Um, yeah, so I went to New York, eh? And I still haven’t blogged about it. We’ve been back for nearly a full week.
I guess I’m not sure what to say about it all, really. We did lots, got overstimulated at least twice a day, and ate wonderful meals. I was really ready to leave, but I think that was more because I was missing my son so much than because I was tired of the city. There was still so much we didn’t do and see, but what can you do? We’re human. Not only that, we’re small-town boring humans who seem to get tired awfully easily. Anyways, I made a fun little slideshow with some of my pics. Be warned, it’s a very loose edit – I think I’ve already taken a second pass and cut nearly half the pictures. But it gives you a bit of a sense of the things we saw.
I didn’t take many pictures – well, not as many as I expected to anyways. I was very aware of the century-long tradition of brilliant street photography in New York, by people who spent most of their lives in the city. I also kind of think that people can’t come to a place and make photographs that are even remotely accurate or relevant or not-cliche commentaries about the place in a short time. I kind of think you have to live there, or at least visit there a lot. That said, I kept making pictures in New York even though I knew they wouldn’t turn into anything more. And I think I’ve had a bit of a revelation.
I’ve been posting pics to flickr, and one person commented on all the geometry in the pictures, all the squares and circles and rectangles. He asked wherther that was New York or what I was drawn to photograph there. And I suspect it was a bit of both. Knowing that the pictures wouldn’t turn into a bigger body of work freed to make just the pictures I wanted to, without thinking of how they would fit in. And there are a few pictures that I really, really like (I’m embedding them through this post).
I realize that you CAN make interesting, compelling photographs in a place you have no insight into. But the photographs won’t be about the Place; they’ll be about your encounter with the place, or perhaps just an extension of your own personal vision of the world. And those are both valid approaches to photographing a new place. I don’t know why I didn’t realize that before; it seems so obvious now. But there you have it. I also have a lot of pictures from my own town that I shot sort of believing they wouldn’t fit into a body of work either, but I wanted to shoot them anyways. And now I’m wondering if maybe those are the most authentic pictures in my work? Donald Weber kept telling us in May not to make the pictures we think we should, but to make the pictures we want to. I’ve been haunted by that ever since, trying to figure out whether what I’m doing is what I think I should do or what I truly want to do. It’s a bit of a mindfuck really.
So yesterday I spent a lot of time reviewing all the pictures I took over the past year, and sorting them. I had to anyways as part of my Christmas gift to family members. Every year I make a calendar of pictures of my son for us to enjoy over the coming year. I figured while I was sorting through those, I might as well also think about my other pictures. I’m realizing that one subject that draws me in again and again are the signs of life we leave behind us in our daily trails, the imperfections on the landscape (like the plastic bag in the image below), and the expressions of ourselves we hang from our homes. I love how some people put things in their window, facing out. It’s like a little sign to passerby: I live here. Not just anyone, but ME. And it’s why I love photographing people in their homes, because of all the little physical bits that tell you something about the person who eats and sleeps and gets bored and excited there.
Yesterday I suddenly realized that I wouldn’t be back to the Drop-In Centre until the New Year, and that was a bit of a shock to me. But Alberta just laughed every time I said it, since it’s only two weekends I’ll be missing. Next Saturday I’m going to a grant-writing workshop with Donald Weber at Pikto, and the following Saturday is my birthday (Boxing Day!) and I’ll be with my family at my parents’ farm. This year has totally gotten away from me, and this month in particular.
Last year I set some goals for myself for 2009. I wanted to do project-oriented work, and I wanted to learn to balance my flash with ambient light. I did almost nothing on the flash front, but I definitely put quite a bit of effort into projects and made some good progress. I think one of my goals for 2010 will need to be to FINISH a project. And I think I need to start narrowing my focus into one project at a time. Over the last year I thought that working on multiple projects would build on each other, and I think they have, but it also dilutes my effort so I end up with lots of work that I’m nowhere near ready to publish and shop around. This goal will be very hard for me, because I have a lot of ideas for projects that I really want to do, and limited time to work on them. I’m quite certain I could work full-time hours on my personal projects for the next year and not run out of things to do. The problem is that I don’t have full-time hours.
I had another goal for 2009 that I didn’t publish here, because it depended on other people, and I try to avoid having my sense of achievement depend on other people’s behavior. But the goal was to exhibit at least one piece of work in a gallery. I’m happy to have met and exceeded that goal. I think for 2010 I’d like to continue pursuing exhibition opportunities, but I’d like to focus my submissions on work I want shown more than work that I think fits the theme of calls for entry. I’d also like to start thinking about the logistics of hanging a solo show. I don’t think I’m really ready for one yet, but I’d like to start thinking about the possibilities.
The exhibitions I saw in New York really expanded my conception of what a photography exhibition can be. My favourite exhibition was probably Transparent City by Michael Wolf at the Aperture Gallery. I wasn’t planning to go out of my way to see it – I didn’t think it would interest me particularly – but we were in the neighbourhood and I really wanted to see Aperture’s bookstore. So we went and I was blown away by the exhibition. The images online do NOT do justice to the prints AT ALL. Anyways, they had a video playing of the artist talking about his experience making the work and his anxieties. Incidentally, he pointed out in the video that the series was called Transparent City not Transparent Chicago, even though all the work was shot there. He said it really isn’t about Chicago, so much as about city life. The video really enhanced the experience of the exhibit. It never occurred to me to have video or audio to augment the prints. They also included some of his earlier work to provide a context for the Transparent City work, and I really liked seeing that too.
Anyways, I’ve gone on long enough and my family is bugging me to get off the computer and get a Christmas tree so I’ll sign off here. You can check out the slideshow of my trip to NYC here.