Landscape photography is one context in which I can engage the world in a way that doesn’t have to make sense to anyone except myself. In the same way that I use words to clarify and organize my thoughts into words, photography has become the visual language and the process by which my thoughts are simultaneously organized and quieted. I suppose the crucial question then becomes, why share my work? If I’m making images primarily as my own escape from needing to live in and up to other people’s expectations, why not simply rest on the the satisfaction of making images which physically fulfill my own internal vision? In a word, I think the answer is validation.
I don’t think any mentally functioning person wants to walk this world alone. We are social creatures, our evolution and very nature has dictated that we function and think in the context of other people; I don’t think that anyone truly, sincerely thinks “I don’t want the love, attention, understanding or company of any person, anywhere, for the rest of my life.”
That said, I suppose right now I mostly draw off personal experience and feelings to make work. It’s not the most artistically interesting thing to do, but as I’ve said repeatedly in recent posts, I’m not going to let that bother me for the time being. The reason I make work currently is to connect with the world, to share and receive positive feedback as a way of feeling “what you’re seeing and how you’re seeing it is normal, it’s good, I appreciate you and these images you’ve made.”
I started in photography with the simple mindset of making increasingly compelling images from the landscape, but as I practiced and studied more I found this process by which I was connecting first to myself, secondly to my subject matter, and the whole time I was simply enjoying the process of observing and connecting to the world on my own terms. I think the biggest thing that’s bothered me about contemporary photo work is that it seemed like a lot of stuff that I don’t want to do, and in many ways runs directly opposite to what I love about photography.
It seemed like to make work that looked like contemporary work I was seeing, I would need to get wrapped up in all these things that normally just bothered me. Problems that needed solving (with something other than a camera, perhaps) and feelings I didn’t have, and present this in sort of a detached, documentary way so that people could consider on their own objective terms the relationships and issues in the world. So much of the work I looked at first semester was centered around some social issue and tinted with personal experience and then the photographer took ten steps back and tried to approach it as an outsider. That’s not what I decided to become a photographer to do.
I am a photographer because it’s an escape, bordering on a solution, to the problems in my life. I grew up thinking that if I thought hard enough about any problem, I could solve it. Interpersonal, institutional, professional, occupational, artistic. If I put my mind to something I could come up with the objective best actions for me to move forward. This helped me somewhat to become a better person, but there’s two places in which it’s somewhat severely screwed me up. First of all, in interpersonal relationships it’s led to a bad habit of over thinking, anxiety, and poor decisions. Secondly, especially when I came to college, I realized that any given broad social issue, lifestyle choice, cultural identity, anything that two or more people do is going to have an entire spectrum of opinions, and most of the stops on that spectrum are going to have what I’d consider rational, normal people making reasoned and considered arguments about it. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to generally see both sides of any argument. But I found out when my world and social exposure expanded massively moving from the Mennonite enclaves of Harrisonburg to one of the largest and most diverse colleges in the United States, it’s incredibly hard to get a sense of direction when anything you choose to consider is a shade of gray.
I felt like trendy contemporary fine art documentary photography was basically saying to me “Consider complex and multi-faceted problems and very difficult social issues and then make art, make photographs of them.” Concept, concept, concept. Issues and struggles and melancholy and banality and consumerism and internet culture and isolation. Make work in these contexts. Making mere images, ignoring ‘concepts’, is boring, it’s sentimental, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s not art. My current photography practice is an attempt to get out and observe, be affected by what I see, organize and make visible the things I see and the things I’m feeling. When I started out I would think “I need to go out close to sunset and hope I can make some pretty pictures with that light.” Now I can take my camera out, walk down the street or drive out to the country and simply enjoy the process of observing. I make work in the context of the places I feel small, where I feel peaceful. Where I don’t have to think about all the problems myself and the world has; I can simply be, notice something that I haven’t noticed before, and make images thereof and share them in hopes that someone benefits from looking at this personal offering of something that made me feel some small bit of peace, interest, and stillness. That’s where I am right now, this is the concept on which I make photographs.