Wednesday, March 23, 2011

To see and feel in a maginfied fashion

I saved this quote once, from an unknown source:
It is the artist's blessing to be able to create, but it is also their curse that to be able to create, they see and feel things in a magnified fashion, and it is through the expression of those perceptions and feelings into physical form that some of most beautiful works are born.
I often wonder, when I encounter someone who inspires me, whether there's any way short of showing them, that I could explain to them how they inspire me, how they make me see and feel in a magnified fashion, how they look through artist's eyes.  More and more, I believe there's probably not.

I recently shot some bodyscapes with a friend as the model. When she saw these, she said "I didn't believe my body could look like that, that only other people could."  I've known since the very first moment I saw her that it could.  She doesn't fit the Barbie-doll stereotype of modern beauty, but she is a uniquely beautiful and sensual human. I could explain that to her until I dropped dead from exhaustion and she would never get it.  The only way to make it believable is to show it.













Living in a box

I was involved in a thought-provoking conversation recently that I thought I'd share it here.  I don't know whether the other party cares to be named or not, so I'll simply refer to him as "Inquisitor."

Inquisitor: How can someone who shoots nudes ensure that they're not producing pornography?

Me: The only honest thing you can do is shoot your vision and let others worry about labels.  If you filter your vision through someone else's idea of appropriate/inappropriate, porn/art, good/bad, then you're not creating art, you're validating pre-judgments (a.k.a., prejudices).  That is the antithesis of art, and consciously engaging in it would be a far more shameful thing than producing pornography.

Inquisitor: Some people's vision is just to get girls naked, but that doesn't make their pictures art. 

Me: That's not a vision, that's a motive.  However, if their vision is simply capturing the allure of naked chicks, that's fine.  If it takes something they feel inside and puts it in a form they can share with others then it's art.  It may not necessarily be good art, and it may not be the type of art that you or I care to spend time appreciating, but it's honest art.

There's a carefully cultivated myth in our society that holds that the concept of "artistic" excludes those parts of humanity's nature that are prurient, distasteful, or self serving.  That's bullshit.  Vision and emotion doesn't have to be altruistic, pious, pure, or socially acceptable to be genuine.  It just has to be human. 

Inquisitor: Skill, talent, etc. all contribute to art.  Many guys get so distracted by naked chicks that they never really develop their talent.  I always encourage people to remove distractions from their development.

Me: I disagree. Skill, talent, etc. contributes to craftsmanship.  Vision and emotion contribute to art.  Many guys get so distracted by naked chicks that they never really develop the craftsmanship necessary to present their art in an aesthetically appealing package.  I also encourage people to remove distractions from the development of their craftsmanship, but I never encourage people to deny their vision.

Inquisitor: Removing distractions in an effort to improve is not dishonest nor is it less artistic.

Me: No, but removing your vision as a surrogate for removing distractions is dishonest and counter productive.  If someone is moved by the beauty of architecture, telling them they're only allowed to shoot flowers until they develop their craftsmanship because they get too passionate and distracted by the architecture is effectively telling them that craftsmanship and technique are the point of art, and vision and passion are just incidental. If that's the case then art doesn't exist at all.
 I've been thinking about that conversation a lot recently. I don't know the answer to his original question because pornography is a nebulous thing that no two people define the same way.  Even the Supreme Court said we can't define it, but we'll know it when we see it.

The human experience is not limited to only innocuous, sterile, unsensual emotions that can be neatly package on one side of a line that distinguishes it from pornography.  There is certainly a realm in which all merit beyond the prurient is lost, but focusing one's energy on making sure to avoid it is energy misdirected.  For some people, living in a box defined by stereotypes and prejudices they fear to touch might be an acceptable existence.  It's not for me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Writing Artist Statements

I've been working on updating my artist statement for an upcoming show.  Galleries almost always request artist statements, and many juried shows do as well.  I don't think anyone likes writing them, but they help put your work in context, they help galleries promote your work appropriately, and they help sell your work.  I think that people who don't take them seriously do themselves a disservice.

I have a common theme that's the truth (yes, that is important) about what motivates me and how I see my work, but I update it - "respin" it if you will - for each set of images I exhibit.  Some angles on my motivations and processes are more relevant to one set of images than another, and over time my motivation takes different turns that require updated explanations.  I have heard some people claim that they wrote one statement ten years ago and have never seen a need to update it, but I find it hard to imagine how that could be true for anyone who grows as an artist.

You can find a lot of advice about writing artist statements in books and on the web.  Some of it is very good.  Some of it strikes me as ridiculous.  I don't claim to know any more about the "right" way to go about it than anyone else, but here are some things that I have learned, or at least have come to believe, about writing artist statements:
  1. It's not a simple "sit down and get it done" exercise.  Writing an artist statement is a sort of self exploration and it is an inherently iterative process.  Look at it as a term paper, not a pop quiz.
  2. It's not a bio or resume.  Its purpose is to explain why you make the work you do, what's unique about how you do it, and what's personal about your creative process.  Where you were born, where you went to school, where you've shown your work, etc. belongs in another document (the one called bio or resume)
  3. It's a statement, not a defense.  You don't have to justify your work, just explain why and how you do it.
  4. Most advice on writing artist statements will tell you don't use big fancy words. I agree with that to a point - being pretentious for the sake of show is annoying and ... well, pretentious.  However one of the most ridiculous bits of advice I've ever read is to "use language that will hold the interest of someone who knows nothing about art."  I believe most artists have done some intelligent thinking about their art and have more than a simplistic understanding of what they do and why they do it.  If your vocabulary includes words that appropriately express that understanding then the fact that a high school dropout with no interest in art might have to look them up is not a good reason to avoid using them.  And don't be afraid to use a dictionary and thesaurus.  There's a good reason the English language (or any other language) includes more than 50 words.  Pretension is annoying, but sounding artificially unsophisticated is no less annoying. 
  5. Most advice on writing artist statements will tell you to avoid the words "I," "me," and "my."  While minimizing them can definitely help, I find that avoiding them completely can force you into using an overly passive voice that makes for some very awkward sentences and can contribute to a pretentious tone.  I suggest circling all your "I"s "me"s and "my"s and making an honest effort to figure out how to avoid them, but if all you can come up with is an awkward, pretentious statement that stumbles all over itself, it's better to stick with the original.
  6. I've seen more than one reference advise artists to "keep it short at all costs."  There is certainly virtue in brevity, and dedicating at least one writing session just to achieving that is worth while, but it doesn't make sense to set a "three paragraph, half page" limit if you need four paragraphs and a full page to explain your work.  Making brevity a higher priority than getting your point across guarantees your statement will be a waste of time.  My advice is keep it short, but no shorter than it needs to be.
Here is an (almost finished?) version of my current artist statement.  There are things I still don't like about it, so it needs more work, but I thought I'd share it just for illustration.  It's the result of starting with a few core sentences from an old one and spending about 14 hours in as many different sessions working on it.

Updated:
        I understand photography as an expressive medium more than a documentary one. It is often said that a photograph should tell a story. That works for documentary photography, but an expressive image should inspire stories. It is the artist's job to suggest an idea, a mood, or a concept, but the viewer's job to fill in the details. If an image tells a single story from beginning to end and leaves no place for the viewer to insert their own creativity then it is a failure in the context of expressive photography.
        Light and humans are my materials of choice. There is no catalyst of sentience more potent than light, and there is no base for creation that is more aesthetically rich, more conceptually robust, more visually malleable, or more technically challenging to photograph than a live, nude human. Managing controlled light and collaborating with models, combining their qualities in subtle ways to build images that invite people to imagine, is what keeps me behind a camera.
       Many of these images are presented as series. Some are sequential series – all shot in the same session, with the same model, often minutes apart. Others are non-sequential series – shot hours, months, or even years apart. The sequential series are usually planned with a general concept in mind, but the story is unscripted so inspiration, revelation, and discovery play a significant role in making them. They provide more touchstones than a single image, but they are intended only to be a stronger dose of stimulant for the imagination, not to limit where the imagination goes.
        The non-sequential series develop through a more complex process. Certain themes, conceptions of light, or juxtapositions of design or emotion get stuck in my mind and follow me around. I play with them in different exploratory mediums (doodles, sketches, folded paper, sticks and rocks, snapshots, even rhymes or songs) before they develop into something I'm ready to take into the studio and explore with light and models. When I start shooting one I revisit it multiple times with different models, different light, different moods, different tools, and different states of mind, each time producing different realizations of the concept and different images. Eventually sets of connected images start to stand out in my memory and I get motivated to compile and edit groups that end up as a non-sequential series. Like a collection of short stories, they may be only loosely related in content, but connected by a subtlety that is apparent when they are considered together.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wraith

I've been thinking about this concept for nearly a year - a wraith, or dangerous ghost, who is lost and frightened and on the verge of panic in a directionless, undefined space.  It sounds simple, but I had a lot of things that I wanted just right.  Here's what we did:

1. Wardrobe - had to have a "flowy," ghostly feel to it.  A 1950 vintage "ice blue" chiffon night gown from a vintage lingerie dealer on-line fit the bill.
2. A model with a light build who could pull off the look of a fragile but dangerous ghost with sadness, fright, and near panic. I found a local model on Model Mayhem who had the light build.  Nothing similar in her portfolio, but we set up a meeting to talk over the project, and was convinced she could pull it off.
3. Makeup - pale powder, blue lips and eye shadow were essential for a ghostly, dead look. I ordered some makeup but it didn't come in time.  Courtney (the model) had some blue eye shadow to use on her eyes and lips, and we used baby powder on her face, neck, and shoulders.  We added some mascara and made tears with sterile eyedrops to get it to run. 
4. Lighting (see diagram below) - I wanted a cold, lifeless look for the model without turning the whole scene blue, and I wanted to keep the light as soft as possible.  One of the basic principals of lighting is the bigger the light relative to the subject, the softer the light will be. I hung twelve sheer curtains from the ceiling (6 on each side) and placed strobes with octaboxes outside them to effectively make an 8'x9' light on each side of the set.  I also lit white background paper evenly to make an 8'x9' reflector behind the model, so she was surrounded in a soft white light.  I added reflectors up front to kill shadows on the floor, and I added a blue gel on a high boom up front, bright enough to tint the model, but not to overpower the soft white light around her.  I used a fairly wide aperture to give a softness to the focus, and she was moving fast in many of the images which also helped.

 5. Post processing - the blue tint was not as strong as I wanted, so I boosted the contrast to enhance it.  I had to clean up blue spill on the floor and some shadows under her feet. That's about all that was necessary.

Here are some of the results.  Click to enlarge, and enjoy.















It must just be a horrible experience!

I recently had a discussion with someone who said "Being in front of a camera like that, with someone ordering you around and making you pose for them ... it must just be a horrible experience!  I really can't imagine how there could be anything fun about it at all!" 

Just to prove her point, here are some unedited examples of horrified models not having fun in front of my camera.
















Isn't that just awful?  It's amazing what fantasies fear and prejudice can put into peoples' heads.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Just for the laugh

Here's a recent e-mail exchange with a prospective model. I haven't responded to her last e-mail yet.  I think you'll see why at the end.

July 19: XXXXXXX wrote:
Hi! I totally love your photos. How do I go about being a model for you? I'm 19, 5'6, about 135 pounds, and have short blond hair. I know I'm not classic model material, but I would really love to do some photos for you. Here is a picture. I look forward to hearing from you.

July 20: Tim Hammond wrote:
Hi XXX. Thank you for contacting me. Based on your photo and description I'm definitely interested in meeting with you to discuss modeling. Just so there's no confusion, I am primarily an art nude photographer. If you're not interested in nude work, that doesn't mean we can't work together, but it would greatly limit the projects I could use you for. I have an opening on Thursday at 5:00. Would that work for you to meet and talk things over?

July 20: XXXXXXX wrote:
Yes, that works perfect. Where shall we meet?

July 20, Tim Hammond wrote:
… directions to the studio … not needed for the story

July 22:
We met at the studio. She came alone. I gave my usual spiel. She listened. She didn't ask any questions. I told her it would be trade work, not paid, and I went over the written agreement with her point by point. Again, I asked if she had any questions about anything, and she said no. I asked to see any tattoos, piercings, or scars that might show, and to see the skin quality on her back, butt, legs, and chest. She stripped down to bra and panties without comment. At the end I asked if she wanted to take some time and think it over before scheduling a shoot. She said "No, I'm excited. When can we shoot?" So we scheduled a shoot for this coming Saturday, August 7.

July 23: XXXXXXX wrote:
I was wondering, is it OK if I bring someone along? I'm kind of nervous about being naked alone.

July 23: Tim Hammond wrote:
Extra people can disrupt the creative workflow and be distracting, even unintentionally, so I prefer to not have anyone present who's not involved in the shoot. However that's a preference not a rule. I also recognize that some models with little experience simply will not be comfortable enough to model for art work unless they have a friend along. Therefore you are welcome to bring one friend/companion along to any meeting or shoot, as long as they don't interfere with the photography. If you do choose to bring someone along, please make sure it's someone you're totally comfortable posing in front of and who won't distract you from paying attention to me and the camera, and please make sure they understand their role. They are NOT there to direct the session or approve/disapprove shots. Creating imagery is an artistic collaboration between you and me, not a committee decision. Who you bring is totally your choice, but it's been my experience that a sister or girlfriend is a much better choice than a "significant other." If they're well behaved and supportive of us creating art together then all will go well. However if your escort disrupts the photography in any way I will *insist* that they either sit in the other room or leave, your choice, and if that's not acceptable I'll just call off the shoot.

July 24: XXXXXXX wrote:
OK, I think I have a girl friend who will come. I can't wait!

August 1: Tim Hammond wrote:
Hi XXX. Just wanted to touch base and make sure we're still on for next Saturday.

August 2: XXXXXXX wrote:
Yes, we're still on. My girl friend can't come though, but my boyfriend can. Is that OK?

August 2: Tim Hammond wrote:
Yes, that's OK, but MAKE SURE he reads and understands the e-mail I sent before about escorts. He cannot interfere with the photography in any way.

August 2: XXXXXXX wrote:
OK, he read it and said that's fine. I'll see you Saturday. I can't wait!

August 4: XXXXXXX wrote:
I guess I do have one question. My boyfriend wants to know how much he gets paid for being my escort. Can you let me know? Thanks.

I'm speechless at the moment.  Just not sure how to respond.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Questions I'm tired of answering ...

and the answers I'd like to give.

(Note: Like all sarcasm, this is intended to be humorous, but also convey some truth.  You can decide for yourself where the line lays.)

Do you sleep with your models?
You know, it's amazing.  Every beautiful 20 year old woman in Alaska is just dying to get her hands on a scruffy, overweight, married man twice her age.  They're just lechers who have no interest in modeling or art and the only reason they agree to model for me is so they can get me in a compromising situation.  I'm not naive.  I know it's risky and dumb to invite them into my studio, but so far I've managed to fend them off and not let any of them take advantage of me.

Do you just do this so you can see nekid chicks?
Well, let's see.  Say I want to see some nekid chicks.
I can invest $28,000 in equipment, insurance, computers, software, studio rental ... take on all the stress of scheduling appointments, dealing with no-shows, delivering prints, maintaining equipment ... deal with contracts and agreements and gallery commissions and unsolicited criticism ... get rejected by ten shows and ten galleries for every little success ...
OR
I can take my $28,000, go down to the titty bar, kick back, and drop a few hundred bucks on drinks and lap dances every single Friday night for three years.

Hmmm ... OK, you got me ... I'm an idiot.

Oh my, you shoot nudes?!  Well I don't really like most of your photos and I won't do nude work, but I'm beautiful and everyone says I should be a model so you'll shoot me for free, right?
Absolutely!  I'll even postpone my vacation to accommodate your schedule, and loan you my credit card so you can go do your xmas shopping while I get the studio ready.  Would you like a dozen roses and a pedicure too?

You shoot guys too? Naked?  Are you gay?
Only on Thursdays and Sundays.  The rest of the week I'm an appropriately homophobic manly man and nothing moves me except lugies, farts, and hawt cheerleaders.

Can you make me look like [insert favorite celebrity]?
Well, I'm only half way finished with my correspondence course in plastic surgery, but I'll do my best.  Can we shoot photos first, though, just in case the stitches show?

Does you wife know you do this?
Well, I had her convinced her I was just spending a lot of time hanging out in bars and meth houses, not that studio she helped me haul my equipment to. It took a little more work to convince her all those pictures I print in the living room are just favors I'm doing for photographers I know, not photos I shot myself.  I really had to work to convince her that all those young women who say hi in the grocery store are my nieces she's never met and all their babble about pictures and modeling are just delusions, but she finally bought it.  After all that hard work I thought my secret was safe, but then I took her to a gallery where a bunch of the pictures I printed in the living room were hanging and she asked the proprietor who the photographer was, and that was it.  I was busted.

Where did you get all these pictures/Did you take all these pictures?
No, man, they came in the frames I bought at Walmart!  You should go get some so you can tell people you're a photographer too!