Castle Dome Mine Museum, Arizona 2012, full series here
Revelatory: revealing something hitherto unknown.
Hello readers. My plan with this post is to write something that will prove useful to you from my experience. I know who you are. For the most part, you are newer and perhaps less experienced practitioners like I am, hungry for "how to's" in making and showing your art. Throw in a few gallery owners, curators, critics, students and perhaps a collector or two and you have my readers. Most times I am not brought up against how very old I am and how many years I have been doing this for I am still doing it much like I always have. But some of the process I go through is now so intuitive it is difficult for me to understand and grapple with the fact that there are those in which making art is new and unknown and certainly a little scary as a career choice. Well, yeah(!), of course.
Photography is its own special subset in the making art game. Presumably you come to it with your heart fixed on the idea that you've got important things to say, that you are not a "decorative" artist, that there is substance here in your work and that the world needs to see it. Good. Also presumed is that you have method, a mode of working that is fluid, flexible, malleable but also able to produce results. And finally, your method allows you to move on. What? Move on to what, you ask. To move on to the next project. Can't make new work unless you've put to bed older work, yes?
Okay. So now that we've put to rest some of the ground rules we can move on to the point here. What I want to talk about is the structure by which we make our pictures, the framework we use to construct our work. This is where it gets harder for me as I have to go back to very early process in my career to find the laying of the foundation for my methodology which has served me my whole adult life. For help I went back to the posts about my first series called Nantucket which runs for four posts. It was good I did as it helps me to relate to you what a major discovery it was to work in that manner. The series is here.
If you've gone back (and I hope you do) and read those posts you'll understand this was an epiphany for me, this discovery of a way of working that would serve me well throughout my career. In essence, we all work in series in one way or another. But to acknowledge and embrace the structure then allows you to use it to advantage in how you put your work next to your work to form associations, connections and larger meanings. Way too often I see portfolios that fail to do this. To not work with the powerful associational effect of the retention by the viewer of one photograph when looking at another seems like an opportunity missed. Yes, people will roughly make beginnings, middles and ends to their portfolios and shows but mostly it is haphazard and random, as though the pictures themselves will carry the importance of the work as single pictures, when they are not being seen that way at all. This seems painfully obvious to me and here shows my age and my now doing this intuitively, by second nature. I am thinking Robert Frank, The Americans here, Nathan Lyons, Notations in Passing, even Lewis Baltz, Industrial Parks Near Irvine California and so on. Why make a series of disconnected and fragmented photographs when you can make a sonnet, a poem, a short story, a song, a novella or even a symphony?
Very often I number my work 1 through whatever number are in the series. If I remember correctly my shortest is 7 and my longest 29, which for most purposes is way too big. Most of my work is set up like the structure in a book, or in a musical score of some kind. An introduction or opening, which often forecasts what is to come and sets the stage, an initial burst of three as "three" has wonderful symmetry, followed by sets of "threes"as short chapters perhaps, then possibly a rule breaker or something that throws the pattern already established off or awry. Think discordance in music or a poem or a stanza or a quote in a book that leads you somewhere slightly off course. Why? To take the viewer out of their comfort zone or to draw attention to the fact that the set-up structure is now being violated. Then possibly back to "threes" or to "twos", A and B working as comparative statements, then beginning to lead towards the end with perhaps an "ah ha" moment as an effort at transcendence or a photograph that I think of as seminal. Very often for me there is one photograph that is at the center of the universe of the series. The picture that I am hanging all the others off of or orbiting around this one key picture. Call this a climax, perhaps, like this one in Oakesdale, such an important series of photographs for me:
Then an ending, either up or down emotionally seems to rule if I look over my work. A good example of this is the ending in Portland (which I wrote about in a 4-post blog) which I made in 1996. In Portland the ending seems to propose perhaps a new beginning or maybe some new possibilities. At least that is how I see it as we look through a series of back yards that have obstacles but also all kinds of opportunities. This is it:
This full series is here.
I should close here but let me say that a structural organization and sequence shouldn't apply to just my kind of work, it should apply to all work, whether you make two of something or 150. Increasingly photographs by artists are presented as portfolios which means a stack of prints in a box. Please, think this through carefully as to how you present your photographs in sequence. This presumably would lead you to thinking of how you make your pictures in sequence too.
Lastly, I by no means intend for you to interpret this work the same way that I do, for I am inside it and you are not. I do not prescribe how my work is seen by others as that is not my purview. I simply wanted to bring you to my structure as a means to share with you my process and to ask you to consider creating your own structure, whereby photographs you make relate to other photographs you make.
Revelatory? You tell me.
Neal's email is: here