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OSP: In Transition

I read about art and other things often, as well as, discuss art making with friends. The reading and discussions are usually what inspires my artwork and it is a major influence in this blog. Reading pushes my thinking and processes in new directions. I enjoy thinking about what I read, in my mind there is always a dialog. I thought I would share that dialog with you here.

baby-missiles

Irby Pace, Baby Missiles from Explosions in the Sky, 2016

Recently I was having a conversation with a photographer friend of mine, Irby Pace. We were discussing how to incorporate new idea’s into projects and knowing when to move on to the next project. He was telling me how he had old idea’s he wanted to explore further and new idea’s that he was not sure how to incorporate into his work. Irby is super lucky, he has gallery representation. This means people collect his work, buy it and put it in their homes. With this, I guess one assumes some responsibility to the gallery owner and collectors. However, one also wants to follow their artistic moods but they also want to explore what is in their mind. Based on conversations with more than just Irby I know this leaves some artists in a quandary.

This conversation got me thinking about my own artistic journey. I had a really hard time figuring out what to work on after graduate school. I would try things and they would not work out or I had idea’s that involved being in a far away land. My head and heart had already left the United States. My idea’s are much more fluid in India and I have more fun making work. Moving to India even changed what I look at. I am now interested in making photographs of myself which I never was before.

All of this got me thinking about how other artist/photographers handle transition in their work. Do they easily come up with new ideas or is it a struggle? I decided to ask two photographers I know, Ashley Whitt and Ross Faircloth how the process works for them. The thoughts they shared are below.

 

 

Ashley Whitt

I see a common thread that runs through all of my work since I began making photographs. I have always been interested in the inherent quality of photography to distort the truth or to create a new reality that does not exist outside of the frame. My earlier work focused on literature (specifically fairy tales and children’s literature) but did not focus as much on the self. The major life event that shifted my creative process was the loss of my mother while I was in undergrad. I shifted the focus onto myself to process the loss through imagery. My work is an evolution of the experiences I have dealt with: depression, anxiety, an obsession with death, and most recently, the questioning of existence within the cosmos.

 

The Haunted Mind

The Haunted Mind

The Haunted Mind

When I feel like a series is complete, I have already thought about the next series I am going to make. There is a thread that connects the projects together. For example, I concluded my series, The Haunted Mind, in 2016 just as I was creating a new series called An Ordered Chaos. Both series deal with somewhat similar concepts. They both look at dichotomies; whether it’s the conscious versus unconscious self like I delved into for The Haunted Mind, or the juxtaposition of order and chaos of the universe seen in my latest project. Both projects focus on the anxieties of the self, but are expressed in different subject matter and photographic techniques. I also have an anxious personality which lends itself to feeling unrest. This pushes me to explore multiple concepts or projects simultaneously.

 

 

An Ordered Chaos

An Ordered Chaos

An Ordered Chaos

An Ordered Chaos

I have struggled in the past with “artist block.” Finding inspiration is always the starting point in working through the idea or concept for a new project. I constantly read about psychology, science, and philosophy. I also look at movies and television for inspiration. Looking at other photographers and artists is also a great way for me to gain ideas or new perspectives. Persistently researching helps to push past any artist block I might have.

 

tentative title: Disruptions

tentative title: Disruptions

tentative title: Disruptions

tentative title: Disruptions

Working on a new project can sometimes feel like fumbling around in the dark but it is important to push yourself as an artist to experiment and expand your skill set. I regularly set goals for myself about what I want to learn about or how to do through my art. Last year, I made it a goal to push myself to make photo collages. It was very slow in the beginning and I felt like everything I made looked awful. But one day I was experimenting in the studio and happened upon a technique I thought I could expand upon as a project. There is some intention (through the goals I set for myself) but I also allow myself to experiment and not feel confined to one specific idea or aesthetic.

Explore Ashley Whitt’s work further on her website.

Ross Faircloth

One thing that stuck with me throughout my education, and in particular in graduate
school, was hearing multiple professors talk about how the work you make while in
school was unique because it was one of the few times you will be able to have
complete control of your project. There were no galleries, curators, clients, etc…
telling you what people would buy or what type of work they will and won’t show, in
essence you had the most freedom to create truly your style and voice at this time. So
while in grad school I made it a point to view the work I was making as a sort of
testing grounds. I looked at these series as all separate launching points, that they each
delved into something that interested me within photography or within life and I tried
not to put the pressure of fully flushing out or realizing these projects while in school.
Not realizing it fully at the time, this was one of the most helpful things that I did for
myself while in graduate school. This helped me to not necessarily feel burnt out when
I was done with my education, but instead I was able to look back at all the work and
pick the one from several projects I felt most inclined to continue working on and
exploring.

An Evidence

An Evidence

An Evidence: Revisited

An Evidence: Revisited

When the time came for my final MFA exhibition I had plenty of previous
series to look at for inspiration, and in particular a couple of series that had begun to
build on each other An Evidence and An Evidence: revisited. These bodies of work felt like
they were in need of more time, they had sparked my intrigue into the chemicals and
process photographers use while in the darkroom and were experimental by nature as
well as more painterly in aesthetic than most photography. My MFA show was
entitled “An Evidence of Chance” it drew from the experimental use of chemistry from An
Evidence and the scale of An Evidence: revisited, it consisted of pinhole cameras I made out
of black and white photographic paper. These ‘cameras’ were then left for weeks to
months some covered some uncovered out in a field in Texas to expose. The next step
was to ‘process’ them in the darkroom, this was done both in the traditional method
and non-traditional depending on the piece and the desired end I had in mind. The
transition between the Evidence series’ was very smooth and each one acted as a step to
the next, I was able to pick and choose the elements I found most successful in each
body of work and continue them into the next, changing slightly the parameters or
scale but leaving the core process the same. After finishing An Evidence of Chance I
moved on to a series entitled Dark Grandeur which continued the use of traditional
darkroom chemistry in unique ways. This series was much more about finding control
over the process and techniques I had learned from the An Evidence series. It
incorporated more figurative images and hand work by the artist but was achieved
only through the trial and errors of other bodies of work. Currently, I am working to
meld a previously unrelated set of works that utilize video game captures into the more
expressive, hand applied world of the darkroom, this is something I worked on a little
in grad school but never fully flushed out. I think the knowledge and experience
gained while creating the An Evidence series will help strengthen this work and add
something that was missing before.

An Evidence of Chance

An Evidence of Chance

Dark Grandeur

Dark Grandeur

Overall, for me, the transitions from one series to another usually go smoothly
because I look to previous bodies of work to inform the new, this may be in part
because of the experimental nature of my work but it is something that I feel has been
vital in keeping me creating and producing work over the past several years.

Learn more about Ross Faircloth’s work on his website.

Thank you Ashley and Ross for sharing your thoughts. I think that it is telling that both Ashley and Ross seem to have their next projects in mind before completing the one they are working on. This is probably the sign of good conceptualization. Ashley mentioned she has had some problems with ‘artist block’ which I also mentioned above. I think stress causes the block. Sometimes, we get in a situation where there is so much pressure to produce or do the next amazing thing and the pressure keeps your thoughts from flowing smoothly.

I also love how Ross unknowingly tied back into my conversation with Irby. Yes, I think all four of us (Ashley, Ross, Irby and I) would agree that graduate school was an excellent ”testing ground’ as Ross called it. Graduate school gave us each the freedom to create exactly what we wanted and then get feedback from peers. This let us know what the larger world might appreciate and what it might not. While now we each have more to think about, I hope we can all still take the time to choose freedom and make what we want.

Please share your thoughts and stories on your transitions in the comments!

Thanks again Ashley and Ross for sharing your thoughts and your work and thank you Irby for engaging conversation.

By | 2016-11-14T22:52:22+00:00 November 13th, 2016|On the Subject of Photography|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an American expat living in Udaipur, India. In her former life she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. In India, she pursues her love of art and photography by teaching photography workshops, making art/photography and exploring the photographic arts of South Asia through this blog.

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