Music is the art form that photography aspires to be. Here's a little video I made with my good friend Nessa that I think really combines the best of both worlds.
I'm excited to have had work featured by the fine folks at Free Ass Mag, an anti-architecture architecture magazine run by some of the folks I met along my roadtrip. Issue #3, Nomads, features some brand-new images from across the country. This is your first chance to check out my next project!
Take a look here: http://freeassmag.com/ISSUE-3-NOMAD-1
There are moments in life when the reality of the world punctures the delicate façade of those things which we thought we knew; when truths surface to remind us of the absurd nature of that which we call ‘living’ and of the holes in our understanding which then scream out from the soul.
Last night the people voted to elect Donald J Trump as president of the United States of America and the truth comes pouring out. It is unavoidable, like fists which would clench the throat, so now we are held in the hands of inescapable reality.
The truth is that there are men that would hurt you, men that hate you and would see to it that you are punished for living. Men who despise you because of who you love, who hate you for the color of your skin, who would see fit to toss you aside because of your chromosomes or otherwise seek to destroy that which you hope to become. The truth is that living for many, so many, has just become more difficult and it is impossible to say that we will all be ok.
I hesitate to fall back onto messages of hope, to console the grieving hearts with a call towards compassion and solidarity, or to pick out from the cloud a silver lining of any kind. I hesitate because now is not the time for resolution, now more than ever is the time for struggle. Greater were the number of people who voted to support progress than hate and yet hate has still won.
For today it may only be appropriate to grieve, than tomorrow perhaps to gear up for a fight.
Behind the wheel it is easy to get lost. Through the black hills, the great plains or the farms of Wisconsin the mind is left to wander as the road stretches ahead. On the horizon ancient hills and lakes and structures, all of them new to me, catch the eye. I would like to photograph them but stopping at every curiosity would only serve to distract from moving forward. It seems best to move forward and so I try not to focus. I get lost, not in place but in thought.
I find myself considering the more absurd aspects of reality. The way the subjective experience interweaves with the world and details stand out in amazing ways. From them I begin to recognize the narratives stitched into the fabric of things. I see the red gravel revealed on roads in Minnesota, the same sort of red which occasionally breaks the monotonous tempo of yellow lines with a spattering of deer blood. Seventy-Six dead deer now, between Long Island and Montana; I’m not sure if that’s a lot.
In the sandstone of South Dakota’s Badlands you can see that red, revealed again, in layers of Earth sandwiched between the grays and yellows of other eons. On snapchat my lovers red hair calls out to those stones. They both seem timeless and are, I think, kin. On Facebook another kind of red floats around. It is the red of crimson “C”s adorning the caps of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. The Indians with their smiling caricature seem a far cry from those resistant faces of the Standing Rock Sioux, their skin more red with blood today than with melanin. It is hard to forget them in South Dakota, their struggle to protest and protect a sacred land. In a bar in a town which owes its name to them we debate a detour to join the struggle. We decide that it may not be our place.
On the face of America as on the face of the universe one might begin to read these narratives; histories of love, as with my darling back home, and of geology in the sandstones as pink as her hair. There are also stories of neglect, as with the wearing roads of Minnesota, and stories of accidents as with the Seventy-six deer we have passed dead on I-90. Still there are far darker narratives, histories etched with the blood of men prosecuted and persecuted again and again only to have their racist visage cheered on at the World Series.
Thinking is like this. On the road you begin to see things come together.
A friend and I are tramping around the country, musing on and photographing the American landscape. Follow us at his blog Humans for Humans and follow me on instagram for regular updates!
See you around~
As you may well know the summer is winding down and so I thought it might be an appropriate time to share an update on current projects!
To begin I've been working hard to scan and edit a body of photographs I've been producing since graduating earlier this year. "Before I Go" will feature photographs with a personal angle and musings about life after college. Watch for it when I'm featured on the Photo Alum: Purchase College on Instagram. Those images will also be making their way here to my website.
The Brick Collective is gaining traction as we continue to organize and grow. A Tumblr page featuring all of our work is in progress and will be premiering soon!
Finally and importantly please support the GoFundMe a friend and I have created to raise funds to cross the country. We will be writing and photographing the whole trip, looking for something new to say about the contemporary American landscape.
Thank you for the support,
To many the revelation comes as a surprise but before I began to consider a career as an artist I spent much of my time marching in formation as a member of a high school NJROTC program. The program, designed to instill in its cadets a sense of patriotism and mutual comradery, promised a smooth entry into the armed services where I hoped to gain new experiences and to see the world. Towards the end of my career in the program I had attained the rank of cadet ensign and commanded an entire platoon of my fellow cadets, but as I began better to understand myself and to embrace the Buddhism which influences me so now I realized that a career as an artist//photographer could offer me similar opportunities to gain new experiences and to see the country I had been programed to love. On a whim in my senior year I was convinced by my photography instructor to apply to a BFA program at SUNY Purchase. To my surprise I was accepted and so the course of my life shifted dramatically from the prospect of a career spent in the Navy to a career spent as an artist.
Four years later I was still thinking about my fellow cadets, about the dramatic turns our lives made both into and out of the armed services. In a project I began just this spring I sought to reconnect with them and see where their lives had gone. I learned that many had joined the military and were still away but that those which remained continued to pursue a life in service to their community.
I met with Nick who saves lives everyday as an overworked and under-payed EMT who is grateful for the opportunity to serve; I met with Richie whose brother (a former cadet I know well) will be returning soon from four years of service to the United States Marine Corp and who himself has maneuvered around the last block to his own eventual career in the Army; I met with Alexis who works hard every day to provide for her son; I met with Jackie who trained at the Citadel but found her time there cut short by circumstance; I scoured through my oldest photographs from early high school, images of cadets marching in the veterans day parade taken by myself when I was most one of them; and finally I visited the last resting place of a friend who was lost to us suddenly in an accident at camp Lejeune a few years back.
In connecting to these people and in discovering where they had found themselves so many years later I found myself more open to the circumstances which had once led me to consider a career in the Navy. The project, which I consider something of a recovery or recollection, brought to life for me the utter humanness of people I had loved before the course of my own life had shifted. I present them to you humbly with the hopes of promoting connection and understanding in times as divisive as these. This one is for them, my fellow cadets. Fare winds, and following seas…
Following seas is an ongoing project…
"...if love belongs to the poet, and fear to the novelist, then loneliness belongs to the photographer. To be a photographer is to willingly enter the world of the lonely, because it is an artistic exercise in invisibility." - Hanya Yanagihara, Loneliness Belongs to the Photographer, The New Yorker
In my experience with photography, photographers and photographs I have found it most often best to avoid broad and romantic statements about the nature of the medium. Photography is a tremendously complicated dialect within the even more complicated language of art which always seeks to avoid easy interpretation and categorization. Art is absurd. Photographs are absurd. They take the form of Polaroids and Jpegs, slideshows and coffee-table books, film photographs and scanned compositions written and rewritten by means of the darkroom, photoshop and the print. Some are meant to be taken at face value, others questioned and dissected for understanding and so it is naturally impossible to box them in with one broad quote.
Still there were always photographs which called to me subconsciously for their significance and perfection, photographs which reek with what Roland Barthes called "Punctum". Katey Grannan, Kristine Potter, An-My Le, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Joel Sternfeld to name a sum-what disparate group of image makers are all people who have created images which call to me through a punctum I have long sought to understand. After reading the words of Hanya Yanagihara I am prepared to make broad statements conservatively about that punctum, that is to speak about the loneliness of a photograph and the photographer.
The claim Yanagihara makes is that photography inherently involves or invokes a degree of loneliness. That the placement of the camera and the observation of the world necessitates the negation of the photographer as an entity in favor of them as a conduit. "The photographer moves through the world, our world, hoping for anonymity, hoping she is able to humble herself enough to see and record what the rest of us- in our noisy perambulations, our requests to be heard- are too present to our own selves to ever see. To practice this art requires first a commitment to self-erasure."
As a Buddhist and as an artist I have coupled with the difficulty inherent to dealing with the ego. 'Self-erasure' has been the natural way of working around this. I think that too often artists get caught up in artistic identity. This is all fine of course for the muti-media or performance artist whose entire life may become like an art piece but certainly frivolous when it comes to photographers and photographs. I would say, rather narrow-mindedly I admit, that I do not care for photographic artists whose biographies exceeds the level of interest invoked in the actual images. In this sense I am both biased towards and cautious of traditionally aesthetic bodies of work. I would say that I do love a good documentary project or even photo journalistic body of work but that I also take care to understand and appreciate the stuff I find myself initially drawn to reject. That being said those things aforementioned are usually my priority in creating work. I would like to create images which are both aesthetically interesting and intellectually stimulating rather than to create long webs of interconnecting complexity understandable only when the viewer understands me.
To put it in shorter terms, I seek in my work to think of myself last and even to allow myself to disappear. Yanagihara might point to this as an act of martyrdom for the photographers art but to myself and most photographers this is the natural state of being. We seek to vanish, if not from the actual world than certainly from the eyes of our audience. We would like most for our audience to forget that we are separate entities and instead allow them to slip into our frame and see the world as we once did. This may be an act of destruction but I think also it is an act of creation in the Buddhist sense. This line of thought slips into my work often.
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There is, of course, another dimension to Yanagirhara's argument which lays namely in the longing to connect with the subject of a photograph. It is like the experience of looking into a photograph of a loved one who has passed in the hopes of finding comfort in memory. Of course anyone who has had this experience might understand what I mean when I say it is a painful one. We seek the comfort of memory and instead stumble upon the longing of distance. Photographs underscore our distance by simultaneously showing us the thing, the person or place, of desire and preventing us from actually seeing them, from touching them and being with them. They are like one-way mirrors in that no matter how long we stare into them we cannot actually convince the subject to budge not because they wouldn't want to but because they cannot look back and see us.
I have had the experience of wanting to meet many strangers locked within the photographs of Katey Grannan or Irina Rozovsky and I can say for myself that that experience is usually met with a sad and lonely longing. Knowing that I may never have such an opportunity can be crushing both in the moment and in the existential scheme. I think that sometimes photographers photograph as an excuse to talk to strangers and to bridge the lonely gap we have constructed for ourselves. This can, unfortunately, also have the sad effect of isolating the image maker in space when the photograph is being taken as well as in time when it is being viewed later on.
This argument may seem ultimately melancholy but I finish with a quote from the book Gift From the Sea that has me inspired this week.
“I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
Read the article that had me inspired here:
In the twilight of the morning of May 17th, 2016, we were the first in the continental United States to witness the sun rise. I made a point to Google May 17th 2016 before writing and found that nothing remarkable had otherwise occurred. I think of our time gathered atop Cadillac Mountain and of the apparent significance of May 17th and I find myself at a loss for understanding; the day before I had turned twenty-two, less than a week before I had graduated from an art program in which I had spent the last four years developing a sense of clarity and purpose. When you stand at the peak of something so great as a mountain or on the shore of something so vast as the sea you can easily find yourself feeling as though you are standing within the court of God. Before these things one’s life can seem insignificant, one can find themselves lost.
Four years in an art program had left me jaded and stagnant and so this trip was meant to spur my spirit into welcoming the next phase of life. A great journey north, ten days on the road with my mother and my lover, two people with whom I feel most comfortable and most refreshed; but even here breathing in the cool mountain air and witnessing the spectacle of May 17th I didn’t feel refreshed. Truthfully I felt exhausted and a little let down.
We are told in our histories that life changes abruptly through conflicts and revolutions. Moments come which suddenly change the course of world events spurring historic figures and civilizations down paths for which they might be forever memorialized in our stories. Life rarely happens this way; its course is often more gradual and subtle. We follow paths carved for us by our forebears, previous generations, governments, parents through the course of childhood. There is always a degree of predestination in our lives, from graduations to parenthood, even those things which seem abrupt in life, set in motion long before they came to fruition. Certain things are inevitable.
We watched as the morning light swept through the coast of Mt. Desert Island. I imagined a wildfire sweeping through the canopy below, the trees buckling and falling to the blaze, their children reveling in the ash, a great new forest rising in its place. When I fell out of this fantasy I could only see the same forest which had stood before. Spectacular surely, sublimely lit by the morning sun, but the same as it had been when we arrived and not tremendously different from what it had been even a century before. May 17th 2016 was not a day for forest fires or revolutions. It was a day for contemplation demarcated by an arbitrary moment of apparent significance.
As the sun split the sky the glorious pink and red light of morning had fallen to its usual colors, bold yellows and blues. We, of course, were not the only ones atop Cadillac Mountain that morning and by now everyone else was turning away. I looked around at faces wrapped in blankets and in scarves and I found myself wondering. For the most part this morning light seemed to be a novelty, special if only to say that we were the first to witness it, but as folks turned away I could see them lingering on a sky which had become unremarkable. I could see them desperately grasping to a moment which now seemed more sacred than novel. I wondered what they had sought in ascending Cadillac Mountain that morning and I wondered if they had found it.
Years before our trek to Maine I had renounced my belief in God, a moment of rebellion but a moment which, like graduation, was inevitable. Because of this it had become strange to feel his presence here, shaping the world subtly from my perspective but drastically from his own. I cannot say if the others who stood here were Christians or Jews or Muslims or Pagans or Buddhists or Atheists but atop Cadillac Mountain we had all become theists. Emerson might have recognized this as a moment of transcendence but I could only call it ‘important’ and I couldn’t really tell you why.
As the sun set later that evening I was sad to see the day pass and sad to see such a tremendous phase in my life pass; but such passage was inevitable. More than anything though I was sad to see everyone leave, to see cars descend the mountain after the end of the morning, to see everyone continue on with their days unconcerned with the passage of time, even grateful for it. God impresses me not in the obvious ways. It is not his glory or his power which gives me awe, but his patience and his willingness to let go. Every day the sun rises over Cadillac Mountain and he paints a marvelous picture. Every day sun worshippers come to bask in his glory and witness his work. Every day those sun worshippers die, or forget, or cease to care. Every day God is lost to someone, myself included; and yet everyday he allows the sun to set, content to be forgotten, to have his sky-cast masterpiece forgotten.
I do not believe in God but on May 17th 2016 I took a cue from his patience. As the sun descended upon the western United States for the rest of the nation to witness I thought that I might let it set too. To my mother and my lover and all of those sun worshippers gathered on Cadillac Mountain, May 17th 2016 was moderately significant. As it passed I resolved to let it stay that way, to let life pass gradually and to forgive it for lacking its revolutions and its wildfires. At least for that day I would sleep content to see it go.
Another video piece from a few hours spent at Rye Beach, NY. An experiment in stillness and motion.
A collaborative piece from earlier this season featuring the voice and poetry of Chanelle Larios. Inspired in part by the film La Jete, the video/photography piece is meant to explore the passage of time and the nature of memory in relationship to lost romance.
A span of alien architecture punctures the pristine salt marsh of Southern New York. Co-Op City is what they called it. I photographed on its outskirts the other day, a journey which led me to some places I previously thought inaccessible. Having scoped it out initially with Google Earth I decided to go back and try to recreate some of my photographs at approximately the same location but through the digital interface. I'm curious to learn how people understand place and also to explore where that all falls apart.