The people who work with me have pointed out that I’m color blind. Fortunately I can tell my greens from reds, so I’m allowed to drive, but apparently I can’t really see the color blue particularly well. This became particularly obvious after that long, angry weekend I previously described. I invited everyone back into the studio and with great pride showed my team The Grey Room, a new set that I had destroyed and then re-sanctified with buckets of grey paint.
Or, as my team pointed out to me… BLUE paint. I’ll take their word, I guess…
I just found this wonderful two-part article called the The Crayolafication of the World that explores the naming of colors, how we got there, and how it has affected our perception. The author explores how different cultures have come about naming colors. It is not as analogous as you’d expect it to be. A lot of cultures don’t make a distinction between blue and green, for instance.
How many colors can you name? I can probably get to fifteen, but that begins reaching into purely descriptive terms. (Rust? Eggplant? Egg yolk? Those might describe East German hair colors for older ladies…)
Part Two of the article gets into the slightly more scientific aspects of color recognition. Children take comparatively long to acquire a nomenclature for the various colors. I can’t recall whether that was the case… It seemed my three sons figured out colors very early, but one thing that I will remember forever was a particular bonding experience with my first son. I’m not sure whether it was simply because I had more time for him than others that weekend, or whether we’re wired to communicate a certain way – we’re both highly communicative… to a fault! But at that time he was walking around pointing at things and saying “Elmo”, possibly one of his first words. Well, I sussed out that he was only pointing at red objects, and Elmo is a red furry Sesame Street monster… and we just spent the rest of the time walking around the house pointing out Elmo-colored things and saying the word “red.”
The point is that language has a lot to do with perception, because language becomes definition. I am completely bilingual (German and English) and can bullshit my way through a number of other languages. To anyone who speaks more than one language, you realize that straight translation is impossible, that all words are loaded with historic and cultural values, and that they have a distinct etymology. This means that people have different experiences because they don’t just get filtered through a personal matrix of reference points, but that there are distinct cultural aspects that define our experiences.
And maybe that’s why I see the set as grey, and my Berlin teams sees it as blue. People here seem to have more words for grey than eskimos have for snow… which is less than I thought.
I’m stumped. I’m not sure how to describe my own photography. My assistant Thomas Schäfer has begun a new project, and I seem to have inspired the guy… he built a set, rented a lot of furniture, and worked with actors to create some highly narrative images. We were talking about this style today, and even though I can think of plenty of photographers who inspire me, who have gone before me, or who I consider contemporaries… I wish I could find a quick phrase to sum up this style.
The great masters of this are Gregory Crewdson and David LeChapelle, but there are guys like Erwin Olaf and Eugenio Recuenco who are doing technically inspiring work.
Maybe it’s a good thing that there isn’t a phrase yet. On some level, it’s a very deliberate process, much more like painting than it is photography. Every item gets carefully placed, and is vested with some meaning… why put a pomegranate there? Why aren’t they looking at each other? Should the light be coming from slightly below the main character? What I do isn’t simply taking a picture, it’s making an image. And that is very distinct and specific way to stage a shot.
…here’s another teaser from my new series, tentatively entitled the Dark Project. Obviously a lot of Caravaggio, but also some Füssli in the mix.
EDIT: I’m just going with “Narrative Photography” for now. It’s kinda what I do …
I don’t like sharing a studio. I’ve tried that, but to be an artist you need to be an alpha-type person. And two alphas don’t share well, and it’s even worse when one artist is serious about work and the other just wants to smoke pot all day and make a lot of declarations and promises. I know there is that clichée of the lone artist toiling away in a studio somewhere. That may actually be true in the creative phase, but the rest of the time being an artist means being a cultural entrepreneur. As an artist I need to work even harder than a businessman. If I build a business, I can identify a need for my product or service in the marketplace and try to meet that need. But no one needs art. So I have to hustle twice as hard.
Not surprisingly, the artist-as-slacker vision is most convenient to slacker-artists. Berlin is filled with photographers, painters, writers and musicians who spend all night drinking and all afternoon in cafés complaining about the lack of paid work, publishers who don’t “get it” or amateur gallerists. Many believe that working hard is somehow anathema to the arts, and a form of selling out… or at least find themselves overwhelmed by the fun to be had. Read James Coleman’s article “In Berlin, you never have to sleep” to see what I mean.
So I no longer share my studio space, but I am also very busy, and I need my space for my own work. I have assembled a very talented team, and some of the members will occasionally utilize the space for their own creative efforts. I frequently get asked whether my studio is available for rent, and the answer is an unequivocal NO! But every once in a rare while I will lend my space to a photographic artist who is working hard, has a creative vision for a specific project, and is also a friend.
All of that was just a long preamble. Here’s a video that Tomaso Baldessarini put together to show a portrait project that he has begun. It’s called Anti.Mono.Stereo. I believe he works very hard, and I think his portrait project is interesting. The few images he’s shown look very different than this video, but I believe he is after a certain mood, and is capturing faces devoid of emotions. The face is a person’s most powerful tool in the expression of feeling, in the communication of self, but what does that tool look like when it is not being used?
Tomaso shot this at my studio, and is shooting again in a few weeks. And I’m in the video because I am one of the faces in the project, and that’s why I’m sharing it on my blog. I’ll link to his work again when he’s ready to show the work in a proper gallery.
I don’t know anymore when I began using the phrase Worst Case Scenario. If I had to guess it would have been in the late 1980s, when I was selling syndicated television and advertisement in New York. Everyone wanted to be Gordon Gecko, but at least in TV we had real swagger. Or so I thought, going to work in a suit with suspenders every day, while humping it to the Fordham University dark room at night to finish my degree.
I have a lot of other phrases. Some come and go, a few change their meaning, while there will be those that somehow define me.
I laid awake tonight next to my four-year old, waiting for him to drift off to sleep. I was wondering what it would be like if phrases were people. How cool would it be if you could take Worst Case Scenario out on the town for the weekend? A nice French dinner, or some Korean chicken shack in Kreuzberg. Just driving around and hitting a few museums. Do you think Worst Case Scenario would come bearing gifts? Hopefully she’d take me into a hotel room and fuck me like crazy till I couldn’t walk properly. Her tight little body grinding down on me until the neighbors complained… Or maybe we’d just drive through town endlessly listening to Trentemøller. Who knows…
Goodness, I can only imagine a visit from “It is what it is.”
Or “End of Line”.
Social indoctrination. It’s what is expected of every father. I’m sure his friends and his wife complimented him on what an attentive and good father he is. And I’m sure they prayed together, too.
Think about how you raise your children. Feeding them into the machine is irresponsible. You think you’re making their life easier. You may be right. But it’s still wrong.
And these days, the prevailing view often dresses itself up as the underdog, the minority view.
You cannot teach your children desire and ambition if the goals you set for them are standardized and without real meaning. Good grades for a good college for a good job is the path of the machine. It won’t grant you the tools to exceed there, that requires tools acquired along the way. But once those are in place, the basic box-think becomes irrelevant.
I recently posted this on Facebook, but will repeat it here…
I have decided to change how I create, distribute, and – most importantly – consume Social Media. I needed to change behavior, because I have spent too much time on Facebook reading stories about issues or food or pets that don’t inspire me, make me feel closer to people, or stimulate me.
After finding myself with over 1,800 friends and several hundred subscribers, I have moused over many people’s name on Facebook and turned off the “Show in Newsfeed” option. Beyond that, I have created a few lists. There are people on Facebook that I am connected with who are interesting, or fun, or inspirational, or simply nice… or all of that combined. I also have family and old friends on Facebook, and it’s a nice way to stay in touch with people. They’re part of lists that I check regularly. I also have two lists of Pages which matter to me. But honestly, my goal is to decrease the amount of mindless time I spend scrolling through Facebook… wish me luck.
So… I have decided to spend more time blogging. I’ve had this WordPress blog for years before I started Facebooking. Blogging allows for greater depth, and I have more control over my images.
I have also fired up my Tumblr again, although I will be using it to read a lot of art Tumblrs, while also feeding out some of the images I have created in the past. I am liking Tumblr a lot right now… It’s really visual DJing for me, putting images into a curated flow.
I’ve had a Twitter account for years and don’t really know how to use it, except that I’ve now set it up to tweet my Blog posts and my Tumblr stuff. If someone could link me to a coherent Twitter-for-N00bs how-to page I might actually get involved, though I’m unsure how relevant Twitter is to art… I think I will focus on news items instead.
For those who like my photography, I collect images for my mood boards on Pinterest.
I will include the links to all of my stuff, for those interested in my output. I would be honored if you follow some of it, so you can share my incredibly narcissistic navel-gazing:
I disabled my LinkedIn account… for those of you who remember my first foray into Social Media almost five years ago…
I hate selecting images. Years ago, when I shot film, I had to be a lot more deliberate about the images I captured because I would run out of film very quickly. But digital photography allows me to shoot for hours without a pause.
Recently I shot three very talented dancers. When I work with dancers for the first time whom I don’t know well it is hard for me to anticipate their moves, or to know their routines. Subsequently I shoot a lot, and this time I ended up with 1,400 frames from one full day of shooting. Ouch.
I usually wait a few days after shooting before I look at the images I’ve captured. Honestly? I find image selection a battlefield of self-doubt and loathing. All I see is what I did wrong, what I missed, what should have been obvious. The problem is when I shoot I switch into full creative mode, and the technical part of my brain goes out for a long drive to the countryside. I once shot for twenty minutes only to realize I had not focused the camera. Fortunately I could just reshoot because the set and models where still in place. Another time I shot for a while without noticing that my fill-flash wasn’t firing… which led to a much more dramatic lighting. Those were the lucky moments. More often than not I found myself sitting in front of my computer, seriously wondering whom I’m fooling. A real photographer would not make the kind of mistakes I made that day… My self-esteem is not a reliable travel partner on the best of days, but editing time is usually when I get to be completely on my own… no confidence or pride anywhere in sight.
A great musician spends a lot of time listening to all kinds of music, and a good writer reads a lot. So as a photographer, I look at other people’s images all day long. But of course, I am seeing another photographer’s twenty best images that were created in the course of a year or more… But when I look at my pile of raw data, initially I see nothing but shit.
It passes. I usually (though not always) end up with images that work. Over the years I’ve gotten better, and technically more proficient. I trust my gear and my basic skills, and half the time when I shoot I’m just directing the model, and making sure the feet are in the frame. But I still wonder why I didn’t notice the lamp right behind the model, why I didn’t just move a little higher, or why the damn foot is out of the frame after all!
I need to find the quiet inside of me. I lost it. Slowly, at first, I didn’t even notice it slip away… and now I live in fear of the quiet.
It started when I was a teenager. I spent time on airplanes and buses, shuttling between boarding school and wherever I was going to meet my parents. I needed books to read, tapes for my Walkman, and music magazines. The idea of having nothing in front of my eyes petrified me. It provided me with a depth of knowledge, but it also became a refuge from my thoughts, and my feelings. I needed constant external stimulation.
Over time it became the computer, and then the smart phone, and my tablet. I had one of the first BlackBerries, and I would check it constantly. Now it is my iPhone, and social media, that has me enthralled. It is shocking how estranged I have become from my own thoughts, and how divorced from my feelings. I will check the device habitually… while waiting for an elevator, in the driver’s seat enduring a red light, while supervising the children… At first I was able to justify it. “Business! If you eat lunch, you are lunch!” and all of those late-90s platitudes. Now it’s about the business of art. But honestly, a lot of it is based on the feedback loop of social media, responding to a new Like or reading a comment left on a post.
It is in some ways an addiction, certainly a behavioral disorder. The question of whether my actions hurt myself or the ones I love must be answered affirmatively… mainly myself in this case. It provides refuge from feelings, and it stops me from engaging in thoughts that might fuel additional creativity. But unlike a Heroin addiction which can be stopped cold turkey, this technological abuse is more like an eating disorder. A bulimic can’t just quit food… so new behavior patterns must be formed. Because the truth is that social media and the gadgets that enable this consumption are also a great source of creative inspiration, a wonderful way of staying in touch with friends, family, and fans, while also providing a platform for showing one’s work.
So why do I want my free brain cycles back? Because that is where my creativity happens… I have ideas. Every once in a while I have big ideas. But most of the time, I am in a project, and I rethink and question and skewer some smaller aspect of what I’m working on. It’s this creative mastication that I seem to have forfeited. I need those cycles. And it’s not always about creative output, often it is the ancillary ideas that fall by the wayside. Yes, the clearest moments are those trance-induced endorphin periods when I get into a good cardio-groove while swimming, biking or running on the treadmill. I do cardio mainly to think.
But I need those little moments back. They’re mine.
So I am reclaiming them. And small steps are needed.
I found a post today by a blogger called David Cain and his site raptitude. He’s been anointed by some of his readers as a sort of self-help guru, but he is the most down-to-earth guy I have seen in this field. Cain recommends clarity of mind, and although he insists there is nothing meditative about his process, it actually gets close to that… and that’s a good thing. I will paraphrase a post of his, because he is a tea drinker… and although I enjoy tea, my life revolves around coffee. I need a quick cup in the morning, but my favorite coffee moments are in the studio mid-day, or in the afternoon right after a cat-nap and before my second wave of creative effort. Cain ultimately posted it as advice… So I will share his knowledge, but my readers expect it in my voice.
How to make a cup of coffee:
First, slow down… like you’ve just turned off the highway into a quiet neighborhood. Normal rat-race speed is unsuitable for what is about to happen. Hurrying through the process of relaxing defeats its purpose.
This experience is all about decelerating. Take an extra breath, it will focus you.
Take out your tools. The kettle. Your favorite cup. The clean French Press from the drip rack.
Your supplies — the consumables — will be some of nature’s simplest creations: water, coffee beans, and milk.
Choose your coffee. A good Viennese roast is my favorite, but there’s Blue Hawaiian that I’ve loved, good Columbian, or a great Espresso. I keep different kinds in the fridge at home. One of the most important parts of this ritual for me is grinding the beans, but your coffee may already be ground.
Run water into the kettle, feeling its growing weight, and take a moment to smile at your fortune if you did not have to leave the house to do so.
Turn on the heat. Put your ground coffee beans into the French Press.
… and here comes the hard part! You will now confront one of modern society’s ever-present dangers, which is the risk of distraction we face whenever nothing interesting happens for a few minutes. Your long-formed habits will suggest something, maybe slipping your smartphone out, maybe leaning over the computer chair to surf Facebook, maybe straightening something on the counter. Worst of all, you may start talking to yourself in your head.
Stay where you are. You’re making coffee. It’s tempting to think of the next two minutes of kettle-heating time as something in the way, something you want to get to the end of, like an unmemorable stretch of parking lot you have to cross to get from your car to your destination.
Your impulse might be to fill the empty time. Opt instead to do something simple and self-contained, looking out the window, or studying the light around the kitchen. If you’re game, just stand beside the stove. Let time just hang there, without making you feel like you should be somewhere else.
Clear your mind.
Whatever you end up doing for that two minutes, if you stay with it, your simple experience of standing or looking will seem to grow in intensity, until your whole world begins whistling and rattling.
Don’t rush here. A boiling kettle is not a crisis. To make sure you’re not reacting, watch it exhale steam for a few seconds. Observe how the world stays together. Let your pulse return to normal, then take it off.
Pour your water into the French Press. Set the kettle aside. Heat off.
Place the plunger top over the French Press, and allow yourself to look forward to pushing that plunger down. Take your cup, and some milk, and the Press over to your favorite seat. NOT the one at your desk. You’ll need a surface to set your coffee down on, within arm’s reach of your chair. Put the cup down before you even think about sitting down.
Then sit, and rest your bones. Take a big, unpretentious breath, and as you let it go watch the remaining tension go with it. You are looking for the feeling of sitting at the center of the universe. You might as well be.
Eventually you’ll notice a curl of steam or a whiff of coffee and discover that your press is ready. When you are also ready, push the plunger down, and watch the darkness swirl. Pour yourself some coffee, inhale the aroma, add some milk, pick up your cup… and drink some.
Give yourself as much time as you need. Really, give the time to yourself, as a present. The most important part is to agree that everything in your world, except for sitting with your drink, will be dealt with later. Your gift is a complete — though short — subjugation of the rest of your life. For fifteen minutes, make the rest of your world subordinate to this experience.
And if you’re lucky, your mind will open.
Think about the image you want to create… or the story you’re writing, the characters, the setting, the world you’re creating.
The thought may make a part of you nervous at first, deferring the remainder of whole universe, everything dear to you, until you finish your coffee. Whatever normally fetters your psyche during the day — career plans, family issues, budget constraints, website updates, ambitions for revolutionary art or a spotless house — all of it can be picked up again and fretted about once your coffee is finished, if you still think it’s worthwhile.
Obviously, leave your phone where it is — even if it chimes or quivers while you sit. Ignore it. It’s just a sound, it doesn’t mean anything else right now. If your friend “Likes” your Thoreau quote, or somebody comments on your link, you will learn this later, in a different moment. If the mind wanders, bring it back to your bones.
It’s important to note that this is not an uptight meditation ritual. You don’t need to concentrate, just put your attention on what you’re doing. If it wanders, bring it back. This is all physical, and there are no spiritual pretentions, no ancient wisdom, no asceticism or self-mortification. Nothing here is hard. You don’t have to keep your spine upright like a stack of coins. You don’t have to keep your shoulders back. You shouldn’t look constipated to an outside observer. The thoughts will come, or you will simply have given some time to yourself.
So… small steps. Remove social media apps from smart phone. Log off every time you leave such a site, just to add a re-entry hurdle. Drive with the radio off. Clear the mind. Do cardio. And allow your mind to chat with you…
That’s why people are always talking on their phones, or looking at their phones, it’s because they don’t want to be alone with their thoughts.
– Martin Amis