It’s that hair-pulling but hopefully insightful time when I have to write an Artist’s Statement. I’ve done this before for particular projects or shows, but this is the first time I’ve tried to write a general statement about myself as an artist. The purpose is to provide information to interested visitors at the gallery I’ve recently joined. So my audience is the general public, or at least that part which would visit an art gallery. I feel that’s quite a different audience from other artists (like you all), in turn different from a narrower group, such as photographers working in black and white.
I take the statement very seriously as a way not only to communicate, but for me to consider what is really important, perhaps defining, about my artistic endeavor. The tone of it is critical. I don’t want to be too “artsy” or intellectual, nor do I want to condescend. I want it to be straightforward, but at the same time I want it to entice and suggest rather than answer all questions. It needs to have a personal voice, to sound like something I would say, and ideally not like something anyone else would say. This is what I’ve got so far:
The world is full of mystery and light, and photography is a way for me to explore all three. Most of my work involves ongoing discovery of a place–perhaps a woods, a mesa, or an abandoned building–through repeated encounters over time. Thus my photographs are in series that may span months or years–or as little as an afternoon. These studies of place and person are both windows and mirrors, and are well suited to the combination of realism and expression offered by black and white photography.
So what do you think? At the moment, it’s not quite long enough, though I don’t want it a great deal longer (at most twice as long). I’m concerned the first sentence is cutesy, though I do want to give make the reader think. Are there words or phrases you like or don’t like? Will “windows and mirrors” be opaque or intriguing to my audience? Should I say more about what expression in black and white photography might be? What have I left out that you’d like to see?
I look forward to comments, questions, or suggestions of all kinds. I’m especially interested in reactions to this particular statement, but ideas about such statements in general are very welcome.
UPDATE: Here’s a revision, only a little different from the version above:
The world is full of mystery and light, and photography is a way for me to explore all three. Most of my work involves ongoing discovery of a place–a patch of woods, a desert mesa, an abandoned building–through repeated encounters over time. My photographs are thus in series that sometimes span months or years as I come to understand more deeply a subject and my own response, my way of seeing it. I find the combination of realism and expression offered by black and white photography to be well suited to making images that can be at once windows on a world and reflections of the viewer of that world.
UPDATE 2: Here’s a new revision, I hope more personal. Still needs work.
What leads me to make photographs is most often the discovery of a place where I sense a mystery that I need to explore. It might be an abandoned hotel with lingering traces of memories, a desert mesa concealing remnants of previous inhabitants, or a patch of woods with an elusive feeling of wholeness and clarity. I tend to visit such sites repeatedly to immerse myself in the environment and deepen my understanding of it over time. To convey the actuality both of place and of personal experience, I harness not only the realism of black and white photography, but also its expressive power, its ability to influence perception and emotion via lighting and tonality. I define a successful photograph as one in which you not only see what I saw and grasp what I felt, but beyond that develop your own relationship with the place in question, based on your own intuitions and recollections.
UPDATE 3: Thanks for the comments! Here’s the latest, responding particularly to David’s challenge to do a better job explaining why black and white. The last two sentences are still longish, but I hope they flow better than before. True or false?
What leads me to make photographs is often discovery of a place where I sense the presence of a secret. It might be an abandoned hotel with lingering traces of memories, a desert mesa concealing remnants of earlier inhabitants, or a patch of woods with an elusive feeling of wholeness and clarity. I tend to visit such places repeatedly to immerse myself in the environment and explore it over time. I usually present photographs in black and white, which combines a strong sense of realism with an air of mystery and timelessness, while allowing adjustment of light and shadow to convey personal impressions and overall mood. As viewer of my photograph, I want you not only to grasp what I saw and felt, but also to develop your own relationship with the subject, based on your own perceptions, intuitions, and recollections.
FINAL UPDATE: For completeness, here’s the version I finally gave to the gallery. It’s about the length it needs to be for the back of a postcard to be handed out. But I’m working on a page-long statement that will provide more information to gallery staff so that they’ll be in a position to speak more knowledgeably about me and my work with anyone interested. Thanks again for your reactions and recommendations.
Making photographs is the way I explore a subject and what it means. Certain places draw me: an abandoned dwelling with traces of memories, a patch of woods with an elusive clarity. Immersing myself in the environment, returning often, I learn to see with fresh eyes. I work in black and white to create images whose realism is tempered by abstraction and mystery. My photographs allude as well as describe, inviting the viewer’s own associations, intuitions, and recollections.