Kill Your Television

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So there was this one day when we had a lot of spare time, a case of beer, a JEEP with a failing transmission, a .22 caliber rifle and a television set that I’d been spending way too much time trying to fix. Call it ‘capricious youth,’ but there’s something cathartic about driving out into the desert and firing a few rounds into a useless item that needs to be put down.

My lady and I had a similar experience last week when we wanted to shampoo the carpet before assembling our baby’s new crib in the soon-to-be nursery. After struggling for about an hour and spilling water & cleaning solution all over the house, it was clear that the machine needed to be put out of its misery. I would have enjoyed driving out to the mountain and delivering a genuine and honest execution, but who has the time anymore? Instead, it was a gangland assassination commensurate with the xerox machine scene from Office Space, in the parking lot outside of our townhouse.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to exhale some serious frustration.
My recommendation? Kill your television, not a person. Then make some art out of it.

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Hidden Color And The Utility Of Art

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When I was at university, one of my mentors said something that has stayed with me. It was obvious to me the he realized how the photography program was utterly failing its students by providing zero instruction on career development, small business management, or information on how to navigate the gallery system. I had a sense that he was as disappointed with the department as I was (and continue to be), but it was equally obvious how passionate he was about the craft with the time and attention he paid to those students who demonstrated a genuine interest in fine art and photography.

As innocuous or even silly as it sounds, I remember him saying that “everything you make is a self portrait.”
Everything you make is a reflection of your sensibilities, your attitudes, your appreciations, and your conflicts.

I don’t know why, exactly, but that sentence had a marked impact on how I began to approach each new project. Rather than trying to make the most beautiful print, or try to imagine what my audience might want, I began to think of each painting, each photograph, each mono-print or lino-cut as a part of myself – a thumb-print on a skyscraper, small and forgettable, but unique – rather than a ‘product’ or an attempt to fulfill some arbitrary notion of what other people may value as great art. The tension between commerce and art has always existed, and compromises almost always need to be made in creative professions. But that doesn’t prevent the artist from taking time out of his day to make something in the privacy of his home or studio, make anything, for no other reason than he thinks it’s interesting or beautiful.

I liken the creative process to meditation. It’s where I find my center after a hard day. It has navigated me through troubled relationships. It has connected me to other people and helped create very fruitful and lasting relationships.

A frustrated piece is only ever the result of having an idea in your head, the vision of exactly how you want it to look when it’s complete, and getting to that point can be hard – sometimes impossible. But just as often, tinkering with a sketchbook or fooling around in the darkroom – having a glass of wine and slapping some paint onto a canvas when there is no pressure to achieve a specific goal – and the artist is free to improvise and embrace their own intuition and stream-of-consciousness. And that’s when real magic can happen.

Wasn’t it Picasso who said that every child is born an artist, the problem is how to remain one as we grow up?
I think there’s truth to that. Going to school, memorizing dates and spitting out correct answers for the test, learning the formula to a successful job interview, paying bills and raising children, taking the car into the shop and watching tragedy after tragedy unfold on the nightly news – these things can tamp-down our artistic impulses, distract us from our Selves.

Art is a magic trick. A therapy. A language without syntax. I absolutely love it.

Now do me a favor and try to enjoy this stupid picture of a glass bottle, will ya? And while you’re at it, think about picking up a paintbrush or photographing the sunset, making a collage out of old magazines or designing a scrap-book page to commemorate last Christmas – it certainly won’t hurt you. Find an excuse to smile, and enjoy your weekend.

With much love,

-joe

Patterns In The Blacktop

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From my earliest days in the darkroom, before the digital revolution, I started veering toward abstract compositions. It seemed so incredibly counter-intuitive, contradictory even, to sculpt abstractions from camera images. In the beginning, the camera was designed to be the most accurate method for re-creating images from the world around us; before the camera, we relied on drawn and painted images to reflect the world. The painter’s hands could be biased, however, but the cold gaze of a lensed machine promised to never lie.

As an example, photo-mechanical images brought the true horror of war to the public, rather than the glorified tableaux as depicted in works like Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s “Washington Crossing The Delaware” or Eugène Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading The People.” Scholars in the field of visual culture studies credit broadcast television for helping galvanize the American public against the Vietnam War; with images of dying young men being beamed nightly into American households, it helped foment an unprecedented anti-war attitude.

The camera also liberated the painterly arts, which had been preoccupied with attempts to reflect the real world. Once the camera proved it could make the most accurate portraits, the most detailed architectural studies, we begin to see the painterly arts fragment into impressionism, expressionism, cubism, die brucke, de stijl, and a multitude of other styles. If we look at the timeline, we’ll see that this revolution in painting began at almost the exact same time that Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre patented their photographic technologies in the mid-1800’s.

The truth is, though, that the camera can lie just as effectively as anything else, and the photographer can be just as biased as the painter. The process is different, but the camera operator is perpetually editorializing, purely by choosing to photograph ‘this’ over here rather than ‘that’ over there. Framing, color, composition are all methods to generate atmosphere, convey emotion, manipulate the audience’s reaction to the images presented. With the modern advent of image editing software, it could be argued that the camera has the ability to both tell the objective truth and, at the same time, lie more effectively than virtually any other medium.

I think the reason I enjoy abstract photography is because it’s very difficult for it to become political. We respond to shapes, colors, and textures based on our own individual histories. Each viewer can have a potentially different reaction to an abstract composition, based solely on the emotional and intellectual experiences they carry with themselves into the room. I’m fascinated by the little details we miss on the way to the bus stop, making our morning coffee, walking down to the mail box. I like to think that, by making images like this one, I can help remind my audience that there are curious little things all around us, at all times, that we kind of choose to ignore. And if we could just slow down for a moment and look around, turn over the rocks and see what’s underneath, we might develop a greater attachment and appreciation for this tiny, insignificant little blue marble we have the unique and exquisite privilege to live on.

Creativity is one of the greatest gifts we possess, folks. Life is a blessing, and I hope each and every one of you has a wonderful day.

-joe

That Long, Old, Forgotten Project…

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I don’t even know how to advocate ‘art for art’s sake.’ The notion has always felt like a total cop-out, at least to me, for creative types. You know, somewhere along the line of “you just don’t get what I do” as a deflection when audiences don’t respond positively to a body of work. I am hugely of the opinion that artists don’t just make work for themselves, quietly hoping that other people like it. People who crumple and flee, screaming “you just don’t get it,” would do better painting a mural on their van. Creative types are always – whether consciously or unconsciously – concerned with the attitudes and opinions of the people that might see their work.

An artist, ultimately, isn’t really an artist without an audience.

At the same time, I have boxes upon boxes upon boxes of photo prints, sketch books, illustrations, and paintings – things I made because I had the free time, the tools, and was indulging in doodles, exercises, and free association. I have an avalanche of compositions that I made ‘just because.’ It can be exhausting trying to justify every composition, every brush stroke, every print. Sometimes an object or color or concept strikes my fancy, and I would be hard-pressed to find a precise explanation why.

I know I could completely b.s. my way into a reason why I made the above image, and I have several hypotheses. But this is an image made on instinct, without specific intent. I celebrate the idea that my audience, on occasion, might bring their own ideas into the mix, providing their own interpretation. That’s the beauty of working in an abstract, or semi-abstract style.

Sometimes the analysis is better left in the hands of the critics, the philosophers, and the psychologists. Nobody asks a five-year-old why they painted something, but there will always be a team of people who will have a theory. And hell, I’m interested in your insight. Feel free to tell me what you think this image is all about. Maybe I’ll learn something about myself.

The Curious Man – A Chaos Portrait

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Years ago I produced a series of images with a group of people, most of which I wouldn’t be able to name. These images were made by doing speed-drawings of friends and strangers – and self portraits – in simple pencil. These were usually executed in two minutes or less. Then we’d lay out other drawing materials – markers and charcoal and chalk and ink – and try to finish the piece in an additional one to two minutes.

These are basic gestures, and the untrained nature of the execution (alongside the frenetic energy generated by a huge time constraint) resulted in some some interesting pieces. I believe this is an image of me sitting in the smoking patio at one of my favorite neighborhood bars in midtown Tucson.

But I can’t really be sure…

May 16, 2017 – Downtown

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“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
~Leonardo da Vinci

I think there’s an elegant truth to this quote, in both concrete and abstract ways. I have always had a difficult time explaining to people why I enjoy abstract and minimalist artwork, and a lot of what I enjoy has to do with the absolute lack of concrete meaning; the viewer can bring their own ideas and emotions and sensibilities into their individual interpretation.

An abstract piece of art can be something different for each and every person who sees it.

When it comes to lifestyle, simplicity can also be an important thing. We seem to be in the habit of accumulating things, surrounding ourselves with mountains of stuff. There’s no judgement as I write these words; I am a textbook example. I often describe myself to others as a ‘collector’ – of films, albums, books, graphic novels, trading cards, photographs, artwork, and so much more. But letting go of things can be incredibly uplifting and liberating.

Today’s image is of an old auto repair shop – you can just barely read the old lettering on the sign. This was downtown Tucson, sometime around 2010, as the whole city crumpled under the economic downturn. Construction projects shut down and half-completed houses and apartments and businesses became graffiti magnets and squatter territories. Small businesses closed down and others trimmed their workforce to try and stay afloat – I was eventually laid off from my own job, and I spent my time in-between job interviews riding my bike around town taking photographs. Houses were abandoned and plywood replaced windows. It was a strange time.

At some point I may go back and re-photograph some of the scenes I’ve shared during this ‘Image a Day’ project. I’d be curious to see what’s still there and how things have changed. But that’ll be a project for another day.

Hope all is well with you.
Cheers.

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April 30, 2017 – Abstract April Finale

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“Quit trying to find beautiful objects to photograph. Find the ordinary objects so you can transform it by photographing it.”
~Morley Baer

This months blew by quickly; I can’t believe that Abstract April is coming to a close. I had a lot of fun putting these images out there, even though I know that abstract photography can be difficult for some people to appreciate. I do like looking for interesting compositions, strange textures, and random objects – this kind of photography is like a scavenger hunt, and it motivates me to play closer attention to the world around me.

I think to start out next month, I’ll be taking a step back from a lot of the macro photography that dominated this month’s images. Rather than surfaces and textures, I think the them of May will be ‘Places.’ I think that’s a sufficiently vague theme to give me decent breathing room. I hope you’ll join me.

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