creative legacy

Memorable Quotes- Jerry Uelsmann & Duane Michals

There are a many thoughtful photographers out there who speak eloquently about their work and photography in general, but few are as inspiring as Jerry Uelsmann and Duane Michals. (I could list more, like Kip Fulbeck, for instance, but will limit myself for now.) Last month I attended the Society for Photographic Education's national conference, where 82-year old Uelsmann was a featured speaker. Here are a few of the more memorable things he said:

"I asked an historian, "What IS history?", and he answered, "History amounts to those things that you choose to remember."

"The camera is a license to explore."

"The viewer always completes the image."

"Art is one of those areas where there is more than one right answer."

"Once you think you know everything, the questioning stops."

And perhaps my favorite: "I don't want this presentation to be a snore-fest with yawn-sauce on the side."

Michals, who is now 85, was equally entertaining and challenging when I heard him speak at the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2000. Here are some of his most memorable lines:

"Do not try to be perfect, please. Perfect is boring. Your humanity lies in your vulnerability."

"Pay attention to your mind. You put crap in your mind, you get crap in your life. You put good things in your mind, you get good things in your life."

"I think about thinking."

"Don't come crying to me because nothing happened. Nothing happened because you didn't make it happen."

"You have 2 choices in life: doing and bullshit. Don't tell me what you are going to do. Show me what you have done."

"Guess when you were born? You were born now."

When golfer Arnold Palmer died in 2016, it was written of him, "People loved him because, in a world of sullen superstars, Palmer radiated joy and delight in the treasures of his life... He had a wonderful time being Arnold Palmer and squeezed every drop of juice from the experience." The same can be said about Uelsmann and Michals, both giants of 20th century photography.

My Photographic Archives- What to Do With Them? (Part 4)

Because I've recently been thinking and writing a lot about what happens to artwork when an artist dies (don't worry, I'm perfectly healthy), I've been researching why artwork gets archived, how it gets organized, recorded and stored, and things to think about when creating a plan for one's archives. Finding solid helpful information was challenging at first. It wasn't until I started using search terms like "estate planning for visual artists" that I began finding items that I felt could usefully guide me towards finding answers to my questions.

What follows are a few of the best sources I could find:

Etched in Memory: Legacy Planning for Artists (An online resource that has a ton of resources listed on this topic.)

A Visual Artist's Guide to Estate Planning

Artists' Studio Archives website (This has a great page of handouts from "how to" workshops that they have offered.)

Artist's Estates: Reputations in Trust (This is a book that outlines what happened to a number of 20th C. artists' works after they died.)

Estate Planning Guide and Career Documentation Workbook (from the Joan Mitchell Foundation- both were updated in Feb. 2015)

After reading a number of the above items, I'll be honest- it's enough to make your head explode, even for someone like me who is crazily detail-oriented. I now realize that, for artists, there are two major things to think about when it comes to estate planning: 1. your artwork, and 2. everything else. Holy crap! At least I've got a fairly up-to-date inventory of my artwork, so that's a start.

Be that as it may, I'm very clear that I do NOT want to burden my family with having to figure out what to do with my artwork once I am gone. Given that, I have to get my act together in order to create a plan that relieves them of that task. I'm glad to now have some guidance for doing that.

Thank You, Prince

Yet another genius of popular music has died. The fact that Prince and David Bowie died within months of each other does not feel random to me. Two people who lived and breathed their art, always seeking for different ways to express themselves, both of whom marched to their own beat and who died far too young. Photograph by Planton Antoniou

The New Yorker magazine published an article that outlined some of the many reasons for why Prince was so respected by his peers and fans alike.

And here is an excerpt from an interview Prince did with Jim Walsh from the Minneapolis Post:

“I am music. I feel music. When I walk around, I hear brand new things. You're almost cursed. You're not even (its maker), you're just there to bring it forth. You know, ‘Can't I go to sleep?’ No. You can't. But OK, now you can. And you go to sleep, and you don't hear it, and then you're lonely. No one wants to be on Earth alone.”

 He spoke for all artists with those words.

Walsh wrote, “…that’s what we mourn today — the loss of an eternal seeker, which all great artists are at heart.” Our world is left less colorful, less vibrant, and diminished by his passing.

Thank you, Prince, for all the gifts you gave us.

My Photographic Archives- What to Do With Them? (Part 2)

My last post addressed the fact that I have been thinking a lot lately about what will happen to my photographs after I am gone. I have not come to any firm conclusions yet, so stay tuned. But there was an article in the New York Times recently about Bob Dylan's archives which interested me. It didn't provide me with any potential solutions to my own problem, but it was great food for thought.

The Dylan archive, which was recently acquired by a group of institutions in Oklahoma, consists of over 6,000 items which include lyrics, notebooks, correspondence, recordings, films and photographs. Apparently no one had known prior to this that his archives were so extensive, and the Times' article discusses what a treasure trove it will be for researchers:

"With voluminous drafts from every phase of Mr. Dylan's career, the collection offers a comprehensive look at the working process of a legendarily secretive artist. ... The range of hotel stationary suggests an obsessive self-editor in constant motion."

Apparently, the archives were formed by simple accumulation over the years, and then placed in storage. Dylan eventually hired an archivist, who started the process of organizing everything before it was offered for sale.

One of the most intriguing questions posed by the article was whether other rock artists of the 60's and 70's will follow in Dylan's footsteps when it comes to their archives. Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen's manager, noted "the disconnect between the needs of professional archivists and the culture of rock in the 1960's. "Was anyone sitting around worrying about this kind of thing back then?", he said. "We were living in the era of 'Hope I die before I get old.'" It's my guess that very few of the giants of rock from that era would have such an extensive collection of items as Bob Dylan has. And I wonder how many artists from all media think about something like this?

Finally, the article mentions that, despite the large volume of items that make up his archive, it reveals very little about Dylan the man that is not already known. Since Dylan is known for being obsessively private, that does not surprise me. It makes me wonder if he edited out anything that referred to his personal life so that it would never see the light of day.

All of this brings up the question of what exactly would be valuable to include in one's archive. In my case, just "final" photographs that were published or exhibited? All of my negatives and contact sheets and RAW digital files with nothing edited out? Technical notes? Work prints? Correspondence with galleries, curators, museums, fellow artists? Personal journals? Bob Dylan is a seminal artist in his field, who has influenced his medium in profound ways. I am not such an artist in my field. It makes sense to me that what would be included in a valuable archive of an artist of Dylan's stature would be quite different from what would be included in mine. But.... maybe not?

The question of what to include is an challenging one because it of course means that you would be editing the items, unless you were to include absolutely everything you ever created or did. And in editing the items, you would be creating a specific picture of yourself as an artist that might be different than the one others would get if left unedited.

And, if you are not a Bob Dylan or an Ansel Adams or a Sally Mann, then who are you creating an archive for? Where would it be housed? Who would have  access to it? Who would be interested in it? Why create one at all?

So many questions, and so few answers, at least for now.

My Photographic Archives- What To Do With Them? (Part 1)

I have no good answer for the question posed in the title of this post. But I've been thinking a lot about it lately. The first time I ever stopped to think about what to do with one's photographic archives was back in 1990. I blogged about this story back in 2013, but I want to return to it now, as it is a good lead-in to upcoming posts that I will write about concerning this topic.

A couple of days after moving into our house, I saw a moving van parked across the street. Two men were taking out all the furniture from a house whose elderly owner had died a few weeks before. Her relatives had sold the entire contents of the house to an estate buyer, and they had come to empty it out.

Among the items lined up for removal was what I recognized as a standing slide file cabinet. Because I was badly in need of one at that point in time, I went across the street to take a closer look. I saw that each drawer was labeled with the locations and dates of what clearly had been trips the deceased had taken. "Nepal, 1972", "California, 1958", "Canada, 1966". I pulled open one of the drawers, and there they were, slide after slide after slide of this woman's life in pictures. I realized with a start that no one wanted them, that they were going to be thrown away, as if those trips and that woman's life had never happened. There was an entire life's history there, and it was going to be tossed. The realization made me feel awful.

The movers asked me if I wanted the cabinet, telling me to just make an offer and I could have it, as it would be one less thing for them to move. But I couldn't.

I knew that if I bought it, I would be the one to throw away those slides, and even if I filled it up and used it for years, the memory of her slides and her forgotten life would linger on. And so would the guilt I would feel.

I know that my potential sense of guilt wasn't rational. But that incident started me thinking about how we deal (or don't) with the photographic records of our lives. What do I want to save for future generations- my artwork, my family photos, both? Will future generations even care? Should my records be saved in print or digitally? Who archives them? Where will they be housed?

I'm working on the answers to these questions because I want to consciously decide what happens to my own archive of creative work. I want to make sure that it will live on in some fashion. And I don't want my printed photographs and hard drives out on the curb one day, waiting for the trash collector, just because I couldn't make a decision about what to do with them.

All artists are faced with this question, and all of us answer it in different ways. But it is important to come up with some kind of answer, if we don't want to see our work disappear from the face of the earth at the same time that we do.

Thoughts on Legacy

I was asked the other day what I thought my creative legacy was. Never having been asked that question before, I was stumped for an answer. The next day, I found this excerpt from a novel which resonated for me as it relates to the question of one's legacy: "Everyone must leave something behind when he dies. It doesn't matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it, into something that's like you after you take your hands away."

~ from the novel Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Thoughts on Our Photographic Archives- #2

I'm certainly not the first person to wonder how the unimaginably vast archive of digital photographs currently being generated will be preserved into the future. The issue of preserving photographs has been with us since photography first appeared on the scene in 1839. But the issue of archiving became more pressing once George Eastman invented roll film in the late 19th century and people could take many pictures in a relatively short space of time. The advent of the snapshot meant that people started generating many prints of family outings and events. These prints were sometimes put into albums, but often just relegated to some shoebox, unlabeled and forgotten until the family either moved or the house was cleaned out.

Back in 1978, author John D. MacDonald wrote a novel titled "The Empty Copper Sea", in which the following passage appeared:

"Long ago a picture must have been an event. Capturing a living image has become too ordinary a miracle, perhaps. They go about with their automatic-drive Nikons and OM-2's and their Leicaflexes, and put their finger on the button, and the hand-held machinery makes a noise like a big toy cricket. Reep, reep, reep, reep. A billion billion slides, projected once, labeled, and filed forever. Windrows of empty yellow boxes blow across the Gobi, the Peruvian highlands, the temple steps at Chichicastenango. The clicking and whirring and clacking is the background sound at the Acropolis, at the beach at Cannes, on the slopes at Ville-franche. All the bright people, stopped in the midst of life, looking with forced fading as the years pass, caught there in slide trays, stack loads, view cubes, until one day the camera person dies and the grandchild says: "Mom, I don't know any of these people. Or where these were taken even. There are jillions of them here in this big box and more in the closet. What will I do with them anyway?"

"Throw them out, dear."

Prior to the digital age, pictures were physical things, objects one could hold on one's hand. Now, most people don't make prints and our visual histories are more ephemeral and at risk than ever. Just as historians worry about the future of the written record, so also should we be concerned about the future of our visual records. If the entire visual history of an individual exists purely digitally, what are the chances that those images will exist 100 years from now, or even 20? And what will be lost if they are lost?

Inventory Database for Artists

I've been a pretty organized person over the years when it comes to my art career. But when it comes to keeping track of everything, I finally realized how great it would be if I could keep most records in one place. I've got folders on my computer that contain Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, FileMaker databases, etc., and I'm constantly having to dig through those files in order to cross reference the information in them. In addition, I've been using Excel for my inventory database, but have been frustrated by its limitations. The following images give a visual of what I'm talking about: Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 8.52.51 AM Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 8.54.41 AM Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 8.55.50 AM

You can imagine how many files are contained within these folders. Kind of crazy.

I was aware of inventory software for artists such as Flick! and eArtist, but after looking into them further, decided that they weren't for me.

Then I discovered GYST software. GYST stands for "Get Your Sh*t Together".

Created by artist and educator Karen Atkinson, GYST does far more than even the most fanatically organized person could ever need, which is one reason why I love it. Here's a screenshot of an individual artwork record in GYST. Note that you can add detailed information into any of the blue tabs found in the middle of the window: Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 7.40.47 PMAnd if you want to look at your entire database of artwork, it will show up as a list like this: Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 7.33.35 PMYou can pick and choose which features you want to use in GYST. Not only will it allow you to keep your inventory up to date, it will also help you keep track of any proposals you may have out, artist's statements, your resume, contacts, research notes, billing, etc., and it's all found in one place on your computer. Heaven!

Check out the GYST blog, as it's a great resource for professional practices information.

I should add that my only beef with any of the above-named inventory databases is that they are not particularly intuitive or user-friendly, so there is a definite learning curve involved at first. If someone could come up with one that is relatively easy to use from the get-go, I would not hesitate to use it.