4/27/08

Women in Photography

I was thrilled to find out that my work will be part of Women in Photography, which is being co-curated by Amy Elkins and Cara Phillips (each an excellent photographer in her own right; I've referenced Cara's blog Ground Glass in a previous post which you can see here). The site will launch in June and I can't wait to see who else will be up there. They're currently accepting submissions, so get those photos organized, ladies. More soon, for now I'm trying to meet my goal of getting to bed before midnight on a consistent basis so will force myself to shut off the computer...

Ofer Wolberger

© Ofer Wolberger

I was finishing up this post when Edie's bedtime rolled around and I have to admit that I kind of rushed the whole routine because I wanted to get back at it. When I'm hungry or distracted I realize I start to read books to her almost at the speed of the fast-talking guy who used to do the Matchbox car (or was it Hot Wheels?) commercials. Poor kid, I guess she lets me get away with it because the speed-racer pace is only an occasional thing. But back to photography...

A few days ago I found this post about Beth Block on Ofer Wolberger's blog Horses Think. I recently wrote about her untimely death, so it seemed apt to link to more about Beth and her work. Ofer and I were also at SVA together, and I loved his photographs back then when we had critique class together. He's only gotten better with time, and was recently awarded Humble Arts Foundation's Grant for Emerging Photographers for his new series (Life with) Maggie. Well deserved, in my opinion. My husband was smart enough to buy one of Ofer's gorgeous prints a while back, which you can see above. Aside from being a beautiful image, it's nice and big and looks great in our house. You can see more of his work on his website here.

4/24/08

Loss

Godspell, 1993/2008
Solitude, © Beth Block
Wonder Wheel, © Beth Block


A week ago today I was shocked to hear that my high school classmate Emily D'Ancona was killed in a car accident on her way to work as a kindergarten teacher. Emily and I hadn't kept in touch since graduating fifteen years ago, but had started to form a friendship as seniors when we sang a duet together in the musical Godspell. She was an extremely genuine and kind person, and always struck me as someone who seemed very much at ease with herself. I'm very saddened by her loss, particularly when I think about her family and close friends.

The day after I learned of Emily's death I found out that a School of Visual Arts graduate school classmate was also killed in a car accident that same week. Beth Block was a fellow photographer, and though I didn't know her well, I do recall how passionate she was about her work, which you can see here. I'm struck by the sense of light and intimacy in her photographs, and it's tragic to know there will be no more beautiful pictures added to her various series.

In thinking about Emily and Beth I find myself ruminating in particular on the the nature of memory and loss. I have a box of random photographs saved from over the years, and I kept a snapshot of a scene from Godspell. It's somewhat blurry, which only seems to add to the sense of nostalgia and totemic import that this image now holds for me. I'm in the middle of the frame, arms stretching toward Emily as she's looking down with a quiet expression on her face. I photographed the snapshot the day I heard of her death as a tribute to her, and as always used the act of image-making as a means of processing my emotions. For that moment, as I looked through my viewfinder at her likeness burned onto the paper, I felt myself almost reaching back in time to try to connect with her seventeen-year-old self. "Tethered" has now taken on an even deeper meaning for me. I feel tied to my past in a way I don't think I have before.

I'm also struck by the strangeness of the idea that the memory of a person can live on in the intangible space of the Internet. I suppose photographs function in much the same way: as a memento and reminder of a person after they're gone. But somehow the interactive nature of the web makes it feel that much more significant, particularly in the sense that there may be people clicking through Beth's photographs who have no idea that she's gone. I think it's fitting to close with a sentence from one of her artist statements: "Somewhere is here, there, in between, now, then and anywhere."

4/18/08

Balance

After my sad-sack post from yesterday I woke up in a great mood. Sometimes just allowing the emotions to be written down and presented to the world takes away their power, and I'd say that's a good thing. And now, at the risk of sounding like a self-help book, I present the following:

I've been thinking quite a bit about balance, and the contradictory feelings that fight for dominance in my head at various points. I can be excited and energized by a new idea, sad over not getting into a show, bored by housework, and thrilled with my kids all at once. In occupying the dual roles of mother and artist I feel grateful that I'm passionate about each, while at the same time wondering if it would be easier to just be a mom and focus on the girls while they're small and not attempt the juggling act. I guess it's partly the guilt factor. When I'm caught up in my work it can be hard to pull out of that mental space and really be present for the day-to-day child-rearing. Being a parent requires so much energy and its own level of creativity, and I can feel pulled in a million different directions. I recognize each side of it--both how lucky I am to be a mother and to have this outlet with my photography, but then struggling to find a balance between the two. The other side of it is knowing that of course I shouldn't sacrifice what I'm passionate about in order to give everything to my children, which is a recipe for resentment. I want them to feel that I'm there for them, but that I also have a life that includes time for myself in which I can honor my intellectual and artistic side. Balance, indeed.

Today I must say I'm feeling the luck part more than anything. Starting this blog somehow has cleared the worries from my head and I'm itching to get to the computer, while at the same time feeling more connected to Edie and June. I think I'm realizing that what I have the hardest time with are the transitions. When I'm on the cusp of starting up a new series I become full of doubt, cranky, and conflicted. It's similar to how things are when one of the girls is about to take a developmental leap. Edie will get into a state where she's easily frustrated, whiny and somewhat impossible to deal with, and then all of a sudden it's like her brain has reorganized itself around whatever new skill it was trying to process, and she's suddenly older and wiser and calmer. I'm like a preschooler that way--I don't recognize that I'm in the middle of a restructuring in my head until I've come out the other side. So recently I've been kind of a freak, and then suddenly my new series took shape and I thought ok, that's what it was, a transition. Why it's so difficult to see this when in the middle of it I'm not sure, but it may just be part of being human. So even though there are times when I feel like I'm sacrificing certain parts of being a mother in the service of my art and vice versa, I'm realizing that maybe it's less about the balance between the two and more about moving from one phase to the next. The lesson I suppose is simply to stay in the present. As long as I do that the next step will take care of itself. Amen.

4/17/08

Another day, another rejection

Despite my hopeful little post below regarding feeling buoyed up by Miguel Garcia-Guzman, I have to say the string of rejections is gettin' me down. Two emails two days in a row said "thanks, but no thanks" and I'm feeling like it's been a while since I was accepted into anything. (I don't think I can count the iheartphotograph Pierro Gallery show I'm currently in called "is it possible to make a photograph of new jersey regardless of where you are in the world" as an "acceptance" per se, as all of the people who submitted were included, but it is a cool exhibit, so perhaps I should stop my kvetching...) 

Anyhow, I headed on over to Liz Kuball's blog looking for a little comfort and found this post. As she says "Sure, we photograph first to please ourselves, but we do it as much, if not more, for other people. Otherwise, we'd all be content to keep negatives in shoeboxes or RAW files on hard drives. And we're not. I'm not." I love Liz's honesty. There's something so real, and therefore very engaging, about her blog, and not in a victim-y kind of way. Just a this-is-hard-sometimes kind of way. I appreciate that. And I appreciate not feeling so alone when I read what she has to say. Maybe this post should have been called "thank you, Liz Kuball."

(She's also the one who came up with the fantastic women photographers helping women photographers idea, see the banner to the right).

4/16/08

Thank you, Miguel Garcia-Guzman

This post from Miguel Garcia-Guzman's blog Exposure Compensation made me very happy today. My body of work "Life is a series of small moments" (which you can see on my website) is deeply personal on many levels, and I've struggled with wondering if somehow recording the intimacy of my family's daily existence is somehow, well...selfish. That may sound strange, but when you create very personal work there's the hope that you're touching people on a wider level, and the fear that you're not. Garcia-Guzman writes: "...each of us perhaps should be more involved in developing a photographic project that captures our own life, our own people, our own families, and our own objects so we can use the language of photography to write the visual memory of our footprint in life." 

Aaah. Suddenly I felt comforted. Here is a call to create the kind of work I'm creating. I think a lot about recognition and legitimacy, and it's something I struggle with. No artist, as far as know, creates in a bubble. We do it for ourselves, but also as a way to share our vision. And while I too ultimately make the work because I'm driven by an almost uncontrollable need to create, sometimes it helps to have someone say that your subject matter means something. Besides, I just love that line "the visual memory of our footprint in life." Selfish? That's my own crazymaking brain chattering, and Garcia-Guzman just quieted me down. Oh, and he was specifically referencing the amazing photographer Martine Fougeron. You can see her work here. (Aren't her boys beautiful?)


Spontaneous picture-taking, part 2

This photo is from a couple of months ago and for some reason today it kept popping into my head. It's another example of one of those images that looks like it might have been staged but happened spontaneously. My mother-in-law sent a huge box of things from my husband James' childhood/teenage years and in said box was a pile of class photos, all the same shot of him at about fourteen. June started playing with them and laid the pictures out on the coffee table in a nice little arrangement. Not my greatest shot perhaps, but there's something about it that keeps drawing me back.

Synchronicity

© Birthe Piotnek (left), © Brea Souders (right)
© Birthe Piontek (left), © Brea Souders (right)

I've been aware of Birthe Piontek's work for a bit now, and only just saw Brea Souders' images for the first time yesterday via pause, to begin. I'm always happy to find photography that really strikes me on a gut level, and Brea's imagery really did that for me. She's working on a new series about superstitions (which she's posting on her blog) and I find her current photos to be really powerful. They're dark and eerie, but not so dark and eerie that they turn into a cliche or tip toward the sentimental.

Another thing that I was struck by was the similarity between some of Brea's and Birthe's images. It brought me to thinking about a post I read recently on Cara Phillips' blog about originality. Cara writes: "How do you deal with originality in photography? Is it enough to shoot with your 'eye' and apply it to any subject matter, even if it has been covered by someone else, or do you need fresh subjects?" I do worry sometimes that someone else out there is making art that's similar to mine, but I found it heartening to note my reaction to discovering Brea's image of the hair after having seen Birthe's version before. I actually loved having the moment of recognition, and seeing the above work side-by-side I find it exciting to compare and contrast (I have a feeling Cara would agree with me on this). I hope that the photographers themselves won't be disheartened to see the images placed together. This is a complimentary post, one that's meant to give kudos to two talented women, each doing her own thing.

This may be a bad analogy and will reveal my dorkier side, but I'll admit I love the show "So You Think You Can Dance." Last season one of the choreographers made all of the dancers perform the same solo piece one after the other, and I thought it was fascinating to watch the dance over and over and see how it changed simply because of the individual way each performer had of moving. Obviously it's different in the case of two artists working without seeing each other's images beforehand, but my point is it doesn't have to be boring to see one photograph that is like another. I think sometimes there's a certain zeitgeist in the air, the same way an obscure baby name will suddenly become popular across the country. I don't know how it happens, but it does, and as long as it's not mere recycling, or overly intellectual and lacking substance in a riffing-on-other-photos-in-a-self-conscious-kind-of-way, I'd say originality is almost always overrated. I think it's enough to shoot with your "eye," as long as you didn't knowingly take your idea from someone else in the first place. I'm happy to have been exposed to the four images above, and in a meditative way am enjoying looking back and forth between the photos.

Spontaneous picture-taking

This morning Edie (my 4 1/2 year-old) got dressed up for school and then was playing around in June's room (June is my toddler, almost 20 months old). Edie started putting her hands through the dresser drawer pulls and hanging there, so of course I had to grab my camera. She's amazing that way--she starts doing some kooky thing that I wouldn't have come up with on my own but that somehow fits perfectly into whatever series I'm working on. Often I think certain images of mine look staged, when actually it was a matter of capturing the kids in their own acts of play or make-believe. I don't know if it's the being aware part that makes the spontaneous images fit (i.e. I notice and document the moment) or if it's a strange kind of synchronicity, in the sense that a photographable moment occurs when I need it to. 

New series



I've started a new series which is both exciting and nerve-wracking. I tend to get this rush of energy when I come up with a new idea, but I have to be careful not to get ahead of myself. I love that feeling of "want"--the desire to write about photo setups in my journal, mulling over where I want the series to go, taking my camera out and actually shooting. But anxiety comes up due to my impatience. Already I'm thinking ahead to the process of editing, and, most panic-producing of all, worrying about getting it onto my website. Which I realize is a crazy place to go in my mind when I'm not even quite sure of where the work is headed yet. I need to allow myself to be in that space where I'm simply creating and not jump to how it will all come together in the end. Somehow or other it usually does come together, if the enthusiasm is there from the beginning, and I do feel passionate about my latest idea. Above are a few images, not retouched to perfection yet, but you get the idea. I really am a perfectionist, so I also need to allow myself some room to post images that haven't been tweaked to the point where I'm completely happy with them; if I waited to show the new photographs until they were all ready to go I'd never get anything up here. I'm trying to be open to not overdoing things on this blog, forgive myself in advance for any grammatical mistakes and not overthink every sentence and every post. I'm obsessive-compulsive by nature (everything in its place, neat and tidy, you get the idea) and I'm trying to let that go a bit so that I actually have a chance to process my thoughts about my work and my images in a public forum. 

4/15/08

First ever

There's always that hesitation before the first blank page, or blank screen, as it were. I've found that I'm getting too wrapped up lately in submissions and the mean old acceptance/rejection wheel, and I'm hoping that writing it out will bring me back to the importance of the images themselves. Of course my fear is that the blog will become a new way to avoid the sometimes tough business of editing and retouching, but I've been mulling it over for a while now and today, for who-knows-why, I found myself taking the plunge. Be gentle on me.