NOTHING PRECIOUS

These photographs span the last 15 years. Some are shot on film, some DSLR, and others on an iPhone. Some have been unapologetically processed by automation, others are corrected in only subtle ways. Still others just get to be what they are. Modifications and corrections are made to serve the subject matter and not a craving for the fantastical or nostalgic. Though the impulse to indulge both in reckless and overwrought ways can sometimes take hold, those elements must have some root in the original – with equal parts accident and instinct in order to translate in two dimensions.

This is not an artists statement. I attempted to write one of those once and it is nearly impossible to do without sounding contrived. And there is no way to avoid the main problem: that they exist as an attempt to explain something which originates from places that are distinctly wordless. The artist is put on the spot to explain motivations that should not have to be explained. Nor should the viewer have their experience informed by something so limited. The experience of viewing art is a personal and even intimate one after all.

People have often asked, “Are you a photographer”?

For me, the answer has always been “No, but I take pictures.”

What then makes a photographer if not the act of taking pictures?

Its a question I avoid as it lends to the striving and urgent self definition that modern life seems to demand.

People can make declarations all they want but the essential question is “What are you doing?”

Categories, titles and labels (and currently, hashtags) are part of life. I’m not protesting, I’m only observing that avoiding them keeps me accountable.

This includes what I do for a living (not photography.)

The only formal schooling I finished after high school was design school. It was two of the most revelatory years of my life not just in terms of what I created but what I learned about my own process. It turned out not to match many of the prescribed lines of discipline - ones that were good advice nonetheless, just not something that worked for me. And as I stumbled right to the edge of dismissal from the program, I had a simple revelation: I’m just going to do what I want to do and stop trying to do what I think other people want because obviously I suck at that.”

What followed was as surprising to me as it was to them: Work which was by their measure and several others, good. But that was only a start.

It was no shock to find that as a working designer you don’t just get to do what you want. After a few frustrating years of facing down the discord between creative impulse and professional obligation, it occurred to me that I might want to compartmentalize and earn money in a realm of relative absolutes. And the economic crash of 2008 made for good timing as few creatives found themselves employed amidst the fallout.

With a few books, a couple of months holed up in my room and some dumb luck, I landed in the tech world doing exactly what I wanted: Helping creative businesses and individuals with their machines. I took great comfort in the black and white nature of it; things either worked or they didn’t. When I made them work my job was done. It wasn’t some subjective battle between good design and bad taste.

In this way, I was liberated to be totally selfish about where my creative energy was spent.

Lately, I have settled into more specialized work in cyber security and a somewhat unexpected life in Texas.

The impulse to create is rarely limited to one thing and is often haphazard. I have long resigned myself to the fact that while there are certain recurring themes, I will never be prolific in one thing. And sometimes i will devote myself for long periods to 0’s and 1’s only.

Often I lament how dilute my efforts can be when my curiosities and impulses spread over such an expanse. But all the same, one feeds another and yet another, so what comes out is no less the product of this subterranean soup, if not somewhat schizophrenic.

And much of what comes out has remained in the shadows because of a constant awareness that nothing is new under the sun. Sometimes this plagues me more than it should.

But there’s a point where you have to give yourself permission.

The digital age has not helped. 90% of the worlds stored data has been created in the last two years.

But life requires that we play along with so many constructs that we may disagree with in principle. Not to do so can mean an uphill trudge. Its a world in which fewer and fewer conscious choices need to be made. We don’t even have to use our brains to get from A to B anymore. And I don’t think its a stretch to say this can apply in every facet of daily life if we want it to. By now this self surveilling auto pilot reality is so normal that there are apps to combat the effects of living like this.

Progress has made puppets out of us, steering us urgently towards a digital age house of mirrors.

Now even making conscious choices has become more of a tagline - mindful living is commodified as a response - and as it is, it becomes not just an attempted force for good and self correction, but propagates by way of the very things that its protesting.

But before I spin myself into a a hopeless froth…

Progress has also allowed me, someone with a seemingly low tolerance for traditional education, easy access to self educate, explore, research, and generally sink my teeth into anything that feeds me. It’s safe to say that without the internet, I would have mined all this information from a library, but I do appreciate the luxury of having it all at a moments notice.

The most essential part though, is learning by doing - sometimes for long concentrated periods, sometimes in ways that may seem reckless. But even within recklessness are crumbs of theory and some amount of self preservation. I’m guilty of dismantling part of my car and then finding I'm unable to retrace my steps. Similarly, I have ingested substances only for the purpose of observing the effects, testing a theory to better understand my own biology. These may seem like missteps, but really they’re just steps on a very circuitous path.

I have approached photography in a similar way, often learning more in the effort to avoid taking really bad photos than a conscious attempt to make good ones. To hold any parts of the process as precious is to embrace limits. But all the same, it can be a struggle to find the place where my sometimes flailing curiosity meshes effectively with conscious intent.

Perhaps the search for that is exactly the point. But it’s not for me to say.

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