Sunday, May 4, 2008

What does it mean?

I have been trying to make sense of this new body of work I am creating. Most of the time I am happy to go about my way oblivious to the bigger picture and concentrate on making the next image and hope I am not duplicating myself. While preparing to go to Review Santa Fe I have asked people what I should expect. I got some good advice from former attendees Mark Richards and Tim Archibald. They said I should be ready to talk about the work in a clear concise way. Jorg Colberg (not an attendee but a good recource on these matters) basically said to make sure I put my best foot forward and make sure the work is presented well.

I got this email from Jamey Thomas. We work together sometimes and he took the time to comment.

"Thomas, I've been following and enjoying your blog and thinking
about the images you're shooting. I'm assuming having a blog is an
open invitation to feedback so I'm going to take you up on that
invitation. The things that I keep coming back to are you and now;
why are you making this work, what do you want to say with this
work, what about this work makes it yours and what does this work
say about the here and now, why is it getting made now, by you?
Maybe that distills it: why is this working getting made now by you?
And that's not a shallow question because I certainly appreciate
that you are making it, now, and know fairly well what it entails
and how much of yourself you have to bring in order to make it. I
know how hard it can be to pull over. One thing I believe is that
great art argues for things, it has an agenda, it strikes a balance
between pornography and propaganda (see "The Invisible Dragon", by
Dave Hickey) in order to put forward something the artist feels is
important, meaningful. When we look at great art in a museum most of
that is gone because the artwork is plucked out of its place and
time and interned in a current institutions with its own agenda. But
if you think of a great renaissance altar piece, an impressionist
landscape or even a Mapplethorpe image of gay guys fisting and think
about what they meant in their own time and place I think their
"purpose" becomes more obvious, or at least the fact that they had
an intended purpose is clear. You don't need to know or have an
answer. Certainly you can make the work and see where it leads. Or
you can put forward any number of perfectly legitimate answers or
explanations. But this stuff above is what keeps coming up for me
when I think about your work. When Struth was getting up at dawn to
take empty cityscapes 20 or 30 years ago, was it the same? Is it
simply different person, different place? Are they documents, with
beautiful light, of the neglected and unseen, similar to the Bechers
plants and mills? Certainly after looking at them over ti
me I begin to understand them as you're pictures and they do cohere
into a body of work but my idea is that if you understand what you
really want these pictures to convey, their power will increase.
Sincerely, Jamey"

The truth is I do not know what I am trying to do. It started with the picture above. It was a scouting shot for a commercial job. I put the polaroid on the scanner and when the image came up on the monitor something happened. For a reason I still can not explain the image had some emotional power. It is kind of ugly and awkward. Up to that point I had worked very hard to make pictures that were perfectly composed and as beutiful as I could make them. And here, by accident , I stumbled upon an image that moved me. So when I sit down at the table at Santa Fe and I am asked what these pictures mean I will say I am chasing an accident.


Darrell Eager said...

Or you could say your chasing an absence.
The images are not only about what you see
but also equally about what you don't see.

g said...

You know, for what it's worth, I think this picture and the polaroid of the eagle have more emotional bite - emotional, not visual - than any in your "closer" series. If you think there's any truth to this, there are probably a bunch of useful conclusions you could draw from it.

Zeke said...

I think you have touched on a near universal quandary faced by thinking artists. I enjoyed reading this post for several reasons, not the least of which is selfish, in that I feel less alone with suffering the same problem. I'd enjoy even more reading a solution, should you find one that will translate over to my own search. :)

Anonymous said...

Honest opinion. I think you might have had a stroke and your just not aware of it yet. Or late term clinical depression has set in and it is revealing itself in these images.

Whatever the images are I think they might be a cry for help.

Robert Holmgren said...

If words were adequate, then words would be complete and necessary tools. When the expression is the felt weight of an image then that is enough...except for the sales aspect of art. Time was when artists did the art and critics did the analysis. Now, it seems, everyone does it all in house. In the end the image maker begins to doubt his instincts because he is forced to create meaning from tools not of his choosing, and the public is no longer asked to suspend the unnecessary search for explanation. Everyone loses in this system of explanation.