On January 27 of this year I completed and sent out an application for a residency/retreat in France. I had no expectation to get in, but I figured since it was free to apply and I probably should start applying to residencies. Fast-forward to today and I'm writing this from a hotel in Grenoble, France, the day after leaving The Photography Master Retreat in the village of Esparon.
For the last week I was in a wonderful circle of creativity perched upon a mountain in Provence. Arriving on a Saturday, knowing none of the other 12 people there, I left yesterday with connection to these people that I wouldn't have received in any other way. Somehow, through all the tedious work that we did, we not only managed to focus and streamline our work, but we also had fun.
I had gone into this experience a nervous wreck. Mainly due to the way I overthink things, I felt that even though I had spent the past three months working mainly on getting work prepared for this, I wasn't ready at all. I had a presentation to give when I arrived that I was working on up to the last minute. The moments I wasn't sleeping on the plain were spent with my notebook open, notecards spread out, and me just at the point of cracking. I had to force myself to just stop, knowing that sleep was more important than the presentation. Luckily I was right.
Upon arrival, after walking about 6 kilometers while being somewhat lost, it was time to get settled. I was happy to see that one of the other participants had also been a little lost, but she at least made it there without having to literally break a sweat. After a quick introduction we were shown our rooms and waited for the rest of the group to arrive.
After a short period of time, all 13 of us were there. We slowly made introductions in the way it normally goes with groups like this. Some people are quick to introduce themselves, others more reserved, I'm in the middle, maybe closer to the latter. By the time we sat down for our first dinner I was going through the names I had already gotten. To be honest, I think it might have been lunch of the next day that I finally had everyone's name.
I had help with the names due to the presentations we did on our first full day of work. I say work only because after having taken my last class in school almost twenty years ago, I don't have to do presentations that much anymore, and never to a small, intimate group of practical strangers about my work. It's on the level of having to confess your deepest, darkest secrets, face-to-face with the person you're trying to keep it from. If you had told me it was going to all be downhill from there, I would have almost believed you.
Over the next few days, though, I got to know not only the people I was surrounded by, but got the opportunity to see my work finally make the turn that it needed to, and help the others gain the same thing. I went from knowing there was something in a large collection of images with a broad common thread, to having a streamlined, focused project.
I am in no way saying that the project wasn't going in the right direction, but it was more like I was stuck in a holding pattern. I was beginning to think I would be like one of those people you hear about that say they're writing a novel, but have a manuscript that is over one thousand pages because they can't find an end point. I had kept working in the hopes that the end would show itself.
I now have a working edit to this project, a set of goals to reach over the next year or so, and a confidence in my work that I don't think I've ever solidly had before. Confidence in this project and what it is is no longer an issue.
So what am I getting at as I sit in this room at midnight, typing before I call it a night? Beyond the fact that I had probably more fun than anyone should have while working intensively on editing, writing an artist statement, and sequencing a project; I have a strong body of work ready to be seen... on a scale beyond what I was thinking. This all happened though by taking a chance.
Please don't trudge through your work hoping that something will happen. Don't get me wrong, there are times that it happens, but most likely it won't happen to you, me, or someone either of us know. You have to put the work in, and sometimes that includes other people. You don't have to go to France for those people either, although it's nice if you can. Go talk to other artists, sit down with them and show them your portfolio. Get ideas from their critique and apply the ones that work. Find someone who can help you edit and sequence your work. All these things will help to get you over whatever hump you feel like you can't get over.
All that said, I'll cut this off as I feel like I'm rambling. I did mention it's about midnight. I encourage you, if interested, to come back to the site in the near future. The tight edit of the project will be up and will be up. The rest of the site shouldn't change too much, but you'll get to see this edit, the sequencing, and hopefully (assuming I can figure it out) the statement.