What I Learned from my First Piece of Promise

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This is the first art piece I’ve done that showed a bit of promise (at least in my mind.) Believe it not, this began as black acrylic circles that were originally intended to be a piece about motion. I started by making these overlapping circles in three rows spaced evenly a third of the way down and a third of the way across the paper. After doing so I realized with a few “confining” strokes I could anchor the edges and create more an abstract facial piece. The colors just felt right. I added the blue after the black then finished with the yellow which gave me the contrast I was looking for.

I realized after making this piece that I could probably spend my entire life working with JUST black acrylic and paper and never come close to extinguishing the possibilities. I don’t need much at all. Just SIMPLE tools, time and practice. I would also love to study drawing, art, illustration, from charcoal to watercolor, but with my schedule it is almost impossible for me to commit to anything routine.

Over the past few months I’ve made about 25 pieces. The most difficult part is actually the concentration required to do this kind of work. My mind is a mess, it really is. I am SO easily distracted these days. I’m actually trying to figure out how to remedy this because it really is something I’m not dealing with all that well. The moment I try to begin a piece I find reasons not to, and this just has to stop.

Over the past year I’ve been watching people as I travel, a full range of people. Young, old, technical, non-technical doesn’t matter. To say we are addicted, physically addicted, to technology is not a stretch. I see it in myself, and I have certainly been seeing it in many of the people around me. I FIRST noticed this back in about 2005 while photographing children. When I stopped to load a roll of film they would instinctively reach for their phone, punch in their code, check something, then turn the phone off and wait for me. Within TEN SECONDS they would pick up their phone and do it all over again. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is a physical addiction.”

A few months ago I landed at John Wayne Airport here in lovely Orange County and the pilot said “Well, the good news is we are eight-minutes early, but the bad news is we have no gate and have to wait eight-minutes.” The woman next to me, who I am guessing is a mid-level exec based on her clothing and briefcase, turned on her phone, punched in the code and checked Facebook twenty-four-times in eight minutes.” THAT my friends is addiction. Think this is rare? Think this is a wild chance encounter? Think again. Like I said, I’ve been watching this for a year. Even a younger friend pulled me aside and said “You know, I thought you were exaggerating about this but you aren’t, I’ve been watching too and it’s out of control.”

Do you wake up in the morning and reach for your phone?

Do you rush home at night so that you can get on the computer to surf?

Do you filter the world through your social media, at all times, all moments?

Has your regular camera been abandoned for your mobile phone because it’s easier to post?

Does your brain think of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter during those moments in the day when you have even a moments break?

Do you check your email on your phone more than ten times per day? Twenty times? Fifty times? A hundred times? (No joke.)

Are you actually putting weight into something so trivial/fickle/ridiculous as views and likes?

If so, I have a little test for you. Try sketching or drawing but try something very small and very detailed, which is what I accidentally did when I started this “art” thing. I haven’t shared these pieces with you yet, but I will at some point. They are small, 6×9, ink on paper and each one took DAYS to compile because the design I was attempting was infinitely small. I can’t tell you how difficult this was for me. I had to put my phone in another room and turn it off because the minute I ran into either physical or mental difficulty my relief came by telling myself, “Oh, I better check my email, where is my phone.” “I better be “productive” so maybe I should get my laptop and check things online.” “Maybe I should check Facebook, Twitter, etc.” and then the train was off the rails. Gone, fractured, destroyed. I simply didn’t have the attention span to pull these things off.

Suddenly, I was the guy checking his phone twenty-times while sitting on the runway. Yep, that WAS me.

Now, I never started this “art” thing to make realizations about myself. I did it simply to see what would happen, but the beneficial byproduct, so far, has been this acknowledgement I have an issue with attention. And based on my observations…..you might have one too. The truly odd part is not seeing these issues in my friends, etc, it’s finding someone who DOESN’T have the issue. I’m not kidding. The “clean” people, those untarnished by technology, seem STRANGE. They listen, they ask questions and they don’t engage in rapid-fire conversations where each person is simply verbalizing a mental, drop down list, not waiting for each other to finish a fractured sentence, instead jumping in with their bullet points.(I’ve done this too.)

My wife and I had dinner with one such “clean” person and when we left my wife asked “Oh my GOD, that was weird, what was going on with them?” I said, “Well, I think what was happening was they were actually listening, then thinking, then responding with a well thought out reply.” It was unnerving. It really was. It felt like we were engaged in a conversation while slowing sinking in quicksand.

I recently spent some time with a relative, a 14-year-old kid who is not a “screen kid.” He had screens at his disposal, phones, iPads, computers, games, etc, but for whatever reason chose not to engage with them. It was ENTIRELY strange. The kid exuded an energy I would equate with that of a shaman, not that I’ve spent a lot of time around shamans, but the kid was rock-solid-steady, calm, focused and felt like the most mature person in the room. The rest of us bounced from phone to laptop to phone and back to laptop, using senseless apps for no reason, repeatedly checking email and sending texts like crack monkeys. The kid just sat and watched, listened and had a look on his face like “Guys, the joke is entirely on you.”

Now, during the time I was with this kid I made a book from images I made with my phone. I actually made the book through my phone, and I like the book. I also shot a few rolls with the Hasselblad and a few with the Nikon. I did get a few things done, but when I think back on this time it feels like a dream state where everything is playing at top speed. Friends who hadn’t seen me in over a year described me (I found out later) as jittery, distracted and unable to sit still.

Normally when I bring up anything that questions the modern way I get plenty of hate mail about being a luddite, or not being smart enough to understand the technology or that I am “anti-technology.” This is the easy route. “That cant’ be true, he MUST be an idiot.” “How dare he question these things, technology has made our lives clearly better.”

All I’m saying is I am, at times, a complete mental mess. This is ME. If you spend a lot of time with a phone in your hand or on your computer than you MIGHT take a moment to reflect. Or not. All I know is I have to change a few things. I used to think “brain fog” was a joke. Now I have difficulty reading novel length material. I used to think technology was aiming us in the right direction. Now I hide my phone to get real work done, and place it in the trunk when I’m driving.(another long story)

It’s not like any of this technology is going away, nor should it, but I no longer view it in the same way I once did. I find it appalling to watch people interface with the Grand Canyon via their mobile phone. I don’t like selfies. And I’m entirely over the amount of self-promotion that has invaded our little world.(Like this blog?) What else can I bash? I’ll think of something later I’m sure.

Luckily, I now have “art” to keep me company now. Yep, I stand in front of blank pieces of paper, petrified of that first mark. Will it be right? Will it be perfect? Ah, perfection…..the idea of damn perfection…..that leads me to my next point.(Post) To make this ONE piece I found interesting I made MANY that were simple embarrassingly bad. I mean REALLY bad. I have zero background, education or knowledge in regard to art, so I have a lot of ground to make up, probably more than I hope to do in my lifetime, but I feel like trying. I need to study, and to do that I first need to find…peace.

Stay tuned.

Napper: Los Angeles

I was recently able to get a few minutes with friend and fellow artist/photographer Michael Napper who happens to call Los Angeles home. We are working on “something” together, so stay tuned to your trusty Smogranch for emerging details. It involves photography, art and the all powerful book.

We always end up photographing each other, so this was my favorite image from this particular day.

Napper is one of those guys I find wildly inspiring. Given time and resources he is a dangerous character, the type who in the olden days would have been condemned, hunted and ultimately captured by the crown. We NEED these people because when I look at American culture I see a sleeping giant waiting for a chance to reemerge from the slumber of the strip mall and fast-food chain. We all talk about change, especially these days during the Hell that is campaign season. “We really need change” the pundits say, with ZERO meaning or accountability, so our collective soul, and future, rests in the hands of the creative type.

Michael writes painfully well, paints, sketches and has the photography affliction. And he makes a lot of work, which I find the ultimate jab in the neck.

On a serious note. If you haven’t seen his site, or work, take a look. Well worth it.

Super Dynamite Update: The Gap

Was fortunate enough to get a few minutes with Super Dynamite who was in town to close a huge corporate merger. His manager called and I got a power meeting. I signed a nondisclosure and we drank Singapore Slings. He was also sporting his new streamlined look. Tiny chicks dig tiny guys with scars and missing teeth. It didn’t seem to slow him down when it came to devouring a plate of grub. Someday soon it will be Uncle Dan losing all his teeth.

Suspension

I posted this image a long time ago, but I wanted to post it again. I made this image about 50 feet from where I’m sitting right now, in front of my computer at home. Just standing there looking at my neighbor’s pond, saw something interesting with the way the light was working and knew if I exposed a certain way I’d get this. Just goes to show you never know. Unexpected images in unexpected places. Want to print this in the darkroom.

Taste of Uruguay: Portrait of a Place

You ever hear a motion picture director talk about how a location became one of the characters in a film? “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” is very much about location. “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and even films like “Seven” where you don’t ever know where you are but it’s so foreboding and dark, not to mention rainy, that you can just FEEL how horrible things are about to get based only on the depressing cityscape. Still photography works the same, at least when you are trying to tell a story. These images were made in Uruguay while we were working on our project. These images were made in the same place as the last post, the exact same place, but these images have a different feel, and if they had to could live on their own as a mini-snapshot of place.

I described before how we move from small shoot to small shoot while compiling a story. You imagine the puzzle in your head and you slowly begin to link the edges and then dive in deep to fill up the center. So when we arrived on this scene my goal was to make the images I made in the last post, but while I was there I realized that this little room, in this one little building, was also something I needed to have a little feel for. Looking back on this I realized I am missing ONE very important image which was the bar at the opposite side of the room. It was, well, the perfect neighborhood bar. Why didn’t I shoot it? I don’t know. I can see the bar in infinite detail, in my mind, but I didn’t shoot it. Oh well, just another mistake in a LONG LINE of mistakes I’ve made with camera in hand.

These images become important for a variety of reasons. First, for your memory. Regardless of whether or not you ever use these images it’s nice to look back on them and say, “Oh ya, I remember that place.” These type images also come into play when you make books. Sometimes the reader needs a transitional type image to set the stage for your best work. A book of nothing but your best work might be a portfolio more than a book. Books ebb and flow, so informational photographs can be as important as anything. You might use these images near a chapter head to ease into this place, space or community. We also walked through this room to get to the performers out back, so it was a link to the subsequent images.

These images are also very important to the people in them. They are proud of this place and it shows in how they behave. If you promise to send images you sure as Hell better do it. I’ve heard photographers say “Ya, I always promise and then never send anything.” On one hand I appreciate their honesty because A lot of other people claim to do this but don’t. I know for a fact because I once did a project several years after another photographer did it and it was SO BAD it was like scorched Earth. “The other guy promised us everything and gave us nothing.” It made my life Hell. In the case of these images, they didn’t ask. Or maybe they did but my Spanish was so bad I didn’t understand them? “Soy amable!” “Yo quiero leche y queso!”

The first two images here were made by myself, but after seeing me make these images the guys in the third image asked me to photograph them. In turn other people are watching while I’m making this portrait which in turn gets them, indirectly, involved in the shoot. It breaks the ice and gets the photographic ball rolling. The people you photograph are your conduit into the far reaches of your work, without them you are going nowhere. They do not see photography the same way you do, and this is something you must keep in mind the entire time you are working or showcasing your work.