One Person's Take

This post will be just one person's perspective: mine. I don't know if there are other characteristics in other people's lives as artists, I suspect there must be, but I can only reference mine. I am going to try to write about my life as an artist.

Note: I'm just going to share some of my past work that I believe embodies some of the things I am writing about.

Some ground rules. One is that the base of my creative life has been as a photographer. If you can't cope with that then no need to read further. I would cite that there are more similarities to the conventional arts like painting, sculpture and drawing for the photographer than differences. Second, is that we're not all crazy and emotional wrecks, although I certainly have been those things at times in my past. Finally, that we all drink from the common well of needing to express ourselves visually. That making our work comes from where are are at our core, a need, a requirement and that, in effect, our work is our life.

The essential element of what I hope to convey is that we are, for the most part, private people working in a public sphere. Photography tends to be a little unique here in that we need the exterior to make our work, at least most of us do. I live in the real world and am thankful that my discipline makes me be out in it, for if it didn't I would be more reclusive than I am now, not a good thing. There is an element of loneliness to what we do, or at least aloneness, for artists need to be comfortable in that private place, where their thoughts are theirs and only theirs.

Private people working in a public sphere. Noble, honorable, consistent, satisfying, heroic? Not so much, usually. More like coming out of a need to create comes a sharing of common human experience. Can I convey this in a picture I make standing in a field pointing my camera at a line of trees?

Can a picture like this resonate with you? I can't know this nor should I try to predispose its outcome. I simply need to make photographs that connect for me in the hope that my experience (or hopefully, my expertise) will also allow them to connect with you.

As a private person, words mostly fail me at times like these.  I wish that it weren't true. I can remember trying to convey to a large class, students asked to sit in a circle, after I came back from Prescott, Arizona listening to Fred Sommer for three days tell me everything, sharing with me his core philosophy that was informed by people like Einstein, Nietzsche, Blake and Stravinsky, and of course, his own desert explorations, how it all worked, to answer the primary questions about why you would embark upon a life as an artist. This was a total failure, me dissembling into incoherent ramblings and stories. I always thanked the higher powers that my students were incredibly forgiving of this teacher's incomprehensibilities.

I think that many people do get it, that artists are reaching down into something deep within them that is then shared. My own out is that my primary vehicle isn't words at all, it is photographs and I apologize for outright ineptitude in trying to write about this in this forum.  I hope for at least an A for effort.

Since a couple of key posts this past spring my readership has gone from very small to quite large (20k) so I am aware I am speaking to a great many. This loads what I write certainly, but also is immensely rewarding in that so many are now viewing my work, admittedly in a poor fashion due to small screens and not looking at my actual prints, but far better than knowing nothing of it at all. I am very grateful to you for  coming along for the ride.

The private part is mostly around what my thinking process is like. How I can work off a reaction to a place, a piece of music, something I've read or even some art I've seen to find the beginnings of an idea or a project. To initiate that spark of curiosity that questions things as in "I wonder what it would like if I...?" That's a fundamental thing but also a trained thing, a response to surroundings that is lubricated by experience, devotion, and yes, at least for me, single mindedness. Can I, or you, springboard from that beginning curiosity into a force to be reckoned with, a picture making machine that uses all it has to make a powerhouse body of work? That's probably why we have to practice, to be fluid in our knowledge of what we have to use, for to be in front of the best thing ever with a camera and to be inept, rusty and not fully conversant is tragic and we only have ourselves to blame.

This is the back of a postcard Harry Callahan wrote to me after I failed yet again on a Guggenheim Fellowship application in 1983. I'd asked him to write on my behalf and believe he did his best, several times as it would turn out. I was devastated but didn't stop photographing.

I have written about success and failure in this blog, things that can move us up or down on our own register, but really they should mean very little. These are external things, outside influencers and pressures that mostly take us away from our inner guide, which is our work. I used to tell students who were up against the artist's version of "writer's block" that "pictures make pictures". At times I have to remind myself of my own words as I am as capable of wrong turns, dead ends, laziness and an inability to see the forest for the trees as anyone else. 

I don't know that I have a firm conclusion for this post I've written.  Perhaps I can end with the thought that I have found artists to be consistently misundertood, under respected, maligned and biased against my whole adult life. Recently I am dealing with the concept that no cares about my work.  In fact that no one cares about most work.  Facing that is sobering, humbling, frustrating and mostly true. 


I am off for a short road trip west from Boston for a couple of days in a sports car.  Me, a couple of cameras, my eyes, my keen mind (I hope), my perceptions, my past experiences all packed up and ready to find things to photograph. Who would have thought that this would still be an adventure after all these years. But it surely is.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted July 15, 2016