The Mr Brightside Mix(ed) Tape

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During winter break, with idle hands I posted this ridiculous photo on my instagram and it got more likes than any prior post I’d made. It launched me into a three month undertaking that ended up being the longest single line of thought project and excavation into my own intuition and curiosities that I’ve really worked on outside of school thus far. The following post will dwell somewhere between an explanation for your sake and analysis for my own sake. Bear with me, and if I am overstepping my aims and appear to be trying to justify this work with depth beyond its content, please forgive me.

Before we go any further, to listen to the fruits of my odd labor, here is the link to the released “mixtape”.

https://mrbrightsidemixed.bandcamp.com/album/the-mr-brightside-mix-ed-tape

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A quick skim of the album will reveal that, indeed, these are not sounds that are meant to be enjoyed. The origins of this project were in some sound manipulation and distortion things I’d done last year in AFO, in which I found how pleasantly difficult it is to listen to certain types of sound. Visual art may be ugly or offensive, but there are some sounds that just make your spine tingle and your shoulders seize up in a way that visual art cannot do. I was interested in this effect, and used computer generated speech at first before switching to popular music for no reason in particular at first.

Towards the end of last semester I got more interested in the idea of making noise music, and initially had the idea to make music using only the sounds out of one song. I can’t remember what initially prompted me to Mr. Brightside, but after doing a few samples and receiving laughs and minor encouragement from even a couple friends, I decided it was worth continuing in that vein. However, as the project went on a few weeks and I actually had to start explaining it even a little bit seriously, I realized there was at least some substance to my song choice.

Mr. Brightside was released in 2004 and became massively popular. It’s a song that many, many people (especially in my generation) are almost innately familiar with how it’s supposed to sound, making it ripe to manipulate and undermine that expectation. Additionally, it’s one of those songs that’re so saccharine and non-offensive that it was fun for me to try to own that and override it so fully into something that made people’s skin crawl just to listen to.

As far as analyzing work goes, though, I basically feel like this is “step one” analysis. If step 0 is simply describing what is in front of you, then step 1 is trying to figure out the intellectual connection between the parts. step 2 is figuring out a motivation of the artist for making those connections, and step 3 is figuring out what this reveals about the artist, what deeply held feeling or thought or belief the artist is trying to give material form to.

For me, it often seems that when I pull back the layers far enough, much of the work I’m making is in objection to myself, or at least, what I try to be. Or in other words, in creating something, I’m oftentimes not exploring the questions at the outer limit of what I understand to be True and Good, but rather making work trying to hide from and deflect attention away from my own vulnerabilities and insecurities. This isn’t an activity exclusive to art-making, but I at least feel well equipped to deal with the meaning behind actions as a result of studying symbolic communication.

Allow me to try to take you down the rabbit hole of this project and reveal to you my own insecurities, not for the sake of trying to say “look how brilliant I am for making this artwork” but rather for the sake of undermining my own arrogance asserted in this project. Because in some ways, this project was just masked whining, and actually making and then thinking about it allowed me to sort out some of the issues therein. I think a rigorous biographer or curator or historian after an artist has made a large body of work may be able to get at some accurate “step 3″ analysis of an artist, but being privileged to live in the mind of the artist that made this piece and feeling the things felt that gave rise to this project, I think with a bit of honesty and self-reflection it’s possible to figure out a bit of what the deeper meaning of a project is, and what’s even better, as the artist, I might learn and grow from it! Sweet!

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So to be brutally honest with myself, let’s start with someone else entirely. Brandon Flowers, the lead singer and driving force behind The Killers.

I really hated art and analysis focused on celebrities until my textual analysis professor, in justifying the course theme of “celebrity”, described analysis of the concept of celebrity in terms of what our fixation on them reveals about ourselves and the fiber of our culture. So it’s worth trying to suss out my own issues in light of my fixation with this man and how I used his image and personality in promoting this ridiculous piece of experimental-type noise-type music-type thing.

Almost all of the visual art I made to help promote this project was fixated on the image of Brandon Flowers, including the penname I released this project under, “Yung Flowers”. Most of the art was distorting his image, often presented in stills from videos or from various glamorizing portraits of him from public events or publicity photos. This is a man whose image is held in high esteem, and from interviews with him, we find that he has a very single minded drive to perform on a world stage and be held in esteem.

I read the following review on Rdio, the streaming service I use, for Battle Born,The Killers’ most recent album:

“The great open secret about the Killers is that they only make sense when they operate on a grand scale. Everything they do is outsized; their anthems are created for fathomless stadiums, a character quirk they’ve grown into over the years as they’ve gone from scrappy wannabes fighting their way out of Las Vegas to the international superstars they’ve longed to be.”

-Stephen Thomas Erlewine

This was such a penetratingly awesome criticism, and it did actually help me understand The Killers, it helped frame a quote like this:

“Brandon Flowers says that the Killers may not have the drive to become a major, world-spanning stadium band. Blaming timing – as well as his three bandmates – for the group’s uneven growth, the singer concedes that the Killers may never become the next U2.”

-Sean Michaels for The Guardian

There was an embarrassingly long period of smugness in which I thought how much of a prick Brandon Flowers was for having this single minded ambition for success and fame at the cost of not owning his circumstances and blaming lack of overwhelming success on those around him. I thought about how even from The Killers’ beginnings with Hot Fuss, they didn’t seem to be presenting anything new. There was no self discovery, simply just an attempt to discover the newest variables to plug into the well established equation of pop music such that the output was money and fame. I thought about how virtuous U2 seemed for actually going through a period of trial and error before arriving at this “world stage” sound, and it seemed that Brandon Flowers, backed by The Killers, seemed only to be trying to grab at that sound without owning the process of arriving at it on his own terms.

So initially, Brandon Flowers’ image was synonymous with the sound of the song Mr. Brightside: It was sickeningly polished, smoothed over, it seemed too perfect and too fake and was simply easy to see as so wonderful and without blemish that even before I knew why I was doing it I felt the need to distort, manipulate, and co-opt it into something that I owned, something that I felt was so abrasive and difficult to enjoy that I would be the only person it made sense to.

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If you haven’t seen the devastatingly ironic punchline coming yet, allow me to state it in plain terms: I was, in so so many ways, doing exactly what Brandon Flowers was doing, and this project unequivocally, almost has to come from a place of self loathing of this aspiration to be famous, to be renowned.

The project could’ve been completed without anyone’s input, but it wasn’t. I could’ve just not told anyone about this, worked on it in private and released it without circumstance, and maybe if I’d done that, the meaning would’ve stopped at that purely interesting effect of using music that’s innately familiar to create something very foreign and strange sounding.

But I didn’t do that. This project from the very beginning was fueled by external validation, fueled by “likes” on Facebook every time I put up a new image, every time someone laughed when I mentioned that I would be releasing a mixtape. I thrived off of the feeling that I was being mysterious, being funny, and not so deep down I hoped that when this was released it would catch its own momentum and end up in the annals of internet history, end up being one of those things that people sent to their friends saying things like “what the hell is this?”, “why would someone make this”, “this makes like… a weird sort of sense.”

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In hindsight, the most insightful and staggering critique I got was from a good friend of mine whom I’ll call John (because that’s his name), who told me at one point, after the mixtape was still unreleased more than a month after I said it would be finished “you know, I’m actually starting to think that this project is about the hype you’re creating and there’s never going to be a released thing.” He even made this little bit, and I’d be hard pressed to overstate how funny it was and is to me:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJiJVM5gh0w&feature=youtu.be

He was somewhat right. While the project wasn’t solely about generating validation, that was such an intrinsic part of it that it wouldn’t have been done without it. But that’s not quite where it stops, because there are plenty of projects fueled by this desire to be well known, even if not globally recognized. However, there’s something even more sobering for me when I consider just how nasty this is to listen to.

In middle school and early high school I made no attempt to mask my disdain of popular things that seemed to have no substance to them, and I’m sure The Killers incited my groaning and moaning about how awful contemporary music is and how awesome my taste in music is. However, looking back on my iPod playlist of that period, I was listening to the same bland music as everyone else, maybe not the top 40 of that year (well, at least not all of the top 40), but there was classic rock and some rap music and other music which was, by all means, quite popular. But I had no issue in deriding people for their taste in music. Though less vocal about it now, there’s still judgement calls I make on people based on the kind of artwork they say they like. Regardless of any of the externalities of what music it is, what art it is, or who the person is, I was and still am doing the shitty thing of forming a negative opinion of someone based on what they like.

But not only did I look down on people for something so stupid as what they enjoy, I always held my own tastes in higher regard, even when if I looked in on my tastes from the outside I’d probably look down on myself. It became a matter of, not only should you not like what you already like, you should like what I like because I just have a better sense of what’s good and what’s not.

So to recap, Mr. Brightside was a popular thing and I really don’t like popular things. It was made by an artist that, in trying to appear overridingly determined, was judged by me to be creating baseless, shitty music. This music got extremely successful. I want to be extremely successful but am upset that what I deem is bad work becomes successful, and and my apparently amazing work hasn’t. I directly source this popular sound and popular image to try to create something so nasty sounding that I’m the only person that will like it, yet simultaneously try to create such popularity around it that it becomes ironically successful despite its terrible sound. In doing so, I do not go through any difficult self reflection, only try to imitate (via marketing) and appropriate (the source material) things that have come before me.

If that is step 2, figuring out why the artist did all these things, then step 3, figuring out what this reveals about the artist, is roughly as follows. It should be said, though, that this is reflection gained from trying to take stock of my life over the past couple months, and is as much derived from this project as it is applied back onto this project because this is what I was going through at the time, which also requires some stepping back from this exact moment.

For most of my life I’ve held in high regard various virtues and beliefs, having grown up around some very virtuous and admirable people. Additionally, in my childhood and adolescence I feel that I was talented at some things without much effort, but also discovered the good feeling of being even better at something after hard work. This has led to the most difficult sins I cope with being a sense of pride, boastfulness, self-aggrandization. Unfortunately, too, I seemed to learn to emulate the previously stated virtue without going through the trials necessary to fully own these beliefs and the actions that flow from them.

Many actions and thoughts and things I’ve done to others have been generally pretty shitty things, and in seeking external validation for the things that I feel I’m good at, I generally outweighed the negative things I’ve done and thought with the perceived goodness of who I was. I was just a good person, I earned this, so on and so forth. I was mistaking imitating virtue for having it.

In short terms, I idealized beliefs that I did not own, and used charisma and external validation to reinforce this idea that I was somehow just a better person than some people.

Even in writing this I want to validate myself by tagging that with “…I don’t think I’m the only person that struggles with this…” it does not matter the shortcomings of others, because by comparing my sins to others is just another layer of self validation: “at least I’m not as bad as this person.”

The mixtape was in many ways an extended process of self justification of my own insecurities.

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This is the cover of the final version, and wasn’t the first image I’d created for this project based around apologizing. In one way it’s just apologizing that the songs within this thing are so unpleasant to listen to, but in another way it’s simply coming to the end of all of this and just beginning to peel back these layers of self justification, self worship, just plain and vile selfishness. It may seem trite and oversimplifying to say that this album is as ugly as I feel when I really start to pull that scab back, and it (mostly) is, but not entirely. Just writing this sort of confessional, trying to own my own shittiness, that doesn’t make me a good person, it just means I’m trying to be honest about being a bad person, which is a step, but it doesn’t create virtue. Being honest about being a bad, sinful person and feeling that in your life does not redeem you of it, it only makes it possible to start to change, which becomes only more difficult.

I’m not writing this for sympathy, I guess if anything it’s an apology for this project that was sort of a bubbling up of my own shitty nature. Moving on from this is the even harder process of actually trying to orient myself to what is Right and Good and True, and there are plenty more blunders and missteps and sins that will happen along the way, but in the paraphrased words of C.S. Lewis, if you’re walking down what turns out to be a bad road, it isn’t progressive to forge ahead boldly into all that the road entails, you just simply have to turn around and walk out.

Don’t overthink it

Eyyy, first time I’ve written about a piece since finals last semester! That’s three months now, wow! Anyway, this is the first time since then I really feel like I’ve owned where I was fully for a project and made a piece from that, rather than dancing around the things that are bothering me with pieces that allude to it but aren’t as honest as I’m able to be.

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This piece was thought of, written, and executed in one night. In some ways, I think that for me personally, the time spent on studio projects is working through various iterations of a project, refining, and then coming to something “finished” that might be done quickly rather than working on a series, or doing very long term labor intensive things that may only get done in that time. I had to completely scrap a couple ideas to finally arrive here, and even the project I thought I was going to do after I scrapped most of my work the night before crit wasn’t the project I ended up doing.

arsemic2The only direction we got for the assignment was that we couldn’t have a “frame” in the sense of photography depicting a scene that would, in theory, continue outside of the space of the picture: it was a wholly contained thing, playing up the “objectness” of the photo. Above is the first incarnation of this: I wanted to strip away the content of an image and reduce it into its most interesting formal and textural elements, turn it into a thing that sat there and looked like an image, but wasn’t. Like asemic (nonsense) writing looks like writing but has no information, I wanted to treat the image in the same way.

It was to my own detriment, however. For as long as I’ve been quite frustrated with artwork that revelled in its creator’s own inability to overcome the things that bother them, to say “look at all these things that bother me, don’t you agree???” I was failing to overcome that and projected my frustrations onto the project. If this is a necessary artwork for me to make, it’s only in this stage of drafting and practicing, until I realized that this isn’t what I wanted to be making. But that took a few more weeks, and a few more iterations.

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However it’s also worth noting that although this didn’t pan out for this project, I did very much like the form and found it beautiful, if only visually. I kept experimenting with it and ended up making these scroll type prints for submission to a show, that I now hung in my room. It didn’t work for this project, and it came out of a place of frustration, but I did find out some interesting formal moves that I applied to an aesthetic piece here, freeing myself from the need to air out my personal frustrations within the formal gesture, I focused on making it look nice, and resolved, and enjoyed the process.

Anyway, this is where I ended up when I felt like I ran out the possibilities of where I was headed:

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The imagery, meaningless, the text, meaningless. It looks like it has form, structure, consideration, sure. I liked making it, but looking at it, even briefly after I made it, I got the feeling that it wasn’t exactly right. I felt like I was alluding to something while simultaneously saying that it isn’t possible. That there wasn’t meaning to anything, while, in making something that had structure, saying that meaning was my ability to impose a coherent form to it. That has to be the contradiction here, and even without necessarily knowing it at the time (if I even know it now) it didn’t feel right. My teacher described the piece as “an angst in being unable to figure things out.” At first I liked this critique, because I felt that it was a successful piece because that’s what I was feeling without knowing it. But the more I sat with it, the more it bothered me. Even if I didn’t know what “the meaning of everything” was, I still felt that there had to be something that was True and correct. So I scrapped that idea.

I don’t have any physical or digital things to really show of the next step I went through, but essentially, it was a step back but not far enough. I wanted to put up literal, plainly rendered, english phrases, along with encrypted text (as well as the means to decrypt it), along with gibberish nonsense that was pulled from something clearly structured, but with no means to sort it back out into its component parts. It was supposing that there was some meaning to things, but I again felt that it was too angsty a response to being unable to figure out exactly what it was.

I was having a particularly bad evening, because crit was the next afternoon and I had a small pile (only a few more things than what was in the above picture) of things I didn’t like, an idea that seemed doable but I now didn’t like, and nothing else, really. It was around 7. I responded by stopping to find a comfortable place to read, and waiting for my girlfriend to come to the studio to visit and talk.

We hung out, had a nice time catching up, and I felt a little better. I’d found a nice couch on the Cinema floor, and went back down to the photo floors with her to work. I started talking through the issues of the project, and at the end of it all she very sympathetically smiled and said “sounds like you’re definitely overthinking this.”

I absolutely was, but the advice struck a bit of a funny chord with me. It’s advice I’ve gotten many, many times before, and even given myself plenty of times. But right then, exactly right then, coming from her, it just made me smile and think about how funny it is that I thought I could reach the bottom of these issues by thinking about it harder, and harder, and harder. So I got to work on how funny the phrase “don’t overthink it” is.

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The studio is an alt process photography class, and the process we were working with is called Van Dyke printing, yielding shades of brown when a piece of watercolor paper is coated and exposed to UV light. I made several digital files that I would print onto normal photo paper, turned into negatives to expose the watercolor paper, print on the watercolor paper, I laid down a small set of phrases and formal moves, enough to yield over 40 very unique individual things, but giving it cohesion as an entire set. I started around 1, finished printing everything around 6, let it all dry, came home, showered, ate “breakfast”, went back to studio to put everything up, and went through the rest of the day, had crit, went to my last class (with solid classes throughout the rest of the day) that got out at 6:30 and finally got rest after 36 hours up. It was a wild day.

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The piece, strangely, dealt in an area of ambiguity. There is certainly still an angsty tone in the piece, especially repeatedly stating “I’m OK” and variants thereof. It was brought up in crit that this would indicate that the person is not, in fact, OK. There was a darkness to it, but it also seemed a bit ridiculous at the same time. People said it was too literal, but at the same time, it speaks to things that can’t really be spoken to literally. It’s clear communication as far as photography goes, literally being words, but at the same time, every phrase can either be something that is meant, or not, said to yourself, said to someone  else, sincere, not sincere, sarcastic, or not. The title of the piece itself, “don’t overthink it”, is even a bit of a jab at myself for, well, doing exactly what I’m doing now and pulling all this stuff out of it, not even taking my own advice.

The hanging, people said, was ironically over-thought. Each piece of tape seemed (was) considered and perhaps over-considered. Van Dykes are a time consuming process, so people talked about the ritual of all these repetitive actions and gestures, and how that’s an example of over-thinking something. Even in the way everything was very evenly distributed yet unique, it takes a certain degree of over-thinking to let that happen and seem spontaneous, random, yet balanced. There was a part of me as I made this piece that considered, smirked at, and enjoyed, every single double meaning, possible narrative, joke, worrying phrase, everything that emerged from each individual set.

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I tried my hardest to make this a very voiceless piece. I didn’t want this to be the first person experience, phrases either said to yourself or others by you personally, and I didn’t want this to be the second person, things that people would say to first person you. I didn’t want a voice in some of these at all. I wanted this to be an ambiguous piece about over-thought, something that people could relate to in every approach imaginable: things that people say to them, things they say to others, things they say to themselves. I layered into it, a bit, the idea of text message communication because I think that’s important to bring up but I didn’t want to lampshade too directly: how reductionist and frustrating written communication is, especially in this time in which so much of interpersonal communication is dominated by text.

In (shorter), this is a piece about how difficult communication, especially with yourself, is, and how thinking about thoughts is strange and somewhat funny, though it can be dark and a little insane when you run it out, it’s best to avoid it: don’t overthink it.

While I by no means consider myself an authority or really have anything to compare my experiences against as far as other periods of time, I think it’s worthwhile to bring up what I think about broader culture as alluded to by this piece, since I’m talking now, and obviously I have thoughts because I think that the thoughts are relatable by virtue of making an art piece about it.

I think that in a world of mass communication, mass spread of ideas, mass publishing, a mass audience for everything we do, that over-thought and all issues that stem from that have got to be one of the most fundamental mental health issues of our generation. I don’t have anything to compare it to, and won’t write any yearnings of “back in the day”, but I think there has got to be such a profound effect on us, knowing that our actions and thoughts and things we do can be seen by pretty much everyone. I think that the postmodern condition of no belief holding more objective weight than any others makes it very hard to believe in anything, that this invades our belief set and, for me personally, makes it feel like by holding a belief I’m stepping on someone’s toes, and that it may be impossible to truly believe that something is right, and to believe that no belief holds more objective weight. That’s where the over-thought came from (this time), and unfortunately it seems that the only “solution” to this problem is to not think about it too hard.

For now.

Freefall

 

 

Housekeeping! I have a website now! It will serve as my more formal portfolio whereas this is for my endless words and thoughtz. If ya looking for just my finest photographs, nickseitz.com is the place for you.
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Above is a piece I never thought I’d make when I came into school. Photographs! Photographs must look like photographs! I must have said. Little did I know that the photographs that look like photographs are usually the boring ones.

With this blog and art in general I feel in the weird position of saying I really don’t know much while also hyping my own accomplishments in art. Like this!

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I’m quite proud of that image, and I’m quite proud of the series it comes out of. Now, I don’t think it’s a complete series and I don’t think it’s done and I don’t think it’s outstanding artwork, but man am I proud of the work I’ve done that went into it.

I used to spend a lot of time thinking and less time doing. I think this only gave me the benefit of avoiding making way more bad work, but not necessarily improving the work I was making. Mostly it just frustrated me. But the jist of artwork, even in an art world where the primary strength of artwork is conceptual, is doing so so so much work.

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And I’m not even entirely convinced at this point that as you grow and mature as an artist your success rate becomes higher. So far my experience sort of seems to be that I may make just as much unsuccessful artwork, but the successes are only getting better and better.

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I think besides a passion for your own artwork, the best thing you can walk away from art school with is the voices and nuances of every single professor and every single classmate you ever had. My digital imaging I professor, whose final project the color photos were made for,  will basically only ask two questions of photographs for however long we’re critiquing before giving his thoughts: “What are we looking at?” and then, ad infinitum, “what else?” My darkroom professor (whose final the black and white images were for) would say a lot of things about artwork, but the question was always “Why?” Again, ad infinitum.

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I think these questions drive at the very root of “do first, ask the questions later” art making: I think work springs intuitively and then we basically have to react to what’s come from our hands in order to make more, and in doing so, creative vision is understood and refined. I think pure intuition is this sort of central wellspring that will just endlessly spit out ideas and in being able to sort of self critique and self curate, we eventually narrow decisions from the limitless possibilities of things that we know how to/can be done, into some small set of decisions that are clear representations of who we are, what we’re interested in expressing, and with any small stroke of luck, what people are interested in looking at.

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So I’ve always been interested in the formal landscape, yes. But it was pretty early into last year that I realized that it was primarily the experience of being out in the landscape and making art that I was interested. That narrows it down a bit, but I only got that piece of information from doing a lot of work that ultimately wasn’t that interesting. I more or less dropped digital image making for primarily photographic work this year, for a variety of reasons, but I figured that out after making thousands and thousands of image I didn’t feel that great about.

Is film an integral part of my art making process? It could be, but I’ll probably need to make a lot more film images to know exactly why or why not. And if it is, I could see a lot more images like the one above that fully own the materials of film, because that’s part of it.

Materials, concepts, experience, everything starts to get slowly rolled into the mix more and more as first as intuition but then, through self critique, through going by what “feels right” ends up being a fully thought through and very explainable phenomenon.

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I used to read artists’ books and attend their lectures and see that their work was so clearly explained and was a neat/complete package that was well defined and contemplated and thought that if I could do the same thing for my own artwork, if I could write and think enough about it to the point that it sounded interesting, that then I would be good, that my artwork would be more interesting and engaging. But what I’m slowly sort of coming to realize is that no active artist really reaches a culmination where all their work and the things they want to express makes total sense, it’s just that any artist presentation is basically just a quick overview of wherever they are and what they’re thinking about (generally). And maybe that’s mind blowing to me, ten, twenty, thirty years behind whatever artist I’m watching speak or reading, but it’s all the same road.

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The concept of work work work work work and intuitive sensibilities applies to all visual art of course, but it’s applicable in a very strange and unique way to photography just because of how, on a certain level, easy it is to do. Based on what kind of camera and process you’re using, of course it’s going to be harder or easier, but at the end of the day, it’s not that hard to take a photograph. Even a 4×5 view camera and be picked up and learned without too much trouble in a week or two with some determination.

But the crucial element of photography which almost can’t be supported by anything but the intuition of the artist or the person critiquing the work is “how many photos were taken before this one?” For the black and white images posted in this blog and on my website, seven images, I shot 28 sheets of film, lost one sheet, developed 27, did test prints of around 12, printed 10 at 16×20, dropped one for space constraints, and then dropped two after my darkroom crit and only have 7 posted, and I consider 7 images from 27 a pretty remarkable haul. I plan on shooting more, though, and if I shoot a hundred more sheets all these may be scrapped. So it goes.

But the spirit and the things I learned from all the prior photos will be rolled into every new image made, because every subsequent photo is a reaction to the photos prior. It can’t be said in a critique “I can tell you didn’t do all the following things… Because…” because every photographer approaches things differently, but at a certain point, and after seeing a lot of good work and a lot of bad work, it begins to become evident when people are shooting far far far more than they’re putting up, and when they’re putting up far more than they really captured.

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My darkroom teacher describes good photography as not a method of seeing something, but seeing with something. This concept is of course applicable to all visual arts, but with photography it’s especially difficult and fun because everyone, even art photographers, have a relationship with photos that is primarily “I am showing you a picture of this because I want you to see the same thing that’s in front of me” that is to say, not pointing past the thing-ness of the subject, simply because the bulk of photos made do only that. The job of the visual artist, of the fine art photographer, is to make artwork that points not at a thing, but at a feeling, at an abstract concept, at a notion and a belief.

Similar concepts drove the color and the black and white work I’ve chosen to accompany this blog post. The thoughts and feelings that inspired this work are helplessly nebulous and I won’t attempt to transcribe them for fear of muddying either the written concept or the visual work with the other, should they not mutually compliment one another.

Life never really seems to stop turning everything over and over in nonstop freefall and I don’t think we ever really get a firm platform to stand upon to make full sense of things, but rather there are rare and beautiful glimpses of whatever we choose to believe is True or Beautiful or what have you. Maybe one can only make work referencing those moments, or maybe one may be blessed to have a brush on the canvas at that moment. I think artistic skill is an appreciation for the significance of these moments, and an increasingly acute technical ability to recognize them.

But the crux is work. Artwork. It’s been in the second half of the word all along!

What it’s like to be an art student

To give you a clearer idea of what my life has been like, here is everything I’ve done in the last month.

Last month I was either wrapping up or just starting my partner based documentary project with Devin, I can’t quite remember. Here it is:

https://vimeo.com/

I started a project and desperately wanted to spend more time with it but basically got one shoot in where I was going door to door and asking to take portraits of strangers in their homes:

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I briefly went missing (to the broader body of people I know, I knew where I was) at the Eastern Shore of Virginia, mostly on a whim. I made some pictures:

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but mostly it’s currently unscanned film, and even that is gross and still unedited.

Me and my friends had one weekend to write, shoot, and edit a film. My very talented friend Devin Hein took point and killed it aesthetically, we were along for the ride. We used all the time, including the few minutes before critique, to make this:

I’ve been shooting a lot of 4×5 film for darkroom class and that’s just kinda been ongoing, but I used some the prints to make this wild photo sculpture:

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I second shot a wedding with my high school friend Paul Hairston (http://www.paulhairston.com/) in Charlottesville. Staying on my professional hustle as well.

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Professionally, I also did the photography for the various events of my high school’s homecoming, and have been making portraits of some of VCU’s police force on some scholarship money that my designer friend John Sampson (https://www.behance.net/JSampson) and I earned.

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I juuuuust finished (after the most frantic eight hour location shoot, and two sleepless nights in four days editing) a narrative film for my filmmaking studio.

Oh! Right. I almost forgot that every day I’ve been taking a medium format photo from a randomly generated word. My word today is “Informal” and it’s stressing me out. Here’s a buncha pictures from that.

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What elllse

Currently I’m taking formal portraits of my friends because I’m super tired of trying to come up with esoteric concepts for my work. I’m shooting it with the 4×5, but I took this digital photo to meter:

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I’m having a lot of fun with this project, which I’ve really needed.

For digital I’m doing some nonsense I don’t even know. We have to do a narrative project and somehow I ended up here:

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Then here:

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Then here:

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Then basically here which is a lot closer to what I want but I’m still not sure (I have to shoot way more for this project)

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So that’s about it all for the past month. If you can make sense of everything I’ve done in light of everything else please let me know because I haven’t had time to do so.

I’m dumping this all because last night I got some really good advice from the teacher and TA of my digital filmmaking studio. The TA said to me “You know, art students get a lot of shit like ‘oh, what are you going to do with your degree’ well, with my degree I’m going to do precisely nothing, but with four years of an artistic context to make all the mistakes I want and have a lot of free equipment and connections to make and tons of people interested in my success, I’m going to make a lot of really outstanding work, and that’s what counts.”

I get really really really really scared when people ask me what I’m going to do after college because for art students it’s not like a clear cut path of “oh I’ll shake hands and make an internship so I can get that sick salaried position eventually.” I don’t know, and maybe I’ll work a boring job for a while but the trajectory is to make the best creative work I possibly can to establish myself as a clear thinking and decisive creative mind, which is an important thing to have in any number of fields.

I don’t know what I’ll do after grad, I don’t know job wise exactly what I want beyond eventually teaching college (probably). But I guess I beg some sympathy for hard working art students, because in sheer amounts of work and output, I defy a lot of other people in “safe majors” to dump this raw output of labor and development in one month of one semester of one of the four years I’ll be at this school.

And now back to work!

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“Still Life”

This project was a non traditional still life assignment for digital photography studio. We spent time looking at artists who challenged the photograph as either a documentation of an event, a sculpture, we talked about where art lies: either in the object where the photograph serves as a documentation, or the actual photograph on the wall or screen. Basically, the assignment encouraged us to think about posing things for the camera and what that meant. We needed to turn in six photos. Here’s what I’ve got.

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I’d say this was one of my favorite out of the set. I spent a lot of time walking through the Fan collecting bricks from alleys and such and amassing them in this spot I’d found, a sort of secluded area in front of some trash cans that had an easily accessible fire escape directly above it, making it easy to get a very nice straight down view of whatever I set up in that space. I decided to follow the cracks in the pavement to make this organic shape out of a very hard and rigid building material.

I didn’t give much thought to the conceptual aspects of these photographs, basically it was about getting into a space, making intuitive decisions with with combination of material and space, making a photograph to document the event, tearing it down, and getting out before I turned too many heads.

Funny aside, while I was on the fire escape making some exposures, a woman came out of one of the doors and was like “what are you doing??” urgently. I told her I was making a photograph of something I’d set up below, she said that this was private property and I had to leave, and I’d say I’d be gone in a few minutes. I made a few more photographs, felt satisfied, and began to move the bricks out of the way. Right as I was finishing up she came back out and got irate again, saying the bricks were a hundred years old or something to that effect. I said I’d picked them up all over the fan and brought them here. She asked if I was an artist, I said yes m’am, and she said “Oh, well, I’m sorry. We’ve had burglars come in through this fire escape before and I’ve called the police numerous times, but I suppose if you’re an artist, that’s fine.”

I love that conversation!

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The least convincing piece for me was also unsurprisingly the first I made. There’s this tight alley I have to walk through every time I want to do my laundry, and the first idea I had for this project was to hang a lot of twine between the two walls and photograph that. This was just a weird in-between, though. I wish I’d had the time (and money to buy the twine) to fill up the entire alley and photograph that, I wish I’d integrated the space into the photograph a bit better, but what I was left with was this strange web that I couldn’t quite get directly above to photograph. Unfortunately I think the sculpture was much more interesting than the photograph, and this only serves as a poor documentation, whereas in the first photograph, the forced overhead perspective of the photograph was integral in understanding the piece. This piece just feels unengaging as a photograph.

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The cabinet photographed here says “move this”, which isn’t entirely evident at first. This was another instance in which the action was just so obvious to me that I had to do it- it was blatantly telling me what to do. I got my friend Will and we dragged it from the alley it was sitting in to a nearby alley with a dumpster. The whole thing sort of fell apart on the way, and the last photograph is obviously all of its pieces thrown into the dumpster. Will and I talked about artwork that has basically functioned as civil service, since on the reverse side of this cabinet someone had written basically “whoever own this shit please move it it’s in the way”. I thought it was an interesting idea, but I don’t know if that specifically is something I’d buy to move forward in my own work. But it was a great one off idea for this assignment, it was right there written in front of me.

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Here is my second least favorite photograph. It is a pile of sticks, delicately balanced, yes, but you can’t quite tell that from the photograph. It looks alright. But there’s not much going for it.

One of my favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy, does these really incredible sculptures out in nature where he basically uses really meticulous and careful placement of natural things to create these really beautiful and ethereal sculptures. While all most of these photos were influenced by his work to varying degrees, I would say that this is the closest to a direct rip-off of concept, and unfortunately it’s not even close to nearly as good as he did it. But it was another photo for this assignment.

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Another photograph pertaining to an intervention and playfulness in a space, these were pages of books that I glued together end to end in a long scroll and hung over a window in a parking garage stairwell. That’s that. I sort of had the idea to cover a space with the pages of something, went from newspapers to this incredible set of free books I found at a thrift store, and rolled with it. I made a lot of these scroll things at home, brought them into the space, and just dove in. The photograph isn’t stellar, but it doesn’t really have to be either. These were a nice set of photographs just in terms of starting to flex the muscles of how to intervene in spaces, be quick and loose, and just make photographs that are unique and fun. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s certainly a skill that’ll come in handy later. Already has, actually, for a different project. But more on that later.

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I post this one last because it’s actually the most incongruous from the rest of the group. This image was created by pushing a block of ice off the top floor of a parking deck onto the floor below it. As the ice melted, I periodically traced the outside edge of the water with sticks of compressed charcoal. Evident in the photograph is the interaction of the water with the charcoal, causing it to fade and run together as the water flowed down the slight incline and eventually evaporated. After I ran out of charcoal, I left for a few hours and came back to photograph when all the water was completely evaporated.

This was the only incarnation of this idea, and it had an interesting characteristic of release of my inclination to have a high degree of control over everything in the frame, where it’s placed, how, why, etc. I released the content of the photograph to the action of the water running and evaporating. Now, I had an idea of how I thought this would look and obviously the selection of the location, method, compressed charcoal had a high influence on how the photo would turn out, but the action in the photograph was released to natural processes.

These set of photographs were very dissimilar from my normal approach to photography, but it’s a set of photos I enjoyed producing. I have already worked an installation aspect into a daily practice assignment I have as a direct result of working on this project, and I think it’s a method I won’t be quick to abandon moving forward.

Pillars of the Earth

This is a project I made a few weeks ago for my filmmaking studio and haven’t gotten around to writing about. It springs from a set of ideas which I’ve always wanted to explore but never had a good excuse within a project setting t0 explore.

The project was “tableau vivant”, which is a set of videos playing side by side with restrained or fixed perspective, all compositionally and thematically related. The project, embarrassingly enough, was also supposed to be silent, but since I only gave the assignment sheet a cursory read before diving in, I missed this bit of information. So enjoy the music! Fortunately it wasn’t obnoxious, but I still felt pretty stupid in critique sitting through a lot of silent films and thinking “hmm, I think this was supposed to be silent” right as the instructor started playing mine.

The basis of this video is my general fascination with the gears of society, specifically focusing in on the period of early morning as the machinery of a day starts moving again. Essentially, I have been hung up for the longest time over the idea of everything that goes into making society function as a whole that gets completely glossed over.

I worked in a cabinet factory over the summer, putting cabinets into boxes for shipping. There were maybe 30 people employed in the warehouse where I worked, and each person had a variety of functions with various specializations, but the general function of the warehouse was to take in flat packs of unassembled cabinets, store them, and when ordered by a customer, build them and ship them in a hasty fashion. I saw what we did as a sort of cell, where within the cell were various organelles or divisions of the warehouse, and everything had to coordinate and work in its specific fashion to get our product, cabinets, exported out of the cell and into the larger system.

I ate up biology and earth science in high school; if I weren’t studying to be an artist I’d likely be some manner of ecologist, environmental scientist, something to that effect. One thing that I love about science is how similar conceptual frameworks can be applied to a variety of scales: a cell is made up of functional units, and cells are functional units that make up a tissue which make up organs which make up organ systems which make up an organism which make up a population which make up an ecosystem which make up biomes with make up a planet. And the cell can be taken backwards to proteins, to molecules, to atoms, and so on.

And at each of these scales of magnitude there’s a massive performance going on, and it’s so beautiful. When I refer to the machinery of nature or the machinery of a civilization, I refer to this complex web of interactions and interdependencies, and the analogies are so easy to draw I can only view it as a massive set of conceptual machinery penned by whatever you choose to believe pens such a thing. In the body, liquid and solid waste is removed from the body in a system that is just as important as any other system in the body because in its absence all other processes cease to function. On a societal level, the same thing is true. Every order of social function with slowly begin to shut down if the plumbing stopped flowing and the garbage stopped being picked up.

So I look at power lines and telephone lines and I think of equivalent structures of the human body. And just as a biologist can delve endlessly, down to the atomic level, of how energy flows through our body, there is an equivalent structure which carries power and data all over the country, from pieces of coal or uranium or natural gas and through a system which takes thousands of specialized people to operate, from the power plant operators, the people that maintain the infrastructure, to the people that make sure its routed correctly, to the person my roommate calls at Dominion when we get a bill for power we didn’t use. It’s a massive system that turns my laptop on and shows me what I write.

At the factory where I worked, I certainly had a lot of time, or at least free mental space, to think about the nature of what I was doing. There was that cell-like nature, but we were a unit of the “social machinery” that built houses: we made the cabinets. We interacted with other units all over the world: every time we unloaded a container from China I thought about how these cardboard boxes likely hadn’t seen the light of day since being on the other side of the world, and all the machinery that was necessary to transport them from the Chinese factory, to a port, over an ocean, through another port, back over the United States in some distance, then at our loading bay being unloaded and sorted and built and distributed to homes. Incredible (at least it held my attention for a few weeks before I just felt bored and miserable).

So what interests me more specifically? I guess on the one hand it’s the massive faceless scale of everything that happens to keep society ticking. On the other hand, I am so interested in every time there’s human intervention in the system, why, and where.  This video is a totally first blush, sketchlike inquiry into the idea, and I could spend a whole career fleshing out the ideas further and probably still feel like I hadn’t reached the bottom of it. But that’s what I’m rambling with, and I’d love to pick it apart more.

Collage: Darkroom Assignment #2

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This was a strange piece to make, very dissimilar in inspiration, process, and form from anything I’ve made before.

The assignment was collage, and that’s basically it. As with many assignments in art school that aim to encourage the process of art-making, the prompt is a jumping off point to encourage personal inquiry, creative problem solving, and refinement and presentation of personal vision. In fact, although some teachers give formal rubrics and expectations for their assignments, I’m halfway convinced that these guidelines exist, in some cases, only to be broken. As if the second that a student has an idea that strays outside the guidelines of a project, when they decide to go with that idea even if it disregards the assignment, that’s the moment art teachers strive to get students to feel.

Art school assignments also usually start with a compendious presentation of artists historical and contemporary working within the similar line of thought as the topic- a quick barrage of topics and forms to get people started and reacting.

The presentation that my teacher had prepared for us was almost an overview of artists and mentalities that I cannot stand. Artists that do perfectly fine work, that are esteemed in their field, that deserve all the success that they have earned by virtue of their clear and relevant artistic vision, but all the same artists that I would rather not spend time looking at or talking about because I find their work detestable.

Collage artists, throughout history, have dealt primarily in appropriation. They make work out of the material of other things, directly pulling from the conduits of contemporary thought. Their work is highly reactionary and emblematic in certain ways of the thoughts pertinent to their time- after World War I their work was about the failure of all classic structures and the absurdity of the world, after World War II and into the 60s it was about popular culture, increasing commerciality of the world, and more recently they have dealt with war, the internet, image culture, and even more commodification of daily life. The process of the collage artist is generally a negative reaction by way of amplification and elevation- by discussing these ideas in an “art space” and going out of their way to highlight the things they do not like, this opens up dialog on contemporary value.

This is almost directly in opposition to two values I strive for in my artwork- the artist’s hand and process, and glorification of the ideas the artists aspires to- the negative is dealt with by specifically not dwelling in it. So I make work glorifying that which I think is worth it, what I want to live up to, not spending more time than I already do on the things that bother me. And I do this in a process which deals directly with raw material, trying to find transcendence of material, create high levels of creative refinement, and so on. So, it is understandable that a medium which deals with things that bother the artist by using those things as the material might bother me.

The most opposite reaction to this I could think of, the clearest thing I could summon that said “I do not agree with this approach” was to draw photographs.

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I could spend an extremely long time talking about every single iteration of the process, because I worked a hell of a lot on this project and basically invented a process as I went along. However, I think the more interesting discussion through all of this and what I’ll spend my time on is the process in which I made these pieces.

This project was an absolute mess of themes. It has a lot of reference to pre-chemical photography light assisted drafting wherein people used lenses, ground class, camera obscuras, and a whole mess of other forced-perspective techniques in order to basically draw a scene in perfect perspective. It has references to the dialog of the artist’s hand in photography. It touches on reproduction and uniqueness of images. It goes all over the abstraction-representation spectrum, it even has slight references to plein-air “pavilions”, in which artists would sit and either paint by observation or use perspective assisting devices to basically make their own versions of the painting envisioned from that spot. It very very very directly is a material study of the capabilities and intrinsic qualities of charcoal, tracing paper, ink, photo paper, and large format view cameras.

I knew I was taking on a lot, but I basically had a clear idea of what I wanted the final product to look like.

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It basically fell completely apart with that image at the top there.

I laughed when I had the idea for that print, which will happen sometimes when I have an idea that’s so good and so simple that I just find it funny I hadn’t thought of it before. I had been tracing the images on the back of the ground class of the 8×10 camera and then inking the outlines and adding value in charcoal underneath the the tracing paper, and I was going to display that in addition to the actual print photo from the camera. I would print by laying the ink drawing and charcoal backing directly down on the photo paper, covering it in glass to flatten the pile, and exposing it to light. The idea was hilariously simple to me. I did it as soon as I could and then had a bit of a break down.

I had no idea what to do with this, because it was funny and unique and interesting but it wasn’t beautiful in the way that I was expecting, it didn’t feel graceful and transcendent and worst of all I had no idea what it meant. It was like I took just about everything I had been thinking about and crashed it all into one piece of 8×10 RC paper that just wasn’t as interesting as all the ideas I had had up to that point.

I realized what I basically was doing was drawing a negative, so I used the paper negative and tracing paper under a lightbox to actually try to produce, as accurately as possible, a negative in charcoal. I was doing this two nights before the critique.

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When I printed it, I sort of frowned. I felt like I threw everything I had at this and it was still well out of my reach. Tackling so so so many ideas wasn’t impossible, but if I put up some iteration of that last bit of image and tried to talk about everything I had thought about in the lead-up to those, it wouldn’t make one bit of sense- those last images were interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the process.

I felt like I’d done two and a half weeks of experimentation had absolutely nothing in the way of a finished product, so I did some feeling sorry for myself and general moping, and then hunkered down and basically said “ok, I have to put something up.” Sifting through everything I had, I realized that I had definitely taken a huge bite out of these ideas and the problem I had was not that I hadn’t worked enough. So I decided to put very nearly everything up, from beginning to end.

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I put it up somewhat intuitively. My first instinct was to put everything in a line in a chronological fashion, but I was limited on space, so I had to stack things, but I wanted to keep things orderly. Without too much of a system, I put things up as the process made sense to me- it reads left to right roughly as a chronology, but also as the evolution of the idea, the placement makes reference to forms, to the importance of ideas, to the nuance of the process. Without being over-thought, I worked to render the process and the ideas I’d had throughout the project on the wall.

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I was incredibly worried about critique. I never would’ve thought my finished piece would’ve looked like this, I’d completely failed to put the things up I’d wanted to put up, and the idea I put up on the wall felt last ditch because I didn’t make something that I felt was finished, that I could put up and be entirely confident that I’d fully realized everything within that scope. I was worried that this would be picked up on, that it would be considered sketches and too broad and generally unrefined.

For the last hour of critique of others’ pieces and then right at 5, the end of our studio time, I was in an incredibly sour mood as I realized that my piece was not going to get talked about. That was a thousand times worse than anything that I imagined anyone saying in critique- all the worrying I’d done prior to critique, I just had a few more hours to do. It was terrible to me. Fortunately, my professor said he’d briefly critique me and another student’s work that also didn’t get to go.

The critique went extremely well, surprisingly so. He said, and I swore at first that he was being sarcastic, that the way in which the pieces were hung was extremely effective. He said that through a lot of the intuitive decisions I’d made were working to communicate, strangely, everything that I’d thought about while working on the project. Even coincidences of the form, things that I picked up on while mounting it, but never could’ve anticipated while working on them, worked to illustrate things incredibly well. I walked into critique with a hunch that I’d made the best out of my circumstances, and I walked out somehow incredibly reassured that the decision I made was the best possible realization of my ideas within the scope of time and project.

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This project was a massive journey out on a limb and I feel it paid off, but in an uneasy way. The only thing it reaffirmed that I already knew is that the best way to make good work is to work and work and work and work and do difficult things and never lean back on a project. Even when there’s not a clear aim, keep working. But what scares me is that I was working into a dark tunnel- I had no idea what was going to come at the end of it, and other times I’ve done this things have gone very, very poorly for me. Both in life and in artwork.

I suppose that is just the nature of art as life distilled into an certain material element and broadcast for consumption by others. We can’t always control what happens, we can’t control how people will react to things, but the best way to get anything incredible done is to follow passion and curiosity and do it with ferocious and convicted work.

I swear, sometimes it feels like I’ve sweat and toiled and look back and reflect on what I’ve done and I end by writing a horribly trite and tired cliche, but I’ve arrived at it through the most backwards way possible instead of like, a Reader’s Digest.

But that’s a conversation for a different day.

Summer 35 part 2

Ton of project write-ups coming very soon, but I realized that I never posted the second half of the 35 from this summer, so I’ll do that now. Talk to y’all soon!

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something something the internet

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I would call this the documentation and writeup for my first Digital Imaging assignment if I wasn’t in a horribly pessimistic place over the images I made and the class itself.

There was a conceptual artist (an artist whose primary medium is ideas, and any physical manifestation of the artwork is downplayed or secondary to what the piece makes you think about) who started his career in the 1960s named Mel Bochner. One thing he felt charged with, one thing he wanted to avoid in his work was to “add to the furniture of the world.” This was in response to minimalist and abstract expressionist sculpture, which was pure form: Bochner swung back around to pure concept because it seems that in part he was fed up with just adding to the deluge of form.

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I know how to make an image. I know what it means to control every aspect of the frame, to draw out from a scene a beautiful picture and then refine it in photoshop to a point where it’s all but a perfect representation of the picture I visualized before making the first exposure. But as far as pictures on the internet are concerned, who cares?

I’ve talked about this before, I know I have, but something about starting in my Digital Imaging studio has just reinforced this to an almost frustrating degree. My teacher mentioned that there are 300 million images uploaded to facebook every day and 400 million sent through snapchat. Checking my snapchat score now, the number of snapchats I’ve sent and received, over 11,000 images lasting less than ten seconds each have passed through my phone. My Lightroom catalogue on my Mac is hovering around 29,000 images, and my computer at home with my catalogue from high school sits around 34,000, and I’ve probably kept and worked with one of fifty images sitting on my hard drive (not to mention the likely 15-20,000 images taken for commercial purposes). What does that leave me with? Maybe 800 digital photos that I’ve spent time with.

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I still like these images, it just feels like they’re an absolute dead end in terms of placing worth and time into developing this line of thought. It feels like there are endless exciting things I can do with the physical medium of photography, but making work which ends up as a digital file and shared over the internet feels like a mundane route at best.

I’ve started thinking about my VMFA Fellowship application for the 2015-2016 year. Last year I put together a good distillation of where I was, it had some nice landscape pictures and an artistic statement which served as a reduction of my mentality at the time, and although the images were decent they were, well, just images. Within the last few days I was finally able to start thinking of doing something besides plain digital images for my application this year and it no longer felt like an insurmountable uphill battle.

I think for too long I was sucked in by the mentality that the solution to my problems with images over the internet was to make better images. But throwing seven images periodically into a sea that gets added to by the billions daily, I can’t help but be a bit skeptical that there’s anything worthwhile to take pictures of, no matter how good the pictures are, to be posted online.

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I may as well mention the “assignment” that these photos were “taken for” while I’m at it.

The assignment was titled “hashtag everything” and as soon as I got the assignment sheet it set off all the red flags. Essentially, there was a list of hashtags (#readymade, #cat, #nostalgia, #graffiti) and we were tasked with taking photos that represented (literal interpretation or otherwise) these hashtags and posting them on a shared tumblr for all three sections of Digital I.

Almost immediately the whole project sort of tipped its hand: since the project was started in the first week of school, 680 posts have been made to the blog, and although there are some nice images, the whole thing collapses into an irreconcilable pile of mixed aims, crossed context, just an absolute internet mess. All of the images in this blog post were posted to that tumblr, but no matter how good these photos are, even if I was ten times better at making a digital image, it would still be meaningless within the deluge of images.

The hashtags are intended to provide some semblance of order, to provide a cataloging system in order to reconcile the set into some sort of order, but even within each hashtag there can be the varied aims of either taking the hashtag literally, ironically, or just hashtagging that particular thing for no reason. In short, the hash tag doesn’t inflict any sense of order on a set of photos. A one word method of organizing content is a reduction of language and methods of communicating information, eliminating any sort of nuance or subtlety. The absolute mess of lack of context completely ruins any sort of singular image posted in the context-less context.

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I’ve always been inclined to try and learn from every experience I have the privilege of, well, experiencing. Some things just suck, but especially when it comes to school I try to get a little something out of every class I take, and especially art classes I’ve alway been a bit upset with people that just write off anything a class has to teach wholesale for whatever reason. I’m resisting very strongly the urge to do that with this class as it shapes up to be “Digital image culture 101″ but the only thing I’m getting from it the more I think about it is how abhorrent I am to so many of the effects of the internet. Not that it’s evil, just that it’s something I need to grow away from, not closer to.

The most frustrating thing is how seemingly important it is to be able to harness it in some capacity. I always came down on the side of the tree makes a sound when it falls in the wood by its lonesome, but there’s definitely a thread of thought that says if something isn’t broadcast, whether or not it actually happened is basically irrelevant. On the inward-outward spectrum, this school of thought would come down very definitively on the outward side of things: the degree to which something exists and matters is the degree to which it is disseminated and shared.

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I guess the problem that I have with this is that it doesn’t feel true. I have only lived life inside of my own skin, and no matter how much I talk to people, no matter how much I post on social media or read about other people on the internet, the experience of being Nick Seitz has always resided between my two ears and behind my eyes. Artwork comes out of my mind and hands and serves as a method of connecting me to myself, to those around me, to the outside world, but ultimately it’s most important to myself, because that’s where I have to spend all of my time.

I feel like I have to bring this up in such extensive detail because in some capacity I feel like there are views in the art world swinging around to documentation and dissemination of work being of paramount importance.  Like it’s critically important to be able to preserve in some facet the artwork and put it online so that others may get an idea of you and your artwork: the artwork must live for documentation because that’s what gives it some lick of immortality, the ability to outlive the moments in which it exists before it was discarded, damaged, used up. After all, what’s the importance of artwork, of anything, once it ceases to exist and be accessible for consumption by others?

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I’ll refer back to “my head is the only place I’ve ever permanently occupied.” I think inherent in the internet is some grandeur of permanence and escaping of corporeal realities by spreading of thought, of visual artifacts of one’s life. But I think that humans are more fallible than we give ourselves credit for, and ultimately I think there’s little that’s more important than making the experience as felt by you the best one possible. Making artwork, living, creating a personality that is informed by the things you’re able to put online, it eventually seems to distort the experience of life into the mentality of how can things be shared instead of experienced, how can things be documented instead of felt?

I don’t know what I’m going to do with these thoughts and of course there’s the enduring irony of everything I write and post on this blog about the internet that it is on the internet. Maybe it’s redeemed by getting only a couple hundred visitors a month if that, maybe not. Maybe I’d have a different philosophy if masses and masses of people cared about what I did and what I thought. In the meantime, I’ll be focusing all of my energy in smiling when I walk down the street, in holding onto that moment of satisfaction when I finish a project that I love before I even show it to anyone. Of waking up and being excited about living another day. Of enjoying those private moments and thoughts that can’t and shouldn’t be shared, the sum total of which is the existence of each person separate from every other person on this earth of seven billion people making one billion images a day.

 

“These are mine, they are yours”

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These are the prints created for my first darkroom project, which I have decided to title “These are mine, they are yours.”

The assignment was to create abstract photographs which don’t represent anything other than abstract form. We were instructed to only use the enlarging paper and the light from the enlarger, and any decisions from therein about how to affect the paper in the developing process, manipulation of the paper as an object, and installation for critique were up to us. But the baseline was, no images, nothing placed on top of the paper to make an outline.

As much as I’ve generally shied away from completely non-representational abstraction and kept my work largely based in imagery, this sort of thing is strangely up my alley. In high school especially I loved to manipulate things before the camera in order to make abstraction, affecting light in a physical manner to be photographed by the camera. This is very much a similar process, except I was playing basically with the chemistry of darkroom paper in order to make the abstraction.

In some ways, this is essentially abstract expressionist photography. Jackson Pollock explored the formal extents of painting, that is, what is painting capable of that no other mediums are, or are hard pressed to emulate? He answered this with size, viscosity, extreme gesture and paint material based abstraction. Similar experiments are happening in this project: I created these images in a brief and basic inquiry into “what can I get enlarging paper to do that no other medium will be able to really do?”

But, ultimately, these were just images. Abstract, yes, but they were images in the sense that they existed on an 8×10 sheet of enlarging paper and were meant to be looked at as such. We were charged by our professor the think about how to “get prints off the wall”, to push past basic forms of photography as looking at prints on the wall and being done with them after looking away.

I could not, for the life of me, figure out a good way of “getting them off the wall”. I liked looking at them. Any kind of idea I had for sculptural presentation felt weird and foreign and “tacked on”. When one idea fell through, I reverted to my “safe thinking mode” which is basically just staring very intently at the problem and maybe writing a bit. Since it was during a class work period, my instructor asked me to get in the darkroom and actually work. I had no direction and I was a little frustrated because I like to spread out and work alone in the darkroom, but I grumbled and got into it.

I kept doing what I was doing, lacking a better direction. I made more images and looked at them and made some more and looked at them. It occurred to me that the natural place for these prints was in someone’s hands. Furthermore, since all of these were all very unique experimentations (I never really set out with any print trying to duplicate previous results, but always add something new and try to find some interesting new effect) I felt that all of them were strong and were worth looking at individually. Finally, looking and thinking about everything I had made, I thought “I probably have enough for everyone in the class to keep one.”

That was sort of the “aha” moment that informed every finer point from there on. My instructor later described what I thought was a similar phenomenon: in art, oftentimes you have to start generally, work a lot, and slowly and intuitively narrow it down to one “thing”, be it a concept, image, emotion, some decisive thing which is the core of the whole project, and from there expand it back outwards so that all the details are pinned down. But you can’t really pin down details without the big picture.

I came up with a body of 17 prints that I was happy with (there were a lot of duds discarded along the way) and laid them out on a table. At the beginning of my critique I said “There are enough prints here for everyone, so pick them up and look at them and pass them around and when we’re done you can keep the print you have.” The effect was essentially how I intended: everyone picked up a print, studied them, poured over the details, compared them to others’, talked about how they were made, but there was a personal relationship with each print.

This was a very satisfying project in that it feels the closer to how I want my work to be shared than any other project I’ve done, than any way I’ve yet made and shared photos. Each print is an incredibly unique thing: even if I used the same chemicals, same motions, same times, I would see very different results on each one because of the unpredictable nature of how these liquids run together and dilute and affect the paper. I put care, time, creative energy into each one, and curated each photo so that I was quite happy with the whole set. But instead of just presenting these and then filing them away in a folder for the sake of reminiscing, in this project was the act of release, the act of sharing and giving a piece of myself to my classmates and instructor. The hope is that they would have a similar sort of interested and invested relationship with the unique object that I’d had, but the beautiful thing is that my control and involvement stops with the act of giving it away.

I’m very skeptical of this strange sort of “loneliness in a city full of people” mentality of art, of life in general actually. Without anything to compare it to, really, I’m hesitant to say that culture has “drifted” in this direction, but it seems to me that especially because of the internet we are disposed to breadth over depth, to simplification and streamline and reduction. Physically giving my classmates these prints felt better than any picture I’ve ever put online for the sake of faceless users to look at and have, at most, feedback of incrementing a value. Oooh, I’ve got xxxx likes, xxxxx reblogs, xxxxx whatever. The quantification implies a sort of reduction of the infinite complexity of social interaction into a algorithm. It feels inane to me. I’d rather have one incredible friend than a vast number of a people I sort of know, I’d rather have one person hold a print of mine and say “thank you for giving this to me, I love it.” than one hundred million points of data that say someone responded favorably to this image.

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