New semester beginnings

The latest image. 

 

Continuing to make pictures, continuing to work on the video... Trying to figure out the next step. I've spent most of the summer at the Maine Media Workshops teaching in the darkroom. It gave me an opportunity to make some landscapes similar to the ones I came into my MFA with, and surprisingly, the process and images still have resonance with me. I'll post a few as soon as I get them scanned. My assumption going into this summer's work was that I would be "checking out" from MFA work. I don't mean that I wasn't going to be working or hitting my "studio" hours (as a photographer, I never recuse myself into the studio. I edit there, and that's it for the most part), I just mean that to begin this semester, I planned to continue researching through reading, and putting some serious legwork into fall shooting plans. Meanwhile, with the darkroom accessible to me, I shot some Anonymous Landscapes, mostly as an exercise, but I realized I'm not quite done with the project, which I thought I was. 

I also had an opportunity to give my first public presentation of my work, which was great. I think there should be a clip available at some point in the future.

What's next? Justine Kurland has agreed to be my mentor this semester, which I'm truly excited about. I hope we can meet up in the next few weeks. I'm hopeful that our conversation will help propel my work toward the January residency. My main goal this semester is to start looking at the "War on Drugs" in a new way. I've been working on trying to get into jails to photograph inmates convicted of minor drug crimes. We shall see. So far I've made very little progress, but I've been reaching out to a lot of different people and I hope it comes together.

 

Ethical questions

Working on this project, I've come had to address several ethical questions. As a high school teacher, I'm legally responsible for the wellbeing of my students... A while ago, I took this picture of one of my students crying during a presentation by Chris Herren, former NBA star and addict in recovery. I think the image is powerful, and speaks to the human consequences of this disease. I debated whether or not to show the image, and ultimately sat down with the student, explaining my project, and asked her permission to use it. She understood its impact, and agreed without any hesitation to allow me to use it. 

   

Sometimes things work out...

As part of my research this semester, I have several news alerts that notify me when certain keywords are mentioned in an article (for example, various combinations of "heroin", "crisis", "Massachusetts", etc)... And thanks to such a notification earlier in the week, today I ended up at the Massachusetts Medical Society at a forum on the opiate crisis, where the keynote speaker was Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy (basically the head drug policy maker in the United States... the position was formerly known as the "Drug Czar"). I was luckily enough to get some time with Mr. Botticelli to make a portrait for my project. In addition to being involved with policy, Mr. Botticelli is an alcoholic in recovery. 

 

Another residency, a new project

In my discussions and meetings with my mentor Greer Muldowney, I explored my original semester plan to continue working with the political landscape–specifically the tidal marsh–and found the subject significantly less interesting than I had anticipated. Exploring the politics and cultural weight of the tidal marsh landscape was interesting, but I realized that the project didn’t have legs for me. I wasn’t going to be able to throw myself into the research or the work for very long, and I don’t think the work would have been any good in the end.

In discussions with Greer, I realized that what did interest me was looking at the same aspects (politics, economics, cultural and historic attitudes, institutional power, as well as personal) of another topic: addiction treatment and recovery. There is a lot happening around this issue in Massachusetts at this time, and I have a personal connection and established working relationships with people close to this subject, so I can immediately jump into this work without delay. In fact I already have.

One obvious pitfall I hope to avoid is falling into cliché. There is great potential for this; although the same held true for my idea to work in the landscape. I will take my time to identify effective subjects so that the “late start” (having less time to do this work) will be minimized.

For the academic component, I will be researching and writing papers on these topics. I will start by looking at artists who have looked at addiction and treatment, but primarily I will be researching other aspects of this: economics, politics, etc. My goal is to present all of the historical and contemporary social policy and an overview of the tide of cultural feelings, and contrast that with the visual. I will look at the work that has been done with addiction and treatment by artists historically, as well as the work being done contemporarily in an attempt to establish where my work will fit in with the discourse.

 

Fall 2014 Residency update

You know when you meet someone, forget their name, and see them often enough, and enough time lapses and you just feel rude asking their name because you met them forEVER ago, so you just say hey! How are you?

That's sort of what this blog feels like.

I restarted my studies at AIB (now LUCAD) in June, and have been making a lot of new work, working with my mentor, Christine Collins, and advisor, Ben Sloat

Presented below, without much comment, are some new pictures I've been making. More later.

One of the main things that I got out of the June residency is that I wanted to try exploring many different photographic possibilities. In a sense, I wasn't pushing myself enough with my work, and my goal for this semester was to try to challenge myself, exploring the things I was interested in, and establish a personal voice with my image making. 

Additionally, Ben challenged me to make pictures without any post processing, as a way to help establish my subject, and determine why I was photographing what I was photographing. Specifically with the work I've been doing in the tidal marsh, the post processing mediation I was doing was getting in the way.

To this end, I've been shooting a lot with a point and shoot camera, and a gopro, in the marsh.

In my research, I've been looking at photographers like Todd Hido and Justine Kurland, who work with narrative, fictional, emotive, and mythological themes. I am interested in how I can these in my own work. Specifically, looking at the marsh, I realized I was going there firstly as a hunter, and so I started to delve into this narrative, fictional, mythological representation of hunting and shooting culture.

Photographing your artwork

My wife and I, through our commercial photography business 52 Photography Studio, spend a good amount of time taking pictures for other artists who need high quality reproductions of their art. It's a natural fit; as active members of the arts community our friends and colleagues started to reach out when they needed to submit to a show or update their website. We know a lot about how to do it right, so we've created this blog post to collect and disseminate information on this topic. 

 

There's a lot of great information out there already, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I've started a pinterest board to collect posts from all over the web.

 

Along with the pinterest board, I'll be updating this page with information as I find and/or create it. Bookmark it and come back often!

 

 

There is time...

"In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."

-The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

Shortly after beginning the MFA program in January I realized that as far as the Massachusetts Department of Education was concerned, enrolling in, working on, or completing that degree would have no bearing on whether or not I maintain my educator licensure next year, despite the fact that it is a terminal degree. In years past, apparently, if you were working on a master's degree, you could extend your licensure until you completed it. I discovered that not only was this not true, but that there are very specific masters classes required to achieve the next level of licensure. Something that I didn't figure out until it was almost too late. A colleague of mine in the same boat discovered a program starting in February (on the day that it started) and in addition to the MFA course load I've been taking these required classes, which will go through the end of 2013.

I thought I could do both. And work full time. Foolishly.

Regrettably, I will be taking next semester off from the MFA program. The way I saw it, something had to go. I could...

1) Take a sabbatical from teaching and do both grad programs. Two major problems: a) loss of income and b) I have to "student teach" for a semester for the education masters program... So that wasn't a very good option.

2) Drop the education licensure program. The biggest problem with this option is that I wouldn't be able to teach. So I'd have to either get a new job or... Well, that's it.

3) Drop the MFA program (temporarily). This option was both the most sensible and the one I wanted to do the least. I could retain my income, and satisfy the requirements to continue teaching.

Making new work, exploring the pathways of contemporary art, working with classmates and my mentor, Christine Collins, even the tortuous process of writing papers... These things have brought me great joy and inspire me to be a better artist, teacher, person. And while classroom management theory and curriculum design (several classes from the education program) are pretty important, I'm not all that passionate about it. In fact, it's a total drag. But that's where I'm at. 

To my classmates at AIB: I'll be poking in on as much as I can during the June residency. And I'll see you in January 2014.

Video

Another video, this one filmed on February 7th. There are two edits, one is the original, in real time, here:

And then the 8 second version:

There are two things missing from these videos that I've been doing. 1) ambient sound, and 2) a soundtrack. Working on both.

Carlton Watkins

Recently I discovered in my research that Carlton Watkins photographed most of his landscapes using glass wet plate collodion plate negatives. I think I knew that, to some degree, but learning about photo history in a sequential way from the very beginnings to today has been illuminating. Specifically of interest is that wet collodion is only sensitive to blue light. Well, when shooting in the landscape, Carlton Watkins was aware that skies, no matter how many picture-perfect, Toy-Story-style big puffy clouds inhabited them, would render as all white because of the blue wavelength sensitivity. 

AND SO: He didn't include them in many of his photographs. I think that's so interesting considering my thoughts in my last post about what I include or don't include in my pictures. 

Also interesting were the solutions that Edward Muybridge discovered to this very problem. He would essentially dodge the exposure in the sky in-camera with a special tool he developed, and also photographed reflections

The Marsh

Growing up and living on the North Shore of Massachusetts, tidal marshland in Ipswich, Essex, Newburyport, and the coastal region in general: the Atlantic, the movement of the tides, it resonates.

View Larger Map

I grew up going down the Essex River almost every weekend with my family. We'd hope it the boat, cruise downriver, and most of the time end up on the backside of Crane Beach. We'd spend almost every weekend swimming, playing on the beach. Later, as a teenager, I started hunting ducks with my father "downriver", but I stopped hunting for over 10 years as my school and travels brought me out west. When I moved back east I worked on a radio documentary with my dear friend Ashley; photographing the landscape to accompany a slideshow and live listening party. You can listen to it over at http://essexriverproductions.org. It was a fine piece of radio journalism, but I'm afraid my own interest in the project wasn't as serious as Ashley's. I made some pictures, but they weren't that great, and weren't really congruous with the story. But now...

Two or three years ago I picked up waterfowl hunting again. Almost every Saturday (no hunting on Sundays!) during hunting season, I'm downriver hunting the great American Black Duck. It's a fool's enterprise, really. You're allowed to kill one duck per day. And if the weather's not just right, you won't see any anyway. We spent probably six or eight hours for every duck harvested this past season. That's time spent in pre-dawn winter hours loading up a tiny boat, navigating the winding estuary, sometimes in blinding winter white-outs, in the dark, with layers of heavy waterproof camouflage to go and sit... Again in sub-freezing temperatures. Sometimes you don't even see any ducks. You just sit. Sometimes you talk, sometimes you sit in silence. Occasionally a duck or two will fly your way and you'll take a shot. If you are any good, you'll get your limit of one and that'll be it. Often times I would just scare them...

So. What?

Well sitting out there, walking out there... Most of the time it's just waiting, watching, observing, listening, experiencing the landscape. Rarely another hunter or clammer will be out. Rarely a duck or two will fly by. A field mouse might show up, flushed by the rising tide. If the weather's nice, a kayaker, oblivious to the cold, might paddle by. And every single time I'm out there, I wish I had my camera. After hunting season was over, that's exactly what I started doing. 

I've been out almost every week, trying to capture the landscape. And that's where the first hints of the complexity of the place start to crop up. One of the main issues that has come up in grad school critiques is my ignorance of historical and contemporary art movements, and for that matter, ignorant of any critical thought surrounding my own work... Devoid of commentary, and not challenging enough. Perhaps just not entering into a dialogue at all. I've been working hard to amend all of these things. One thing that I've been interested in is the "Male Gaze" and how it applies to my own work. As someone who is unequivocally a member of the privileged class of white hetero men, how do I address an issue like this? Perhaps just being aware of it? When I say the word "Capture" in regards to a landscape image, I must be aware of the movement of Western Expansionism photography and the effort of early "pioneers" who in a very real way captured and destroyed the land and Native American culture.

A few weekends ago I visited The Art Institute of Chicago and viewed this image by Carlton Watkins:

Mendocino River, From the Rancherie, Mendocino County, California, c. 1863/68

Mendocino River, From the Rancherie, Mendocino County, Californiac. 1863/68

The image is beautiful; however, placed in the context of Western Expansionism critique, I find it impossible to view it purely as an aesthetic object. So how then to view it?

How then, to discuss my own work where I am out to "capture" the land? If I am not out to destroy or harness the land, am I using the wrong word? Another verb perhaps? I like the word capture precisely because it acknowledges this history.

Or how about the simple, but important trope of man's influence on the landscape, explored diversely from the New Topographics photographgers to contemporary artists like Greer Muldowney and Deborah Bright. Much of my landscape work up until now is about eliminating visual context. The idea of shooting photographs of "ruin-porn" or shiny modern architecture isn't my idea of fun. This is very interesting to me, but I don't think I'm going to be making that kind of work. 

Let's wrap this thing up shall we? Here's an idea I had while looking at some recent pictures I made in the Marsh. A question really. How narrow of a view do I have to present to see an image of a seemingly unaltered landscape? The image below reflects a view I've been noticing in a lot of my work, that is a view that is almost deliberate in its reluctance to see beyond the natural. This is interesting to me. This is compelling. It feels like it considers and acknowledges all of the things I want to address, yet remains authentic to my voice and aesthetic pleasure. This is but a beginning. I most emphatically do not present this as anything like a finished piece, but I do say that this is a response to that question.

Untitled. Essex Marsh. 2013

Untitled. Essex Marsh. 2013

This also marks the beginning of a collaboration with artist and dear friend Jeremy Miranda. More on that later, but I am very exciting to be working with him.

Well, that's it for now. On March 30th I'm planning to make a video from sunrise to sunset, in real time, on the marsh in Essex. There are some more pots on the fire and I hope to share them with you soon.

New Work

I'm interested in the landscape as meditation. At least that's what I said during my first residency. And I am! I really am. But I said that quite naïvely. One of the biggest problems in looking at the landscape is this. Deborah Bright describes the problematic nature of landscape, and proposes a higher goal for the genre. 

Landscape imagery has almost always been used to argue for the timeless virtues of a nature that transcends history—which is to say, collective social action. For many art photographers in the modern era, on the other hand, landscapes seem to be little more than stage-sets for private aesthetic experiences captured on film. As Lewis Baltz writes in a recent issue of Aperture,

The landscape…seems more a set of conditions, a location where things
and events might transpire rather than a given thing or event in itself;
an arena or circumstance within which an open set of possibilities
might be induced to play themselves out.

 

But landscapes needn’t serve such meager ends. If we are to redeem landscape photography from such a narrow, self-reflexive project, why not use it to question the assumptions about nature and culture it has traditionally served? Landscape is not the ideologically neutral subject many imagine it to be.

 

So this, my friends, is an attempt to do just that.