4/30/10

Crawling back--mildly

A few months ago I quit Facebook, as many of you regular readers know--I wrote all about it in a post that you can read here. It was a good move for me--I'm much more productive and spend less time in front of the computer overall. Certainly I can and do still find other ways to waste time, but nothing has been quite as addictive for me as Crackbook was. My biggest qualm over quitting, and the thing that kept me from leaving for a long time, was the promotional aspect. Social media just keeps getting more powerful, and more necessary. Flak Photo is one of the best examples of a site that has used Facebook and Twitter as powerful tools for gaining a wider audience, and for engaging with the photographic community. I'm starting to feel that if I stay out completely I might miss some important opportunities--so long story short I'm somewhat coming crawling back.

The cons still outweigh the pros for me as far as setting up a personal Facebook site, but my genius husband started my fan page back up and will be its administrator. It will update by automatically linking to my blog, and in this roundabout way I can have my cake and not eat too much of it. If you so desire you can join it here. Twitter was never as addictive, so I'm reopening my account as elfleming, and I promise not to leave you again.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to head outside with the girls so we can get our hands dirty in the garden.

4/27/10

To add or not to add?

I'm trying to decide whether to add this image (shot last spring) to my website when I (finally) get around to updating it. Thoughts?*

*Have decided not to add this to my repertoire after reader comments confirmed my suspicions that this one was too potentially sentimental. Thanks Liz and anonymous.

4/23/10

One Hour Photo

One of my photographs will be included in the upcoming exhibition One Hour Photo at the American University Museum at Katzen Arts Center in Washington, DC (you can find directions here). The show runs from May 8th to June 6th with a unique premise:

"One Hour Photo distills the photograph to the ultimate limited edition: 60 minutes. Photographic works will be projected for one hour each, after which they will never be seen again, by anyone, in any form. Each work will exist only in the limited moments of perception, in the individual and collective experience, then memory, of the observers.

One Hour Photo complicates the myth of photography as preservation, manifests the tension between the permanence of the medium and the impermanence of time, and subverts the profit model of the edition and the print.

Documentation of the experience will consist of signed release forms: each participating artist will pledge never to reproduce, display, or sell the piece they've include in the exhibition."

Created by Adam Good and curated with Chajana denHarder and Chandi Kelley, the exhibition brings together 128 artists including Noel Rodo-Vankeulen, Tim Davis, Edith Maybin, Ahndraya Parlato, Brian Ulrich, Hee Jin Kang, Gregory Halpern, Nigel Shafran, Lucas Blalock, Jason Lazarus, Shane Lavalette, Penelope Umbrico, Clayton Cotterell, Matthew Gamber, Ann Woo, Ruben Natal-San Miguel, and many others.

Each artist was required to sign a release form stating that the images will never be viewed except in the one hour time slot, meaning that the projection is the only opportunity to see the photographs. I must admit it was difficult to turn over one of my pictures knowing that it will vanish into the ether. For me it became an exercise in the ability to let go--an interesting meditation on transience and impermanence, which seems fitting for my work.

My photograph will be on view from 2:00-3:00pm on Wednesday, May 26th.

View the full schedule here.

4/22/10

Graphic Intersections opening at Umbrage Gallery

THE EXPOSURE PROJECT & UMBRAGE EDITIONS PRESENT:
Graphic Intersections and The Portrait As Allegory
Curated by Ben Alper & Anastasia Cazabon

© Grant Willing

Graphic Intersections & The Portrait As Allegory
May 4th - June 26th, 2010
Opening Reception: Thursday, May 6th, 6 - 8pm

Umbrage Gallery
111 Front Street, Suite 208
DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Graphic Intersections is a collaborative project loosely based on the old Surrealist and Dadaist game The Exquisite Corpse. Designed to unite disparate artists in an interconnected photographic relay of images inspired by one another, or as the Surrealists put it, to exploit “the mystique of accident”, this project strives to emphasize a system of response entirely rooted in unmediated visual reaction.

This exhibition includes photographs by Ben Alper, Anastasia Cazabon, Thomas Damgaard, Scott Eiden, Grant Ernhart, Jon Feinstein,
Elizabeth Fleming, Alan George, Hee Jin Kang, Drew Kelly, Michael Marcelle, Chris Mottalini, Ed Panar, Bradley Peters, Cara Phillips, Noel Rodo-Vankeulen, Irina Rozovsky, Brea Souders, Jane Tam and Grant Willing.

© Susan Worsham

The Portrait As Allegory is an exhibition that examines the work of three artists who utilize the figure metaphorically in service of a broader discourse on the human experience. In addition to exploring the personal identities of their subjects, these portraits simultaneously become vehicles which speak to a variety of social, historical, and familial histories.

This exhibition includes photographs by Timothy Briner, Birthe Piontek and Susan Worsham.

To see more from Graphic Intersections, please visit
our website. We hope to see you at the opening in May!

4/21/10

Rethinking

I received some very thoughtful comments regarding my last post, and wanted to highlight one in particular from photographer
Michael Sebastian. I've included it in its entirety below so you can read his thoughts, and I have to say he's given me a lot to consider. Michael writes:

"As a relative codger of 47 with a demanding "day job" who is doing his best to "emerge" around the rest of his life (picture an overlarge and grizzled moth clawing its way free of the cocoon...) I am obviously no fan of age-restricted competitions. OTOH, I don't deny that any private entity has the right to limit its contest offerings any way it wishes, if it doesn't mind arbitrarily limiting the talent pool it can draw from--foolishly, in my estimation. When this starts to matter to enough people, those contests will find themselves bereft of contestants soon enough.

But respectfully, it seems inconsistent to accept preferential treatment for some groups (e.g. women and minorities) while decrying it for others (the under-35 crowd). Why is one kind of discrimination allowable while the other is odious? It becomes a tiresome contest between varying (if real enough) legacies of oppression: whose past suffering is more virtuous, and therefore more worthy of compensatory preference? I suppose this is really the affirmative-action debate writ small---under what circumstances is discrimination acceptable in the service of a supposedly overriding "greater good"? Can't imagine that's where you want this post to go; nor do I.

But preferences of any kind, however well intentioned, are a retrograde step as we work toward the ideal: the individual consideration of photographic work based on the work's merit, considered apart from its creator's demographics."

I have to say Michael's argument is very persuasive, and after thinking it over I may just have to fall on my sword and agree with his reasoning. He's right to question the bias toward any particular group, regardless of history. Which brings me to a post I wrote a while back about sexism in art. I'm going to repost the bulk of it because it offers an intellectual argument regarding an alternative to the way contests are usually judged. I know long posts are often skimmed, but I hope you'll stick with me:

'In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes extensively on gender bias in relation to hiring practices among orchestras. On Slate he summarizes:

"Prior to the 1980s, auditions for top orchestras were open—that is, the auditioning committee sat and watched one musician after another come in and play in front of the judges. Under this system, the overwhelming number of musicians hired by top orchestras were men—but no one thought much of this. It was simply assumed that men were better musicians. After all, what could be fairer than an open audition? And weren't the members of audition committees, "experts" in their field, capable of discerning good musicians from bad musicians?

But then, for a number of reasons, orchestras in the 1980s started putting up screens in audition rooms, so that the committee could no longer see the person auditioning. And immediately—immediately!—orchestras started hiring women left and right. In fact, since the advent of screens, women have won the majority of auditions for top orchestras, meaning that now, if anything, the auditioning process supports the conclusion that women are better classical musicians than men. Clearly what was happening before was that, in ways no one quite realized, the act of seeing a given musician play was impairing the listener's ability to actually hear what a musician was playing. People's feelings about women, as a group, were interfering with their ability to evaluate music."
So here we have concrete evidence of gender bias in a creative field. This is not to say that those who did the hiring were overtly sexist or even aware of the preference, but the preference existed nonetheless. On a basic level gender bias is deeply pervasive in Western culture, and I believe it's so ingrained that even those of us who consider ourselves enlightened can fall prey. I remember instances in my (luckily) more distant past when I would be reading an article in a newspaper or journal, would think it was brilliant, and then on discovering the author was a woman feel my esteem go down a notch. I was always taken aback by this shift in my perspective, and it was only in challenging myself and even actively seeking out powerful artistic female role models that I now no longer have such a change of heart based on gender. Still--if I as a creative woman could fall prey to such bias against my own sex, what about those who never question their assumptions? Or those who wholeheartedly embrace their misogynistic attitudes?

...As far as Christie's and the work of men selling for so much more than women, unfortunately there's no way for auction houses to put up screens, as it were, because the pieces are being sold for so much money largely due to the clout and reputation of the artists who created the work. But it does get one to thinking about the various shows and rounds of jurying that occur on a continual basis--would anything change if no name were included with submissions by emerging artists? Don't get me wrong, I think things are improving--at least where I've been paying attention, which is within the photography world--and as more female innovators like Jen Bekman rise to the top I can only hope that the playing field will level out--that the best, regardless of gender, will receive the accolades they deserve.'

What I wrote above is perhaps essentially impossible to put into practice, and potentially detrimental in other ways (art is often about context, and a body of work might need to be seen as a meditation on a person's race or gender, whereas the playing of music can be seen in some ways as more "objective" and thus can be done anonymously). But as an intellectual exercise I think it raises some thought-provoking questions. Thank you Michael for getting me thinking.

4/20/10

Over the hill?

In February I turned 35, which in many ways feels more significant to me than turning 30 did. I'm halfway between two spheres: early thirties and late thirties, each with its own symbolism. As a result of resting in this midpoint I've been thinking quite a lot about what age means lately. Age is a tricky thing--40 is the new 30, etc., and people seem to be getting younger all the time; but as I was riding the train home the other day I saw an ad for egg donation: women under the age of 32 only are eligible. Even though I have no desire whatsoever to partake in such a venture, it felt strange to be a full three years past the point where I would be considered "healthy enough." If I were to get pregnant again I would now be in the high-risk category, which feels laughable.

Recently Fraction Magazine posed the question: What do you think about age requirements in photography competitions? 35 seems to be the general cut-off point, again drawing attention to my advancing years. For some reason this debate floated into my mind as I was falling asleep last night, so here are my thoughts:

For me age limits almost feel like a feminist issue: how many women, including myself, have taken time away from other pursuits to raise children? I put quite a few things on hold at first, and didn't have the time to devote to shooting, let alone self-promotion. This could apply to fathers as well, as more and more men are staying home to do the bulk of the childcare. It also feels antiquated because it's now so much the norm to change careers several times throughout one's professional life. We've all heard the stories about lawyers and doctors quitting to become bakers or circus performers (anyone who's watched Oprah, at least). While I recognize that most contests don't impose age limits, thank goodness, are those that do excluding a whole host of potential talents?

In the comments section someone mentioned that perhaps finances are a consideration, with the idea being that those who have been in this business longer would be able to earn more from their work. But money is a tricky thing when it comes to the fine arts, as those struggling to make ends meet through our creative pursuits know, and I'm sure there are plenty of artists who can't devote themselves solely to art-making due to jobs that are done for financial security, which again detracts from the ability to get oneself "out there."

All of that said, I don't have a problem with competitions open only to women. There is a well-documented gender bias when it comes to being shown as an artist, and although this is a trend that seems to be turning somewhat, the cards have been stacked against us female photographers for long enough now that I think opportunities for leveling the playing field are warranted. The same holds true for minority competitions--giving marginalized groups the opportunity to be seen and heard is an important factor in the makeup of a healthy society.

I hope by the time my girls are too old to enter the "emerging artist" competitions these shows a.) will no longer exist and b.) there will be no more need for female-only/minority-only opportunities as the art world will be equalized enough to make such shows unnecessary, except in terms of curatorial themes.

4/19/10

This seems about right:

Via A Photo Editor via Robert Benson. The only problem with this graph is I'm old enough to have started shooting when there was no such thing as a personal cell phone...

4/9/10

Readjusting

I haven't gone on many trips away from Edie and June for more than a night or so. Actually there are only two to speak of--Santa Fe last year and Portland this year. Both times the adjustment to coming home has been quite difficult. I go away and am in an art bubble--intellectually stimulated, socially engaged, and going to bed without first having put someone else to bed. Now that I'm back the shift is strange--I missed the girls and was more than ready to see them, but they're wacky after a stretch of time away from their routine (not to mention Spring Break bookended things so they were stir-crazy by yesterday). June was up until 11:00 last night, Edie until 10:30 the night before, and they're in and out of their room, bouncing around, generally being a total handful. It's exhausting just to get to sleep.

I always have that saying flashing through my mind, "the days are long but the years are short," and I find it mildly guilt-inducing. My work is so fundamentally about this concept of wanting to freeze time, and the sadness caused by feeling my children's childhoods are flashing by before my eyes--but when you've been trying to get them to go to sleep for three hours the impulse is to want a couple of teenagers who don't get up until noon and go to bed all by themselves. It can be such a difficult contradiction, this desire to enjoy every moment, and the resulting pressure that desire engenders. The longing to be in the here and now can create the opposite effect. At this point if I could just get a decent night's sleep I feel like everything else would fall into place. I do have to remember not to become resentful about the hard times--which takes a certain mental discipline. It would be so easy to hold it against them, to be bitter, to act like a child myself, and I have to force myself to step back and try to see the good in the days/years quote. Nothing is forever, every night will be different, and they really are so gorgeous when they're not being little rascals.

Portland, OR


I'm back from Portland and attempting to settle into my daily routine. James and I had a wonderful trip--the show looked great (thanks to Laura Valenti and Chris Bennett of Newspace), opening night was fun, and I actually liked giving an artist talk, go figure. I also enjoyed hearing Bryan Wolf talk about his work and approach to photographing his own children. He doesn't have a large online presence but I can assure you that his images are beautiful and haunting; I'll be putting up some snapshots I took of his pictures on the wall when I have a chance--for now I just wanted to get a post up quickly before more time passed. It was also fantastic to get the chance to hang out with the gorgeous Melanie Flood and her husband Matt (they moved out West a few months ago from Brooklyn), and to meet Shawn Records, fellow Washington University grad Lauren Henkin, and Jake Stangel at the opening (am I forgetting anyone? If so, apologies). Thanks to everyone who came to support the show. More in a moment...