Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Semester in Review

This semester began with a lot of expendable energy. I went full throttle for the first month, testing as many of my residency epiphanies as I could. For the most part, I was very excited about the results I was seeing. Before too long, though, I lost some serious momentum. It seems to happen each semester, and I will have to anticipate and plan for it in the next go round.

I have spent this semester considering many different aspects of my work, and trying to give each the time it requires. I started off by focusing more on some of the aesthetic choices I was making, and how they may or may not relate to the themes I was discussing. There was a certain somber quality I wanted to convey in my images, and a sense of grief or loss as well. My chief concern, however, was not to go too far with this, and have the images come off as too sappy or overly emotional. I found a solution to this in some of my aesthetic choices.

In researching for one of my papers, I started to really focus in on the concept of the deadpan aesthetic in contemporary photography, and how other photographers have used it as a means to convey a sense of neutrality in their images. In these cases, where the images are made to appear impartial and unbiased, it becomes a strong tool to combat a potential over sentimentality or sappiness that can often occur.

After the June residency, I began to delve deeper into some of the subject matter I had already been exploring. Specifically focusing on my backyard, I wanted to fine tune what I was doing a little more before venturing out into my community too much, and really get a feel for how I wanted my images to be. It was a process of starting to understand not only what I wanted to accomplish, but also to explain why this is what I wanted to be doing.

I knew I wanted to document more of Melrose, and focus on the parts that were important to what I was saying, but it was becoming harder to define why what I felt was important actually was. I wandered the city without a camera trying to find areas that I wanted to photograph, and decided this was a good way to slow myself down and become a little more deliberate about what I was doing.[1]

Working with Shellburne this semester has been an invaluable experience, and help guide my in the direction I want to be going. In branching out more into Melrose I began to cover some of the topics that I knew I wanted to, but my thinking also began to change some. I had approached the city from the point of view of somebody who had grown up there, but was now essentially an outsider. It has become a community that is very concerned with its image and standing, and wants to be perceived in a certain way. The reality of what the city actually is doesn’t seem to matter much, but how people and other communities perceive the city is very important to it.

As I worked more, there were certain patterns I began to recognize and couldn’t help but explore. The way the city sections itself off and creates spaces, delineating itself from itself with fences, walls and other barriers are fascinating to me. In some cases these objects were attempts to keep things either in or out, and in other cases they were simply the result of boundaries colliding.

Thinking about the work of photographers such as Lewis Baltz and the New Topographics movement, these collisions and unnatural boundaries began to intrigue me even more. In the city, I have been finding spaces that are somewhat accessible, but not unconditionally so, creating an alienated landscape of sorts. This alienation is interesting in both its roots and repercussions.

The ideas that first drew me into photographing Melrose revolved around its residents and image. A city that very much wants to be perceived as a high end community, family friendly and perfect to live in is consumed by many. It sells this image in an attempt to draw in a new breed of citizen, and it is working. The result, however, is a raise in cost of living, and exorbitant amounts of money being spent on programs to uphold and further this image.[2]

As I continued throughout the semester, I began wondering how these issues could really manifest in my images, and that is how the more alienated landscape mixed with deadpan sentiments came to be. To be sure, this work is personal and emotional, and consists of images of places to which I have attached specific memories. Approaching them in a way that will separate the images from my own personal meanings and open them up to a wider audience became a paramount concern for me.

This, in turn, helped give rise to my interest in barriers and obstructions that occur in the city. These spaces that deny unfettered access, and set some form of terms or conditions in which they can be accessed have become visual metaphors for the hurdles one must traverse to find a place to exist in this city.

In addition to the work I have been doing in my Melrose images, I have continued to explore all of the developments and changes in my backyard. After last residency, and the response to some of the images I made in my backyard, I really wanted to make this an ongoing part of my project. It started as a convenient place for some trial and error, a proving ground of ideas to bring with me out into the city at large.[3] I have found I work better when I have more than one project happening at a time, and these two are certainly not mutually exclusive, so it seems like a good way to do things.

Working with Shellburne Thurber this semester has been an amazing experience, and has opened me up to many new theories and ideas. In talking with her, I was introduced to the ideas and work of Jane Jacobs, who was instrumental in stopping some of the development that was supposed to have leveled parts of New York in the 1950’s and 60’s.

These ideas started me thinking about the concept of the city. I have become interested in what the concept of city means to people, and how it functions with/for/against its inhabitants. I have also started to think about how the destabilization of the city/society affects people and how the inverse could also be true. These thoughts, however, have only very recently started to form, and are very young yet. It will be interesting to see how they develop, and how I could potentially integrate them into my work.

As the next residency approaches, I have begun to mull over how I want to present my work, and started to look forward to next semester. I have struggled with a way to make my images work independently of either diptychs or series’, and in this vein I have tried to fit more information into every image. Having images that work as a series is fine with me, but I want the images to function independently of the series as well. I am still not positive how to resolve this totally, and believe it will take some more trial and error.

Considering that I have only one semester until I begin work on my thesis, and how fast these semesters seem to clip by, I am starting to feel the pressure even more acutely than before. It is intimidating to think that there is only one year left, and that I am halfway through the program already, but find comfort in looking back on how much progress I have already made. I look forward to seeing how my work continues to take shape over the coming semester, and to the further development of my thesis.

[1] Last semester I had taken a more rapid fire, sort of shoot first ask questions later sort of mentality, and it worked well for me. Now that I’ve gotten to the point where I have a little more direction, and I am no longer trying anything that might pop into my head, I knew that I needed to temper my shooting some, or risk getting lost in a sea of too many options. By slowing down and being more deliberate, I was able to delve deeper into my subject matter and be more methodical in my work.

[2] What is happening, however, is that a large swath of the population in Melrose is finding it difficult to live here now. I myself live here, but only because I am at home during the duration of school, in an attempt to save some money. When I move into a place of my own, there is no way I, or anyone in my age group really, would be able to afford to live here. I will, for all intents and purposes, be forced from my own home upon graduation. Though this is where my interest began, with the duality of the nature of this particular city, and how it may relate to other places, my thoughts are changing some the more invested in this project I become. I am less concerned with the city’s public image, and how it is portrayed, and more concerned with the results of that dichotomy.

[3] As the semester progressed, the ebb and flow of the objects I found behind my house were really intriguing to me, and I noticed as things came and went, it created a sort of tide that would wash in, and then a week or so later wash back out. I envision this as being somewhat self-contained, but not wholly unrelated to my main body of work., and perhaps being printed smaller and presented in a grid of some sort.

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