Celebrated my birthday yesterday. Very grateful to be alive, to be an artist, to be a husband, to be a friend, to have love come my way, and to be able to send it back out into the world. Thank you for sharing my journey.
I have a term for my somewhat manic desire to keep working. I call it “sharking out.” Just like a shark needs to constantly be moving forward through the water, always swimming, always devouring things in its path, I often feel that I have to be working on something. Though I may be in denial, I don’t consider myself a workaholic. This urgency somehow goes deeper into my soul, my existential core. I feel that life is short, and I need to be justifying my existence on a daily basis, through my art. Through creating something.
Case in point, I just recently completed a project that was two years in the making; the exhibition is still hanging on gallery walls here in Albuquerque. A perfect time to pause and reflect. But I am restless already, and I’m looking at what the “next” thing will be. I will be traveling overseas in the coming weeks, and I have ideas for a new project to shoot while I’m away. I also started a layout of my next zine, which will be a collaboration with a fellow photographer from Italy. The zine will focus on instant film photographs (Polaroid, Instax and Fuji peel apart.)
There are unique qualities to shooting instant film. In some ways it is liberating, knowing that there is only one copy of the photo I made. A unique artifact from a unique moment. In that regard, it is the quintessence of photography itself. At the same time, I struggle somewhat when I shoot instant film. There is additional weight, additional expectation I place on each photograph. The film is not inexpensive, and in the case of the Fuji peel apart film, it isn’t even being made anymore. When I expose the last sheet I own, that’s it. I’ll retire my Polaroid 360 for good. How’s that for putting extra weight on each photograph?
Regardless, I will continue my sharking way, no matter how deep the ocean waters may be, or how dark the depths become. And my quandary will no doubt continue. Perhaps I am incapable of taking my foot of the gas, or perhaps the constant engagement with my creativity is what makes my life worth living.
This year I have been making a concerted effort to expand my photo book library by purchasing at least one publication per month. Thanks to a great sale at Aperture, I recently received “Wall” by Josef Koudelka. This mammoth book is a powerful commentary on human intolerance, lack of compassion and our misguided need to separate ourselves from others.
What first struck me about the book is its physical size, and the huge typographical “WALL” on the front cover. Upon opening the book, it is easy to see why it was printed in such a manner. Koudelka’s photographs are all panoramic, and the book format is an appropriate size to let the images come to life as full double page spreads. This choice of format matches the subject matter spot on. Koudelka’s images were created in the Holy Land, and all focus on the barrier between Israeli and Palestinian territories. Most of the barrier is an impenetrable cement wall, but there are also scenes of barbed wire, observation towers and security checkpoints. And although there are images of physical barriers, we also see scenes that depict a vast psychological barrier between two lands, two peoples. This is all complicated, and any discussion is sure to take an emotionally charged turn, but as an artist, Koudelka brings us to a place that we can ponder and explore our own feelings of this place, and perhaps draw our own conclusions.
One thing that struck me quite quickly when I was flipping through the book was that lack of actual people in the photographs. With so many manmade structures… the walls, the wire, the barriers, roadblocks, the graffiti, the fencing, the abandoned dwellings… there is a huge void of actual humanity in these images. And it is that statement right there that finally sunk in. These are stark images of human division; of course we see very few actual humans in the pictures.
Another powerful component to the photographs is the depiction of nature. In many images, we see olive trees that have been destroyed, or moved, replanted… or simply abandoned in the no man’s land surrounding the walls. The abuse of the olive tree, so critical to the subsistence of human life (and commerce) in this region, is emblematic of the abuse and inhumanity we can inflict on each other. There are also numerous images that peer beyond the wall, or to the edges of human settlements, where the hills and the desert reinforce their presence, showing perhaps that even as we construct out barriers, nature will have the final say.
While spending time with “Wall” I could not ignore the obvious connections with a wall so much closer to home. I live in New Mexico, and along our southern border there is the much discussed, much debated, highly polarizing border wall between the US and Mexico. I will set aside any overtly political discussion (i have my opinions, you have yours) but I must acknowledge the sobering thoughts this connection provokes in me. While the images in Koudelka’s book may be depressing to view, I have the luxury of distance from this reality. These photos were taken half a world way from me, in a place I have never been, and my opinion has been shaped by years of news accounts that can feed misperception or bias. Yet, a few hours south of where I sit right now, a similar barrier exists. A wall that separates human beings both physically and metaphorically. Why are we so good at building things that keep us apart, yet so poor at building understanding and empathy?
Been listening to Silver Jews non-stop all day. RIP.
There’s a quote by Kurt Vonnegut that I try to keep in mind… “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” It’s a reminder that we all need to stop and recognize the sweet things in life, right in the moment. There is much pain and sadness in life, and in the world right now, so I am even more aware of savoring the good things that come to me. Yesterday was one of those times for me. After two years of working on a collaborative project, the fruits of our labor were finally shared with the world. “The River, The Ocean, The Sea” exhibition is now on view at the Open Space Visitor’s Center in Albuquerque, NM, until September 29th. Below are some great photos of the opening by my photo pal, Dan Shaffer.
I am particularly grateful for the support of my friends through this entire project. Many people stepped up to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign, and that financial support helped offset the cost of printing and framing the exhibition. I was beyond thrilled to see so many of these same folks show up at the opening yesterday, along with many other people who spent time viewing the work. I am so, so grateful for such wonderful friends in my life. Thank you all.
Also, thank you to the great staff at the Open Space Gallery for giving me a venue to share the work. Thank you to KRQE for doing a nice story about the show on their broadcast yesterday.
Thank you to Clarke Conde and the Weekly Alibi for putting me on their front cover and running a wonderful interview. Thank you especially to my collaborators Fabio Miguel Roque and Hean Kuan Ong for sharing your vision with me. I am so proud of what we accomplished together.
“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
I am by nature a nostalgic person. As I scrolled through the photo album on my phone looking for images to share on this post, I immediately was drawn down a rabbit hole of memories. I suppose photography is the most appropriate medium for me, because of this particular type of affliction. I can look at an old photo and not remember how old I may have been when it was taken but I do remember the photo itself… and can somehow be transported back to my yard in Dumont, New Jersey. I was 11 or 12-years-old, wearing brown, plastic frame glasses, holding my first pet dog “Gigi” close to me. I can actually remember the smell of leaves decaying in the autumn sun; I can remember the names of the families who live just behind the hedges in that photo.
When my brain can no longer process those memories, what will those pictures mean to me then? As a middle-aged man, I can be transported back 40 something years into the past. And sometimes it’s the photos themselves that I have the memories about, because they appear and then reappear in photo albums and in boxes in storage when I stumble upon them; or yes, even as I scroll through the 1000+ photos I have saved on my phone.
I’ve been trying really hard to be in the present moment not obsess or have fear or anxiety about the future and yet I can easily be pulled into the past by looking at photographs. Photos of friends and family members… some of whom are dead now, and those who in the photos look so young, when in real life we have all aged. I think there is a certain sadness to every photograph that’s taken. Even if it’s a celebration of a moment of joy, happiness of life being lived at its fullest at that moment. Because these documents will take on a completely different tone when viewed six months from now… five years from now… 20 years from now. Our skin will be more wrinkled, our hair will be more gray, more friends or family will no longer be with us. Every photograph carries that sadness and waiting.
Here we go, formal announcement time. I am super stoked to finally announce the big exhibition of my collaboration with fellow Latent Image Collective members Fábio Miguel Roque and Hean Kuan Ong. I hope all local New Mexico readers can join me at the opening reception on Saturday, August 3rd, from 2 to 4pm.
The exhibition is at the Open Space Visitor Center Gallery on the westside of Albuquerque. The show will feature 90 photographs, and we’re planning a unique display approach to bring the images to life. I hope you can join me at the opening! More info as the date gets close.
Now that the GoFundMe campaign is wrapped up, it’s time to get this show going! Ninety prints need to be framed… slow and steady and I will get them done. Really looking forward to the show and book release, which is a little less than a month away. Full details for the exhibition opening will be shared very soon.
A huge thanks to all of you fine folks who supported out fundraiser. Although we didn’t meet our ultimate goal, the funds were enough to cover printing and frame costs (also thanks to a few holiday sales at the Mpix and Michael’s!)
Full post returns when I’m out of the woods.