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

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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

The Spanish Trail – Tucson ‘Eyesore’ Getting A Facelift?

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History isn’t always pretty, but it occasionally gets a second chance.

This historic structure has long been considered a blemish on the face of this otherwise dusty, hideous wasteland of a city. Over the years, dozens of complaints have been filed for The Spanish Trail motel, a deteriorating mid-century hotel held together by cracked paint and inertia. Conveniently hovering over Interstate 10 along the edge of the city of South Tucson, it gives any newcomers from the east a fairly accurate impression of Tucson. I stumbled across an article today, however, indicating that a couple of investors have purchased the property and intend to breathe some new life into it.

In it’s own time, The Spanish Trail was a well-known destination. In the 1960’s and 70’s, live music & theater – and a Hollywood clientele – drew an eclectic crowd. Professional staff lived on-site in a series of duplexes north of the resort and the property boasted luxurious amenities. Today, of course, the housing has been replaced by a steel yard; the golf course, lagoon, running track, and cactus garden are gone.

This is where movie stars like John Wayne and Michael Landon lived (and visited) while working at Old Tucson Studios. The large area that still survives, a space-aged-looking concrete rotunda, was the Dinner Show Lounge. Time, vacancy, and a structure fire have left little to appreciate.

Despite how unkind the past few decades have been, the new owners have expressed an interest in redeveloping the property into permanent affordable housing, with an emphasis on providing homes for veterans.

There’s no set timeline for the forthcoming renovations, but I’ll be curious to see what happens to the old 70-foot sign. As always, other peoples’ eyesore is, to my twisted eye, a fascinating and beautiful relic.

April 18, 2017 – Abstract Solar Plate

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“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
~Albert Einstein

This is a scan of a solar plate I produced in a printmaking class about ten years ago. The object itself, I find, holds my interest and wonder more than the prints that I drew from the plate. After being inked and pressed to make a series of prints, the stained metal plate had all of these lovely textures that just didn’t translate onto the paper prints.

The base image? Pretty boring. The aluminum louvers of window blinds, a photograph taken of a shop window while in Bisbee, Arizona during a New Year’s trip with my girlfriend at the time. This is precisely why I love photography – a casual image can be twisted, turned, processed, manipulated into something entirely different. Experimenting with printmaking and photography – both film and digital – and looking at the world through the camera lens, I have learned a whole new way of looking at the world and appreciating it.

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February 14, 2017 – The Rose

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What else but a flower would work for Valentine’s Day?

I’ve never really been interested in this holiday. External pressure to shell out some cash to show your significant other that you love them – as though it wouldn’t be more spontaneous and romantic to do that on any other day of the calendar year. I’ve never had much luck with this holiday, and never much appreciated long lines at restaurants and the procession of perpetually dissatisfied partners; when expectations are artificially inflated by marketers, it’s hard to clear the bar.

Maybe that’s just me, though.

This year was a little different, I must admit. My lovely girlfriend seems to share my attitude toward Valentine’s Day, which is a first. We both had to work today, and we both seem to feel the same about crowded restaurants and bullshit expectations. We spent some quiet time together and watched a couple of movies, and I had the best Valentine’s Day I think I’ve ever had as an adult.

This image is one of her favorites from my archive, so it makes perfect sense to share it all with you today. I hope you like it and, despite my antipathy, I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day!

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February 08, 2017 – An Antique Land

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The difficulty with making anything that could even closely be mistaken for art is that art is entirely subjective. We live in a highly interconnected world, and there are volumes of online videos, written articles, marketing books, and web pages dedicated to “hacking” yourself into financial success. That’s fine, except it reduces art to a craft – identify your niche in the market, and then do nothing but the same thing, over and over and over again until it’s time to retire.

There’s a lot of beautiful work made by incredibly talented people who adopt this model of marketing, but I can’t quite seem to hop aboard. I don’t want to sit down, do some social media research, and then spend the rest of my life making different versions of the same picture. I suppose this is why I haven’t ever struck it rich as a creative professional – but I’m definitely satisfied when I finish a piece.

This is the newest image in a series that I started about a decade ago, called ‘An Antique Land,’ a line borrowed from Percy Shelley’s poem. To me, this series of architectural ‘portraits’ taps into the impermanence of our communities. But I prefer not to comment much beyond that; I don’t like to tell people what to think about this kind of work. My interpretation, or my intent, doesn’t imbue this images with significance. I like the idea of people looking at this kind of work and bringing their own ideas to the table.

Until next time, folks. I’ll be seeing you soon.

“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”
Diane Arbus

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February 21 – Manhole Cover

02-21 Manhole Cover post“The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.”

~Lucian Freud

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Film February continues with yet another recurring theme in the pantheon of old subject matter. Some people miss out on what’s going on around them because they stare at their shoes rather than look around. There’s nothing wrong with staring at the ground, if you ask me – there’s a lot going on there.

As I’ve mentioned in previous entries to this project, street photographer Aaron Siskind played a major role in inspiring a younger version of myself. Seeking out interesting compositions in mundane places became something of a game. While interning at The Center For Creative Photography in Tucson, I also became deeply fascinated by a photographer named Minor White, who also had a tendency to isolate seemingly normal, everyday objects and somehow manage to make them alien, interesting, unique.

There is definitely something magical about working in black-and-white film.

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