Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How Did I Get Here? (Part One, Let's Get Dark)

The Secret Keepers series of old, decaying dolls comes in a couple of different flavors. The first is the color series; what you see is what you get.

The second is entitled Spirits of the Secret Keepers because they are more haunting in black and white and with a solarization effect. (I've removed the color version from my website, at least for awhile.)

When the Spirits portfolio was reviewed by Tony Brannon of George Eastman House (the world's preeminent museum of photography) at the Review Santa Fe event, he didn't think they were dark enough. He wasn't referring to how they are printed, he meant I didn't dig deep enough to the dark side. That surprised me. Considering how many people can't even bear to look at them, how much darker can they be?

A lot darker, apparently, according to Tony who was obviously projecting his own shadows. "Of course, then...." He flipped over the image of Miguel, one of the scariest of the bunch to reveal the next print, Jacob, who is even scarier. "...then...they wouldn't be very sellable." Believe me, they're not moving like hotcakes as it is.

"Do you do this to them?" he asked, wondering if I am responsible for the cracks and splits, stains, etc. on the dolls. "No" I said, and explained that the point of the series is to find those that have aged naturally, or damaged by the previous owner from too much loving and handling or from lack of love, even abuse. Hence the name. They keep secrets (how did they come to look like this?) and I think they are provocative.

But Tony thought I should damage them, break them, smash them, inflict my own dark side onto these little non-humans. "I don't think I'm angry enough" I mumbled but realized that I should consider doing what he said.

As with all of the suggestions I received from reviewers at RSF, I thought it through and in this case decided to give it a try. Off I went to find a doll not yet photographed. Am I to smash her face? Burn it? Stain it or...?

Part two of this entry, detailing the results of my experiment, will appear in a few days. In the meantime, here is the newest "Spirit" photograph. Her name is Lakshmi, found in the dirt in Pushkar, India.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Finding Inspiration in the "Mundane"

Self Portrait with Teapot

There is never "nothing to shoot." Even when we are in our most familiar surroundings, it is possible to see with a fresh eye. This is particularly difficult for me. I'm just not inspired to shoot around the house or yard or even the town where I live and that's a shame. It's only mundane because I make it so. It's up to each of us to recognize the extraordinary in what is familiar. If we don't see it, we're not trying hard enough.

Scott Kelby has put a spark in my butt by instituting The Second Annual Worldwide Photo Walk which will occur on Saturday, July 18.

Kelby, who has authored many books about Photoshop, Lightroom and digital photography in general, invites people all over the world to go out and shoot in their hometown. Each city has a leader who designates an area to shoot and the two hour time slot. Since I participated in the Lansing shoot last year, I am opting for East Lansing and am looking forward to walking around a familiar neighborhood from 5pm-7pm with the sole purpose of exercising my imagination. Afterward, participants will gather at a local watering hole and look at the results. After we upload selected images to a website, the leader chooses what he or she deems to be the best shot and sends it to Scott who, in turn, chooses the best of the bunch. Prizes are involved, but mostly it's a way for photographers in any given area to get together, shoot and socialize.

You certainly don't need to be a great photographer to do this. If you're intrigued by the idea then by all means, do it! At the very least it's a fun and productive way to spend a couple of hours.

These two images are from last year's Photo Walk. Both are taken looking into a shop window in Old Town, a burgeoning neighborhood in Lansing, Michigan.

Plant in the Window

Monday, June 22, 2009

Barf Bag Story

"Everything is amazing right now and nobody's happy."

Louis CK made this statement on the Conan O'Brien show in an insightful monologue about what a bunch of whiners we have become as technology makes everything too easy. We want what we want when we want it - usually instantly. He uses air travel as an analogy for how freakishly amazing life is and yet we still complain. Well worth watching the clip.

I love to fly. It is still amazing to me what we can do while we're several miles above the planet earth. We can eat a meal, go to the bathroom, write a short story, catalog shop, sleep or even make a friend.

Still, there are some preparations I must make to ensure that all goes well.

After experiencing severe vertigo a few times, I make it a point to take Antivert and ginger. And even though I've never actually thrown up on a plane, it is imperative to have an "air sickness bag" handy. As soon as I stash my overloaded knapsack under the seat, I check to see if the bag is there, tucked neatly in between the instructions on what to do in case of a water landing and the magazine that tells me where to shop and eat if I only have three days in Kuala Lumpur.

On my way from Alburquerque to Minneapolis on Saturday, I was fortunate to be upgraded to first class. The knapsack wasn't such a squeeze, I had a blanket and a pillow, lots of room to slump and....wait, what's this?....no "air sickness bag"?!?!? Does this mean....uh-oh...I look around my ample seat for unsightly stains and sniff the air for any hint of what the previous occupant of 3A might have done. But it's clean.

OK, now I panic. I don't want to call attention to myself, so I wait until most of the passengers have boarded then casually stroll to the front and whisper "Hello, I'm in 3A. I don't have an 'air sickness bag' and although I feel fine, I would just really like it if there were one handy."
The airline attendant looks concerned. "Every seat needs an 'air sickness bag.' I will be sure to find you one."

I return to my seat and watch as she looks through all the tiny little cupboards, making sure each one is slammed shut. A few more people were boarding and she walked among them, her hands down by her side because, I was sure of it, she was trying to be discreet about my request. She came closer and I could see that her hands were empty. As she reached my seat she said very loudly "I don't have any air sickness bags in the front so I'll go get one from an unoccupied seat."

3 B and C look over at me and lo and behold I recognize them from Lansing! The people in front of her look at me and nod sympathetically because they think I'm feeling queasy. For some reason all of this matters very much to me and I reply "I'm fine, really, I'm fine" but then make the "shhhhh" gesture to indicate I'd really like it if she didn't make a big deal out of this. Which is interesting considering who is making a big deal out of this.

When the attendant returned a few moments later, she held out the "air sickness bag" like a prize then ceremoniously placed it in my seat pocket. My acquaintances across the aisle looked at me and ask if I'm really OK.

YES, I'M FINE, I'm just being FINICKY about wanting a FRIGGING BARF BAG.

The flight was smooth and uneventful other than I was served a delicious (really!) Greek pasta salad, bread sticks and a chocolate cookie. Six miles above the planet earth.

If the next passenger sits there, he or she will check the pocket and find that, alas, there is no "air sickness bag." Why? Because I purloined it. And here is a photograph of said pilfered item. I just can't help myself.

This begs the question, what happened to the one that wasn't there?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Memories of My Dad, Victor Fabian

In early February, 1999, my dad was dying. We didn't know if he would die sooner or later and I asked him if he thought he'd live to see the year 2000. "I don't know" he said, and his eyes looked off into the future for a moment before adding "That would really be something, wouldn't it?" He died two weeks later on February 15.

Victor Fabian was born in 1909 in the coal mining town of Barnesboro, Pennsylvania. His father, Matthew, was a coal miner who died in the mines when Victor was a young teenager. He quit school to help support his struggling family. Eventually he got his high school diploma but college was not in his future. He met a nurse who stole his heart - my mother, Grace - from the nearby town of Carrolltown and they were married in 1930.

Dad had always worked hard and wasn't afraid of a challenge. He moved his young family from Pennsylvania to Detroit, Michigan where there was promise of jobs in the auto industry. While working he studied a new technology, air conditioning, and eventually started his own business called Square Deal Heating and Cooling ("Let us control your temper - ature."). For many years he was a successful business man and was able to retire comfortably. Good thing, because he and Grace needed to support their eight children!

What I remember most about my dad is that he balanced his love of and commitment to his company with his undying love and dedication to his family. In the evenings I would help him with his work by sharpening pencils. After his golf game on Sunday, he would take me to the playground, the one with the "wiggly waggly sliding board." I remember him planting flowers in our yard in the spring, and shoveling snow in the winter. He was hard-working and a tad strict, but he often had a sparkle in his eyes, a song in his throat and an occasional dance in his feet.

There are so many precious memories of my dad. As I write this, though, one in particular comes to mind. When I was very young, I'd cuddle in his lap before going to bed and pretend to fall asleep so that he'd have to carry me upstairs to bed. And he did just that, while softly singing lullabies to me. He later told me that he knew I was pretending but was happy to play along.

Even after all these years, my eyes fill up when I think of how tender he was, how passionate he was in all aspects of his life and how absolutely devoted he was to our family.

He was never too self conscious of his aging process to discourage me from taking photos of him. Posing for me was such a great gift. I'm so proud to call this man my daddy; my heart is bursting.

Happy Father's Day!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Calm After the Storm

A gallery opening is in some ways like a wedding. There are a lot of people, you don't remember who you spoke to and later, all of it is a blur.

Most who came to the opening knew what to expect from the exhibit and wanted to see it. But for many who have subsequently wandered in from the street, the pieces are disconcerting. No big surprise, many people simply aren't interested in seeing the Secret Keepers series otherwise known as "creepy dolls." This is not news to me. These are larger-than-life images of faces almost-but-not-quite real. They show damage, wear and perhaps abuse. They remind us of the aging process and maybe even death. Or they can remind us of lost innocence. I actually enjoy observing people quickly turn their heads away from those pieces as much as I enjoy watching those who scrutinize them. OK, so the former doesn't ensure a sale, but it indicates something more important - an emotional reaction to the work.

The Plastic Relatives are much more playful, less threatening. With a 4" x 6" image area, they're easier to dismiss as caricature.

Today was a quiet day at the gallery as Jennie had predicted. The weather was moody, supplying few moments of sunshine, some strong gusts of wind but mostly rain and scattered storms. The long periods of rolling thunder made me giddy. When I got home, this was the view of The Cross of the Martyrs from my back deck.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Night Before

Tomorrow night is the artist reception for my five day exhibit at the Jennie Cooley Gallery. My friend Kris, visiting from Michigan, helped me hang the pieces this afternoon. The one thing I really don't like about the process of being a photographer/artist is hanging a show. Kris made it go quickly with her critical eye and sense of balance. It was much less painful than past shows. It didn't hurt, either, that the nails went into the walls like butter. Thank you, Kris!

She snapped these photos for me. Here I am with Jennie Cooley, printmaker extraordinaire.

These are the "Plastic Relatives"

And these are the "Secret Keepers"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Madrid, pronounced MADrid

About fifteen miles south of Santa Fe on Highway 14 is the small artful town of Madrid, pronounced MADrid. It was a mining town for the first half of the twentieth century until 1954 when the mines closed. It was a ghost town for about twenty years, then resurrected as an art community. It's quite the tourist destination now, but few venture beyond the shops and galleries on the main street.

My friend Kris and I drove there today and stopped by a gallery to see a friend. I remembered that he had directed me to the cemetery on the mesa last year but it was scorching hot that day and at high noon the heat and shadows rendered it impossible to shoot. Today was overcast and pleasant so he drew a map and off we went. It's not easy to find.

Part of the cemetery consists of individualized monuments of scrap metal, furniture and personal effects. Apparently the characters in Madrid retain their character even in death.

It wasn't clear which magazines were on "Little Mike's" grave near his shoes. They had been rained on and were faded from the sun. I loved that two pages were flapping in the wind.
The following close-up reminds me of an abstract painting.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Burst of Energy

As you well know, this past weekend was taxing. So on Sunday, after attending an insightful lecture at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art, I did little else but run errands and do chores. Every time my thoughts turned to analysis I banished them and returned to more banal concerns.

Today I awoke feeling the passion for photography that makes me pretty much all that I have become. While making the bed in the guest room (for my friend Kris who is visiting from Michigan for a few days) I felt I must take at least one photograph or I would burst. 

Here it is, an abstract from the antique birthing chair I have in our dining room. I had a little fun with it. A little fun seemed appropriate since it's too early to have a margarita.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Last Day of Review Santa Fe

Last night, the Center for Contemporary Arts hosted the public viewing of our portfolios. Above is a snapshot of my table when we were setting up. The photographs hanging on boards were part of yet another event, the 8th CCA Annual Photography Auction which took place this evening.

Today was a long day. My schedule included eight reviews. The reviewers were an interesting array of characters. There was the woman who reached out to hold my hands and told me, in a soft and loving tone, not to be so nervous. There was the man who wouldn't look me in the eyes and fidgeted for twenty minutes. One woman felt like a long time girlfriend, another was an ice princess. Someone criticized A, B and C in my portfolio and someone else thought A, B and C made my work strong. This day was a roller coaster ride of emotions.

The best advice we were given at the onset of this event was that immediately after our last consultation we should forget about everything for a few days. Then, revisit the experience and weigh all the things that were said. Most of us want to hear constructive criticism. How else can we grow as artists? But art is subjective, so we need to decide what advice to heed and when to stay true to our vision.

It is imperative to follow up with our reviewers via email in a week or two. We thank them and send them information they have asked for. We read through the list of reviewers and put together packets of promo materials for those we didn't have a chance to meet. The hard work continues.

Has it been worth it? Absolutely!

This evening, after spending an hour at the Photo Auction, I went to a neighbor's house for dinner. A delicious meal, equally delicious conversation and, I know this sounds hokey but...I just felt loved. Boy did I need that.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Review Santa Fe, Session One

It's exhilarating to be around so many exceptional photographers. Except for the one or two individuals who deem themselves better than the rest of us (letting us know with snide remarks and noses to the ceiling) we are not feeling so competitive but rather like we are commiserating with each other. Lovely people, many who I'd love to talk with for more than three minutes before we are swept away to a consultation.

I had two consults this morning, both filled with helpful advice and exciting, promising leads. Although I was accepted on the basis of the Timeless India portfolio, I brought the very different Spirits of the Secret Keepers portfolio as well. It is of course a pleasure to have someone gush over the work, but in this forum it's even better to hear an honest critique. Fortunately the advice has not been to stop taking photographs.

We have twenty minutes with each individual and it sure felt like five. Is this like speed dating? Where was the candle? And the rose? And chocolate? I want chocolate!

This afternoon I have one meeting, and then later on there is a public viewing of portfolios at the Center for Contemporary Art from 5pm – 8pm. If the public event is anything like last years, which I attended as an observer, it will be crazy wonderful.

Tomorrow will be grueling, with seven or eight meetings during the day and then the Eighth CCA Annual Photography Auction from 6:30pm – 9:30pm.

Photograph: "Katie John" from Spirits of the Secret Keepers series.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Review Santa Fe

Review Santa Fe is a portfolio review event for photographers. It is a gathering of gallery owners, museum curators, publishers, consultants, etc. who are selected for their experience, involvement and commitment to advancing the work of emerging and mid-career artists. There are a couple dozen portfolio review events around the world including Photolucida in Portland, Oregon, Encuentros Abiertos in Buenos Aires and Mois de la Photo in Paris. Review Santa Fe is unique in that it is the only juried event. I understand there were about 600 applicants and 100 were chosen. Knowing the caliber of work that was sent in, I feel honored to be included. 

Since being notified a couple of months ago of acceptance based on the Timeless India portfolio, I've spent my time in preparation researching the 42 reviewers, re-printing my portfolio to the standards expected, developing and creating various promotional materials (for my website, blog, the workshops I'll be teaching, and for specific portfolios) and considering how to articulate my own creative process.

This afternoon the participants will gather at The Lodge in Santa Fe to register and have orientation about how the event will unfold in the next three very intense days. I have so many questions! For instance, we have each been assigned 9 reviewers. Can we try to sneak in a meeting with another two or three we'd like to see? Is there any food to be had in this place? I'm already a bit nervous, don't want to pass out from overstimulation and hunger!

I've considered all the angles to this weekend including getting a manicure. Since I'll be flipping through photographs for three days, I don't want my ripped up cuticles to distract from the art. And in these dry desert conditions, they really are ripped to shreds.

Stay tuned for daily reports.

Photograph: Curious Family in Jodhpur, India