Something Personal This Way Comes

You ever get the feeling that we are living in a parallel universe? I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I think it might be happening. We all blaze forward simultaneously racing on a path of security, meaning and direction and yet behind the scenes there lurks this feeling that someone, or something, is looking over our shoulder. Things connect.

So a few weeks ago I wrote a post about receiving a letter in the mail, a real, honest-to-goodness, paper letter. This letter came from Los Angeles based painter/photographer Michael Napper. The post “Art in the Mail” was about framing the letter because it was so beautiful and because it was personal and only for little old me.

Sunday night I returned from the Palm Springs Photo Festival and checked my mail. Inside, buried amid the junk mail, bills, spiderwebs and dust was a letter. This was no “regular” letter. This letter was fat, somewhat square and immediately made me toss aside the rest of the stack. This letter had handwriting on it. Real, personal handwriting. And this letter had stamps, really cool stamps with “Canada” on them.

Needless to say I was intrigued. What I found inside completely and utterly made my day. Inside was the “book” and prints you see in the first photograph. It turns out that during my workshop in Victoria BC someone named Paul Romaniuk was in the audience. Paul wrote a review of my lecture, a damn good review, and we subsequently kept in touch. Paul saw my post about “Art in the Mail” and something clicked. The result is what you see here. These images don’t do his book justice, but I think this is also on point with the message of this post.


As photographers we are products of learned behavior and our photo-environment. Heck, I know I surely am. I went to photojournalism school. I studied the masters, or some of them anyway. And much of what I did I did because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Well, over the past ten years, I’ve been trying to unlearn as much as I possibly can. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what I learned, but I know now that range, or angle or direction may or may not be the right one for me. So, now I must find my own path. One of the things I was taught was about the book. Yes, the all-powerful book.


The book must be a monograph.
The book must be published by a traditional publisher.(Only thing that will give you cred.)
The book must be large.
The book must be entirely serious.
The book must be traditional.

Again, nothing wrong with these ideas, but they are simple not accurate, at least not all the time. A book can be SO many things. A book can be almost anything. Receiving Paul’s book was EVERY BIT as interesting and powerful as going into a bookstore and buying the latest, greatest, enormous coffee-table book. It really was. And there were prints too! Opening the letter made me feel like I’d been told a secret that nobody else knew. I felt like Paul sat at home with me personally on his mind and built this thing. That is VERY powerful.

Last week at the festival I had a long conversation with a photographer I really admire. We looked at his Blurb book, a large one, 12×12, Proline paper, etc. His book is beautiful and has been very well received. Shortly after I showed him my “best” book, a 5×8 inch, softcover book with eleven images and twenty pages total. He said to me, “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought to make a book like that.”

This was music to my ears. This is it people. We can do anything we can dream up. We don’t need permission. We don’t need a note from mom and dad. We just need time for critical thought, an idea and the will to see it to fruition. We might also have to unlearn a few things. Paul’s book you see here was yet another reminder of that. This book, and prints, will go into my collection and will grow old with me…if I make it that long.

Getting something like this is like a shot of creative adrenaline. Time for us to ride the wave.

Thanks Paul.

Art in the mail…..

I’m a lucky guy. I have very talented and creative friends, some of whom are wedded to the physical or analog world. Nothing against the electronic world…I live there too, but there really is something special about acquiring, being given or even stealing something tactile and physical.
So a week or so ago I picked up my mail and discovered that my old buddy Michael Napper, LA artist/photographer/writer/camera collector/ and generally decent human being had sent me something. I opened this thing and just sat there staring at it. Part letter, part correspondence, part artwork, part caffeine stained masterpiece. I realized immediately I could not cement this in one of my books. It was simply too good. This one I needed to share. So, I took it over to the framer and had this baby floated and framed. My wife and I have already had one argument as to where this thing will live, which I feel is the sign of something being truly significant.
People, the computer is great. The digital world is great. But making something physical is just different and still holds a certain relevance that I feel goes far beyond the pixel. Again, not pointing fingers here, drawing a line in the sand, choosing sides or stirring the pot. Just look at this thing. When I see or receive something like this is makes me actually FEEL something. I physically FEEL it happening to me. To be fair, I saw something online this morning that had a similar impact, so it can happen in any form of delivery. Good work, at least in my opinion, is about this physical feeling. I have the feeling when I make the work and I hope my audience has their feeling when they view the work.