Two recent blog entries, one by Paul Butzi (I’ve been riffing off him a lot lately) on photographing “Close To Home,” and Birgit’s “Dune Quest” have got me thinking about the notational aspects of artmaking. Namely, the daily investigation of ideas and how that relates to projects of “greater” importance.
I have established a daily discipline of photography. As I’ve said before, it’s not about making masterpieces—quite the opposite. I’m engaged in a practice of looking at the world through this efficient, profligate format, the digital camera. However, having set the goal of finding a photograph every day that I’m willing to commit to the world as that day’s best, it means that I have to go through a bunch of “not so good” on the way to that day’s winner. And that is having an expansionary effect on my process.
There was a time, like Paul, where the most compelling photographs were to be found anyplace but where I was. He made forays to the Pacific Coast, certainly a compelling destination for anyone working in the large format West Coast tradition. It’s practically a rite of passage for those guys. For me the destination was 6000 miles away, the west coast of Ireland and the set dances and music sessions in small town pubs on that west coast. Two or three times a year I would spent several weeks over there, and after a while I did a book. That I never was able to get a publisher is another story, which means there are only three copies of the book in the world.
This afternoon I photographed my dogwood tree. It has been my compelling subject since I got back into town and saw that it was in full bloom, and I’ve been working it almost every day. Had I known what an amazing tree it would turn out to have been, 13 years on, I would have planted the whole parking strip with them. The garden is often my default “Daily Photo” environment when I’m not out doing something more interesting.
This tree has been, therefore, where I’ve been practicing my craft lately. I peer into the branches, trying to see how complicated I can make the image before it falls apart. I like the density and layering I can make happen by shoving my lens into the leaves and making little gaps where something else goes on. If I look up the light is one way, if I look through it’s another, and if I look down it’s another way again. The blossoms can be solid or transluscent, depending on the day. The pieces of the blossoms might be the center of attention, or maybe I go overboard and make cliched blossom photos for awhile. So I cliché it to death and get that out of my system, and then when I’m bored with taking those pictures I finally resort to something more complex and interesting.
This is how, when I go then to the contra dance, and have to extract the compelling photo out of a complicated and dynamic environment, I have the chops to do it. It’s all about making art so that you can be ready to make other art.