Sunday, December 30, 2007

Contemporary Gothic

(For grad school twice a year all students congregate in Rockport to present work and be involved in a number of academic meetings. One such meeting involves an article or paper given to us in advance that we meet together and discuss. Then we are supposed to write a response to the paper and subsequent discussion. For the November '07 retreat we discussed an article about contemporary gothic. We also spent a lot of time rehashing the previous discussion about Baudrillard. This response is more in line with our discussion about Baudrillard and only touching upon contemporary gothic. Here is my response.)

I only wrote down one sentence from our group discussion about the Contemporary Gothic paper. Ironically the sentence was given in reference to understanding Baudrillard as we discussed the previous retreat group discussion not directly in reference to the Contemporary Gothic paper. I thought I had thoroughly exhausted what I had to say on the subject but this quote opened up a new perspective relative to one of my current photographic projects.

Paraphrased the quote went something like this–Simulation supplants our definition of reality, to the point that the simulation becomes our definition. I then scribbled in this little addition—Our definition of Christ is a simulation, a definition that supersedes what he really is. Obviously my addition was a little off topic but where I am currently trying to create Christian based photographs I am constantly trying to relate ideas to my project.

I went to a lecture entitled "Depicting Jesus at the Dawn of Christian Art" given by Josh Probert. This lecture was part of a series of lectures given in conjunction with an exhibit called “Beholding Salvation – Images of Christ” held at Brigham Young Universities Museum of Art. This lecture was held earlier this year on May 10th and it has given me plenty of food for thought since then.

I will paraphrase some of the highlights for benefit of discussion. Ancient Jerusalem was a melting pot of ideas and cultures. It had no natural resource of any great consequence. When Moses was promised that he would be led to the land of milk and honey he didn’t realize that was all they were getting. One humorous observer noted that Moses wandered forty years in the desert and finally settled in the only place in the Middle East that doesn’t have any oil.

The one thing Jerusalem did have was a great deal of interaction with cultures, religions and ideas. It was a major crossroads where the inhabitants were able to interact with Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians and others as traders passed through and as they were integrated through captivity and conquest. These factors play an important role in how Christ was portrayed in early Christian art.

Some wonder if early Christians who had been raised under Mosaic Law would be tolerant of the use of images. One of the ten commandments found in Deuteronomy 5:8 states, Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth. This commandment is often interpreted as a ban on worshiping statues, idols or anything but God as God.

It was actually quite common to use symbols and images in the Jewish culture as can be seen in their currency but they were quite averse to any attempt to try and portray deity fearing this would break the aforementioned commandment. There was also the other extreme where this commandment was taken quite literally through early persecution and the iconclasm. As a result much of the early Christian art was destroyed.

One way around this prejudice was in the use of symbols instead of literal depictions such as the chi-rho, weighted anchor, fish, or Good Shepherd. It was the Jewish Christians who were averse to portraying deity literally but there were more Gentile Christians than Jewish due to the early missionary work of the apostles. These Gentile Christians were fine with showing literal depictions of deity.

The manner in how Christ was portrayed evolved through formed enculturation. Instead of tearing down a peoples culture and starting from scratch you instead use their language and their knowledge to build upon. When preaching in Athens the apostle Paul referenced the temple of the Unknown God and declared that this was the God he was preaching about. The title of the Good Shepherd was not a new Christian title; it was a kingly phrase that people were familiar with. By calling himself the Good Shepherd Christ was claiming to be a king that watched over and protected his people. By using language and symbols that were readily known that gave his role context that people could easily comprehend.

Symbols that we readily accept as Christian today, were often a regurgitation of what other cultures were already using in their depiction of God. The early Christians were more concerned with the characteristics of Christ than they were with the actual Christ. The Good Shepherd is not the only example of this enculturation. Christ was often portrayed with a wand to demonstrate his trait as a miracle worker. The circle of light shown behind the heads of Christ and his saints arose from representation of the Greek god Helios (The God of Light) as a way to teach – “I am the light.” During the 4th and 5th century Christ grew a beard and long hair to invoke comparisons in the mind of the people to the Roman God Jupiter. Use of the mandorla (Body halo) was of Buddhist descent to demonstrate divinity. Use of the crucifix did not materialize until the 5th century even though the sign of the cross was in use as early as the 2nd century.

Even the Christian holidays we celebrate today were replacements to celebrations already in practice by the people, Christmas being the prime example. In Rome there were three holidays celebrated at the end of the year: Saturnalia (a celebration of Saturn the God of agriculture), Juvenalia (a feast honoring the children of Rome), and celebrating the birth of Mithra the God of the unconquerable sun on December 25th. In the 4th Century the church decided to begin celebrating the birth of Christ and Pope Julius I chose December 25th as the day to celebrate, even though there is more evidence that he was born in the spring.

By choosing a date that coincided with the traditional pagan celebrations of winter solstice the church was able to destroy these old traditions. By providing an alternative it increased the likelihood that the new celebration would be embraced by the masses. More importantly to the church, it gave them a way to almost completely supplant pagan religion by Christianity.

While serving my mission in Florida I remember the initial shock of seeing paintings of a black Christ and apostles complete with dread locks. I had the same trepidation when I first encountered versions of the bible such as the Ebonics Bible, or the Rap Bible. I remember thinking that it was ignorant and border line blasphemy to create an alternate Christ simply to ease conscience or make it socially or politically correct to worship him.

I was later having a discussion with a colleague when she mentioned the term “Surfer Jesus” in reference to a painting we were reproducing. I was slightly offended by the term but upon hearing her definition and a few years casual reflection I realized the corollary between images in Mormon’s artistic circles to my disdain for the African-centric images I encountered in Florida. The Mormon Jesus was not Jewish either. Instead of being painted to look like a Jewish carpenter he was being represented as a Caucasian dreamboat with a Californian surfer twist.

The artists were guilty of doing what people have done since the dawn of time. I remember being taught that man was created in the image of God. In practice, if the God we are taught about disagrees with our own philosophy or wants then we recreate him (her) in our own image. We want a God that we can relate to or that can be used to accomplish our own ambitions. If you want the real answer to why there are so many churches in the world you need look no further than that. We are too busy making God live up to our expectations to allow ourselves to live up to his.

I have heard many assertions that the Mormon Church that I adhere to is not a Christian faith. This is a notion that had always flabbergasted me. The official name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Every Sunday School lesson and sermon in church I experienced had Christ as its central premise and meetings began and ended in his name. I was counseled to always remember him and to take his name upon me and that only through him and his atonement could I be saved. How could we not be Christian?

This discussion helped me find a possible resolution at best, an explanation at least. It’s not that we are not Christian in the literal definition as one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is simply that all professing Christian’s each have there own simulations, which have supplanted our definition of reality, to the point that the simulation has become our definition. Any differing interpretations are a threat since if someone else’s God is correct that would make our own God wrong and that is threatening since we have chosen the God that we like the best.

Some believe in the holy trinity as declared in the Nicene Creed. Some believe that God is female. Some believe that there is no God. Some believe in the jihad god of Islam. Some believe in the peaceful God of Islam. Some worship the devil. All of these definitions, mine included, become superfluous to this discussion. I am content to acknowledge that there is a possibility that a God may exist.

The details are not important; I’m just tired of looking at God from an individual’s perspective. There are two dominant theories to explain our existence, the big bang theory and evolution on one hand and then creationism on the other. I don’t even care if you use the big bang theory and evolution as the vehicles for how God created life. Anything is possible.

Using the assumption that there is a divine creator, logic stands that there can be only one accurate depiction of this being or force. In Harry Potter there is a creature called a Bogart that takes on a different appearance every time somebody else looks at it based on the worst fears of that individual. Unlikely that divinity would take this approach because that would make us the Gods and God the puppet. That means that the majority if not the entire population have created their own personal Jesus/fill in the blank. Our simulations have supplanted the actual being. Conversely, we can take the Atheist/Contemporary Gothic explanation that Christian imagery is simply a simulation of a simulation of a simulation of something that never really existed.

I notice this trend in so many aspects of our life. I think a number of divorces are a result of one partner not living up to a preconceived notion of what they should be by the other partner. How many times have you heard the rational for not liking a book, a movie, or a program in college simply because it was not what they expected? How many times have you heard someone say that a movie was not as good as the book and the only rational given for the dislike was that they changed things? Or maybe the characters were not portrayed how you pictured them.

One weird phenomenon that I have experienced is that when I complain about a movie this way, if I revisit the book the portrayals that I had, have been replaced by the movies interpretation. Seeing movie destroys your imagination and you cannot revisit the book without envisioning the movies descriptions instead of you own.

*(I have included the original creation by Jim Krantz on top and then also the offering by Richard Prince below)

I use a critique of photographers based on my definition of photography. An example of this would be the work of Richard Prince who re-photographs others photographs. I would not define him as a photographer. I would define him as a critic. His work shows none of the skills, vision or execution that I use to critique other photographers. True he does use a camera but other than that he cannot fit into my simulation.

As I have tried to research him I have found many critics that adore his work. I have also found many photographers that despise him. I think the explanation for this polar divide is that each group has a definition for how things should be done. He works along the mindset of the critic where he uses his images to make a statement about what photography is doing. He uses a camera like a critic uses a word processor. An analysis of his work is that it is a critique of the meanings we take for granted. Prince acknowledges this separation in his own words:

“There wasn’t really a plan. I’ve never been included in any photography-based survey, museum show, photo magazine. I’ve heard that Peter Galassi hates my work. That he would never acknowledge it in the photo department at MoMA. I think he’s wrong. I think my photo work is all about photography. But there was never an idea about where the work was going at the beginning when I started to re-photograph images. When you don’t have any training in a particular medium you can bring something to it that hasn’t been brung (sic). I “brung” the sheriff and I shot him. I killed photography. Maybe they hated that. I always look for my name in Photography mags but I never see it. Maybe I should have “rescued” photography.”

Richard Prince’s art is not one of photography; it is the art of spin. It is a critique not a creation. His work requires the creations of others for his work to have any validity. Even if Prince doesn’t acknowledge that commercial work has an author he needs the original artist far more than the artist needs him.

The problem I find with this train of logic is it doesn’t offer solutions it only makes observations. My not liking Richard Prince or seeing Christ portrayed in varying nationalities does not change their existence or their validity to other people. If anything it helps to understand other people. If we will stop and try to reverse engineer how other people ended up with their simulation before we reject it straightaway for differing with our own we may actually learn something.

Jerusalem

There has been a project rolling around in my head for 3-4 years now. I finally decided it was time to give it a shot. (no pun intended) I had a friend in the photo program at BYU that also worked with me at a place called Coleman Studios where we reproduced paintings. We worked on a lot of corny art that gave us many opportunities to mock and scorn. Included in this assault was some religious art being created for the Latter-Day Saints community. While in Florida I was a little disgusted by how commercial Christianity had become. Bumper stickers, t-shirts, breath mints, jewelry (nothing says I believe in God like a jewel encrusted cross on a large chain), you name it and somebody had marketed it.

Now that I was back in my beloved west I was chagrined to realize we were no better just behind the curve. God was becoming big business. You did not need quality you just needed content for the masses to bite. Me and my friend, Joey Moon, decided to have a little fun with it and planned out and started creating our own images. Some were going to be original creations and others were going to be appropriated images modified to get people thinking about content in Christian images more. Here are two attempts.

We had about twenty images planned out and in the works when I decided that I didn’t really like what I was doing. I felt I was only mocking the problem without offering a viable alternative, so I quit making the images. I have since wondered if I could use photography as a legitimate tool to invoke faith or increase knowledge about life’s purpose.

Numerous problems have arisen to hinder me. First, my beliefs differ from the majority of the worlds in one degree or another and I don’t want to force my beliefs on others. Second, I don’t like how paintings have literally shown a scene that was considered so sacred only a few people were privy to its occurrence. Third, I think a strength of photography is the innate believability that people attribute to the medium but which now becomes a weakness in light of the problem previously mentioned. Fourth, I don’t want to make pretty pictures of locations since I don’t believe in worshiping a spot but what transpired there, so the exact spot is trivial. Fifth, this subject matter and approach is completely out of my comfort zone.

I began to mull over the idea of trying to create a vision, almost a dream of what transpired to invoke the viewers desire to want to see the rest, a desire that can only be satisfied by their own efforts and pursuits. I envisioned a scene with very selective focus that would only provide an echo or whisper of what the story fully entails. I envisioned focusing not on the decisive moment or the trophy shot that is so often created, but on an accessory aspect of the story. Instead I wanted to focus more on why the event happened or how it relates to us or even what we can learn from it rather than focusing on the notion that it did happen.

I spent a month in Israel, Egypt, & Jordan this last summer with the purpose of trying to create some. (I know I said location wasn't essential but I couldn't help but rationalize such a cool trip.) They almost all require a considerable amount of photoshop and many need additional elements photographed and put in. As I complete new ones I will post them. Here are the first few attempts with more hopefully coming shortly.


The Garden Tomb
The Garden of Gethsemane
The Widow's Mite

New Utah Lake

I have been working on a project photographing Utah Lake with Brandon Allen for a couple of years now. It has been off and on (unfortunately more off than on) but we have been able to accrue a descent collection of work that hopefully can become something more. I decided that since I was doing this project already I might as well get some graduate school credit for it at the same time. (note to self. don't take a project you enjoy and turn it into graduate course work. I was warned before I started that grad school was designed to suck all the love for your profession right out of you. I didn't heed that warning. I proceeded to allow the graduate committee to look at my collection as it was and ask for direction and advice from there. I never thought that the phrase "your pictures are too good" could be used as an insult. I was proven wrong again. I knew that "pretty" was not in fashion but after an hour and a half critique gone bad I realized I had my work cut out for me. I was torn for a long time trying to figure out a way to appease my committee without selling out and making pictures that I didn't like just to please others. (DON'T EVER SELL OUT TO MAKE OTHERS HAPPY) Their was one critique that I took to heart. I explained my motivation of showing the people of Utah Valley that beauty is in the lake and that you need to put aside their prejudices if you wanted to be able to see it. Someone pointed out that all they saw was a beautiful lake. A place they would want to go for a vacation. They could not see that there was a need to fix the lake or the public perception of it. I realized that I was limiting my ability to communicate with anyone but a very small audience. This was a problem.

I saw this image by Stephen Shore of a billboard showing a beautiful mountainscape out in a boring field. That gave the impetus for my next experiment. I decided to take my pictures back out to the locations that they were created and rephotograph them. (I joked that I didn't want to imitate other photographs and take their pictures so I decided to go out and photograph mine) I wanted to include more of the surrounding landscape. Show stuff that I intentionally excluded. I wanted to photograph in very average light and in color to allow the image to seem more natural and provide the greatest contrast to my already created "pretty" images.

I made every effort to allow the shoreline and other landmarks to line up between old and new pictures, within reason. I was limited by what I could physically do with a lens but I think the illusion works nicely. Size is also a limiting factor on the blog. These images will be printed large to carry their full effect and allow the viewer to see all the little details like litter strewn shores and rusted nails. Anyways, here is the result of the experiment.











My originals photos can be viewed on my website. The creation of these in no way negates my other attempt. I have decided that by using these new images alongside the older pristine ones I can further the dialog and reach more people. The two approaches side be side says more than either one by itself.

Baudrillard Response

(For grad school twice a year all students congregate in Rockport to present work and be involved in a number of academic meetings. One such meeting involves an article or paper given to us in advance that we meet together and discuss. Then we are supposed to write a response to the paper and subsequent discussion. For the May '07 retreat we discussed an article by Jean Baudrillard, a preeminent philosopher who recently passed away. Here is my response.)

I am torn, if the group discussion is a non-event without the papers we are supposed to write about them, should I postpone the writing of the paper. If the discussion did not really happen, I can’t be blamed for not producing a paper about something that is not real. The very nature of my typing is transforming those two hours of my life into something else. The discussion is more dependent upon these responses then we are upon the discussion. Alas, the hyper-real credit that I seek is dependent upon the hyper-real paper, oh wait, I guess that would now make this paper a non-event because it is dependent upon someone else writing down that I receive credit for the paper. That would mean the credit is real and this paper never really happened.

Ok, maybe I shouldn’t write my paper in the same cryptic manner as the reading by Baudrillard. It would take hours to confuse myself to the degree I felt while reading his article, a less productive approach in my opinion. Writing style aside, the suggestion by Baudrillard was of great interest to me. Media has a very contradictory fascination held by me. During a communication class in college, I was told that in relationships, the thing that firsts attracts someone to their partner is usually the very thing that will drive them apart later. If you love how funny they are and how they draw people to them, later in the relationship you will hate how your partner always has to be the center of attention.

With media, my love has been with its power to instigate change. Historically, for change to occur, awareness must be drawn to the areas that need attention. Unfortunately, the old idiom holds true, the squeaky wheel always gets the grease. I think of W. Eugene Smith and the people of Minamata that he helped. I think of Lewis Hine and the child labor laws he helped to get passed. I think of how corruption in government or corporate business now becomes accountable to the public when the media is capable of bringing their dirty laundry to light.

That power that media carries also now becomes the characteristic that drives me away from it. Power has an insatiable tendency to corrupt those that possess it. Media has fallen into that category. Baudrillard gave a voice to a problem that I had of yet been unable to quantify. The news was now more the story, than the story that they purported to cover. Each event that gets deluded by the mass media becomes an afterthought to the coverage itself. The media must make an icon out of all they touch. Martyrs must be made, heroes must be created, dynasties must crumble, and conspiracies must be uncovered.

You look at the motivation of the industry and it is to get us to look, to watch. It is not about truth. If we do not look then they do not exist, so proactively news must be manufactured if it is not in existence. The story must be found because the precarious balance upon which our culture resides requires it. Nothing makes us feel more alive then the fear of death and the media creates a safe alternative for us to be able to receive our fix. Each new dramatic story, war, conspiracy, murder or speculation of crime satisfies our addiction to feel alive even if it is only hyper-real. And who better to bring these events about but the institution established to make us aware of their happenings. They are positioned as judge and jury to make up the mind of the general public before any checks and balances can be implemented to temper the public guillotine. The world is accountable to them but they are accountable to no one.

I marvel at the phenomenon currently surrounding the Major league baseball player Barry Bonds. He is a second-generation baseball prodigy. His pedigree made him a superstar before he could even walk. His father, Bobby Bonds, won the golden glove three times, was a three time all-star and was voted as the most valuable player once. He was the cousin to hall of famer Reggie Jackson and the Godson of hall of famer Willie Mays. Barry Bonds is on pace to break one of the most heralded records in all of sports. He currently has 746 career home runs and is only 9 behind the once thought untouchable record of 755 held by Hank Aaron.

He is unquestionably one of the greatest baseball players to have ever lived. Ironically, he is also one of the most hated baseball players to have ever lived. I have only been told not to like him even though I’ve never met him. My only introduction to him has been through the eyes of the media. My opinions are shaped upon hearing reactions from those that have met him, people like ESPN’s Jemele Hill who petitions to a higher power in an article, “God, can you smite Barry Bonds before he breaks Major League Baseball's all-time home run record?” The media repeatedly states that he doesn’t deserve the record because he is arrogant, conceited, demeaning, “allegedly” cheated by using steroids, and worse of all is not half the person that Hank Aaron was. Last time I checked, we were discussing the home run record not a personality contest. (Also of note, the steroid controversy exists because members of the media wrote a book called “Game of Shadows” using sources they won’t divulge, that accuse Bonds of steroid use)

Hitting a tiny ball thrown at you at 90+ miles per hour, usually with movement according to how the pitcher threw it, with a wooden bat, over a wall over 300 feet away repeatedly over an extended career (Which last time I checked was the record in question, career home runs) is no longer the point. The record is no longer the issue. The reality is that someone they don’t like is going to surpass Aaron, (whom the media adore) according to them because Bond’s cheated by using steroids (despite never having tested positive for them). The media helped to create an athletic God in Barry Bonds from birth. Bonds did not thank them; in fact he shunned and ridiculed them. He has only ever publicly claimed to want to play baseball because he loves the game, definitely not for the media and surprisingly not even for the fans, he has only played for himself. The media is now pulling out all of their resources to ensure that at least in the court of public opinion, he will be a failure.

There are some athletes that play sports for the love of the game. I think the media does not like the fact that an athlete isn’t playing for them. I think they are offended when an athlete brushes them off and doesn’t want to talk to them after a game. If an athlete insults a reporter they pass it off as the athlete turned his back on the world. The reporter has now begun to operate under the delusion and grandeur that they are the voice of the people almost as if the people had elected them.

Case in point, during a press conference held with the former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, about removing some Turnpike tolls, a Boston Globe reporter started to give what seemed to be a prepared speech extolling all his ideas on the subject. Upon realizing that a question was not forthcoming, Romney interrupted by asking, “Do you have a point of view on this?” Taken aback, the reporter stated, “I represent the people, governor.” To which Romney eloquently quipped back, “No, I represent the people. You represent the media.”

We see evidences all around us of the negative power that can be extolled by the media. Unfortunately, where would we be without them? Without someone in a position to make politicians and executives accountable what heresies and atrocities may have occurred? Now here is the rub, to whom is the media accountable? Obviously, first and foremost it has to be to us, the viewing public. If our only source to information about the state of the world is through the media, what then is the likelihood that the media would tell us how and why they manipulate information to serve their own end?

I watched a documentary entitled ‘The Invisible Children” about children in small villages in the Sudan who have to ritualistically leave their homes and travel to nearby cities to sleep in masses to avoid being captured by the Lords Resistance Army and forced into becoming soldiers for their cause. As part of the brain washing the children are forced to torture and even kill each other and often forced to return and kill members of their own families to prove their training is complete. If they fail, they then become the victims to aid in other slave children’s training.

A few children have escaped from this circle of hell. There are small centers set up to help these children rehabilitate from what they have been subjected to. There was one interview I saw within the confines of these centers that I find disturbingly insightful. A young boy was so conditioned to the sight of blood he would experience terrible headaches on days when no malice was committed in front of him. He needed the violence as bad as he hated it. Is there a parallel there to our own lives?

Even in popular culture the dangers of the media are spotlighted. These stories are all fictional but I think that is where they garner their validity, we can say in fiction that which is inexcusable in reality. Even worse is if we delude ourselves to believing these things can’t or don’t happen in reality. We see how The Daily Bugle is able to twist Spiderman into a menace no matter how much good he does. Professor Dolores Umbridge, Reeta Skeeter and The Daily Prophet twist Harry Potter into someone to be feared and avoided when he only seeks to uncover the truth about someone that truly fits their accusations. In the Hudsucker Proxy, Norville Barnes is at first an idea man but later declared insane. The first title was given without him having done anything and the straightjacket definition came after his idea saved the company. The little ironic twist in that story is that the media used the accusation that Barnes stole his great idea from the elevator guy and upon seeing it in print even the elevator guy believed it to be true.

Truth, now there is a slippery slope. Since truth is subjective to the person declaring it, how can anything be true for everyone? Unbiased is a media industry pipedream that somehow we believe because we rely so heavily upon our informational I.V. that the very thought of unplugging causes trepidation. What would life be like if we couldn’t find out what was happening in the world? Or worse, what would we do if we actually had to live life instead of vicariously watching it through the media? We watch as life happens to everyone else. It is so bad the industry has even had to start manufacturing reality and putting it on TV because that is our lifeline to what is ‘real’.

This process seems perpetual, as each new story is dependent upon an earlier story to give it context. We derive meaning from the hyper-real and build upon it with the next story. Our culture has weaved such an elaborate tapestry of simulations that we forget what real is. Even in snack foods blue has become a flavor even though the only color I can logically associate with a taste is orange. Grape doesn’t taste anything like a grape, nor does banana. Pluto is no longer a planet even though it hasn’t changed its day-to-day routine or appearance. We even herald discoveries and hold inventions in great esteem when in actuality neither can claim more than open minded observation.

I find it highly unlikely that the person who discovered fire was the first to have seen it. He was simply the first to understand it. Man has never invented or discovered anything; we have simply realized things that have always existed. We were just incapable or unwilling to see and use it before then. Columbus discovering America or Newton discovering gravity, if logic holds true then fruit had been falling in America long before either of them started discovering.

As time changes so does what is real. It must be altered to conform to the reality that we are currently trying to portray. In the study of art I have a hard time accepting the definition given me about the purpose of a work of art if an artist never came out and stated their intentions. Hundreds of years can pass and we are told we know what their intent was when we rarely accurately do this with our contemporaries. I have been told numerous times what my images mean and why I have taken them and also what I believe…only to reflect and not find legitimacy in their answers. If we can’t do it now how can I believe that we can do it for a guy that lived 700 years ago in Germany? Or is this just another example of creating simulations that foster and support the prominent ideology or movement currently being circulated. History changes according to the needs of the present.

Do we run the risk of trying so hard to find meaning in history and our place in it that we are creating our own hyper-reality? Has art become incestuous to the point that an image cannot be made without being dictated to and directed by periods and movements? Or has it always been this way? Are we slaves to the intellect and history of art so much that instead of academics and historians writing about art they are, in a sick twisted sort of way, actually creating the art? Has the critic become the true artist and the artist but his pawn? Can an argument be made that Clement Greenberg is the greatest artist of our time?

Maybe we don’t live in a two party political system. We have the obvious choices, republicans & democrats but we must not forget CBS, CNN, ABC, NBC and Fox. I almost forget the lobbyist and other political interest groups that have a say in how the government is run. Just as Robert Franks most notable achievement may not have been his landmark book “The Americans” but the throngs of followers that he gave a different artistic license to and all the images they created.

This creates an obvious quandary. Can you be original without studying our predecessors and contemporaries? If we study our predecessors and the subsequent images are a result of that experience, then can we truly be considered original and not derivative? If we follow the later approach then our images could not have existed if others had not created theirs.

Creatively, we have become a slave to our past and a pawn to our present. Ironically, originality cannot exist without others. I always love hearing claims for original thought when as soon as you start looking you will probably find numerous others that thought the same thing, not to mention the countless others that weren’t able to get their thoughts published or patented. “If you think you have an original idea, stop reading or risk discovering otherwise.” (Sorry, I can’t take credit for that idea) Maybe similarities to others should be heralded instead of scoffed at because like it or not we are all part of a large orchestra and the performance cannot be completed without every member.

I find an alternative definition to originality would be to not succumb to the ebb and flow of popular trends. “To be yourself and nobody but yourself in a world that is trying night and day to make you everybody but yourself is to fight the hardest battle there is and never stop fighting.” I’m not talking about running out and getting tattoos and piercings, that’s too cliché. (That’s the problem with being different, pretty soon everybody else is being different with you.) Fashion, diets, and TV all rely upon the masses. If you have to have the latest and the greatest clothes, cars, and whatever else is currently en vogue (be that traditional or alternative) then you condemn yourself to being unoriginal.

I see art in a very similar fashion. Changing artistic styles and techniques as quickly as fashion trends seems to reek of external dependency instead of your own unique internal voice. (Not that you shouldn’t question everything, but outside forces can morph as much as they can uncover.) The proverbial tit of mass information upon which we all suckle is by nature keeping us in our infancy. It seemed Baudrillard was not inclined to say one way or another whether he deemed his observation on our culture good or bad. It was simply an observation. Having been exposed to his idea will forever make it a part of my collective being and I can no more separate myself from it then I can disavow my birthplace. (Not acknowledging it cannot change its validity) His idea has changed me.

What this knowledge will do for me, who knows? That is the beauty of life, a cornucopia of ideas and experiences culminating in a yet unknown masterpiece, or kitsch. We’ll let the critics and historians sort that one out. I will enjoy the ride and can’t wait to see Barry Bonds break the record.

My Artist Statement

(This is a paper I wrote for graduate school where I was asked to expound and clarify my artist statement. This is not yet complete but I figured I would post it and see how people respond to it.)

How to write an artist statement? It feels a little incestuous quite honestly. It feels a lot like a first date where you’re always trying to say the right things to impress, regardless with how it aligns with the truth. Or perhaps it has more similarities to a qualification on a resume embellished from working at Subway to that of being a “sandwich artist.”

I also find occasion for a good laugh after reading others artist statements. To see how many impressive words can be strung together to tell you how profound and talented they really are. If someone has to tell me how good he or she is at something then my first conclusion is that there work couldn’t do it by itself. I dislike selling myself and can get equally embarrassed if others laud my praises.

How is this to be done? I think to honestly write a statement about why I create art I must analyze why I create art the way that I do. Then I must reevaluate how I talk about art. Do I criticize or praise? Do I point out my faults or focus upon my strengths? Should the underlying motivations be the concentration of my efforts? Do I compare and contrast my works to those of others and explain how I am relating to or redefining the medium?

So why do I create my art in the way that I currently am?

I had the advantage/disadvantage of being raised in a protective little bubble in a small rural town in Idaho. You knew all your neighbors and didn’t have to lock your house or car doors. I was never once offered alcohol, tobacco or drugs during high school. Our brand of getting in trouble was along the lines of skipping out on a church dance and going to play pool or toilet papering a neighbors yard. There were few if any issues regarding race, sexual orientation, abortion, feminism or religion. Life was simple and straightforward. People knew what needed done and for the most part were content with fulfilling their roles.

Not long after graduation from high school I moved to Florida for two years to serve a mission for my church. My first area was in Orlando; while there I had guns pulled on me, barely missed stumbling upon murders in progress, discovered we had numerous gay neighbors (Which was quickly brought to our attention since missionaries serve in companionships and two guys living together did not go unnoticed) neighborhoods where we were the only two white guys for miles (We were commonly accused of being the police.) and a street named Orange Blossom Trail that at that time had 45 strip clubs or houses of ill repute and a hot dog stand named Bikini Weenie’s. I had definitely left home.

I returned from my mission and within a few years I discovered photography while attending Utah Valley State College. I then promptly transferred to Brigham Young University (A university owned and operated by my church) where I acquired my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. The focus of the school was in traditional commercial photography.

Right after transferring to BYU I took a trip with the photography department to San Francisco. While on this trip I saw two images that had a profound impact on me: First was Brett Weston’s Mendenhall Glacier II and second was Paul Caponigro’s Running White Deer. These images provide a good indication of my visual biases as I began to photograph. Up to this point I had been exposed to very little in Post-modern photography and had even less explained to me.

These images were entirely about form and aesthetics. There were no external references made or implied. They embodied the quest to establish an ideal world of aesthetic bliss with no negative or unpleasant components. They are a prime example of beauty for beauties sake. These preferences and these experiences are what laid my photographic foundation.

Considering this upbringing it should probably not come as a surprise that my photography has a traditional flair. My psyche and intellect is laced with idealism. My religious upbringing contained the doctrine that of all the churches on earth ours was the only one that contained a fullness of the truth. Other churches contained portions of the truth but due to a great apostasy that allowed doctrines of men to intermingle with scripture and then be passed off as truth not one of these churches contained a fullness of truth. This is a very bold declaration in a Post-modern society that no longer believes in a universal truth or utopian lifestyle. On the contrary, it runs on the philosophy of either no utopia or multiple utopias to account for the many subcultures in society and as a result there are multiple truths and paths.

My life experiences have left me in a unique position. Not many people in my age bracket had a full experience of living in a world based in simplicity and idealism (similar to the aims and goals of modernism) and then transition into an art world fully established in the post-modernist realm. I have seen both worlds in great depth. I feel caught in the middle between seeing the merits of my two worlds. First my old world complete with a right and a wrong and the lofty expectations established for myself and for society and an ideal manner for all of us to act. Secondly, my new world that accounts for many rights and many wrongs and the breaking down of ideals so that other people have room to create there own ideal society. Both sides have merits that should be applauded and faults that need to be addressed. I find myself living in both worlds but married to neither.

There have been periods in my life where I could care less what the rest of the world is doing photographically or what critics and academia has to say about any of them. During other periods I am truly inspired and motivated as I study the bodies of work that have been produced. This bipolar mindset about artistic intellect causes me to ponder how much I should let the whims and trends of my medium dictate my own course of action. Conversely, ignorance of ones own medium limits any potential growth exponentially.

These opposing ideas have become a roadblock that requires reconciliation for me to progress. The more intellectual I try to make my images the staler my thought process becomes. The more I decline to acknowledge art theory and academic influences within my work the more ignorant I appear. Currently if I had to give an example of an oxymoron it would have to be creativity or originality. One evaluation of my art work that has been proffered to me far too often recently is that my work is too similar to (fill in the blank) and to correct this I should be more original and try to do work more like (fill in the blank). How is that being original?

The real crux of being original is that it requires others work to use as a point of departure or as a comparison. I struggle with the inherent definition of originality because it requires the direct involvement of others. I used to think that to be truly original you would have to be born in a blank room and never interact with others. Lately I have concluded that to be original requires avid research and selective amnesia. Or in the words of Laurence J. Peter “Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it.”

I used to not think about why I took pictures; I took them as I reacted to my subject. It was a completely intuitive and reactive process not laden down by thoughts of how my current process was relating to or contributing to photography. Neither did I wonder what theoretical components were being introduced nor what period or movements will these images be classified into. I simply wanted to photograph my subject in the most compelling way I thought possible and then be understandable to the average person. Those other thoughts felt so removed from what I was trying to accomplish their contemplation tended to hinder rather than help any creative process. When I began to worry about what people would think my motivation was or whose work people were going to compare my images to I lost the motivation to go out and photograph.

Originality was not a motivation for me. Museums and galleries were not a motivation for me. I remember at one point thinking that what I really loved about photography was the actual process of taking a picture. It was not seeing the finished print nor the making of it that I enjoyed. I would have been happy pushing the button and simply assuming that I had created a masterpiece without having any future justification for this reaction. That particular instinct has dwindled considerably but not vanished. I love the instinctual chase to find a location where all the elements combine in a way that I feel compelled to photograph. It is almost as if I didn’t take the picture I would leave a piece of me behind.

As I look to study my own art I find the motivations to be the most critical. First is the subject matter. I want to find something to photograph that strikes an emotional chord within me. I want to find something that I have a vested interest in or concern for. That way the success of my pictures is not weighed against themselves but by what they represent. I like to choose a subject based on my strengths and capacity to communicate it. I find it foolish to place myself as an expert on a subject that I know little about and I don’t enjoy others doing the same.

I like to choose a subject that has a message that is not being shared or that people simply don’t hear. I like subjects that invigorate me and make me enjoy life. I seek subjects that help me forget the superficial aspects of my life that bog me down and reengage the aspects that make me glad to be alive. I like a subject that reminds me of what I love about photography even if it is simply a reaction to someone else’s photograph. I think love of photography can be as legitimate a reason as anything. I believe that creation of art can be summarized in the saying, ‘we are what we eat’. We are heavily influenced by images we like as well as images that we don’t like. To take a photograph because the scene reminds us of another image is an honest reaction.

As I look at my motivations I notice some gaping holes. Never once have I wanted to take a picture based on what a critic has said. Never once have I wanted to take a picture based on what is popular at the time. I don’t consider if a gallery, juror or museum will like what I am photographing. I rarely consider what historical context my images will be placed in. From what I have seen even if I did consider those things others will make the final decisions to all those questions. That is the job of critics, not mine. My job is making photographs. If these factors mentioned are the motivations for why I photograph then I am creating others pictures not my own. If originality is such an admirable trait in an artist then this is where I glean my originality from, focusing on my intentions not others.

I have been told that a weakness of photography is how literal a medium it is. That photography is not an art because you are simply capturing what is there. I find this notion silly, I know how visually dishonest the medium is. The idiom is true, a picture does not lie but unfortunately the picture is merely a vehicle for what the artist wants to say and artists are compulsive liars. We see the artists lie and accept it as truth merely because it is a photograph. This is not a fault inherent in the photograph but in the audience.

I find the most logical way to talk about my work has been from the perspective of the subject. I find it difficult to analyze my work from the perspective of art theories since this is not the direction from which they are created. As I pigeon hole my images into categories created to support theories I find my images lose the meaning I intended for them. It is hard as a creator to intentionally destroy my intent to satisfy the objectives of other artists. I will attempt this anyway just as parents should really think about what junior high kids will do with the names given to their children.

One viable lens is the creation of art as ritual. When you look into religious and tribal ceremonies one aspect of both that we can focus on is how ordinary objects or gestures are embodied with great significance. They take something of a mundane or simplistic nature and endow it with a symbolic reference that a large community or group holds in common. When you have a shared belief system in a ritualistic setting you give power and meaning that elevates ordinary items to a higher status. This phenomenon will garner an understanding very similar to when artists portrayed ideas by giving things symbolic meaning in their paintings.

However, when these symbols are removed from their context and presented to a new audience the power and meaning that they are endowed with can vanish. The shared belief system, which gave the objects their power, is the significant component. If you remove this system then the object reverts to simply being an object. I feel that a museum can destroy these artifacts easier than they can glorify them. Putting them in a museum separates the thing from the idea and subsequently from its power. It is simply an object that points us to the understanding of the culture that produced it. Knowledge of intent is crucial to understanding the objects and their creation.

This is the danger I find in classifying ritualistic artifacts as art using the same qualifications employed with a Serrano or a Pollock. Ritualistic objects were created to buoy up the belief system of their culture, whereas now the popular motive seems to be breaking down and redefining our culture. Once an object is placed within a museum it begins a new life dictated by the intents of the critics and the curators even the presentation method will affect the viewers interpretation, the artist’s intent is secondary at best.

I find more correlation with ritualistic theory in how people tell me why my pictures were created and what their meaning was rather than the working practices of ritual and myself. I am embodying paper and pigment/silver with references to something else. I am pointing the viewer to a place, a person or an idea. There experience is then dependent upon their belief system and how they react to the image. A stronger correlation can exist for those people that share common interests and aesthetics with how they will respond but on the whole the meaning will be individual. Ritualistic art seems to depend on the culture being intertwined with the practice or creation of the works being discussed. I do not try to intertwine my images with culture. I would have to classify myself as being selfish in this regard since I intentionally disregard what society wants in preference to what I want.

When analyzing my artwork connections to theories that I find the most apparent are within the imitation, cognitive and formalist theories. I aspire to an aesthetically pleasing end product. I seek out light form and an arrangement of the two that promotes an internal harmony. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I want people to respond without evaluating the objects purpose. Instead I want people to respond to the aesthetics and upon establishing that hook then the underlying meaning can become apparent. For me without the aesthetics the meaning will be lost because that is how I respond to others photographs. If I don’t like the look then I don’t bother waiting around to listen to the idea. If I want ideas without the visuals then I will read academic papers.

“Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” Grandma Moses

I like the utopian ideal to an extent. I believe we can create a better world, if not perfect at least better. If our focus is solely on the negative and problematic then we create a world that is pessimistic and depressed. If we have an ideal that motivates us to greater things then we leave potential for growth. Failure is not found in the missing of a goal it is found in the not attempting one.

I am ok with Thomas Aquinas assertion that “ Beauty was an essential or transcendental property of God, like goodness and unity. Human artwork should emulate and aspire to Gods marvelous properties.” I would also agree with John Dewey that “art has a function in our lives and should not be remote and esoteric.” I like art that helps me understand and appreciate reality and all that comes with it. I don’t feel the need to create a new world that I feel disconnected with. Unfortunately there is no one piece of art that is capable of portraying all of these varying attributes. Art is a reflection of reality, not reality in and of itself, and as such we need a multitude of artists and a diversity of creations to do justice to life.

Just because there is a legitimate place for and logic within the art world for images that are shocking or vulgar or controversial and that I feel required to acknowledge such does not require me to make place for these practices within my own art work. I propose beauty is not dead nor can it be killed. If we must allow room for the unpleasant then I feel justified in maintaining a place for beauty. You cannot have one without the other since the definition of one is often comprehended by analyzing the other.

I do find it important to know how I relate to the postmodern world that I now find myself a part of. I also feel a need to acknowledge my part in living in our current artistic society since this is a factor I cannot control but I do not feel the need to allow this period to dictate my actions since this is something I can control. In the not to distant past I considered myself as far away from appreciating postmodern as was feasibly possible. I even purchased a web address entitled modernpostphotography.com after a long discussion with some students where I stated the closest I would ever get to postmodernism is by making modern photos of posts. (Tongue in cheek intended.)

I think the problem that I was encountering was how people would tell me that an image was modern or that it was postmodern without giving me a definition or an explanation of either. Since this was all I had to go on these isolated images became my definitions. Coincidently the images I liked were given the modern tag and the images I disliked were classified as postmodern. Without understanding either period but having a strong opinion on both I had all the tools necessary to develop my own style of artistic prejudice. As soon as I saw an image that I did not like, all my arguments for disliking postmodernism came rushing to the attack.

I made the mistake of allowing an academic classification to define the art I saw. I found it inconsistent to create art one-way and view it another. I dislike the academic approach in creating my images but now I had found myself implementing it in looking at others. I have recently discovered a new way of understanding postmodernism. One aspect of modernism that I did not understand was its quest for a utopian society at the exclusion of anyone or anything that did not fit into their proscribed mold.

Society had reached a point where people that did not fit into the utopian model demanded change, and rightfully so. No people’s happiness should be dependent on others goals or aspirations. A large portion of the population finds their happiness in the worlds definitions. If the world’s definition excludes you then you can either accept it or seek to redefine it. A redefinition was chosen. Laws, attitudes, stereotypes, roles and perceptions needed to be altered so that the utopian ideal could either be destroyed or vastly expounded.

Blacks sought civil rights. Women sought equal rights. Gays and Lesbians wanted marital rights. Every subculture within society wanted their voice heard and represented equally when compared to their polar opposite: Blacks and whites, women and men, gays and straights, even students and adults. Subcultures started to realize that the portrayed dream of a husband and wife with two kids, one boy and one girl, a Buick parked in front of a suburban house with a white picket fence was not feasible for a great portion of our country.

The world began to realize that one answer could not satisfy the multitude of questions. There had to be allowances for different ideas and who could say that there idea was more important or valid than another. This phenomenon was occurring not only in society but also in the art world. Art is a reflection of society and idea. Artists put what they know into their creations and then critics put what they know into their interpretation of that creation. Just as there were multiple subcultures needing representation there are multitudes of artists each with their own agendas and interpretations on society.

Artwork represented this fact very clearly. Everything that had not been represented was now being featured. Photographic style had been completely revisited and practices once considered the norm where now considered taboo. The reactionary phase of postmodernism rebelled just as any child would from parents. Any time parents forbid something the children will interpret it as an invitation. Thou shalt not lists turn into check lists.

Opposing voices now become the norm and tradition becomes shunned. The open door invitation by Arthur Danto was readily accepted and a new policy of anything goes was initiated. This was a movement that needed to happen to offset the intolerance that existed. The problems of the Modernist mindset were brought to the forefront and attacked thoroughly. We were in the process of creating our brave new world where acceptance was in. Evidence of this transformation can be found in how important being politically correct is in our culture. You cannot publicly slam a special interest group in today’s world without incurring the wrath of the media.

With no ideal to aim for or to compare to, pure freedom and artistic initiative could be employed. There were minority races and ideas that had been oppressed for far too long and were now free and encouraged to make themselves known publicly. They championed that idea that ‘art is defined by the artist’ and anything can be art with the right situation and theory. This opened Pandora’s box to the creatively inclined and the limits to this theory needed to be pushed and questioned to find out what the limits are. The limits have and will continue to be pushed.

The inherent problem with this movement is how the oppressed has a tendency to become the oppressor. The artistic liberties that were being enjoyed by the revolutionaries were not always extended to those that still found themselves adhering to older philosophies. There is a movie called Mona Lisa Smile starring Julia Roberts as an art history teacher in the early 50’s. She actively tries to break down stereotypes of women and encourages her students to open their minds to potentials in their future and not readily accept the roles that society has created for and expect of them.

One part of the movie that seemed to get overlooked involves the character played by Julia Stiles. Julia Roberts asked this character if there were no restrictions for a career what would you do. Upon discovering a secret interest in being a lawyer Julia Roberts gets and submits application forms to Harvard for her student. Thinking she had opened this girls future to untold possibilities she became devastated to find out that the girl had eloped and had decided to become a house wife after all. Julia Stiles defended her self by turning Julia Roberts arguments back on her saying that they had been encouraged to be open minded and upon studying both options thoroughly she chose to be a housewife and that now the teacher was being close minded for not accepting the path that she had knowingly and willingly chose.

Feminism addressed a problem in the stereotyping of women’s roles and that women should be free to choose what they will do with their life without the repercussions of an ignorant society. But, the teacher was not offering her student the same freedom to accept the stereotypical role that she had in rejecting it. Being open minded is accepting a persons right to choose and not criticizing them for their choice even if it disagrees with our own: especially if their choice is not in harmony with the “enlightened” mindset of the day.

I like the quote by Paul Strand: “Whether a watercolor is inferior to an oil, or whether a drawing, an etching, or a photograph is not as important as either, is inconsequent. To have to despise something in order to respect something else is a sign of impotence.” I am more than willing to accept stylistic approaches that others employ I only ask for the same consideration in return. I can’t say I will like all approaches but I will make the effort to try and understand them. I will question and am willing to be questioned in return.

My images contain an idealistic sense of beauty. I seek to create an alternative interpretation of our world that draws from its strengths not from its failings. I like creating an escape from the drudgeries of life that people can look to and relax for a few seconds while looking at my image. I want to create a standard that would, if at all possible, inspire people to actively improve and enjoy there life and their surroundings. My favorite images have been where the focus has been on light, forms and subtleties. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo Da Vinci

I realize my images do not readily fit into today’s academic or artistic classifications. This does not bother me since that was never my objective. I do not do this ignorantly for I have studied many styles and approaches to photography and after seeing my many options I chose the old-fashioned romanticist approach. I do not expect my art to stagnate and never evolve. I constantly try new ways of refining how I photograph to further accomplish my goals. Who knows, perhaps in a decade I will make a drastic change in my approach and divorce myself of all the ideals I currently hold onto; then again, perhaps not. Whatever happens the change will not occur without me being convinced through and through of my own choice not through external pressuring.

I am a strong believer in the importance of craft and the pursuit of excellence. I do not encourage distancing the medium from the viewing public to satisfy our own agenda. I believe in the idea that photography is a form of visual communication. The best way to communicate is by speaking a language that both parties can understand. The best communicators are the ones that refine the language in the most eloquent way. The vehicle for my communication should be the photograph. It should not be the artist statement, it should not be the critics’ interpretation, and it should not be the museum that decides to display it.

In Serranno’s Piss Christ it took a lot of critical rationalization and justification for any appreciation or at least acceptance to grow on my part. Images like this make me believe that we live in an artistic society where the means no longer justify the end; instead we use the end to justify the means. We must rationalize and justify why what we did was ok. If others find fulfillment in this approach then I encourage them and am curious to see what they discover. I personally do not want to spend a lifetime explaining or justifying a 1/30th of a second exposure.

I applaud and hope to apply the wisdom set forth by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think…you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in the solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

What is Fine Art?

In Lenswork Magazine #63, in the Editor's Comments section, Brooks Jensen wrote a response to a question he was asked. "If you were going to demonstrate to a non-photographer the nature of fine art photography and why you are so passionate about it, which ten photographs would you show them?" At the end of his list he posed another question, "Now which images would you choose?"

I liked his answers and I think it is a very valid question and exercise. So here goes.

  1. Ansel Adams. I would be very dishonest if I did not recognize Ansel Adams as one of the main reasons I got into photography. His images created within me a desire to create, not imitate but create. I realized that to make images as amazing as his then I would have to learn to look at the world differently then I ever had before. As I started to look I realized that his pictures only existed in his pictures. I could not put my tripod in his marks and take the same picture. There was far more to photography than pushing a button and this gave me the desire to learn the craft of photography. There was no shortcut to becoming a good photographer. Of his images there are two that stand out the most to me. Moonrise over Hernandez and Clearing Winter Storm.
  2. Paul Caponigro. While in school I went on a school trip to San Francisco. We went down to Carmel and visited the Photography West and Weston Galleries. I distinctly remember seeing two images that cemented the feelings I mentioned in regards to Ansel Adams. Running White deer by Paul Caponigro and the second image will be shown next in my list. I had already learned about f-stops and shutter speeds and what they do. When I saw this image it was they first time I realized what they can do.
  3. Brett Weston. The second Image I saw was Mendenhall Glacier II. I had seen pictures of glaciers before and that was all I had to reference and there was no comparison. Much like I mentioned before I realized that his craft was not a crux it was what set him free to show the world how he saw. It also taught me to look at the world differently and see things not for what they were but what I could do with them.
  4. Edward Weston. I could not mention Brett without mentioning his father Edward. Most people see the relationship the other way around. Pepper #30. A boring name for a boring subject. Edward could see beauty in things others could not. He could take the simplest of objects and transform them into a masterpiece. Through his images I have been given another lens to look at the world through. I can not walk through a grocery store without having this image come to mind and changing my experience there. That is art.
  5. Ruth Bernhard. All of the photographers I have mentioned so far have a lot in common artistically and socially. Ruth is no exception, counting Edward Weston as one of her closest friends and mentors. Her images are definately her own. She is mostly known for her figure studies. I know her most for her use of light. Starting with her images of lifesavers, and door knobs but then carrying over to her figure studies. She was able to transform a female into a sand dune. It is probably due to her feminine characteristics but her images were the first time I noticed the real difference between pornography and art. Her images made me appreciate and respect women. It is hard to pick out one so I chose two to represent her.

  6. W. Eugene Smith. Tomoko in Her Bath. A beautiful irony I find in photography is when I see an image that is by nature ugly, sad, depressing and the first word that comes to mind to describe it is wow! This image is photo-journalistic by nature and as such is fairly straightforward. Everything about the subject matter is counteracted by its execution. What is in the picture is a deformed child being bathed by her mother. (She was crippled before birth because of mercury poisoning by large factories.) What I see in the picture is exquisite rim lighting, unreserved love for a child, a tender touch and a desire for the world to change so things like this don't happen.
  7. James Nachtwey. I have a hard time narrowing down a picture for Jim. He is a photojournalist who specializes in war photography and the human condition. Much like Eugene Smith, in Jim's pictures I am able to see past the horror to see the human and how they are affected. I think his compositional prowess puts him into the elite status of a Vermeer or a Da Vinci. Yet he is able to do it with very little premeditation and composing all the same while bullets are whizzing overhead and the risk of death is real. He works in a field that I don't think I could but creates images that epitomize visual brilliance.

  8. George Edward Anderson. He is by far the most unknown of the artists I mention and overall I am not a huge fan. But he does have one image that does what I think very few if any have done successfully. Using photography to create religious imagery. The story he tells is also not well known but is relevant in my religion, Mormon. His image allows me to feel the story and it's significance without being cheesy or sappy.
  9. Michael Kenna. Is a mix between Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. He takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. He has mastered the concept of less is more and also Da Vinci's observation that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. I have a book of his called Monique's Kindergarten that consists of images taken inside a kindergarten. He can take the simplest of things and elevate them to something grand.

  10. Nick Brandt. Nick created images that will forever change how I teach and view photography. If you have taken an intro photography class chances are good that you were given a list of taboo subject matter: kittens, barns, railroad tracks, babies, etc., etc. I have never been a fan of wildlife photography. There was something very plastic and too straightforward for me. Until I saw Nick's images. I no longer forbid any subject matter. I realized that it is not a fault with the subject matter but with the photographer. He made me love wildlife photography. That is fine art described as best I can.

  11. Dorothea Lange. I am going to cheat a little and show 11 instead of ten. Of all the images I discussed there is currently only one of these hanging in my house. It is Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. Yes, this image is over shown. You would be hard pressed to open an American history book and not find a copy in it. This should not negate how good of an image it really is. This picture taught me the power of an image to evoke change and emotion from people. This single image could be credited with saving many lives during the great depression because it had the power to move people to act.

Honorable mentions: John Pfahl, Richard Misrach, Keith Carter, Huntington Witherill

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

LDS Philanthropies

There is a guy named Val Taylor that decided to go back to school in illustration. He has been working in the industry doing both illustration and graphic design for a number of years. Val is blessed with the gift of gab and as he come down to the print lab at BYU to work on his images we would end up talking quite often. Recently Val started working with LDS Philanthropies helping to create a number of brochures and to modify their brand. For those who don't know what LDS Philanthropies is or does, basically whenever someone donates money to the church or one of its other ventures the money goes through them. A lot of the money is used towards humanitarian aims such as building wells or libraries in third world countries. Anyways, Val needed a photographer and after talking to me a myriad of times and also seeing a number of my photographs decided to give me a shot. The shoot turned out to be quite enjoyable. Val gave me a lot of freedom in how I wanted to create the images. The focus was to be on hands and a mix of fruit and seeds. Diversity in age was also supposed to be prevalent, especially old and young. They let me photograph with my large format camera and Polaroid film so that I could create a very subtle, minimalistic image. I enjoyed having an art director that realizes that they hired me to create not simply transcribe photographically. If all commercial shoots worked out this way I probably wouldn't be so averse to doing commercial jobs. Anyways here are a few of my favorites.






 
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