“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.”
I agree with this quote. In my experience, I think that I often photograph things that everybody sees – things that everybody sees all the time. I often photograph things that are so common, so banal, so boring that even though we see them all the time, we never notice them. My trick is to add focus and direction to how I photograph these subjects, so that people can see them anew.
“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.”
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.
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever. It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
Nothing is boring to look at if viewed from the proper perspective. I could walk around town, all the live-long day on one of my “urban hikes” and never be bored. Recently, I’ve been circling around the neighborhood – walking the dead or visiting the grocery store – and I continue to be astonished by the interesting things I’ve missed the previous dozen times I’ve walked the exact same route.
It’s an enjoyable sensation, to be so easily amazed. And it took a lot of training.
“The essential function of art is moral. But a passionate, implicit morality, not didactic. A morality which changes the blood, rather than the mind.”
~D. H. Lawrence
The intention of abstract art, especially, isn’t the intention of civilizing or moralizing. It’s ambiguous, and speaks to each person differently. Sometimes the themes and the tone are obvious, but not always. Sometimes, it’s color and texture and light, on a print or canvas, and we have to be active participants, making up our own minds about how it makes us feel, what it reminds us of, and what – if any – significance it carries.
Somebody designed it. Somebody dug the ore out of the ground. Somebody smelted the ore to separate the metal from other materials. It was liquefied and molded, painted and installed. It’s just a simple latch – nothing more and nothing less. But the material likely circled the world a couple of times before it wound up affixed to the back of a delivery truck on the loading dock of a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona.
And I really do find it kind of remarkable – the sheer complexity of it. I also think that there’s an elegant beauty to all of the little things we, collectively, have invented, designed, assembled, and put to use. The average person doesn’t understand how tumblers work in a simple door lock, and I saw an incredible TED Talk where the presenter asked people in the audience to please illustrate precisely how a zipper works. These are things we use every single day, and we take them completely for granted.
Take a closer look at the objects you interact with every single day, and think about where they came from, and how they came to be in your possession. You might just appreciate what you have a little bit more, and you might just find yourself marveling at how we, as a species, have arranged our world.
Abstract April is going to be a blast, I can already tell. I’ve been going on long walks at the end of the day, camera in hand and music in my ears. There’s so much to explore, so many little details to examine – I don’t imagine I’ll struggle to find new things to share with you every day.
Because these are abstract compositions, it will be a bit of challenge to write about them. Abstract art, after all, is less didactic and more open to interpretation. I wouldn’t want to direct anybody’s interpretation or experience by influencing them with my words. The instant I explain how an image makes me feel, or reveal specifically what the object photographed is, it takes the question away – and I think that one of the joys of abstract art is that it asks more questions than it answers, and it motivates us to find our own unique answer.
So be prepared for brevity. This month is all about the image, very little about the written word.
For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of this small town. Somewhere about a hundred and fifty miles south of the port of entry in Naco Arizona (Naco Sonora). Cracked facades and faded paint jobs are common in these little towns. On the surface, these places appear inhospitable – and I’ve heard plenty of horror stories – but I’ve never had a negative experience in these places. People are friendly, the bodega owners are more than happy to take your money, and there’s always at least one fantastic restaurant or taco cart.
When traveling through the smaller villages in Mexico, there’s no “I just need to find a McDonalds” option. You pretty much have to trust the local food. Either that, or eat nothing but flamin’ hot cheetos and drink nothing but coca cola. And what’s the fun in that?
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
There are lots of clichés to either avoid or embrace when developing one’s own photographic style. Portraits with the horizontal bands of light from window blinds raking across the subjects face, looking for garbage on the ground and trying to find the ‘beauty’ in it, and then of course there’s always graffiti. And this is just to name a few.
I guess my weakness is graffiti. Almost like compiling a mix tape, photographing graffiti is like appropriating somebody else’s art in order to express yourself. Knowing that it’s a common subject in college photography classes, I was always keen to try and document graffiti in a way that combined the tagger’s artistic sensibilities with my own. Not entirely sure how successful I’ve been – it’s always a challenge, evaluating your own work – but I’m quite fond of how this image turned out.
On the south side of Tucson, where faded murals and rusted boxcars sit under the desert sun, I always know where to go to find interesting textures to photograph. I hope you enjoy today’s picture of the day.
I can’t really justify it, and I typically don’t spend a terrible amount of time at home mapping-out symbolism and structure to my series, but that’s just the way it goes. On the surface it might sound unwise, haphazard, and foolish for a visual artist to operate almost entirely from instinct – and that’s probably an accurate assessment. But I hate the stuffy pretensions and relentless insistence that everything has to mean a specific thing. I’ve never been the kind of creator that felt the need to bludgeon his audience with ideas of how they ought to feel about the images he makes.
Half the time I don’t even have a vague idea why I’m drawn to certain types of imagery. I walk around with my camera discover interesting objects and textures, and I make pictures of them. Over time, themes bubble to the surface and I spend some time looking at these themes and I try just as hard as anybody else might – probably harder – to try and figure out what it is that draws me to certain subjects.
Electrical boxes, storefronts, garbage bins, and gas meters? They attract me. Could they be symbols of our interconnectedness – interlocking roadways, an electrical grid, a dependence on natural gas? Maybe that’s what it is. Is it the uniform right angles, the unnatural ninety-degree angle that divides us from the rest of the natural world? Sure. Why not, right? Whatever the seed is for this curiosity, I find these things incredibly fascinating, and I’ve been thinking about them and photographing them for over a decade.