Poetry and Photography

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OVERHEARD CONVERSATION:

“Maybe real photography is becoming more like poetry,” he said.

“Most people write poems because they need to write something, not for commercial gain.”

“THAT, my friend, is a very interesting thought” the other said. “But where we are going to get killed is the “real” photography description,” I added. “There are so many people running around with digital cameras and websites who are now attempting to work as professionals.” “I don’t see that as “real” photography,” he added. “It’s content, but not to say it isn’t happening or going away anytime soon.” “In fact,” he said. “I think it is only going to increase in volume.”

“I don’t consider this situation as a bad thing,” one said. “Maybe we will get back to personal, thoughtful, solid work.”

“It’s not bad unless you are trying to make a living,” the other said. “True,” I answered.

Over the past few weeks I’ve, once again, come to the conclusion I don’t really have time to be a photographer.(Cue the broken record and violin.) Yes, I’m working as a photographer once again, at least in part, but it’s not documentary work in the classic sense. What I do now is documentary photography in the modern sense, which is limited time, maximum need. I shoot, record, write, print, design and publish, all in a very short amount of time. When I walk from a shoot today I am always left yearning for “what could have been” given more time.

It’s easy to dismiss this with “Well, what are you gonna do, that’s just the way it is.” Man do I detest this mentality. It’s like when photographers say to me, “I hate digital but that’s what my clients are asking for,” or whenever someone who dedicated their entire adult life to photography caves in to the idiotic demands of someone with little to no stake in the game. You HAVE to fight for what you need as an artist/photographer or whatever you call yourself. You HAVE to establish ground rules, and if they are not there then WALK AWAY.

So I’ve made a change. My current project, which I’ve written about here is entirely stalled. Why? Because I just don’t have the time. This work is fact based, unstructured by me, so I need to be in the field on a regular basis, going back to the same people and places, over and over again. And I have to be there when things are happening and when the light is right. Just don’t have the time. However, this past week I showed this magazine to a variety of people here in Santa Fe and got a variety of positive feedback. I took a good look at the contents and realized there was something there. Just coals, no fire. Smoldering. Waiting for photographic oxygen to give life.

So what I’m going to do is go back in time. When I first started this photography thing it was far more like poetry than a novel. I was content to venture forth in the world looking for ANYTHING resembling a great photograph. Not everything was project based. My work was really just life based. Whether I found myself in country, city or in between I was looking, hunting for singles. As I got better, and as I learned and refined, I began to understand my brain works in sequence, but life and my brain don’t always coincide.

This new/old way of working isn’t easier than long-form work, in fact in might be even more difficult because the truth is those rare, stand alone images are SO very difficult to find. Almost impossible. It can also be frustrating when you look down and the frame counter is on seven and that same roll of film has been in the camera for four weeks.

A friend here in town, wonderful person and good photographer and teacher told me she took three weeks off, traveling to a foreign land by herself and just worked, every single day for three weeks. Alone, focused. Perhaps a day or two off during the trip. Recoup. Rethink. Take notes. “I realized I need this a few times a year to really reengage with what I’m doing,” she said. “I can’t do multiple things simultaneously all the time.”

Now I’m fortunate because I’m a twenty-year journaling addict. I have a home for WHATEVER I shoot. This is a crutch of epic proportion because when you print something and paste it in a book, whatever it is it FEELS really good. Like my color square work. It FEELS like it’s good even when it’s not. These books are like my own private support system.
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The plan is this. Just shoot. Black and white, 35mm. Process myself, scan myself and print myself. (Except for journal prints.) Now, I can’t do this for my Blurb shoots. That film goes to the lab for processing, proofing and scanning, and I’m totally okay with that. But for the rest of my photo-life I’m going to return to the absolute basics. Oh, and no more color square.

I’m looking forward to a little poetry, and even thinking about this has forced me to recollect a variety of images I’ve made that are stand along images not belonging to any body of work, things I never did anything with for this exact reason. Now I have something to do. Write poetry, or attempt to take poetry. I’ve also got a head start on this because of my leap into sketching and painting. In the six months or so since I’ve thrown my hat in this ring I’ve made exactly ONE painting I like. ONE. Cue the action movie scene, “Failure is not an option,” only with me it IS AN OPTION AND ONE I’VE FULLY EXPLORED.

So in a way….I’m single again. Get it? Single? I’m here all week. Now, I just thought of something. This does NOT mean I am suddenly a “street” photographer. I’m not. Not even close. I actually don’t really like the vast majority of street photography I see because it looks detached. Now this is the point for some of it, I get it, but it’s just not my thing. I’m still going to put myself in places I feel images are living, breathing, waiting, but not random street stuff. Besides, I suck at those images anyway.

Poem from Mom: Rattlesnake

years of taking pictures
when our kids were growing up
probably thousands or more
different cameras lenses
big and little
the decision was
couldn’t give up the big lenses
one day I decided to put my camera away
wondered what I had been missing
too much time clicking searching
a lense for perceived perfection
I know now it must be in you
or maybe doesn’t exist at all
an expectation of just one more frame
did I see more with my camera
squeezed against my cheek
like a shotgun I don’t know
maybe I see it differently now
relying on only my lenses
the only thing I know is
I love those old pictures
rewinding the good old days
reminding me of so much forgotten
there is a new camera back on my cheek
still trying to get the rattlesnake
coiled at my feet

Collaborative Book with Mom

After making books with Blurb since 2006 I’ve finally done a first draft of a collaborative book with my mother. Now, before I explain this you should know that from 2006, when my mother saw her first Blurb book, I had her convinced I was the ONLY one who could make these. I did this to elevate my sibling rank within our family. My sister is rotten, my brother is worthless, and I am clearly the ONLY one who matters…..
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Mom thought the book thing was native to ME. For years it worked perfectly.

But then mom asked “Why don’t you make me a book of my poetry.” To deflect this I fed her the line that makes many people cringe. “Sure, I’ll make you a book just as soon as you edit your work to the best twenty-five poems.” She responded as I expected her to. “Narrowing to twenty-five is impossible,” she said. I said, “Well, when you get there let me know.”
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As expected, she was slightly delayed with this process. After six years, my ranking within the family had plateaued. I’m still, by far, the most important sibling (wink, wink) but I wanted to put the final nail in the coffin of my brother and sister, so while at my mother’s house a few weeks ago I made this first draft.

I’m not stupid. I didn’t tell her I was making the book otherwise we would have had MASSIVE creative differences in regard to which poems best paired with certain photographs. I just did it. I also just did it because I knew it was a first draft. I do this all the time with books, but I’m amazed at how many folks I run into who either never think of doing this or are convinced they are going to make a perfect book the first time out. The odds of their doing so, in most cases, are very slim. I’ve found that doing drafts takes all the baggage associated with making books and throws it out the window. My question is “What is the downside?” I’m on the hook for ONE copy and when I get it I live with the good and bad,and I learn from the draft and make a better, more polished book the second time around. Sometimes I even do three or four versions before I’m happy. Yesterday I was faced with someone wanting a signed copy of this thing, which caught me by surprise, but I explained this was only flavor number one and there was a subsequent flavor on the way.
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There are things about this book I like. The overall dark and somewhat edgy feel. The portrait format. And I also love the puzzle you are required to solve when you combine seemingly RANDOM imagery with specific poems. I LOVE certain spreads. I don’t love page numbers. I love the mixture of image and border sizes. I don’t love the size of the copy. I also should have used charcoal grey or black end sheets and NOT the light grey, and I don’t like the final image in the book, it’s just too obvious. I do like the scanned, blank 4×5 negative I used in the front, and I REALLY like the spread with title page on the right and definition of inertia on the left. Imagewrap worked well although this is only a stand in cover image. I’ve got another image, very similar to this one, that has a different meaning to me and version two will see this new image on the cover. I think twenty-five poems is a good number and a roughly 60-page overall book is good and fits the attention span of the audience of this particular publication. I also see a series of these books which is why this one will be titled “Volume One.”
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Version two will be pretty solid I think. This book is not for sale, nor will it ever be. It was not made to make me famous, or her. It was not meant as a barometer of my talent, or hers. It was simply an exercise, and a record of her work and mine and how those two things play together. This book alerted me to the fact I’ve been missing an entire genre of books. There is much to do….

Flashback

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the feeling I’m given
endless it seems
breathe, breathe, breathe
did we want this? dream it up and put
a plan in motion, a sales team
for the technological dream
the uncle who won’t leave
remote camps will settle the score
or so I’m told
their agenda top secret
don’t help too much, just enough
true help is an admission of a problem
in the first place
ten years, that’s all it took
the tattered ends of the rope
looking up as they slowly unwind
a cruel world still
never kind