Friday, January 18, 2008

Survivor of 3 Residencies

Yes, I am now a Survivor of 3 Residencies. Phew. I took a mini-vacation to Maine to let my thoughts marinate before trying to process everything. While I was there I saw Lola Alvarez Bravo. From the Portland Museum of Art:

"Lola Alvarez Bravo (1903-1993) is widely recognized as Mexico's first woman photographer. A pioneering figure in the rise of modernist photography in Mexico, she was a profound humanist who used the camera to chronicle the people and places of her beloved country over a remarkable six-decade career. The exhibition will feature 55 vintage photographs spanning Alvarez Bravo's entire career. It is the first major representation of her work in over a decade, including several rarely seen and unpublished photographs."

Lola was a gallery owner and gave Frida Kahlo her first show, which she had to attend from her carried in bed due to failing health. It was from an interest in the portraits she made of Frida that Lola's photographs came back into the public eye. Her portraits capture the subject's presence. She made some collaged photographs that can be see in the exhibition but I can't find online anywhere! They are in a aperture book that I will have to get my hands on. Some of the collages show people surrounded, and almost drowning in technology. Even though these photographs were created in the 50's I think this feeling of overwhelming technology is still very current.

Last night I went to a panel discussion at the PRC "Finding the New Creative: Convergences in Fine Art and Commercial Photography"

Panelists were:
John Goodman, editorial and fine art photographer (;
Adam Larson, award winning designer and Founder/Creative Director of Adam&Co. a studio specializing in creative direction, illustration, and design (;
Joe Berkeley , Senior Vice President, Group Creative Director at Hill
Holliday, a full capability, multi city, communications agency (;
Kathryn Tyrrel, Photographer Representative at Stockland Martel, one of America's premiere photo agencies, (;
Gary Leopold, President and CEO at ISM, Boston's premiere marketing agency for travel and leisure companies, will moderate the panel (

I particularly identified with this panel discussion as I am a photographer trying to have a hand in both fine art and commercial photography. I was also interested to learn that I had a shared alma mater with two of the panelists: Adam Larson & Kathryn Tyrrel, Go Syracuse! I came away with one thought standing out - that many successful photographers are make their photographs, in their style, and then try to find commercial work that needs their specific creative vision. This affirms my decision to go back to school to earn my MFA. However the looming question that was never really answered is... how do you get to be famous photographer who gets hired for their vision? Keep shooting, work on your art/vision. You can send cards to agencies but they usually have a photographer (they've worked with before) in mind for campaigns they've pitched.

Advice given:

• Be a master of something

• It doesn't matter where you are (location-wise) as long as you're right for the job

• Your personal work will lead to the next project

• Do something that really means something to you... then get it out there

• Have your own style, representatives and ultimately clients look for: photographers that they like (personality), inspire them, fit the concept, have a unique vision & the ability to create on demand.

• Hiring a photographer is like buying a brand

One of the most inspirational quotes of the night was when John Goodman was talking about creating portraits. He said that he needs to "get into people's heads... otherwise I'm just shooting their skin." No matter what path I choose, Fine Art, Commercial, or wedding photography, this is essential to making a good portrait; to making a portrait that comes from the photographer. I am looking to pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I am good at making photographs that please the client-subject (brides & grooms) and sometimes those are my pictures too. This semester I'm going to just make my pictures & see where it takes me.

(Residency summary to follow shortly)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Semester Summary

I left the last residency with a feeling of urgency to narrow the focus of my work to bring it closer to a possible thesis project. The work I brought to that residency was thought of, by some, as my photographing people “on the fringes of society.” While I greatly admire and respect this type of photography and the photographers who have worked in this genre, such as Diane Arbus, I felt deeply that it was not the kind of photographer that I was. I tried to make the argument for a theme of Americana but I was unable to articulate my vision. I knew I had to change my work, maybe make it more personal; but I wasn’t sure how to do that. So, rather than let photo-block take over, I began this semester continuing my projects. I will be bringing some of this continued work to the next residency.

• Old Orchard Beach
• Lobster Festival
• Demolition Derby
• Soldier’s Home

The beach and fair photographs were mostly portraits done in a snapshot style. I was attracted to these colorful locations filled with interesting characters. However I couldn’t find a deeper meaning or reason for making this kind of work.

My derby portraits were slowed down and more purposeful portraits. They are more successful as photographs than the ones I made a fairs. The subject always knew I was photographing them (unlike fairs) and I engaged them long enough to make several photographs. This slowed down more connected approach is evident in the photographs. Still I wasn’t sure why I was making portrait of these people. There wasn’t a personal connection for me.

The most personal photographs were the Soldier’s home portraits. However instead of telling a story about these service men and women I was there dealing with my own fears and emotions. These photographs are about my coping with my own grandparents aging. Since the residents of the soldier’s home became almost surrogate grandparents to me I couldn’t reconcile with myself their place in my artwork. I still volunteer and photograph at the Soldier’s home but it isn’t the project I want to pursue for my thesis.

Thinking about this work only confirmed my need to make personal photographs. From this came 4 new projects.

• Self-portraits
• Portraits of my Grandparents
• Other People’s spaces: interiors of my parents and in-laws homes
• People I used to know: portraits of “friends” on facebook/myspace

My marriage in October had me thinking about my changing identity. Who was I? Who am I now? Where am I going? What does it mean to be me? The self-portraits were and obvious start but a good way to begin making personal photographs. I moved on to photographing in my parents’, in-laws’, and grandparent’s homes.
Some of the self-portraits also occurred in mirrors in these homes. The home says a lot about the people who live there. I find similarities in the homes of my friends to my home. In contrast, the homes of my parents and my in-laws couldn’t be more different. I made portraits of my grandparents while I was photographing their homes. My goal was to come up with more than one project idea that down the road could turn into a thesis project. This work has that possibility for me.

The project I am most excited about is called “People I used to know.” The premise of which is: We live in a society where more than ever we are in constant connection. Between cell phones, email, cell phones that have email and cameras, social networking websites, google... one can always be reached. Old friends can be found, and new ones made. One could do all of this without leaving home! It is human nature to desire contact and companionship with other people. How does the internet affect our relationships and our ability to reconnect to people we used to know?

I am contacting people who are friends with me through a social networking site such as facebook or myspace. (Friends are made by one person initiating and the other accepting a friendship request) Many of the people that are on my “friends” lists are people I haven’t spoken to since High School. I asking to photograph people I haven’t had contact with (outside of facebook/myspace) for at least 5 years.

My process is to send them a message through the social networking website. I give them information about my project and ask if they would sit for a portrait. I’ve had an amazingly positive response! Many people are willing to participate and I am already planning to travel to New York City and Washington D.C. to photograph in addition to the people I’ve found near the Boston area. I spend as much time talking and catching up with my subjects as I do photographing. This talking and relationship building makes a wonderful environment for making a portrait. The work has a connection to current technology and social issues. I am equally attracted to the process of catching up with people I used to know. A great conversation creates wonderful energy and both myself and my subjects feed off of this. As one of my subjects, Matt Frades, said to me: “the attraction of re-connecting to people you went to High School with is that you realize, once you are out in the world, how much you really do have in common with people from your hometown.” This is the project I plan to proceed with and craft into my thesis project.

Flickr link to more of the semester's work: