Photography with an open hand

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Full disclosure, I’m writing this at 5am. It’s nice, besides coffee at around 9:30 I haven’t had anything to chemically alter my state of mind. That’s mostly because in order to get everything I needed to get done for finals done, I needed a productive and sober evening. And I got one.

I’m going to tackle writing about my thesis work much later, because I need a bit of time to chew on that. But most of the production was done tonight- about 34 square feet of digital printing on three 44″ prints, nine darkroom prints (and one that I messed up). Scans of a few documents to be printed, I painted 14 slats of wood that’ll be in an install, and made my installation mockup.

Whew! And to think I’ve been working on this basically since 3pm yesterday. It’s only 5am.

All of this has been making me think about what arts role is in a Christian’s life, what it means to make art to the glory of God, especially when art school is so demanding on me to prove myself by my work, to discover, perhaps, “what it all means”. I know the answers aren’t found at the bottom of my art, that’s for sure.

And there may be a guilt, I guess. About working this hard. About wanting to make these things so badly. About trying to express the ideas, thoughts, and feelings inside of me. A guilt, or conviction, that I’m still trying to live and die by what comes out in fits of artistic zeal.

It was a weird “art school” day. Studio work started with photographing blank sections of wall. I knew where it was going to end up, but still, I felt kind of dumb with a 4×5 pointed at drywall, intently focused on making the specific imagery I knew would work. It turned into what you see above- I wasn’t sure exactly how it would look, but I knew it would end up in that neighborhood.

~all the computers restart at 5:00am, and I just heard them all sound off ~

~despite telling this computer not to restart, it did anyway. It would’ve been ironic if I lost work, given what I’m about to write about, but it’s all intact~

I make my wall pictures, and eventually I end up scratching off the emulsion. It feels stupid, it really does. I had just printed a 44×60″ print, at a cost of about $45 in ink alone. I was having the dreaded “what is it all worth it” thought process. But I was committed, I kept making.

It was about 3:30, I guess, when I made an image that won’t be online for a little while, if ever. It may be the kind of thing that doesn’t have the same impact in the daylight and after some sleep, but I was scratching away at some more film, and the shavings, the image, and the pattern of the film coalesced into an image that just… made intuitive sense. It hit me in the face, and with the shavings carefully balanced I walked into the darkroom with the negative, precariously loading it in the holder to not disturb the featherlight emulsion shards.

I make an exposure, and in the developer in the dim orange light, it looks exactly as good as I was hoping it would. I was elated. And yet, it occurred to me, that this image is actually one of a kind. Unless I printed my last remaining darkroom sheet, which I did, it will never exist exactly as it did in that form. I could scan it, sure, but because the image was formed of shavings of its own emulsion in just such an arrangement, the means to remake it will be necessarily destroyed by removing it from the negative carrier.

I make one more enlargement.

I hate to say that I feel like I’ve gained some deeper insight into the nature of my practice, but I think by God’s grace I have. I often pray on how best to serve God with my art practice. As a mentor, an artist and Christian once told me, it’s not necessarily about making work with crosses in it, but it is a more nuanced thing. H.R. Rookmaaker described it as, not trying to justify Christianity with art, but letting Christianity justify art.

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It’s hard, but at the same time, it’s grace, as art’s worth was established as a good gift from God. I feel at peace, in some ways, with just diligently trying to make work that fits within the goodness and truth of the gospel, and is beautiful given the medium and the culture.

How does this relate to photography?

We have heard it ad nausea in our department that photography is about death. It’s about trying to overcome the horrible gulf of time, of a past self we can never have back, of a loved one who we’ll never see laugh again. It is embedded with this meaning whether the practitioner is a fine artist or an amateur. In photography there will always be some gesture of trying to make permanent the fleeting. To fix and hold light.

For so long this is how I’ve been approaching photography. It’s surreal to me to think that I’m living in a time that I will almost certainly miss, my college years. It’s sad, but it’s also an amazingly good time, and I’m so tremendously blessed to have it. What I saw in the darkroom pan was the same thing- it was a gift. It could never quite be printed again the way I just had, but I have that. And it made me want to go forth and speak about what an amazing gift we have in Christ. I can’t help but say it, because I know the undoing of myself in my own life I have brought about through my efforts to try to put it together any other way.

Photography with an open hand. Letting things pass through, the things that come, with gratitude. It is all

That is the long and short, and I just want to give God the glory for any and all work I make.

More writings on this work to come. There’s going to be a lot to say, but this is the most important.

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