Sunday, October 28, 2007

Jeff Wall and Happy Accidents

On Thursday night, I went to see a sold-out artist’s talk by Jeff Wall at SFMOMA, where a retrospective of his work has just opened. His is work that has never grabbed me visually on its own, but when words are added to his images they come to life in a new way. He is very much a conceptual artist, well-versed in art history, theory, and criticism, and his work is deeply informed by this. One of the very interesting things he has done is to make pictures that are more connected to the traditions of painting and even cinema than to the history of photography.

Wall describes his process as “disciplined improvisation” and “near documentation.” For example, in A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) from 1993 (which you can see on the SFMOMA web site), he composited 75 photographs, combining them digitally to re-create his own version of a well-known painting. He scouted out the proper landscape, hired actors to perform for his camera and spent long stretches of time photographing each element in the scene. Wall does all this labor-intensive work to create just one final image. But for him, it is because of all this effort, that the one image he does make has (what he hopes is) staying power on par with great 19th C paintings.

I enjoyed his conversation about accident, which plays a crucial role in his work. As he said, “Every starting point is an accident…I’m always surprised...Accidents stacked on top of each other are necessary for something to happen.” In A Sudden Gust of Wind, it was the accidental smile of the twirling figure in the center that changed the whole sense of the photograph. Wall took 300 shots of the twirling man alone. It was after having spun many times, that the twirler’s smile emerged probably in light of the absurdity of repeating this action again and again. Yet for Wall it was the crucial element for unlocking the mood of the whole piece.
Prior to his talk, I had always viewed Wall’s work as tightly controlled, but now I am intrigued by his sense of serendipity. As an artist, what I take away from his lecture is a reminder that you just have to collect your tools and props and get started and let the accidents happen that lead you to the best possible picture.

To learn more about Wall, you could read a nice piece from the February 25th NY Times Magazine by Arthur Lubow. His exhibit at SFMOMA is up until January 27, 2008.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Rhythm of Open Studios

I had a really lovely Open Studio last weekend – lots of people, nice conversations, and some good sales too. One thing I have learned after doing these kinds of events for almost ten years is that each weekend I open my doors to the studio is a unique experience with its own distinct rhythm. Some have a steady trickle of people all day long, other weekends they come all at once and then leave me with long lulls. This one had a very nice, gentle rhythm – some overlapping visitors and also some nice breaks. In between visitors, I got to catch up on my photography reading. I subscribe to many photo/art publications including Photograph, Photo-Eye Booklist, Art on Paper, Camera Arts as well as newsletters from photography non-profits. Here a few of my favorite quotes from the weekend’s reading…

“One might compare the art of photograpy to the act of pointing…”
-John Szarkowski, from his NY Times Obituary

“Art is an additive process and the thing about photography is we go out and we’re at the mercy of what we find. That’s the real discovery. The important thing is quality of attention span and to use it for acceptance rather than for negation.”
-Frederick Sommer quoted by Emmet Gowin

“I like to think that in order for any of us to really do anything new, we can’t know exactly what it is we are doing…It’s cool to be wrong. It’s so essential, so necessary. It’s so appropriate to be confused, to be muddled, to be unsure. We preach clarity. Get your ideas organized. Get your thinking straight….But it is the aliveness of the unguarded intuition and the persistence of our own feelings that guide us to our discoveries.”
-Emmet Gowin interviewed by John Paul Caponigro

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Open Studio This Weekend!

The past few days have been full of preparations for my Open Studio in San Francisco. Although I do most of my creative work in Muir Beach, I am fortunate to have use of a space in San Francisco where I have a black and white darkroom, and can store and display my completed work. A couple of times a year, I open the doors there and invite the public in. This particular Open Studio is part of the city-wide Open Studios sponsored by Artspan - each weekend in October highlights a different area of the city. You can learn more and download maps at

My studio will be open Saturday and Sunday, October 13 & 14 from 11am-6pm each day at 3069 Washington Street at Baker. It would be wonderful to have you stop by and see my newest work in person.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Day of Art

I spent this past Sunday several hours south of home, looking at art accompanied by my husband. We started in Carmel with the Center for Photographic Art, which has a lovely show of one of my favorite photographers, Masao Yamamoto. His photographs are elegant and intimate treasures. The largest image was only about 8 x 6” and many were much smaller than that. He flew in from Japan with close to 1000 photos and selected 70 to install. Frameless, they are arranged in a poetic musicality on the wall (as seen in this photo here). I first learned of his work from the wonderful publications by Nazraeli Press, and being in this exhibit was like standing inside of one of those books. It is a show whose meaning and mood builds over time the longer you spend with it. Above all, I took from this show an affirmation that work can be quite small and hold a gallery space quite powerfully.

After visiting PhotoWorks and the Weston Gallery, we left Carmel and headed to Palo Alto for the Maggie Taylor exhibit at Modern Book Gallery. Maggie collages various elements in Photoshop creating surreal dreamlike scenes. It was a treat to see so much of her work in one place – altogether her prints begin to tell a fairytale narrative tinged with mystery and some darkness. Modern Book has just produced a great monograph of her work – Solutions Beginning with A – which I bought as soon as it was released.

Not only did these two exhibits inspire me – encouraging me to muse about scale and poetry and storytelling in art - but they were also in spaces were I am scheduled to have shows in 2008. So I also viewed these shows with an eye for how the art was arranged and how my work might fill that same space. It was quite awesome to know that my art will hang on the same walls as the work of these two remarkable artists. I can’t imagine better company.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Feeding Myself Good Books

I woke up feeling blue today and so I spent the morning feeding myself good books. I started with SARK’s A Creative Companion – a loan from my friend Britt – who just interviewed SARK for the new podcast. I took comfort in SARK’s whimsy, her affirmation of her readers’ creative potential, and the invitation to dream. It’s a playful, and at times very light hearted book, possessing some keen insights, such as “Creativity adores solitude. Provide quiet creative time for yourself. It can first fit into the cracks of your life, and as you nurture it, it will expand into a glorious interior garden.”

Then I turned to two new books from the Fraenkel GalleryThe Book of Shadows and Eye of the Beholder: Photographs from the Collection of Richard Avedon (pictured above). Both books are wonderful objects. The Book of Shadows is covered in a soft dark blue velvet that felt so good under my fingertips – perfect for comfort reading. It is a book comprised of anonymous snapshots in which shadows play the significant role of indicating the presence of the photographer. It reminded me that photography is at its essence about light and shadow, and that you can’t have one without the other. The Richard Avedon book (pictured above) is a delightful boxed set of five separate folios – each dedicated to a different aspect of his personal photography collection – Diane Arbus, Peter Hujar, Irving Penn, the Countess of Castiglione (fascinating 19th C woman), and the final one called Etcetera. I enjoyed pondering how these photographs may have effected Avedon’ photographic vision. I can only guess that they expanded and inspired him as they did me this morning.