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I have been invited to participate in The Anna May Project, [embed]http://theannamayproject.com/[/embed]
an educational "visual storytelling project that helps women and girls learn to shape and tell their own stories." The Anna May Project was founded by Amy Whitaker, who brings years of executive leadership experience plus degrees in Fine Arts and Art Education to the table. She seeks to empower women and girls to find their own truths and inner strength through the use of photography and visual storytelling.
Some of my photographs will appear in the first edition of Riptide Magazine, being published by The Anna May Project in January 2017. In the meantime, Amy asked me to compose a short essay on "beauty", which will be the focus of that issue of the magazine. Doing so was an interesting exercise, as I never had written anything on that topic before, and I was limited to 200 words. After finishing, I realized that beauty is a topic about which I have very strong feelings, particularly because it runs counter to so much that is valued in today's art world. Here is what I wrote:
"Beauty is strength, resiliency, and conviction. Because I am drawn to these qualities, beauty often finds its way into my work.
Beauty emerges from a combination of elements—the setting, the light, the ambient sounds and smells, the way people move—in the way these elements interact and connect with each other. I thus can find beauty in any setting and in people of all ages, because it is not just about how things look.
Making a picture that speaks to my definition of beauty is never a specific goal; rather, it is a byproduct of how I see and experience the world and what I want to say about it through my photographs.
In today’s art world, beauty is something that is scorned by many. Back in 1981 when I staged my Masters of Fine Arts thesis exhibit, "Dancing on a Wall", a mentor wrote, “(Your photographs are) … an expression of a vital ingredient of creation—the artist’s delight and love for a much maligned, old-fashioned, but everlastingly satisfying component of much of art—beauty.”
He further advised me to never apologize for that, and indeed, to embrace it as part of my creative self—and I always have."
Learning to stand up for who I truly am as a person and artist was one of the most important lessons I ever learned from that beloved mentor, Charles A. Arnold, Jr., known by all as Charlie. Although he is gone now, his lessons resonate and guide me every day of my life.
When asked to participate in the Photo Founders exhibition at the Behringer Crawford Museum as a part of [embed]http://www.fotofocusbiennial.org/[/embed]
I initially thought that I would (of course) show new work. But the more I thought about it, the less I liked that idea. The concept of the show is to celebrate the work of the 5 founders of the university photography programs in the Cincinnati region. So I went into my archives and took a look, the first in a long time, at my Master of Fine Arts thesis photographs, with which I applied to the open position at the University of Cincinnati back in 1982. Since these were the pictures that got me the job that I remained in until recently, and since they had not been exhibited since 1983, I decided to show this work.
I wanted to see them up on the wall in order to reevaluate them, to see how they stand up over the test of time, to see what I can learn from my younger self when I was still figuring out my creative voice. Here are some of the images from that series, which was titled "Dancing on a Wall", and which were printed on Rockland Photo Aluminum:
ÆQAI (pronounced ‘I’ as in ‘bite ‘ and ‘qai ‘ as in ‘sKY’ ) is a Cincinnati based e-journal for critical thinking, review and reflective prose on contemporary visual art. An interview titled "Jane Alden Stevens: Photography in Motion" authored by Laura A. Hobson was recently published in the November, 2014, edition of AEQAI. The article includes images from various bodies of work, a discussion about my teaching career, and covers a number of issues including the role that feminism played in my classroom, mentors, technical changes in the field and my approach to art-making.
Many thanks to editor Daniel Brown for including me in this issue!
Although I believe I am a fairly articulate person, I always seem to stumble when someone asks me what my work is "about", or what kind of artist I am. I inevitably end up using far too many words to answer those questions. In the January/February 2014 issue of Intelligent Life magazine (which is published by the Economist) author Christina Patterson describes how Nobel-prizewinning poet Seamus Heaney used words to create maximum impact. There was a sentence in that article that is the perfect description of what I attempt to do with my work:
"He takes the familiar and makes it strange."
That sums it up perfectly, particularly in regard to the project that I am currently working on. Here's an example of my most recent work-in-progress that I feel effectively does that:Now I just have to drill that sentence into my head: "I take the familiar and make it strange." and use it whenever I'm asked what kind of work I do. If only I could do that to the degree that Seamus Heaney could!
In the mid-1990's, I was invited to exhibit images from the Stargazing project in Sao Paolo, Brazil. A catalog was published that included an image from that work. Fast forward to two days ago, when I received the following message from someone in Brazil through my Facebook page, which I have edited somewhat:
"A few weeks ago, while looking for references material to start drawing the graphic design of my first EP (CD) - I'm an actor, singer, producer (former MTV latin america) and performer, born in Sao Paulo - came to my hands, the book "Fotografia Pensante" (edited by) the valuable and genius Luiz Guimaraes Monforte!"
He goes on to say that he found my photograph in the book as he leafed through it. Then he wrote:
"The impact that this image generated in my heart was so intense, that there is more than one week can not sleep! Seriosly!"
The idea that someone couldn't sleep for a week because of an image I made was.... well, way cool!!! But what struck me most about this is that once you put your work out into the world, you never know who will see it, when they will see it, or if it will resonate in any way with those who do see it.
It reminds me of the seeds of desert wildflowers that lie dormant for decades until just the right conditions occur that cause them to finally germinate and bloom. So plant the seeds, just get your work out there, and see what happens.
I was recently interviewed about the Seeking Perfection project for the PhotoEye blog. Here's a link to the interview. It's always a struggle to put into words the thought processes behind my work, but always a rewarding experience. This is because I find that I learn something different about my work and about my approach to making pictures when I either talk about it or write it down, than when I simply think about it. I really enjoy that sense of discovery as it helps to move me forward, even when I have long since completed a project.
Here's an excerpt from an article by author Mark Slouka in the Sunday New York Times from August 25 that I found totally relevant to any artist. Although Slouka is talking about writers, just substitute your media/field, and I think it will speak to you, too: “If writers agree on anything—which is unlikely—it’s that nothing can damage a novel in embryo as quickly and effectively as trying to describe it before it’s ready. Unfortunately, because we’re writers, aka bipedal nests of contradictions, avoiding the temptation to share is never as easy as simply keeping our mouths shut.
Why? Because we’re unsure—about very nearly everything. Because in our hearts we’re only as good as our last paragraph, and if the new book isn’t going anywhere, maybe we’re no good at all. Because we’re running on faith and fumes. In the early stages, before that magic moment when the voice of the story begins to speak, we want—no, crave—validation, someone on the outside who will say, preferably with godlike authority and timbre: “It’s brilliant. You’re on the right track. Just keep going.”
The problem, of course, is that our inner critic, the I.C., is whispering in our ear that we’re not even remotely on the right track—that we’re blundering around in the wilderness, in fact."
This article speaks to me because every time I am in the beginning phases of a new project, my experience is exactly like that. My normal confidence seems to desert me and I am filled with insecurities about the value/success/relevance of my new endeavor. Can you tell that I am embarking on not one, but a few new projects right now??!!!
Last year I had an exhibit in the ArtXchange Gallery in Seattle. After the exhibition, they kept my work there in order to sell. What didn't sell was recently returned. The boxed-up prints are now leaning against the wall in my front hall until I unpack them. It's funny how the return of work after an exhibition comes with a certain feeling of deflation. Getting work back means that the show is over, people aren't getting a chance to see in in person, time to look for the next show opportunity. Not to mention the fact that I have to find space to store it in until it goes out to the next venue. And I never seem to have enough space to store my artwork, no matter how many times I have purged my studio of work that I will no longer exhibit.
It's much more fun to make the work and put it out there in the world than it is to get it back!