5/31/08

21 months

June turned 21 months old two days ago. Whenever I get frustrated that I could be doing more shooting, editing, submitting, etc. I try to stop and remind myself that I have a daughter who isn't even two and another who's four and-a-half and still over a year away from kindergarten. It's a relief in two ways: first, it takes some pressure off of myself to realize that I'm doing the best I can within a limited time frame; second, I haven't missed their childhoods--I'm in the thick of it, they're both small still, and even though time goes so fast I can hang on to June's chubby baby body and Edie's kooky little-kid observations (today she asked "why do we have such big big heads on such small necks?") for a while longer now. I'm always afraid I'm going to miss something, and yes, I can't believe in many ways my kids are as big as they are, but I have the grace of time, I haven't missed it yet--tomorrow and the next day and for a bit longer I can grasp onto knowing they're still really young. The difficult part is in recognizing this won't always be the case, and it makes me want to hold them even more tightly than I already do, every day, as often as possible.

5/29/08

New images/chaos theory


Two images shot in the last week or so. Not sure about the second picture, I wanted it to be more uncanny but I'm wondering if it looks maybe too pretty to be unsettling...The first for some reason keeps making me think of Chaos Theory (though the title is Analog). Some of my work lately seems to be going in the direction of finding patterns in the disorderly, and on the flip-side creating order out of random things. Not sure where it's going, but it partly hinges on the manipulation of one's environment, and a creepy sense of order arising spontaneously without any human interference.

Now, I can't claim to truly understand Chaos Theory and all it entails, but touching the surface of it I find the back of my brain grasping for its connection to art. I've also been vaguely pondering Carl Sagan's book Contact, which I haven't read since college, and the notion of a message being contained in π. I decided to look it up on Wikipedia and found this written about the book's premise: "Very, very far from the decimal point and in base 11, it finds that a special pattern does exist when the numbers stop varying randomly and start producing 1's and 0's in a very long string. The string's length is the product of 11 prime numbers. The 1's and 0's when organized as a square of specific dimensions form a perfect circle." Maybe that's where the eggs in a circle came from...Or not. Just some things to ponder and play with, whether they become part of the concept behind the new series or are just interesting things to consider. I hesitate to make too much of it, as my work in some ways is more visceral than intellectually-based. Certainly I think long and hard about meaning and the portrayal of that meaning in my work, but it's usually from more of a personal angle rather than any grandiose overriding "concept." Still, I thought I'd share some of my slightly out-there angles on it all.

Speaking of chaos, there's a sink full of dishes and a hamper full of laundry and a body in need of rest. I'm off.

My edit of J. Wesley Brown's work





All photographs Untitled, © J. Wesley Brown

I spoke at length of my first go with editing via the Pick 5 challenge through Justin Visnesky's work, whose images I was already familiar with. Because I'd been able on other occasions to sit with Justin's pictures, to process them and mull them over, and because our work is similar thematically, I found that arranging five of his photos felt like being able to edit my own work without the baggage attached. Having not been exposed to J. Wesley Brown's photographs prior to hearing from him I was presented with a different editing experience. I was still engaged in the act of trying to tease out a loose narrative, as I do with my own series, but I also found the process much more straightforward and quicker with his images. Perhaps because most of his work is shot at night, and because the ones I liked the most were very obvious to me right off the bat, once I narrowed it down to five the order fell into place almost effortlessly. It was an enjoyable process.

After looking through Wes' website so carefully I found I came away with a sense that with a tighter edit his series could showcase his work in a stronger way. I asked if he was open to some constructive criticism and kindly he allowed me to pass along my opinion. The one notion I kept coming back to was a sense in some of his photographs that they were bordering on editorial fashion, which I'm sure was unintentional but was coming through nonetheless. In his Semblances series I found some of the more close-up portraits of people jumped out in a way that detracted from his stronger, moodier pictures; they seemed less spontaneous, and therefore I felt less connected to them. At its strongest I think some of his pictures have an element of suspense that I appreciate, and the "fashion" shots cast those more compelling pictures in a weaker light through comparison. I just had a chance to look at his website again and Wes has taken some of my suggestions to heart, and I think it's coming together more now. (Note: I always offer any advice with the disclaimer that the photographer can disregard whatever doesn't work for them; ultimately, as we passionate artists know, it's about our own personal vision, but I too will rework things if I get a new read on how my photos are coming across).

After I gave my suggestions I was rather fascinated to hear Wes' take on how photographic work is presented in general. He wrote: "I feel the art world, or our photography microcosm of it, demands that work be grouped. I really, truly, hate this. I feel like I should be able to follow the tradition of painting and make individual works/images/scenes that stand on their own and individually draw the viewer in and impact. I never want to be pigeon-holed into one aesthetic or theme. I feel it would stifle my creativity." It's a point I hadn't considered, and just shows me how in many ways I bring my own bias to the table. That said, I still think that a strong edit is crucial, whether it focuses on a narrative trajectory or not. Especially with the web, where a site is experienced by clicking--often quickly--from one image to the next, photographs inevitably will be seen as relating to one another. Therefore, even more so than with paintings (which still need to be connected on some level), photographs can't help but follow an arc. Whether it has anything to do with "narrative" per se, I think the whole has to relate to the individual parts. But I get where Wes is coming from, and I like how passionately he seems to relate to the act of art-making. And trust me, I struggle with all this as much as I know any of us do. I just thank Wes for entering into a dialog with me, and giving me insight into his process.

J. Wesley Brown's edit of my work





Titles: Painted, Prone, Hanging, Fever, Listless

I recently received an email from photographer J. Wesley Brown answering my Pick 5 challenge. I wasn't familiar with his work, so it was nice to start up an email exchange and be introduced to some new imagery.

From the email Wes sent with his edit: "I feel these images all reflect an inability to cope with life/the world, which is so interesting as this type of image usually depicts adults with these poses or expressions or in these types of situations, but instead they are of little ones, whose lives are so easy and fresh."

Wes' angle on that aspect of childhood in my photographs is one I hadn't considered, but once he pointed it out I think it's definitely an undercurrent, with the kids portraying in some ways an adult sensibility. Some of this may be an element of transference, in the sense that we can't help but see ourselves reflected in our children. Some of it may just be the act of freezing a moment--I'm often surprised by the facial expressions that come through when I look at my images after I download them, expressions I never really note when I'm interacting with the children in my life (my nephew Luca is in the fifth photo). I have thought how adult they look when their faces are held in such a still manner. Kids hardly ever stop moving, so it may be that these poses exist but are so brief that they have to be photographed and pinned down in order to portray that surprisingly grown-up sensibility.

It's a different kind of grouping for me to see--I'm usually trying so hard to show the variety in my work that I don't ever submit a set of photos that has all children in it. I get wrapped up in attempting to display my range via interiors, ones with children and ones without, objects alone, etc. So while it may not be an edit I myself would actually send to a curator, it's nice for once to see a grouping based on this overriding, important element to my work. Wes himself (after an exchange we had about the editing process) commented on his own way of pairing photographs, saying, "Originally they were grouped as people and places and perhaps I'm too caught up with that distinction and this obviously showed in my choice of your 5 images." It's something for all of us to think about when trying to put our pictures together in a coherent, meaningful way; to be careful not to pigeonhole ourselves into straight thematic strictures, while at the same time not being afraid to let our work go in the direction of typography if that's where it's headed. As always I come back again and again to that one key word: balance.

5/27/08

New images


I had a chance to tweak these images this morning, and I think the contrast is better than my first try, though I tend to work on my photos until the cows come home. One of the drawbacks of being anal is that I'm never completely satisfied. These two pictures were taken over the last few days; I've really been feeling the desire to shoot a lot lately so am just now starting to edit and work on the multitude of images in earnest. More soon.

5/22/08

Laurel Ptak panel discussion tonight

Laurel Ptak of iheartphotograph fame is crossing the river into my very own state of Jersey tonight. She'll be discussing "The Google Aesthetic" and the impact of internet culture and technology on contemporary art from 7:30-9:30pm at the Pierro Gallery in South Orange. Wes Miller (Associate Curator, Art:21), and Leigh Claire La Berge, Ph.D. (American Studies scholar and 2008 University of Chicago Society of Fellows) are joining her, and the talk will be followed by a closing reception for the exhibition "Is it possible to make a photograph of New Jersey regardless of where you are in the world?" My work is included in the show which I'm happy to be a part of, especially since it's a local deal. Pierro is an excellent gallery and puts on some very cool shows, and the current exhibit hits on many relevant present-day concerns. I'm excited to head out tonight for what I'm sure will be an engaging talk. If you're coming from New York it's only 35 minutes by train; you could leave Penn Station on NJ transit at 6:43 and be in South Orange with time to spare for the 5-minute walk to the Baird Center, where the gallery is located.

From the press release: "While the dominate technology of our age—and of this exhibition—is the personal computer, the information that a computer generates is meaningless without the ability to sort, filter, categorize, and search. And any categorization necessarily entails value judgments. The fantasy of a Google search is that we know the structure of those judgments, and that if we search enough, we will eventually come up with everything. Under Laurel Ptak’s curatorial watch that form of value judgment has also become a form of aesthetic, just as Google becomes an aesthetic form."

It was an interesting challenge to submit a piece for the show (you can see my contribution above). I used the concept as a departure from my usual single-image sequences and had a some fun putting together a composition of four joined photos. Since I live in New Jersey I didn't exactly answer the question of whether it's possible to make a photograph of the state from "anywhere" as anywhere, for me, is here. But I'm not a New Jersey native, and my experience of the state growing up was limited to trips to the shore as a kid and little else. I suppose this nostalgia is what came through in the piece for the show: it's a compilation of shots taken in Stone Harbor, where we vacationed last summer with the girls after not having been back since I myself was young(er).

My path to New Jersey was probably fairly typical. I was born and raised in Philly, went to college in St. Louis, after graduating lived in Manhattan for a year and Brooklyn for six, and have family roots in Iowa and Ohio. We transplanted to Maplewood, NJ four years ago when Edie was a baby, deciding the suburban existence--with its backyards and bedrooms to spare--was the life for us. I'd assumed I'd raise my children in the city, but when Edie was born James and I started craving space and the kind of quiet I think you can only get when your room doesn't abut another stranger's. It seems we always lived next to or above a drummer, electric bass player, or loud sneezer.

Before actually living here I had my own conventional idea of New Jersey as this ordinary, white-bread, polluted-in-parts kind of place. My firsthand experience has been anything but. Maybe it's the proximity to the city, or the fact that most of our friends are also semi-recent transplants, but there's a vibrancy to the community, and a diversity and artistic tenor that I really appreciate. Many people commute for work and I think it helps keep us from that insularity that can give suburbia a bad name. In short, I love it here in the Garden State.

In regard to the "Google aesthetic" aspect of the exhibit, I've been thinking a lot about this notion that "if we search enough, we will eventually come up with everything." It's as if the human brain can't comprehend the infinite expansion of the universe, and, by relation, the infinity of the internet. I myself am under the misconception that someday I'll get "caught up" with reading blogs or looking at other people's work. The problem is, people keep on creating, and there's no way to freeze the multiplication. We'll never reach the end. I have this same problem with laundry, to-do lists, and the like. It's as if I keep constantly rushing to complete the repetitive "wash, fold, put away" sequence, thinking that someday I'll be able to sit down with a sigh and say, there, I've done it. I've finished the laundry, answered all my emails, fill in the blank, in perpetuity, and now and forevermore I can just be. Which obviously is never going to happen. Not even when the kids are grown and out of the house.

The only way to deal with the yawning enormity of always having some task to complete is to approach it all with a "chop wood, carry water" mindset. Maybe there's beauty in the laundry. If I can accept the infinite repetition, then it doesn't feel quite so daunting. There will always be more to do, so plunge into the blogosphere as if it's a grand journey and not an assignment to be completed. There will always been a post missed, a wonderful site unseen, but enough great work will be read and looked at regardless. It reminds me of a lecture Ray Bradbury gave at Washington University when I was a sophomore or junior. He said something to the effect that the key was to just read, look, experience as much as possible and not to worry too much about organizing it all, as long as you were passionate in your endeavor. Take it in and let the rest go, and your brain will naturally cook the ideas on its own, until they eventually come together in some structured way that you couldn't have conducted if you tried. I'm going to do my best to follow his advice and leave the rest to my subconscious.

By the way, the exhibit is open through this Sunday, May 25; I'll be gallery sitting on Saturday from 1-4pm so be sure to say hello if you stop by.

5/21/08

Now you know what I look like

For the past three days I've been uploading and subsequently deleting my bio picture from my profile. It occurred to me that if I go to an opening or the like and you're a fellow blogger or photographer or just keep up with my work you wouldn't know me from any other woman in the room. But at the same time I hesitate to include a photo because it's so hard to take a picture of oneself that isn't too snapshot-ish smiley or too self-important artsy stare-into-the-middle-distance-esque. I hope I struck a good middle ground, and now if you see me on the street you can say hello. Don't be surprised though if at some point this post disappears along with my picture, rendering me mysterious once again.

Women in Photography press release

Just got this email from WIP:

"There are more women working in the contemporary photo world then ever before. Their methods, choice of subject matter, visual language, and processes run the gamut of artistic possibility. What unites them is their passion and the effort they devote to creating extraordinary bodies of work. Women in Photography is a showcase for this work. It is also a resource for photographers, editors, curators, gallery owners, and viewers alike to discover and enjoy the work of female artists. By mixing the work of emerging photographers with artists who have achieved high levels of success within fine art and commercial worlds, the project is designed to open a visual dialogue and create a venue to share work, support, and ideas."

Women in Photography will present a solo exhibition of work from select photographers every other Tuesday of the month. Please join us in our launch June 3rd 2008: www.wipnyc.org

5/20/08

My edit of Justin's work, #2





Titles: Last Burrito from Jasoom, Dad's Room, Heather in Bed, Bent Pines, Home is Where..., © Justin Visnesky

My edit of Justin's work, #1





Titles: Untitled, Uncle Barry, Gram and Ava, Flip flops at the Back Door, Ghost Stake, © Justin Visnesky

My edit of Justin Visnesky's work: thoughts

I'm finally getting around to posting my edit of Justin Visnesky's work for my Pick 5 challenge. I actually ended up with two edits, which I talk about in detail below. I previously wrote about his arrangement of my work in an entry that you can read here. I'm going to put the actual images in two separate posts above so that they can be referenced on their own.

First, I have to say that editing someone else's photographs was in many ways very freeing. It's not that it was easy--as is obvious from my last post about Justin's work I'm a huge fan, so I did feel a certain pressure in wanting to do the images justice. But there was no baggage, so to speak, in my approach to the individual photos. With my own work it can sometimes be hard to truly see because I know the entire story and context behind the shots, but with Justin's work it required less effort to simply sit with the pictures.

Regarding edit #1, there was one image called "Gram and Ava" from his blog that I was struck by and knew I wanted to use. I love how you can see the patches of scalp on both of their heads, and the way they're looking out at the water together--it's so tender and speaks to me of aging and loss and memory. But I couldn't seem to get it to fit with my other favorites; something about the quality of the light and the overall color balance made it stand out, and it didn't feel quite right within the narrative context I was being pulled toward. So I decided to do two edits, one which incorporated my overall favorites, and another that was inspired by "Gram and Ava."

Coincidentally I found out from Justin after I sent him my grouping that the first two images from my "Gram" edit were taken at her house, and the last was shot when his niece Ava was visiting. Apparently Justin has been working on an ongoing project where he's compiling images as a visual document of his grandmother and her surroundings, and it's amazing to me that I was drawn to put all of those photographs together without knowing the context. There must be an undercurrent in the pictures that translates into a certain intensity which makes the them naturally fit together.

It reminds me of an interview with Jeff Wall that I clipped from Time Out a while back and taped in my journal. He says:
"...there are a lot of things one senses without actually seeing. Let’s imagine that you’re working on a project and you have four people in it. Then you realize that two aren’t necessary, and you take them out. The two that remain are now different. We’ll never know what the difference is, but it affects what they do. So there’s likely a quality that’s been transmitted into the final work, caused by an absence the viewer will never know is there. But it will be sensed in the nature of the picture. "
I consider myself pretty down-to-earth, but I find myself pulling a metaphysical component out of Wall's statement. Sometimes I get drawn into that wondrous feeling of recognizing that there's so much we don't know. I've had strange musings where I ruminate on the idea that the energy I'm feeling when I take a picture somehow gets transmitted into the pixels of a shot as I'm freezing the moment. Ever since I got a new camera (a Canon 5D) I feel like the vibrational harmony between this particular piece of equipment and my vision is so much more in tune than my with previous Nikon, and the pictures show it. But then I'm a huge skeptic as well and can just as easily recognize that it's probably only the lens. As my husband James likes to say, everyone is full of contradictions. But I digress...

For edit #2 of Justin's work I assembled my favorites through my usual process of shuffling until a comfortable sense of narrative emerged, one that I hope conveys the sense of melancholy that I find so compelling in his imagery. He had mentioned that he found his edit of my work both heavy and hopeful, and I felt the same when I was arranging his images. There's a quality of waiting and longing that really gets me in the gut.

Sending off this grouping to Justin led to an interesting discussion about how we as photographers read our images and how others see them differently. I didn't know the title of the first shot ("Last Burrito from Jasoom") when I chose it, so in my mind I'd created an entire story about a wife who had made a sandwich for her husband to take to work, which then filtered into the rest of the images as a sense of that person being absent. It turns out my read was completely different from the actual context: it was a burrito from one of Justin and his wife's favorite Mexican places that closed; they went there on its last night and their favorite waiter signed Justin's to-go plate. It just shows how looking at work that's not your own can bring an unexpectedly new read to an image. I must say, I like both stories.

I should also mention that Justin has a 15 month-old son, so I must give kudos to the fact that he's an art-making father.

VISION magazine

I got an email from VISION magazine in China last week saying they want to do a feature story on my photographs from "Life is a series of small moments." I finally had a chance to get in touch with one of the editors today and was excited to find out they'd like to use 20 images and do a four-page article. I hadn't heard of the magazine before so did a little research to make sure it was legit prior to responding to their request, but once I saw that I'd be following the likes of Muzi Quawson and Shen Wei (who are in the May issue) I was happy to get on board. 

That's the thing about the life of an artist. You never know when something will come out nowhere. I must say it feels good to be approached, rather than the usual waiting game involved with sending out work.

5/19/08

Image of the day

This about sums up my mood right now.

5/15/08

Conscientious

My work has a mention today on Conscientious. Thanks to Jörg Colberg for the exposure, and for writing such an engaging and intelligent blog.

5/14/08

Justin Visnesky's edit of my work





Above: Ghost, Dust buster, Rejected popsicle

I was very excited when I received an email from Justin Visnesky answering my "Pick 5" challenge. I first saw Justin's work through Flak photo and was so struck by his website that I sent him an email to say how much I loved his photographs. We had a nice little written exchange, and now it's been great to be back in touch via Pick 5.

Justin's most recent series "sometimes you just know" captures very poignantly a sense of nostalgia, memory, and intimacy that I find extremely moving. In the "about" section of his website it says: "He makes photographs of the simple, quiet times in life; taking the ordinary and making it something more, something for the keeping." Well put. It's rare that I'm so completely taken in by a series, and Justin's work really does that for me. So often I'll be drawn to someone's photos but find they fall apart in the presentation, with the pictures forming no coherent whole. But Justin has a real eye for narrative flow; his arrangement of images causes the theme of "something more" in the everyday to become a profound statement about place and connection.

Narrative is an important component overall to his work, and he's mindful of this dimension, saying in one of his emails: "I tend to edit my images the same way I edited yours: I go through, pick my favorites (based on what "feels" right, which I can usually tell pretty quickly) and arrange them until a narrative comes through." I work very similarly, which may be one facet of why I feel such a kinship with his photographs, in addition to being drawn to the poignancy of small moments in my own projects. Needless to say, I was very interested to see which five of my photos Justin would pick.

The order he chose is above, and I think it's a great set. They're five images I never would have thought to put together, but they really work in my opinion. When he sent the edit he wrote: "I know there's a bit of heavy (possibly depressing) theme going in that grouping, but I think they work really well together, and are, at the same time, very hopeful." I like his interpretation, as I'm often attempting to show the duality of both darkness and wonder in my work.

Getting someone else's take on the whole sequencing issue has made me see my imagery in a new light, and has opened up possibilities for pairings I'd never considered before. It's also nice to see that certain pictures have an impact because I worry about readability--are they too personal? Obscure? I'm always trying to find the balance between both an individual and universal connection with the viewer, so it was good to see that those photos spoke to Justin. It makes me feel more comfortable with reintroducing them into a sequence for a submission. In fact, I probably would have initially left them out of my edit for Women in Photography, but I decided to incorporate them into my twelve-image series, and I think they really add something to the whole. All of this is a fascinating experiment in seeing.

I'll post soon about my edit of Justin's work, and include more excerpts from my conversations with him about process and such; for now I'm off to fix dinner for the girls.

5/11/08

Googling oneself

At the risk of seeming self-centered I'll admit that, yes, I too Google myself. (Who knew ten years ago that that sentence would even exist...) It's not entirely egotistical, I swear. I like to think of it as a research exercise: you never know when your work will end up on a random blog, weheartit or the like. Curiosity and all that. Well, lo and behold, during this evening's search I found out that my image "Tank" was up on FILE magazine on May 5th and I had no idea. I'm not sure what their policy is regarding alerting contributors (it would have been nice to be told, in all honesty) but now at least I have a real excuse for trolling the web. So for all of you guilty self-Googlers I say: keep it up, you might be pleasantly surprised to find out that you're in something you thought was a no-go. 

5/8/08

Where We're From

The Ones We Love, created and curated by Lindley Warren, is now under the new banner We Projects. A while back Lindley asked 14 photographers (yours truly included) to be part of a four-part project that stems from the original Ones We Love concept. The first part, called Where We're From, is now online. My contribution is about my grandparent's farm in Iowa; read all about it here. You can also see my original contribution about Edie and June in The Ones We Love section

5/6/08

Pick 5

Fever, 2007
[Note: due to being overwhelmed with child-rearing and work the Pick 5 challenge is temporarily off the table. Thanks.]

As any photographer knows editing is hard. Every show or contest seems to want a different number of images, anywhere from 1-20, and the sequencing of what goes together, which pictures to choose, etc. changes depending on the numbers. I find that things shift completely when I have to choose three versus five; with three there's the triptych quality to consider, but with five it turns into a mini-narrative. Then if they ask for twenty it's a whole different set of considerations, as I'm representing an entire body of work without showing the actual entirety. 

Hey, Hot Shot! just opened up for submissions after a brief hiatus (see details on how to get your work in front of this amazing panel here) and I need to pick three. I have my personal favorites, I have some new work I'm happy with, and I have two different series to decide between that represent different things (I also have a couple of other, older series that I don't submit anymore since it's work that I'm not as invested in presently). I was a featured contender on the Hot Shot blog in October for my photograph "Clouds" which was a nice nod of approval (though I've since completely reworked that image and it's looking much better if I do say so myself) but this go-round I'm a bit stuck. Certain pictures I love, but I worry that taken alone--without the larger series to ground them and give them a context--they might inadvertently come across as cheesy or sentimental. I worry about that with my work in general, to be honest. I think it's a danger that comes from shooting images of children. There's always the potential for the "cute" factor to come into play. 

For instance, one of my favorites is my photo "Fever." It's of Edie deeply asleep on the couch on a day when she was sick and had passed out in front of the TV. When I stared at her lying there, and then particularly when I got up close with my camera, I just wanted to cry because I felt like I could literally see her growing in front of my eyes, getting bigger, moving away from me. Even in that moment it was dream-like, already rooted in memory and not in the present. But if that was the only image of mine you ever saw, would you think, "that's nice" and move on? I actually did submit it to Women in Photography, because I decided I'd never included it in a lineup before, I love it, I'm just going to pick the pictures I have a deep attachment to and stop worrying about any possible misperceptions regarding my intent. Judging by the fact that I got in I guess I made the right decision! But with only three opportunities this time to "sell" myself, which direction to go? Frankly some days what I pick all depends on my mood, and of course I'll also tailor it a bit to what I think a particular curator is drawn to. Of course you never want to sacrifice your vision just to give someone what you think they want to see, but you also have to consider your audience. And you have to be careful not to overthink it sometimes--which is exactly what I'm doing right now...

So I have an assignment for you. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to pick five images from my website that you think go together in a cohesive way (even though Hot Shot needs three I'll save up the two extras for the future). Email the titles of the photographs to elizabeth@elizabethfleming.com, and include a link to your website; I'll send back my own edit of five of your images that I think are your strongest and form a good representation of your work. I'd like to know if there are pictures I'm overlooking that speak to a wider audience, and editing someone else's work for a change might help me see the whole paring-down process in a new light. 

5/4/08

Heather Morton & motherhood

I used to be one of those people who thrived on late-night creative energy. In college I would go print alone in the darkroom until 3am (which admittedly was pretty creepy; one night the turning light-lock door spun around and no one was there. After that I tried to work when people were around...) and I always did better with paper writing when I waited until the day before and stayed up all night, typing furiously. Since having kids I've managed to force my night-owl self to go to bed at mostly-reasonable hours, which usually means about 10:30pm on average. But every once in a while I relive my pre-children days and get into the zone of that particular quiet, focused feeling that sometimes can only come in the semi-wee hours.

So I published my Mother/Photographer post at around 12:45am and then decided to do one last Google search and came across a link that for some reason I hadn't seen before. It was "Motherhood & Photography" on Heather Morton's blog. The title speaks for itself: the subject is right up my alley, and Morton talks about three women shooting along motherhood-lines (Edith Maybin, Julie Blackmon, and Tierney Gearon). Morton's post says it all, and wonderfully, so I won't elaborate on the photographers, but it's a great read so check it out. (I've actually seen Blackmon's work before and had forgotten about it; I'm more partial to her black-and-white "Mind Games" series than the more staged and surreal "Domestic Vacations.")

Also, Morton says that "motherhood seems to be the new black" in photography, which is heartening to say the least. I've been telling my husband James for a few years that pregnancy was the new black in celebrity culture, but now that women like Sarah Jessica Parker's kids are growing up there may be a shift toward trendiness in the mom department. Which may be good or bad, depending. I always did hate the term "belly bump," it gives me the willies. As soon as something full of depth gets turned into a one-liner on the cover of Us Magazine it tends to be romanticized and/or infantilized. Luckily fine-art photography can be a critique or counterbalance to such superficiality, and it would be wonderful if the complexity of motherhood via art became a movement of sorts, i.e. the new black. We shall see.

5/3/08

Mother/photographer

In the last day or so I've started to actively search for images by mothers that pertain to motherhood. Obviously this is a subject that I feel an affinity with, and yet until now I haven't in any cohesive way done any research on other mothers who are artists. I think the impetus has come from feeling like my "Life is a series of small moments" images are pretty fully formed and therefore my image-making won't be influenced by potentially similar work. "Life is..." may never be finished (I'll probably keep adding to it here and there as it's so intimately connected with my existence at this point) but it's no longer in the beginning or even middle "active" stages, when I take pictures in a more continuous fashion, trying to shape and hone a project. I feel comfortable with it now; my concept has gelled, so my shooting for the series is more sporadic. I suspect at some point it will turn into a different project, as my role as a mother changes as the girls get older and the dynamic of my family's life shifts.

For now I find myself really wanting to see what other work is out there that addresses the role of being a mother, particularly with small children. I admire Martine Fougeron's photographs, which I mentioned briefly in a previous post, but her images center on adolescence, a stage that's in my more distant future. I love getting her take on this state of "in-between" that's so specific to the teenage years, and the tenderness in her photographs strikes a chord with me. Still, I want to see the vision of my life through someone else's eyes. I suppose it's largely the desire for connection that I've been feeling lately, the knowledge that other people out there are also trying to combine creative pursuits with raising small children. I've felt a deep sense of community among my friends who are mothers, and am very grateful to have such supportive women in my life, but the artistic side of me has been out of the loop for a while now as far as support is concerned (my art-school critique days are far behind me). That's one of the reasons why I started a blog, in order to find other people out there who know the trials and passions of being an artist, and in the short time I've been writing I've already had some wonderful email exchanges with other photographers, which has been very exciting. So I think turning to images by mothers is about wanting to feel even further that I'm not alone in this sometimes precarious balancing act.

In all honesty, though I say I'm "starting" this journey, there are a couple of artists whom I've been aware of for a bit now, but whose images I haven't actively studied thus far. I've kept their work in a folder in a drawer, so to speak, and am now bringing it out into the daylight. Christy Karpinski is one of the first mother/photographers I discovered when we were both in the book "A Field Guide to the North American Family." Some of her shots resonate very deeply with me; she really captures that sense of both metaphorical dark and light which is such a part of motherhood. Besides, I'm a sucker for shallow depth of field, which she has down.
 
© Christy Karpinski 
(note: the pairing is not her own, I joined the two images so you could see examples of both her black-and-white and color work)

I also came across Morgan Jones' work a couple of months ago through The Ones We Love. What she's written about her children on the site is fantastic, see here. I connect with what she has to say, having used words like anxiety and boredom myself in my artist statement (some things about motherhood, like most things in life, are universal). The way Jones puts it is incredibly poetic and wonderfully quirky. As far as her work is concerned, I think many of her images capture poignantly the emotions contained within tense moments that parents know so well. I only wish she had an actual website; all of her work is on Flikr, and some of the photos begin to look merely like snapshots, mostly because of a too-cute factor. With a tight edit, on an organized site, I think her work could really showcase those gems that truly 
convey what it's like to look at your kids closely through the camera lens. Some of her photographs also have a humor that I appreciate. The dirty dress image is unlike most of her other work, but I included it because I think it's such a great shot; I know that muddy dress after a day in the park all too well. (It occurs to me as I finish writing this that Morgan could be a man, but somehow through the writing and pictures I assumed she was a woman...)

© Morgan Jones

Of course there's always the exceptional Sally Mann, whose work I see with completely new eyes since Edie and June were born. (Some of her images literally make me want to weep, in a good way). But for my purposes I'm trying to limit my focus to work that's presently being produced. I know Mann is still shooting, but her kids are now grown, and as much as I admire her photographs from when they were young, I want to see what's been happening in the art world over the past few years.

I have to say, Google image searching was a bad place to begin; there are a lot of cutesy soft-focus pictures of pregnant women and babies out there. I abandoned that approach and did just a text search and I've begun finding more interesting stuff, all of which I don't have time to organize right now. I'll keep on looking and see what I turn up and write about what strikes me as moving and original. And there are also some great photos being created by fathers, but that's another post entirely. As a teaser check out Robert Knight's Harry Project. I'll be sure to give him and the other photo dads out there the credit they deserve when I have the chance.