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About That Novel

Jun 30th 2010: Thoughts, Travel

Need a place to write that novel? Consider Jerome, Arizona!

After receiving suggestions from a couple of blog readers to visit Sedona and its canyons, I arranged my tour to drive from Prescot to Sedona via this historic road, 89A. It was one of the most scenic drives on this trip to date. Following a curvy and treacherous road at at 20mph, wiggling itself along the deep edge of a beautiful, red-glowing canyon, I got to see a different side of Arizona. Always associating it with hot desert, cactus, and tumbleweed, I was surprised to
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The King is Dead, Long Live the King

May 24th 2010: Thoughts, Travel

A long plane ride will not only transport you from one world to another physically, but also mentally. By the time you arrive at your destination you have shed your old self in anticipation of the new environment, the new you. As you soak up your new experiences the old ones fade very quickly, feeling strangely far away. Once again in my old stomping ground, city by bay, city of light and fog, San Francisco, it is hard to believe I just spent the last three months in Buenos Aires. In Argentina. In South America. How quickly time passes. It both felt long and short. Being in a well known place I am both pleased to, for once, have familiar surroundings, but I also admit to missing the excitement of the foreign. So, looking back, what is the conclusion of this trip?
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So Very Hot

Apr 21st 2010: Thoughts, Travel

Wow. I’m on a high. It came from somewhere quite unexpected. But let me get back to that in a moment…

Boarding school had the clear disadvantage that, when the hormonal growing spurts of puberty hit you with an unearthly hunger at 2am, you would be stuck in a dormitory with a bunch of boys who didn’t know how to cook. You obviously being one of them. Without a kitchen and always strapped for cash we were required to leverage our low standards and our overexcited creativity. An illegal and as fire hazard classified water boiler dedicated to exclusively cooking cheap spaghetti together with the prepackaged tomato sauce became the nutritional source of choice to make it through the night. Even though the process was driven to a holy ritual and the result was sanctified, it was something that could only be recognized and classified as food at that particular age. Evaluating the pasta’s readiness for consumption required a long researched scientific test, a critical part of the procedure. A single spaghetti would be fished out of the pot and thrown with force against the ceiling. If it dropped back down we would have to endure our hunger for some more time, but if it stuck to the ceiling it was time to drain the bulk of the water, add the sauce mix, stir, and dig in. As the test spaghetti were rarely reclaimed, you might be able to imagine what some of the dormitory ceilings (and the corresponding water boilers) looked like towards the end of the semester.

Thanks to my current, unstructured lifestyle, I have come to realize that 24 hours, which never used to be anywhere near enough, can be rather long. Even embracing photography fulltime and working focused for an exhausting ten hours still leaves a good chunk of the day unallocated. As I am cursed with an relentlessly active ego craving to fill any void, I find myself creating lists of things to do and semi-useless skills to learn, often for no particular reason other than “wouldn’t it be cool if …” – a strange flashback to college days.

Reviewing my lists I came to realize that, 
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The Red Escape

Apr 12th 2010: Thoughts

(continuation from On a Roll)

Going to boarding school has clear advantages and disadvantages. On one side you are surrounded 24/7 by all the people you love, your best friends, you hang out, have fun, and you get to know everything about them. On the other side you are also surrounded 24/7 by all the people you dislike, or even hate, and you get to know everything about them, too. In my case the number of kids I disliked far outweighed the number of my friends. There is obvious value in growing a thick skin and learning to dealing with the unpleasant individuals in your life. I know that now. But as a child you don’t see it that way and so, throughout the years, you come up with creative ways to cope with those constant, forced interactions and the related stress. In 8th and 9th grade the darkroom was my escape. As head of the photo club I had full access to the school’s photo lab and so every Sunday morning I would get up, eat brunch in the cafeteria, and then disappear for several hours. Engulfed in dark red light, focused on the rather mechanical task of making small, 5×7 prints, with the radio playing soothingly in the background, all by myself for once, I was able to catch a break and just let go for a while.

Many things have changed over the years, but the darkroom has continued to be that very private and meditative escape. When you are there, the rest of world seizes to exist. In the red light you can barely see your current surroundings and all you are really left with are your photos, your music, and your thoughts. There is no rushing anything in there. The paper takes 1.5 minutes in the developer, 30 seconds in the stop bath, and 2 minutes in the fixer. And you cannot turn on the white light until it is in the fixer. So if you want to know if the print turned out the way you wanted to, and you do want to know, all you can do is wait in the dark and let your thoughts wander while the silver emulsion gradually changes.

As mentioned last week, I have been feeling a little stuck with the progress of my work.
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On a Roll

Apr 6th 2010: New Work, Thoughts

(or: unforeseen challenges of a novice artist)

Yesterday morning I had one of those holy-sh*t moments. One of those that catch you by surprise, early in the morning, just after you wake up, when you are too lazy to get out of bed and, because you are still a bit sleepy, you let your mind wonder to all sorts of random thoughts. Who am I? Why do I only count nine toes on my feet? Why is that kid upstairs crying again? Probably hungry. Why won’t they feed it? And what did they mean by the line “I used my imagination” in the movie last night? What do I need to do today? Wait, what day is it? It’s Sunday. Again? Already? How many Sundays have I had? Holy Sh*t! (<– there it is) It’s already the second Sunday since I started taking photos and the sixth Sunday since I got here. Really? Wow, it’s been six weeks in Buenos Aires and two working fulltime. Holy Sh*t! (<– there it is again) Have I actually accomplished anything? Time to do a progress review:

The last two weeks have been both rewarding and frustrating. The biggest challenge was the switch to doing nothing but photo related work. I am used to set schedules, clear deadlines, and tangible progress. And now, all of a sudden, there is none except for the little man with the top hat in the left (right?) half of my brain telling me: “you are here only for a few months, don’t waste this opportunity. You better have something solid at the end of the trip.” But what? I decided to commit myself fulltime so I can put together one or more bodies of work. But what those were about I had not determined. I figured I would come here and let myself be inspired. Well, turns out you cannot force inspiration. There is no way to say “I’ll be working creatively from 9-12, have lunch, and at around 1pm I will have a great epiphany guiding me for the rest of the week.” I had not thought this through.
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Doing Nothing … Apparently

Mar 24th 2010: Thoughts

Read this:

I like this blog post, because it really touches on some of the aspects of how artists work. Most importantly it’s not on the canvas, in the camera, in the recording room. It’s in the head. Now that I started working, I spend hours everyday just looking at the contact sheets of the photos taken so far in Buenos Aires, or at the photos I took last year and pinned up in my work room, or at photos or paintings or drawings of the people that inspire me. I want to discover more and think about how to make things happen in the next five rolls tonight. This is why I am doing “less.”

On Process, Part 1

Feb 24th 2010: Thoughts

I will tell you about my carne experience yesterday some other time. Just know it was good. Very good. Very, very good. Right now I want to take a few minutes to start a short series on the photographic creative process. My process to be precise. It’s all about me on this blog. This came in part from a discussion I had a little while ago and that kept me thinking and because I would like to document my process as it is right now for myself, because, as you know, processes change as they have to adapt themselves to new requirements. And this year is going to see some change.

In my mind photography should be broken down into the following, equally important steps:

  1. Taking photos (we call that “shooting”)
  2. Initial edit (we call that “initial edit”)
  3. Work print printing (…erm…)
  4. Final edit
  5. Final printing
  6. Exhibition (we call that “selling out”)

This fundamental division of steps can be applied to other arts as well. By the end of this series I also hope to have you convinced that all steps are equally important and cannot be skipped or half-a**ed. But for today I’ll focus on number one.

Taking Photos

I will skip over the technical aspects of how to take a good photo. There are about a billion blogs and books and classes and flickrers on the topic and whatever I’d tell you would probably not help you anyway. As one of my teachers used to say: “Your technique is always as good as it needs to be,” meaning if something bugs you and you don’t get the photo you want, you’ll figure it out. So go figure! What I find interesting is the mental mode you put yourself in when photographing. This is different for every person. Everyone has their own formula. This has changed a lot for me over the last few years and shall be discussed here.

Subject Oriented Shooting

I started off by looking for certain subjects, content (children, buildings, etc.) and then, once found, would build the image from there. I would also bitch about no earthquake or revolution or something similarly dramatic happening in San Francisco as that would clearly help with my artistic endeavor. How can you take interesting photos if there is nothing interesting to take the photo of? So the photos were subject oriented.

My Funnies series is an example, though I did it at a later point and form had become more important. But I think it gets the point across. Like the image above. Note that for certain types of photography this subject driven approach is critical (like documentary, editorial, and advertisement for example) so there is no value judgement here. But let’s keep focusing on me: I then discovered form and modernism in particular and everything changed.

Brain Driven Modernism

As I learnt about form and shape, I fully embraced modernism and the work of my heroes, such as Andre Kertesz, Saul Leiter, Harry Callahan, Ralph Gibson, and others (I’ll have to do a full post on these guys at some point). The subject of the photo started to move to the background, but not disappear, and I focused on putting images together. Like the photo above from the Chicago series. It obviously is of buildings and some metallic structure (the L if you must know), but the photo is all about the shapes, lines, light, and dark and the space all of them create in the context of the buildings.

I did that for several years, going off on different tangents. I would go out and search for a subject matter like “light and shadow”, “buildings”, etc. and build my image from the shapes and forms I observed. While in this stage I went into a few different directions like more organic vs. inorganic shapes and similar, but I won’t bore you with those. All of my following series were done during this time: Days at Peace, Dream Capture, and Chicago. I call this Brain Driven Modernism, because I still consciously approached my subject matter and consciously put the visual elements together to an image. The Public Affair series became a transitional series into the current phase.

Subconscious Something

This is my current way of working. I don’t have a better description for it as I am still in the middle of it and am still figuring out what it means and how it works. Hindsight is always 20/20. Well, I’m at 20/200 here and need glasses. But here is what I know. And it’s exciting. At the end of last year I started shooting without thinking about the subject matter at all. I would eliminate distractions by turning off my cell phone and putting on my headphones with familiar music blasting, and then slowly walk the city at night. Walk REALLY slowly and you’ll see everything!

I react to the visuals I see. Something in me tells me to take a photo of that, exactly that, and nothing else, and I do it. As I said, I still need glasses and can’t explain it better. But here’s an example: I once walked down a street passing at least 20 cars with 20 more to come. I looked at each of them (remember? I walk slowly) and then one stuck out. To be more precise the hubcap did and wanted to be photographed. I obeyed and it turned into a wonderful photo (above). And that’s how it goes all the time.

You end up taking photos of pretty much anything that appeals. And the crazy thing is that the images, regardless of subject, work together. No longer are the groups of photos of e.g. buildings, or the city, or people on the street, so of a given subject. Now a photo of a guy’s greasy hair is next to an empty store in Chinatown next to something metallic but you don’t even know what it is. It’s not that the subject is not important – the greasy hair guy photo is still also about exactly how nasty greasy the hair gets. But it’s also about an emotional layer I lack the words to explain. The work is held together by that deeper, personal subconscious something that wants to get out (and also by some technical consistency). And for the first time my work is truly important to me. When I saw the first prints I knew immediately that these are the photos I always wanted to take. No joke.

Everything before has lead me to this and I couldn’t have gotten here without the other projects. Before I ramble on and on, because trust me: I could… for a long time…, let me only tell you that I am excited, that this is only the beginning, and that this is why I am taking a year off: because I want to know where this leads. This has been started with my Provoked series.

Oh, and if someone asks what I do (since I was unable to provide clarity in this post), do what I do: shrug your shoulders, say you don’t really know, mumble something about modern abstract photography, and say “but it looks really, really cool.”

If you made it all the way here to the end you are probably either related or a good sport and are either way humoring me. But I hope it was at least somewhat interesting. And you shall be rewarded with a few more Buenos Aires photos below. Boy, I need a serveza now – my mouth is sandpaper dry from all he writing…