I am excited to share a new body of work on my website today. The series is a bit of a departure for me, in that it is all color photography. The pairing of the images are the result of a kind of visual improvisation, both in my approach to how I shot, as well as how I created the resulting diptychs. Everything was shot with one camera and one lens, during an extended stay in New York during the Spring of 2017. The shift of political and social winds could be felt as I roamed the streets, though I tried (but failed) to not make any overt political statements with the images. I guess the personal is political, as they say. This series will be the subject of a new book I will be releasing in the very near future. I hope you enjoy.
Those of us who live in New Mexico know the importance of the Rio Grande. One of its values is the wonderful, (mostly) undeveloped nature of the bosque that adorns its banks. The bosque offers a respite from the urban life of Albuquerque, and yet exists within minutes of the city itself. It's a thicket of salt cedar, fallen branches, various flowers and grasses, jetty jacks and the abundant cottonwood trees, which at this time of year, explode into yellow and gold. Today was a perfect, overcast day, so the wife and I headed out for a quick wander. Except for temporarily straying into an extremely muddy patch (as is evident in the photo of my destroyed Chuck Taylors) the day rewarded us with many sights and sounds. Of course, I decided to capture the glorious colors of autumn in black and white.
I had the pleasure of taking a day-long road trip with my good friend Bob Ayre this past weekend. Bob knows New Mexico like the back of his hand, so it was a treat to let him guide me into uncharted territory in the northwest part of the state. My Fiat would never have survived some of the unpaved back roads we traversed, and I probably would have chickened out heading down some of the routes by myself. With Bob at the helm, I saw some difficult to reach locations for the first time. Here's a sample of our journey. Thank you, Bob.
"Hi, my name is Nick, and I'm a printaholic..."
Yes, it's true, I am addicted to print. Specifically, printed photographs, whether it's in a frame on the wall, received as a postcard in the mail, in a book or in a zine... I love it all. And lately, as many of you know, I've been bitten by the self-publishing bug. With online, print on demand options like Magcloud or Blurb, a self-published book or zine is just a few clicks away. I find that the format is a perfect way to get my work out in the world, in a real, tangible way. Photographs were always meant to be seen in print. It's only recently, with our digital existence taking over every aspect of previously actual, physical content, that photos are mostly seen on a screen; be it desktop or mobile. Hey, I'm no Luddite. I often shoot with a DSLR or my iPhone, listen to Spotify all day long, stare at Instagram and Facebook far too much, and share work right here on my website on a regular basis. But something gets lost when we just see photos on a backlit screen. Photographs deserve more permanence. I realize that most folks can't afford dropping $50 to $150(or more) for a framed photograph, but a $10 - 15 zine or book is well within reach for a much larger audience. And of course the benefits of a printed publication allows the viewer to engage with your work many more times than a gallery show would ever provide. I am grateful for the support I've gotten from many friends and followers for my own self-published works, and (teaser alert, see above) there are more printed pieces to come in the near future. In the meantime, I'd also like to take a moment to recognize the work of some print obsessed self-publishers I've been following and collecting myself. Their work is well-worth the time and money to support.
Many thanks to everyone who came by for my pop-up photo exhibit this weekend, and to those who purchased my zine or a framed print. I am grateful and humbled by your support and interest in my work. Extra special gratitude to Rocky Norton, a true artist and creative force of nature, for opening his studio space to me. While I had some time gallery-sitting, I was able to explore a bit of Rocky's world. They say God is in the details, and if so, he / she wears a coat of many colors.
If you are in the Albuquerque area this weekend, I cordially invite you to see my series "Covered Cars" which will be exhibited at Rocky Norton's Artspace, at 1407 4th Street SW. This is a three day only, pop up event. I will have thirty framed photos on display, available for purchase at a special price of $50 each. I will also be selling a limited edition, signed zine of the series, for the price of $5 each. Hours for the event will be Friday evening, from 6 pm to 9pm, and both Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 12 Noon until 4pm. I am grateful to Rocky for opening up his studio space for this event. I hope to see you there.
Up to this point, I’ve been hesitant to write any words about Robert Frank, for a number of reasons. Most of them are rooted in my deep love of his work and the profound influence he has had on my own image making. How do I pay due respect to an artist so important to me? Can I be objective when writing about a particular image of his? Another challenge would be deciding which of his images would I focus my attention on? There are just too many touchstone Robert Frank photographs to choose from. Nonetheless, with a looming exhibit of my own, it made sense to try to write about this week’s image “Covered Car, Long Beach, California.”
So, what do we see in this photograph? It is a car, covered in some kind of white fabric. The car is parked between two thick palm trees. Shadows from the trees are cast upon a plain looking, boxy building, the wall of which look covered in a dark stucco. The light seems like late afternoon to me. The composition is slightly off kilter, just slightly tilting to the right. The fabric that covers the car has an almost striped appearance to it, the result of bands that are stitched together. The contrast is somewhat stark, with the white of the cover offset by the deep shadows on the wall, and the tufts of palm leaves on the trees. All in all, a fairly non-complex photograph at first glance.
What is not seen in the photo? Well, this is an urban environment, but there are no people seen in the shot. And we of course assume there is a car under the tarp, being able to recognize the shape of the chassis, and the distinct poke of an antenna pushing up the covering as well. The next question I ask myself is why did Frank take this photo? It appears in his seminal book “The Americans” which creates a context for a deeper interpretation of the image. Frank explored the subject matter of the automobile extensively throughout the book. When Frank was shooting the photographs that eventually became "The Americans," the automobile was seen as a key component to the post-WW2 westward expansion in the United States, and was a symbol of freedom and mobility for a growing middle-class society. The fact that the car is covered brings what seems to me an elegiac quality; quite a mournful feeling to this image. Coupled with the fact that the lighting indicates late in the day, nearing sunset, I get a distinct feeling that there is an intrinsic sadness to this image. The car becomes a body covered, something to be mourned, hidden, and prepared for some kind of death. Of course, this is my personal projection on to the image, but if an astute viewer were to look at the photo in the context of where it appears in “The Americans” one would make a similar leap.
The image appears in a sequence of the book that begins with a close up, side view of two men in the front seat of a car, “US 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho.” Here we see the car as a means of escape, with Frank a passenger in a very tight front seat with two mean who look as though the are fleeing a crime scene. Next is an image of five elderly people sitting on a roadside bench, titled “St. Petersburg, Florida.” In the background, we see a car speeding by, slightly blurred. Is this a rumination on death, the life that is soon to be leaving these people speeding behind them as they wait for the inevitable? The “covered car” photo is the next image in the sequence. The photo that then immediately follows shows the aftermath of a car accident, with a group of four people standing beside the blanket covered remains of what is surely a dead body. The covered body echoing the covered par in the previous image. To complete this run of images, we see a long view of a lonely highway in New Mexico, stretching off into the far distance, with just a lone car driving towards us, seen very far off in a dark, foreboding environment, under a threatening sky. Seen as a whole, this sequence of images tells a sad story of life and death intertwined with the presence or influence of the automobile.
My own fascination with covered cars stems directly from the image made by Robert Frank. My approach to the subject matter is quite different. For one, I chose to show the cars in color. I have taken a clinical, studied approach to the subject matter, and have assembled well over fifty of such images, to date. I am fascinated when I look at them as a group of photos, when the variety of covers and locations become a foil to the consistency of the subjects. Yet, there is still that initial feeling of sadness that permeates the images I make. These vehicles are covered for reasons I don’t ever really know. Are they classic cars that require protection from the elements? Are the windows busted and leaking, requiring covering to protect the interior? Is the vehicle evidence of some crime? Has an accident occurred? They often look like Christ-like bodies, covered in shrouds. Or perhaps they represent something desirable yet hidden from view, their covering providing a layer of mystery and intrigue.
It is amazing to me that so many of these covered cars reveal themselves to me as I travel my home city, but also in locations that I travel to. They seem to be everywhere once I start looking for them. They serve as a constant reminder of the influence that Robert Frank has had on my work, and send a silent message of kinship and solidarity to me as I pursue my work. As the master has said, “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” I am constantly listening and looking, too.
Sometimes it takes a while to realize that you have made a good choice in your life's direction. Over two years ago, I decided to take my personal photography more seriously. One thing that I always dreamed of doing, but never had the guts to attempt, was an artist residency. So, in early 2015, I mustered the courage to apply for an opportunity to spend a month in the city of Porto, Portugal. My focus on Portugal was partly due to my connection with fellow photographer, Fabio Miguel Roque. He is based in Sintra, just outside of the capital of Lisbon. We are both members of the Latent Image Collective, and though we had never met in person, I was excited to finally connect and spend some time shooting together. Long story short, I was invited for a residency at De Liceiras 18, and spent a month focussing on my personal photographic work. I also spent two days shooting with Fábio, and our creative bonds deepened as a result.
Fast forward to October 2016. Fábio and I were looking for a project to collaborate on long-distance. We devised a plan to shoot simultaneously for 24 hours, each of us taking a solo, photographic road trip, each wandering without a set plan into the desert near our homes. We would share the results of the trip in a joint publication. We released the book "Beyond / Além" last year, and hoped that we could one day exhibit the work. That hope will be realized this weekend in Évora, Portugal.
I am so thrilled to be able to share the walls of a gallery with my friend and collaborator, and it stands as a tangible manifestation of the idea we had months ago. What is even more meaningful to me is that first step I took outside of my comfort zone, the decision to travel to Portugal in the first place, has reaped so many benefits for me personally and creatively.
The show opens this Saturday at the Palácio de D. Manuel in Évora. I received the text from the program, that was written by Eduardo Luciano, Councilor for Culture of the Municipality of Évora. I'd like to share it here, as it is an insightful analysis of the work that Fábio and I created. I am honored and humbled by these words.
Click on the images above to see the program from the exhibit.
Red state or blue state. Rich or poor. Rural or urban. Black or white… or red… or brown… or yellow. Republican or Democrat. Educated or uneducated. Liberal or conservative. Hopeful or hopeless. There are many divisions in the United States right now, not to mention the world. There are maybe more things that divide us than unite us, I suppose, depending if one is an optimist or a pessimist. Yet another divide. I ponder these things on a regular basis; certainly when I read the news over breakfast every morning. I ponder these things as I look at this week’s photograph, “Pat Sabatine’s 8th Birthday Party” by Larry Fink. Though the image was produced in 1977, I think looking at it through a contemporary eye brings an even deeper appreciation to it for me.
Larry Fink is an enormously talented photographer, whose work hangs in many museums around the world. He has also published many important photo books. This particular photograph is the cover image from his book titled “Social Graces.” That book will probably remain his most important body of work, for many years to come. The images are a stark contrast in subject matter: either the lives of wealthy New Yorkers leading glamorous lives, or working-class folks in rural Pennsylvania, leading a much less glamorous existence. Though the pictures are of two very different worlds, it is Fink’s technical approach and intimacy in each environment that truly unifies the body of work. The photographer enables the viewer to be a voyeur into world’s that are most likely quite different, perhaps completely alien from their own.
Fink shows the very rich and the very poor using a stark lighting technique, the result of a bright flash in a mostly under-lit environment. The photographer has likened his approach to the same way Rembrandt would like his subjects. It is interesting to have the lighting add a feeling of “uncovering” to the images. Especially when the photos depict the lives of the very wealthy, the lighting brings an arresting element of discovery to a world made exclusive to the most of us. These are photos of the “1%” before there was such a term.
It is the folks at the other end of the spectrum in Fink’s book that I find more compelling, though. This week’s subject image is case in point. What do I see in this image? It is a black and white photograph, square format, indicating that this was most likely shot with a medium format camera. Interesting to consider that Fink was operating in a tight space with a larger camera than a stealthy 35mm. The lighting is the result of a flash, as we see a wonderful wash of light, along with a number of shadows, that help create an even more dramatic play between black and white. The flash has frozen a moment that was in flux, and if I rest my eyes and my mind for a moment longer, I can start to hear, smell and feel the chaotic environment he is showing us. To me, it feels humid, there is shouting, and a creak of the wooden screen door. Before the image was made, there was probably a shout from inside by the older woman, carrying the birthday cake. “Can someone get that door open?” might have been heard over the din of the assembled family. I love the arm that arches over her head, the way the fingers gingerly hold the door open. It’s one of three hands that I’m fascinated by in this shot. The second is the resting hand in the lower right corner of the image, fingertips cut off by the framing, acting as both a pushing force to make way for the cake, while also anchoring the chaos within the picture frame. The last hand is obvious to all, that of the young boy near the center left of the photo. The flash has frozen him in the middle of what must be an outburst. His fingers are splayed out, and seem to be punctuating some kind of a shout, or by the look on his face, perhaps even yelp of confusion. His sweaty hair is matted to his forehead, his lips forming a round O, looking like he is hooting. The shadow of his arm falls on the screen of the door. The wonderful blond hair of the girl next to him falls in front of our eyes, resting, in part, on a bent elbow. Is it the boy’s birthday? Or the girl with her back to the camera? Hard to tell who the 8 year-old may be. But again, I could not only imaging the feeling of being there at that moment, but could also imagine the taste of that cake, with its rich chocolate frosting.
How can the viewer not feel like a voyeur when looking at this image? Fink has gained us access to a world that might very well be unfamiliar to us. And his use of the flash seems to have stolen a moment that would have not been visible otherwise. But what is it about this image that speaks to me today? Going back to my original pondering of the divisions in this country, I think this photo exemplifies a world that still exists in many rural communities today. If the rich have gotten richer, the poor have certainly gotten poorer. The middle class, of which I am a member, probably doesn’t see or fully understand the lives on the very top or the very bottom. The rich have the capacity to control public access to their worlds, no doubt. But what does an urbanite living in Brooklyn, Venice Beach, or even Albuquerque truly know about those living in rural West Virginia, or somewhere in the deep south, or in rural Pennsylvania? We have our preconceptions and biases that paint a picture of how we “think” others live, but what do we really know? Do we get our impressions justified by 24-hour news channels, from reality TV shows, from dubious online sources? Do we really see each other as we pass on the street? Do we see each other at the mall, at church, at a sporting event? Do we know how others suffer? Do we know how they celebrate? Are we so different from each other? Does the distribution of wealth, the ravages of a capitalist system that creates winners and losers really speak to who we really are as human beings? I don’t have answers, but when I look at the work of Larry Fink, created over 30 plus years ago, I wonder. How does each one of us live our lives, accepting the lot we are given, or fight for something better for ourselves or our families?