Pictures of the forest

Okay, I need to think into this blog because I have to process some sort of thread of ideas to help with one of my finals. So bear with some stream of conscious writing please. Or just look at the photos.

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Let me start from the counterpoint, and I’m including this only because I think it’s funny that this picture was on the same rolls of film that the pictures I’m about to upload were on. I shot this in fall of 2014, probably about a year ago at this point. I was hanging out with guys I don’t roll with any more- mostly because I’m a very different person than I was when I took this photo.

And it’s not like I’m on a self-righteous bent to avoid everyone I thought I knew well a year ago, but back then I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. And that involved hanging out with this group of rappers that came down from DC for a big show one weekend. I thought it was so cool that I was hanging out with them, like, these were really cool guys. Anyway, I took a bunch of photos because I thought it was quite the cool thing to do. I even let them stay at my apartment which, well, ended up being a bit more of an ordeal than anticipated. They were perfectly respectful, but it was a lot. It’s a longer story than I feel like telling right now.

So, onto the rest of the 35mm color rolls. I stowed my SLR with the half shot roll of pictures similar to the above photo away for a few months (seven, if memory serves correctly) and ended up taking it back out on some trip home in the spring.

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35mm never sat in a comfortable niche for me. If I had to guess at its associations, I would say that it carries a sense of impermanence, discardability, family photo album/vacation pics type thing. There’s plenty of great fine art photography done on 35mm, but most of it’s black and white, and that style (street photography, mostly) has never really appealed to me. It’s cheap, and the cameras are light, but I see it as barely above a DSLR in the quality of images it makes. So I rarely ever use it.

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Regardless, with film to burn, like two or three rolls of unexposed film, I decided to go out into the forest with this very basic camera and just have fun. Not really focus too heavily on concept (at least nothing more than very surface level associations, which I’ll get to in a sec) but make images in a very naive manner: basic forms, shapes, compositions, focusing on how light fell, etc. I just wanted to make pretty photos and let that be enough like I used to when I was in high school.

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And by jove these images are successful in my mind! They’re great! I really like them! I guess one of the biggest things going for them is that they really sit in this space where the actual quality of image is so poor that they really fail that desire to be “perfect”. If they were sharper, had a more rich tonal range, were higher resolution, it naturally begs everything be brought into remarkable formal resolution- the desire that everything coalesces into a finished, finalized image. These have that suggestion of a good composition and a well considered frame, but the image quality is poor enough that they are comfortable sitting in that unresolved space.

I think? I guess.

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This is going to turn into me whining about art school at some point if I let it. My professor told me to make a book of nice photos. We got this assignment to do a documentary landscape photo or film project (since we are the department of photography and film, who guessed). I really limped along here and there without much of an idea of what I wanted to do.

It’s funny, for as much as this seemed right up my alley, I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to make new photos at least, I have thrown out far too many photos. Thrown out or ignored. I was auditing work for applying to the VMFA fellowship and I thought to myself “how many of these photos haven’t seen the light of day. I want to edit these into a series.” And my professor said “yeah okay, but make new photos.”

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Current mood^ tangled up, gross, in the middle of nowhere. An unsatisfying (unsatisfied) heap in the middle of a lush world.

I didn’t want to make new photos because it seems like I had a lot of good ones already. Perhaps this is indicative, also, of a desire to rest on my laurels. Or at least rest on my growing pile of what I feel are decent photographs. It was also a frustration with being given a month, in the midst of everything else (of course, everything always is), and being expected to come up with a finished project of something so near and dear to me as “documentary landscape photography”.

I was itching to just flake the assignment and come up with something experimental and stupid, something previously unseen but ultimately thin and unsubstantial, because one month felt like no time at all to go make new photos. At least, to complete an entire line of thought.

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I dug this hole in the woods a few weeks ago and made some really decent photographs of the process for one project. It felt pretty good to do, and the photographs looked nice, but I installed it in such a stupid way. I felt like it undermined the seriousness of the images. I also liked the installation, but it didn’t feel (and wasn’t) well thought out at all. It was also a complete departure from the last thing I had done, even though it was supposed to be the culmination of an in-progress thing.

We’ve been really really really well trained in throwing out work and starting over, trying to find new forms, etc. etc. It’s left me tremendously restless, and when I’ve got a month to go out and make a finished project, it just feels crazy, in one way. Like my options are to make something I’m not proud of, make something that doesn’t take long but is basically only an experiment or a sketch, or just to fail because I sit and spend all my time whining on a blog instead of making photos.

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Every time I try to be esoteric and not just go play in the woods and make photos, my work suffers. But at the same time I feel like it’s a cop-out to just go out and make photos without even trying to fit them into something. And yet the fitting in destroys some of that unbounded freedom to just go out and make. It’s upsetting, it’s difficult.

And I know school shouldn’t necessarily just be easy peasy walking around on sunshine and rainbows, but there’s such a hilarious contradiction in art school between “be your own flower and develop yourself without really caring about school” and “yeah but you really do have to make work in a specific way.”

Whine whine whine. I feel like I’m getting closer to a point, and I’m sorry you’ve had to endure some babbling and thumb-sucking to get to it.

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So basically I think most of my formal work in the forest sits in two camps- nice adoration and really dark brooding. Because I really see two distinct modes of work. Photos on small and large scales can be quite loose and airy, intimate, free, and then there’s work like the photo below that certainly sits in some darker emotional territory.

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Now, again, you can see that I’ve switched formats, it’s not the fairest comparison, since that photo was taken on black and white 4×5, and I just mentioned all the shortcomings of color 35. But you get the idea.

If I had money to spend on a pack of 4×5 film, I’d probably challenge myself to make the airy photos on the more tedious format. That would certainly be something. I think it has got to do something with the amount of time I give myself to think about something- on a 35, I can take a photo without really feeling like it has to solve anything. It’s cheap. It costs like 10 cents or something per frame, whereas even a black and white 4×5 sheet costs like two bucks and change, not to mention processing and scanning time. It’s arduous. It’s limited. The camera is heavier. So I guess I feel like each photo has to have more punch? Each photo has to “be about something”?

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This photo may be a decent counterpoint to that. This is a bit airier, a bit lighter in tone, but again, it feels like such a mannered composition- so considered, so contrived, whereas something like this:

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While still occurring as something that was composed, doesn’t feel like it was trying to cure cancer or anything with its taking. It’s just “Wow, that’s nice, the sun is coming through and exposing this nice little spot in the midst of shadow all around. I think I’ll photograph it.” Compare that to like…

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“AH YES, MOUNTAINSIDE, TEXTURES. ENORMOUS THINGS.”

Or, even on a smaller scale…

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“MMM YESS, THE CONTRASTING REGIONS OF TEXTURE, OF VALUE, ARE ALIGNED PERFECTLY WITHIN THESE TWO OPPOSING REGIONS ON THE DIAGONAL WITH A PERFECTLY MANICURED BRANCH ON THE UPPER THIRD.”

Haha, I remember taking that photo. It was such a pain in the ass.

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Even when pawing at the idea of man’s hand in the landscape, something approaching a concept, I managed to do it with a very light touch, and thinking about it first within a formally minded framework. I think theres more going on in the relationship between these signs as design elements than between the signs and the forest as conceptual elements (I think that sentence made sense?)

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Again, this photo could sit in a series of photos about mans hand in nature. But I like it more as a formal composition. And I certainly was thinking of the juxtaposition of the manmade and the natural, but it was in very blunt terms. I just thought “Ah, nice, this is an interesting visual relationship. Click” and then moved on.

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Same deal. I think this even starts to poke at the character of the land I grew up around- rednecks and public access mountain roads and all that good stuff. It’s written in the landscape, yes. But it feels shallow to go out and look for photos like this. It also feels willfully unskilled to not own the implications of taking a photo like this and trying to show it in series. In other words, it’s not enough to present the 35mm work and say “this is art because it’s all the interesting stuff I saw on my walk in the woods. Pretty, ya?”

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Okay, okay, okay. Just figured it out. What I’m trying to do with this blog post is think myself into being okay with what I’m going to do regardless: Take a lot of photos with medium format black and white film (like the photo above, but happier). That’s what I have right now, and that’ll have to be enough. I’m rather broke right now, actually worse than broke because I owe a lot of money to the department for all the printing I’ve done this semester. So I’ve really gotta work with what I have on hand as much as possible.

I talk myself into being OK with it because I know I’ll need to supply a good answer for what I’ve done when I talk about the work. I’m not quite there yet, but I think it’ll be something about humility, naivety as a virtue, being willing to make mistakes, and acknowledging that there are things far bigger and for more important than myself.

That’s been the flavor of my work recently. And uh, I guess that’ll have to be good enough (for my professor? For me to feel good about it? I have no idea what I’m even trying to make this for exactly), because that’s about all I’ve got in me right now.

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