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.

Richard AvedonAndy Warhol and Members of The Factory, New York (October 30, 1969)

If I were more ambitious/less of a lazy layabout, this is the sort of work that I would summon David Foster Wallace-esque footnoted footnote levels of ‘scholarly’ exegesis. However, I’m in a an unusually clearheaded place today–I’ve absconded to a more temperate clime where spring is very much in the air + it’s having a restorative effect.

Thus the only things I want to address related specifically and concretely to a direct interpretation of this large format triptych are as follows:

I tend to be resistant to spending time with the work of iconclastic. This is actually the height of irony–given my own iron clad anti-authoritarian bent. But I do possess strong enough of post-left anarchist pretenses that I rankle in the presents of efforts to make outsiderness a sort of new status quo.

As such I’ve been a late subscribe to folks like Robert Frank–if you want to be a photographer of any consequential merit you absolutely need to know The Americans like the back of your hand. (Yes, it is actually that crucial a work.)

I’ve only recently began flirting with Avedon’s oeurve–largely due to how smitten I am with his portrait of Sandra Bennett from In the American West.

I’m still on the fence when it comes to Warhol–although I am intrigued by The Factory (more on that in a bit).

I think of how the first panel is obviously riffing on art historical depictions of Adam and Eve–except with the implication of queerness in the pair of two men with a trans woman. The way the center panel captures a sort of sex, drugs and rock and roll vibe that subsequently transitions into a sort of art star as cultural gatekeeper/philosopher king trope. (And conceptually, everything that is read before you reach Warhol, essentially emerged from his efforts.)

I also think about how this is one of the earliest examples I can call to mind of fostering the illusion of a panorama across multiple frames. (And  here I would be remiss if I didn’t take the chance to point you in the direction of folks who’ve continued in that tradition, a la:  David Hilliard, Accra Shepp and Tom Spianti.)

Yet, just as how the progenitor of all that precedes is the last thing you encounter, these observations are really the last things that come to mind for me when I look at this triptych. What I’m really thinking about is a sort of melange of thoughts and impressions.

I guess first off I think about a chat I had with a close friend where she mentioned that although she is not queer, her understanding of queer experience is that you feel a profound sense of not belonging from a young age. And as someone who identifies as queer, my own experience is not so clear cut. I did feel I was different but growing up in an Evangelical milieu, I viewed that as an advantage for many years. I had no desire to be like those who surrounded me/to fit in. In my late teens this bearing became and increasingly dissonant point. I craved love and acceptance from someone/anyone and I was surrounded by people who insisted that I accept their general framework to receive love and affection. So what I wanted/need stood at cross purposes with what I knew to be my own personal truth; I learned to a large extent you have to play a part and/or lie to get what you want. I’ve never been able to manage that feat. (For someone who can at times be a pathological liar, I am honest to a fault.)

Honestly, art is the only thing in my life that has ever even tried to meet me halfway. (Actually, that’s not entirely true. My 30s have been a super mixed bag but increasingly there have been folks with whom I’ve shared + continue to share a mutually cultivated middle ground.)

However, in that there is a danger of building a monument to outsider-ness, an echo chamber. I’m reminded of one of the best things Brain Pickings has ever posted: The Paradox of Active Surrender: Jeanette Winterson on How Learning to Understand Art Transforms Us.

One passage in particular resonates with me:

There are no Commandments in art and no easy axioms for
art appreciation. “Do I like this?” is the question anyone should ask
themselves at the moment of confrontation with the picture. But if
“yes,” why “yes”? and if “no,” why “no”? The obvious direct emotional
response is never simple, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the
“yes” or “no” has nothing at all to do with the picture in its own
right.

“I don’t understand this poem”
“I never listen to classical music”
“I don’t like this picture”
are common enough statements but not ones that tell us anything about
books, painting, or music. They are statements that tell us something
about the speaker. That should be obvious, but in fact, such statements
are offered as criticisms of art, as evidence against, not least because
the ignorant, the lazy, or the plain confused are not likely to want to
admit themselves as such. We hear a lot about the arrogance of the
artist but nothing about the arrogance of the audience. The audience,
who have not done the work, who have not taken any risks, whose life and
livelihood are not bound up at every moment with what they are making,
who have given no thought to the medium or the method, will glance up,
flick through, chatter over the opening chords, then snap their fingers
and walk away like some monstrous Roman tyrant.

As much as I’m intellectually against dismissing something without thought, I’m not super good at practicing what I preach. I tend to develop intractable opinions on the merit of certain work vs. other work I deem to be less meritorious. It’s not that I don’t think about these decisions, it’s that I maybe don’t think enough about them before dismissing them.

That’s one thing I adore about Tumblr–and too all the folks claiming this forum is dying, I see you and feel you, it’s not what it was (that’s for sure). But I keep being confronted with things independent of any prejudice to whether I’ve made up my mind about them yet. It’s why my opinion on Avedon has changed from I don’t care for his work to an awareness that I haven’t really explored it in enough depth to have an informed opinion on it. Also, I’m excited by the prospect of engaging with his work. This wouldn’t have happened if I were part of an ostensible community that insists upon work I would otherwise ignore.

And that’s the other side of things, the community that Tumblr provides not only causes me to reconsider my own assumptions on established artists and canonical art, it also introduces me to stuff I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered.

I’m thinking here of one of my favorite posts of all time on this blog: a documentary still from FeminismoPornoPunk’s staging of a porn variation of the experimental theater piece Public Domain.

And I feel like that’s something Warhol got right with The Factory. It wasn’t sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll for the sake of excess–although that was almost certainly a byproduct. Instead, it was about the potential in that milieu to construct a sort of interpersonal space/a ad hoc community of lived experience as informative and educational and evolutionary. A catalyst for exploration whether that exploration was transgressing boundaries or creating art. (I don’t think it’s an accident that so many art world luminaries emerged from this scene, actually.)

And I guess that’s what I am grappling with how to achieve: making this blog a sort of space not unlike The Factory. Except I don’t want to be the Warhol figure. I’d rather be just another faceless participant.

Jessica YatrofskyTitle unknown (2010)

If you’ve ever thought to yourself: Self, you know what? I really, really wish Ryan McGinley had a female twin who was a photographer, too; only I wish she limited her output to stuff in keeping with McGinley’s Yearbook project then Yatrofsky is exactly the image maker you’ve been waiting for. 

It sounds like I’m throwing shade–and, in fairness, I probably am a bit (really, I can’t think of an image maker who embraces such a limited scope of exploration)–but occasionally it pays off for her. The above for example is derivative as fuck but it also captures an open, honest, in-the-moment immediacy that so much made-for-Internet-aggrandizement sorely lacks. And, although her seeming lack of any familiarity with cinematic form is appalling, she is actually putting together interesting, boundary questioning video work. (Please, please for the love of all that is good, pure and holy–if you are shooting video and not celluloid, the resulting work is not ‘film’, it’s ‘video’ or ‘digital cinematography’.)