Kevin Dunn lays it down, Winchester Mass, June 2012
The sweetest version of the sweetest song of all time, Velvet Underground live in 1969
Oh man.. There is only so much I can say (literally I lost my voice from talking all night like a amphetamine freak and smoking rolled cigarettes) but my work is really starting to come together, and people are starting to notice. I’m not just getting death threats any more, I’m getting the opposite, life compliments? I’m thinking about how my work is changing because the subjects are starting to see them and we are having a dialog, some times good sometimes bad. Its very interesting. Here’s an email I received from one mother
“You took some pictures of my kids the other day at Puffers Pond. I would be interested in seeing how they came out. Also I’d appreciate seeing any images before you use them on your blog/site.
I like your black and white work. – the photos of the people waiting for the parade are great.”
This is exactly what I wanted to happen with my ‘Threat Level Zero’ post. She totally understands and I feel great about it. Maybe this is what my procedure should be with kids shots, the only problem is that only 1 in a 100 people ever email me after I take their picture. Hmm, its something I can work on. On a side note the pictures of her kids are photographically rubbish (all my fault) and I have no intention of putting them on the internet. So it worked out great for her, they are pictures ‘only a mother could love’.
Picture by Sam Quinn
I was working my (and Jairs) ass off last weekend, after loading up on Friedlander’s big yellow book and 20 rolls of tri-x I stayed out all night Thursday taking pictures
On a technical note the slow speeds on the Mamiya camera I’m working with are VERY SLOW, that’s why I’m getting all these ‘spirit photographs’ but for these ones I kind of like it. We got up early on Friday to hang at the Otherside Cafe and because my hands are useless for anything but changing f-stops, Jair hung the show in record time.
After that I went to park street. Its been far too long since I’ve haunted downtown crossing, I used to prowl it a couple times a week and I get nostalgic. Oh man I’m getting old, but not this old.
I met a bunch of ‘The street photographers’ there, the same ones who were hunting preteen girls in packs with their fancy vaguely Aryan equipment. Click between the (((()))) to watch the video, I can’t make links work right DAMN YOU WORDPRESS
It was funny, I never was really part of their club, but I miss those guys… I’m glad some one is down there ‘harassing’ the people of Boston. I hope ‘King Leica’ sees his portrait, I think he would like it, its funny, I’ve photographed him before and he was always scowling. Maybe he was happy to see me.
The Otherside was great, good friends, decent nachos and great photography. I had to duck out too soon and drive back to western mass and SLEEP, but I’ll be back Other Side. I need to have a pretty girl notice that I’m the man from the picture and buy me a beer.
If you read ‘the world is wonderous’ you know I got permission to shoot in a bar called Hugo’s, I almost didn’t go I was so tired, but I’m happy I did. Drunk people are great material and this leads me to another ethical quandary. Arbus shot developmentally disabled people acting like retards and made haunting work. Pula shot college kids after too many pabsts and made funny ass pictures. I don’t know if it all adds up. Take a look at this pair of pictures. (You really got to click on them to view the large)
The girl in the center changes from deranged to cutesy in 10 seconds flat, both are a honest depiction of events and neither of them is what she really looks like. I hope she would understand why the first one is the better photograph, its the look of shock on the blonde to the rights face to whatever conversation she and black hair are having that frames the seizure like expression of the center girl. I’ll have a long post about the interviews I’ve been doing with all sorts of portrait photographers about how they sleep at night, but for now lets all sit back and laugh at the drunken antics.
“That picture is not for publication and you need to remove it from your web site or else you HAVE just comitted your suicide !!!! Ever hear of the Diablos !!!!!! Remove that picture and I suggest you discard any negatives NOW”
I received this email the other day from one of the people I photographed at the Holyoke St Patrick’s Day parade, from what I remember they agreed to have their picture taken, it was a pleasant exchange and ended in me giving them my business card. This begs several questions. What went wrong? Who are the Diablos? What the hell should I do?
I forwarded this email to a bunch of people, first as a lark, then more seriously as the fears set in. As usually happens, my initial anger was softened when I started to piece everything together.
It was a picture in conjunction with some pretty terrible writing that made this person angry, I realized that the picture on its own might come off weird, but it was my over enthusiastic hyperbolic caption that brought the Diablos (a biker gang out of Westfield whose members have been arrested for drug trafficking) into the discussion. Let me quote the most offensive line of my prose
“Her disaffected stare repeating the dead plastic smile of her stuffed animal, the decapitated parents reinforcing her alienation from the nuclear family”
I talked to a couple parents who were sympathetic to my cause, but they all said that the idea of you’re child being taken from you (metaphorically through photography) and then injured (ditto) through words could make anybody murderously angry. When I reread my comment through their eyes I realized I sounded like a raving lunatic, some one who just might deserves a visit from the Diablos. So I took down the comment. Looking at it with fresh eyes changes the whole meaning of the photograph.
What was I trying to say with my super pompous, dark reading of the picture, was that a photograph shares only a tangential connection with the reality ‘recorded’ in front of the camera. I was showing off how I could take something as wholesome as a family on a Sunday stroll and make it weird and dark. I then took this somewhat unsettling image and jumped off the deep end with my words, in a way that frightened my once willing subject into anger. I want to say for the record that I apologize for that, it was bone headed and wrong of me, and my sister/editor wants to point out that I didn’t run it past her and that she would have nipped it in the bud (so really it should be her you’re angry with)
Now I’m a guy who sees the humor in everything, and whats really funny is both my accuser and I are guilty of the same thing, being too hyperbolic, bursting through the line between legitimate discourse and outright nastiness. I stand by the picture 100%, but I actually have to thank this person for opening my eyes to an important conundrum.
The material for my art is living breathing human beings with feelings. I believe that as an artist I have the right to use them for whatever purpose I’m after. The sculptor doesn’t care what the clay thinks when he is transforming it into an expression of his psyche. Unfortunately my material has turned around to bite me in the ass. So what should I do? If I try and censure myself into only finding positive things to say with my art, I worry it might lose whatever power it has and die. However I can never lose sight of the fact that these are people so decent and trusting that they let a fat sweaty bald stranger into their lives, if only for a moment, to make his art that they will never profit from. Maybe I’ve gotten so comfortable in the street that I forgot that the little image in my camera is a person just like me.
The only reason any of this happened is that I’m trying to promote myself, for years the images lived on a semi private photo stream, where I could be sure that the subjects would never find themselves and only other photographers, who would understand the stupid jokes, would see them. Of course as I discussed in the previous post (You Down with OPC) this was never really the case, but once I started handing out business cards that linked to this blog, I was opening up a can of worms that I am still struggling with.
I took part in the first ever All Visual Boston slide show event, which was headlined by the Great (if underrated) Bill Burke. I finally worked up the nerve to talk to him right before he went on, and I asked him a bunch of dorky pointless questions about how awesome it must have been to be shooting free Polaroid neg/pos film. What I really should have asked, in retrospect, is what are his feelings about portrait ethics. The big E word makes me uncomfortable, I feel that real photographers just go for the picture, while smart aleck pusses sit around on the sidelines clucking amongst themselves. Bill Burke’s portraits can be brutal, and he doesn’t shy away from a little editorializing in the captions either.
Intellectual property stolen from Bill Burke
What would make his opinion on ‘ethics’ so interesting is that he was using Pos/Neg instant film, so his subject knew exactly how they were being portrayed (admittedly after the deed was done) how did this change his interaction with his subjects and his photography. Hopefully I’ll run into him someday and be able to get some answers. In the meantime I’ll have to figure it out on my own.
This blog is for you (you being friends, strangers, and my subjects) but more importantly its a place for me to try and solidify my ideas about art making by writing down all the dumb ideas I have running through my brain, so I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll agree to look both ways before crossing the street from now on, if you agree to think twice before getting the Diablos involved. Deal?