Sep 10, 2009

Time in the Woods - Day 5

It should come as no surprise that Hiroshi Sugimoto is one of my favorite photographers. His "Seascapes" were the inspiration for my "Horizon" series and much of his work deals with time, from his photos of the dioramas at the Natural History Museum to wax-work figures at Madame Trosseau's to long exposures of candle flame shadows to the above image from his "Theaters" series. This latter image was made by leaving the shutter of his 8x10 open for the duration of the movie, using the same aperture for the entire series. (He noticed that comedies exposed brighter than murder mysteries...) Sugimoto believes that light has an authority, a presence almost that any great photograph should capture. Damn hard to do, but what a goal to aspire towards in an artistic practice!

One problem with shooting film as opposed to digital here in the woods is the lag time in my learning. I won't know whether I've conveyed light's presence till I'm back in New York and the film is developed.

Things will either come out as I expect, I'll be pleasantly surprised by happy accidents, or I'll be disheartened by tragic mistakes. My friend Chris McCaw is another photographer who successfully gives light authority. He came about it by happy accident while shooting with a technique even older than film -- paper negatives. His long-exposure landscapes, where the sun literally burns a line in the paper negative as it crosses the sky, cannot be made digitally. Each image is a one-of-a-kind. If you're a fan of Sugimoto-san I encourage you to look at Chris' work for images that also take the fundamentals of photography - time and light - and represents them in a fresh and powerfully poetic way.

So where does that leave me? There is a measure of discouragement in seeing how others have successfully achieved a proficiency with their work, and there's a measure of inspiration too. I've had to negotiate a balance in those two emotions over the past four years in New York, as I've been exposed to sooo much artistic talent. At first it was tremendously discouraging to imagine how I could create at that level. And yet with a persistent effort over time I've seen dramatic improvements in my approach to my art, the concepts behind it, and the final results. There's a lot of mental, and mutual, masturbation between New York artists as to how to achieve "success". My best approach is considered practice -- build on previous efforts by blending personal experience with insight gleaned from other artists, especially those from other disciplines. That's one of the reasons why living in the dynamic NYC art community has been so important at this point in my career.

I've been trying to get into the woods all summer to do just that kind of considered practice and have only made it just as summer is coming to a close. But I did make it. Carving out time to create new work has been one of my biggest challenges in New York. It takes a tremendous amount of time to market previous work, and there's always more than can be done. And the City itself is a wonderful distraction, an adult Disneyland even if you don't have a lot of money. Add in relationships, friendships, networking, time for self and oh yeah that "day job" to pay the rent and there's amazingly little time to go out and create new.

I was fortunate enough to have been awarded a fully paid residency at Anderson Ranch in CO this fall and am so looking forward to it. I'll have almost two months of unstructured time to create new work in the company of 13 other artists, most of whom are not photographers. I'll have the results of this work by then and at least a little time to consider its success or failure. From there, it's like what they say about how to get to Carnegie Hall.

No comments: