Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Light at the End of the Tunnel - and a Small Touch of Halloween Irony

COURSE, my retrospective show which opens at Savannah’s Gallery Espresso on Monday, November 2, is ready. Well, more or less.

The price list has been completed and delivered to the gallery director and the framing will be finished today. The title cards will be printed tomorrow, and the framed work wrapped, padded, and boxed. At 9am on Monday, the delivery will be made; then comes the arranging and placement of the work followed by the actual hanging. One tunnel down; another looming.

As soon as that’s complete, I’ve got to begin readying work to go into Horizon Gallery. I also have to go to Atlanta, to speak with a couple of galleries there and take care of other, more mundane business matters. I was hoping to overnight; visit some friends and my mother, and perhaps do a bit of shooting. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

It’s safe to say I have a stretch of busy days ahead.


Today’s image is titled “Triangles” and is from a 2006 studio session in Atlanta with model Andrea F.


Happy All Hallows Eve to all, in the true spirit of the ancient pagan holiday from which it originated, Samhain.

I have to confess to wearing a small inward smile when I think how several Christian churches and organizations often present the "Fall Festival" as an alternative to trick-or-treating and the wearing of costmes, etc. on Halloween. Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my underdstanding that a big portion of Samhain was originally rooted in celebrations of the fall harvests.

It seems to me these "Fall Festivals" push the Halloween holiday much closer to it's pagan roots than the wearing of Wal-Mart costumes and children's extortion of candy from the neighbors ever could.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Representation?

An exciting thing happened today. Out of the blue, as I’m driving around Savannah in a pouring rain checking placement of my show postcards, I received a call from Horizon Gallery director Luc Ebner.

He explains that he and his business partner, Michele Snell, now own Horizon and that they’re revamping the space completely. He added he’s been following my nude figure work for a while and feels it to be very good work, and that was why he was calling. “I’m a former photographer myself,” he said in his distinctly French accent. “I worked in fashion and architecture, and had two studios; one in Edinburgh and one in Paris. I’m very serious when I say your figurative work impresses me.” I paused, listening to rain drum on the car’s roof. “Thank you very much for the compliment,” I say, still not sure where this was going.

Then he says he wants to meet with me, as soon as possible. “What for?” I ask, thinking this must have some connection to my exhibition opening next week. The thought I could place some show cards in Horizon Gallery flashed across my mind. “I want to discuss your interest in showing your nude work at Horizon and in being represented by Horizon” he replied.

Represented by Horizon? I nearly hit a tree. Collision avoided, and with nothing of significance planned for the afternoon, I agreed to see him at 3:30.

At this point, it’s important to share my very brief personal history with Horizon Gallery. I’m honestly not sure how long the gallery has been around, but two or three of my partners in The Gallery are also represented in Horizon. A few months back, out of curiosity and while looking for other exhibition opportunities, I stopped in for a look around. It wasn’t what I expected, at least not as an art gallery. Instead, it seemed more of a shop that had some pieces of very well made art surrounded by lots of key chains, bird-girl replicas, handbags and other touristy sorts of things. For a moment, I thought I had gone through a wrong door.

After five minutes in the place, I was certain my work would never fit. It seemed less of a gallery and more of a – well – shop. In fairness, it must be said that Savannah is a city driven by a tourist economy; shops, including many galleries, stock what sells.

So Horizon Gallery had new owners. I still didn't understand why were they calling me.

Luc greeted me warmly when I arrived and immediately shared his vision for transforming Horizon into a true fine art gallery. I sincerely hope he and Michelle succeed. Already, the change that has taken place during the few weeks Luc has been in charge was impressive. Virtually all of the touristy stuff is gone. The space is better arranged and organized. He is building the list of represented artists from those he has chosen to approach; from those whose work he holds in high regard and would buy himself. He says this is why he contacted me.

Flattery works. But more than that, are the facts his marketing plan seems sound and his vision for the gallery is inspirational. And while he’s clearly very passionate about art and the gallery, he remains realistic. This gives me faith in what I heard him say today.

While I’m genuinely optimistic and very much excited to have a new place to show the work, and much comforted by Luc’s sense of purpose, I’m still a bit reserved with the whole thing. The one thing I’m bothered by is the lack of a web presence for the gallery. We didn’t have a chance to discuss this directly this afternoon, but my impression is that something that will be done about it in the very near future. I certainly hope so. Regardless, Luc has me. My work should be on the walls within a couple of weeks.


COURSE is coming together, with the final pieces to frame now in the works. The print to replace the one I scratched has been made, so hopefully, all will be completed by the weekend. The pieces are scheduled to start going on the walls by 9am, Monday November 2.


For your viewing interest, an abstraction is included with today’s post.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Show Shakes and Thoughts on the Importance of the Signature

The show preparation continues; today I signed, dated and titled all of the prints and in a few days, the frames will be finished, backed and wired for hanging. My delivery deadline to the gallery is looming. I should make it with time to spare. Of course, I damaged a print when it slipped from my hands and onto the floor, so there’s at least one that has to be re-done.

Signing the work was going along well, damaged print aside, until the framer commented “oh. You sign yours on the back? Most of the other photographers I work with sign on the front somewhere. Interesting.” I stopped and looked down at the print. Where should the photographer sign a photograph?

That’s a hotly debated question. Do a Google or Yahoo! search on the topic and you’ll see what I mean. What can be said is that every artist I know actively signs their work or somehow makes their mark on the finished piece in a way that is permanent. In fact, most art is not regarded as being complete by collectors until the artist’s mark is on it.

Many photographers will sign the mat. I will admit to doing this in the past, but in truth, I always thought this practice was a bit foolish. For one thing, I have nothing to do with the creation or production of the mat; for another, mats are often changed and discarded. It’s not something I do now. Others will sign their prints in one of the lower corners, requiring the print to “float” if matted, if the signature is to be seen. I like the look of prints matted this way, but many photographic papers will not accept pencil or ink, particularly those papers used in traditional darkroom processes. Some inks will bleed through the paper. Then, there’s the question of archival stability with many inks.

I now sign, date, and title my prints on the back of the photograph, in the upper left corner, in pencil. Why? I read somewhere that’s what Ansel Adams did. Or maybe it was Edward or Brett Weston; or Imogen Cunningham. To be honest, I don’t remember who it was, aside from being someone who’s work I admire and respect. If any of you may know, please let me know. Regardless, this is a method that works, not just for me, but for those that buy and collect my prints. Consistency is the most important thing but if a customer wants it done otherwise, I’m happy to accommodate them. Some have had me sign the back of the frame.

A few of the older framed pieces that are to be shown still have slight repairs made to them; mostly, to the frames themselves. Fortunately, none have been badly damaged. The repairs have been mostly to the dust jackets and frame corners, with one or two of the prints requiring a slight reposition.

The largest task that remains to be done is pricing, and that’s the most difficult part for me. I don’t kid myself into believing my work is worth gazillions of dollars, but I know its worth more than free. In past shows, I’ve used a pricing formula used by the restaurant service industry (I know!) that has given me what I feel are fair numbers. Once I calculate the price of a piece, I determine in my own mind if I would buy it for said price. That’s most often the most reliable determining factor. I suppose I should be grateful that I have expensive tastes.

The image that accompanies this post is one shot during the fall of ’08 in the foyer of a friend’s house. The model is Anna S. and no, the image is not part of my November exhibition. It’s one I think is beautiful; one that I like.

Whether this is a matter of import to anyone other than me, I don’t know, but I’ve managed to re-link the images from the preceding post that weren’t opening. They open now, in a new window, but they don’t expand. At least something instead of nothing is happening. Blogger has provided an updated editor, which is supposed to improve image handling, so I’m trying it with this post.

Monday, October 19, 2009

COURSE: Selected Photographs of the Nude Female Figure, 2002-2009

And so it is; the title of my exhibition which will hang in Savannah’s Gallery Espresso for the month of November. I’ll close this post with the show specifics; here are some preview images.

Reclining Nude, Study #2, 2009

Body at Rest, Study #2, 2006

This was the show that almost wasn’t, for a variety of reasons. Mostly, it was due to the uncertainty of the economy and the question of whether or not I can afford to present the show remains unanswered. It’s something I’m compelled to do however; not only because I have a contractual agreement to show the work, but because I want to and need to.

COURSE is a retrospective of the work I’ve done with the nude figure. In reality, the retrospective could continue over a decade or more as I tend to be a chronic planner, but I didn’t direct my lens towards a nude body until the fall of 2002. That was when friend and fellow photographer Lisa H. offered herself as my first model; a guinea pig of sorts. All of this came about at the urging of another photographer friend who, after hearing of my interest in the fine art nude print, relentlessly pushed me to try it myself. In many ways, I’m a self-starter, but when it comes to my art, I’m often not. I owe a debt of gratitude to both of these ladies, a sincere thank you from the bottom of my heart.

One thing that has bothered me since I decided to do this show is the term “retrospective.” Isn’t seven years somewhat early to celebrate a ‘retrospective’? Certainly, in the usual order of things, 10 years would be a more recognized milestone. Also to be considered is the fact I’ve been a photographer for 20+ years; even longer if one counts of my time with camera and film as a youth and my school days working in the school darkroom on yearbook and newspaper assignments.

However, of all the work I’ve done, I feel my work with the nude has been my best. It’s what I’m most proud of, what I love to show and talk about. For me, and for where I am with the work, seven years is a good place to stop for a moment, look back, and see where I’ve been. It’s the best way to see where I’m going and perhaps most important, to understand where it is I’ve been.

The show will consist of 15 images, mostly those recorded on film and printed in my darkroom between 2002 and 2004, with a smattering done in 2007 and 2008. Out of the 15, five will be images which were shot and produced digitally from start to finish. This transition from film to digital, which I’ve written about before, has certainly been a major part of this journey. But more so is the transition in how I’ve come to understand photography; come to understand how I see, and what I’ve learned along the way.

Retrospective also takes courage, whether looking inside yourself or showing work from the early days. In making my selections for the exhibit, it became painfully clear my understanding of contrast and tonal range was not as comprehensive as I thought.

If you’re in the area, I hope you can make it to the see the work. Please drop me a line and let me know you’ll be there.

COURSE: Selected Photographs of the Nude Female Figure, 2002-2009
November 2 – December 2

Opening Reception Thursday, November 12, 6-9pm

Gallery Espresso
234 Bull Street
Savannah, GA 31401

Thank you all for your interest in my work. Stay in touch.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vision Quest

The images that accompany this post are from a natural light session with model Michelle R. They were made in her apartment on a warm and sunny fall afternoon here in Savannah. I’m opening today’s post this way, hoping such an announcement will be seen as more than the thinly veiled plea for forgiveness, the petition for leniency that it is; all for me allowing so much time to pass between now and my last entry.

An embarrassment for sure; I’ve let more than a month slip by without a single word written, and even fewer images made or worked, as if my very worst intentions for myself and my work were coming to light. Yes, no doubt an embarrassment, but much more worrying, is it a sign of apathy?

I’ll readily admit my head has been in a strange place the past few weeks with regard to photography and art. Little in my gallery has been selling; paper and essential material costs continue to rise; my desire to create new work is somewhat diminished. I know I’m not alone in these matters. I’m one of several owning partners in The Gallery, and the only photographer. No single artist’s work, painter and sculptor alike, is selling well. Certainly, some are doing better than others, but none are doing as well as they did a year or more ago, including me.

My gallery partners complain about lack of motivation, griping their studios are over crowded, jammed almost with inventory. Work once referred to as ‘art’ is now viewed as product to be moved. I have a show opening in November at a local space in Savannah, (more on this in my next post), that I had originally conceived as a retrospective of my work with the nude; a planned 50/50 mix of old and new pieces. Now, it’s likely to be more of a 70/30 ratio, weighted heavily towards the old inventories.

What does all of this mean anyway? The unwillingness to proceed; the lack of feelings of urgency to move forward with the work; these are not good things. For the artist, I believe it’s about fear, something I wrote about in the beginnings of this blog. Speaking very personally, when I’m stuck, going in circles so to speak, it’s almost always due to fear. This time is different though, as fear isn’t the ringleader of this particular circus.

Fear is most certainly involved, but the primary obstacle I’m facing isn’t fear, but doubt – or perhaps more correctly, self-doubt. Self-doubt has caused me to question myself, my passions, and my intent. In short, I’ve been feeling depressed about the collective body of my work and in what direction it may or may not be going. Worse is I’m questioning whether the work has direction at all.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m the type to sit and dwell on my problems. I’m not. (Alright, sometimes I am.) I don’t like to feel like this, and I want to deal with these feelings; so to do that, and do it effectively, I have to know where these emotions come from; why they’ve shown up. Knowing that, I can send them packing, hopefully to a point well beyond where they began. I don’t banish them; these feelings are important. I believe they’re required for balance; a ying and yang ideal. I do however severely restrict their access to me, and to the work. Or I try to anyway.

For the unprepared, looking deep within the self can be hazardous. What you find isn’t always what you’re looking for. The soul searcher must be ready to greet and embrace the unexpected. Sort of a ‘feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway’ thing.

I quickly found myself getting reacquainted with two old friends: fear, whom I’ve already mentioned, and change, whom I’m sure you’ll remember from some earlier writings.

But fear of what? And what sort of change? Well, those are fairly easy to identify and understand. I’ve been working to move from years of studio shooting, particularly with nudes, into more natural environments, especially environments where the light sources are continuous and natural. After shooting almost nothing but studio work for nearly a decade, it’s easy to see why the fear and change issues crop up. What’s puzzling is the lack of motivation.

I recently wrote of my desire to find markets for the work outside of Savannah; not additional gallery representation, but opportunities for exhibitions and shows. This is for the work as a whole, a collection, but it’s something I think the figurative work would benefit from the most. Putting all the work into wider circulation certainly isn’t a bad thing. To do this however, requires access to resources, namely money and time, two things I am currently lacking an abundance of.

Then clarity began to take hold. Looking further within, I realized I’d not shot any new images since mid-summer. More accurately, I’d not shot any work that was for me, for no other purpose than art; no reason other than to create. Of course I’d photographed during this time; documentary and forensic work for my day job, and trade obligations for a couple of models; but nothing from the heart. Mostly, I shot because I had to – and not enough because I wanted too. Figure sessions shot in August and September were done solely to fill gaps for the November show. An impromptu figure session with model Michelle R., where today’s images were born, was shot at the end of a portfolio development session; completely spontaneous and unplanned. That was my sole break in the trend, the only time I shot to create since sessions in July.

That realization was also the first moment of clarity; the first “ah-ha!”

The second moment of clarity came when I understood that I wasn’t shooting completely from the heart. Instead, I was dwelling on the marketplace, concentrating on what type of image would sell to what type of buyer. This is one primary reason I had been a lousy commercial photographer. The times I shot weddings were a disaster; commercial shoots for print adverts or catalogs were assignments which filled me with dread. Portrait sittings were the worst. Clients would see my work somewhere; either at a show or in my gallery, or they'd hear of it by word of mouth. They would look at my website (which at the time, did include a headshot portfolio, designed to draw fashion clients) and decide they wanted to hire me to photograph them or their families. Almost without fail, these people would then want to duplicate what could be done by a large commercial portrait mill, images typical of what's published in church directories or corporate annual reports. When I would explain that was not my style, not what they saw in my portfolio, it was never pretty. My success as a commercial portrait photographer was short lived.

However, in the rare times I could convince a client to let me have my way with them – a tough process, especially when they’re paying - the results were almost always beautiful, emotive, and stunning. In most other situations, images that I shot for me, shot to satisfy my own vision, were always the ones that sold and sold well.

The third moment of clarity came when I acknowledged my vision – or the lack thereof. I began to understand that intertwined with all of this was the sense that my vision had been lost; well, maybe not ‘lost’ per se, but most definitely altered; even a bit distorted. Either way, this was something I’d only just become aware of. Regardless of how my vision had evolved, it wasn’t what it had been. Over the years, I’ve grown and matured with my photography. Vision and purpose were left behind, neglected. I’ve come to understand that vision must be nurtured, must be encouraged. If it isn’t it simply won’t survive.
I titled today's post "Vision Quest." For many indigenous peoples, particularly those of North America, the quest for purpose and guidance, the seeking of a vision, is both a sacred and personal obligation. The artist’s vision is no different, simultaneously being a very intimate and very public thing. To bring nourishment to mine, I’m revisiting art, looking beyond what I see in order to see why I see. For me it’s not just about photography; it’s about the work of my colleagues in Savannah, the work of painters and sculptors, the work of those I admire and appreciate. Reading is also a therapy of sorts; I’m just starting a book titled “Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision” by David duChemin. Another book I thoroughly enjoy, one I find greatly stimulates imagination and vision, is “Invisible Cities” by Italian author Italo Calvino. A friend of mine, a talented photographer and designer who introduced me to the work of Calvino, once told me she keeps a very worn and thoroughly read copy of “Invisible Cities” on her nightstand.

I’m starting to feel a bit better now.

Typically, I’m not a newspaper reader, online editions included. I listen to NPR, catch the local news from time to time, or check in to the NPR website, Google News or something similar online. Once in a while though, some kind and considerate soul, in this case my wife, will point out something in print that I should see.

In the Tuesday, October 6, 2009 edition of the Wall Street Journal, in the Leisure & Arts section, was an article on photographer Robert Bergman. Never heard of him? Neither had I. Now, after reading the article, and doing a bit of searching online, I desperately want to get to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York to see his work.

Mr. Bergman, who calls himself ‘The Man Who Waited’, is living the story of the photographer as artist in modern America. He has become known for his simple and stark portraits of everyday folk. It was at the age of 63, having photographed for all of his adult life, that he made his first print sale to Agnes Gund, one of the country’s prominent collectors of photography and president emerita of MoMA. Now 65, selections of his work will be shown October 11, 2009 through January 14, 2010 at P.S.1 Gallery, a division of MoMA, and then at Yessi Milo in November, another New York City gallery.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. will also host the exhibit from October 11, 2009 through January 10, 2010. Mr. Bergman has published a book of his images, “A Kind of Rapture” which has been notably received by the art world. I'm going to try and find a copy for myself.