April 09, 2017 – Red White Blue

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“To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.”
~Edward Weston

I don’t have a lot to say about today’s image. I was on a bike ride through the warehouse district, and I stopped several times to make some pictures. There’s something about these industrial textures that resonates with me, and I don’t feel like spending the time or energy trying to intellectualize it.

There’s something beautiful and perplexing about this kind of imagery to me, so I use my camera to document it.

Notice, of course, that it’s an industrial textured photograph in red, white, and blue, which aligns itself with an old series I never finished about the corruption and death of the “American Dream.” One of these days, I may draft an essay. But for now, I’ll let the images just exist on their own merits.

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January 28 – The Lone Tree

01-28 The Lone Tree post“Lord save us all from old age and broken health and a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.”

~Mark Twain

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There’s a lone tree in a field along Kenneth Road south of the city. It’s a tiny family-owned plot of earth with a sign that proudly boasts “Welcome To Kenneth – Population 10” in drips white paint. A couple of ramshackle barns litter the adjacent field. Along the fence-line on the south end of the property is the family plot; a dozen or so headstones jut out from the island of manicured grass.

Family farms are becoming rare in the post-industrial age, but every now and again there’s a slice of land owned by hardened farm workers, proud to have held onto the family farm, and exclaim with bravado the number of generations their bloodline has worked the soil.

This place is the epitome of the Midwest – open spaces, flat fertile fields, and the whisper of the prairie wind in your ears. There’s a calm to the Great Plains that’s as unique a sensation as standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. An ocean of water flows beneath your feet. On a cloudy day at dusk, there’s electricity in the air – a current strong enough that you can feel it on your skin and the hair on your arms stands up.

There’s nothing more beautiful on this planet than looking across a field uncorrupted by concrete and automobiles, monumental spires and neon light. Our cities are a grand thing, too, but in a different way. And certainly these fields have been sculpted by human hands. But to my mind, a properly run family farm is one of the last places a person can find a healthy balance between human intervention and nature.

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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

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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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January 16 – Those “Creative Types” We Know…

01-16 Creative Types post

Artists and egos go together like milk and cookies, now, don’t they? Where you find the one, you’re likely to find the other. It’s as though creative people are perpetually prepared to defend their work. And we all know what defensive personalities can do, don’t we? That’s right. They can lash out viciously like frightened wild animals. Bisbee boasts a wonderful arts scene in Southern Ariona, and that wouldn’t be a lie. But the happy-go-lucky vibe Bisbee also likes to boast about itself? Well, that’s not entirely correct. The fact is, the economy there is contracting and the town has gentrified significantly from the dirt-cheap 1960s of yore. Rents are higher, fewer dollars are flowing into the town, and there’s greater competition for a seat at the winner’s table. Sometimes there are hurt feelings when you struggle to promote your work, and sometimes you get thrown under the bus. Sometimes our melt-downs are very, painfully public.

That kind of thing happens in a small town, I guess.

During my tenure, I created enough problems for myself with this big old dumb mouth of mine. I’ve also quietly watched other peoples’ struggles unfold like a great big dusty rug on social media, ready for a thorough beating. We take our licks and hopefully learn something from the experience. We also discover who those people are that never seem to enter the arena, but always sit on the sidelines like carnival barkers, ready to cut you down to size, and ready to help fan the flames of a small conflict into a dangerous firestorm. Having a creative passion is something of a spectator sport, especially in a small town, but heck – criticism is part of the game, too.

People that can’t handle criticism should never pursue a career in the arts. Period.

In my humble opinion, when an artist is surrounded only by cheerleaders who celebrate each attempt as though it were the Mona Lisa itself? That’s absolutely freaking wonderful! We all need positive support. But it also means that the artist may be in the perfect position to experiment with something new, to try a new subject, style, venue, audience. The real danger of a town like Bisbee is that it’s such an incredibly small and insular place, and there are a lot of big fish. Things can get ugly when resources are scarce.

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I say all of this not to stoke the flames of malcontent. It appears as though the most recent round of conflict in the Bisbee art scene has played itself out (at least in social media). I say all of this in relation to the image above, made by a gentleman who used to live in the brick building on Brewery Gulch across from the dog park. That is, if anyone ever really recognized it as a dog park. At one point or another, I think I remember people jokingly referring to it as “parvo park,” which didn’t inspire much confidence. Nevertheless, the brick building was festooned with mesh wire, painted mannequins, Christmas lights, and other random, presumably “found” objects. Some viewed it as an eyesore, others loved it. Visitors could be seen taking pictures of it with their smartphones every weekend.

I can’t pick sides. I don’t know the whole story. I just know that the eccentric old beast who decorated that building doesn’t live in Bisbee any longer. He may have brought it upon himself, or maybe somebody just didn’t like the cut of his jib. The extent of my knowledge is that he was run out of town. The right mixture of hubris, ego, madness, creativity, and drugs will always yield interesting results – and I’m confident all of those elements were at play. When creative types collide, sparks fly.

It’s my understanding he lives in Jerome now and he’s happy there, so there’s that. I don’t miss the dog park, but I do kind of miss the crazy decorations on that old building.

Oh well. Time marches on.

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January 15 – On A Hill In Bisbee

01-15 Hilltop Bisbee post

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
~Aristotle

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I decided to dig through the archives for today’s photograph. I have a mountain of pictures that not only haven’t been published, but have almost been forgotten. I like to sift through old files, look back on all the faces and scenery I’ve been blessed enough to photograph. When my motivation is languishing – when I’m feeling the impulse to create something but don’t know where to begin – going through old photographs always helps.

One of my favorite places in the whole world is the hilltop that overlooks Brewery Gulch and all of Old Bisbee. That old Arizona town is unspeakably picturesque. Years ago, I’ve been told, a local man – I wish I could recall his name – could be seen hauling materials, an armload at a time, up and down the rocky path that winds up the hill. And anybody who visits Bisbee eventually sees the big white cross on the hill. Most folks aren’t able to find the trail without being shown the way.

Local folks have added their own candles, keepsakes, statues, prayer flags and vials of water. A local woman placed her husband’s ashes up there. A small red dollhouse-sized memorial was fixed onto the hilltop when Derrick and Amy Ross – our Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl – passed away a couple years ago. On the backside of the hill is a makeshift shrine for those who braved the desert heat in an attempt to cross into America. Toothbrushes, children’s shoes, baby bottles, rosaries, backpacks, sunglasses, and clothing have been collected and hung atop the rocks beneath the visage of the Guadalupe Virgin.

I hiked up there several times a week, not often running into other people. I never grew tired of the view. Just thinking about it, I can almost feel the sense of calm in the wind in the summertime, watching monsoon storms roll in from the distance. It is a very special place. I look forward to being there again soon.

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