Over the past week and a half I have been working on a presentation that I am having to give on my work as a whole, and specifically what I have been working on recently. To be honest, it has been a tough process. I imagine I'm not the only one who feels this way, but picking apart your own work is a tough process that is like dissecting yourself as a person. It's part of the job, I know, but it is something I'd like to improve so that its no longer such a tedious task. Because of all of this, I thought I would take the time to go ahead and give some input to you as a way of practicing. This will hopefully give you an idea of my process in general and also some more focus on the long-term project I have been working on. I will be sure to turn on the comment section, so if you feel compelled to give some constructive criticism, please do.
As I began working on my current project, I started out as I normally do. I go out shooting with a purpose, but it is normally not evident to me at the time what that purpose is. Photography has always been more productive for me when it is organic and I just let the subject come to me. Going out with an open mind, attempting not to force myself to think too narrowly about a subject, large or small, allows me to see everything as an option. By working this way I have the freedom to form ideas and concepts as I go, yet not be constricted by any of them. This method keeps things moving in that organic fashion and allows me to explore in an unencumbered way.
For reasons that escape me now, I had decided to start investigating some of the small towns that surround the area I live in. If nothing else, they were easy to get to and, although I had been to a few of them before, most of them were new to me. There has always been a feeling of familiarity to these towns, yet also something foreign about them. Even though the first few I went to would be considered part of the larger community of the region I live in, walking through them was like being a tourist, an outsider. In a way this allowed me to look at things as if they were completely new to me. Had I seen many of these things before? Yes, but they were up close and personal now, like going to a museum and finally seeing a painting in person that you had only before seen in books and magazines. This feeling allowed me to put aside recollections of driving past these places and to start actually seeing them. My interest had been peaked and I began to see possibilities, if only on a small scale.
As I continued pursuing more of these smaller communities, I began to see something bigger developing. I was constantly going back and looking at images that I had made over multiple outings and seeing similarities, not only in landscape and subject, but in the way I was shooting. The images were forming in ways that, although different, had common threads. I would normally think this annoying and try to stop being repetitive, but there was something that seemed to be coming forward through this way of seeing. Not so much a narrative or comment about the place itself, but an interaction of the place and myself. I had been bouncing back and forth in my mind trying to figure out what I was saying about this landscape. What was the message that these places had to say? In the end I stumbled upon the fact that the work is not just about these places, but also about me.
I have written pages and pages in my journal about the past of these towns, how things have changes and time has seemingly left them and moved on. I have commented on the closed shops, the small diners, and the loss of commerce suffered by the loss of the railroad or a local mill. These things are true about many of these places, but what I always came back to and questioned is "why?". Not why did these towns become what they are today, but why is the image important?
What I began to realize is that the images themselves are questions and answers. Both of these, though, are not only about the places, but about myself. The work has become a series of comments about who I am, while questioning what this particular town, building, or sign is. As someone who is definitely an outsider to these communities, I am applying my own thoughts and statements to them through the images. I'm simultaneously asking and answering more questions by framing these places in a way that breaks them up, shows their imperfections, subtle humor, and seeming emptiness. I try not to be too forceful, to be, as Eggleston put it, democratic. By doing so, this leaves the viewer to pose their own questions, make their own answers, or do both while exploring the image.
There is a subtle complexity to the small town that seems, I think, often missed at first glance. We all have our preconceived ideas about what goes on there, what it might be like to live there, but rarely do we take the chance to stare at it and investigate ourselves through it piece by piece. Through this work in progress, I invite the viewer to question the image, the subject, and themselves. The image is the answer to the question posed by the images itself.