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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February 04 – The Rialto Theater

02-04 Rialto post

The Rialto Theater is one of the most recognizable buildings on Tucson’s most recognizable street. Situated on Congress Street across from the famous Hotel Congress, The Rialto opened its doors in 1922 with silent films and vaudeville performances.

I moved to Tucson in 2001. At the time, the University of Arizona was a construction zone, as was a great deal of University Boulevard. Congress Street felt like a ghost town during the daytime, but a handful of businesses kept the heart of downtown pumping – especially The Grill, which only recently closed its doors.

Paying the university a premium for the privilege to listen to jackhammers and to perpetually circumnavigate rent-a-fenced holes in the ground are but two of many disappointing experiences. The 24 hour availability of tater tots at The Grill and the wonderful performers that The Rialto attracted would be the other side of the coin; the downtown scene was among the greatest things I remember from those early college days.

Today’s ‘photograph of the day’ wasn’t made with a vintage camera like the others. It was made with what we’d consider a toy camera. Weighing in at only twelve ounces – the most forgiving weight of any camera – my first plastic “Holga” model camera cost about twenty bucks brand new. The unpredictable exposures, light leaks, and low-tech aesthetic these cameras produce have seen them grow in popularity over the past twenty years. When I last checked, the same model camera I’ve been shooting with costs somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty dollars.

Film isn’t dead. Neither are Daguerreotypes, for that matter. Historians, enthusiasts, and hobbyists will always keep these old methods alive. Thanks to Hollywood directors who prefer to shoot on film, popular low-tech products like the Holga (which attracts photo nerds like myself), and the infinite resource that is the internet, film will always be out there – even if it’s lost its relevance.

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January 30 – The Connecticut River

01-30 Connectitcut River post

In New England the character is strong and unshakable.”

~Norman Rockwell

– – –

Yesterday was an amazing day – like all good days, it was too short. I found myself being guided along by my uncle Rick, who has lived in this territory for the past twenty years. There’s no such thing as a transition between the southwest and the east coast – they are different worlds altogether. We didn’t cover a tremendous amount of territory, but New England is so dense with architecture & history, I imagine I could spend ten weeks in a ten mile radius and not ever – not for a single moment – feel bored.

Along the Connecticut River are a number of beautiful places to make pictures. This is just one of them, a position adjacent to the historic Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut.

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January 27 – The Back Alley

01-27 The Back Alley post“In any art, you don’t know in advance what you want to say – it’s revealed to you as you say it. That’s the difference between art and illustration.”

~Aaron Siskind

– – –

The thing about photography I find so wonderful is that it affords me the opportunity to look through the viewfinder and examine the world in a way that we rarely do in our day-to-day lives. Yes, that’s a sizable blanket statement, I know. But it’s true. It’s the only thing in my life that forces me to slow everything down – my thoughts, my heart rate, my emotions. It’s my meditation. Several years ago, while I was still in college, I used to walk around Tucson by myself, camera in hand.

Rather than the staid art of street photography – or the grainy, black and white portraits we often associate with ‘street photography’ – I found myself investigating the spaces in-between buildings and behind them. I would go to the warehouse district, down to the railroad tracks, out to the tire yards. Traveling at the speed-of-car, everything around us is a blur, save for what’s in the windshield – which is usually just traffic. When conducting noble battle with other 45 mile-per-hour aluminum projectiles, it’s a good idea to keep one’s head in the game. But we miss out on an awful lot.

After a couple of my earliest urban walkabouts, certain visual themes began to surface. Without even thinking about it while I was photographing, it was clear looking at the proof-sheets that my eyes were drawn to right angles. All of the pictures were nearly abstract, minimalistic compositions of windows, doorways, power conduits & boxes, architectural features, concrete slabs, and corrugated metal. A photographic DeStijl quickly became my new visual language

I would set aside time between university lectures and my job at the photo lab just so I could pack my camera and head out on my bicycle in search of new textures and colors. I photographed scenes like the one above for about two years. I haven’t revisited them in a while, but I occasionally think about the series. It’s meaning is still elusive to me, but it continues to feel significant. In a way that I haven’t been able to articulate, some of these images are deeply moving to me.

I think it might be time to put a show together, to reexamine this series, and see if I can crack the code.
Wish me luck.

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