Entries in FotoFest (2)


On Being 65

Those of you who know me have had to listen to me go on endlessly about how good my work has been to me this year. Most of that has been Precious Objects but the week at FotoFest in Houston and the installation of Every Place I Have Ever Lived at the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor all had their "Bright Moments". A handful of juried shows and even the occasional surprise pursuing new work and wrapping up one long term project (Costumes my collaboration with Cleveland Public Theater) also contributed. Ray Mc - The right image is the last in the project and the last of transparency film before switching to negatives What made the year so different was a maturing of my view of the place of these things. Was asked the other day whether I was going to do a sequel to Precious Objects. This is not a new question and my initial reaction is "been there, done that."  Part of being 65 is when someone hands you a question like that, you do not blurt out your initial reaction but are bit more respectful. Initially his follow up was about what he would pick which is what I like to call the "beginners" understanding of Precious Objects. The surprise came next as he went on to talk about the tragedy in Newtown, CT and what a great book I could make as a tribute to those kids.  This is no longer a "beginner". We are now talking about objects, photographs, exhibitions, books and art as political instruments. That is interesting to me. The fact that he now was able to see Precious Objects in that way was my reward for the day. More rewarding than anything I ever expected from my photography. That is pretty sweet.  Even better, he bought a book. 

There are a lot of issues with a project like that. First, as an artist, you have to be very aware of your role as an exploiter of tragedy. That is something you cannot escape. On fact, almost every photograph exploits at some level.  Newtown, because of its high profile also makes you vulnerable to others that might be exploiting the situation. It could get messy fast. In the end, the main reason I am not interested is that I am 65.  Certainly I care about kids being murdered in a school and have strong opinions about about violence and guns. As a hint, I do not think we should eliminate foreign aid to finance a machine gun nest in every middle school. That being said, it is not a core issue for me. At 65, my work has to be about things I really, really care about - community and neighborhood, the Great American Dream, music, people like my son who are different and a short list beyond that.

Being 65 means you don't have time to be cool any more. It also means you have been around long enough to understand that your sense of urgency may not be shared by those around you. Sucks to be them. Pretty sweet to be me right now.


The handwriting is on the wall

I returned from showing my Precious Objects at FotoFest in Houston to find The Power of the Pen written by Tom Palaima in Sunday's Plain Dealer.  Professor Palaima is at the University of Texas at Austin.  From the Captain Penny reference in the article, he is clearly a Clevelander. The article addresses the disappearance of handwriting as a core skill given the ubiquity of electronic communications. Of course, handwriting is not the only material medium being displaced. Remember the snapshot? And the family album?

Precious Objects prominently features the hand-wirtten stories of each of the 175 subjects.  While in many cases, the content of the writing is the highlight, often it is the appearance of the person's writing that tells the story. Qian insisted on doing her statement in calligraphy, something you can see as an indicator of Asian culture. As many of the pieces I would feature when selecting the "Exhibition" it is something I admire without sharing (my handwriting, neat for me, is barely presentable.)

In many of the pieces the form of the writing looked like the person or the object.  Similar to dress and posture, it makes a statement about how these people want to be viewed.  For those of us whose writing would earn a ruler slap from our fourth grade teachers, it might mean something else.

Lastly, the writing can be a clue to the writers profession. At the very beginning of the project, I showed Marc's piece to a Spaniard whose lack of English fluency rivals my lack of Spanish fluency.  He immediately identified Marc as an architect.  Amazed me. After looking at Marc and the handful of other architects in the project, you can see their training.  Which brings us back to the article.  We lose something when everything looks the same, no matter the content. Actually, we lose a lot.