wonderlust photoworks in collaboration with @kyotocatAnalog Bath (2018)

Bathrooms are not a great setting for photographs. First, they tend to be small/cramped. Second, they generally have crummy lighting.

This was a lesson I learned the hard way back when I was a film student. Every single project I attempted involved a scene in a bathroom. Without a bathroom with a window–which for those who don’t live in Brooklyn is a truly mythical creature.

But–for once–I have a bathroom with a window. It’s small but it’s south facing and my tub is actually photogenic.

During my last session with Kyotocat, I wanted to try to do something with it, esp. given that I only have this apartment for three more months.

By the time we got to it, the light was all but gone. My instinct was to just ditch the idea and cut things short. I figured that since I had no idea when I’d have someone else to work with, I might as well try.

I metered things and it was super sketchy. The rule of thumb is you can operate an SLR handheld down to roughly 1/30s shutter speed. Anything lower and you’re going to have camera shake. Interestingly, this has to do less with drinking too much caffeine and being jittery. An SLR has a mirror which flips up and out of the way before the shutter opens. The up and down motion of the shutter actually causes more of the shake than your movements.

I’ve all but sworn off SLRs–excepting the Pentax 67ii, I have trouble with fine focusing. By contrast, although rangefingers can be more challenging to find gross focus, fine focusing with them is a breeze for me. But I digress….

With a 35mm range finder I can get down to 1/8 of a second before I start seeing noticeable camera shake. When I first measured the light it was 1/4s (100 ASA, aperture wide open–f4).

It was 1/2s by the time I was ready to expose the first frame. In other words, there’s no way doing this handheld is going to work out.

Again, I thought about scrapping it. Instead I locked my xpan down to my tripod, put the camera strap around my neck, straddled the tub, braced two of the legs against the wall behind me and then treated the camera as if it was my tango partner.

To give you even more context: I’m wearing a long dress and Kyotocat is scootched with her legs halfway up the wall behind me. (She probably looked not unlike the model in this magnificent image by Joanna Szproch.)

I tried to line everything up symmetrically–which sounds much easier than it actually is when you find yourself in such a position.

When I got the slides back I was thrilled with the color. However, the slight angle of the composition bothered me. It wasn’t what I had envisioned compositionally–so I didn’t want to accept it.

I kept circling back to it for some reason. I still can’t decide whether the tilt harms or contributes; I have decided that the symmetrical intention is clear enough as it is and that the angle perhaps doesn’t harm or contribute and instead complicates.

Stepping back from questions of composition: the mood I was chasing is absolutely conveyed in spades. So I’m sending this photo out into the wild as a reminder to others just as much as myself that that adage about crisis being another word for opportunity is correct. This isn’t what I had in mind but I’m pretty sure it’s better than what I originally intended. I’m just not sure how to articulately defend that thesis because it’s more a nascent feeling than any sort of intellectual certainty.

wonderlust photoworks – [top to bottom; left to right] Mx Incohate (2014); Homesick for the Distances (2015); 29:18 collaboration with Anonymous (2010); Map in the Maze collaboration with @camdamage (2015); A Dark Chant collaboration with @marissalynnla (2016); Baba Yaga collaboration with @suspendedinlight (2017); Hasp collaboration with @kyotocat (2016); Svartifoss (2015); Echo (2019); Woodland Cathedral collaboration with @marissalynnla (2016); Wombs + Tombs collaboration with @kyotocat (2016); Hold Me Now or Hold Me Never (2017); A Piece of the Sky collaboration with @suspendedinlight (2016); Coney Island, October (2016); Two Red Plastic Bags (2015); Samson’s Riddle collaboration with Kelsey Dylan (2016); Moxie (2016); Hold Me Like the Landscape Holds the Light (2017); Heart-Shaped Sunglasses + Helianthuses collaboration with Jacs Fishburne (2016); Emma collaboration with @kyotocat (2016)

Since I’ve been yammering on about it, it seemed only fair to share with the rest of the class. Above is the work I am submitting to MFA programs. (Apologies for some of the early formatting awkwardness…I had to trick Tumblr into letting me upload everything to a single post.)

The accompanying statement reads as follows:

I grew up in a Christian doomsday cult—an experience which forged a lifelong
preoccupation with the conceptual interpenetration of sin/transgression + salvation/
transcendence.

Storytelling figured prominently in this milieu—scads of Trojan horse fables secreting ideological payloads—but, also: beautiful, expansive conversations which were
less dialogue + more interactive sharing of stories not unlike a carefully curated anthology places various parts in implicit dialogue across the whole.

This effusive sharing sparked a strong sensitivity for wonderment which drew me
to music (something that saved me, continues to save me) + lead in turn to Johannes
Vermeer
’s paintings, Andrei Tarkovsky’s oneiric long takes, William Eggleston’s impeccable dye transfers + Francesca Woodman gothic self-portraiture.

(Other artists to whose work I perennially return? Chris Burden, Duane Michals,
Rackstraw Downes, Ana Medieta, Peter Hujar, Kelli Connell, Aino Kannisto + Allison
Barnes
.)

The enormity of experiencing beauty has always seemed a profound responsibility—as if in seeing there is a duty to labor in whatever way one is able to give something
back for what one have so undeservingly received.

My own art making process begins with the identification of a “visual problem” +
fits the form of a question*—e.g. How might a single, static frame imply a narrative
arc?
(This question maneuvered me from cinematography to fine art photography.)


Any rendering of a person in an environment suggests narrative potential insofar
as the viewer asks who the figure is (characterization) + how she came to be in this particular scene (causation) + what she is doing there (context).

This introduces a second, more complicated conceptual problem. Given that photographing people is a minefield of political + ethical quandaries, how does one depict
identity, gender + sexuality while actively thwarting the art historical, dominant (hetero-partiarchal) gaze?

The only means I have found to ameliorate this is to conceptualize my photography as collaborative . I seek out + work with artists—sharing my questions with
them, asking each to bring their ideas + personal sensibilities to the proceedings.

When I am behind the camera, I refuse to allow myself to fixate on conceptual
considerations. Instead, I trust the preparation + planning that has led to the point of
making something. I proceed instinctively, acting less as author + more as a steward/midwife; the camera serves as a means of extending my capacity to feel outward—both
from the standpoint of sensory stimulus but also with regard to emotional resonance.
When what I see through the viewfinder feels like a response to the visual problem(s), I
snap the shutter.

My strategy for editing retraces the above steps from conceptualization to execution except in reverse order + with one notable exception: my collaborators receive “first
edit”, i.e. if they are uncomfortable with any aspect of their depiction they can opt to exclude any image(s) from further consideration—allowing for the exercise of personal
agency in expressing identity within the context of visual representation. 


From what remains, I review the work with special attention to frames which
exhibit ‘good’ composition in tandem with unity between form + visual grammar. Work
which surprises me hints at subsequent avenues of exploration (whether by expanding
my understanding of one or more problems or suggesting more effective ways of addressing those problem). Time has taught me the photos which evoke a feeling similar to
what I felt when the shutter clicked are the ones that matter.

I am at a point in my life where it feels as if I am on the cusp of making a leap
forward in my work—the work is asking me to commit to it. The [REDACTED] program would allow me to dedicate myself to my work for two years—allowing me to take risks + experiment, e.g. I am fascinated by the ways my process
overlaps with conceptual + performance based modalities of art making; also: how might it possible to convey visually something of the feeling of gender dysphoria?

The [REDACTED] MFA would not only foster a richer understanding of art history,
it would also provide a in-depth interdisciplinary insight into the working practice of
cohorts + faculty in an edgy, forward thinking creative community

*Trial + error have shown me that a good question anticipates less an answer and instead suggests a better/more focused question.

wonderlust photoworks in collaboration with @kyotocat – [↑] Vestibular; [+] Hasp; [↓] Wombs & Tombs (2016)

I’ve highlighted Emma’s intensity, poise and versatility several times already.

When I found out she was passing through NYC on her way back from overseas, I contacted her to see if she wanted to work together.

Given her work, my expectations were impossibly high and she still managed to exceed them by a factor of at least 20.

The hardest part of editing was selecting scenes where I managed to–through some fumbled bumbling miracle–make a photo that didn’t completely distract from her cultivated sense of her body in space/time, her meticulously considered poses and affinity for experimentation.

Honestly, I held back about a half dozen good images; simply due to the fact that afforded the opportunity to work with her again, I am certain we can do them better than they turned out this time ‘round…

Miro ArvaKyotocat (2016)

Has anyone else noticed how Kyotocat is absolutely slaying it on the modeling front lately? (The image above, this one, god, like everything she’s doing is effing fabulous.)

Evocative expressions, visceral poses–an ethereal presence in space and time (not like a fairy, more like the presence of the mystic).

Her tumblr is kind of incredible because it not only showcases her latest work–but it also gives you a kind of angle on the mechanics motivating it (passion for art, music and activism).

I think that’s many things that folks forget. Have a vision is one thing. But your vision is not unlike a second body that very much needs to be fed, watered and tended to much like your actual physical body. You have to read, you have to look at the world around you and continually explore what art teaches you about the infinite complexity of how the world is seen and how in being truly seen the world shifts under the gazes, expands, grows and changes.

AJ MokshaRainy days featuring Kyotocat (2015)

The shadow-light interplay in this is masterful. Mid-tones appear compressed (the hallway wall in the left foreground is separated from the mid-ground wall behind it more by softening of focus than tonal variation) allowing for a great range of detail in the highlight areas. Alternatively, there’s little variation in shadow tones–used to staggering effect to separate Kyotocat’s silhouette from the mid-ground wall.

Unfortunately, the air return vent is an eyesore and detracts measurably from the image.

The dangling bulbs are a strange addition. Are they ornaments or are they those new fangled things with succulents growing in them. (Given the dim illumination, I can’t tell.)

I am torn between thinking their inclusion adds an unpleasant touch of kitchy contrivance–I mean they wouldn’t be hanging at that level in a hallway or whomever passed them would knock their head against them; thus they appear to be dangled like a puppet into the frame for the sake of the picture.

It reminds me of Jeff Wall’s After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue–which was quoted nearly verbatim by the production designers for HBO’s terribly uneven but dumbfoundingly ambitious series The Leftovers.

Or–since these bulbs are not illuminated–it could be a reference to Amir Naderi’s Davandeh (one of my top five all-time favorite films). In it, the young protagonist lives on an abandoned ship, the roof of which is covered with hanging bulbs.

There’s also the matter of the image being some pretty flagrant #skinnyframebullshit. The vertical frame renders the proportions of the wall in the left foreground, the wall in the mid-ground and the pitch dark hallway at the right of frame. A horizontal frame would have required a definitive decision on how to use the size or each plan relative to the others as a means of unifying the composition. With the vertical orientation, the obviousness of the arbitrary way in which they are used is diminished–the to detriment of the work, sadly.