February 09 – Industry, Steel, And Aaron Siskind

02-09 Industry post“Stone, steel, dominions pass,
Faith too, no wonder.
So leave alone the grass
That I am under.”

~A.E. Housman

– – –

I’m not sure who said it first, but it always stuck with me: there is nothing as unnatural as a perfectly straight line.

There’s actually some truth to this. Straight lines don’t really just occur in nature. Every natural process with the potential to create a straight line is subject to other processes that disrupt it. Theoretically, trees would grow straight up were they not subjected to wind, rain, gravity, uneven soil. If the distribution of air, sunlight, nutrients, gravity, and other factors were perfectly even, we would have straight-edge trees. These elements aren’t even, have never been even, cannot be even, and so they produce randomly mutated fractal patterns.

Interestingly, we humans now we live in environments wholly based on the straight edge; I-beams and milled lumber, the foundations of our homes, our streetlamps, television screens, windowpanes. There is no greater example that I can think of that represents the unbroken human endeavor to conquer nature.

Today’s photograph is how I present the tension between humankind and the natural world – steel beams, the skeletal structure of a half-complete hotel in Albuquerque. I made this image when I was in my “Aaron Siskind” period. It was my second or third year of college, and I refused to photograph anything other than sub-par replicas of his patented abstract style. For those of you unfamiliar with Siskind, he was a prolific American photographer considered to be closely involved with the Abstract Expressionist movement, whose works focused primarily on the details of nature and architecture. At his height in the 1950s, his works were often described as blurring the line between painting and photography – something I’m personally interested in as an artist.

I was working as a research assistant at The Center for Creative photography on starvation-level wages under the Federal Work-Study Program. At the time it didn’t bother me; access to so many wonderful, historically significant photographic prints and photographer archives was plenty enough for me. Hell, I considered it an honor (and still do).

Then, recently, I found a faded, crinkled pay stub in an old suitcase. Boy was I being robbed.
But that’s a story for another day.

They say that emulation is the greatest form of flattery. I hope Mr. Siskind was looking down on my  from high with his notoriously crooked smile. I learned a lot trying to copy the masters, and I believe this is how many artists begin their journey. Not from square-one, but on the shoulders of giants, borrowing their voice while we struggle to find our own.

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