Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Good Shot

I've been playing basketball with a very interesting group of guys most Friday nights at a local Catholic school. We usually don't get done till after 11 and afterwards, a few of us go to a bar close by to complain about our aches and pains and enjoy the sunset of our athletic careers (needless to say, both "athletic" and "careers" need scare quotes there).

This bar happens to be next door to a run down old roadside motel called the Boundary and when we pulled up the first time, I told Jon, who is kind enough to give me a ride to and from these games, that I'd love to take a picture of the road sign for the hotel. He expressed great surprise and asked me why. To him, it looked like one of a countless number of motel signs not worthy of a second look much less a photo. To me, though, I had a knee-jerk reaction to capture it with my camera. At the time, I couldn't articulate to him why I wanted to take the picture; I just knew that it interested me. Jon got me thinking about a lot of things though and this post is a delayed answer to his question.

First, let's get a look at what inspired all this:

The Boundary

I finally remembered my camera one Friday and this is the shot I got. I'm not entirely happy with it. Night photography has never been a strength of mine and it was after 1am, about 20 degrees outside, and I was in sweaty basketball clothes, so I didn't spend as much time on getting it perfect as I would've liked, but I still find the image very compelling. The real question, though, is why?

I can certainly read the photo as it exists now and try to reverse engineer the process that led to my concluding this was a good subject. The worn texture and general shabbiness of the sign contradicts the promise of comfort and class promised by cable TV and HBO. Think about this hotel, probably opened in post-World War II America where travel and mobility promised romance and adventure on the road whereas the state of the sign and hotel generally as it is today suggest that it is only used for romance of a more carnal nature. Such Americana always draws my eye and certainly fits in with my interest in engaging with mundane objects that normally escape our attention as my artistic statement tries to explain.

However, that doesn't really answer the question or at least it only does so to raise another question. I certainly don't take pictures of *all* mundane things. I still have some kind of filter in place that helps me decide what I to photograph. Why this sign and not the last 100 motel signs I'd seen?

The question finally boils down to this: What makes a good shot? There are certainly rules that most people agree about in terms of composition such as the rule of thirds and questions of sharp focus, but there are as many exceptions to the rules and reasons to break them as there are rules. Plus, these are rules for what makes a good photo not a good subject for a photo, so Jon's question is still unanswered.

I want to say that, ultimately, what makes a good subject is a personal choice of the artist that can't be explained rationally. The reaction is the result of a gestalt of as many things as go into creating the individual's personality itself. Maybe it's one of the things that marks the artist as "artistic," this ability to hone in on what has potential artistic merit as a subject. The success of that artist would then be how many other people also respond on some level to the subjects s/he focuses on. Other people weren't attuned to the potential artistic worth of the subject until the artist "distilled" it into a work of art.

In this scenario, the artist him or herself doesn't have to be consciously aware of what specific elements go into drawing the artist to the potential subject. The draw, the unconscious pull, is enough. Let me give you another example. Here is a photo I took on my recent return to Charleston, WV:

Take a Number

It's a picture of the shelves at a local shoe repair shop. When I went in with my camera equipment, the workers were already giving me the fisheye and when I asked if I could take a picture of their repair shelves, they rolled their eyes, looked at each other and said "Knock yourself out." To them, it was only their workplace. Nothing but a place for them to practice their craft. What could I possibly find there of aesthetic value. They didn't come out and ask me the question, but it was there in their eyes. I don't know that I would've had any more of a satisfactory answer for them than I did for Jon. I was moved by the repetition of the bright yellow tags and big, bold black numbers. The way the bags are all shelved in a row, some straight and some askew suggest a real tension between organization and chaos, the age-old battle between entropy and enthalpy.

Pretty highbrow stuff for repaired shoes on old shelves, but if I look at the image now, read it as if I hadn't taken the photograph but am only a viewer, those are the themes I see at work. None of these thoughts were in my mind when I had the urge to take the photo, at least not consciously. I only knew that it was a subject I really wanted to capture. According to the principle I've been describing, this would be fine. As an artist, my only immediate need is to act on this impulse. Some of these urges will result in more successful photographs than others, but overall, the instinct to find a certain subject photoworthy is reason enough to capture it. The judgments and explanations can come later, by me or by others.

However, Jon didn't seem very satisfied with this answer which essentially is "I dunno why I find that worth taking a picture of" so I wonder if I am missing a step in the artistic process. Am I not enough in touch with my process or professional enough in my approach to my work that I'm missing some preliminary, preparatory stage where I should be able to articulate my interest before I pick up the camera? Am I taking the easy way out and not rigorously enough challenging myself as an artist? One flip answer I gave Jon was "If I could describe in words what moves me about the subject, I wouldn't need the camera to capture it." I think there is some truth to that, but I'm not sure it doesn't evade some very important issues that I've tried to tease out in this post. That's where I'm stuck in the thought process. If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions on where I can go from here, I'd love to hear them.

Well, Jon, that was a hell of a question. Thanks for the rides and the blog entry topic.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Gathering

Long time, no blog, I know. We moved to New Jersey a month ago and have been living out of boxes for a while while we unpacked and generally got settled. Not there completely yet, but getting closer, so I thought it was time to update everyone on a very nice development.

Before leaving Charleston, WV, I worked with some fantastic artists to establish a new art group called the Quarrier Street Collective. The talented members included Traci Higginbotham, Bruce Haley, Betty Rivard, Betty McMullen, Larry Wolfe, Emily Roles, and myself. You can read a short article about the group here, even if it describes my work as "images of mundane yet ephemeral objects." I can't begin to tell you what that means.

The basic organizing principle for the group was a mutual interest in finding a community that could provide support and feedback in an environment of mutual respect. Without some form of critique and sharing of ideas, we each felt that it was increasingly difficult to continue to grow as artists.

You can't get a group of artists together without the idea of a show coming up, so we decided to have our coming out party this October at the Art Emporium in Charleston, WV, where we held all of our meetings. The opening for "The Gathering" was October 3rd and couldn't have been better attended. If you are in the Charleston area in October, be sure to stop by.

Here are the four images I have in the show, in no particular order:


Duke in the John

School's Out


Even though I have moved from Charleston and look to find new colleagues here in New Jersey, I want to keep working with these very talented folks in the Quarrier Street Collective. I have learned a lot from them and am proud to claim them as partners and friends. Take care.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Updated Website

For the relief of my ones of fans out there, I just wanted to finally announce the arrival of my newly updated webpage and new galleries of images. It has been a long time coming. Please let me know what you think of the photographs there. Thanks and take care.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Best of West Virginia

There is another Tamarack show coming up, running from June 20th to August 3rd. It will be a great show, so if you are within driving distance I strongly urge you to go, if only to see my two pieces in the show, heh.

Here are the two pieces that were accepted (you have seen them in earlier posts, but see if you can find the subtle photoshop work I did on the first one):

Final Architecture


Frankly I was surprised that those were the two they chose from the five entries because I thought the other three were stronger. I guess that's why I'm an entrant and not a member of the jurying body. Here are the three rejects. Let me know what you think. I'm especially happy with the Duke!

The Shape of Color

The Color of Shape

The Duke in the John

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Final Architecture

While I'd planned a more substantive post, life has again taken precedence, so I'm instead coming to you with a plea for your help. I'm trying to put together entries for a new juried show at Tamarack coming up this summer called "The Best of West Virginia."

I can send in five entries, but I'm very torn about one in particular. I have two slightly different versions of the same subject and I can't decide which one is a better photograph. Please let me know which you prefer and why. Extra credit points given for originality and creativity. If you actually hate both, I suppose you can tell me that as well, but don't expect extra credit for it. Neither one is perfect--wish I had a third version--but I love the "idea" of the image if that makes any sense. Thanks in advance for your help.

Version 1

Version 2

Friday, April 11, 2008

66th Biennial AAWV Juried Exhibition '08

Wow, it's been a while. I won't bore you with excuses for the long absence. Just life getting in the way of the important stuff. As a way to get back on track, though, I have good news to post. I just found out that all three of my entries to the 66th biennial Allied Artists of West Virginia Juried Exhibition were accepted. The show opens May 24th at the Huntington Museum of Art and will run through the end of June. There has been some controversy because the judge only accepted 30 pieces for the show, resulting in a much smaller collection than in the past. This show has always been good, though, so I'm looking forward to seeing what it will be like this year. Anyway, here are the three photographs of mine that were chosen. They were all taken on the road trip Dawn and I took down to Florida last Thanksgiving. Hope if you are close by, you can stop by and see the show!

Blue Waltz


Text & Subtext