31 March 2009
SAD090 :: Pentax K1000 :: Slow Super-Zoom :: HP5 :: 2001
The blog is getting pretty S.A.D. heavy, mostly because the fall of 2004 was an intensely photographic time. So the next ten days or so will depart from the chronology.
These were shot on Bowen's Island, near Charleston, SC.
This was the summer that Jes went around everywhere pretending to only have one leg. It was very embarrassing.
30 March 2009
SAD089 :: Pentax K1000 :: Pentax SMC 28mm/f2.8 :: HP5 :: 2004
There were hurricanes. We felt them as torrential rain, and all the rivers jumped their banks. This was perfect. As Sam Abell says: Bad weather makes for good photographs.
Coincidentally, Shane had just bought a motorcycle, and was thus willing to accompany me. We went to a sunken mine shaft, to see if it had flooded . . .
. . . and found that it had not. Its water level was the same as always. We concluded that it was, in fact, bottomless. So I went home. This shot was within a mile of our house, and by the next week, when the second storm hit, we lowered buckets into this creek from a bridge for water to flush our toilet.
29 March 2009
SAD088 :: Pentax K1000 :: Pentax SMC 28mm/f2.8 :: HP5 :: 2004
A trip to Kona with Madame Rex. I printed out a map so she could find her way out in case I, you know, fell off the trestle and dangled by my leg or something. Not that that would ever happen.
28 March 2009
SAD087 :: Pentax K1000 :: Pentax SMC 28mm/f2.8 :: HP5 :: 2004
I also wanted characters in my photos. This came partly from the traditional use of the figure as a visual device to indicate scale. But mostly, I wanted to show that these places were populated.
They are, of course, not populated. But neither is a room when you leave it. Neither is the empty house you lay awake in. Or the back seat of your car at night. These places are all empty. Of course.
I was lucky that SMAN was a jobless hippy and had time to go with me to all these sites. Otherwise, I would have been a little too aware of just how not populated they are.
27 March 2009
SAD086 :: Pentax K1000 :: Pentax SMC 28mm/f2.8 :: HP5 :: 2004
Even now, this is so hard to explain.
I wanted a series of images that depicted locations. Structures that I'd found in the woods through growing up in Yancey County. I wanted to render them as if they were being discovered for the first time, like some archeological monument whose meaning is unknown.
The dam on Baker's Creek was the keystone of that semester's work. There are other locations--the mine flats, the haunted house on Pensacola, the cell tower in Micaville, the abandoned substation in Kona, and a mystery dairy we never did find--but the dam summed it all up.
I shot nine rolls the first time we went, which was quite heavy for the time, and rushed back to the darkroom to make dark, haunting prints.
Larry gave me hell for this. "Open shadows, Cooper, open shadows." He called my style "heavyhanded." And then he'd hold my print up to the light to see if any more detail could be pried out of the shadows. (All the UNCA photo alumni who read this blog are rolling their eyes right now.) Invariably, I had to reprint the photograph:
26 March 2009
SAD085 :: Pentax K1000 :: Pentax SMC 28mm/f2.8 :: HP5 :: 2004
"You can't have both," said Larry White. "You can't have that light touch in one photo, and then have that dramatic sky in the other."
I had presented these photos pretty much exactly as they are presented here: Terribly. If anything, these are much better than the prints I made back then. We were critiquing in a house over in Biltmore.
Along with those two, I presented the Tractor photo, which I mention in the old blog as the best photo I'd ever shot. At the time, that was true. I think there may be a few that outweigh it now.
I still could not talk about what I was doing. But I knew that what I was doing was what I should be doing. A sense of place. A sense of the darkness of a place. And the characters that move between and among those places.
The first photo is my childhood treehouse, which still exists, and under which we still light fires. The second is a feldspar mine about half a mile from the house I grew up in. They were taken within ten minutes of each other. And yes, I can have them both.
25 March 2009
SAD084 :: Pentax K1000 :: Pentax SMC 28mm/f2.8 :: HP5 :: Fall, 2004
Now things get interesting.
In the fall of 2004 I took a 400-level photo course called "The Photographic Eye." Sometimes I think I am still taking this course.
The idea was to "refine personal vision." The first assignment was a paper on what exactly we would do with a semester's worth of time. Studio nudes? Documentary work? Scenics? Self-portraits? Write it all up and present it to the class, along with your past work.
I remember sitting on the lectern side of the Art History room with a one-paragraph statement I'd written ten minutes before, completely unable to express what I wanted to do. It wasn't that I was stupid or lazy, it was that the idea I had was so big I did not know how to communicate it.
I wanted to document Yancey County. I wanted to shoot night photography of railroads and gas stations. I wanted to create a landscape of interwoven locations, populated by recurring characters. I wanted to shoot things as I saw them, without pretense, but at the same time I wanted to create the darkest sense of each scene, because that was what I saw.
I had not yet seen the work of Walker Evans or Sam Abell. The word topography never entered my mind.
24 March 2009
There is a huge gap in the chronology of the S.A.D. project, from 2001 to late 2004. I think this is why. If you don't like long posts, read this.
I came to UNCA with vague idea of being a music major. It was soon apparent that I had no talent or interest in any music other than rock and roll, and academia considers that music about as much as it considers photography art.
I took a drawing class. It was an absolute waste of time. My inability to draw is pretty well-documented on this blog, and in my college transcript. I think I made a C.
I took almost no pictures during this time. I was busy getting the Humanities out of the way, learning what academia thought about the human condition. Comparatively, the drawing class, working in retail, or playing the Nintendo we kept in our dorm room were a better uses of the precious hours of my life.
Not happy. I was not happy. The limp noodle of a drawing instructor slunk around the class and said vague things about how I wasn't applying myself. I'd walk home from Owen with that big, wasted portfolio under my arm, hating every second of it. Then I'd go to my Humanities classes and listen to what my professors thought I should find inspiring in 5000 year old literature.
I played video games. Built into a cheap excuse for a strip shopping center in Burnsville was a place with a bunch of networked computers, and you paid six bucks an hour to play Unreal Tournament, Rune, Quake III. Until it inevitably went out of business, this was where we gathered--the few in Yancey County with imagination enough to enjoy what the place had to offer.
When I say this was a better use of my time than Humanities classes, I mean it. Considering our society objectively, the gaming industry produces a more pure and vibrant art than all the tenured professors on sabbatical, and all the BFA students finding themselves, and all the hippies in downtown studio apartments.
Out of a hundred people, how many will buy a painting, or a photograph, or a sculpture, for the sole sake of enjoying it? Taken a step further, how many will buy a novel? And how many of those people will buy a video game?
The idea of gaming as an art gets some harsh reaction, especially from the art community. Imagine the telling the chair of the art department that the outpost on the Phobos moon is more deeply rendered, more heartfelt, more real than all of Mary Cassatt's paintings put together. The Art World fears an imaginative visual medium that supports itself, without government subsidies or an academic caste or pledge drives pleading for more support for "the arts." There is a market for gaming that will never exist for the "fine" arts because people respond to what entertains and intrigues them. Academia must herd young minds toward the arts like cattle; people gather toward video games of their own accord.
There was one Christmas break over which I dedicated most of my time to studying 3D graphic arts. Much of this time was spent with a guy we called Deadpool--after the Marvel character--staying up late, bleary-eyed, staring at wire frames and texture maps. And, more importantly, at the work of designers better than us.
Completely amateurish, but well-intentioned. Some rendered in Bryce, some from contact-scanning and heavy Photoshop. I posted these images on my first website with the slogan: "maxnation.com: what surrealism is supposed to look like."
When I came back to school that spring, I took an Art History survey as part my of my advisor's plan for me to
The work of designers like Gilles Tran, who created this, this, and this, is: more accurate than a photograph in detail, rectilinear rendering, and color balance; as heartfelt as a painting; losslessly reproduced in both vector and raster form; available for viewing globally for fractions of a penny; and more influential to me than the entire Art History canon from pre-history to the year 1900.
And so the first art I really studied was not the work I was pushed toward by my professors. I memorized the temple of Hatshepsut long enough to vomit it up on a slide ID test, but Tran's Wet Bird ground part of the lens through which I see the world.
Deadpool bought a house, and had a housewarming party. This involved getting lots of guys together and shooting at each other in the dark. I got there late, and they were all sitting around the living room, and Deadpool said, "We think you're wasting your time with the music thing. You should go into the visual arts."
It wasn't until I started writing this post that I realized I took his advice. At the time, it seemed like the worst choice I could make: Drawing was a nightmare, and I had no reason to think 2D Design, 3D Design, Painting, Life Drawing, and Ceramics would be any better. And they weren't.
But I had a year of professional photojournalism under my belt, an exhibit or two on my resumé, and a Photo I credit from my time at PC. It seemed like the shortest path to getting the hell out of school. So I took a portfolio to Professor White to see if I could skip some of the preamble in getting into the photo program.
He took one look at my work and said, "Well, you know how to handle a camera, but your printing technique needs a lot of improvement. Intermediate photo is the place for you."
I didn't enjoy being labeled "intermediate." Nor did I enjoy the fact that I really enjoyed photography. Larry routinely picked me out in class to compliment my work, and I hated it. "Do what Cooper is doing," he told the class once. "Seek out new ways to see things." I did my best to sink below the table.
But I also realized that the work I was producing was no one's but my own. There is not one ounce of the Italian Renaissance in my photography. If I owed anything to anyone, it was to Tran, Jacques Defontaine , and Brian Prince, for showing me the irrelevance of force-fed art.
During one critique, I presented this image of Shane and a photo of Jes looking heart-breakingly beautiful--with her legs caked in swamp mud up to the knees. Larry said, "Your work is technically very good . . . but I see a darkness here." I still don't know what he meant by that.
But I know what I meant. When I was finished printing for my final critique, I cleaned up the darkroom and walked outside. It was morning. I had worked all night. And with the birds chirping in the soft light over Owen Hall, I realized that I would have worked that hard for nothing else.
SAD083 :: Nikon F100 :: Nikkor 28mm/f2.8 AF-D :: HP5 :: 2006
This is my buddy Howard, tearing it up at Musician's Workshop. I worked there for four years to earn money for paper and film. I'm actually filling in on the weekends there now. Nothing ever changes.