Due to a mix up at the Gallery, my artist's statement wasn't included in Art Saint Louis's "Symbolic" exhibition. So I'm including it here: "A symbol is succinct, like this cross in the basement of a Spanish mission in Texas. Unlike its literary cousin, the metaphor, a symbol’s meaning resides not in explanation (if you have to explain it, you ruin it), but in its context. The artist’s challenge is to trim and trim and elevate the symbol within."
OK. We know that there's a term called “chimping” that describes the habit of taking a picture and then immediately going, “Oh, oh, oh,” like a chimp, while reviewing it on the camera’s LCD screen. I shoot some digital myself, but I don't ooo or ahhh, but I do get that kind of chimp face when reviewing a shot I just took. Can't seem to stop that habit.
On the other hand, there's no opportunity to chimp with a film camera. That's one of the aspects I love about shooting film. Delayed gratification -- that's good for most things except sex. Anyway, I knew this shot would be a keeper as I took it. Call it intuition. Call it 40+ years of experience. Call it luck or karma. But it felt good and right and exciting.
Anyone seen my banana?
This is from my latest additions to The Blaine Project. The youngin' came home for 48 hours and he carved out some time for the two of us to hang out and take photographs. It's always a delight to work with a willing subject -- more than willing in his case.
What appeals to me most about his shot is the foot at the bottom. It adds a bit extra to an otherwise not uncommon portrait angle. So much depends on this one detail.
This photo marks one of the first using my new Toyo 4x5 with Schneider 135 lens. I used Portra 160. When I received the scans back from the lab, I immediately was drawn to this image. However, there was some flare seeping around his head and I wish I had aligned the camera more parallel to the bench. And the focus could have been sharper.
This was another reminder of the thought and even forethought that should go into setting up a shot. This, after all, is one of the "benefits" of shooting large format. I can't get this day back. I can't go back and make it better. I have to live with it now. And that's okay. Many will probably say it is good enough. But it's never good enough.
As I stared at this photograph, trying to think of a title, Flutternation came to mind. So I Googled it to see what would appear. First, I was asked "Did you mean Glitternation?"Well, no, that would be a completely different image. There were hits for flutternation. Several concerned something called Social Butterfly TV, and which people had posted things about being furry and social and whatnot. There was also a cardiologist who specializes in atrial fibrillation and has an organization called Flutter National.
So avoid confusion, I added an "A" to make this my own, and frankly, I like it better because the flag is aflutter. As a nation, we are aflutter. As a symbol for America, I love our flag. But that is all it is: a symbol. Honor it as you see fit. Or not.
I remember hearing about young people being arrested because they used flag patches to mend their jeans. I remember Mick Jagger causing a controversy by draping himself in a flag (probably Great Britain's, but still). I remember people plastering their vehicles with American flag stickers after 9/11, as if to ward off terrorism. ("The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity," eh Yeats?)
This all seems silly. The mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote about the masks of god. The concept behind this book is that the word god, the name god, and the image of god are the final obstacles to experiencing god. Using this same reasoning, the flag essentially masks what America and freedom are all about. The flag is just a bunch of strips of cloth. The Bible is just some ink markings on some pages. A cartoon of Muhammad is just some squiggles drawn by an artist. None of these things ARE the things they represent.
This photograph exemplifies the state of the nation, blown around by whatever winds are passing through, some I agree with and some I abhor. For each of us, the answer is blowing in the wind -- at least some of the time.
This image is a double dip of retro. Or is it?
First, it's a photograph of a sign (too easy, I know) that actually says retro, albeit behind that big arrow. Second, it was taken with a retro camera, an original Diana camera. And as an added treat, (sprinkles on top, if you will) I used real film -- Portra 800 (part of my ongoing experiment using really good film in really crappy cameras).
The Urban Dictionary defines retro as, "A contemporary object or style containing elements of, but not replicating, an object or style from a previous era." By this definition, my image is not truly retro at all. The camera is not contemporary. The photo does not really contain elements "of" anything; it's the real deal. At best, it is retro from the perspective of using a camera and image capturing process from a previous era -- except that film and analog cameras are still here. I will not concede that that image-makers have been overcome or overrun by their digital cousins.
Maybe I should be content with defining this image for what it is not. It is not a new image in an old style. It is not an old image in a new style. It is not...hmmm.
My head hurts. Must be this pork pie hat...
P.S. I own several Diana cameras. I name them because it is easier to keep track of the quirks of each one. This is my latest addition, called Dad. That's because my Dad found it at an estate sale. I think Dad takes pretty pictures.
P.P.S. After I posted this blog, something else occurred to me: By the act of taking a photograph, I am capturing a moment just as it passes into the past. So waiting to develop the film, I am looking forward to looking back. I am not a retro photographer. Rather, I am a retrograde photographer.
As I have been moving into the world of portraiture, I find that I set my standards high for clients. To quote Tom Petty's Here Comes My Girl: I "catch myself waiting, wondering, worrying about some silly little things." And those silly little mostly add up to something like, "How do I make sure that I do as good a job photographing this person as I do photographing my own family?" The answer for is to care just as much. That is why I will not take on too many portraits in a given year. I need the emotional space to try and capture the essence of my sitter. Last year, I photographed poet, editor of River Styx literary journal, and junk-folk musician (The CharFlies) Richard Newman for his latest book, "All the Wasted Beauty of the World." I made my edits and provided him with about 20 choices. He shared them with friends, family, and colleagues. The results were inconclusive. Four rose to the top, but it was still four. There was no definitive choice. Of those four, people liked each for different reasons. As the photographer, I was let down because I had not captured what everyone agreed was the "quintessential Richard." A friend and fellow photographer thinks I am too hard on myself. He says I should consider that perhaps Richard has many sides and each was revealed in a different shot. Perhaps my friend is right. But I won't stop trying for that single, definitive shot of each of my subjects. This being said, I cannot claim to have a single definitive shot of either of my sons. I have many favorites for many reasons.
This is all about proximity:
- The proximity between driving on and stopping
- The proximity to the road - one step out of the car
- The proximity of these weeds to the "domesticated" corn
- The proximity between the cultivated and the wild