Residency Hunt

First, just a quick look at a little more work in the works.

Submission 1

My wife and I have started looking at residency opportunities for this coming summer. One clear benefit of having the type of jobs we do is that our summer schedule is almost completely negotiable, so if we want to go live somewhere else for a few weeks or even months, it’s possible (inside a certain budget of course). Now, there are “residencies” and there are residencies, and so I have to really decide what my aim of getting one is. As I see it, there are really only a few possibilities which can overlap to varying degrees.

First: simply having time and space just to work. No other commitments or real responsibilities. It is a retreat where one can re-energize and refresh, as well as just put your head down and make work sans-distractions.
Second: new surroundings equal new inspiration. Anytime you’re in a new setting, especially when you’re there long enough to really settle in, it is going to allow to you see in a new way. New experiences, new world views or life situations surround you, and speak into how to view the world and make work, hypothetically.
Third: connecting with other creatives. Community is huge and I think most artists go through long dry spells that stem largely from isolation. A lot of the time I need isolation to make work, but to evaluate it I need community, so the two have to coexist to some extent.
Fourth: a resume booster. There is certainly a value to participating in a project or residency which some future employer would recognize.

There may be other possible categories, but these are the ones sifting through my head at the moment. As a resume booster, in the past that was a huge motivator. It led both my wife and I to apply for Fulbrights. And while we were excited for the projects we proposed, the real goal was always to increase hireablility. However, the downside is that those residencies are highly competitive, so after all the work of applying, your chances of actually getting it are slim to none. And after my last year of sending out applications, I’m starting to seriously doubt how much of a resume actually gets read.

So, in effect, the real potential hireability benefit can come not from the resumed boost, but rather from the new connections that are made with a new art community. This removes the value of the residency name and replaces it with a value on the form. There are spaces available for seclusion, but you are cutting yourself out of the community. The connection and newer perspective on your work are tough to quantify since it may take time for their effect to be seen. But community is what I can most easily identify as absent from my practice right now, so maybe that needs to be a primary criteria. In relation to that, I’ve thought that it would be great to make a residency a little artist retreat with one or two of my good friends whose work I know and opinions I respect. It wouldn’t have to be collaborative in nature, but I don’t think it would be that big of a jump to make that happen either. The only downside to that is that if I bring my own community along, it will undoubtedly limit the amount of new connections that are made.

Using a new surrounding as a way to stimulate inspiration doesn’t really seem to be where I’m at right now in my work. Don’t get me wrong, I would have preferences about the setting I’m in just because some things are more refreshing to me than others, but I don’t see much inspiration coming from there at this point. However, different studio setups can make a world of difference, and the tools that they offer will vastly effect the work I make. For example, if I had a month to work in a darkroom, I could probably clock more hours in that time than I have in the rest of my life combined, hopefully resulting in some strong work that I couldn’t have made if I just stayed home.

And lastly, there is the value of time. Time away from real life and distractions, where I know my only duty is to produce some work and to break some new ground. I was talking with a friend of mine last week and both of us were saying just how frustrating it is that life so often gets in the way of making work. Jobs, bills, grocery shopping… it’s all time and they all seem to trump studio time too often. So it seems like the highest value of any residency is time to have one’s primary identity be ARTIST.

Well, I’ve got a few possibilities that I’m researching, hopefully for this coming summer. Wish me luck and give me any suggestions you’ve got.

Making Work

I’ve forsaken my blog over the summer (and then some), but that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle, and I’m pleased to report some progress in two areas. First, I got accepted as a Creative Quarterly 32 Runner-Up. Now, this is clearly not as exciting as being a finalist, but it does still mean my work gets included in the website gallery, which is always nice, and definitely makes submitting feel worth it. I’ll get ‘em next time. The work isn’t up yet, but I’ll post a link to it once it is.

Thinking about submitting to shows like this always creates a conundrum for me. They always want you to submit work in specific categories, in this case, Art, Photography, or Illustration. When I see this I just scratch my head… so photography is not art? Does this mean they only want commercial photography in this category and anything else is just blanket labeled “art”? Or is art painting, drawing (not illustration) and sculpture, and work that used a camera is photography? It just gets so confusing, especially with some of my work that is anything but traditional photography yet in no way could claim to be a painting (or rather, in no way do I claim it). Anyway, there is no answer I suppose, just an interesting little mind game I play by myself when I submit work and it makes me wonder if others have the same issue.

Secondly,  wanted to post some new work that is in process. I’ve started shooting a portrait series (only one model so far) still focusing on the unique definition that digital culture gives humanity. I don’t know how many portraits I’ll do or even if I’ll follow thru with the series more than a few shots, since I’ll just have to wait and see what is successful (or not). But it feels really good to be editing some photos that I took as opposed to ones that I collected. Don’t get me wrong, I really loved the direction of my thesis, but I think I’ve been longing to really produce something myself, and I’m on the right track. So, take a look and the beginning stage, there are a couple other shots I want to edit and see which I like best.

Finally, I have been revisiting some ideas I had jotted down in my final semester that I didn’t have time to really explore, but wanted to pursue in the future. I think one or two of them are interesting enough to bear some fruit. Hopefully I’ll bring tidings of that work soon.

Bleeding for Art

I’m a little proud of myself today. I actually bled for my art, or rather through handling it. But despite it being a small cut on my left thumb (cuts from glass are no laughing matter regardless of size) somehow it felt that I had “suffered” for my art. And as we all know, suffering is one of the great sources of insight, so I’m bound to produce something stunning in the near future.

All joking aside, I was reflecting today on the daily grind of art making: the slow, the tedious, the mistakes and the setbacks. Over the past couple months, following the completion of my MFA, I’ve realized how frightfully easy it would be to simply stop. To not produce, but simply maintain the title of “artist” as a parlor trick or an interesting side note on my resume. It is hard work, all the more when I can’t be a “full-time” artist (and I realize that the vast majority of artists are in this boat with me), and it feels like I have to slip in little times throughout my day where I can think, create, and dream freely.

And yet, it would not be easy for me to fully stop. Despite the daily difficulties, the situational inconveniences (to make not mention of the financial drain) there is something that draws me unto it. Is it capital A “ART”? No, I think not for there is too little to be gained. My only conclusion is that it is something inherently within myself that is in fact drawing itself out; something that cannot remain within and yet is one of my essential components. There is the desire, the need to face problems and dream up solutions, to find something new and unique, to dwell on something I’ve visited 1,000 times in a new way, to give fresh eyes to those around me, to dig deeper than the surface, and to search for “why’s” and “what if’s”. The words I’m using don’t quite hit the mark for what I’ve been feeling recently, I only know that I cannot stop, not in a compulsive or even obsessive way (not that it cannot be that) but rather in a way that recognizes that if I am not creating work, I am not being who this world needs me to be.

That all really went on a bit of a tangent, but I think I like it, and what is the creative process if not a string of tangents that have been given sense. What I really intended today was to pose a bit of a question, but I must set the scene first. I was making some work today (transferring images to glass, hence the cut) which is very directly related to much of my thesis work. I’m dealing with the same ideas, using some of the same images even to create a piece that has many similar characteristics of my previous work, but has some added sensibility that I feel the others were lacking. But I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I need to do something different, riskier, or unexpected. But on the other hand I know the value of creating a cohesive body of work and that there can be as much value in continually confronting the familiar as there is in facing the unknown.

I remember looking at some artists work ( I regret that I cannot remember her name) that all revolved around one image. She had found one image, “the” image in her perspective (Barthes might have said that the punctum in that photo so pricked her that she never recovered). Each piece she created was of that one image, approached and rehashed in an attempt to reveal to the viewer what she sensed. So then my question is, what is the balance between a slow and steady progression of work versus traversing the excitement of the unknown. Is one more mature than the other, or even simply easier?

In parting, I’ll leave you with one quote from Cartier-Bresson in the book The Mind’s Eye that recently resonated with me.

It is true, too, that a certain identity is manifest in all the portraits taken by one photographer. The photographer is searching for the identity of his sitter, and also trying to fulfill an expression of himself. The true portrait emphasizes neither the suave nor the grotesque, but reflects the personality.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Mind’s Eye, p.31

Bresson’s First Leica, “for me the camera is a sketch book”

Applications, Exhibits & Experiments, Oh My!

About a month ago I was feeling like I wasn’t getting anything done but now it seems that everything is happening at once. It was great to get into the faculty show at Camden County College and that lit my fire to get some more work out in the world before Christmas. So just last night I submitted some work, and there are one or two more open calls that I’d like to submit to, all of which have due dates in the next week or so. Also, I’ve been working on my job applications for next fall at a couple colleges around the country, which also all happen to be due starting in the next week or so. And finally, I’ve been really needing to produce some new work, not just a continuation of earlier work, so I finally got some materials in hand that let me get experimenting. The idea I’m working with still stems out of my Social Portrait series, essentially using much of the same imagery, but as usual I always begin feeling discontent with the flatness of my final prints. The two-dimensionality becomes overbearing to my vision. Maybe that is a product of the fact that I am staring at the images for hours on end as I make them, so the start feeling old and static only to my eyes, but at any rate, I enjoy the challenge of introducing physical space, depth and object-ness to my prints. I did just a small scale test to start with on 4×5 pieces of glass, but I now plan on scaling up to 8×10. I’m still working out how deep I want to make the pile of glass (or piles) and how I want to display them (possibly involving building some light boxes). Anyway, there is still much to be worked out amidst all the details of submitting work and applying to Colleges, but I think it is all complimentary work.

side view of my stack of images on glass

top view

The Inaugural Post

I chose to name this blog “conflict/resolution” for one, because it is the name I gave my first solo exhibition, which was at The Ritz Theatre Co.. Secondly, I believe it aptly describes the process by which I create work- it is an exploration of photography and art where I find problems to solve.

So here’s to the inaugural post out into the void! There will certainly be more to come.
[by] ben
PS Both I and Melissa (wife/secretary/Ben Panter Fan Club President/muse) will contribute.