Studio Log

process work, writing, inspiration, and studio documentation. 

Rockhomes

rockhomes-4.jpg

The summer before last Julia and I took a spontaneous camping trip on a Monday, just her and I. The campsite was empty and we hiked down to the river. We took a right and climbed up over a big rock and looked down into this idyllic little cove with a rocky beach and glassy green water.

We waded out into the water, past the curve of the rocky beach we had come from. Downstream the riverbed wasn't a layer of river rocks, but rather huge expanses of bedrock that had been smoothed and hallowed out by the current of the water. In the hallows smaller rocks had been carried down and found new homes. 

I found myself captivated by these little collections of rocks. I found myself awkwardly standing in the water trying to focus my camera through the water, the reflections, the ripples of light on the rocks. It looked like another world, one where it was hard to tell what was real and what wasn't. 

The next day we drove out to the painted hills. Another otherworldly place, where the air was hot and dusty. There, rocks were nestled together in the cracks in the ground, lined up on the pebbly soil, and one impressive pillar of a rock stood in the dip at the bottom of a hill. Different rockhomes. Rocks being held by the crackled mud hills. Rocks being held by water. Real, or not real? 

rockhomes-5.jpg
rockhomes-6.jpg
rockhomes.jpg
rockhomes-7.jpg
rockhomes-3.jpg

Currently Absorbing

For the month of August, Melina and I have to move out of our studio in the Yale Union building. They bring a group of Japanese residents in for a program called End of Summer. As such, I'll be spending the month not actively making physical work (aside from the ever present Fragments.) But doing a lot more reading, writing, and listening. 

I've set up a little desk in our garage, Steele's studio, and am trying to get out here as much as possible to write and write and write. It's been a long time since I've written anything real, and my brain feels clumsy, like my fingers are swollen and they can't type what they mean. But even so, there's so much stillness sitting at this desk under the window, looking out onto the garden. 


But really why I'm here is to record two recent pieces of writing/thinking that I've digested today. 

The first is the most recent episode of the podcast Dear Sugars, with Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond. This episode was on Creative Dreams, and there were so many good nuggets of wisdom, but I particularly liked this train of thought from their guest George Saunders, on taking a practical day job to support his family. 

So maybe as a way of gaming myself I said "Ok, look, if you're a writer you should be able to find material even here, everywhere." Since these are human beings gathered together, this must be percolating into my artistic machinery, therefore it's not a waste.

This is sometime I wrestle with all the time. The need to pay rent, while also wanting to take my time in the studio seriously. I may never get to a point where that side of things is supporting me, so learning to be okay with a day job is something I'm going to have to do. It was so nice to hear these issues grappled with honestly and openly.  


The second is a piece of writing that Crystal Moody linked to in her weekly newsletter, Agnes Martin Finds The Light That Gets Lost. Written by Larissa Pham for The Paris Review, it's an essay about art that makes you feel something real and true about the world. About chasing that feeling. And also, about Agnes Martin, whose work I adore. 

When my traveling companion asked where I wanted to go, I always pointed at the bluest mountains. I wanted to be inside that heartbreaking lapis-lazuli blue, not stuck down here with the mortals among gray-green sage bushes and dusty-red ground; I wanted to be both there in the place and able to behold its beauty at the same time. I wanted to feel the way I feel standing in front of an Agnes Martin painting, where if you stand back you see one thing and if you get close you see another, and all it takes is leaning forward to fall into the details of how it’s made and what it says.

Please go read the full essay. Reading it felt a little bit like falling into the open sky for me, a big 360° inhale. 

Current Inspirations

This weekend I got to see two shows for photographers I admire—both who play with what a photograph is, and what it can be besides an image on the gallery wall. 

Carlin Brown's show, What else is a window did a fantastic job of housing photographs and sculpture in the same space. My favorite piece was the Blue Room, which besides being serene and otherworldly, also made me think of windows as the frame of a photograph. Her statement says it best: The window opens onto a world beyond—it is where surface meets depth, where transparency meets its barriers.

View her website (and some better photographs of the show) here, and see her show (by appointment only through June 24) at Melanie Flood Projects in SW Portland. 


The second show, Take/Cover at the OV Project Space was for artist Serrah Russell, whose work I've been following mostly on Instagram. It was really lovely to get to see some of it in person. Since finding her through her work with Vignettes, I've been so drawn to her use of collage. The splices of images she works with play so much with the idea of photographs as physical objects. (An idea I love & work with myself, and it's so refreshing to see other interpretations of it.) I also really appreciated her use of sentimentality. In the piece I was most taken with was Finding what you never knew you lost, a necklace trapped behind a vellum sheet. This physical object seemed to hold so much sentimental weight, and the simple photo collage on top gave my mind space to form my own readings and attachments. 

View her website here (So many amazing projects to look at!), and keep up with OV Project Space here. (Take/Cover was a one night show, but I'm sure OV will be putting on more good shows.) 

Thoughts on Fragments | Tim Walker

Thinking about this bit of writing from a book I got for Christmas—The Photographer's Playbook, which is a fantastic thick book full of assignments and ideas. This one in particular is written by Tim Walker. I'll leave the full text below, but this is the excerpt that has been stuck in my head, "Anything you ever put in front of your camera you have to love. Truly. Madly. Deeply. Whether it's a person, a flower, a dog, or the muddy tire of a tractor, you have to be mad for it. Absolutely in love with it. Whatever anybody says you have to know in your heart that it's beautiful." 

This idea has been the driving force behind the Fragment series. I'm collecting these words, images, objects, scraps. Scraps of information, little bits of nothing. They're broken things, pieces of a story, they're unfinished, uncertain. They're insignificant, full of longing, vague little ghosts. And I love all of them. 

I'm about a third of the way through this year of Fragments. And so far what's it's teaching me is that I love the parts of a whole better than a complete finished narrative. It's teaching me that things are beautiful when they're broken, forgotten, abandoned. And of course it's teaching me that by collecting these things, by saving them, they become something to be memorized, idolized. Something to hold onto. 

timwalker-4.jpg

 
timwalker.jpg

I think photography responds well to the word play. Having a playful attitude to what you take a picture of is a good, positive approach to many photographic projects. Play suggests a lightness of touch. Even if you've labored over an images it should still look easy. 

But that's just my love of a joyful picture. You can always tell in a picture when the photographer and subject have enjoyed the photographic playing. Of course not every worthy photography subject can be approached with play and joy. And that which can't be approached playfully should be approached with love. Actually, I believe universally that photography can only be approached with love. This is the fail-safe guide. 

When I was a photographic assistant to Richard Avedon he had "only photograph what you love" written on a scrap of paper pinned to his wall. It took me a while to really understand how deeply this rule can apply to photography. In the end, photography is only good if it's true. And I think a photographer's truth is born from their love of their subject. 

Anything you ever put in front of you camera you have to love. Truly. Madly. Deeply. Whether it's a person, a flower, a dog, or the muddy tire of a tractor, you have to be mad for it. Absolutely in love with it. Whatever anybody says you have to know in your heart that it's beautiful. 

Before I make a picture of value to me, I ask myself, "Do I love this?" I analyze my love for the subject, and that study of why I love what I'm about to photograph gives me a grip on my day. 

Vignettes Article: New Lives for Broken Things

My friend and studio mate Melina Bishop recently had a show with Vignettes up in Seattle. I was lucky enough to have the day off work and got to drive up there and see it in person. Afterwards, I wrote a little essay + interview for Vignettes in response to the show. You can find the full piece on the Vignettes site, but I'll include an excerpt below: 

 

"Walking around the show, I made a hasty mind map. The word human branches out and connects to forms, clothing, skin, body. Loose threads connects to patchwork, which connects to covered, cleaned, corrected, connection, attempted, which reaches out to longing. Another note scratched down on the next page simply reads: Outgrowing shells and abandoning them.

It’s this thought I most see in Soft Logics, although perhaps “relinquish” would be a better word. For it’s not abandoning past shells, or past selves, but letting them go and moving forward. Growing another shell out of the same material, creating something new out of the fodder."

 

This photograph isn't from the show, simply from our studio, but it's one of my favorites. 

This photograph isn't from the show, simply from our studio, but it's one of my favorites. 

Forsythia

Every year the forsythia blooms and I think of this photograph. It was taken back in 2011, on a trusty little Holga, the shutter clicked by a friend who hasn't spoken to me in 10 months. I lived in the old four-plex that was filled with traffic sounds, right off Natio. One night my best friend was staying with me and we went on a night walk, watching the traffic getting onto the Ross Island bridge. We found this huge forsythia bush. At the time I didn't know it was named forsythia. I just knew it was a big blazing ball of yellow, that appeared after months and months of rain and dark, like a flame. 

I stood in it, wondering about spiders, while she photographed me with the Kodachrome film in the camera. The shutter was set to bulb, the photograph is so blurry. Just a ball of yellow and a girl in the middle.

Each spring the forsythia blooms, I always notice it while I'm driving, the big balls of yellow flowers dotting the hills by the highway. Like torch flames leading me from one point to the next. And I always think of this image, the girl standing in the fire, captured by her best friend.