In the final analysis photographers are opportunists. By association, so are photo artists.
On one extreme there are pre-meditated opportunities – standing on the right street corner when the photographer already knows something is going to happen there. Hiking into the wilderness to wait weeks to capture the perfect image of eagles the photographer knows flies there, just inches above the water. Setting up exactly the right studio light for the subject sitting for the portrait before the perfect backdrop.
The other extreme: sitting at the breakfast table as the morning light streaks in a window and KNOWING there’s a photograph there, emerging that second from nothing. And getting it. No great amount of manipulation, really, just seeing the shot and grabbing it. And then the photo artist: knowing exactly what to do with that capture, how far to take it, how to take advantage of subtleties, of exaggeration, of abstraction, of realism – how to bring out the ART lurking in the pixels. The art of ordinary things.
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Please let me update my recent post sharing my works for the Jefferson City Art Club’s annual Fine Art Exhibit; everything I submitted received a ribbon. ‘The Chalk Artists’ at the top of the page received 1st Place in category. Since that new work is a favorite that I think represents the direction my art has been taking over the past year I’m thrilled with the reinforcement! The works ‘Winter War’ and ‘Tornado Plate #75’ each received 2nd Place in their categories. And finally ‘In The Warmth Of Your Company’ received an honorable mention.
I really try NOT to focus too much on accolades – among the best advice I ever received was to not let the opinions of a single gallery or a single exhibition determine one’s self image or confidence as an artist. After all, it’s just the opinion of one or a handful of judges, who could have had a bad day. I try to stay focused on the simple joy of exhibiting my work. But I gotta admit, the occasional ribbon or two feels pretty good!
… and then the art galleries reopened …
My community gallery will reopen to the public Friday, July 26 with the local art club’s fine art exhibit. The next town over reopened its gallery a couple weeks ago, so I guess we can say public art is back on display. No public receptions at either venue – wear a mask when you go. We could argue all day whether these openings are too soon, whether masks should be required (they are not), whether it will all necessarily shut down again this fall, so on and so forth. We are not out of this by any means. Will the re-emergence of art make a difference? Who knows?
I’ve always loved exhibiting. There’s something about seeing my work on public display, surrounded by the creative brilliance of the community. That my work is so very different, that so many art groups including this one seems to prioritize brush and ink arts, those are things I simply avoid recognizing. The joy comes from having my work included as part of the public discourse. During the quarantine, galleries tried virtual exhibitions with, I felt, limited success. Like everything else ‘virtual’ there is a loss of intimacy and subtleness. Besides, arguably I do a virtual exhibit twice a week through this blog.
A third gallery at which I’m often exhibiting looks to be closed indefinitely, and a fourth shut down after Christmas before the pandemic hit. One of the things people stop doing in the lead up to a recession is purchasing art, so I knew a year ago that something was coming down the pike at us. Art sales simply seemed to be drying up everywhere – it was clear that claims of an economic boom were lost in the illusion.
There is a temptation to blame everything happening on the pandemic. But that ain’t it.
I’m going to go ahead and post this rather unimpressive work instead of throwing it out along with the next couple I created, to prove a point. Things don’t always work out.
Way, way back last year sometime (yeah, I tried to find the exact post, and couldn’t – there have been a lot of these, haven’t there), I opined that the photo artist has to nail the function both of the artist and of the photographer. Miss either and the work won’t fly. I’ve also mentioned that I walked away from photography back before digital emerged because it had become too expensive. Where that expense I think most rears its ugly head is wildlife photography. Photographers in general are slaves to a) access, and b) equipment. One has to be able to get to the correct location, be there at the correct time, then have the correct hardware required to capture the shot. Wildlife photography can mean hiking miles into wilderness while carrying enormous lenses costing thousands of dollars and enough provisions to withstand a siege of days and days and days to capture just the right image in just the right light. I have enormous respect for professional photographers, wildlife photographers specifically.
Here's what I have: a backyard beer garden / aviary that attracts a few seasonal birds, a zoom lens that cost a couple hundred and tops out around 220mm, and a few minutes now and again to try to capture something. While it’s actually worked for a few works, the reality is I just can’t get close enough for the captures I want, and I can’t justify the bucks it would take to purchase the equipment necessary to do so.
So the artist steps in. He takes that capture that’s not that good and tries to enlarge the subject, and then, because the blow up usually pixelates the birds, starts going into abstract filtering to uncover something resembling art buried in the pixels. I’ve actually created a few pretty fair works that way. This is not one of them. The other new works in this series, which are even more disappointing, will stay on the hard drive. You do your best, then you move on.
What became the title of this work was a phrase from a news interview this week in which a reporter asked, “I know the beginnings of this conflict are lost in the mists of time, but why did this episode happen now”?
The point: behavior often emanates from generations of enculturation, but why are you doing what you’re doing now? Why are you thinking what you’re thinking today? Have we no freer will than a domino in a line of dominos falling in order?
The photographic capture this work is based on contrasts hard architectural lines partially obscured by free-flowing landscape and sunlight. Human dogma against a transcendent flow. With artistic license thrown in. If the shoe fits …
Simplicity is usually more complicated than it looks, especially when flailing backwards at it.
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I probably drove past this scene, albeit usually going the other direction, weekly for the past 20 years before one day thinking, ‘hey, I know how to capture that’.
They say Einstein had in his closet a row of seven identical suits. Every day, he would simply select the next suit on the rack. Therefore, he wasted no mental energy figuring out what to wear and could focus all his cranial capacity on his intellectual pursuit of the day from the moment his eyes cracked open in the morning.
I am a universe away from an Einstein in every conceivable way, but I instituted a similar process last office job I had. I lined up my pants, mostly khakis for that job, in a row and inserted between them the shirts that went with those pants. So, same deal – every morning I just grabbed the next pair of pants, spent up to ten seconds selecting a shirt, and I was ready to face the day. A day in which someone would constructively criticize the boring wardrobe I seemed to have.
The art thing had me working from home long before the pandemic made everyone work from home, but even then I’d leave the house for coffee or lunch with friends, groceries and errands, or just family obligations. Same deal in my leisure wardrobe – I just laid everything out in a line and chose the next one in sequence. Easy peasy.
With ‘shelter-at-home’, though … what the hell difference does it make?! One wears the same pair of gym shorts or sweats for days – there aren’t that many of them in the drawer anyway. Grab the most comfortable T-shirt and just stick with it, no pun intended, until it gets soup or something on it, then take it off long enough to wash it. What’s the point of a wardrobe system?
Question, though – if one’s work is creative, is the necessity of a creative wardrobe decision first thing in the morning an annoying distraction or a constructive warm-up?
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Yesterday I had reason to meet briefly with a friend, a gallery director who has been, if not a mentor, certainly a facilitator of my work the past few years. What our brief conversation revealed to me is that, after hardly talking with a soul for three months, I hardly remember how to have a conversation anymore. I’m an introverted old cuss anyway, and I certainly wasn’t living as a social butterfly, but c’mon, man!
Today’s work may seem compositionally similar to ‘Worlds in Collision’ from a week ago. There’s a reason. It’s the same work.
Worlds In Collision was completely drained of color. Candy Rain has as much color pumped into it as I thought it could stand. The two works are identical structurally; not even filtered differently. The only thing different is the use of color. But I think each work stands on its own.
It’s not the first time I’ve created variations of the same work. Most recently ‘Goes Around’ … ‘Comes Around’ completed back in March illustrated the use of different techniques to create separate works from the same photographic capture – there were actually four versions, two of which I’ve kept to myself. A couple decades ago, when I was just figuring out photo art, I once created over 100 works from a capture of my son’s Pinewood Derby car crossing the finish line first, just to learn how each filter variation changed the visual interpretation.
That’s one of the rewarding things about creating art digitally – the artist can move in several directions at once, composing any number of interpretations until one emerges that captures the artist’s vision.
Sometimes, more that one vision works. More than one way of seeing the same perspective. Funny how that works.
Yeah – gotta look closely at this one to see what’s there. I created this work months ago (February) for a monochrome exhibit originally scheduled for later this year (that show, like pretty much everything on the calendar, was cancelled due to the pandemic). I’d been admiring art I’d seen that works with subtle shades of black and wanted to give it a try. I didn’t post it then because it’s such a departure from what I normally do and, well, thought I’d make it a surprise.
Decided to post it now partly because, with shelter at home, my inventory of new photographic captures to work with is running awfully low, and partly because the timing seemed right for a work of this nature – that it made an appropriate statement.
I almost didn’t post it now because the timing seemed inappropriate as a work of this nature might be wildly misinterpreted.
Here’s the insecurity: As are most people living without their heads up their ass, I am appalled by the recent events in Minneapolis and sick to death of the institutional racism we take with a grain of salt in this country. That a black man cannot jog down the street without being shot while a bunch of weapons toting white Nazis can occupy the Michigan statehouse and get off scot-free speaks of the perverse reality of America today. Black Lives Matter is completely appropriate. The marches are completely appropriate, and while looting is never appropriate I understand it. Heck, they tried kneeling peacefully before sporting events and people didn’t like that either. But as it happens, I’m white (to use the line from the movie, “You’re old, you’re white, and you got no schtick”, and I’ll give a kiss to anyone who can identify the movie). As many of my white friends have been discussing, do we know remotely how to respond appropriately to this? Would any response of ours include subliminal elements of the same racism we purport to oppose? As an artist, a white guy, is it presumptive of me to suggest, even remotely, that a work of mine might impart a statement against racism?
On the other hand (not to make a pun), I’m also a one-arm guy. Not disabled, mind you, just a one-arm guy. No, I have no idea what it’s like to be a black man, but I know exactly what it’s like to step into a room and be immediately judged poorly due to the accident of birth; to have my abilities, indeed my very existence, deemed insufficient, and to find that the attitudes and actions of others reflect that judgement. That, I know extremely well.
Consider this work a reflection of anything people try to turn away from. Black, physically different, intellectually challenged, sexually diverse, racially diverse, religiously diverse; Everyone is one of us.
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This work is not photo art because it didn’t start with a photographic capture. This is digital art – images “drawn” onto a blank canvas. I always secure works I post online with a watermark, but in this case the watermark was the most prominent visual element, so I’ve reduced its size and placed it down in the lower left corner. Which is paramount to not protecting it at all. So please …
BTW, in the high-res version of this work the shades of black are even more subtle.
Some months ago, I began making notes for a new novel, a science fiction story about a scientist who predicts the end of humankind. In the novel, the scientist publishes a paper outlining characteristics of homo sapiens he feels will lead to its own extinction. Here are the contents of those notes:
And then because this was intended as science fiction …
6. Are unable to tolerate naturally occurring or artificial radiation variance.
7. Have no mechanism for natural selection to overcome these disadvantages.
Like so many story ideas I’ve entertained, this one remains to be written.
Know how certain days sort of have a “feel” to them? One “feels” Friday night, for example. Saturday afternoon. Monday morning. The other evening I was thinking how it felt like a Sunday night. It was actually Tuesday.
The quarantine, for me at least, has created a sameness in which everyday runs together. Nothing exists now that differentiates one day from the next; nothing on the calendar to count towards or after. Work at home, plus the dogs, at least define when to get up and when to go to bed. But the sameness also facilitates a sort of mental dullness; nothing to break up my self-absorbed routine so the tendency is to simply do whatever is easiest. We’re not talking boredom; I have plenty of interests just around this house to keep me occupied, all kinds of stuff I like doing. What we’re talking about are those outside things that prevent me from doing what I’d rather be doing and thus force me to focus more sharply on those things when time becomes available.
We are what we overcome. I must overcome my own lazy ass.
This was a fun series to work on! Seemed deserving of a slide show. Photographic captures were collected at one of the last open events before everything closed up – the St. Louis Art Museum’s ‘Art In Bloom’ event - and there were enough interpretive captures that I’ve been able to spend a couple months happily creating art using art itself and the people drawn to it as the focal points.
Trouble is, with social distancing, opportunities for photographic captures involving public gatherings have been nonexistent, and I’m down to just a few scattered captures before the cupboard is bare! I feel loath to go back to florals, landscapes, and old buildings – seems like my portfolio is bulging with that. Been down that road. I was digging the new paths.
So who knows what will come next. I’ll be as surprised by it as anybody.
I was recently tagged on Facebook to post images of ten album covers which reflect work that influenced my musical tastes. That’s a fun one – much of what passes back and forth on social media I’d just as soon forego, but music and creativity are for me inexorably and profoundly linked.
Years ago I took a couple years digitizing my old albums, track by track. I did NOT use automated software in which one simply plops the needle onto the vinyl, walks away, and the computer does everything. I used much more sophisticated recording software which enabled me to adjust each conversion to bring it up as closely as possible to CD quality. Going through decades of old albums, I would find tracks worn almost down to nothing; I’d clearly loved those songs and played them to within an inch of their life. And some of them were crap. On the other hand, I would find other tracks that were pristine, which I’d clearly only listed to a couple of times and gone on, and they were gorgeous, wonderful songs.
What the hell was I thinking?!
Well, what it reflects is that over time my musical tastes have evolved and changed, just as my creative approach to art has evolved and changed. After the Facebook tag, most of the albums I posted were decades old. It’s true that much of the music that first influenced me was from my youth. But most of the music in my current playlists are only a few years old. Well … for me “a few years” might be 15 or 20, but still.
The past is prologue. Where have you gone since then? What do you hear and see now?
I suppose it’s time to explain the moniker “Damn Photo Artist”.
Said supposition seems appropriate given the current societal hankering for life to return to “normal”, the tendency to damn anything that’s not irrefutably “normal” being at the heart of the moniker.
A million years ago, while a grad-ass in Community Development at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I worked with a rural sociologist named Daryl Hobbs (shocked to discover he does not have a Wikipedia page). We were contacted by leaders from the little town of West Plains (home of Dodger great Preacher Roe, among others), where I would later intern, who wanted help engaging in economic development. What these leaders wanted – what so many want when the subject comes up – was a single bullet solution: attracting new industries or ‘marketing’ and thus stealing jobs away from someplace else. ‘Marketing’ would be considered ‘normal’. Effective economic development, however, is a multi-dimensional approach involving a dozen or more strategies and taking a decade+ to effectively take root. Hoping to impart that to the West Plains leaders, the University decided to send the persuasive Daryl Hobbs out to talk with them. They were less than pleased. One of those leaders angrily stated, “All they’re doing is sending us a damn sociologist!”
So flash ahead to more recent years, when I began exhibiting art, and I began running up against traditionalists for whom the use of computers in creating art was sacrilege. For such traditionalists, art was acceptable only when made by hand, and photography, only recently grudging accepted in local art circles, only counted as film straight out of the camera. And up I pop with … what the hell is that!? Damn!!
Even before the pandemic threw the economy out of whack there were fervent lamentations to “bring back our jobs from China”. Look, global economics is simply a shift from production/distribution to distribution/production, which effectively pits localized labor forces in competition with each other. Here’s the thing: We did that. Us. America. That’s our economic model and we got everybody else to go along with it. China simply did what we taught them to do. And the reality is, American communities have been doing it to each other for over a century. Wherever you’re reading this, there’s likely a local economic development office, and I can almost guarantee that a large part of their charge, if not their main charge, is marketing – stealing jobs away from other American communities.
Just after my West Plains gig, I was part of a cadre of people trying valiantly to get across to state leaders that a marketing emphasis in economic development was ill-advised. We stated correctly that there would always be someplace come along that could do things cheaper than we could, and that we needed wholistic policies to build broadly based community and economic development initiatives that would build economic capacity with local and sustainable resources. They responded first by ignoring us, then by deconstructing and disenfranchising anything contrary to their political policies. (Sound familiar?)
WE. TOLD. YOU. THIS. WOULD. HAPPEN. Thirty years ago.
It seems like, from the day I was born, I have flown in the face of “normal”. A one-armed guy oblivious to any notion of disability, a Cubs fan living in Cardinals country, serving in Peace Corps instead of the military, preaching public service over politics, into music and movies almost nobody else around here is, wearing not just sandals but sandals with socks, an open-wheel racer on a stock car track, riding a bike in traffic. An artist using a computer to create art. Damn. Photo. Artist. In the face of normal.
Among the greatest of personal human foibles is the act of thinking too much. A young person might overthink the future. With age comes overthinking the past as well as the time to do it.
Everyone’s past includes moments of triumph and moments of grief, surrounded by long periods of mediocracy. Everyone’s the same in that regard – differences in personality create a predisposition to dwelling on one or the other.
I find the more I create and the happier I am with my work the less I dwell on anything at all. It was just someone else’s life. All the mistakes I made, and there were a boatload, and whatever I managed to accomplish are wrapped up and put away – they matter not all anymore. The act of creation has placed a final coda on previous lives. Someone new exists in its place. I did something wrong once, well gee, sorry about that; it doesn’t matter anymore. See who I am now.
I’ve noticed while out and about over the past week, as things are beginning a post-quarantine opening up, at least in this state, that people are being remarkably surly towards each other. Traffic is angry and impatient. People snarl. They seem fed up with being ‘nice’. Their lives have been inconvenienced and it annoys them. What stores are open, only roughly half the shoppers are wearing masks, and I’ve actually felt like some of those who aren’t have given me dirty looks (I’m obviously one of the folks wearing one).
There’s talk that sporting venues may open up somewhere around July, albeit with empty stands. Entertainment venues want to reopen with one-tenth their capacity, and to get in one has to have their temperature taken and be wearing a mask – I suspect that will hold with all public venues. Imagine a 38,000-capacity stadium opening with a limit of about 5,000 mask wearing fans. Does that even pay to open the doors? How does one drink beer and eat stadium-nachos while wearing a mask?
We’re a minimum of a year before there’s a tested vaccine, and a minimum of two years, and more likely three, before it’s distributed widely enough to support a full reopening of society. It’s not going to move any faster by treating each other like crap. Which, in an election year with a completely polarized electorate, is already propagating.
Show some backbone. Buck the trend. Be more kind.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.