"Give me your license and meet me there".Read More
Today is the first day of the baseball season and although it's snowing and many games on the east coast have been postponed it still makes me excited. Excited for the baseball season? Nope, don't really care about that. I get excited for the photography season.
When I was young and could indulge in such fanciful notions I had this idea of aligning my photo season with the baseball season. Training camp opened and I would go through my gear, do some film testing and generally get myself ready to get out there. In these years I was doing most of my own work with a view camera, and I didn't shoot that often in the winter. (I don't really like snow pictures and don't often do them. Here's a rare exception, from 1994 4x5 FP-4)
So the baseball season would start and I'd get out there and start working. Hopefully by the All-Star break things would be going along well, shooting, processing, seeing the field. Going well or not it was a moment to reflect and to see what was needed to make the most of the rest of the season, knowing that the fall light lay ahead. I never made the payoffs and I never won the pennant but I kept at it until winter. I don't really know how that came about as I'm not really a baseball fan of any seriousness, but these days I don't let myself take the winters off.
Going year round can generate a lot of self-inflicted pressure, and that pressure can in turn put up creative blocks that need to be overcome. I've developed a tactic for that that seems to have taken the form of another sports metaphor: the change up.
The change up can simply mean picking up a different type of camera, or shooting different film. It can be changing modes all together, perhaps listening and recording audio or sitting down with a notebook and writing. Once when I was feeling especially frustrated and completely lost I gave myself permission to give it up and just write. Which I did for about three months. When I picked up a camera again it was because I was excited to do something with it, I was inspired again. I knew that photography would be there if I needed it and as it turned out I did and it was.
There are times I will shift from one project to the next and that can bring about a new set of problems but I'd rather that than feel I was pounding my head on a wall or just going through the motions. Identifying a habit and then doing the opposite can be a great change up. Avoiding people? Go shoot portraits. Only like sun? Go shoot in the rain.
Maybe photo projects have their own seasons, certainly they their own internal rhythms. Stay flexible and you can move with them too. So get out there, give it 110%, leave it all on the field, take it one picture at a time and bring home a pennant. Whatever that is.
...that you’re sorry for shooting them, stuffing them, freeze drying them, mounting them and sticking them up for display...Read More
Editing a project for a show or a book has it's stages, from shooting, which may continue well into the editing stage, to the initial selection from contact sheets, printing, sequencing, more printing and then on to book layout or exhibition hanging.
When it comes to sequencing, I've found no better way than working with actual prints, laid out on the table or the floor, shuffling and shifting until the rhythm is right. Digital or film, it doesn't matter, you need the space to see it all together flowing from one image to the next.
The hardest aspect of any edit is the cutting away of things you like and have become attached to. It starts out fairly easily but eventually you get to where it hurts, and you agonize over each choice. But choose you must and (hopefully) the sequence shows you what it needs most. The deadline looms, you convince yourself it's right and up it goes.
You pack up the outtakes, hang the show, make the book and move on. Sometimes those outtakes linger with you, like ghosts popping in unexpectedly until finally you go back to that box and have a visit. Some, you admit you still like. Some give you ideas for new work. Thanks to the miracle of modern digital media you can put them up and excise your ghosts. And so I shall. These are outtakes from Canonicus' Bow.
“An original is a creation motivated by desire. Any reproduction of an originals motivated be necessity. It is marvelous that we are the only species that creates gratuitous forms. To create is divine, to reproduce is human.” - Man Ray
I contributed a piece to the Cities and Memory Dada Sounds project.
February 5, 2016 marks 100 years since the founding of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, and thus the beginning of Dada.
To mark the occasion, Cities and Memory: Dada Sounds marks a century of Dadaism by applying the techniques and practices of Dada to field recordings from around the world, bringing a Dadaist approach to the concepts of sound, place and memory and creating a new, Dada-inspired sound world.
The whole amazing collection is here.
My contribution: Swiss MLK
My process as thus: I chose a recording from the Cities and Memory sounds that was made inSwitzerland because Dada. As I was working on it over the Martin Luther King holiday I worked in units of 1.18. I laid a grid over the source recording breaking it up in 1.18 second segments. I used a random number generator to rearrange the clips until I had a length of 1min, 18 seconds. I decided I wanted to collage in sound that related to the moment in time that I was working on this so I randomly recorded a German language news radio station coming out of Switzerland at the same time I was editing the first piece. I took that recording and applied the same method to chop it up. On both recordings I used a second set of randomly generated numbers to apply a small set of effects (backwards, reverb) to a few clips. As an homage to Man Ray I wanted to suggest an aural layer of dust, so I stretched out the edited version of the first track and then I mixed all three together in a very un-Dada deliberate way.
Viva la chance.
I will have more to say on this over the coming months but I'm excited to share this news. Erik Carlson and I have been awarded a Rhode Island Council for the Humanities grant to create a performance piece about our 1997 Gorham Manufacturing Co. complex documentation. This is in partnership with UPP Arts and Holly Ewald who first envisioned the project.
This means the photogaphs I made will get scanned and made available digitally. I'm thrilled about this, Gorham had such a central role in the growth and reputation of Providence as a manufacturing and design center. The work Gorham produced, especially the fine silver, occupies a prominent place in the collection of the RISD Museum, my employer. I will be very busy making new photographs of that silver collection for the major book and show the museum is planning for 2019. My photographic career seems to be intertwined with Gorham and I'm excited about this latest chapter.
On work and practice.
I don't make New Year resolutions but the end of year break seems to be as good a time as any to reflect and to think about what I'd like to work on in the coming months. Specifically I've been thinking about how I go about what I do and how I can be more effective in doing it.
Taking apart the term creative practice I'll consider both halves in order. Looking back at 2015 I find that i have a number of interesting projects going, I have ideas that I'm excited about and I'm curious enough to want to continue the pursuit. I have been shooting as the stack of negatives (and digital files) testifies. So far so good. However I know myself well enough to know that I'm very fond of keeping projects somewhere between 20-80% complete. Not completely vapor but still ripe with potential, still able to keep me happily busy pursuing leads and reaching dead ends free from the final nail and critical assessment that comes with being done. There are a couple of projects that I wish to see in a finished state by this time next year. I can visualize that, so it remains to move them there. Ideas, actions (in the form of taking photographs and recording sounds) words written, the creative half looks healthy enough.
How about the other word, practice? I like the sense of that word that describes what musicians do prior to performance. Few people are so gifted as to be able to perform at a high level without dedicated practice, and beyond that there are positive aspects that come only through repetition. There is a physical fluidity that comes from what's described sometimes as muscle memory, you just know where and how to move without having to think about it. There is confidence that comes from that and from a deepening insight into what the materials are capable of. Therein lies the catch within my own recent process. Insight and knowledge requires seeing the thing through every stage. For me that would mean from shooting or recording, to negative or file, to print or to screen to whatever the finished state should be. Then looping back through the process over and over again. I have plenty of practice in shooting and handling the camera, I earn my living shooting after all, but to get better I need to see finished prints and edited files, and I need to have others see that too. I need to close the loop. That is something I didn't do often enough in 2015. That is what I will endeavor to do this year. We'll see how it goes.
I created this sound piece for the Cities and Memory Utopia project. Inspired by the map above, or more specifically grid area A2.
I was drawn to this section by it's suggestion of a rocky coast and what may be a church or monastery clinging to a rugged cliff. I imagined the sounds of the sea and then I recalled an aural image of another mythological place, the sunken cathedral in the evocative prelude by Claude Debussy. In this piece, La cathédrale engloutie, Debussy creates an impression of the mythic cathedral as it rises momentarily from a clear morning sea, suggesting the peal of bells and the singing of the choir carried on the wind. This work is based on an ancient Breton legend of the Island of Ys.
In my piece I have taken up the thought that the church depicted in my corner of Utopia would someday suffer the same fate, and may perhaps be the very same place. I imagined it not yet sunken into the ocean, but still standing precariously high above the waves, alive with the sounds of religious service. The bells follow Debussy’s tonal progression, suggesting the future fate of the church.I imagine the listener standing outside, perhaps on the rocks below with the smell and the sound of the surf close by. In my own Utopia the most profound religious experience happens out of doors.This sound was constructed with my own field recordings of the Rhode Island coast and from recordings from the London Sound Survey. The snippet of the Debussy prelude is from a recording by Ruben Yessayan.
LITERATURE AND SOUND ART COMBINE AS ARTISTS IMAGINE THE SOUNDS OF THOMAS MORE’S UTOPIA
51 sound artists and musicians from across the world reimagine one of the greatest works of English literature, using sound.
The Cities and Memory: Utopia project creates something new from the words of Thomas More and the collective imagination of artists around the world – an entirely new Utopia of sound.
Using a woodcut map from the second edition of Utopia from 1518, sound artists each took a small section of More’s imagined country of Utopia, and created a new soundscape imagining how that place (and the society living in it) might sound.
The result is a collaborative sonic imagination of what More’s Utopia might have sounded like, and deals with issues including slavery, religion, freedom and even the current refugee crisis in Europe.
The project is housed on an interactive sound map at www.citiesandmemory.com/utopia, featuring:
- More’s Utopia divided into 30 different regions
- 51 sound artists, musicians and field recordists taking part from across the world, each bringing their own interpretation to the project.
The sounds range from musical tracks built out of field recordings from Italy, France, USA, Australia and many other locations; drone and ambient pieces; pieces constructed from readings of the original text and other works; imagined conversations on the island; and even full-scale electronica tracks.
Contributing sound artists come from locations all over the world, including the UK, USA, Canada, Greece, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Australia, Mexico and Sweden.
A free album of highlights from the project, entitled Utopia, will be released via http://citiesandmemory.bandcamp.com at the end of October to mark the end of the project.
The project is one part of a global field recording & sound art work called Cities and Memory, which aims to present and remix the sounds of the world through a global sound map in which every location has two sounds: a documentary field recording and a reimagining of that sound.
The project, which has had 220,000 listens in the past 18 months, records both the current reality of a place, and also present its imagined, alternative counterpart – in effect remixing the world, one sound at at time. Every faithful field recording is accompanied by a reworking, a processing or an interpretation that imagines that place and time as somewhere else, somewhere new. The listener can choose to explore locations through their actual sounds, or explore interpretations of what those places could be – or to flip between the two different sound worlds at leisure.
There are currently almost 900 sounds featured on the sound map at www.citiesandmemory.com, spread over 40 countries.
Cities and Memory has grown rapidly over the past year, with features on The Atlantic, Vice, Slate.com, CBC national radio in Canada, Resonance FM in the UK and specialist sound sites such as Creative Field Recording and the London Sound Survey.
The project is completely open to submissions from field recorders, musicians or anyone with an interest in exploring sound worldwide. The field recording and sound art communities have embraced the concept: more than 170 field recordists and sound artists from as far afield as Calcutta, Los Angeles and Cape Town have taken part, providing field recordings and radical reimaginings of global sounds.
More’s Utopia explores the society, behaviour, law, customs and culture of the inhabitants of Utopia – a coinage that can be seen to mean both ‘good/ideal place’ and ‘nowhere’.
However, despite the space given over to the topography of the country and the appearance of its cities and people, there are only a scattered handful of references to sound.
The most notable reference to sound is simple: ““[The Utopians] entertain themselves with the delights let in at their eyes, their ears, and their nostrils as the pleasant relishes and seasoning of life, which Nature seems to have marked out peculiarly for man, since no other sort of animals contemplates the figure and beauty of the universe… nor do they apprehend the concords or discords of sound.”
What were those concords and discords of sound that so delighted or repulsed the Utopians?
When developing film, vary dilution with HC-110, not time and get the contrast you want.Read More
I work at an art museum where I photograph art. One of the many perks of the job is that I get to meet lots of amazing artists who ask me to photograph their work. Such was the case when I met the artist Sue McNally. Sue is a great painter and among the works that I photographed for her was this series of portraits (mostly self portraits) that I was really taken with.
I asked her if we could do a trade for a portrait of me in that style, because it would be cool and like many photographers I hate to have my picture taken. Sue agreed and we did it! It was an interesting process to watch. I found it interesting that although our methods are obviously different, it seemed to me that our aims are very similar when I attempt to do a portrait with a camera.
Check out Sue's work here: http://suemcnally.com
A walk through the East Side railroad tunnel
A few weeks ago I had the chance to walk the length (and record sound) of the former New Haven Railroad tunnel that lies beneath the historic streets of Providence's east side. It is a very interesting walking experience. The only entrance is from the east portal, just below Gano Street. There is a good amount of standing water there both outside the portal and within, probably close to a foot deep. The portals have been blocked up with steel panels but attempts to keep the tunnel totally closed are regularly thwarted, in fact it looks as though someone with a torch cut a small door in one side. Aside from what light comes through the door and the gaps in the steel it is very dark and very cool. Although it was built for two tracks only one remains and the roof is very high, probably to accommodate the electric catenary that once was strung above one of the tracks.
The water recedes some as you travel west, the ballasted road bed is mostly dry with small streams along both walls. The line is very straight, and only hooks near the western end. The walls are decorated with graffiti and there are the scattered remains of many adventures and parties, and the rusted hulk of one abandoned car. Near the western portal sunlight streams through gaps in the steel panels and again there is deep standing water on the tracks.
Water drips constantly and reverberates throughout the tunnel. There is a sulfur smell in the air and in places it seems very cave like with stalactites hanging from the roof and partnered stalagmites forming on the rail bed and in one spot on the top of the rail. There is no way out on the western side down below Benefit street so it's a there and back walk. The distance one way is a little more than a mile. Bring rubber boots and flashlights and don't go alone. It is state property and technically it is trespassing so take care.
A number of years ago I put this research together for an exhibition. East Side Monthly thought so much of it that they lifted it whole and published it without credit as part of a story they did on the tunnel, just in case it seems familiar.
The East Side railroad tunnel opened with much fanfare on November 15th, 1908. Tunnel laborers held a small demonstration and the story headlined that Sunday's Providence Journal. On that day the emperor of China died, Governor Higgins issued the annual Thanksgiving proclamation and a somber ceremony marking the closing of the Fox Point railroad station followed the last "transfer car" downtown. The Fox Point station had served the city for 73 years but had been made obsolete by the tunnel which would bring trains directly in to Union Station on Exchange Terrace.
The tunnel project had begun two years before, on the 20th of April, 1906. Also on that day a streetcar jumped track on Plainfield Street and a massive fire following an earthquake destroyed most of the city of San Francisco. Crews working east from Benefit Street. and west from Gano Street met below Cooke Street on April 7, 1908, a day earlier than expected. The night shift of the westerly section won the honors for digging the farthest in one shift, and every one was given the next day off. On that day the New York Conference of Methodists rescinded a long standing ban on dancing.
Originally the tunnel had two tracks, one of which was electrified, as the line to Bristol and Fall River was served by electric interurban cars until 1934. The tunnel also provided a route to Boston for trains that did not need to stop at Pawtucket. Traffic patterns changed, the second track was removed in the 1950's and the tunnel became a route for freight trains only. The line to Bristol was abandoned in 1976. In 1981 ownership of the tunnel itself was transferred to the State of Rhode Island and the last train traveled through it shortly after that. No ceremony was noted.
On May 1st. 1993, a group of students gathered at the western portal below Benefit Street for a May Day party. They lit fires, put on animal masks, pounded on drums until early the next morning, when police arrived. Fearing the activities in the tunnel were unsafe, they attempted to get the students to leave. The situation escalated quickly as some students refused to go, the police responded with pepper spray and the students answered with rocks and bricks. The ensuing melee ended with many injuries and a badly damaged police car, and the police charge in the next day's paper that they had encountered "satanic rituals". As a result the portals on both ends were sealed up with steel doors, which soon were forced open.
The Benefit St. Armory was moved to its present location to make way for the tunnel. The building was leased by the state to the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery, an organized military company, for a term of one thousand years from June 23, 1852, at a yearly rental of six and a quarter cents. The military company wished to maintain this lease arrangement rather than have a new building built, so the New Haven Railroad made the necessary land purchases and moved the armory building with mule teams and logs.
The cost of the project, which included the bridge over the Seekonk river and the approach to Union station was two million dollars. No casualties were reported during construction. The area surrounding the west portal, the scene of the "student riot" is now a parking lot.
Making the photographs for the 2015 Most Endangered Properities show.Read More
PPS MEP20 Exhibit Opening.Read More
I have a number of questions about the proposed Providence streetcar line as many people do, most of which can be summed up as "what the hell?". The route is an interesting choice. It seems like a nice gift to Brown to tie together their two growing campuses or campii if I may. That gets me thinking that we shouldn't stop and there and I've come up with a few other ideas along those lines. Johnson and Wales could have a water taxi to bring together their downtown home at the Hall of Justice with the ever expanding Harborside campus. Providence College doesn't seem to need much more than better late night food delivery so each student can be given a four year Foodler account. RISD can have a mag-lev elevated line. It wouldn't actually go anywhere as each stop would be self-referential but it would look really cool and the wayfinding graphics would be elegantly incomprehensible. Finally, I propose a high speed rail link for URI from downtown to Kingston. As no one in Rhode Island would ever consider a trip of such distance, that one can remain theoretical, with only a modest perpetual taxpayer investment. I'm ready to jump on this band wagon before it leaves the station to get my ticket punched to cross the bridge to the future, how about you?
Here lies memory. I guess it has to be buried somewhere, and where better than in a photograph.Read More
Confusion and mystery are great motivators.Read More