Monday, February 21, 2011

Outta the Mouths of Babes

This post (along with my renewed vows of devotion to self-portraiture) is dedicated to my 11 year old do I ever love that kid...

(Snapped on 2/14/11)

So...about a week ago, I proudly unveiled my Little Pretties photography blog to my children. They seemed to like it ok, but I was expecting a slightly more enthusiastic response? Especially since I thought they'd be relieved that I've been writing about and snapping pics. in which I never appear at all (much less naked or doing something naughty). 

After barely even bothering to feign interest in my new project however, they went back to doing more exciting things like homework, and showering, and brushing teeth. Perhaps in response to the unmistakable "WTF?!" look on my face, my son changed the subject with, "Do you ever do your pictures of you anymore, Mom?" I was like, "I dunno...yeah sometimes. I took those ones in the snow, recently...remember?" And although I was prepared not to like what he'd say, I continued to answer him with a couple more questions, "Why do you ask, little buddy? Are you glad that I haven't been takin' as many?"

I kept my composure, after hearing his response...although there was definitely some water in my eyes...

He answered quickly, in a quiet voice, his eyes downcast - it was almost as if he'd wanted to broach the topic for awhile...but he just wasn't sure if he should. And when my precious only son gave me the straight skinny as he saw it, saying (something to the effect of), "I think your self-portraits are the best out of all the pictures you take. Like, they're the ones that could actually make you money"...I was dumbstruck...

I hugged and thanked him, without going overboard...meanwhile on the inside - I was fist-pumping and turning cartwheels and fighting tears of joy. The realization that my 11 year old son wasn't at all embarrassed by my photos (the very same photos that many grown-ups can't handle) and was (in so many words) nudging me back into self-portraiture - was unequivocally the best thing to have happened in a very long time...  

I lay in bed that night, plotting my mini-renaissance, which would begin without delay...the very next day.

(Snapped on 2/14/11)

Just as the weather man had predicted, the next morning was sunny, breezy, and unseasonably warm - and I awoke knowing exactly where to shoot. 

Over the summer, following photographing myself on his family's farm - one of my son's favorite friends told me about a spooky, old house that he and his brother had heard of, looked for, and found. His description of the place, along with his account of the only time he'd ever been there - was intriguing as well as unsettling. He spoke of gang graffiti, and a burned up mattress, and a tree that had fallen onto the house. He said that he and his brother had caught glimpses of suspicious shadows, and they both heard a man shout, "Get away from here!" Nevertheless, my son's friend and I agreed - that if I could be brave enough to go there alone - it would be an excellent spot for self-portraits.

Since first hearing about it, I had always kept the spooky house filed away as one of those "Eh...I'll get to it someday" locations. I don't know if I was too lazy or too chicken, or what - but I consistently put other shoots ahead of it in line. Last Monday however, I could think of no better venue in which to celebrate Spring's early arrival, and my emergence from an unplanned hibernation.

(Snapped on 2/14/11)

Not even in my wildest imagination - had I pictured the place being even close to that level of disgusting or terror-inducing. From the moment I snuck around the red gates to set foot on that godforsaken homestead - throughout the entire two plus hours that I shot my pics. there - and even for an hour or so after I'd left - I trembled and my stomach was all done up in felt so damn good to be back in my element.

I couldn't find the house at first, and since I was still trying to figure out if anyone besides me might be on the property (I'd noticed fresh tire tracks in the muddy driveway)...I started off by settling in slowly, snapping Holga pics. of the dilapidated out buildings and random, scattered debris. 

I wish that I had a soundtrack to accompany this post....The wind had picked up substantially by then, and each time it lifted enormous sections of metal roofing up off of the collapsed barn rafters, and then slammed them back down with remarkable force - I just about leapt from my skin.

Eventually I did find the spooky, old house - tucked deep into a corner of the abandoned farm. I hesitantly approached it, chanting in just above a whisper, "Hello? Is anybody here?" Torn plastic stapled to pane-less windows, whipped and flapped wildly in the wicked wind...and an aluminum storm door that repeatedly swung open, clanging hard against the side of the miserable house - made certain that I did not become complacent. I was seriously as close to crapping my pants, as one can be - without actually doing was awesome...

I worked my way throughout the entire house, taking an absurd number of pics. with my iPhone and Holga...and when I reached the last room on the upper level - I knew it was time to break out the Cybershot and do what I'd really come there to do... 

For the duration of my time spent on the farm and in the house, I was way more worried about a confrontation with a real human...than of being startled by something supernatural. But while taking the pictures of myself in the yellow room, things definitely got a weeee bit weird. I would set up my camera, making sure that everything I wanted in the frame - was there, i.e. the train cars on the floor and the child-sized claw marks on the door (creepy). But every time I checked the pictures to see how they looked, they were either blurry or totally different than how I'd set 'em up. It was like the camera tipped up or aimed right, at the last second. The only photo of the whole group, that was even close to being right, was this test shot that I took, before I got started snapping selfpics.

Frustrated over having gotten yet another bad shot - I was like, "Ok...what the freak am I doing wrong? How am I screwing these up so badly?!" and right then the door to the yellow room slammed shut so hard, that the whole house literally shook. That relentless wind had come in through broken windows and busted walls, absolutely howling through the hallways and rooms, all afternoon - and the door to the yellow room had never budged before that. I took it as a sign that my time was now up. I got dressed, grabbed my gear - thanked the old house - and got my ass outta there, in a hurry... 

(Snapped on 2/17/11)

(You wanna know the really crazy part? I went back to take more pics., just a few days later...yup)

Honestly? If it wasn't for the combined input of my son and his friend, I'd probably still be sulking around here, pretending to be fine...

But I'm not! Cuz Winter Break is over, Baby - and I've come out of hiding...thanks entirely to the candor of an eleven year old boy... 

Friday, February 18, 2011

YOU Know Where to Find Me

(Snapped on 1/26/11)

As I mentioned last post, putting my house on the market was instrumental to kicking off my big purge of 2011. After tackling all the obvious things like - organizing (see below), thoroughly cleaning, bringing my contractor in - to fix what was broken, boxing up stuff in anticipation of the move, and taking tons of unwanted junk to Goodwill - I kinda segued to straightening up other areas of my life...which somewhat surprisingly, seemed in more disarray than even my household had gotten.

(Snapped on 12/01/10)

The attic of my studio before it's major overhaul...

(Snapped on 1/14/11)

...and after...aaaahhhh...much better

Assessing whether or not social networking was a viable venue through which to promote my "art", was at the top of my new "to-do" list. I considered every aspect of my presence on Twitter, Facebook and flickr, and what I concluded was this: I had grown disenchanted with all three...for a wide variety of reasons. First off, I couldn't really see where I was reaping great returns from perpetually plastering my pics. all over the internet (and by the time I finally split - that's practically all I was doing) In making my self-portraits so abundantly accessible, was I not also essentially devaluing them? (That is - assuming they were of value in the first place) It honestly felt like folks were starting to tune me out. Understandably, they seemed to be turning a deaf ear to my constant droning on about nothing much other than my pics. and my blog. I was shouting tweets and status updates - into a virtual echo chamber, which was a leetle demoralizing at times. Conversely, some of the attention that I was still getting, verged on being invasive, pandering and piteous...which was anything but consolatory, and made me retreat even more.

In the beginning, I had high hopes that Twitter and Facebook would facilitate exposing my work to a wider audience - and they did! Surely this meant that I stood a better chance of getting more recognition as a self-portraiture artist...right? Ummm...not so much...

I still don't know for sure if the limited response to most of my contributions to FB and Twitter - was because my stuff isn't worthy of being acknowledged, or if people in general aren't inclined to help or even encourage each other. Could it be, they don't wanna see anyone else get more than they have? Perhaps. Unless of course, they already do have more...and on the rare occasions that people with "clout" have expressed an interest in my work and a willingness to help me in whatever way that they can - they don't. They just dangle the offer like a carrot. I have never understood this. Whenever I feel inclined to try and help someone, I do it...sometimes without them knowing it, and always expecting nothing in return.

I don't mean to sound like my time spent social networking was all bad. I definitely made a few really good friends, and reconnected with some that I hadn't heard from or seen in years. And the nurture that I felt from this handful of gems - never did and still doesn't go unnoticed by me. That being said - during the three weeks that I've been off of Twitter and FB, out of 750 followers and friends collectively - 12 whole people have contacted me...and two of those only did so, cuz they were miffed that (they mistakenly believed) I'd deleted and blocked them on FB. None of this was at all surprising to me, and my feelings definitely aren't hurt in any way...instead, I feel it absolutely validates my decision to flee.

The wonderful Pixiq article that benevolent stranger - Haje Jan Kamps - wrote about me and my self-portraits, is an example of how social networking can be a positive thing. As soon as it went live, I waited anxiously, wondering if the article would trigger my big "break". But after a flurry of interest and only about a week's worth of time, the article seemed to have all but vanished from the site. Good god...was that my fifteen minutes of fame?! And that's when I started to really question whether or not - my pictures even qualify as art.

Maybe my ex is right...maybe I'm delusional to think that my obsession with dash photography is a viable art form, when it may be nothing more than a dead end hobby. The way I look at it - just because someone spends the majority of their time, doing something that they truly love to do - doesn't automatically mean the results will be praiseworthy.

I cringed as I reflected on all of this, embarrassed that I'd been so sure for so long, that I was doing the right thing by forcing my pictures on Twitter followers and Facebook friends. When in all probability - they'd grown tired long ago - of my incessant, shameless self-promotion. Before officially leaving FB, I'd gotten into a daily habit of deleting "friends" who were anything but, as well as "hiding" people whose updates annoyed the bejeesus outta me. But now there I was, left to wonder - had I become one of those people? Quel horreur!

All it takes is a few stiff liquor drinks, and I'll do practically anything. As was the case the night that I gathered the courage to douche my FB and Twitter accounts. And you know something? I didn't regret it in the morning...

(Snapped on 1/27/11) 

Right after I quit whoring myself out on the internet, things got mighty quiet and QUICK. I did miss carrying on conversations with several friends old and new, and the cheerful, upbeat witty posts of one or two...and for a moment, I thought I might've made a grave mistake. But weaning myself off of the social networking tit - wound up to be much easier than I ever expected it would be, and I honestly haven't noticed any negative side effects since leaving. Truth is, I'm far more productive than I ever was before, snapping boatloads of photos nearly every single day. I only sit at my computer now, to edit pics. or to write, and because of that - I spend more time with my kids, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and my stress level is dramatically lower.

At first I thought that what I was doing was maybe hiding from, or running away from certain problems, but I prefer to think of this as my way of "unplugging" - which is completely in keeping with my "living simply" bent. And I have to say, without the distraction of constantly wading through all of the (or composing my own) - inane, whiney, attention-seeking updates and tweets on Facebook and Twitter - I am far more focussed on the things that I truly love best: parenting, photography and writing...

It's still hard for me to gauge whether or not my self-portraits are actually art, but whenever someone asks, "So, what do you do?" I reflexively answer with, "I am an artist"...

Clearly I'm incapable of completely cutting the cord, since I've continued to blog despite my aversion to social networking, but I have decided to do a few things the old fashioned way...the way that artists got exposure before the internet existed. And if nothing else, I should find out fairly fast - if what I'm doing is indeed art...or is not…

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Less is (Not Always) More

(Snapped on 1/23/11)

2011 marks the first year that I can ever remember making a New Year's resolution (two actually) that I'm really serious about wanting to keep. Just a few days into January, I resolved to rid my life of aaaaall the superfluous crap that I've collected over the years...and I'm not just talking about tangible crap either. Along with purging my house of nonessential items and belongings that are literally of no value to me anymore - I've been eliminating "things" that distract me from being productive, and relationships that bring me no joy. 

My second goal for 2011 - is to sell my house and my studio, and move to my favorite run-down cabin on the river...which is in a lotta ways - a derivative of my first resolution. I want less land and less house to havta maintain. I want to move into the little river house with less possessions. I wanna be forking out less money for utilities, insurance and real estate taxes...and probably most important - I want to live someplace where I at least feel like I'm less visible to other people. 

Scaling back, paring down, living simply - whatever you wanna call it - has sort of become my theme for 2011..and so far I've been diligent about abiding by the guidelines that I've laid out for myself. 

(Snapped on 1/24/11)

Putting my house on the market was priority #1, and was possibly the best way to ensure that I got started with the purge right away. I have to always be ready in the event a prospective buyer decides they want to stop by, and with fewer random items scattered about, it's a million times easier to get the place picked up at a moment's notice. Needless to say, getting (and keeping) the house in tip top condition, plus packing up boxes in preparation for our eventual (fingers crossed) move - has monopolized time that I would've otherwise devoted to my self-portraits. And although this definitely stressed me out a bit, what really gave me a panic - was the idea that using my own house as a backdrop for my pics., might soon be a thing of the past. So, after ending a weeks-long dry spell by staging the pictures in the previous post - I decided to crank out a few here at home. 

(Snapped on 1/25/11)

As soon as I got started, I was totally unenthused about shooting self-portraits in my studio and house because in essence - it was taking the easy way out...and I think that the pictures produced, undeniably prove that point: The fridge pic. is weak...a feeble follow-up to the one I took way back in April '10. The  "baby bottle" shoot felt sorta weird and wrong - and not in a good way, I'm afraid. Coming across as a convincing teenybopper escaped me - both times that I tried to pull it off, and after dismantling my bed and totally rearranging my bedroom - the pictures with the pillow hardly seemed worth the trouble.

(Snapped on 1/27/11)

There had been nothing challenging or thrilling about shooting in the safety and comfort of my own home. I hadn't put myself in harm's way by risking hypothermia or trouble with property owners and Johnny Law, there was no audience of strangers to egg me on, there was literally nothing controversial about how I got the pics., thus no real story to tell. Shooting in a safe environment had given me a terrible bout of ennui, and because of that - I wasn't at all on point and my performance was regrettably sub-par.

(Snapped on 1/30/11)

All of this worried me a tremendous lot, and I struggled to come up with a reasonable explanation for why even after my refreshing hiatus - I still seemed to be losing steam...why something that had been my be all/end all - was suddenly a thorn in my side...

Maybe I wasn't as good a multi-tasker as I'd thought. Maybe sandwiching a few self-portraits in between trying to sell my house, and my recent obsession with analog photography - made it nearly impossible for me to give anything in my life - ample attention. Maybe I'd plateaued. Maybe I'd run out of clever ideas. Maybe I'd raised the bar too high...maybe in becoming such an adrenaline junkie - in order to "get my fix" - I'd have to be willing to face jail time or real physical harm...and maybe because of that, I was losing my nerve.

It's confounding to me, that my habit of publicly peeling off layers of clothing, had never made me feel quite as naked and scared, as I've felt while stripping away the excess in my private life...  

But this happens to people, right? From time to time we step back from what we're doing, evaluate the situation and make adjustments where needed. We prioritize by deciding what's most important to us, and as a result - certain other things take a back seat...or - disappear altogether...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Don't Shoot the Messenger

(Both pics. snapped on 1/23/11)

I could not believe it when I checked the calendar and realized that three...whole...weeks had passed since I'd snapped my most recent self-portraits. The fact that I hadn't really noticed 'til then or even missed my fave hobby at all, seemed to indicate that I must've been even more burnt out than I'd initially suspected. I hadn't let my love of taking pics. go completely dormant, though. Thanks to my lovable little Holgas, and the panorama setting on my Cybershot - I'd spent most of the last three weeks (re)discovering the beauty of photographing things other than myself.

Following my brief hiatus from dash photography, I was well-rested, refreshed and ready to return to it - and I was in luck - because the urge to stage a new batch of self-portraits coincided with a surprise opportunity to do so, amid a glorious setting to boot. 

Unfortunately, I cannot divulge the details of this shoot, since one of the owners of the property where I took these snaps - requested (not to my face - via messenger, of course) that I withhold any information that might reveal their identity. Why? Because they worried that local folks who came across this entry, might mistakenly perceive - allowing me to shoot on their land - to be an endorsement of what I'm doing as an artist...perish the thought. The other owner however, had been totally cool with me killing a couple of hours - tromping around his woods and fields and frozen pond, armed with my growing arsenal of cheap cameras. His only stipulation was that I please keep my clothes on - a request that I honored not only because I was so shocked by and appreciative of his generosity, but also because it was flippin' 26 degrees and breezy out that the thought of being naked was slightly less than appealing.

This is my third attempt to write this entry the way I'd intended, before being restricted by that pesky gag order. Each time, I found myself succumbing to a tendency to vent my anger and frustration over cowardly, small-minded people. But the tone of this post was never meant to be negative or nasty, because the point has always been - to recognize and thank someone who has been candid with me about how he personally feels about my work, while consistently hearing me out and treating me with decency and respect. He is the "cooler" of the two property owners mentioned above, who (probably) against his better judgement - still afforded me the privilege of shooting on his beautiful back 400. He is the dreaded messenger - the person who most commonly gets saddled with the uncomfortable job of relaying to me - third party gripes, concerns and oftentimes ridiculous requests - in regards to me and my pics.. Which consequently makes him the poor soul who must bear the brunt of my ensuing, hostile tirades (I absolutely hate to hear myself yelling at him, over things that other people have said). Although he does not necessarily support or condone my chosen artistic path, his opinion (while definitely difficult to digest, sometimes) is one of the few that actually matters to me. He is forthright, honest and trustworthy - human qualities that I rarely see exhibited in tandem. But on top of all that - he's rational, sensible, gentle and kind. 

He and I don't always get along, in fact sometimes we don't even really like each other - and maybe that's why I've been stubborn for so long, about letting him know how much I admire and appreciate his unflappable integrity. Mostly though, I want to apologize for the times that I jump down his throat, when he's only doing what someone else is too scared to do...and to thank him for always being straight with me, but at the same time - understanding and reasonable. Such a pity there aren't more peeps like him around here...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Full Circle

(All pics. snapped on 1/02/11)

Aight you guys...I promise that I'm nearly done belaboring the whole "One Thing Leads to Another" theme. This is what's wound up to be a seemingly eternal (for me at least) four-part series. I promise to (try and) keep this post short and sweet, cuz - I don't know about you, but I personally - am more than ready to move on to something new...and different...

By the time I took the pictures that appear in this post, more than a week had passed since my kids left my house after a delightful Christmas morning together - to embark on a tropical vacation with their dad. It was also their last day of vacation, which meant - it was my last full day to devote to self-portraiture - for the next five days, or thereabouts...and I have to say - I woke up way more excited about my children coming home, than about punctuating an already industrious and productive week by staging the complementary shoot to the first installment of this cluster of connected posts. 

This may sound far-fetched but, after a solid week of planning, posing and snapping - along with reviewing and editing hundreds of pictures of myselfI was sick to death of looking at images of my own face and body. The thought of so much as catching a glimpse of even just one more self-portrait - reminded me of something from a way long time ago, back when I was a young adult living in Richmond, Va....

It usually happened late at night, following an evening spent getting my drink on. I'd weave drive past the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on my way home, and find myself incapable of ignoring the neon announcement that at that very moment - there were "Hot Doughnuts Now". I would then do an illegal U-turn, peel pull into the parking lot, stagger saunter inside, teeter precariously on my stool sit up to the counter and order one dozen of the warm, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth-like-cotton-candy, so-sweet-they-hurt-your-teeth confections - determined to demolish every last one of 'em. 

The first few always tasted so damn good, that I greedily shoveled one after another into my salivating mouth, before even swallowing the one that was already in there. When the box was about half empty, I slowed down my pace a bit, as my tummy began to complain (although my taste buds insisted that I plod ever onward). By the time I'd get to those last couple of doughnuts though - the idea of consuming even one more tiny morsel - triggered my gag-reflex (and the threat of far worse). I always swore after devouring so many of those delectable, decadent delights - that I could never eat another Krispy Kreme "Hot Doughnut - Now" or for as long as I should ever chance to live. The cycle not surprisingly, repeated itself however, not to be broken until I finally moved away from RVA, and to a town where there are no Krispy Kreme doughnut shops to tempt me. 

And so on the morning of the second day of 2011, the acute malaise with which I was suddenly stricken, and which I directly linked to undertaking the bookend shoot necessary to bring this group of posts full circle - mirrored my sentiment towards the mere thought of gorging myself on those last coupla Krispy Kreme honestly felt as if there was no way in hell that I could force myself to do such a thing...I had reached my absolute limit...

I did rally for the photo shoot though, telling myself that if I could manage to trudge through it, I'd be rewarded with a much-needed respite from self-portraiture...during which time I might focus on foolin' around with my new Holga cameras and revisit my neglected love of panorama photography. After my brief sabbatical, I hoped to reemerge as a refreshed and rejuvenated self-portraiture artist...with a few new tricks up my sleeve, perhaps. 

(First Holga pic. on the roll)

It's painfully obvious when looking at the two self-portraits in this post - that my heart was clearly "not in it" that day. I was freezing cold, my poses were inexcusably vapid, and in a rare twist of mindset - I was self-conscious about being spotted by passing motorists (and while wearing that much clothing - go figure). Despite all of that though, I drove away from the old post office at Gaylord (where this whole thing began three entries ago, mind) feeling optimistic, upbeat and astonishingly inspired. I had mustered the gumption to tackle the shoot (the dismal results were insignificant at that point) whereby bringing this story to a close - bonus. But more importantly, I had indeed added something "new" and something "different" - to my previously mono-dimensional repertoire…