one and done
This was the view as I departed from Port Townsend following ART and a week working with half of the Rear Curtain crew, Ray Ketcham and Stuart Sipahigil. PT is a magical place where I feel more at home than I have anywhere else. More than just the seaside air and being surrounded by art and artists, it really is where my heart is. People have asked about taking ART on the road and I hesitate to try to take the experience of ART out of Port Townsend, mostly because I don’t think in its current incarnation, it can be replicated. The reality is what makes ART so special is not the place but the people who come to spend three days doing nothing but exploring photography through a conversation with others who are on the same kind of journey. Following ART last year, I wondered if we could create another experience that would allow people to be transformed in a similar way that the first round table did. I think we’ve succeeded but you need to ask those that were there if they experienced the magic. All I know is that I felt it.
When we started receiving expressions of interest for ART 2012, we realized that we would have a difficult decision to make. Most applicants felt they should be in the second conversation “Raising Your Voice” but Ray was pretty sure that most of us still do not fully understand the vision and our voice for the work we want to do and on the first day, that became very clear to me too. In April the decision was made to go forward with “Raising Your Voice” and to facilitate the conversation fully knowing that we may need to move in and out of a discussion on vision and voice as needed. I won’t say much about that discussion in this post only to say that it seems to me the idea of vision is not understood and the word itself has become as diluted today as the concept of visual storytelling. You can see results of this all over the internet on sharing sites and blogs.
There were a number of other things I took away from ART this year, ideas that I am going to reflect on and spend the next little while exploring. One of the aspects of ART that I haven’t seen done anywhere else is how deep we go to understand the work we are making. This is by design and there is nothing left to chance with respect to the way the days are structured. Of course we do go off track and have to improvise but overall the things Ray and I set out to accomplish are driving the conversation from start to finish.
We asked people to submit 10 to 12 non-workshop images that reflected their voice. Ray studied these images along with others that were on their blogs and sharing sites to see what was omitted. He then spent an entire day focused on discussing our work with us all. In fact we continued to explore parts of everyone’s work throughout the three days even discussing it with an audience of people who were not photographers. One of the ideas that came from living with our work in this way is the notion of “one and done”. When Ray came up with that zinger, a piece fell into place for me.
You might recall a previous post where I talked about making sketches. I know now the images I made were not quite where I wanted them to be content-wise and that is not the same as others have suggested where you work a situation by changing your focal length, point of view, etc in order to create a better photograph through a different composition. I also realized why I am bored with over-processed images and the constant use of filters. If an image is void of content, no amount of effort to make it look pretty will hold my attention. I’m not averse to post-processing though and for this I can point to the work of one of the participants who does HDR. In his images the processing supports the content and I am not distracted by the processing when I go to explore the images.
The notion of “one and done” came from discussing an image that the photographer–and others–felt was rather good at expressing what he wanted to communicate, that was until Ray posed the question: “how do you know you’ve made the best image you can if you stop there?” All too often I think people stop before they should and their work falls short of having any lasting impact with the viewer. Intuitively some photographers do realize this and they have created collections of the same subject matter. And yet again I feel some miss the mark. Having 20 images of a particular subject matter in different light or form doesn’t necessarily mean you have a vision for the work. In a few cases, the work is repetitive and the photographer is essentially photographing the same subject matter multiple times.
This brings me to my next point. Sometimes even though we aren’t “done”, we still share the work. For a while now, I’ve started to drift away from the idea of sharing images I make that are part of a project. There are days when I think about the value of sharing about my process when it comes to my projects and I want to blog about it or post an image. Plus I feel a bit of pressure to blog more frequently and to share the images I am making. It’s a fine balance I think we have to each answer for ourselves especially as we have received advice that we should share only our best work. One of the key reasons why I share on this blog is because I feel I am part of a community where I can learn from others and hopefully they can learn from what I’m doing. Being in a community of artists is important and it’s part of the reason why we started ART. We all need a place where we feel safe to share our work before it’s fully formed. I just don’t believe the internet is the place for the kind of deep conversation we crave and need. It goes beyond getting a bunch of Likes or “nice shot” from our family and even our photographic peers and heroes. We need people we trust to look at our work with a critical eye and to ask us questions that move us forward.
For me, Ray is that person along with a couple of other people who I may consult. It’s as Ray has said, you need to listen to one voice (other than the voices in your own head) when it comes to your work. Pimping out your images to others for validation is a sure way to stay in a state of inertia and to create generic work. My language is a rather strong here and I guess underneath is my frustration with what I’ve been seeing for far too long. What I want to see is more thoughtful work. Images that aren’t framed by a nice PhotoShop mat and pitched to me as a piece of art. I want to be inspired by the ideas behind the work, to revel in the questions posed by the work, and to engage with the work and its maker. I want to be somewhere near the water, to sit on a comfy chair with a piece of the world’s best carrot cake, and to talk to you about your work, what it means to you and what it can mean to the world. That’s ART.