Traveling on business with a consistently tight schedule isn't conducive to good photography, but I consider this trip a successful photographic endeavor. I find fewer moments to spend with my camera as my career advances, and I haven't taken more than a handful of photographs in the last several months. Traveling has a way of awakening the mind and inspiring new work. I had never been to Raleigh, but it reminded me of Omaha--it's large enough to have a cultural mass sufficient to feel a slight gravitational pull and small enough to remain convenient and possess a more relaxed atmosphere. I didn't find the essence of Raleigh in my photographs, but I did find a rekindled love for photography.
There is a time moments before the sun sets and the light fades where the gentle glow grants unusual clarity to common subjects, where shadows are long, offering contrast and refuge from continuous shape and form. In normal times I’m a deeply introspective person, and during holidays, at the conclusion of another year, I often find myself completely lost in contemplation. Is the year ending in a better place than it began? What goals have I successfully accomplished, and where did I fail? Has my photography been faithful to my principles and communicated my thoughts in a meaningful way? In other words, am I proud of what I see when I gaze into the mirror and look through my contact sheets? What has this year taught me?
Chasing shadows: a year of chiaroscuro
Sometimes what isn’t there is every bit as interesting as what is; a lack of information presents a mystery that lets the imagination run wild, allows space for a composition to breathe and serves as a reminder that art mirrors the unfortunate irony of life – light wouldn’t have the magic it does without darkness. Prior to acquiring a deeper knowledge of photographic technique, I shied away from difficult lightning clearly beyond the capability of the medium to record. Lessons learned through photography often mirror those found in life; only with the unconditional embrace of difficulty comes complete satisfaction. Worthwhile endeavors are never easy, and are we truly capable of growing in a landscape of perpetual comfort? Sometimes jumping into the dark abyss is the wisest move.
Music and photography
I have come to the realization that there is an inextricable link between my love of music, my piano playing, and my photography. Some of my greatest photographic inspirations come from music, and I often play music while I’m working in my darkroom. The way compositions flow in photographs often remind me of specific musical compositions. Every transcendent melody has a raw, undulating contrapuntal movement from which its immense power is drawn. It is with this same poetry that light works to gently reveal the beautifully nuanced shape and form of the world around us. Just as each interpretive choice a musician makes informs a careful listener, every photograph is a small window into the mind of the photographer. Beauty takes many forms but can be found everywhere by those who seek it.
Looking forward (hopes for tomorrow)
Goals are important, but excessive planning can quickly become burdensome. I have found that a general framework from which to guide future decisions provides a good balance between strict milestones not easily adapted to changing circumstances and failing to improve due to a lack of direction and/or focus. My lens from which to work through 2019 is informed by the following principles:
Maintain a visual sense of self. Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Create photographs that are interesting to you, not what you think may be interesting to others.
Be mindful to always have a “point of departure,” an overarching idea that can be expressed visually to form a cohesive body of work. As Ralph Gibson said, photographers without a point of departure just have boxes of prints. Publish a book based upon a specific theme.
Fail, again and again. Nothing is more overwhelmingly devastating to a passionately creative person than failing, but it’s an essential part of the process. A lack of failure indicates a lack of growth, and it’s safe to say I’ve always learned more from my failures than successes. Expect it to happen and be accepting when it does.
Lastly, enjoy the journey. The creative process is a lifelong pursuit; it is iterative and never complete. Creativity is itself a pilgrimage of personal exploration without a destination, or perhaps in search of one. Happy holidays.
On the afternoon of March 25, 1911, hundreds of workers, including children as young as 14, desperately pounded on the locked doors as acrid smoke torrid flames spread across the building with startling speed. Frances Perkins was having a leisurely afternoon when she heard the pointed wail of sirens rush past her home. As the fire engines kept coming Frances became curious and followed them. What she saw changed her life – and the course of the labor movement as we recognize it today. Over one hundred people, mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women, died in the fire – either from the flames themselves, smoke inhalation, or jumping out open windows of the ten-story building. Locked exits in commercial structures were commonplace in the early twentieth century to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was a completely preventable, man-made disaster.
The beginning through the middle of the twentieth century saw unprecedented change driven by the skillful use of political action. Are contemporary remedies to our collective angst as well served through demonstrations similar to those decades ago? Are we well served by protest in 2018, when issues have magnified in complexity? Is our use of protest more reflexive habit than solution? I have photographed my share of modern protests, and though I was not alive in the fifties and sixties, I can’t help but feel that modern demonstrations don’t hold the transformative power they once did. Why, in the age of social media – when organization is easier than ever, have protests lost the unified grip of the public’s consciousness? The ironic truth is that the very strength of the modern world, our untethered ability to connect with each other on a somewhat perfunctory level, may be crippling the effectiveness of organization.
Ask any seventh-grader who Rosa Parks is, and he or she will explain the story of her refusal to give up her seat on a bus; however, The Montgomery Bus Boycott did not possess the political power it did due to happenstance – it was a masterpiece of discipline and logistics. The spark for such a flame never could have emanated from Twitter despite such a combustible public atmosphere, and it never would have gripped the nation as it did. Martin Luther King had given several variants of his famous speech prior to the summer of 1963. The speech wasn’t immortalized in history until the Washington D.C. Civil Rights March, where no logistical detail was too small to avoid having been painstaking considered. The venue, sound system, intimate media vantage points and a myriad of additional laboriously considered factors transformed a great speaker into an immortal icon.
In a world where every citizen wields greater reach that only a carefully considered few did in years past it’s no wonder that we find our organized demonstrations lacking in sustained organization. What does this mean for the future, and will we find a new way to turn the fine clockwork of progress? If photography is simply a mirror that reflects our joys, sorrow, misgivings and hope, what does this series of photographs say about us?
My progression through photography in the last five years has not been linear. I have had many small successes and a few large failures, but the larger trend is heading in the right direction. Looking back, one of my most substantial missteps has been failing to see the importance of documenting things that hold value to me but perhaps very few others – friends, family and personal moments. It’s all too easy to forget what initially drew us to photography and to begin creating work for an audience, not for ourselves. There is a charming poetry to everyday life, the quiet moments that form our real memories and the things we care about most deeply. It is these very moments that may end up being the most important photographs we ever take. At its heart, photography is a true record of life – real moments and memories, good and bad.
The issue of confidence is a notable through line among much of my internal struggle with photography, and I believe this is why it is so easy to be lured into creating work for the consumption of others and not for our own satisfaction. Over the years my library of printed photographs has grown large; however, I can count the number of framed prints I have displayed on one hand. This was my first suspicion that something was amiss with my work. Let me rephrase that; it was my first suspicion that something was amiss with my own view of my work. We all view our own work through a somewhat distorted lens simply by the fact that we have a deeply personal connection with each image. This is why getting some distance from our own photographs and curating each project with a critical eye is important, but it can become a source of creative paralysis when we become excessively critical. It is clear with even a quick search online that there is no shortage of talented photographers, and it’s all too easy to begin comparing our work to what we see. With this realization a natural question may be, why bother creating images when so much excellent work has already been realized? Honestly, I’m not sure I have the answer. Perhaps it is simply a reckoning with ourselves, an instinct to locate a form of truth in a chaotic world or a need for meaning. All human beings, at some level, need to find meaning within our own existence. In any event, I’ll continue taking photographs, not because I feel my images are special, but because I have something to say; I am compelled to create.