My four photographs on the wall.
My booklet on the first pedestal.
Make the work, something will come of it.
Attributed by an acquaintance to John Cage.
The artist book show I am part of opened at The Center for Photography at Woodstock this past Saturday. I spent a lot of time last week getting my work ready. I had to frame four photographs, produce six copies of my booklet and deliver all that to CPW. I was binding booklets at twelve noon on Saturday and placed them in the hands of the ED fifteen minutes before the show. I had barely enough time to shower and take the dogs for a longish walk to wear them out a bit before I left.
A cold that had been developing all week descended with both feet the night before. When my wife caught a cold the previous week I was certain I would get it and that it would be in full swing for the opening. It was a little better than that. The worst part was Friday night. By Saturday morning I was feeling better and a dose of Dayquil held the symptoms at bay. I was not the sniveling, coughing and sneezing wreck I thought I would be. Nobody would feel like they needed a hazmat suit to be near me.
The opening was well attended. A number of friends came. I had a good time and felt genuinely proud to be part of the show.
Richard Edelman (salon leader, ardent supporter of my work, main event of the show) and I managed a brief conversation before the opening crowd arrived. The conversation was broadly about the need to concentrate on making the work. Essentially, he said, make the work, the rest will take care of itself.
In some senses, that is exactly what I have been doing. I make the work I want to make. I don't make any effort to feed a perceived market, though I do adjust some to reactions I get from the people I show it to.
Still, given my late start in this career, my lack of significant connections and my nonexistent formal preparation for it, I realized it would be important to be very intentional about developing the work and getting it seen.
I found my way to CPW early on. There I have taken workshops, attended the monthly Salon religiously, received portfolio reviews and found a portal to the art photography world. I can not overstate how helpful this has been in focusing my work and progressing it.
Because I want my work to be recognized -- I need to eventually be able to justify my strange career move to myself and my wife -- I made myself aware of opportunities to do that. I have developed a set of calls for entry that I submit to every year and usually add a number of others as I feel appropriate throughout the year. In the beginning I had no success with these submissions, but lately that has been changing. Making these submissions even though I wasn't succeeding, has been an important part of the process. I learned how to assemble compelling sets of my work and I was forced to prepare a succinct and, hopefully, compelling artist statement.
Yes, I have been very intentional about setting a goal, preparing for the climb and climbing.
Doing these things has helped me progress, but none of that progress would have happened without my every day dedication to making the work. I cleared the decks of distractions to make room for it. I made it the only thing I am willing to do from getting up in the morning until at least noon. I have made, and continue to make, the work, almost every day.
This may sound like a grind, but it isn't like that at all. When I made the decision to climb, the one thing I knew is that making photographs was something I loved to do and I could do it day in and day out, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. I knew I would not tire of making the work. And you know what? Things are coming of it.
There has been inspiration on my journey. I haven't spoken much about that. I have collected the websites of hundreds of photographers over the past couple of years, all dutifully cataloged into Evernote. I am thinking I should do a little more lifting up of work that I think is really good. There is no reason to think of me as an astute critic on what's good and what isn't. In fact, I am not interested in being a critic as that means assessing both work you like and work you don't like. I really only want to share work I like, so I guess that makes me more of curator. And again, don't claim to have any skill at that either. I just know what I like. I have no idea if the work is important beyond that.
Today I ran across the work of Tom Callemin and to those of you who are familiar with my work, it will be no surprise that I like his work. What I find particularly appealing is his approach to photographing people. I almost never photograph people. It is partly because I am too shy to ask and not bold enough to snap without asking. The best I've been able to do in my photographic work is hint at the presence of people. Mr. Callemin's photographs of people have offered me a window into what I might do with photographing them and that excites me.
You should look at the other images on offer as well. There are not too many of them, but they are very worth a perusal.
Now I have to let Mr. Callemin's inspiration sink down into my pre-conscious soup and come back out again. Be interesting to see if anything comes of it.
My portfolio review. Photograph by Hannah Frieser.
A little over a month ago I had a portfolio review with the new Executive Director of the Center for Photography at Woodstock. It went well. I had brought one of my hand bound booklets to share if the moment seemed opportune. It was looked at and I was offered a spot in an upcoming book art show.
I was pleased. The year was off to a good start. I was told that I would be contacted the following week to hammer out details.
The following week came and went.
The week following the following week came and went.
I began to wonder if I had imagined or misunderstood her words.
Another week passed and I wondered if the show was further into the future and I had been forgotten because of more pressing matters. Or had the offer been rescinded?
The idea that I might have been bumped from this opportunity did not bother me nearly as much as the idea that I had been bumped and nobody was telling me.
We had Salon this past Tuesday. I attended hoping I might see the ED and find out what was going on. I saw her a couple of times, but only from the other side of the room as she was passing through. There was no chance to talk or even give her a questioning look that would remind her of her offer to me and elicit some sort of explanation.
Salon began with an excited announcement of the upcoming shows set to open on the 20th, less than two weeks away. One of them was the Book Arts Show. My heart sank. Surely I would have been contacted by now if I were going to be in it. I became upset and melted to the periphery of the group to lick my wounds.
Gradually I pulled myself together to participate and offer comment. When my turn came to share work, I laid down the set of ten images I used for all but one of the submissions I had made in the last few weeks. I was conflicted about doing this. I wasn't sure I wanted to hear that my submission set was flawed in any way. On the other hand, there are more submissions coming up and I figured I might as well know if there were any flaws and adjust.
And yes, there was a flaw. I had made the classic mistake of falling in love with one of my images to the point that I was blind to the fact that it didn't really have a place in the set I presented. On some level I knew this. It was the one image that pushed up a question mark in my mind every time my eyes landed on it. I took some comfort in that.
Artists are frequently told to be prepared to kill their babies when assembling a portfolio of their work. It's not that the babies aren't wonderful and worthy of love. It's that our love for them blinds us to the bigger picture.
Overall, my set of images was felt to be really strong and the one photograph that didn't fit was also felt to be really strong. It's possible I may still be successful with one or more of my submissions. We'll see.
When my time was up I gathered my photographs and put them away. I took out my phone, which had been vibrating in my pocket during my presentation, to check on the activity. An email from the ED. I opened it and it was a picture of me during my portfolio review. No message. Just the picture. I was confused. It made no sense.
I backed out of the email to my inbox and saw the other email from the ED. She was confirming that she wanted me in the show and was anxious to get the book from me. Damn, woman, you couldn't let me know before the Salon so I could have brought it with me? Of course, she had no reason to know I would be at Salon. In fact, it seems highly probable that seeing me there reminded her of something she needed to do.
When Salon was over Richard, the salon leader who has been most supportive of my work, came over and reiterated how good it was. His sentiment was backed up by the other leader in a roundabout way. He told me he was being tougher on me because I had moved into a higher tier, or something to that effect.
Alright then, I guess I am moving higher up the side of the mountain.
I have begun an experiment with words and images. I have been toying with the idea that images and text could be presented together as equals and in a way that is mutually enhancing, neither in service of the other, for more than a year now. I have produced a couple of small booklets to test the idea, which have been met with enthusiasm from photography friends. In this image-word concept, text and photographs live together but each maintains its independence, having its own particular statement to make.
To test the idea further, I have started a new blog, Days, Weeks, Months, Years. The blog will be a visual and verbal journal that attempts to present the preconscious and conscious churning that is me as I walk, think, make images, write.
I have been drawn to a chronological presentation of my work from the beginning. Blog formats are well suited to that. But this will not be a prepare, post and move on kind of effort. Posts will be revisited, refined and sometimes removed as time goes on because it is a larger work in progress that is intended to amount to something more than the sum of its parts. Think of it as the picture-novel Marcel Proust might have created had he been interested in photography and lived with the current technology.
Part of my interest in preparing this work is to see how cycles -- winter, spring, summer and fall, for example -- build layers of contextualizing experience as they return upon themselves year after year. The blog posts will be sortable in ways that make it possible to explore this interest. To illustrate, this Winter category sorts all posts from any year created between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox together. I will start with this kind of seasonal organization but I expect that other ways to sort will become apparent as the work unfolds.
Until recently, I had no good examples of what I had in mind to reflect on, but that changed when I discovered Wright Morris on a photo blog a week or two ago. I learned he was an accomplished writer and photographer who created and published books that, according to his description of them, intermingled photographs and words in the way I am talking about. He called these books photo-texts and published three of them:
I will be purchasing all three of them when I get my next paycheck. I want to see how much they correspond to what I have in mind. I will report out when I have read them.
He claimed there wasn't much interest in this genre, but maybe that has changed. One of them is still in print and has an ebook edition. I am thinking the internet offers some expanded possibilities to this concept. I am excited to explore them.