Stephanie at home, June 2012.
Clinard was on Self-Assignment recently and reading through it reminded me how I started in making photos. It’s really interesting to see someone else really interested in the banalities of life take a completely different direction that I did. More often than not when I shoot images of life around me I just let them stand there and appreciate them for what they are as images or as a catalyst to remember an experience or whatever. His approach seems to be to take those images an use them as inspiration for a specific direction for a photo that he crafts later. I love it.
Anyway, read on, and peep Mike’s work.
Why do you shoot personal work?
Michael Clinard: Back in art school, I was often found exiting a 7/11 with a six-pack in one hand a disposable camera in the other. That “camera” went everywhere I went and kept record to any number of life events and off-moments. In tandem with this practice, I also kept journals and sketchbooks as a means to develop my rather conceptual, non-objective art projects from those days.That “camera” - and the resulting images from it - seemed more an extension of my journals/sketchbooks and less a picture that asks to be critiqued/judged for it’s subject matter, technical merits, etc.For me, that personal work represented the entry point by which to explore that which seemed theatrical and grand about the things around me. I’m inspired by the banal and cliche, popular culture and the profundity of everyday life. I always felt like I missed certain things or came late to the table with the images I got in my personal work. That said, I was usually taking those images back into my books and concepting ideas for later exploration in some of my more well-lit, tableaux portraits and scenarios.The practice that started back in art school continues today with the quirky, conceptual portrait and reportage style images I shoot for a host of commercial and editorial clients. I still keep my journals and sketchbooks; still keep a camera with me all the time to document the things I miss.
I had a realization today that it is absolutely not possible for my to shoot enough photos. I was watching a video about Marc Hauser, seeing image after image float by, and I became somewhat overwhelmed by the volume of great images. One after another after another. Some of his work reminded me of Avedon, some of Penn, but mostly I was just fascinated at the breadth of the work. On and on. Between the video and his site, he’s just got a ton of work. Granted, he’s been shooting for a billion years. Much like a lot of the other photographers I enjoy, their work just comes out of their ears. They seem to always be shooting.
And all that got me thinking, too, about personal work. The above shot is a simple 4x5 shot of bridge here in town. Typical, mundane. I can’t decide if it’s boring or not. I was compelled to take the shot. The lines were pretty, or whatever. But does that make it interesting? Even if just for me? And if it is interesting to me but no one else, is it any less valid? I don’t know. Nothing is really happening in the shot but the structure and lines and light all grab me up and shake me around. But is that enough?
I read a quote the other day by David Alan Harvey that goes like this:
“You must have something to say. You must be brutally honest with yourself about this. Think about history, politics, science, literature, music, film, and anthropology. What effect does one discipline have over another? What makes “man” tick? Today, with everyone being able to easily make technically perfect photographs with a cell phone, you need to be an “author”. It is all about authorship, authorship and authorship.”
This has always been a struggle for me. As long as I’ve taken photographs, my modus operandi has been to have a camera on me, live life, and react to what is happening around me. Intuition and reflex dictates my photos as much as my thoughts (but they also influence each other simultaneously). This feels like I am not in control, and I haven’t figured out if I am. And if I am or not, what am I saying? Is this idea of authorship as specific as I interprut it? Does my “something to say” have to be concrete and explainable? Is the documenting of my life enough? If I have no idea what I’m saying, am I saying something? Am I just too lazy to figure out what it is I’m already saying?
The work I make for myself, whether I end up liking it in the end or not, is fundamentally a reaction to life. My current main portfolio, or whatever you want to call it, was curated by my friend Jared Ragland who has such a keen eye. The grouping of my work he made for this site is far better than I could ever hope to put together. Maybe it’s my emotional attachment to the shots or knowing the backstory, but his objectivity let him draw a line between shots I’d never have even considered. This is exciting for me—to have someone else digest my work and spit out something that makes sense to them—but makes me wonder (imagine that) about what this body of work says about me. I get a glimpse into how my work appears to others, as well as getting to see all the interconnections between my life experience that I’d never have seen before. But does this mean someone else is saying something with my work about my work? Where does this leave me?
I guess it all comes down to the idea of not being in control. And perhaps that idea of feeling the need to be in control is rooted in the idea that I use photographs to make my living.
There are two roads in my head when I think about work for money and work for me.
The first is that the work I do professionally should be indistinguishable from the work I do for me. Then I’m a “true” artist or whatever (even thought I hate a lot of about that word/title) and I feel more validated about my personal vision or interpretation of the word. It feeds my ego, I guess, to think that the way I see things has value.
But then there’s the second road which is more pragmatic and WAY less idealistic. That road recognizes that you don’t sell stuff only with gritty, black and white, sort of weird images. Color sells. Happy emotions sells. Images that can be repurposed sell. Function over form, I guess this road is called. But the same things that make my personal work fulfilling for me aren’t totally divorced from me on this second, perhaps. Surely I could employ the same intuition and connection to surroundings and people to create images that really say something, but also serve an important function for industry (which, let’s face it, is my main target since I’m not really trying to make a go of being all-artist-all-the-time, right?).
Of course, selecting road two means needing to be in control of other things that are outside of my comfort zone. Business crap is the worst. And my brain does not gravitate toward it. But I digress. Without really answering my own questions.
One place where I see these roads overlap though, is non-profit work. At least to the degree that I can merge serving a purpose and engaging people/life the way I think I do best. But I’ll leave that conversation for another post.
I’d love to hear any thoughts on personal work you may have. Or your ideas about the division of business and personal work. Or your weird blend of the two. Anything, really. If you have reaction…I want it.