and whether this failure to fix representation allows Dawn to represent the unrepresentable.  Put another way, does her refusal to determine, to reconcile, and to identify a politic, a point of view allow a glimpse into what structures the axiomatic presentation, to the view of what in-consists, the impure multiplicity,to the multiple units of thought by which we create meaning?"

I’ll continue this thought next week…..
FYI - the entire essay referred to above can be downloaded from my website HERE.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

To See What the World Looks Like (Photographed)

Quoting each other – that’s certainly what we do.  Especially when using a camera, or referring to/thinking of oneself as a photographer, an artist, a poet, a whatthehellever.  So, today’s ramble is going to be (a bit) less about my own work specifically, and more about some things I’ve been thinking about lately in relation to the enormous realm of the photographic (and I think of this space as pretty damn all-encompassing – I mean, is there a visual we have in our minds that we don’t also know in photographic form?).

Alright, so the post title – a recognizable portion of the Garry Winogrand quote “I photograph to see what the world looks like photographed.”  And yeah, why not?  And I believe him – eminent street photographer that he was.  He knew that his experience of that world as he made his way through it was markedly distinct from how it would later appear in its photographic re-presentation.  Now, his process was part and parcel of his work – the way he roamed the streets with camera at the ready, spontaneously pressed to eye instinctively, intuitively (I’m imagining, at any rate).  To be in the world while simultaneously recording it – playing it back later to see how it differed, which bits of the optical unconscious were revealed. 

But does this thinking only apply to the street, or to the rapidly unfolding world – order out of chaos type of thing?  I mean, we could apply it to huge swaths of landscape photographs as well – giant ass mountains that just sit there under puffed up clouds (that seem to be) frozen in space, or just the ground with no horizon and nothing to tell the viewer that this image is also a moment.  But, these images too are markedly different from the scene as it existed to the camera and the photographer that once or twice (or more) stood in its proximity.  As photographs, they are nothing more than, “a piece of time and space well described,” as Winogrand would say of his own work.

Having never worked in the street photography mode, I find it interesting how impactful that Winogrand interview with Bill Moyers was on me as a younger student.  Looking back it seems even my earliest “serious” photographs, though in a decidedly more traditional documentary style than my current work, were still concerned with those primary questions that encountering a photograph prompts – what am I seeing, how am I seeing it, why am I seeing it, why am I seeing what I know so differently than how I think I know it?

Dawn Roe:  Zoe with Cigarette (2000)
And this is where a problem comes in – and it’s a problem with a lot of what constitutes good photography (as designated by the current tastemakers – of which there are of course many, and whose opinions are of course varied).  But, there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s not questioning things anymore to the extent perhaps it should.  To depict and express what we “know” in photographic form to simply illustrate what it looks like is fundamentally distinct from asking us to think about what it “looks like photographed.”  Now, that might seem ridiculous, but I believe this.  And I believe this because it has to do with an investment in the question(s).  To look through the viewfinder and click the shutter (or role the tape) because you noticed something (or arranged something) that looked interesting (or cool, or artistic) is not enough.  What could that possibly tell us, or prompt us to question, rather than its relation to other images we know (which admittedly, at times can be an interesting territory of pursuit, but not if that’s not the intention).

So this is where I find this nice link between Winogrand’s sentiments and those of Uta Barth.  Which brings me back around to my earlier point about these notions not solely being the territory of the street photograph.  Barth’s work is decidedly quiet and contemplative, and has the quality of being simultaneously quickly happened upon and painstakingly constructed – not entirely dissimilar from Winogrands perfected compositions (it’s not incidental that my current students consistently read his work as having been staged).   But here again is this implicit concern with how these perceptual experiences are transcribed in photographic form.  These are not paintings (although they may share more aesthetic reference points with the painted canvas than the printed photograph), they are photographs – straight photographs.  Purposefully so.

Now I’m thinking about all of this because as I mentioned above, we quote each other.  And yes, most certainly, my own work is made in full awareness of the work of Uta Barth (and Luisa Lambri and Elisa Sighicelli and Andres Tarkovsky and countless others who’ve influenced me).  But, if someone says “that’s too much like Uta Barth, or too much like X,Y,Z” that doesn’t mean I stop.  It means I extend the question.  So I guess that’s my point today – I want to see more extension (oh, and you better believe that relates directly back to Bergson’s notion of duration, and to endure).

What the heck kinda fun am I going to have next week?!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tilts and Swings (Part I)

I once had my work reviewed by a fancy New York gallery owner who did not care for it, and let me know immediately by holding up the first print and exhibiting the “gas face” expression.  Obnoxious as this was, he did have a few useful things to say.  His primary issue with the group of images being reviewed was that they were shot with a DSLR camera, and he felt it was “view camera work”.  He was actually right about that.  The kinds of landscape images I was making at the time really did seem to belong to the large-format tradition, and it’s certainly true that you need to think about the right tool for the job.  Problem is, I wasn’t really on to the right job.  Now, I had a few successes with some of those images and working in that manner was helping me to address some ideas I had about landscape, but I really wasn’t interested in creating highly detailed depictions of very specific spaces, the kind that the view camera is so good at.  I’ve always been much more inclined toward a mid to shallow depth of field, rendering portions of the frame less comprehensible and pinpointing another (of course, something else the view camera is very good at).

So, I did start using the view camera again (having only very limited experience with this device in prior years, but always knowing that I needed to find a way to spend some time with it).  And I did go right back into those same landscapes I’d been looking at with the small format digital camera, but I certainly wasn’t looking at them the same way – how could I have?  I had no intention to either – I knew I wanted to take advantage of those tilts and swings to skew perspective and (less so) scale.  And this (I think) gets back to my recent fixation on documenting/recording.  Now, if I simply wanted to document these spaces for objective reference or as part of a seemingly neutral collection, indeed I may well seek the clarity offered from the huge amount of detail the large negative can hold.  But, if instead what I want to do is record my experience in/of these space, it seems to me a (seemingly) objective representation couldn’t quite offer that.  I ran into some trouble thinking about this when I realized that of course I’m not recording my experience of these spaces, I’m recording the camera’s experience of these spaces (as controlled by me, the operator).  But that’s part of what I’m interested in – the distinction between experience as it is occurring and as its re-presentation, both temporally and physiologically. 

So, one of the things I’m trying to get at with these trees, weeds and leaves has to do with the fixated moment(s) amongst the peripheral glimpse.  And the rapidity with which this optical flow occurs.  We certainly cannot “know” these things in time, but only through recollection (which can be temporally very near or very far).   This leads me to use those tilts and swings to obscure horizontal or vertical planes of the image in order to mimic or at least reference the experience of perceiving a space in time.  The view camera allows the operator to precisely define a very specific area of focus within the two-dimensional plane, which is essentially what we do when observing any scene – our eyes cannot fixate (precisely) on more than one point in space at a time.  So, I’ve got to keep thinking about this.  Just a brief intro this week, more later.

Next week, in Part II, I’ll focus on how I’m thinking through some of this in relation to the video component of this work, in terms of the overlapping formal language of photo/video in relation to optics and lens attributes, as well as the very separate formal languages of presentation in terms of space and time.