tocking to myself

getting rid of this nervous tic

notes on Transient Attention

Horvath_Jason_TransientAttention1“the sway is what intrigues me here.  the unintentional movements to the energy of the city, persuaded by no music other than the rumblings of the streets, the shouts of the people, the distraction of the lights, and the constant headspinning to watch for cars and bikes.  these rhythms and their influence on the intoxicated wandering observer.”

Back in June, the Photographic Center NW in Seattle held it’s annual fundraising event, Long Shot 14, and I thought it would be an interesting challenge to participate in the 24hr event.  Photographers from all over the world were given 24 hours to create new imagery and then 24 hours to edit and submit for a 24 hour exhibition to be held at the center in order to raise money and bring attention the what the center provides for the photographic community.  Because of the nature of the event and my job schedule, i was left with the evening as my only free time to take pictures.  This allowed me to focus on a long standing project I’ve been doing on Maundering, to drunkenly wander idly or aimlessly, and find a new avenue to explore within it.  I came across the notion of Transient Attention while researching the average attention spans of humans in a necessary tangent from school.  This theory is defined as “a short-term response to a stimulus that temporarily attracts/distracts attention” (Wikipedia), about 8 seconds on average.  I utilized this time frame to determine the length of my exposure and set out to willingly be distracted.  For the sake of time, i used my Panasonic digital point-and-shoot camera, which allows for long exposure, and performed minimal editing in Photoshop.  The quote above is an excerpt from the notes i took that night, written during a side goal of grabbing a quick drink at my favorite bars along the way, thus allowing the lubrication and willing integration of self within the environment.  Out of the 5 images submitted by each participant, only one (above) was chosen to be exhibited by each photographer, and no comments or critiques were given to the artists by the jury, so I can only assume the reasons this particular image was chosen out of the rest, which personally was not my top pick.  I will note that these images only exist digitally and my choice of printing and presentation would, most likely, have an effect on how they are perceived, creating a slight disconnect to these images and the final form i originally was striving for.  I post these images to the general interwebs, in the hope that i will receive feedback regarding the images and how they are viewed by those outside of my own mind in order to continue growing this project.

 

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A Strange Dance

Erika Huffman and Tom Hyde danced above the drawers like two strangers meeting at a show and connecting with non-verbal communication that is impressive with its fluidity and awkward in its sensation to the observer.

The first thing I noticed in Erika Huffman’s collection was the play on presentation. The portrait headshots were presented in landscape mode while the detail shots of hands were presented as portraits.  huffman1The hands are distorted by the lens and the use of an extreme close-up perspective, but they allow us to explore all the cracks and creases of time that are accentuated by the grace and curvature of the hands and fingers, and from the print itself. This allows us to see the hardship and work ingrained in the hands, letting them communicate to us and present the story of the person as the portrait of who they belong to.

Similarly, the details of the face become objects marking the stopping points on a map of our journey through the landscape of physical communication. When portraits are presented with solid studio backgrounds, the personality disappears into the overwhelming physical presence, where the object-ness of the subject becomes the interpretation of the subjectivity. The artist allows the subject to tell their story through their physicality in the void, the eyes typically being the focus, but the specific individual is lost by way of removing context to make room for the universal message.  The need to be surrounded by other voided personas is necessary to reinterpret the individuality and a name given to distinguish between them. This is why I really enjoy the image of the girl in a setting outside of a studio. huffman2The lighting is perfectly highlighting her features, working alongside the location to display both the brightness of youth and the sadness of life. The fence and cedar shake wall give just enough context to let our imagination run wild with creating a back-story. The portrait becomes highly personal and universal in its voice, standing on it’s own without the crutch of multiplicity. The images have all the beauty and power of Walker Evans, but are more reserved in forcing the interpretation of the story.  They leave room for the viewers to weave themselves into the image and have their own discovery experience.

Tom Hyde’s landscapes showcase the dark and interesting side to human interaction with the environment. Focusing on the heavily industrialized timber fields in the Olympic Peninsula, they maintain a highly personalized exploration of discovery as opposed to any political comment. hyde2The image of a diverging crossroad took on the personality of a 2 headed animal, attractive in it’s freakish nature to resemble what we normally find beautiful, but twisted enough to remind us that that beauty can only exist within our imperfections. I don’t want to take either path, but to walk through the center of the field, existing in the world of muddled messes, recognizing all sides and being energized by their synergy.

The image of a greenhouse in the fog plays tricks on the eyes into seeing a person making their way to the structure carrying a frying pan. Instantly the mind races to dark corners, giving rise to thoughts of murder, possibly infanticide, anything as long as relief is achieved from the darkness that comes within a landscape of obsessive rain. At the peak of anxiety, the person is revealed to be a hyde1scarecrow, a stand-in designed to scare off intruders coming to take the seeds and saplings necessary for our survival in the harsh environment. The interplay between dark/light, destruction/creation, and positive/negative demands our attention, making it hard to quickly glance and move on, ultimately giving the collection strength. It’s not the type of attention grabbing of a child’s tantrum or the grotesque and sensational, it’s more like the lone flower blossom in a field of stone, or a solitary café patron reading on a busy street corner. Our curiosity is intrigued by the unexpected presence of something familiar in a place we have grown accustomed to viewing as beyond appreciation.

After sitting with Huffman and Hoyle, I felt the strange satisfaction of a voyeur, having just observed an intimate presentation. The darkness of Hyde lends its narrative to the portraits, and the rich humanity of Huffman gives a deep personality to the landscapes. I felt closer to them because of what I had seen in myself, instigating the craving for that sweet connection and leaving a bitter taste knowing that I had just witnessed something rare and special. The individual expression is why I look, and the hidden dance between neighbors is why I continue to stare.

Moments of Transition

Both collections this week focus on the chaotic and sublime moment that exists when two opposing forces exist simultaneously and collide together in a peak of emotion.

Kate Horton uses the skills generally reserved for commercial productions to visually demonstrate emotion through the documentation of candid lives. Following the couple, “Cassie & AJ”, we experience their tumultuous relationship as they unfold before us in rich black & white tones. The back-story is loaded and heavy with self-reflective reminders that I generally avoid, but Kate executes the presentation with grace and a compassionate persuasion that allows appreciation of the emotions that are shared within all human experience without feeling forced into any particular emotional state. We are allowed to observe, not in a voyeuristic way, but in a method that suggests a retrospective of all that has happened, as if we have been moving instinctively unaware of ourselves and now have a moment to reflect. horton1Every image is “Untitled” and unnumbered, leaving little room for a structured narrative, the images become snapshots that reveal a basic foundation to relationships and the emotional highs and lows that happen constantly in the intimate collaboration of two people. In one image Cassi is shielding her face from the camera, burying her intense sadness when she learns she is pregnant. This weight is lifted in the next image, as the bliss radiates from her eyes as she sees the love between her and AJ materialized in a ring, solidifying their commitment to each other.horton2 The intense moments allow us to realize the transitory nature of time, our circumstances are not eternal, no mater how concrete they feel. The split second it takes to look at the next image is a statement on the fleeting nature of our emotions while simultaneously, each image is an appreciation of the beauty of it’s finite existence. This bridge of understanding can only exist between the two states, a cerebral flash of infinite understanding created by the forced juxtaposition of an immortalized fleeting moment.

The images of waves in the Pacific Ocean by Scott Hoyle reveal a calming side of transition, the unavoidable blast of energy, resulting in eerily delicious foam.   Scott has stripped all reference to the location and environment out of the image, leaving the unique wave to be captured in a vacuum. The contrast between the black background and the pure white foam allow the wave to exhibit the dualistic nature of everything. The struggle of life is evident in the movement from both sides of the frame, culminating in the crash and spray of the individual form. hoyle1Each wave is another reflection of subtlety, whether it’s a violent burst with the head exploding and spreading it’s influence on it’s surroundings, or it’s the gentle lapping and folding of calm tidal repetition. The collection revealed more questions to me on process, which then led to deeper searches within. The images are so well crafted, that the initial message is immediate, and I become curious to the need to understand how they are made over the need to understand why they are made. This reveals another strength of the work; it’s ability to highlight an even more universal need of understanding that usually results in existential inquiry. This is no longer a series of portraits of individual waves, or an individual ocean. hoyle2Nor is it a series of landscapes of natural and abstract form. It is a collection of waverly images representing the force behind the creation of the waves, an incomprehensible demonstration of power that fuels our very own emotional tides. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with the uncontrollable power, one feels admiration and respect for that which is greater than, but within all of us.

Void of any heavy handed positioning, the pairing of these artists revealed more to me together, than I would have seen from them individually. Admittedly not interested in overly emotional documentary work, and way too aesthetically interested in subtle form, I enjoyed the conversation that opened me up to a perspective that either I dismiss or overlook in my general observations. The moments of transition are more revealing to the overall idea of growth than any focus on a singular foundation will give us. Similar to the theory that we grow and develop in our sleep, the bridge between conscious and unconscious, I enjoy the reminder to not be stubborn in my hold on reality and wakefulness and to allow the fluid movement between states to show me all that I need to learn.

Gazing Within

The eyes have always been said to be windows into the soul, and Leslie Hickey and Geoffrey Hiller both utilize the gaze of the eyes to carry the weight of their work.

hickey2Leslie Hickey’s collection “Tokyo/Portland” is unassuming and quiet in its appearance. Seemingly set in pairs to show the passage of time between her parents travel to Tokyo decades ago and their lives in Portland today. The two images of her Mom represented this collection with the strongest pairing. The past linked to the present through the fabric of a dress, one can see an emotional imprint on the face of her Mom, standing the test of time. The laissez faire smirk hasn’t been skewed with age, the eyes still full of observation and curiosity, the feeling of “whatever” sitting comfortably on her cheeks giving an impression of grace and openness.

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Looking at the picture of “present” Mom, I can appreciate the beauty of the person. But seeing her alongside her past self, I recognize a commonality to her spirit, driving her curiosity. It’s not the curiosity to attain and possess knowledge, but the curiosity to experience knowledge. The mom confirms this attitude in a statement when responding to the question of whether she would go back to Japan, she “…emphatically said no. There are other places to see.”  It is within this statement expressed so clearly in the gaze, captured perfectly and directed toward the audience that starts to reveal the strength of meekness.

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Geoffrey Hiller’s work “Myanmar in Transition 1987-2013” is big, though not necessarily in physicality. It needs room to allow the weight of the image to sit comfortably and the collection feels cramped within the drawers. The bright, bold colors of the street photography capture a people and place that few of us get to experience. The images don’t fall within the expected trappings of journalism or in the aesthetic justification of a foreign culture by a tourist. Instead they come across as a meditation.

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A reflection on transition, the moment where on one hand you are helplessly being swept along the chaos of history and on the other hand you stand at a precipice of change that only the individual could facilitate.  It’s this momentary flash of both vulnerability and pride that I see in these images. The faces of the two individuals highlighted express such beautiful contemplation and burden, which makes me want to buy them a cold drink and sit with them quietly, giving them the peace of relaxation.

At first Hiller dominated the space, with size, color and tone. The pace and energy was overwhelming, pushing Hickey’s work out of my periphery. As I sat and took a moment to absorb the faraway looks in the faces of Myanmar, a surrendering of understanding overcame me and I recognized the voice of Hickey’s Mom looking over my shoulder, saying, “We all go through this.” The longer I sat, the strength of the quiet, smaller photos became evident as the boldness of Hiller’s work became relaxed. It’s within these expressive gazes of all four images that allow the audience to experience the confidence of time. The images are a catalyst to discovery, not just of a particular person or culture, but of ones own place in the timeless flow of existence. They are captivating in their differences, within which is provided a necessary moment of self-awareness. The only emotional comparison I can express is that of enjoying a Sunday brunch with an old friend, sitting outside, taking in the surrounding environment and quietly exchanging glances of remembrance to the past, never speaking a word but communicating through body language and appreciating the presence of a similar soul. I raise my glass with a solemn toast in appreciation to all that has shaped us into today.

Portraits of Humanity

When I sat down to reflect on the collections of Eddie Greenly and Jim Hair, I was overwhelmed with their strength of portraiture. Jim Hair leans toward the subjective dialogue, positioning his subjects within an environment that highlights that particular person or group and then has the subject look directly into the camera, engaging the audience in a powerful and intimate way. Eddie Greenly takes the objective approach, disappearing into the crowd, capturing the nuances of humanity in the everyday actions of strangers as they seemingly act unawares of the camera. Both present an authentic portrayal of the subtleties of the human character, the monochromatic tone stripping all the flair and distraction that color tends to bring.

Eddie Greenly’s images drip with body language. It is a difficult skill in today’s overly documented and conscious times, to be able to capture people in the midst of their vulnerable and natural behaviors. It requires the presence of a fly, constantly present to the point of dismissal by the subject. The image of “How Nice To See You” How Nice To See Youshows 4 women, 2 whose faces are obscured by how they face the camera, and 2 whose faces speak so loudly with their eyes that it’s hard to not desire the suggested violence about to happen. All I can imagine is the familiarity of a conversation being interrupted by someone walking between everyone, causing a momentary disruption that sets our instincts ablaze for a brief second, an instantaneous and animalistic desire to destroy those that invade our privacy, until we get control of ourselves and put on our public human face again. This lapse of control is seen more humorously in “A Little Snooze”. A Little SnoozeThe gentleman has no apparent desire to hide his natural state of being. He is perfectly comfortable napping on his stoop, enjoying the same breeze that is drying his larger than life underwear. It’s like spotting a monkey at the zoo masturbating, they don’t care that the world is potentially watching, and they are just doing what feels good and natural. This glimpse of humanity is beautiful, not in the uninhibited rage or the disturbingly familiar habits, but in the raw emotion and physical language that society tends to overlook in its busy daily routine. It is this language that is universal and shared by all cultures around the world, allowing us to overcome audible barriers and connect with the commonality of our communities and ourselves.

Jim Hair approaches humanity, not like a fly, but like a hotel concierge. He opens the door for his audience, allowing them to enter the Lobby of Understanding of his Hotel of subjects, all of them staring into the camera in anticipation for someone’s arrival. One of my favorite images, Robert's Compass“Robert’s Compass”,  greets you with an object in place of the eyes of the subject. We see a compass, along with a pair of scissors, attached to a chain carried around a neck.  No view of the man’s face, just long wispy beard strands and an exposed stomach from pulling back the coat to reveal the ornamented necklace, is all we get of the human form.  The scissors are rough and dirty, the handles taped and re-taped after countless breakages, showing the path where the subject has been, while the compass shows us how the subject will get to where he is going.  The idea of an object replacing a person for representation is essentially the heart of portraiture.  We replace ourselves with an image to represent our “true self”, which then is turned into an object, a framed or even a profile picture, that is supposed to represent “Us” for all to see. This constructed image of reality is shattered with the picture of Walter On Main Street“Walter on Main Street”. It is the only one in the series that has a sense of spontaneity and candid personality, which seems to allow the subject to tell his story directly with the available environment, not that the carefully constructed ones in the rest of the series don’t allow the subject to speak freely and independently. “Walter” stares me down; suspicious of my intentions, supremely confident in everything he has chosen to do before this moment. The most interesting detail of this image isn’t “Walter” though; it is the poster he is standing next to. It is a poster for Alice in Wonderland, containing an older image of Jim Hair’s, which opens the floodgates to the torrent of self-reference. It starts to make me question whether the man is Jim himself, or more self-consciously, a father figure, glaring back disapprovingly. The Alice reference only deepens the disturbing rabbit hole, making me recognize I am only looking into these subject’s lives and seeing myself reflected back.

Greenly and Hair coexist like a Yin Yang symbol, circling each other and focusing on a different style of relating humanity to us, while unavoidably containing a nugget of the other viewpoint. Together they deliver a concise and thorough presentation on how one looks at the world and the humans that shape it. The power of observation and the compassion to the subjects is strong, but the strength of both artists is their ability to disappear from the dialogue. Both series are a conversation between the subject and the viewer, the photographers easily slipping into the shadows, allowing the audience to forget that their emotions and experiences are being directed.

Two Operettas Within A Single Opera

Christian French and Lauren Grabelle perform well together, singing off key melodies that harmonize in a way that both distorts and comforts the senses. Grabelle is black and white, with harsh contrast, cold in temperature and tone. French is warm with colorful tones full of glitz and glam. Watching them perform together on stage reminds me of sleeping on the couch with the window open on a snowy night in Tahoe, while the wood stove licks it’s iron lips with an outpouring of heat and flames.

French works within one of my favorite pastimes, creating relationships between inanimate objects that play out our own tragedies and dramas on a stage of artifice. My favorite image of his is “In The Wings (Rehearsal)”, french1a marble with a spool of thread for a body, contemplating it’s own image in a mirror. The thread is wound perfectly, neat and orderly, nothing out of place, a perfect disguise for trouble. Curiously, it is the reflection in the mirror that is in focus, giving a sense that the image of the object is more important than the object itself. This amazingly tragic viewpoint lends itself well to the idea of opera, a staging ground for reflection on our own life dramas, portrayed in extravagant costumes and characters. The other image, an untitled piece, shows the same marble, only with no body occupying a space with a large pearl-headed pin. The distance between the two, and the knowledge of the previous picture, give it the sense of a distant, forgotten and troubled memory. The marble regresses to a child, reflecting on the moment when we realize we have just outgrown our familial nest and it’s time to move on. french2The well-kept body of the older grown up marble in the previous image, becomes a statement against the frail appearance and heady demeanor of the “parent”. We all grow up saying we won’t be like our parents, and most of us ultimately never do, but there is a moment when the circle comes back around, and we see them staring back in the black mirror. While some of the images in the series appear to be scene shots, documents of sets or backgrounds, these two, and a few others, capture an essence in objects that transcends material. This transcendence is what allows our imaginations and memories to run wild at the momentary glance of a simple tchotchke on a shelf or photograph on a wall.

“Dead Things With Sugar *not a recipe”, by Lauren Grabelle, offsets the observation of potentially disturbing and grotesque imagery with a humorous title. Utilizing the humor allows an instant acceptance of the realization that grabelle1aDeath is something we will all face one day. Hopefully we will all have someone, like Sugar, to remind those left behind to enjoy the beautiful melancholia that surrounds this transitory state of existence. Sugar is the focus here, not Death alone, and her interaction and fascination with Death. None of the images in the series are titled, leaving a non-linear and unclear path to reading them as a narrative. Instead, we move aimlessly, following Sugar’s experiences of Death through the senses of taste and smell, chasing the trail and learning all the information of the recently deceased’s past. Sugar becomes a jester in life, poking around at the darker sides, where we hesitate to go, and making us smile along the way. In my favorite image, Sugar stares at a deer hanging upside down in a tree. grabelle2aHer tongue mimicking the deer’s tongue, one warm and wetting the nose for better information reception, the other stiff and bloated, frozen in an attempt to remove one last embarrassing remnant of blood. A scene of Life and Death staring at each other, rich in the un-emotional glory of absolute and pure curiosity. The over-enlarged and over-pixilated prints distract from the more subtle details, forcing me to stand away or even leaving the prints alone to view them digitally, where I can personalize my viewing size. I want to get closer with them, but they push me away. Then again, maybe that is their intention.

Together, French and Grabelle share the stage proudly and with consideration to the other’s strengths. While French moves quickly with lots of set and costume changes, seemingly played in an enclosed space keeping the tension high, Grabelle saunters along the snowy path, carefree and oblivious to the preconceived constructs of society. The dichotomies of life shown with this pair are well balanced and fulfilling. The realization of the individual within a community and the recognition of the power of language, especially that of visual language, is just as necessary to life as is the childlike curiosity towards living, and dying, and all the information and lessons it has to offer.

Photo Drawer Project

I have the privilege of interning at Blue Sky: Oregon Center for The Photographic Arts in Portland, Oregon this summer and one of amazing things they provide to the public is the NW Photo Drawers. This is a collection of over 60 photographers working in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, and Alaska.  Each artist has 10 photographs which are showcased within the gallery in flat file drawers, two artists paired together alphabetically by their last name.  Every week a new drawer is opened, working through all of them sequentially, and a pair of photographs by each artist are chosen to be displayed above the drawers.  This highly objective act of pairing, creates a unique relationship between the drawer-mates, each artist standing on their own, yet forced to live and interact with the other no matter how different the pairings are in personality.  It is this relationship I hope to write about.  In order to strengthen my critical evaluation skills, and hone my creative writing skills, I plan to write a critique of each artist’s work and discuss the relationship I see developing.  Most of the time I will be choosing the pair of prints for each artist, but I also enjoy the spontaneity of members and guests coming in and discussing with the staff their choices as the drawers are open for the perusal of the public. A hope of mine is that this project will encourage and promote this behavior and open the dialog between the public and artist community.  While I unfortunately know I will not be able to write about every artist showcased in the drawers (I have only 10 weeks for the project and started with the letter G), I am not limiting this discourse to my brief time of internship.  I foresee this project as being fun and fulfilling and hope I can continue outside of the facility of school, or pass the project on to the next intern, or even better, generate enough excitement that the public will start to provide their own thoughts and interpretations on photography and art. 

I would like to recognize the generosity of all the artists for giving me the permission to discuss their work in a critical manner and of course Blue Sky for giving me the opportunity to develop this project.

The first of the writings will be published shortly, and I look forward to all the support you can provide by the simple act of liking and sharing these posts and/or providing me with constructive comments, all of which will support and encourage artists everywhere to continue being creative with the world around them.

Thank you and enjoy!

 

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The act of painting: Drawing the boundaries of a fire. – Clark Coolidge The act of photography: Recording the movements of a flame. – jason horvath

WHY?

this simple question is making me so frustrated right now.  as a kid, my favorite thing to do was to ask the question “why”, only to follow the answer up with “why”, then again and again and again, until who ever was unwillingly playing the game with me would become frustrated and do whatever was necessary to make my presence non-existent.  as i got older, this question motivated my spiritual explorations in trying to discern the truthful answers from whatever god, savior, prophet, guru, or artist had to say.  it was always the logical and easy question to ask, magically focusing my scattered mind, forcing my thoughts to seek heights above mortality and physical burdens.  it allowed for understanding without direct experience, or at least what i thought was understanding.  i started to become suspicious of “why” several years ago when i tried to solve a very tough problem and “why” was the last answer i needed before i thought i could move on.  only “why” never provided more answers, only another question, usually liking to repeat itself.  i became both the child and the adult playing the game with myself only i couldn’t make myself disappear.  further down the rabbit hole i went, chasing “why”, only to be more disappointed with the lack of substantial ground to stand on.  finally, i gave up trying to understand “why”, it became too much of a game of useless grab ass, constantly teasing myself with the possibility of achieving truthful enlightenment.  it was time to start figuring out what tools i needed to get out and move on.  i’ll admit, it is a great question, it does find itself hanging out with the other 4 questionable masters, “who”, “what”, “when”, and “where”.  some people put “how” amongst the great’s, but it put it in a category on it’s own, the greatest, above the 5 W’s mainly because of it’s ability to represent the perfect expression when you achieve understanding and turn around to traverse the word backwards.  the other reason i put “how” above the rest, is because it actually brings knowledge, useful knowledge, to the table when answering questions.  “how” and “why” battle for top slot the same way “art” and “craft” might, competing in an olympic mobius, suffering never ending physical and mental challenges for the arbitrary title of best.  for me to function in this world, i need answers to my questions and “how” gives me those answers.  if i want to make something, i ask “how”, not “why” for help.  if i want to know something, i still ask “how” for help because it will extend a hand and guide me to self discovery step by step.  in the past, “why” has let me fall, only to bring me up to watch me tumble again.  i have fought hard to keep “why” away from my problems and ideas, but it seems “why” won’t leave me alone.  not sure what having it back in the circle will bring, but i’m definitely keeping my eyes on “why”.