Thursday, April 3, 2014

Take Time to Develop You!

Take the Time to Develop You! From Vision to Image

OK I am about to complete my first year of my MFA at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Well, not really because the final term for the year just started and I am in week two of a ten week term but I can see the end.  The class I am taking this term is Digital Craft. It is a class that teaches you how to develop your images in the digital dark room.

What is interesting about this class that bookends this first year of my course work is that my very first class this year was focused on developing film and doing our work in the old skool darkroom.  I appreciate both the old skool process and this new skool process and what they have made me think about is how am I developing me?   Or how are you developing you?

To develop images old skool or new skool requires a lot of time.  You have to learn how to use all the tools at your disposal.  I think about what it takes to learn how to develop images in the dark room using chemicals or in Light Room (a software package) in both cases it is hard work.  You have to learn how to use the tools you have to get the image to look the way you see it.  It requires an artistic vision as you have to see what you want to develop before it is developed.  You have to see the image in your mind before it is developed or printed on paper.

Now, back to us.  What do you see in you? What is the image of you that you have in your mind that you needs to be developed in order to be printed?  Are you using the tools you have to produce the image of you that the creator had in mind when the creator framed you and composed you in your mother's womb?  Are you putting the work in to get the output?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Be Unique and Inspired: You Define Your Mentors

In class @ Savannah College of Art & Design
We can’t choose our parents, family, community we are raised in or the schools we go to as children but we can choose our mentors.  We can choose to find those who speak life to us and show us who God has created us to be.

I look for those who have done something like I want to do. They can’t do what I want to do because what I do is unique to me and how I am designed.  I don’t want to be like my mentors but rather I want my mentors to inspire me to be me.

Many of my mentors don’t know me.  They don’t know me because I only know them because I have read their work or watched their videos online or spent ours looking at their work or their websites.  As I look at them and their work I allow their work to inspire me to do my work.

By looking at them and through them I see a reflection of me. I am not trying to become them.  To try to be like someone is to become a carbon copy at best.  We were not uniquely designed to repeat what was done. We were created to do our thing, some new stuff, some never before seen stuff.   

We should rejoice when people call us weird, unusual or ask that famous question, “What is that?”  “It is me and my work. It is me being and doing what God has called me to be and do.”  People may not get you and that is OK!  As long as you get you, understand and appreciate you, then it will be OK. 

I want to shout out one of my many mentors today.  Bruce Davidson inspires my photography.  I love his work but his work is not my work and I am not trying to be like Mr. Davidson but rather I invite him to inspire me.

Develop a list of people who when you look at them they inspire you.  Buy their stuff, bookmark their website, add their YouTube videos to your favorites.  When you are looking for inspiration look to them!  Who is on your list?  Who do you look at on the daily to be inspired? 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Recreating Yourself One Day at a Time: A SXSW Reflection

Recreating Yourself One Day at a Time:  A SXSW  Reflection

This year has been really new for me. I have stretched myself by engaging in a number of new activities that by definition will change me.  If you don't do new stuff you will not become new.  To do what you did yesterday is to live a life on repeat.  When you intentionally make your routine one of change, innovation and recreation you will be recreated into being the creative design the creator had in mind when you were created in the divine womb of your mother.

Starting a Masters in Fine Arts in photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), attending the Society for Photographic Educators, presenting at and attending SXSW. these have been all new to me and touched me in different ways.  The key to all of them is that they helped me see myself, the world and my work in the world differently.  To use a photographic metaphor, these experiences have helped me reframe what I see God doing in the world in a liberative way and to hear God calling me to engage in this liberative work in new and exciting ways.

This has also been a time of anxiety.  To put myself in these situations where I don't know what to expect and how to engage was scary. The most trying of these was to go back to school. To enter SCAD  at the tender age fo 51, having completed my PhD in 1997 was the biggest stretch.  A new way of learning and being assessed was a trip.  I am used to reading and writing and then turing my paper into the professor and getting my grade.  Not at SCAD!  It is go and do your work, put your prints up on the wall and have your colleagues and professor begin the process of a public critique!!  What was this?  I was so intimidated but I persisted.  The key for me was to allow the process to do it's work.

Now to SXSW..this place is like no other gathering I have ever attended.  I am used to academic conferences where things are very linear.  Sessions are easy to find.  The map is easy to follow and the papers are presented in sessions.  There is little time for questions, you proceed to the next  room, sit and listen and then move on.  This is not the case at SXSW.  This is truly an interactive conference that is a true live event.  All kinds of stuff is happening simultaneously.  You move from the interactive, to the film, to the music, literally to the street.  It goes from early in the morning to late at night.  Twitter is the best way to keep up with what is going on and what is hot.  Things are buzzing and moving around you all the time.  Every sense in your body is being touched as you engage in conversations and connections that are life changing.

SXSW has the energy of real-time, it is planned but not staged.  I walked around in awe of all that was coming at me.  The conversations, the panels, the speakers, the trade-show, the films, filmmakers, artists and overall creative spirit that fed the atmosphere.  I have been effected and affected in ways I am sure I can't quite make sense of right now.  I am different because I have invited different and new into my life.  What are you inviting in your life to make you new? What new things are you doing on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis that has the power to transform you into what the Creator had in mind when the Creator created you?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Be Inspired by the Greats in Your Field

Zoe Strauss
I had the  privilege of attending the Society for Photographic Educators conference this week.  I was inspired by so many wonderful artist who graced us with their presence, their work, their stories and their inspiring presentations. As an artist you need to vibe with other artist and feed off of the energy in the room.  Two artist standout as I reflect on this weekend.  The two artist that are new mentors of mine are Cristina Mittermeir and Zoe Strauss.  I knew the work of both of these artists but I'd never been in their presence.
Cristina Mittermeir

Thursday, March 6, 2014,  the unassuming Cristina Mittermeir comes into the hall and opens up her talk by telling us her story. How the objective photographer, taking pictures and documenting an experience got involved. She was becoming attached to the people and stories she was telling. She cared. She cared enough to act. She couldn't take pictures, submit to the magazine and move on. She was moved to act by the images so she created a movement.

Cristina convinced me that the photographer has to care enough to act, our images can't change the world but our images can be a part of the change we want to make.  For change to occur the photographer must be a storyteller, a character and an activist.  

If we hope to make change with the things we do in life we have to be passionate about them and be willing to speak up.  We must be an activist. We have to be that character who is a part of our story.  We have to allow the story to affect us, we are to be drawn in and dismiss the antiquated notion of being the objective photographer.  If we are honest we are never truly objective.  

Cristina also convinced me that we have to form partnerships with organizations that care about and serve them with our art. Cristina said she simply volunteered to use her camera to help tell the stories of these organizations and those they work with. She took their pictures, told their stories and in the process she became part of the story.  As artist the people we capture with our camera also capture us if we allow ourselves to enter the story.  In this capturing process we can also be freed if we partner with those we look at through the viewfinder.  It is through the viewfinder that we actually find-ourselves as we connect with what's on both sides of the camera.

Zoe Strauss is just pure!  She connects with those she partners with as she does her work.  What I love about Zoe is that she is just down to earth.   She is the kind of person you want to sit down and have a beer with.  When you hear her tell the stories about the people she connected with as she does her work you can feel the connection.  You can feel how she has fallen in love with people.  I want to love the people on Sweet Auburn the way Zoe loves the people of Philadelphia and Homestead. Thanks to the Society for Photographic Education for planning a great conference.  Where do you need to go?  Who do you need to hear?  Who can you connect with in your field that will help you hear and see in new ways?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What We See is Called Urban Renewal: Do See Enough to Care?

Gentrification (or urban recycling) is a process of community change through which old, dilapidate housing is bought, refurbished, and then either inhabited by the owners or rented or sold for profit.  It is socially significant because it often displaces the original residents who tend to be lower-or-working-class and replaces them with middle-and-upper middle-class residents who can afford to pay higher price that the property now commands.  It is a particularly acute problem in large U.S. cities where there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing.[1]

Urban renewal  Often called “Negro removal” by critics, it provides countless examples of the interconnection of racial change with local policy.  Urban renewal systematically destroyed many African American communities and businesses and, for most of its history, failed to safeguard the rights and well-being of those forcibly relocated from those homes and businesses.[2]

Another days journey on Auburn Avenue. It was Saturday morning, March 1, 2014, and I wanted to shoot at sunrise.  I got up around 5:00 a.m., got my stuff together and off I went.  I arrived well before sunrise. Parked my care at Hilliard and Auburn Avenue and took off down Sweet Auburn. I was surprised to see so much life on the street so early in the morning.  Workers were working.  The workers were removing parts of the cobble stone street to be replaced by the asphalt and black tar that was to become the new Auburn Avenue.

The workers were African American, Latino and White.  They were going about their work and I was a going about my work.  We didn’t talk much but our eyes caught each other’s eyes.  It was as if we were asking each other what are you doing?  One asked me, why do you want our picture, or why are you taking our pictures?  As always I handed him one of my cards and began to tell of my desire to document this transformation.  He nodded, took the card, and returned to work.

As this process continues I am deeply moved by what I see. I see the street being transformed before my eyes and I am seeing more and more for sale signs popping up on the buildings.  Buildings that are vacant and occupied are now for sale.  The dramatic rise in the number of for sale signs has been a bit jarring.  What is this all about?   Who will the new tenants be?  Who will own and run the new business?
As the morning proceeds I spend most of my time camped out between Bell and Fort Street on either side of Interstate Seventy-Five.  The construction activity and the foot traffic this morning is around the under path of Interstate Seventy-Five. Many people live under Interstate Seventy-Five; this is their resting place. As the workers shift change the activity moves from the Bell and Auburn side of the under path over to the Fort Street side, where the park is and where the large sculpture of John Wesley Dobbs, the man who named this street, sits and watches the construction / deconstruction / reconstruction.  Across from the park is Thelma’s Barbecue that is still open but the building recently was put up for sale. 

What I am witnessing is gentrification / urban renewal. This is a take over and a push out.  Most of this morning I spent talking with Roy. Roy he is an entrepreneur who lives on Sweet Auburn and operates his mobile car wash.  Roy says to me, “This is over.  They about to get us out of here.  This thing has changed.” Roy is right…it has isn’t changing…it has happened.  Do we care enough for those who live on these streets as residents and business owners to at least pay attention?  Where will they go? How will they live? How will we journey along beside them as they struggle to survive? How many more times will this happen in our city?  When does progress mean oppress?

[1]  The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology  by Alan G. Johnson  (Blackwell Reference, 1995), p. 120.
[2] Manning Thomas, June and Marsha Ritzdorf (editors) Urban Planning and the African American Community: In the Shadows  (Sage Publications, 1970), p. 8.