Lately What Preys On My Mind
This year, after 30 years, I stopped exhibiting my photographs in formal gallery settings. It was a deliberate choice I made to reduce the expense and carbon footprint of my art practice. Instead, I made extensive use of social media platforms to exhibit my work, one image at a time, paired with extended captions, selected from my readings and occasionally my own writings. As I had hoped, my productivity greatly increased. So much so, that I was able to dedicate all ten galleries to a single body of work.
While my practice stretches back to the film/darkroom era, for the last 15 years I have worked primarily in digital media, and for the last three years a significant amount of iPhoneography, while incorporating iPhone apps into my usual Photoshop tools. Future exhibitions of my work will surely be presented in a digital format via high-definition screens, which will allow for me to expand into moving imagery. Experimenting with video has just begun and will likely be further developed in 2019 upon acquisition of appropriate funding and tools.
My interest in imagery from the natural world continues to inspire and motivate me. Rock, water, and wood still seem inexhaustible subject matter, and in particular, trees. I’m obsessed with them, and have been for decades. My desire to photograph trees has taken me to the four corners of the contiguous United States, and even into British Columbia. I’ve no doubt this work would take me further abroad with adequate funding. There are a number of species of interest to me in Africa, Indonesia, and Japan that I would like to photograph.
My earliest photograph were made in a black & white, in a traditional darkroom practice. This was no accident. Until the arrival of state of the art inkjet printing, working in color photography was expensive and difficult to control with any precision. Commercial photographers like me often relied on commercial photo labs and their technicians to convert our color film images to paper. The results were very mixed, and most photographers making art needed the kind of image control that could only be realized in personal darkrooms.
Digital photography was introduced to me in the mid-90’s, but it was rather primitive and held little interest to me. Like many, I thought it would develop much more slowly. I had fully intended to use my traditional photographic darkroom skills for the remainder of my creative life. In truth, my very first computer was given to me by concerned colleagues who had observed my typewriter still on my desk and in use in 1999. They found a modest, but still working Apple computer left for the garbage collector in an alley way, rescued it, and left it on my desk in my darkroom with a sticky note bearing the words, “Joe, we wanted you to join the 20th century before the 21st arrived.” Such a Luddite was I then.
For me, digital photography became a professional imperative in 2004. There was no getting around it, digital photography was the new paradigm, and a steep learning curve lay before me. But the technological leaps also re-energized color photography as an expressive medium like never before, and suddenly vast uncharted expressive oceans appeared before me, which I navigated via dead reckoning, like many other photographers already in their forties. Today my state of the art darkroom and traditional film cameras have all been abandoned. Replaced by digital cameras, computers, subscription software and Iphones. These are my expressive and commercial tools now.
What has not changed is my subject matter, and my desire to create landscape-inspired photographs. But now my images are generated in DSLRs and iPhones, and instead of a darkroom, I have Photoshop, Snapseed, and a host of other softwares and apps to process raw images from my iPhones and cameras, often manipulating colors, forms, and compositions intuitively and moving back and forth frequently between computers and cameras and iPhone apps.
The extended captions/titles have a long history, as have the anthropomorphic gestures in my “environmental tree-portraits”. I find myself attracted to the unusual and asymmetrical subjects, particularly in pairs and groups. Having spent half a lifetime lurking into forests, stalking up mountain trails, and wandering through desert terrain, I find myself seeing and thinking of trees as sentient beings living in a parallel universe, and imagining all the familiar human conditions in their lives.
I’ve noted several clear advantages to having trees model for me. In general, they are more than willing. I honestly can’t recall the last time I got turned down. Unselfconsciousness rates high for me, plus they’re relatively quiet, and very patient, holding poses for hours at a time. Happy, even eager to change their colors with the seasons, and even forgoing their clothing altogether, even on cold, windy days. Unfailingly accommodating to re-shoots and do-overs. And all for free. Who could ask for more?
The words that I pair with my images are strategically chosen and placed to lay only so close as to leave a space, like a synapse, between image and text that the viewer can attempt to leap across, thus creating a synergy between the two, a semi-directed visual experience. And because these image/text pieces are shared on Facebook and Instagram individually, there becomes a natural point de départ for interactive audience participation in the comment sections inherent to these platforms.
In 2015, I came across a craft artist who made her work from recycled wood that she embroidered with yarn. The work was almost childlike in its innocence and simplicity. I was charmed by the refreshing naiveté of the work, and I loved the tactile authenticity of the materials, but when I returned to my studio, and I looked at my framed photographs on my walls, trapped in their wooden and glass mausoleums, I felt sad. I wanted to experience and share my work like my friend’s, without the barrier of glass and the detachment of the frame. This led to experimentations in a similar presentation, my photographs directly mounted to wood, with no frame, and no glass. I sensed an immediate loss of commodity value in my new “product”, which alarmed and annoyed me, but I also felt liberated from the banal conventions of the more serious and “professional” presentation that had always and forever diminished my enjoyment in looking at prints.
Of course, my friend was evolving too, eventually moving into stop-motion animation using only found materials around the farmhouse where she lived. Suddenly her process was entirely ephemeral, existing only as pixels, shared exclusively online. The costs of her production amounted conveniently to near zero, which was well-aligned with her consumer values, as well as her income at that time. As I was struggling financially with my current production practices, I decided to give pixels a try as well. That was three years ago, and I have since discovered my new practice allows for a maximum production at minimum expense. I still spend plenty of money on travel, but now I can travel more often, produce more work, publish it spontaneously, and share it with a much wider audience than ever before.
They following images were all produced and published in 2018