peripheral vision

photography by Kate Wilhelm

peripheral vision blog

because making photographs exposes as much about the photographer as the subject

Archive for July, 2009

nothing like a good library to make your day

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

This morning I went to my local university to find out what would be required to upgrade from my three-year BA in English to an Honours BA in Studio Art. Lately I’ve been feeling like there’s a whole wide world that I’m missing, a sort of lineage and vocabulary that I’ve learned enough to know of its existence, but not enough to know it. You might think that vocabulary doesn’t matter, especially in a visual medium, but I’ve always found that words influence our experience and perception. Sometimes you don’t feel something until you have a word for it. Or you can feel it, but you can’t distinguish it precisely. Or something. Naming is power.

I remember one time last summer at the drop-in, it was hot, and I felt like I was moving through molasses. Everyone else seemed to be moving slowly too. “I’m so lethargic,” I complained. And the other volunteer asked me what that word meant. I said it meant tired, even though I knew it wasn’t really doing the word justice. But I felt so awkward, like my language kept me an outsider. And it kind of does. I still think of that little encounter, mostly with guilty feelings for not letting him in on the nuance of lethargy.

Anyways, I want to learn more about the history of photography and critical ways of talking about it. Especially since I’m thinking about a project on suburbia, I figure it might be a good thing for me to know what work has come before me on the subject. So that is why I found myself at the university.

This need for knowledge also had me looking for ways to get books from the university library, and I discovered that alumni can get a free alumni card and borrow up to 20 books for two weeks at a time. So I got my card today and visited the library and even though it’s been almost a decade, I remembered exactly where the photography section was. It was kind of surreal walking among the stacks after so long. And like many places I return to have a long absence, it has its own smell, which although I didn’t notice it before today, I know hasn’t changed. I used to write poems when I was younger, and lately I’ve been feeling like that was good training for photography. Both art forms require you to really see. Anyways, walking through the library I remembered a poem I wrote that was actually published, a poem called “The Library” that when I read it last summer I decided was nonsense because I couldn’t make sense of it, but today, it made sense. So many rows upon rows of books, they really muffle the sound.

Anyways, the photography section is delightful. Barely a Digital Photography for Dummies or Catalogue of Dogs to be seen. I picked up Robert Adams’s Beauty in Photography, and devoured it this afternoon. Incidentally, one of the first essays talked about the importance of freshness in art and the resulting necessity of knowing who’s come before to create that freshness.

After dinner tonight, I devoured Charles Traub’s In the Still Life while my son dug nearby in the sand. I both loved and hated that he didn’t display captions with each image. It made me look longer and harder at each one though, and that’s always a good thing.

I also got Why People Photograph, also by Robert Adams, which I’ll take to the cottage next week. (Mind you, it’s a two-bedroom cottage that will be housing 8 adults and 6 kids, so it’s possible I may not be able to read it.) And finally, I’m excited to have discovered Thomas Daniel, with the catalogue to his exhibition Into My Eyes. I haven’t read it yet, but glancing through it at the library I was really taken with his portraits, and the obvious respect he has for the people he photographs.

All in all, it was a good day. And now it’s time for So You Think You Can Dance. Perfect.

big announcement

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

The blog has been pretty quiet for the last several months because I’ve been working on lots of stuff in the background. One of those things is a book, which I’m excited to officially launch today. Two-Powered: A Diary of Motherhood and Apple Pie combines words and images I created during the first two years of my son’s life. I was also granted permission to include a beautiful poem by Adrienne Rich, a poem I discovered during the same time period.

I thought about searching for a publisher for the book, but I decided to self-publish for a number of reasons. The biggest of which is that I have no patience. I’m guessing it would take at least a year to get to print, and possibly much, much longer. And I’m more into making stuff than selling or pitching stuff.

This book doesn’t fit easily into a specific genre – is it a momoir or a photography book? I don’t know. I’ve read that genre-bending books are considerably less attractive to publishers, who need to figure out how to market their books. If there isn’t a tidy demographic to market to, it’s a much riskier venture. I thought about trying for photography publishers, who could foot the bill for producing it in fantastic quality, but these really aren’t fine art images. They’re not about beautiful colour or good tonal ranges; the digital files themselves aren’t particularly high quality either – some of them I even made on my husband’s crappy little point-and-shoot.

The bottom line is that I really feel the collection contains a message that needs to get out sooner than later. So I decided to publish it on demand through lulu.com.

I think it’s very difficult to mother in a culture that has no space to admit real ambivalence into the discourse. When my mom read my book, she said, “Wow, you were in a real depression.” But I don’t believe I was. I don’t think it was pathological at all – I think it’s normal to be ambivalent as a mother, and healthy to acknowledge that it’s really f-ing hard, especially in the first two years. Can you think of anything in which you have a bigger stake than in the growth and well-being of the most important and helpless person you’ve ever had the fortune to know?

My husband developed a website to showcase the content of the book. We still have to put a link to it on my home page, but in the meantime, you can get there from here. I thought about only including the first 15 images to encourage people to buy the book, but I felt that if my goal was to speak through this cultural silence, I should my money where my mouth is and put it all out there. If you do buy the book, you do get treated to Adrienne Rich’s wonderful poem, which isn’t on the site.

So there. It’s done, it’s out there. Wow does this ever feel anti-climactic.

Check it out here.

thoughts on repeat

Friday, July 10th, 2009
  • - Don Weber’s advice in May to make the photographs I want to make not the photographs I think I should make. How do I tell the difference??? How do I tell the difference between inspiration and a case of the shoulds?
  • - Wade Robson – I didn’t realize how young he is. It’s shameful really, how much talent a single person can have. These are oldish videos, but I only discovered them last week. If you like dance or Wade Robson, you really must watch them.
  • - This is him actually dancing with Cirque du Soleil.
  • - And here he is when he was 8! I’m not sure what’s scarier: that he was only 8 in 1992 or that he was that good then.
  • - But this is the one I just can’t stop watching. Or listening to the song over and over again (which, if you also want to listen to it on repeat and drive your partner crazy, is John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”).
  • - And did you see his choreography with Brandon and Jeanette this week? Awesome.
  • - Broken Social Scene’s Anthems For a 17-Year-Old Girl. Especially since I heard it in connection with an interview with the author of this book. (Which I plan to read but haven’ t yet.)
  • - I love my iPod. I get to wander around town playing mopey songs (see above) in my ears and pretending I’m a miserable, brooding teenager again. I don’t know why I like pretending to brood so much, but I do.
  • - The idea that if people in a photo were directed the photos is fake or fictional or even less meaningful or valuable. For me, it just feels right to interact with the people in my photographs. I feel creepy if I’m sneaking around trying to capture them in a so-called ‘real’ moment – even when the person has agreed to let me photograph them. Of course, this could just be narcissism, that I want every photo I make to be about me, or at least as much about me as whatever’s actually in front of the camera. This will take me a while to figure out.
  • - Wanting to open a twitter account for this blog, but being stuck on a name – peripheralvision is one letter too long, apparently. But if I’d just done it a few months ago, it would have been fine. I dunno. I guess I’ll make it peripheral_vsn.

Here are some of the images I’ve been shooting while mooning about like a broody teenager:

south rez-10
(that’s my old dorm room in the bottom right corner)

south rez-7

south rez-2

trampled

residue-5

residue-2

more photos!

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Apparently, I am a Website Updating Machine. (Well, my husband, aka My Own Personal Web Designer and Tech Support Guy, has something to do with that – he very cleverly made it so I can update my galleries without depending on him for anything.) I just posted my new, still ongoing, series “Not like the others,” formerly known as my belly dance project.

My statement:

Belly dance is thought to have originated as a way to prepare for and articulate the experience of womanhood. This series places belly dancers in urban and suburban settings to foreground the sterility of modern North American culture and highlight the absences that may draw women to this ancient dance form. If the dancers are not on stage, then what are they performing?

new photos on my site

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Faulkner said you have to kill all your little darlings. He was talking about writing but I can see how the exact same principle applies to editing your photographs. And I’ve heard or read several photographers say that their favourite photographs almost never make it into the final edit.

I’ve finally updated the galleries on my site with an edit of my Drop-In Centre work. In selecting and sequencing the images, it really felt like killing my darlings. Except that in the end there were some darlings I just couldn’t kill. I discovered that I have no emotional distance from which to properly judge these images. In some ways I’m closer to this work than I am to my family work. Mostly because I know I can always shoot more with my family. But with the people from the Drop-In Centre, it doesn’t work that way. Some people I haven’t seen since I photographed them. I think others might think it’s weird for me to photograph them again.

Anyways, the bottom line is that the edit is loose and I have no idea at all whether these photographs are any good or of value to anyone else. When I started making these portraits, I wanted to make photographs of people, not people in distress or people dealing with a particular set of circumstances. I wanted to move away from photographs of poverty or homelessness or mental illness or addiction. At the same time, I didn’t want to romanticize or gloss over or turn away from those very real issues that real people are living with. I don’t know if I’ve been successful at any of that, especially since I have no control over what viewers will see in these photographs. I know what I see in them, but I also know these people outside of the context of the photographs.

So… why don’t you go have a look? I’d be very interested in any critiques you feel like sharing — although please keep it constructive.

copyright , 2008
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