transits 122, photograph
“I no longer worry whether a painting is about something or not. I am only concerned with the expectation, from a flat surface, of an illusion.”
– William Scott
All art is illusion since it is a (mis)representation of reality in some way – unless you consider it as a physical object in it’s own right (a bit of paper or canvas, some pigment or emulsion). But the art always stands for something else and it can never be that thing entirely.
I like to bring that quality to the surface of my work so that when you look at it, it’s apparent that I’m not simply trying to replicate reality. I’m inviting you into the illusion, allowing you to add your own interpretation, to construct your own reality out of the sketchy elements I offer up.
It can be a little unsettling and it requires a bit more effort to create the story, and all good art comes with a story, either entirely personal or more communal. Sometimes the material I provide doesn’t inspire your imagination to engage, other times it sparks an unexpected journey.
Either outcome is fine, I just ask that you keep looking.
“We all have our limitations, but when we listen to our critics, we also have theirs.”
– Robert Brault
It is important to remember that critics have limitations, just as artists do. They come with their own histories and prejudices, which they mostly cannot help but have color their critiques of our work. Often we do not know what these are, so it’s hard to interpret what we hear appropriately.
The same is true for artists and their art – each of us has our own background and experiences that inspire and define what we create. Most of our viewers know little of this and, thus, can only interpret our work based on what they see combined with their own insights. And in some sense, that’s fine – it doesn’t matter that they don’t know why we did something.
And that is true for how an artist uses a critique – while it may be interesting to know why the critic says what they do, ultimately it’s up to us to take the words in and see what truth they have for us.In that way, we become a little less constrained by their limitations and are left to do battle with out own.
ancient urban 4, photograph
“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”
– Henri Cartier-Bresson
I have a strong preference for photographic images that are partially out of focus. They seem to reside in that in-between, on the edge place that I find most interesting.
They remind me of the moment when you wake up from a dream and some elements of your consciousness are from the dream state while some are from your newly wakened state.
Finding just the right mix of abstract/literal, in focus/out of focus, distorted/straight is a challenge. I find that it’s a fine line one balances on. A little too far in either direction just feels off somehow. This actually adds an additional challenge for me as an artist, which provides a little extra creative juice to add to the mix.
Of course, this is all subject to personal taste. There are definitely folks who just have no interest in photography that isn’t tack sharp, infinite depth of field, etc.
For those of you in this camp, I refer you back to Henri Cartier-Bresson…
ancient urban 3, photograph
“Its not that we need new ideas, but we need to stop having old ideas.”
– Edwin Land
What is your relationship with your past? With work you’ve done before? With the work of others you’ve been inspired by?
For me it’s a most delicate balance. I can get too enamored of what has worked for me in the past and find myself unconsciously repeating it. Or I’ll find myself emulating work I see that I like from others. This can hold me back from exploring new ideas.
On the other hand, it’s important to understand what I like and don’t like, what has worked or not. So the past informs me, it provides important clues about what I should do next. The trick is to extract enough from it to be the seed of new thought and work, but not to retain so much that it constrains.
I try to use the past as a springboard, not a hitching post. And like the experience of having just sprung from the board, the feeling of turning your back on ideas that have meant something to you in the past can be both exhilirating and terrifying.
A true leap of faith…
hands 4, photograph
“They are imbeciles who call my work abstract. That which they call abstract is the most realistic, because what is real is not the exterior but the idea, the essence of things”.
– Constantin Brancusi
Smart people in many fields, ranging from classical philosophy (Plato) to modern physics to Kashmir Shaivism and Buddhism, point out that external appearances are not real in some fundamental way. They are transient, illusory, a deception.
We have it backwards – what we think of abstract is real and what we perceive of as real is abstract. Of course, it’s hard to live one’s everyday life with this perspective. But, as artists, we have the freedom to entertain this viewpoint in our work.
This is why most of my photography explores a shadow world, a level or two below what we think of as reality. It’s like the part of the iceberg below the waterline – there’s much more there to explore than what’s on the surface. That volume has extraordinary dimension. It is from there that the parts we see emerge above the surface.
It’s reassuring to know that there is so much more in the abstract world beneath the surface of things – no end to what we can explore!
hands 3, photograph
“The moment a man begins to talk about technique that’s proof that he is fresh out of ideas.”
– Raymond Chandler
I really don’t like to talk to people about how I’ve done a particular shot. You might have gathered that from reading this blog, where I rarely if ever discuss how the photograph was made. This is definitely not a how-to type of blog…
It’s not that I’m protecting some great secret, I just think it’s beside the point. The point is how the photography makes you feel, what emotional or intellectual response does it elicit, not technical details about what camera or lens was used, what lighting, exposure, etc. When I get into that kind of discussion with someone, I know they’re not really seeing the photograph.
Since I tend to shoot images that involve a fair amount of technique, some of it unusual, I’m opening myself up to more than my share of such questions and conversations. And I accept that – but I do relish the times when someone talks to me about how they feel about the image. And I feel myself deflate a bit each time I hear “how did you do that?”.
hands 3, photograph
“I wished to copy nature. I could not. But I was satisfied when I discovered the sun, for instance, could not be reproduced, but only represented by something else.”
– Paul Cezanne
Another worthy distinction to bear in mind as an artist – the difference between reproduction and representation.
As a creator and as a viewer of art, I find representation much more interesting – and, of course, as Cezanne says, you really can’t reproduce another thing anyway!
There are many choices that go into deciding how to represent something. You have to make decisions about how your approach will be like and how it will be different from the thing represented. This provides ample room for interpretation and expression. There are an infinite number of ways to represent something, a very finite (perhaps singular) number of ways to reproduce it. As a viewer of art, trying to understand how and why the work represents it’s subject offers a visual and intellectual challenge that engages me.
When I think about representing, I am forced to consider what are the essential qualities of the thing so I can attempt to make those more evident in the piece. This deepens my understanding and experience of my subject in a way that simply reproducing it does not.
Just another way that artmaking is so much about the process, not just the end result.
vapors 54, photograph
“Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?”
– Frank Scully
I have mixed feelings when creating new work that is new and different. First there is the excitement of creating something (hopefully) unique. But there is also the uncertainty of whether I’ve strayed down a path that no one will join me on. Going out on a limb can be a lonely place – exhilarating, but scary.
Not only is there risk to the ego, but there is real risk to the pocketbook as well. Often a financial investment is required, to print and frame the work, to enter it in shows (usually there are application fees), to ship it to remote venues, etc. I guess you have to pay to play.
But, indeed, the best fruit hangs at the end of the limb. Playing it safe in the art world is usually not a recipe for success and even if some success occurs, it’s not as personally rewarding as that which comes with greater risk. It’s when I take risks creating something new that I feel that I’m coming closer to expressing myself honestly.
So I’ll continue to experiment, to try new ideas, print and show new work (much of which will probably end up in my storage unit!) – hopefully I’ll harvest some sweet fruit along the way!
smoking nude 2, photograph
“Careful planning, and brilliant improvisation.”
– Sergi Eisenstein
The yin and the yang of making art. Years of practice, hours or even days of careful preparation for a specific piece and then ultimately the surrender to the creative spirit. Planning gives way to improvisation.
As in all things, the key is finding the right balance. Planning without improvisation produces nothing or work that is static, lifeless. Improvisation without planning may lead to an occasional success but lacks consistency and dimension.
Moving from one phase to the next is hard. It’s sort of a left brain/right brain kind of transition. It requires a shift in focus that requires a leap of faith – faith that the planning has laid the foundation from which the improv will flourish.
The piece above, part of a new series for me, is a case in point. I photograph smoke and independently I photograph figures in motion. Both require a lot of technique, lighting setups, creative use of exposure, etc. Lots and lots of shots to get some that work. The improvisation comes when I start combining them into image collages, looking for complementary forms and motion. I enjoy the discipline needed at the beginning and the freedom to play at the end.
The yin and the yang.
transient 3, photograph
“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”
– Francis Bacon
I’m not very interested in using photography in some of it’s more common forms – to explain, document or reveal. Rather I’d rather put it to work in the service of mystery.
Mystery arouses curiosity and speculation, which allows for a greater range of meaning. In fact, since photography is so well suited to literal description, the use of ambiguity can be even more compelling.
Perhaps an apt analogy is between a documentary film and film which is fiction. While good documentaries can be fascinating, they usually don’t involve the viewers imagination and emotion in as complex a fashion. Documentary film and photography brings you face to face with reality – the impact of that reality can be powerful. But non-documentary film and photography invite you to create your own reality, make up your own story.
Deepening the mystery is an important way for me to pen my own reality…