Today I wrote a 500 + word bio on myself and my work (in the third person) for a photo magazine in Spain. After I sent it I realized I did not actually get into details about the process I mainly use at the moment, and that all 24 images requested by them were sent in were using this civil war process.
I emailed them and ask if they wanted a technical and historical bit on the process. Partially due to that some people will just think “Oh what a nice B&W image”. Not fully understanding the labor involved with the work etc. etc. over let’s say a Digital/enhanced image and or scanned B&W film photo. Some really light up when I explain how it was made. However, thinking about why I did not do it in the first place I realized that the process is not me or my work. It’s just a process, as are any other processes I have used in the past. It is, though, a process I use to express myself in my art and the messages I chose to give.
If a person is too attached to a process and it describes them, then there is a lot missing, I think, from their foundation. To me, this is why I don’t really care so much about being a photo history teacher in my bio but to relay my motive, my inspirations and how I got there. The why is much more important as the how. Because there are plenty of other techniques I use and have used when I felt it appropriate to bring my vision to life. With so many people hanging on a process and a technique or gimmick I might say to get ahead they are not prepared to look very deep into themselves at any level. It’s so incredibly common and hurts the industry as most will publish a lot of crappy imagery and leave it there with nothing to say or to add. Like leaving one’s dirty socks on the couch. Everyone can smell it, but cause they don’t live in your place you don’t care. Just notice how colorful the sock is. How long will people be willing to come look and hold their nose. Maybe a bad way to describe it, and I know I have been there as well at times in my growth. However, I think once we find a way to get passed the meaningless spectacle it’s important to share and make this discussion available to people so people can think about things critically. Learn and make progress.
I was kinda happy about this coming in full light as I always felt this and thought it but had not gained the language to write about it properly.
Just to be clear I write with cause I can. I take a lot of risk in being seen a certain way by those that I am probably accusing. In the end, it’s just me and myself with my opinions. It’s all just an essay of my mindset and will be helpful to me later when I grow up! If I ever do. If it’s helpful to others that read this then all for the better.
When I read from a poster in a group that they are selling their dark room film developing stuff cause they are getting “into” wet plate collodion I feel a tragic sadness for them actually. I kind of cringe a bit as well. With that statement alone you have just marked your death for a temporary fix to a larger problem. DON”T SELL YOUR DARKROOM FILM DEVELOPING GEAR!! As a college trained photographer, I think this is simply a stupid thing to do either way. One must be able to explore all forms of your craft. To be able to understand oneself and what they do better. It’s like an actor never having read or tried even to take on a character in a Shakespeare play. Unless you are so in love with the style and acting technique you will end up back in the modern soap opera or doing what you can to make a living.
Many galleries won’t even touch collodion anymore. That small window of sudden popularity is over. All the plain janes have already gotten their dirty hands all over it and ruined it for everyone that actually is making work as an artist, to be popular and thinking they are an “instant artist” just because they can make a collodion plate image. They attach themselves to the tech and never leave this two-dimensional mindset. Truth is, this is the only mindset and will most likely never bring anything more than this to the table.
As a photographer, I think this is an important thing to discuss and debate. If we go by the way of the muses some of us will never leave. I work extremely hard to bring images with meaning, impact and that have a soul. Not just the magic that we attach to the randomness of the wet plate process, but the actual relationship with the subject. There is always a purpose. Even if I don’t know it when I take the image. This is to me why I can call it art. Not arts and crafts. I’m not making fucking tie dye shirts people.
There is a place for it all. The crafts and the artisans work. But to make the work with no passion is just a sin as well as just as much a sin to make works with no skillset and just passion. Cause you have to know how to make it happen! Know the rules before you start to break them!! These are all old ideas that work for a reason. It’s not conservatism here its ideas coming from many years of practice. Yes, the current state much modern art is “decay”. This is great! I love that. However, a boring, meaningless, tech-driven portrait is still a boring, meaningless, tech-driven portrait. No matter how perfectly made, it’s meaningless except for the action of making it and who cares? Only that person. The unskilled version can be just the same.
So back to my original thought and why it’s my title and why I don’t think people should start selling their film gear for their plate gear. By all means, sell that 30-megapixel sony though if you want to learn about photography with any depth. But not your Jobo!! It’s not worth it. You will be back in the 20th century dark room and it won’t be yours. You will regret it. Wet plates popularity will vanish eventually. Many people will stop doing it cause it’s actually hard work and there is very little money in hard work these days it seems.
If you want to be an “artist” go study art. Take art history, do some illustrations, and try your hand at painting. Make a sculpture and then come to photography and see what you can do with it. maybe then we can talk “Artist”. Have I done all that? No, however, I have done enough of it to say I have made a start. I did get an art degree. I did have a healthy illustration hobby in my youth. I started shooting photography as a hobby when I was 10 and returned to it on and off for decades. I started writing short stories when I was about ten years old as well. My learning disabilities in even special schools kept me from moving very far in any direction. I had the advantage of growing up in a creative home. Both my parents were Opera Singers. My Mother Sang at Alice Tully Hall toured with musicals like Camelot and sang worldwide. She retired from Opera to become a playwright and director. She was also a talented painter. My father sang twelve seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC as their lead Tenor and also sang worldwide. He was known as the Mozart Tenor in Germany.
Do my parents make me an artist? Hell no. However, I did pay attention. I was influenced by them and my experience is embedded in all of my work if you look for it. Art is easy when you know yourself. It’s hard to know yourself. It takes years and years and years. You also need skills. Understanding of techniques and so on. Idea’s, themes. Stories to tell. if you have none of those to me you are no artist. You’re just someone with a tool to create and nothing to say. This has its place but not for very long if you want to gain any depth in your work. There are plenty of technical teachers out there that are useful to the world. Are needed. Plenty of craftsmen that make work with a purpose but don’t pose as artists. Even though many of them are.
So to take up a process and claim “artist” is just a crime. Don’t sell your darkroom film processing gear. You can make a lot of art with that too. Maybe even more.
I end my possible pontification with two things. A quote from Plato, and a small mixed gallery of photos I have taken over the years with digital camera’s priced at $30K, $3k, film images from 6x6 to 8x10, and plate work from 4x6 to 14x14. The tool in photography is nothing without its content.
“He who approaches the temple of the Muses without inspiration, in the
belief that craftsmanship alone suffices, will remain a bungle and his
presumptuous poetry will be obscured by the songs of the maniacs.”
We The People:
The Timothy Clark Story.
This is a story about an individual that was a victim of a hate crime, it’s intent is to make his story public, and put into discussion the American Narrative. His story is unique, however not to the history of bigotry and racism in this country. This series is meant to spark the question that is obvious to some but not to others. What has changed since the Emancipation Proclamation? What has changed since the Declaration of Independence or first Constitution? Why after so much struggle does this country remain at a stand still on how “some” see people that are different than they are with such negativity. This story tells us about the night of the attempted murder of a black man Timothy Clark by multiple white men. The quick apprehension, trial and sentencing of only one the men. The consequences of the courts lack of justice and the determination for Tim to succeed and not remain a victim.
The meaning of the work it’s not just about one thing. It’s to get people talking and questioning themselves, to others, to make people open their eyes a bit wider. To get Timothy some Justice, and to start a dialog about the American Narrative. The 160 year old photo process that I chose to use to make the set and the connection to the civil war. The particulars of each image, seeing beauty in the flag but not being able to look past the scars and portrait. One is forced to question themselves in some way. Even if they don’t like it. To identify, to sympathize, and see yourself in the work in some ways is my goal. The date of release, July 4th is symbolic. I felt that within the celebration of “our” countries independence, we look at where we can improve on our definition of equal rights. That we might see this so called independence has been held back for some. This needs to change.
“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”
On October 30th, 2015, in Palmdale, C.A., a group of five people at a Halloween party that Tim was leaving attacked, stabbed and beat him. Tim was stabbed in the chest, puncturing his left lung, from one that came from behind. The man stabbed his right bicep, dragging the knife down and around his arm while calling him racial names. The aftermath resulted in Tim almost losing his right arm, loosing much of it’s function. He’s still shooting photography with his other arm even though he’s right handed. over $300K in medical fees, only $200 a month from disability. The man that stabbed Tim was caught and put to trial. The other four were not pursued. They did not charge him with a hate crime and sentenced him in a speedy trial to nine years. As we all can guess, this did not go well for Tim. This felon will likely not serve the whole nine years if he behaves. He showed no remorse what so ever when Tim was allowed to confront him in the court room. Tim has moved from the area and is trying to move forward.
Having known Tim for a while and doing multiple shoots with him in the past this was just shocking and saddening to me. I felt Tim was the kind of guy that was not jaded by his experience. But continued to ask the right questions. I felt passionately about making a series of work that would tell his story visually. The images were created with a process invented in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer called Wet Collodion Process. Every image is made by hand. Created in the same fashion as they once did so many years so on tin or glass plates. This process was mostly used during the civil war. I felt bringing this technique into the story of Tim was very much what was needed to tie both times in our history together. Both a modern work with a modern narrative, however in making collodion plates that also give the none photoshopped old civil war look to the portraits invite us to think about the past and how this story has continued for many, many years. How what is happening now to people like Tim, is in fact taking us back to the past, not moving us forward.
There is so much that can be written here. I hope you will forgive my lack of writing skills and enjoy my visual. The eye of this artist is not always complimented by the written so please continue to visit the site and follow the ongoing updates to this piece. Till then please tell Tim’s story, show the work. Change this nation for the better. It starts with education to those that might end up hating some one else because there skin color is different or they have another language, or religion. Embracing these changes is one step needed for our country to continue thriving forward and thrive. As I wrap up this version of my story I hear the evening fireworks all around town. I can’t help but feel our success as a nation is bitter sweet and our pride some what presumptuous in all the celebration. We cannot rest on yesterdays achievements or stay in a one sided view of the county only told by the ruling class.
Onto the imagery.
1 - First image shows the strength in his face as I realized his determination to live the American dream and be happy. You can even try to kill me but I will still live well. I did not see this until I was ready to take the shot. He still can’t understand why they would want to do what they did. However proud with this modern flag the past is doomed to repeat itself. There is both pride and
2 - One of men came from behind and stabbed him in the chest before he fell to the ground. Wrapped in the American flag and the dream of prosperity.
3 - Once he was beaten by them one man, the only man convicted took the knife and dragged it down his arm. A vicious, hate crime. His arm was almost amputated. They took a vein from his back leg to connect the artery and save the arm.
4 - This image attempts to bring in further the viewer. So that they may place themselves in his story. Without a face. It’s not about him anymore.
5 - This last image is about the ongoing American narrative. For all the other stories to be told or that have not been told. The immigrant, the person of color, and
the American struggle. This opens the door for others to tell their story.
NOTE: Since Tim is still in intensive therapy to gain use of his right arm (his good arm) there has been a go fund me page created to help him stay above water and pay rent. With only $200 a month from disability it’s not even enough to be a homeless person.
His gofundme page is here:https://www.gofundme.com/helptmcfoto