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.

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May 19, 2017 – Somewhere In New Mexico

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Hillsboro, New Mexico, is one of those places you would never know existed unless you intentionally decided to go out of your way. Luckily for me, that’s something I try to always do when traveling cross-country. The interstate is efficient, but it divorces the driver from the surrounding world; state routes always take you through winding paths, beautiful scenic views, and into strange little towns.

Hillsboro is due north of Deming, New Mexico, just off state route 152. It’s right on the edge of the Gila National Forest, and the winding road takes you through some absolutely gorgeous territory. When I last passed through, it was late October and the trees were dropping yellow leaves all around. The town proper is tiny – if you blink, you’ll miss it. There’s a post office, a couple of empty store fronts, and quaint little manicured lawns. According to the 2010 census, only 124 people live here. Like so many other small towns of the Southwest, Hillsboro was primarily a mining town, but even at its height in the late 1880s, the population never swelled past one thousand.

Always keep your eyes peeled when you’re on the road. There are a lot of interesting little places out there, just waiting for you.

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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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May 13, 2017 – Tucson Rail-yard

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I have published various iterations of this image. I took a lot of pictures that day, my feet crunching through the stones alone the railroad tracks. In this particular section in downtown Tucson, the rail-line runs behind warehouses and various artist spaces. I remember going out back during a show I was performing in at a place called, at the time, The Space. It was a fashion and music showcase, and I was wearing these amazing custom-made pantaloons and a painted-on curly mustache for a little performance piece.

Booze was flowing, and we were able to override the city ordinance by accepting donations, rather than accepting cash, for liquor. Art was on the walls and the music was loud, and I was half-clothed, wandering around without my glasses, pretty-well out of my mind. Halogen track lights on red brick and a clutch of people dancing and laughing. We’d congregate on the back stoop, a small group of us, on a rickety wooden platform with three precarious steps down to the graveled ground, just ten feet from the rail line. I remember hunkering down, red wine in a plastic cup, smoking a cigarette, as the train whooshed by, drowning-out our conversation.

Ten years later, I realize that these are the stories I’ll be telling to younger people. You know, “when I was in college” or “when I was your age” type of stories. Speaking about when times were more innocent, when the rules were more relaxed, when we got away with murder and still can’t believe it. I think this happens with every generation. I’m glad I was wild and reckless and had a memorable night in a strange performance space along Congress Avenue, with a collective of creative and free spirits, huddled against the darkness, in this tiny little corner of the cosmos.

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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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April 29, 2017 – Painted Bricks

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“If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up.”
~Garry Winogrand

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April 28, 2017 – Red White Blue

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“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
~Imogen Cunningham

Nothing tells the truth – not even the camera.
I know it’s a popular expression – “the camera never lies” – but that’s a lie. The camera has been used by governments as early as 1860 to create fictitious tableaux to galvanize opposition to political parties and rulers. The tools of photographic manipulation are more democratized, and much more easily accessed in today’s digital culture, but photographs have been manipulated since the very beginning.

And it’s not that it’s all lies, really, is just that the medium can be used to deceive as much as it can be used to enlighten. It’s a tool, not a philosophy. Tools can be used in many different ways. In a media landscape where an increasing number of people are becoming savvy to photographic and digital manipulation, it’s harder to tell the lie.

That’s why CGI in feature films ages poorly – the more people are aware and engaged, the more they are aware of the deception. The same thing is becoming true of still photographs, and scandals abound in the popular press of news photographers manipulating their pictures to try and make the scene more emotional, more beautiful, more dramatic than it actually was.

Can you spot the manipulation in today’s “Image of the Day?”
Double trouble, because it’s a purely aesthetic, ‘abstract’, composition. I’m confident that only trained eyes and other media professionals could even begin to peel this one apart. Give it a shot in the ‘comments’ section.

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