Discover more from wide open
When at war with yourself
Make sure both sides win.
This is my second try at this, Dear Reader.
I wrote a spiraling post about an idea I have and through writing it all out journal style (not intended) it uncovered a few things worth talking about before a little clearinghouse of thoughts.
You want to remember when someone loved you. When your feet ached and that guy told you he'd smash your fucking camera over your face, and you said 'try me' and the two of you, two young stupid men. drifted away against the late afternoon city sun. You want to remember her in that kimono. How she smelled of anticipation and disaster. How the heat poured into your car in the dakotas, like an ocean wave. How your family was still a family doing banal things like having bbq's and fighting over stupid shit. Ghosts everywhere, but you don't want to remember that.
You want to remember how her ginger hair glowed against the falling light in that window while she drank a coca-cola in a white dress. How the ocean smelled and was cold at your feet after 100 miles of snaking highway. How your arms hurt from turning the wheel. How your mom would put up her dukes when you'd point a camera at her. How terrified you were when you chose wrong and fell into the bear's cage, complete white-out around you and prayed there was no tornado. How the car shook and you were alone with your choices. and how that was okay.
How the light burns red against the badlands. how the night, full of invisible mosquitos came alive with northern lights. how you'd joke and laugh with your friends. How she looked, here, and here, and here and.. How strong you felt and how weak. You want to remember every single thing, because remembering is how you know things happened, and how you know you were alive.
I've edited the same photos likely hundreds of times.
I enjoy finding new expressions of the same thing. Using weird techniques. experiments. going too deep into color theory then rejecting color outright. hundreds of times, though. thousands of hours. hours that could be spent making new photos. or friends. or baking, or reading, or painting.
I get paid, at least in part, to produce videos. to film, to edit, to craft. I've spent 10s of thousands on video equipement. I do not make, but for a handful of experiments, videos for myself. I record videos. I have videos of so many models, and travels and places. But they don't mean anything compared to the feeling of a well edited photo. The motion is magical. The cadence of correctly timed beats. but there isn't room to unfold inside each single moment.
The story is the motion, not the stillness.
Each year brings new tools. New apps. New techniques. and I thought i was chasing film, that beautiful film look, I realized this fall I'm not.
I thought for a time I was trying to inhabit the photos of my childhood. The off color slide film reds of my grandfather--who never had a kind word for me in my life, and I have none for him now, aside from his archive of pictures hinting at there being more there, somewhere, under the anger an smell of whisky. I am not.
I realized after 20 years of digital photography that digital photography and editing is garbage. There's so little truth in it. The highlights are all wrong. Every year gets better, but what I've really been chasing is how I remember the moment I took the photo. How real life, wrapped up and filtered through me, felt and looked.
It nags at some fundamental part of me to not have been able to show that. So i return, time and time again.
You feel old now. more yourself. more stable and calm. richer, deeper, but your arm fat sags. your eyes look tired all the time even when you're not. The greys are winning. Everywhere. You back won't let you carry a pack of cameras anymore. Your back won't let you even wear a camera strap for more than an hour. You're doing fine. The bills are paid. Those rotten teeth are being fixed, one by one, a little out of every paycheque and aside from the rollercoaster ride of body issues, which never bore, you can't complain about much.
You aren't actually old yet. But you feel old. The world thinks you're old. You're oldish in a young facing world. Your body is probably a lot older than it should be, but you are not yet.
Except you can clearly see the end. it's right there. You can easily project your mind further into the past than you'll ever get to the future. the hump, is behind you now. The curve of life is sloped downwards now and this is natural. However loudly you scream into your pillow.
Sometime this summer I realized I probably enjoy editing photos more than taking them.
No mosquitos or skunks. No pissing in bottles while tornados scrape by you. No dealing with the highs and lows of models. No border crossings, no carrying 50lb bags of gear. No spending hours waiting for something, anything, worth remembering.
We aren't supposed to admit this.
No making work for the sake of making work.
You have secret dreams of deleting it all. Driving over the hard drives--so many fucking hard drives and their constant whirring--with the jeep on your way to not caring anymore. You'll throw away the beauty. The sacred. the haunting and magical. The resonant and the overwhelming pile of mediocrity you drag with you birthday after birthday as each moment's relevance recedes into the past, but somehow their power never changes.
That off hand look she made. The way the grasses bent and swayed. The blue black shadow creeping out from church brick in the shape of a bird. A mountain of images, of life.
You dream of clicking yes, I confirm deleting cannot be undone.
You have secret dreams of locking yourself in a room and not being allowed out until something makes sense.
It's easier to just not care. To accept that things didn't go according to plan and the plan was how everything was held together. The constant motion. The incessant wearing of the body to this state made sense of, and by, the plan. Which, never found its mark. which never realized.
Recently, I had an idea. Allow myself one more pass of edits on the work that matters to me. The model work. the street. the travel. the storms. To finally decide on the value of this frame or that. To delete what doesn't matter. To export what does in some final state and maybe share them in some logical sense on a second newsletter.
To work through this process, a step at a time, shrinking my catalog. Letting go of the past. Putting it away.
Isn't that what old photographers do? They cull and pare and whiddle and contextualize. Preparing to leave some cohesive body of work behind. eventually. The eyesight goes. the hands get arthritic. the back, o the fucking back. The body fails and what was it all for then.
You know none of it matters. you know the only one who cares, by and large, is you. It doesn't stop the ache for it to matter. It doesn't ease the wish someone could see the beauty. The magic.
You know you could make 20 books. You could delete it all. You could just tuck it away and forget it or spend the rest of the little time you have lost in it. you could stumble over the curl of her lip till the world or you falters. it won't change anything, either way.
When at a philosophical crossroads I fall back to frameworks. To core principals. To safe ground.
The desire to be free of my own work and own relationship to my work is at war with my love of being lost inside it. The need to have it in a more finished state where humans, who might connect to it, have a chance to, competes with my neurotic sense it's still not true. Still not right.
The need to have 20 years of self sacrifice and hard work amount to something more than navel gazing and things to fill your calendar up with wars ever against knowing most of life is just in the living and most of it doesn't matter outside your own physical lived experience of it. Mattering to others, isn't proxy for mattering. However much we like to tell ourselves it is. Likes and even deeper connections with the work, real ones, by others, does not change the math. We just want it to.
We just want anything to matter, and people telling us it does makes the lie go down easier.
Safe ground is that the things choose to focus on, to spend time on, to do and live decide the quality of your existence, and that is how you make choices, not on the external, or the promise of some salve for an aching heart.
What moments make you feel most true? Do more of that.
I never feel so fully myself and nothing demands I meet it more fully than when an image works--being deep into a flow of writing is a close second--but the pull to stare at an image, to get lost in it, when it is right has always been the single thing in my life that never wavers. The gaps between those moments can be large, and confusing, but when it clicks i know that's what I was doing all this shit for. The world doesn't matter. Likes don't. Love, loss and lonesomeness are just abstractions. Light and color. tone and texture. The graceful physics bound relationship of highlight to midtone to shadow hum with harmony and gesture completes the circle.
Looking, alone, in the deep cold of winter prairie, at an image that works, that is true is at least while doing it enough and chasing those images, trying to uncover them, birth them, disentangle them from clunky editing tools, from barbaric raw defaults, is a passion that never tires. It's only when i have to explain myself to myself, leaving experience and entering the intellectual, that things get messy.
And to please both parts of me, the seeker and the autocrat, I have to have some bullshit external built to justify the borderline crazy passions. Which is how we end up here, issuing decrees.
For the autocrat, I will make a second newsletter. He can make a bunch of rules about how things need to be done. He can enforce order and faux meaning. He can play to the crowd, or scowl when they ignore him. Whatever.
For the lover of tone and color I will just keep searching for truth. For honest light. For balance in my tones. but maybe with more of an eye to resolving things. More effort to decide when good enough is actually good enough, when truth is there, however imperfectly and locking in that decision until I'm compelled to make more images, not making them because making them is what I do.
I told you clowns this was therapy for me, not a newsletter for you.
I'm currently thinking I will shut down my print shop next month. Alberta Beautiful costs $500 a year and while it pays for itself it seems the bulk of folks who wanted prints over the years have got them now. Sales trickle post instagram, and printing is fantastically time consuming So if you wanted prints, you should get on that, in case I pull the plug.
I recently read The Burnout Society. Wow. What a book. it's more academic paper than book, and tiny, you can read it in a couple hours but it will take months to sort through the ideas it left behind.
Like I said above, I am going to start a second newsletter for older pictures. I have no details about that yet as I'm only now being told I'm doing it, by me and me and me need to have a talk about how.
oh look, it seems our hour is up...