It's a little after 1am, and I am on New Mexico 68 heading out of Taos toward Albuquerque. I have to get about 140 miles in the next three hours, to make my 5:35am flight home. It's raining. I have the hi-beams on, and my too-smart rental keeps turning them off because it thinks it's seeing oncoming traffic. There is not. There's nobody. I have the hi-beams on because I'm looking for wildlife. Hitting a deer or something larger has a best case scenario of destruction of the rental car, missing my flight, and a long wait for a replacement. Best case. Also the complex and probably expensive business of buying Avis a new car. Hitting something smaller, like a coyote, means I likely get to make my flight, but it's still an expensive pain in the ass because Avis will want someone to unfuck their car, which will probably be kinda fucked up.
I am focussed, scanning the road and roadside ahead for animal shapes, but more importantly, the flare of eyes.
Looking for eyes on a highway in the USA is a nightmare, our highways are festooned with reflectives to help
the inattentive stay roughly on the road. I am not inattentive, although every time I find myself distracted I return my
attention forward fully expecting an elk coming through the windshield.
It rains all the way to Albuquerque. I meet no wildlife.
What am I doing here? I've just finished Antidote, Jonathan Blaustein's annual photo retreat just outside of
Taos, and I'm on my way home. It's Balloon Festival time in Albuquerque, so staying the night there is insanely
expensive, and also I don't like Albuquerque.
How was Antidote, you ask? I'm glad you asked, because that's what I'm here to tell you! It was great.
Ok, there's a bit more to it. It was intense, at times uncomfortable, at times angering, at times upsetting.
It was inspiring and educational besides. It was fun. it was beautiful. It was really really fucking far away.
The format is thus: three days which begin with a reviving outdoor activity which connects us to nature
and so on in a startlingly beautiful part of the world (this was, for this instance, a modest hike each day.)
The afternoon of each day was some kind of intense photographic review/critique/conversation. And here
lies the slightly forced connection to the hi-beam shenanigans this opened with. I spent something like
12 hours all up furiously trying to focus on questions around photography and photographs, and it was
hard. But good. No metaphorical elk were launched through any metaphorical windshields, but there
On day one I had a nascent project critiqued by three separate people, each expert in their own way.
Between us we reshaped the project completely, which rendered my little collection of four prints
rather moot, but whatcha gonna do? This was the first point of discomfort. It's pretty un-fun to have
people think really hard about what they might actually say about your work, because they will often
find things to say that are not "ooo, you're such a genius, may I touch your biceps?"
On day two, it was group critique time, and we all mobbed one another
in sequence. This was also uncomfortable, for the same reasons, but in my case doubly awkward because
the work being critiqued was not what the work was going to be at all anyways, so I had to struggle
to not waste everyone's time waving my arms to describe pictures that don't exist, and
also to glean value from critique of the work that was present but only loosely relevant.
Tip: If your final product won't be 8x10 black and white prints, make that really really clear
if you've brought 8x10 black and white prints, because everyone will quite naturally assume that you're
planning to make 8x10 black and white prints.
Then Jonathan asked
me if I was uncomfortable which I swear to god was very extremely irritating. I hid my irritation masterfully,
I am sure. Of course I'm uncomfortable, omg, wtf, applesauce.
Throughout this Jonathan was leading the critique, and a point he hammered almost everyone with
was, essentially, why are you doing this instead of something else? This too was irritating
because he refused to accept the truthful answer which is often "because
it's the easiest/funnest/coolest-looking thing"
FYI I am very extremely fond of Jonathan and respect him enormously, but boy if you stuff him in a pressure
cooker with me there's gonna be some mixed feelings. He stuffed us ridiculously full of food and drink
though which makes up for a lot.
In my case I am taking photos of myself, and the reason is, in part, because I am the easiest model
to hire and to bully. You think Cindy Sherman didn't start out shooting herself because she was always
lurking about the place? Pull the other one, of course she did.
It was only days later that I really worked out what the point was. The way I read Jonathan, what he
was saying was, in fact, that you can do whatever whenever, but if you cannot eventually justify your pragmatic
choices artistically then you should ditch them. If selfies aren't the right answer, then, no
matter how convenient they are, I, Andrew Molitor, need to stop doing them. I am still thinking about how much I
agree with that, but I accept it as an idea. Cindy Sherman doesn't have to shoot herself any more,
but she still does, because it makes artistic sense for her to do so. I think she mighta shaped the art
to fit, though.
Anyways, onwards. Day three was free form discussion which covered a lot of stuff like how do gallerists
actually find new artists, and what about all the new ways people can get paid? (patreon,
kickstarter, NFTs, etc etc.) I could report on it, but honestly, it was all minutiae. Interesting,
I, we, looked a lot at one another's projects. I found a great deal to like in all of them.
It struck me that most of the other students had developed a bunch of technique, and were trying to
get some meaning to emerge. Many of them had some shape to the meaning, but were having trouble
persuading the meaning to really gel. This is common, it's probably true that the vast majority of photographers who
have grasped the idea that there even could be something like meaning then dork around with
technique trying to make meaning emerge.
Yrs trly, because I am me, always do it upside down. I dork around with meaning hoping a technique
It sounds very clever to say this, but I think it's not as clever as it sounds. If you have both
technique and meaning worked out, then you're done. Congratulations. So, "project that is not
done" is pretty much synonymous with "project that is weak on either technique, or meaning."
The only other thing you can fuck up is connecting technique and meaning, and in a later essay
I'm going to write some day, I think I'm going to argue that this might be optional.
I like to think that we, collectively, were able to say some useful things for one another. I know
I got useful things said to me. Not that I will take anyone's note as stated, but many things were
said that clarified things and sparked ideas, and somehow pointed me in a better direction.
There were dogs and kids. By preference, I will hang around with dogs and kids first, adults
a distant second. I would like to be praised for my bravery in hanging around mostly with the
adults. Not gonna lie, I spent a lot of time with the dogs, but I didn't completely blow
off the adults. So, praise: go!
Re-reading the above in the cold light of day I think it's worth adding this, since I feel like
the above reads a little harsh. Think of Jonathan as Mr. Miyagi. You're gonna be upset more than
once, you might even get a bit mad in the moment here and there, but there's a method in play and
he's probably right. It's part of the process, it's ok, it's normal, it's expected, and it works.
I wouldn't change anything, except maybe myself.
Unfinished work = you don’t know what you’re doing! Super review, great piece, great retreat! Thanks for volunteering to go first in the group critiques.ReplyDelete
Ah, a good residential workshop is an MFA in a long weekend! We used to have Duckspool (Peter Goldfield) and A Photographer's Place (Paul Hill) here in England, and I had some intense experiences at Duckspool in the 1990s, including one with Thomas Joshua Cooper that approached the intensity of a group therapy session that had got out of hand.ReplyDelete
But: you really shouldn't type when driving at speed at night...
I was driving very slowly, it's perfectly safe.Delete
"Cindy Sherman doesn't have to shoot herself [sic] any more, but she still does" I've commented on this before; gilded cage of her own marketing, a common and, I imagine, rather vexatious constraint for artists who hit upon a 'winning' formula, and just repeat variations thereof to satisfy the demand. It's entertaining to speculate what other subjects she may have essayed, in secret.ReplyDelete