This was certainly an interesting residency. Now in Group Three, I’m beginning to feel the pressure mounting as the gravity of the whole situation settles on my shoulders just a little bit more. Realizing I was entering my final semester of real studio work, and knowing I really need to be sliding into my thesis, I began to panic just ever so much.
To be perfectly honest, I started to feel myself tripping up a little bit as the residency began to get rolling. Coming in with the work that I had, I knew one of my largest obstacles was going to be shaving down the very large bite that I had taken. My issue is not necessarily that I don’t know what I want to be doing, but rather just exactly what angle from which to approach my work.
The whole pace of the residency was strange, and oddly punctuated by snowstorms, artist cancellations and, really, just general confusion and chaos all around. I think part of my own personal confusion and difficulty in defining and refining what I am working on arose, in part, from that general confusion.
Luckily, however, I only lost out on one crit that I was not able to reschedule, and the rest were all very valuable. I don’t really think that I had any great revelations or huge, ground-shaking epiphanies during this particular residency, but that it was more of a slow burn that began. Sort of a few embers that are smoldering in the back of my mind, and will start to burn more as the semester begins to evolve.
My first critique was with John Kramer, and provided some enlightening information. The group crit was designed so that I didn’t say anything about my work at the outset, but rather let the others in my group discuss what they saw in my work. The results were interesting.
People noticed the repetition of certain places, and began to ask questions about these places, wondering if they were in the same area, how close they were, etc. They also honed in on some of the broken qualities in a lot of the places I photographed. All of this is what I had wanted, so I was relatively happy with people’s initial reactions.
Many people also took note of the fact that what I was shooting seemed to them to be “an urban place” that was “down on its luck”. They used adjectives like forgotten, desolate and messy to describe what they were seeing, and seemed to connect with these themes. They recognized my intentionality in not including people, and felt that it added an eeriness to the images that was a little unnerving to them. This is not to say that all reactions were the same, however, as some people were a little unsure what exactly I was saying.
This confusion for some was understandable, and also expected on my part; I knew that what I had come in with was a little convoluted and somewhat confusing. In this way, it was a reflection of the semester I had had. When I started the semester, I was very intentioned, and knew what I wanted. As the semester progressed, I started to wander a little from my initial rules, and ended up somewhat off the path.
I did have a few people hone in on the idea of conditional access, which was one of the many things that I had been rolling over in my head over the course of the semester. They seemed to link what I had done visually in my images with some of the concepts that were being visually portrayed. Some commented on the subject matter that was denying the viewer visual access into the image itself, linking it to the concept behind the partial access allowed by the actual subject matter.
Through the residency, there was certainly one main idea that emerged, and that everyone seemed to agree on: I need to tighten this body of work up over the coming semester. The ways in which they suggested I do this, however, varied greatly. There were suggestions that ranged from focusing more on the lighting and time of day of my images, to those whom said I should conceptually frame the work in a way that is more specific. I was also advised to set stricter parameters for myself, and work on my methodology while shooting. In short, if that’s the route that I go, pick my parameters, and them do not stray from them at all.
People also spent some time talking about the constructions I had made, and there seemed to be a split decision on those as well. As many who felt they were a viable option to explore over this next semester, there were an equal amount who thought it would not be a good idea. The idea of photoconstructions or assemblages is a bit of a slippery slope, and needs to be navigated carefully. I the end, I will not be working on these this semester, there is just not enough time.
Time, oddly enough, is part of what gave rise to these constructions in the first place. It was, in part, a way in which I wanted to reference our experience of time and memory, and to visually show that they are not truly linear experiences. Whenever we are in a given place, that space and time is informed by past memories we bring with us, and it also projects us forward, into places and spaces we may someday go. It is a function of memory that causes this to happen, and that is really important to me in my work.
Relating photography specifically to how we view and understand memory is certainly part of what I want to address in this body of work, but figuring out a way to do so is proving to be challenging. Choosing to photograph in places where I have specific memories is certainly important to the work I am doing; they are not just subjects that seem interesting to me, they are places where I have specific attachments and memories. Conveying that is part of what’s become the problem, though.
Combining a couple of the ideas that were generated this residency, I feel like I am starting to make some headway into actually being on the path that I want to be. Talking to Hannah Barett is when I started thinking more about memory, and how it relates to my work. In some ways, I think this is part of the key to things. As an exercise, Hannah suggested writing down the specific memories I have of the places I am photographing, and being very disciplined about doing so. Then, she suggesting going back and sifting through my writings to figure out what is relevant to my work, and what is not.
Having started trying this, it is already helping me form a clearer image in my mind as to what I want to be doing, and it is helping me be more intentional in my approach. I certainly can’t say that I have it all figured out yet, but I am definitely going in what I feel is the right direction. I had a number of other critiques in which many ideas arose as well. Some were very interesting, but ultimately not anything that will end up informing my work. Others, however, have sparked some interesting ideas.
One issue that arose this residency was the personal nature of my work. These places are inherently more important to me than to the viewer, and finding a way to bridge that gap will be important. Whether it is through text, which I am hesitant about and disinclined to include directly, or some other, more subtle inclusion. One thing that was mentioned to me was the inclusion of titles as a means to clue in the viewer a little more.
Ultimately, I think many of my answers are going to emerge only through a more stringent working process. I need to pick my photographic formula, and stick to it over this next semester. In the end, it became clear to me that I need to find a systematized way of dealing with the places I am photographing, and dealing with these quasi-natural controlled spaces in a way that expresses the tension that I want it to.
As the residency progressed, it became clear to me just how important it was to really hone in on what I am doing, and to really start to define my direction more. As this new semester is beginning, it seems daunting. All that is still standing in front of me seems enormous, and I am wondering exactly how it will al play out. A friend once told me something that was passed to him by his father. When you have to eat an elephant, how do you do it? Simple, one bite at a time.