editing

Finding Your Audience: The MVS Master Class in Tucson

I attended the Mary Virginia Swanson Master Class in Marketing in Tucson, AZ, last month. It was amazing- jam-packed with more information than I could begin to describe here. It covered the role of the photobook in an artist's career, how to work with galleries, the role of portfolio reviews, the importance of editing one's work, how curators and gallerists find artists, correct archiving of photographic prints, and far more. We were honored to have people like photographer and editor Joan Liftin, photobook artist Philip Zimmermann, gallery owner Terry Etherton, independent curator Trudy Wilner Stack, and photographer Susan Burnstine contribute to the experience, along with many others. In addition, the class was able to take early-morning hikes into the mountains surrounding Tucson to contemplate the sunrise before the day's work began. Most of all, it was wonderful to share work and thoughts with the other participants and get to know each other.

What were my biggest takeaways?

• The success of your portfolio is dependent primarily on your clarity of vision as expressed in the work, and the quality of its technical execution.
• The many options for keeping your work in the public eye.
• The importance of consistency in how you market your work.

The following images provide a small glimpse into the experience. Besides the sunrise shot, the center image shows Janet Huston discussing her work with Mary Virginia Swanson, Tillman Crane, and Lee Welke Bass. The image on the right shows Lisa Nebenzahl, Anna LaBenz, Sonja Rieger, Sirous Partovi.

My Photographic Archives- What to Do With Them? (Part 3)

I decided to do some research on the nature and purpose of photographic archives recently, and came upon a blog post titled "What Does a Photograph Archivist Do?" by Marguerite Roby, the photographic archivist for the Smithsonian Institution Archives. In it, she described her job as follows: "The images that make up the collection in my particular care are memories of artifacts, exhibits, events, and people that tell the story of this institution. To me, memories are like undeveloped film. They become useless when they are not articulated or developed in a way that makes them meaningful to an audience. Memories are also prone to distortion over time, so it’s paramount to record them so that the stories they tell become a resource for future generations... It is my job to see to the preservation of the physical images as well to capture and preserve the meaning behind them so they remain relevant over time."

That's one of the best explanations I have found for why archives exist. They serve to keep the record straight for future generations. They provide context for those people in the future who seek to understand the past. They provide a connection to who and what has gone before. And from that standpoint, it doesn't matter if you are someone as important in their field as Bob Dylan, or someone whose name will never be known to the masses. Everyone plays a role in the fabric of life, and preserving those stories is important.

I also came across a list of criteria to consider when thinking about what to include in an  archive:

  1. The purpose of the archive
  2. The uniqueness of an item
  3. The quality of an item
  4. The amount of documented information about an item that is available
  5. Whether an item is too private or personal to include

Those points can help serve as guidelines to answering some of the questions that I have had about archiving my artwork, and the best place to start is to try figure out what the purpose of my archives would be.

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.

More Thoughts on Editing

I am currently in the midst of editing down a large number of photographs into a coherent series. It is an overwhelming task at times, as the sheer volume of images (about 1,300 to be specific) can't be dealt with all at once. This is something that will take time, as my goal is to end up with between 35-70 pictures total. I find that it really helps to edit in small doses, and taking a lot of breaks helps. Sometimes I need to step away from the work for a couple of days in order to recover from the visual overload. DSC_0225But editing, as I've written before, is so important to my creative process that I would never dream of hurrying it up. This was brought home to me when I read an article titled "The Creative Process" in the July/August, 2014 issue of The Atlantic magazine. In it, creative people in a range of fields were asked about "the inspiration and evolution of their work." The whole article was very interesting, but the section that featured short story author Lydia Davis was downright fascinating.

Davis, who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2013, described what her life was like in the fall of 1973 and how she approached her writing early in her career. There followed the first draft of one of the stories she wrote at that time, "In a House Besieged":

"In a house besieged lived a man and a woman, with two dogs and two cats. There were mice there too, but they were not acknowledged. From the kitchen where they cowered in the man and woman heard small explosions. "The wind," said the woman. "Hunters," said the man. "Smoke," said the woman. "The army," said the man. The woman wanted to go home, but she was already at home, there in the middle of the country in a house besieged, in a house that belonged to someone else."

And then appeared the final draft:

"In a house besieged lived a man and a woman. From where they cowered in the kitchen the man and woman heard small explosions. "The wind," said the woman. "Hunters," said the man. "The rain," said the woman. "The army," said the man. The woman wanted to go home, but she was already home, there in the middle of the country in a house besieged."

What grace the final version has! What clarity, what elegance. Proof positive that excellent editing can strengthen the fruits of one's creative labors. In the final draft, there are no extraneous words that could distract from the message of the whole. Davis has cut out unnecessary details so that the point of the piece is more easily comprehended. The final version causes the reader to ask questions about what the implications of the story are, instead of answering every question the reader might have had. When editing, what is excluded often determines the strength and meaning of what is included.

And that is exactly the task at hand for me in my editing work. Exactly how many photographs need to be included in order for a sequence of pictures to be maximally strong? Which pictures should be included/excluded? What order should they be in? Those are the questions foremost on my mind as I work through the task at hand.

Artists I Like- Lucas Foglia

In his series "A Natural Order", Lucas Foglia turns his camera towards people who live off the grid as much as possible. He says about his subjects: "They do not wholly reject the modern world. Instead, they step away from it and choose the parts that they want to bring with them."LucasFoglia_NaturalOrder_184 While some images depict the interior or exterior of his subjects' dwellings, the photographs I find most compelling are those of the people themselves. The photos that I am posting here are therefore an edit of a body of work that was obviously already edited by the creator.LucasFoglia_NaturalOrder_374

Any reader of this blog knows that I find editing to be one of the most creative aspects of being a photographer. LucasFoglia_NaturalOrder_053Whether it is in-camera editing (done by deciding what to include or exclude from the frame), or post-shooting editing (including deciding which images are the "best, what order they should appear in, what kind of manipulation they should undergo in order to enhance what's already going on in them, etc.), I really like that part of the process. LucasFoglia_NaturalOrder_443It demands critical thinking, problem-solving, looking very closely at everything.

I think that Luca Foglia does an excellent job at both in-camera and post-shooting editing. His photographs are thought-provoking and powerful.

Artists I Like- Vivian Maier

The Cincinnati Fotofocus Bienniel 2014 happened last month and I spent a considerable amount of time going to some of the exhibits that were up. Among the many that I liked, the show of Vivian Maier's work stood out for many reasons.vi finding-images-slide-OCW9-jumbo For those readers who are unfamiliar with her work, Maier was a nanny who worked primarily for families in Chicago. She was also a passionate photographer who would frequently go out into the streets with her Rolleiflex. She was a complete unknown until after she died in 2009, when her boxes of negatives were bought at auction and the images brought to the attention of others via exposure on the internet.

 

vivian_20Roberta Smith, in a NY Times review wrote that Maier's work "may add to the history of 20th-century street photography by summing it up with an almost encyclopedic thoroughness, veering close to just about every well-known photographer you can think of, including Weegee, Robert Frank and Richard Avedon, and then sliding off in another direction. Yet they maintain a distinctive element of calm, a clarity of composition and a gentleness characterized by a lack of sudden movement or extreme emotion."

Those sentiments sum up exactly what I was thinking when I saw this show. But I also couldn't help thinking how unique this exhibit was, in that the artist herself had no hand in it. The prints were not made by Maier, nor were they made under her supervision. The curator chose the images, the mats, and the frames, and specified in what order they would appear. It's rare that an exhibit happens under these kinds of circumstances, where the hand of the artist appears solely at the front end of the creative process.elle-vivian-maier-street-photography-8-de (As an aside, E. J. Bellocq's Storyville Portraits series and Eugene Atget's  photographs of turn-of-the-century Paris come to mind as other examples of this relatively rare phenomenon.)

In Maier's case, I couldn't help wondering if these images would have been those that the artist herself would have chosen to show us. What would she have picked instead? What themes would she have emphasized? As it was, the show was heavy on self-portraits and photographs of wealthy women in urban settings. It was fascinating to feel that Maier was not judging these women (ala Weegee), but rather observing them and presenting them to us for our own interpretation. I also vivian-maier-selfdidn't feel that she was comparing herself to them directly, although the juxtaposition of seeing her in the self-portraits with these other women led the viewer in that direction.

The exhibit was very powerful and moving, and I spent a lot of time there thinking once again about the role that editing plays in creating meaning in artwork.

 

Artists I Like- Diego Goldberg

Yet another entry in the "long-term project" list: The Arrow of Time project by Argentinian photographer Diego Goldberg. Every year on June 17, Goldberg and his family members make an individual head-and-shoulders portrait of him-or-herself and place them on a timeline. 1976. Diego and Susy.

Over the years, the timeline has expanded to include the addition of spouses, children and grandchildren as they were born.

1984. Diego, Susy, Nicolas, Matias, Sebastian.

One of the most interesting aspects of this project is that the pictures are presented vertically, thus allowing the viewer to look at the face of only one person at a time through the years. At the same time that the viewer's eyes take this in, one is still completely aware of the other faces on the periphery of one's vision. It's almost as if the others are lurking, daring you to see them.

2014. Diego, Susy, Nicolas, Matias, Sebastian.

Another aspect of this work that intrigues me is the singularity of the family members. They relate to each other only because each photograph in any given year is placed adjacent to the others, not because they coexist in the same physical space the way that Nicholas Nixon's "The Brown Sisters" do. Goldberg and his family members each stare out at the viewer, giving us no sense of their connection to each other.

This project is a great example of how the presentation of photographs can create meaning, and how repetition can do the same.

 

Work-in-Progress- 11/11/13

Today is Veteran's Day in the United States, a day that I have paid deep attention to ever since I worked on the Tears of Stone project. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the Armistice was signed that ended the "war to end all wars". Or so they thought.... and hoped. Here is one last excerpt from Stone Work, the book by John Jerome that I have been quoting here recently, and which relates to my approach to my current as-yet-unrealized project. I could have written these words myself:

“I haven’t learned to let go of the need to control, direct, keep the canoe (or anything else) pointed straight: the westernized, apollonian requirement that one master things, apply more power. I keep fiddling with the throttle.

            Of course I like effort, but that is not a sufficient excuse. I like effortlessness more, or claim to. What I like most is the search for that, for the effortless way, for those little physical moments when it goes just right: epiphanies, again. What I like best about stone work is working at it slowly and carefully, figuring out how to get the stones and get them into place with never the strain of a heavy lift. I like trying to make stone work effortless, which is satisfactorily impossible, and therefore endless, task. You can put a lot of effort into finding the effortless way.” (Jerome 135-136)

Artists I Like- Myoung Ho Lee

Sometimes I ask myself why I seem to take the most complex, difficult route towards creating my work. Then I see the work of someone who has also taken a work-intensive route towards their work and I am gratified that I am not alone. Myoung Ho Lee, a Korean artist, created his "Tree" series by constructing a custom-built white panel that is set up behind a tree of his choice, and then photographs the tree and its surrounding environment. This approach requires a team of people and equipment that would stop most people in their tracks before ever getting started. large-mhl-06His pictures confront the viewer with the reality of the tree and its environment, but because the panel separates the tree from it, we are challenged to regard the tree differently than we would if the panel weren't there.tumblr_lzwowdUPxR1rply5po1_500 lmh0501 022 It's an outstanding example of how every single thing in the frame is important. Take away the panel, and the photograph is unremarkable. Include more or less of the surroundings, move the camera closer or further away from the tree, or choose to shoot at a different time of day- make any of those changes and the photograph would be less powerful. These pictures are a great reminder that what we include or exclude in the frame before clicking the shutter, in other words, how we edit the picture BEFORE it is taken, is critically important to the result.

Final Edit- Finally!

I've completed the final editing for the show that will be at the YWCA Gallery in Cincinnati in October as part of the Fotofocus Cincinnati photography festival. I was at an impasse until I went to the gallery and was able to see for myself the layout and lighting of the space. Once I did, the final edit just fell into place. I'm once again struck by the difference between seeing something in real life, or experiencing it through other means, like in a photograph, a map, or the written word. Prior to that visit, I had had a map of the space and had tried to imagine the work there, which worked to a degree. But it was totally different to actually stand in the space, absorbing its ambiance, sounds, and look.

This was the same kind of experience I had had once in an art history class, when we were looking at The Hunters in the Snow (Winter) (see below), by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, initially in books and then via projected images. Then later we went to a museum, where we saw his works in the flesh. It was like night and day.

Always opt for the real thing, whenever possible!

The Hunters in the Snow (Winter)

The Process of Editing

I was invited by photographer/curator Judi Parks to take part in an exhibition at the YWCA Women's Gallery that will be part of Fotofocus Cincinnati biennial this October. While choosing the images that will go into the show, I have sent Judi various options to show her what I've been thinking along the way. She responds via e-mail, I print them out, and tape her comments onto work prints so I can keep her feedback in mind as I progress in making my decisions. Here are some examples:

 

 

Whether we agree or disagree, it's been extremely helpful to do this. It creates a dialog in my head that helps me to figure out where I want to go with this.

Current Work-in-Progress

Although the Seeking Perfection project is presented on my website as if it were complete, I am currently in the midst of re-thinking and re-editing it. The first edit, the one that can be seen on the site, revolved around the process of traditional apple-growing in Japan, showing the tools and the steps involved over the course of the growing season. This new edit is focusing on the visible effects that this process has on the land, the trees, and the apples. Some images from the first edit are showing up in the second, while others are now being included that I never would have considered before.

I've never re-thought a project like this before, and am fascinated to be discovering things in the work that just hadn't been apparent to me prior to this. The new edit will be shown in an exhibit that will be part of Fotofocus Cincinnati in October, 2012.