Creativity

Speak to me of home

Speaktome-2

Why am I so drawn to travel? What is the source of this wanderlust? Will it eventually be satisfied?

When I reflected on my photography, and this love of distant places, I began to ask myself these questions. I wanted to go deeper and explore not just the place itself, or even the dream of it, but why am I having these dreams? What’s the source?

It’s taken a few years to come up with a theory – I was searching for Home.

Even when I was a child, one of my earliest memories was laying on the floor of my living room with an atlas, poring over the maps, wondering what adventures and mysteries awaited. I realize now that, even in my childhood home – the only one I’d ever known at that point – there was an innate desire for something…somewhere…else.

But what is home? Is it a place? Is it “heaven”?  Is it just being with the person you were meant to be with?  Or maybe the quest itself is home.

I wanted to capture this search in a photographic way. To do that, I needed to really search how I felt when I traveled as well as exploring the questions mentioned above.

What you see in the series online is a portion of overall series, which I intend to publish as a book at some point. Will it ever be finished though?  Will I find Home?  I have no idea, but I love the way that this direction has forced me to look deep inside and then translate those thoughts and emotions into a photograph.

You can view Speak to me of home here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks,

Mark

P.S. I’m planning on redesigning my site and moving to a new platform. I appreciate your patience in the meantime.

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The Darkroom Underground magazine

I have some exciting news!  I’ve been asked to be on the advisory council of a brand new magazine:  The Darkroom Underground.

It’s founded by Tim Layton, a fine art photographer who specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, primarily with large format film, and processing traditionally.

Here’s an overview of the magazine from Tim:

The focus of The Darkroom Underground publication is rooted in art, imagination, and brought to life through the creative souls that share their most personal thoughts and experiences.

Photography has evolved over the last 175 years to a place that the 19th and 20th-century photographers could have never imagined.  In spite of the proliferation of technology and digitalization of just about every area of modern life, people still have a strong desire to create handmade artwork in the darkroom.  Photographers that have only used digital gear are discovering the joys and mysteries of darkroom photography.

The Darkroom Underground publishes a balance of technical and creative articles in every issue along with featured photographers and their portfolios.

We are pleased to offer editorial from internationally recognized photographers and writers and also publish articles and portfolios from our readers.

I’ll be talking primarily about the creative process itself rather than gear.  Any magazine that welcomes a dialog about photography today, I’m excited about.

You can check out the website here:  The Darkroom Underground.  Please subscribe and support the arts!

Mark

Where are the photos?

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting many photos lately.  For a good while, actually.  Here’s why:

For the last two years, I’ve been working on a new photo project.  It’s different than my previous work.  I wanted to go deeper, more into emotions, motivations and interpretation of a theme.

It’s been an intensely personal experience that I’ve only recently revealed, to even my closest friends.  In fact, to date, I could count the number of people who have seen the work on one hand.

The shooting itself is complete – at least this chapter – and I had planned on sharing it online this week, but I’m not.

The goal of the project was to make something tangible and lasting – a legacy project, if you will.  As such, I’ll be publishing this as a fine art book.

It won’t be an inexpensive book printed by an online company.  The physical form that the book takes will be an integral component in the experience.  The materials used, the methodology, the technique, will all contribute to tell the story.  It will be a very limited edition available to collectors of the medium.

I’ve already engaged with a studio that will collaborate with me to put it together.  This process will take a few months, unfortunately, which means that you won’t see any new photos from that series posted online until then.  My target date for launch is October.

I’m very excited about the direction that this is heading and appreciate your patience.  I’ll do my best to make it worth it.

Thanks,

Mark

At the crossroads

This has been an amazing few weeks in my photographic life.

I’ve:

  • Learned the basics of wet plate collodion from Quinn Jacobson
  • Met photographer Nick Brandt and chatted with him at his gallery show opening (one of my idols)
  • Attended the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) show in New York. Seventy five of the top galleries all in one place, showing original Stieglitz, Steichen, Adams, Callahan, etc photos. Even a Frederick Scott Archer collodion. I met both gallery owners and photographers whom I’ve only known from online previously.
  • Had a photo in the In Your Dreams exhibition at Photoplace Gallery in Vermont (juried by Susan Burnstine)
  • Attended an amazing workshop at Luz Gallery in Victoria BC about self-publishing led by Lauren Henkin.

Needless to say, my head is swimming with ideas but also struggling with some of the decisions to be made as a result.

I’m not really a “dabbler”.  Many people like to try all kinds of photography, and that’s completely fine and very fun.  While I do a bit of that, for my main photography I tend to go deep rather than broad when it comes to technique and “mission”.

For the last 10 years or so, my work has been shot on medium format film, in a somewhat pictorialist approach to my work, with the idea of getting into galleries.  The goal was to have representation at one or more galleries followed by a long term goal of being in a museum collection.

The long term goal remains the same, but I feel like I’m at a crossroads as to how I get there.  The discussions that I had with gallery owners and even more impactfully with Lauren Henkin have rocked my world and made me question my approach.

From a technique perspective, do I continue with film or do I move to collodion (which I really loved)? The challenge of collodion for what I want to accomplish is that I’m usually photographing in some far-flung country which may be difficult or impossible to acquire the proper chemicals for processing (either by shipping them there or sourcing them locally).  Or do I move to the ubiquitous flexibility that digital offers?

Remember, if I commit to a process, I’m “all-in” with it. Obsessively so. So “dabbling” in all of these isn’t in my nature, nor do I think it’s a good strategy.

For the long-term goal of being permanently in museum collections, is the route through galleries the way to get there or do I do it by making hand-crafted fine art books which happen to showcase my photography?  The gallery system is, in many ways, fundamentally broken. It’s about marketing and simply survival for many gallery owners.  With the economy the way it is, I can certainly see that from their perspective, but as a means to an end for my photography it may not be the best route. I’m not saying it isn’t a possibility, I’m just saying that I’m not sure at this point.

Why museums? It means that someone else sees the value in my work that I do and wants to preserve it. It means that I’ll be able to leave a legacy (I don’t have kids and am the only son, so this is one way to accomplish that). It would mean that I’ve permanently brought a piece of art into the world which would be available for anyone to see, etc. To clarify though, the museum aspect is a byproduct of the work. It’s not to get into a museum for the sake of getting into a museum – it’s about having achieved a certain level of quality that not only am I happy with but that others see as well (with the former being the most important thing).

Should I move away from pictorialism and move to more intensely personal photo essays?  It would still incorporate travel as that’s a huge part of my life but come at it from a completely different perspective. I would need to relearn how to approach a subject. This would be a massive change, but could be exceptionally rewarding.

I feel as if I’m at a crossroads, which is great.  I’ve had my world rocked and my photography will be better as a result.  This will likely take months to figure out – I need to ponder on this for a while.

Many thanks to the people I mentioned from bringing about this new perspective. Your advice has been priceless.

Mark

The Obsession

The unconscious obsession that we photographers have is that wherever we go we want to find the theme that we carry inside ourselves. – Graciela Iturbide

I think I have a touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It runs in my family – not in a huge way like you see on TV (although my oldest sister had it that way), but just some mild things that I find I just can’t let go of until it’s out of my system.

I get a specific photograph in my mind, or series of photographs, and I just can’t let it go till it’s done.  There’s the compulsive need to release it from deep within. It gnaws at me. It controls both sides of my brain – the conceptual side that is envisioning the photo plus my analytical planning mind to figure out the million details that it will take to get it done.

I released my Ghosts of Myanmar series a couple weeks ago and it’s been very well received.  By all accounts, I should be happy with that and move on to my next photo project. Except that I’m not happy.  I like them just fine, but they’re only part of the story.  The photos within me haven’t been fully released.  There’s a Part 2 in my head that will complete it, and now the planning is taking place to get that done.

By the time I finish that series, I’ll have more than two years invested in it.  Compared to many of the Masters, that’s nothing.  Photographers like Clyde Butcher can spend decades documenting the Everglades, for example.  For him it’s a passion to save that environment from destruction.

But I keep asking myself – what’s my motivation to complete the Ghosts of Myanmar series? I love Myanmar, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not it.  The best, most logical answer I can come up with is OCD – I have no other explanation for it, although my mind will endlessly keep searching for one as a “background task”. The late Spalding Gray had “The Monster” – a book that he felt compelled to finish writing, and kept haunting him until he did (I hope that I will avoid his fate though).

A side effect of this situation is that one particular series tries to push out any others that may have been percolating.  I need to consciously push these other ideas to the forefront in order to keep expanding my portfolio.

It’s not all bad though.  I know that this obsession will keep pushing me to take things to new heights – into areas that I would have never thought of without these endless hours of pondering.

I won’t head back to Myanmar until October.  Every day until then, I’ll be researching, planning, testing, learning or just dreaming about how to best complete that series.  I know the direction I want it to go, and a general idea of the technique it will take to bring them to life, but I want/need to envision specific shots. I do allow for serendipity, but that comes once I’m on location.

I have to figure out what it will take to release this series from my creative center, and that takes time. And that’s the Obsession.

Ttyl

Mark

Photography is not enough

Look at the things around you, the immediate world around
you. If you are alive, it will mean something to you, and if you care enough
about photography, and if you know how to use it, you will want to photograph
that meaningness. If you let other people’s vision get between the world and
your own, you will achieve that extremely common and worthless thing, a
pictorial photograph. – Paul Strand

Thanks to technological advances, many more people can take beautiful photographs more often than in times past.  More beauty in the world is good, but when you add passion to the mix, you can create lasting art.

If you look at the Masters of photography, the photography isn’t the end.  It’s a means of expressing their passion for a subject.  For Clyde Butcher it’s his passion for the unique environment of the Everglades.  For James Nachtwey, it’s his passion for the underprivileged and the unjust that is conveyed through his photography. For Sally Mann it’s the passion of exploring the impermanence of life. I could go on and on.

Your passion may be for your family, your partner, the night sky, the human form, the ocean or an infinite number of things – photography is a tool for you to convey that passion.

It’s when you lose sight of that and get caught up in the tools that your photography can become shallow and ordinary.  Here’s an exercise:  If photography didn’t exist at all, what would you care about?  What would make you excited to get out of bed in the morning?

Photography in and of itself isn’t enough.  It’s about your passion for life, the emotions you feel, your perspective, the values inside of you – that’s the important stuff, the stuff that’s unique to you. When you tap into that, there’s absolutely no chance that you’ll be making photos that look like anyone else’s because it will be unique to you.

Ttyl,

Mark