The Wounded Cowboy

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This is one of those old illustrations that sat, untouched, for years at a time. I’d eventually get around to it, do a little bit of work on it, get discouraged, and set it aside for another year. Just one of those projects that, at the very beginning I thought had some promise and I eventually lost my passion for.

But my passion for taking these orphaned, unfinished projects and finishing them? Definitely stronger.

Forcing myself back into this piece – inspired, as many of my illustrations are, by the cinema – I thought about the tradition of Western Films in American cinema, and how these themes have begun to resurface in movies like Logan, which intentionally and overtly borrowed from movies like Shane and The Cowboys. This piece, in fact, is a study from James Mangold’s 3:10 To Yuma – James Mangold also happens to be the same man who directed Logan.

This didn’t feel like work. It wasn’t a headache trying to finish it. I found a good flow and I’m glad to close the chapter. I hope you like it.

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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

July 23, 2017 – Los Muertos

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I remember overhearing a conversation in a coffee shop some years ago where a gentleman said something like this:
“I always have people ask me why I’m so serious. I often overhear people telling their friends not to take ‘this’ or ‘that’ too seriously. And I got to thinking about it. If we need to learn how to not take life so damn seriously, we ought also to learn to not take death so seriously.”

I’m not sure, but it stuck with me. A simple exchange, maybe a completely spontaneous thought from a total stranger I was eavesdropping on – but it stuck with me. I think about it often, especially after losing several friends, relatives, and acquaintances over the past several years. It’s unusual to me – at least intellectually – to be so incredibly afraid of something that literally every single living thing in the cosmos will eventually have to do, which is to die.

Different cultures treat death differently, but there are always common themes of loss, sadness, tragedy and redemption, rebirth, or some form of ‘life after death.’ I’ve enjoyed photographing various rituals and discovering some of the nuances of life and death celebrations in the American Southwest and Mexico.

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A Lost Portrait

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Almost ten years ago I was laid off from work. It was like being dumped for the first time – I didn’t know quite how to take it or what to do, and it hurt. I had recently moved into an old cinder-block garage that had been converted into a guest house. A dreary place with low ceilings, no climate control, swarming with termites. The air was so thick during the monsoon season that my photographic prints stuck to each-other, ruining them, and the lower areas would collect pools of water.

In short – it was an adventure. Enough time separates the ‘then’ and the ‘now’ that I have some fond memories of sitting on the “living-room” floor with my friend Tammy, playing songs on the acoustic guitar by candlelight when the monsoon storms knocked out the power, a ceramic plate between us on the floor with tobacco and rolling papers. I spent all of my time reading the backlog of books in my collection and would go on bike rides around town.

Another of my friends, Megan, spent a lot of time being a lazy bastard with me, too. Many, many years ago I promised her I’d make a painting of her. As time passed, she would always remind me and I would always tell her I’d get to it eventually. While digging through some old hard drives looking for material for the ‘Image A Day’ project, I found an old folder with some snapshots from that summer of uncertainty, alongside a halfway completed digital illustration. I decided to set everything aside and finally finish it.

The irony, of course, is that Megan has vanished from social media, so I don’t even have the pleasure of tagging her. Smart phones were barely a thing, I was too poor to have one at the time, and none of my old flip-phones survive. So she’s lost to the ages, floating out there somewhere. With any luck, this post will magically cross her path.

In either even, it feels good to cross another project off the infinite list.
Onward and upward.

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May 07, 2017 – Blue Alley

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Somewhere in downtown Tucson, on South Stone Avenue, is this pretty little stretch of road. Most of it has been resurfaced, re-worked, restored, renewed. It’s polished and shiny today, but I was there several years ago and captured a lot of photographs of the neighborhood before everything was changed. In the summer, during the July monsoon, this part of town was devoid of people – it was quiet, with no traffic, and every building was covered in street art. I would ride my bike down here pretty often, even though I lived north of midtown at the time, to walk around with my camera.

It’s vandalism, sure. It may represent poverty or a devalued neighborhood. It may be considered by some to be ugly. I never really saw that. I always thought that the evolving canvas of these downtown buildings was beautiful. Here’s just one small little taste.

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May 06, 2017 – Everywhere A Sign

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“Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.”
~Garry Winogrand

There’s no place I enjoy more than a back-road or alley. Old paint and little remnants from the past linger in these places. Old signs and chipped signs, reminders of a world that used to be, spark my imagination. In a culture over-obsessed with knocking down the old and building the new, disregarding legacy objects and replacing the obsolete with the shiny and new, I enjoy having the opportunity to walk where thousands have walked before and seeing what they may have seen…

And photographing it.

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April 25, 2017 – Longitude (industrial textures)

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“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
~Elliott Erwitt

I’m not sure if I really have much more to add to the quote. It’s something I’ve said, in my own words, countless times over. This image was hugely inspired not by any photographer (or photography mentor) but a print-maker named Nathan Abel, who I had the pleasure to learn under in the printmaking lab at the University of Arizona. I made this photograph while I was attending his printmaking course, and the process of drawing solar- and mono-prints, etchings and xerox transfers, influenced how I looked at the world through the camera lens.

Even though I’m not a print-maker like Nathan, or anybody else who works in a printmaking lab, I have worked as a photographic print-maker for my entire adult (and most of my teenage) years. I was struck how the introduction of a new discipline opened new doors for me, and is the most solid reminder I have to continue introducing new ideas and disciplines into my day-to-day life, because they tend to help my own work grow and evolve.

Experimentation is key in the creative arts, and I highly value that very brief summer course. I learned an awful lot that I hadn’t expected to learn in the least; I was just trying to fill up that damn credit requirement. I guess you never know what’s going to happen, so long as you’re willing to dive in, give new things a try, and say ‘yes’ to uncomfortable territory.

Thanks, Nate.

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