time was the photographs were my problem. the taking was fine: seeing the thing, camera eye framed and squeezing the shutter blind a moment, reflected light impacting silver. it was all that came after that i despised: slips of paper, bromides clumped and crumpled in gelatin — evidence floating the gap between what i wanted and the pith i got. taking pictures wasn’t my problem. it was the conduct of the product that left me cold. i preferred it latent.
if failure is inevitable with development, then a calculated cultivation of suspension i’d make my intent. it’s not uncommon for photographers to scrabble notes about exposure settings or light conditions for future reference and i figured to do the same. narrate the act, transcribe the conditions of transaction:
jess, kate and blackberry bushes we found after picking full hat full, forearms thorn scratched, fingers blue black. will bake pie if not sun tired.
afternoon and alone on the bainbridge ferry. storm grey light across the water. don’t remember anything so beautiful as this.
last shot of grandma before leaving the hospital. doesn’t have much nice to say.
trail along the outer rim. cool air, monsoon clouds forming north.
kitty bird and her boyfriend[?] in the back of dale’s truck.
those plastic smoking chairs out around behind work.
baily’s blue couch. slept here. a lot.
mitch is a motherfucker.
at the end of a roll i’d fold up the litany, rubber band it to the canister and toss it in the box with all the others. i’d make photography all a motion: endless and deferred, eternally inferred. like how i remembered. make the pictures. not matter.
It shouldn’t matter which camera you use, but the truth is the make and maker make us swoon. For years my self was satisfied to possess a Hasselblad — a contrivance so reputable I could never afford the lenses, so revered that, at least until the collapse of the analog market, I could trade it for a used car. Mercifully my ’blad no longer lords its value over me. I needn’t care for what it wants.
My suggestion for any new camera you might acquire — whether factory fresh or just fresh to you — is to forget about it. Shirk it off to a shelf to gather dust, or if it’ll fit toss it in a jumble drawer, if not then gambol it to the garage. Doesn’t matter really, box it up and bury it in the ground if that’s what’ll get it out of sight. If you can’t keep it out of mind then best lend it indefinitely to an untrusted friend.
Should your photographic needs be more immediate then drop it, more then once, hard, to the ground. Bang it against a door jam, leave it out in the rain, drown it in the lake. Resist the feel of the sleek lines in your hand, the possibilities of its capabilities, the rigor mortis of its engineering. What you wanna do is make it known who’s in charge.
Some day I hope to own an Ebony view camera. Likely never make a picture with it.
/ there are no final prints
/ an arm, a leg, maybe a spleen, but always a corpse of work
/ your audience is, will be, and always were other photographers
/ experiencing time forward doesn’t make the new by necessity better
/ mediations on quality are opinion, fashion, trend, blessing, and canonization
/ it’s quotations all the way down
Barthes is often misquoted, erroneously, as having stated that from one to as much as four percent of the weight of the world’s material possessions are photographs. An absurd number, for what is a photograph — a slip of paper, an amalgram of pixels — when compared to a coat, a horse, a house, or a gun? Yet practically this calculation is far too modest a model, for what holds down our walls, stiffens our wallets, and fattens our resolve? Not to mention all those photographs we’ve born before, lost, and can conjure now, stark and embellished by our machinations. The staggering toil of augmentation is merciless. The persistent entitlement to abduct time and appropriate likeness serves best to condense our dreams, compound our memories, and sentimentalize our fears. Trapped in this way, portentous and latent, aleatoric and discriminate, mutinous and inimical, light lies, always in wait. It’s not the seeing that we care so very much about, but the beings seen and the gravity of being seen again.
hey, is your power out?
yeah. my power’s out.
mine too. i’m just down the street.
i was in the basement when everything
went dark, thought it was a fuse.
yeah. i got no air conditioning. no fan. no tv.
porch lights are on across the street,
so they’re alright.
yeah. all we got’s daylight.
i hope it doesn’t last long.
maybe i should call the electric company.
at least it’s not like that one time.
this happened before?
oh yeah. the whole thing was out.
from New York to California.
the whole country?
coast to coast. out.
for four weeks.
There was foot bridge near my work in Shinagawa that spanned an industrial canal flowing off from Tokyo bay. I’d wait there if I was early, nursing a can of Kirin from the convenience store and peering into the deep black water, soothed by the silver spines skipping across cresting waves of current.
One day as I approached the bridge I saw a young salaryman intently watching the water lost to his thoughts. The weird thing was that he was leaning against the opposite rail of the bridge from where I always stood. I remember thinking, why would he do that? It wasn’t as beautiful that direction, just a view of the factories, of the docks.
The moment I settled into my familiar place facing the bay, the light and space spread vista before me, I immediately realized what I previously never cared to noticed. I always looked to where the water was coming from, to where it had been, just as my thoughts are often on the things that have gone before, on what had already happened, on all that I’d done.
So I turned toward the other side, walked over to see how things might look from a perspective focused on the future, to place my weight on the far railing and gaze upon a current that was going somewhere, to imagine all that might still be done.
I couldn’t take it for more than a few seconds. Honestly, watching all that water flow out from me made me nauseous.
I read that we’re all made of the same stuff: atoms, molecules and chemical compounds. That literally this could be that and that will become this. When they say all is one, they aren’t being kind. I know dead birds are a cliche, but figuratively it was on my doorstep and not many come knocking. When fitting energy to fate, and fate to phenomena, constellations are our only consolation.
made for a recent exchange for The Postcard Collective
your feelings, your experiences, your ideas are an auspicious, even admirable place to begin, just know when you’ve finally reached an end none of that should matter anymore. what there will be is something you’ve never seen before and what that will be is the very thing you did not even know you most needed.
to plot those places
where i last remember you
time and time again
i quit every other day and the other days i don’t even bother. i should’ve been a poet or a painter, or even smarter, taken those automotive repair classes in high school or got a good job at the shipyard like everyone else. maybe i should’ve went to a vocational cooking school, or better pestered my mother into buying me an electric guitar when i was twelve so i could’ve run away at fifteen to a southern california suburb to star in an angry punk rock band. instead what i’ve got are cameras, film, a darkroom i can’t afford, chemicals and paper. yet even with these riches i scarcely manage to fit any one thing worth your whiles to the confines of the material, never mind the unending erosion, for better or worse, of my very own wiles. it’s a feeble medium and it’s not keen to forgive. on my best days i think to tell the world important things, but let’s be honest, i cannot. it doesn’t work that way. it’s the cameras that do the telling and the most they ever tell me is what i’m in need of knowing. i scratch out the bits and pieces i remember and do what i can to smuggle them out to you. i try my best. i try to guess where you’ll be. i try to pronounce the languages you might speak. i try to carry on the mannerisms that might make your mind. i don’t know. the cameras don’t care what they do. the cameras don’t need to be used. there are long lonely days when i think the cameras are just fine by themselves as if maybe i should’ve been somebody else. like what i should’ve been is a clerk, a conductor, an electrician. some kind of catalyst. pure and invisible.
with mustered musement and merriment, a dispensation: at its most elemental, photography serves to reify that which the photographer deems worthy. to make a photograph is to assert value, and it is this assertion of value, in the form of a representation, that is, first and foremost, (re)iterated through dissemination. Instagram facilitates both acts: the taking and the trajectory, framing both as, as simple and as swift and as seamless as swiping a few onscreen buttons. and, unlike other models of making [a pro camera, being an artist, etc] and shaking [a book, the newspaper, a gallery or museum for example] that may by convention be bound by cost, time, purpose, profession, skill, education, social standing and/or experience, Instagram offers a relatively unencumbered mechanism to readily participate in a radically differing vista: the quotidian. to peruse a nexus of Instagram connections and to contribute your own photographs to that well, is to play a part in the real time accumulation, a steadying (re)valuation, of some of what gets us, singularly and together, through each day: friends, family, pets, places and food; something beautiful, something funny, something seen, and something done. it is in this way that the common practice of judging the relative merit of an individual photograph falls flat in the face of the Instagram interface. for the import of Instagram is in the very fact of each photograph having been produced and of the near-instantaneous shared profusion of countless such photographs across a network of exchange in which the legal tender is ♥ and minds [ie comments] and the reward, irregardless of the likes, is a reinforced sense of identification. every photograph a shiver not unlike your own.
i want a
just a thing
have no meaning
Whatness is concerned with content.
In the solemnity of every hour life returns.
- Frederick Sommer
I know dead birds are a cliche but I was late and I’d forgotten something, turned around and there he was. What was I to do? I quickly wrapped it up and carried him with me.
My therapist isn’t concerned with meaning or interpretations or possabilities. She never asks why. She says, what does the bird want? She says, what do you need?
I don’t have a lot of words this summer; trouble enough to put down this much. The studio is a mess and I no longer know what I’m working towards. I unfolded the paper and it looked like this. I made the exposure; I buried him with the irises.
Between teaching and working and everything else there isn’t always a lot left for consideration. Just, I don’t think it wanted to be left there on the sidewalk. I mean, I don’t think he wanted to be left there like that.
made for a recent exchange for The Postcard Collective
It doesn’t help. Something’s got to be done. His jaw dropped, his forehead wrinkled, he gasped, and then went into a paroxysm of coughing. He coughed and weezed in a manner almost sickening to behold. You know how sensitive I am — there is no limit to the number of symptoms that can be called forth under those circumstances — even to satisfy a doctor’s curiosity. Secrete, secrete: saliva gushes, your mouth waters, salivary glands go to work. Your brain is only aware of printed words — that is your conditioned reflex — traces of printer’s ink. He got that way in childhood. From learning to spit whenever he was angry or crossed or worried. He decided to forget entirely. In fact he had completely forgotten what makes you go to work, punch the clock, lunch at noon, dine heavily at night, and wish you hadn’t by bedtime. He did not like to admit these things, even to himself. He knew it was silly to feel as he does, but he cannot help it. His intestines, his glands, his heart — you could see this for yourself if you had an x-ray machine — the salivary responses, the fear responses, including spams of the stomach, cowering, tension of the muscles, the cramping of his intestines, and the dryness of his mouth. His whole body substituted. He was no longer human. He was highly irritable, snapped at everyone.
It shouldn’t happen, he never knows where he stands. We feel our glands, our stomachs, intestines, blood vessels. All we know is that in a chance encounter predestination wins this external conflict between fear, love and hate — and he hasn’t looked far beneath the surface of things. This too is being overdone. All this is common knowledge. Whether he is accepted or rejected, each determined by the angle of approach, each of which is appropriate, that it’s often difficult to reconcile one with another. But he knows he isn’t a martyr. Emotional habit is at once so complex, so diverse, and so closely knitted together; coaxing the sleep that does not come there arises a sense of strain, a lack of fulfillment.
Perhaps you had a trade skill that has been replaced by an automatic machine. This lopping off of an activity is a common thing in life. You haven’t anything else to do, nothing to do except to plan another futile, empty day. They gave him a farewell dinner and a gold watch. You can instruct the blood vessels of your face to dilate, but they won’t listen.
skip reading of the first chapter of Release from Nervous Tension by Dr. Fink, published 1943
Write down as much as you can. Write everything down. That means everything. It doesn’t need to make sense. And that thing you don’t know how to say? Just write it down. There’s always words, even for what you think you don’t know. Any words on paper are a start and a start is halfway there. The more material you have to work with the easier it will be to edit.
Alright then: go through your first draft and rewrite using the principles below. Then rewrite again.
1] Never begin with “My Work”. Also avoid any use of “my work” anywhere within the statement. It’s also a good idea to never use the word “work” anywhere at all, ever.
2] You have no duty to the facts. Your loyalty is to the honesty of your ideas, emotions, dreams, desires and needs; what Werner Herzog calls the ecstatic truth. That is your goal. Nobody cares about the minutiae and what you want is to make people care. Tell them a good story.
3] Often, what you wrote at the beginning should go at the end, or the end should be the beginning.
4] Don’t try to sound smart. You aren’t. The world is full of people whose job is to be smart. An artist isn’t held to the same ideals; count yourself among the lucky. Make your statement personal – it’s what you’ve got that nobody else has. What you believe you alone know is why we’re looking.
5] Begin with a bang. Which is better? “My work is about airports and longing . . . ” or “The first time I saw an airport was the last time I saw my father . . .”
6] Cut all excess words.
7] Be wary of repetition. Should you repeat a word more than twice, then it’s something you’re not adequately describing. Write more about that. What you’re missing will be found there.
8] Never apologize or prevaricate. Never use a tone of uncertainty. Write as though you know what you’re doing. State the personal as if it were universal.
9] Vary your sentence lengths – long then short, short then long.
10] Match your words to what you’ve made. Use adjectives and adverbs that feel like what you’ve done.
11] Use a thesaurus to expand your meaning. Always use precise words rather than general words. Construct is better than make. Elegant, symmetrical, graceful, or overwhelming will take you further than beautiful. Roget’s Thesaurus is best and the best Roget is the online 1911 version. Use it to not just to find better words, but as a way to riff and expand on your ideas. Travel beyond what only you can think up.
[download the pdf - use as you see fit]
Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed
I don’t remember where or when I first read that aphorism – a search on the internet reveals a multitude of sources and derivations – yet it’s a sentiment that continues to compel me. My upbringing, my childhood, was not the most ideal. My family is more insular, strange, and mad than most. Even today I’ve a keen access to feelings of loneliness, failure, fear, deprivation, and heartache. Our life then, my life then, was guarded and secret, the timbre was depressed, and what’s more we were poor. There wasn’t a lot except what could be found, held onto, and kept from others.
It wasn’t until high school, when I discovered photography, that I reckoned a way out, if not physically, then at least emotionally. I used the camera to reconnoiter my landscape and I used the darkroom to remake it. In that way I could control it, analyze it’s angles, and make plain the consequences. I’ve always done what I could to make the prints as beautiful as I can, a pleasure I’m reticent to resist, and yet the images, the subjects, the things my photographs show, are not always our best. They are small moments: forgotten, misplaced, unnoticed, rejected, repressed, and haunted. Poetic perhaps, but minor for sure.
Thankfully, I no longer live in that world and yet my art does. Photography is the practice of transmutation; a simple act to make myself better, to recreate a whole. Where I’ve been and what I’ve seen hasn’t always been pretty. To deflect it’s full impact requires constant contemplation, replication, and representation. Too, I’ve learned that secrets don’t help anybody. Indeed, there are those comforted by the pictures I make. These days I share whatever I find with whomever I can.
The map is not the territory.- Alfred Korzybski
I grew up with this picture above the television. It’s safe to say I’ve looked at this painting more than any other image. My mother bought it in Stuttgart the year I was born in the city I was born. Whenever I’ve asked her what she sees in it she’d square her eyes, furrow her brow and shake her head. I don’t know is what she says.
This past year helping her sort the house I was surprised when she no longer wanted it. I don’t know why was all she’d say. I hate to let it go, but I have to, I can’t do it any longer. Lips pursed, she said I just can’t. Head shaking she said I won’t.
Forty-one years and it felt fine to pull it free from the frame, it felt good to crumple it into my carry-on. It’s uncanny how quickly things can change. It’s mine now and I can do with it what I like. I can make this beautiful print for example. And then I can give it to you. And then I can just give that to you.