I keep returning to the Jonathan Blaustein review of ICP student portfolios. To the woman who lives in Wappingers Falls and turned to photographing her environment on walks during the pandemic, which JB confessed he had been doing too. I keep returning to his comment that the practice, the way of finding photographs and the product, were not very original. I looked at the photographs, and for the most part, they were photographs I would make, do make, except for the shadow puppet and the shadow head profiles. JB wanted her to pursue that work. The part of it that was, in his opinion, original.
This is what all aspiring art photographers are encouraged to do, find something that marks the work as uniquely them, makes them stand out as original. Then, when knowledgeable people look at the work they can say, “ah yes, that’s so and so’s work,” without looking at the identifying label or title.
I take the young woman’s critique personally. I now know what JB would say about my Daybook work, not very original. I think about this, twist it over and over in my mind. Why does my work need to be original? Isn’t there a reason why people return to certain methodologies again and again and again? You go out, you see, you react, you make pictures.
I live in a culture that values individualism and the “exceptional” individual above all others. A culture that deplores the average, the “lives of quiet desperation” that most of us supposedly live. Alright, during the administration of 45, and especially during the pandemic, I am living a life of desperation, and because I am who I am, it is quiet desperation. But that is another story.
So, back to the idea that we should be unique and exceptional. Is there any such thing as “aspiring” to be average? Aspiring to be a solid, but unremarkable member of the community? Aspiring to take pictures in a way indistinguishable from countless other photographers?
Of course, with the gallery star system currently in place, yes, you have to make work that is unique and exceptional, or at least adds a little something to the conversation, moves it forward. What is humanity if it does not progress? But this is a system and expectation that exhorts individuality as a means to making oneself salable, a commodity.
The odd thing is, in becoming the ideal uniquely original individual superstar, one becomes wildly popular. To be that originality superhero is to touch a common longing in a multitude of people, a multitude of the average, a multitude of the lives of quiet desperation. That is, to evoke an unoriginal response. That, of course, means salability.
Right now, the crickets are chirping outside my window. There is nothing unique or special about that. It is comforting and soothing to just sit and listen. An experience available to most people. An experience that is not unique, but sublime.
My Daybook effort is just that. The selected recordings of common experiences. Visual, mental. I have the portfolio or two of work that is uniquely me (I call them albums on this site). Work that people recognize as being in my style. It is the salable work. But it is only a leaf at the tip of a branch on the prolific tree of work I make annually.
I think JB has visited this site. I made a comment on his blog then watched my visitation stats for evidence that he did. At that moment in time, he was the only individual that might have reason to visit the site. I was able to provide a link to this site on the comment form. He hasn’t reached out to me to let me know he was impressed. Maybe he was and is saving it for a later date. Most likely, what he saw wasn’t to his mind original, something he could make a point of revealing to the world to demonstrate his knowledgeable taste and assessment. Something he could be paid to write about so as to direct his followers to. It is not a disappointment. That he should look at all was the goal, and he did.
I keep wondering, which is the more important work I produce, the stuff that is “original,” is my “fine art style,” or this, my daily recording of unremarkable, unoriginal observations and thoughts? The later seems to be the more complete, genuine and natural production. I am reminded of William Eggleston, who photographed “democratically,” and according to the connoisseurs, uniquely so.
August 29, 2020
10:57 AM – dining room
… i have started reading Zadie Smith, Intimations: Six Essays, i am comforted by an author that sees clearly, calmly, telling her truth, but a truth others can grasp on to… in an essay that might be called “Why Art,” ZS writes this about the political usefulness of Art:
The people sometimes demand change. They almost never demand art.1
… the essay entitled, Something to Do, the bare bones reason ZS suspects lies at the bottom of her art making, plumbs the reasons artists make art, “It’s something to do,” she says while confessing its utility value is minimal, at least in the society we live in… why do i make pictures and write in this journal every day, then share on line, i suppose, “It’s something to do,” is an answer of sorts, yes, i don’t have to go out and make a living right now, so there is need to fill my time, and i answer the need, easily seven, eight, nine hours a day, with photography and writing my thoughts down… i know this production will be of interest to almost no one, but i do it, it’s my art, it’s what i feel compelled to do, and at this stage of life, i do what i feel compelled to do, though i am not sure it has ever been any other way…
08:16 AM – dining room
… light rain, dripping from buildings, i finish Gathering Moss, the book’s last number of chapters are meditations, a mixture of science and reverence, this is RWK’s specialty, the product of her training as scientist and her Native American heritage, which she digs deep into when writing her books, they give me hope that there is another way, but the present economic systems has to be tamed, or more likely, overthrown, exploitation cannot be the system we operate by, reciprocity, a system of reciprocity, where we don’t own, but steward, the houses and land we live on, the things we have in our possession, and if what we posses does not elicit the stewardship response, then we should let it go to others for whom it does or return it to the recycle bin… as i write these things, i wonder, how can i start living this way, the way of reciprocity?, i am so embedded in the way of exploitation, i hardly know how to free myself from it, well, one way i realize is to read less news and more books filled with gratitude and reciprocity, look how it has impacted my morning, my day, already…
04:01 AM – dining room
… up extra early, slept on the couch last night, then to bed at 9, so i should be rested… dogs up early, a review of America in a Trance, by Niko J. Kallianiotis, a photo book on, Pennsylvania, the reviewer says it will become a classic, this does not entice me to buy the book, though i can see the pictures are pictures i might have taken, not edgy, just well composed pictures of the environment, more people than i include, time of day thing i think… i am reading, in Paris Review, a suggesting of things to read, a number of the suggestions seem interesting to me, but i have a lot of unread reading material on my Kindle and in actual books, i need to read those first, reading has been hard during the pandemic, before it started i had a practice of reading for at least an hour in the morning, i still read, but mostly just the news, and i write here, and the news is depressing, reading books is generally more uplifting, at least i can choose the material to be more uplifting…
Our ancient teachers tell us that the role of human beings is respect and stewardship. Our responsibility is to care for the plants and all the land in a way that honors life. We are taught that using a plant shows respect for its nature, and we use it in a way that allows it to continue bringing its gifts.2
… as i copy this quote, i think about the talk i gave, My Humanist Concept of Sacred, in which i argued that sacred is an act of respect, setting people, places, things, aside from violation, honoring them, we live in a time of intense disrespect, and the disrespect boomerangs back on us, 45 having no respect for institutions meant to keep us ordered, capitalism having no respect for people and planet, viewing both as exploitable resources, the sacred disappearing from human consideration daily, weekly, relentlessly, people who profess to be caretakers of the sacred, from within whatever tradition they function, perverting their traditions and violating the sacred truths they say are the foundations of their moral beings…
But I think you cannot own a thing and love it at the same time. Owning diminishes the innate sovereignty of a thing, enriching the possessor and reducing the possessed.3
… reading RWK soothes me, the moss book is not as well written as Braiding Sweetgrass, but has much of the same reverent attitude towards nature, an attitude born from a connection to the sacredness of land… capitalism destroys sacredness, destroys boundaries beyond which humans should not go, it is destructive in the extreme…
August 28, 2020
02:48 PM – dining room
… reading Jonathan Blaustein’s post for the week, a review of portfolios from ICP, one, a student living in Wappingers, the next town over, viewed as not being very innovative except for the shadow puppet and self shadow portraits, this is my practice, my way of working, not very innovative, well, that will have to do, i like my photos, even if the methodology isn’t original, the long dedication is perhaps… and why do we have to be innovative?, why can’t we just do something well?…
08:07 AM – walking, Fishkill Creek
… Rocky passes by, on his morning patrol, far from home but always finds his way home… sense of despair about the country, Rocky heading back the other way, perimeter secured?… water tumbling over rocks… traffic sounds in the distance, crickets, people walking by…
07:30 AM – walking, Memorial Park, 52
… a little hung over… humid this AM, crickets when the cars are not steaming by, the sound of a power saw or gas weed whacker in the distance, storms last night, more this weekend…
04:35 AM – dining room
… made a great lamb ragu for diner last night, really delicious… H annoying me with her FB interactions with my cousins and criticism of them, really annoyed me, deeply annoyed me, i told her to stop interacting with them, she does not have my permission, she pretty much ignored me, one day this will come to a head and it won’t be pretty, she needs to take me seriously… an Atlantic magazine article on how The Violence Could (and probably will) Get Much Worse, yup, it certainly will… Who Was Trump Talking To? in the Bulwark, predicts the race will tighten, how this is so blows my mind, but i know he is right, we are not going to get the blowout win needed to unequivocally put 45 out to pasture, which means we are in for painful months if Biden does win, it is such a sad state of affairs… International Conservatism Needs Trump to Lose, where in the 45 effect echos around the world… this take down of the RNC convention and 45 is brutal…
August 27, 2020
04:33 AM – dining room
… the RNC convention hitting new lows according to HCR, the nation is burning, drowning, sick and dying, at war with itself, there is no leadership… an article about how riots in Kenosha play into 45’s hands, of course they do… hurricane Laura pounding the coast of Texas and Louisiana, the horrors that daylight will reveal, the story will not be 45’s to control… yesterday i read in the Economist that the melt down of the Greenland ice shelf has passed the point of no return, as i write that i think perhaps the same is true of democracy and decency in the US… yesterday we went to Lake Minnewaska, a reconnaissance mission, how to get there, where to go when there, what time to go… H wears sandals, i perpetually forget to check her on her footwear, she usually wears shoes that don’t work for trail walking… we had a good trip, picnic lunch, a little hiking, the dogs did well, we stopped off at Galadetto’s fish market for bluefish, scallops and whitefish salad… an article in Vanity Fair arguing for abolition of policing, replacing it with something more humane…
August 26, 2020
07:19 AM – walking, Long Dock Park
… thinking about the loss of SS benefits if 45 is re-elected, thinking the race is too close, thinking about the 30%-40% who drink the Koolaid, wondering if the nightmare will ever end… H annoying this AM , i am reading, she insists on telling me about a dream she had, i hate her dreams and generally don’t want to hear about them, they are usually disturbing and i don’t like being forced to stop reading to listen to them…
04:52 AM – dining room
… a scan of the news and there are no articles that seem revelations or useful to share in the hopes of convincing a relative to change their allegiance to 45, only the frightening prospect that 45 will end the payroll tax and with it, social security, which would be a huge problem for H and me, wiping out a third of our income… it’s hard to comprehend and hard to understand why seniors aren’t more up in arms about it… do we think he can’t possibly do it?… an article in ASX on a new book of the color photographs of Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Mexican photographic master, i don’t find them remarkable as BF suggests i should, perhaps i am not in the mood… Krista Tippett On Being program with Robin Wall Kimmerer, love Braiding Sweetgrass, i cue it up to listen to on way to Lake Minnewaska today…
August 25, 2020
07:47 AM – walking, Beacon Falls
… thinking about Roland Barthes Death of the Author, the idea of copyright as a capitalist tool to control the value of output, the lionization of the individual, a Marxist antidote to Capitalism… i have thoughts about why ownership of my artwork?… would the state develop an ownership interest through UBI?…
03:59 AM – dining room
… HRC, news that Jerry Falwell Jr. has resigned from his position at Liberty University over a sexual scandal involving his wife, himself and a pool attendant his wife having sex with the pool attendant while Falwell watched, apparently 45 knew about it, helped him squash the scandal when the pool attendant threatened to expose him and used it to coerce an endorsement which brought him evangelicals support, isn’t that precious?… a note from H, wants to talk today about exhibiting my work, interested to know what the scope of that would be… photo essay by Anne Moffat on her grandmother and Alzheimer reminds me that the end of life can be brutal, my own end is nearer rather than farther away… the work of Letizia Le Fur (sounds to me like a trans performers name, or perhaps an exotic dancer’s name) catches my eye in Ignant, conceptual photography, which is what i generally prefer, not the more direct embrace of the human condition that is preferred in the USA, many stunning photographs i could imagine myself making… review by Douglas Stockdale of Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle, i have come across her work recently and recorded links in these pages, i do so again because the story is compelling, the images are good, so she should rise in my tag cloud… done with my feeds this AM, what to do next?… there is stuff to do, but not really in the mood this AM, online exhibition, answer H, what else?… reading the introduction explanatory material to Roland Barthes Death of the Author, the idea that the author of any given text is not important to the understandings of the text, which can be as varied and legitimate as the numbers of people reading it, then, i would guess, the interpretation of the texts lies in a kind of cultural understanding of the text that might be rendered as a tag cloud in modern parlance…
August 24, 2020
08:25 AM – walking, 9D, Fishkill Creek Bridge
… H thinks my fears are isolating her, on some levels, maybe, but she also doesn’t get herself out and about as much as she could…
07:39 AM – walking, Beacon Falls
… walk down Main Street, slow picture morning this AM, i have the Lumix with me, different head space, maybe it will pick up as my head adjusts… i will try watching the Republican convention tonight, if it doesn’t engage my anger it might be amusing… most likely it will engage my anger and i will have to stop, we will see, maybe the challenge is to detach and observe…
04:33 AM – dining room
… HRC talking about 45 desperation… an article in The Bulwark, Get Ready for a Week of Unhinged Attacks on Biden and Harris… a curious Q&A with Jurgen Maelfeyt, staccato like, lead photograph, fur, bared legs of young woman, hand of young woman holding a cigarette, what is it about sex and cigarettes?, such a powerful union that makes little sense when one thinks of the health of it… of course, i know the cigarette implies naughty, walking on the wild side, thus, the promise of a woman who wants sex and revels in it… Brain Pickings post on Octavia Butler:
Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by what the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.4
… i have exhausted my Feedly feed, on to some photo editing…
August 23, 2020
08:00 AM – walking, stump near children’s playground, Memorial Park
… i stop at a big stump, thinking i should check for Bryan Formhals post, nothing, has he gone silent or did i fall off his email list… i go to his website and sign up for his email list again…
07:37 AM – walking, Memorial Park
… quiet hazy days, Mt. Beacon a hazy silhouette… birds singing, people and dogs walking, the occasional car hissing by… H in a decent mood, i suggest that Wed looks like a good Minnewaska day, currently projected to be sunny, high in low 80’s… a freight train sounds it’s horns in the distance… i hear person and dog nearby, i turn to look, it is woman and dog… some good wire pictures already, time to move on…
04:47 AM – dining room
… H getting restless… my Feedly feed empty, it’s Sunday, less stuff comes out, HCR took the night off, but not before letting us know that 45’s sister was secretly recorded by his niece saying nasty things about him, niece is really trying to do 45 in, hopefully enough people wanting to see him go from all directions that we can get rid of him… H wants to go to a resort in Maine, i don’t blame her, i would like to get out too, need to plan some things… watched a bizarre movie last night, The Science of Sleep, Charlotte Gainsborough, whom i have also seen in Nymphomaniac, she makes interesting choices i think to myself… i think we should watch Edward Scissorhands tonight, so that i am not accused of never going with what H wants… still waiting for Jonathan Blaustein to approve my note on his blog post and possibly look at my Daybook site… will it happen?, will he have an answer to my post?, will he?… i find another review of Fordlandia 9, by Robin Titchener, a man, i was hoping for a woman, also praising the book, only 350 copies made, i am glad that i spent money i don’t have to get it, it will be an investment, worth something in the future, rainy day value, plus, it is supposed to be a really good book… i look at the date on the post, Jan 27, 2020, and i wonder that there are copies left to be had, given glowing reviews everywhere… a book review in The Bulwark on Putin’s Russia, how it became, how it presently is… i learn that “Liberal Democracy” includes responsible conservative thinking (distinguished from the irresponsible and authoritarian leanings of the current Republican Party and those in charge)…