ART and honesty
On the last evening of three discussion-laden days and nights, something was brewing inside me, and when that happens I tend to get quiet. For about two hours I sat and listened, fidgeting and drawing deeper into myself. But I knew there would be a point when I could not be quiet, and that point eventually came.
I was in Port Townsend, WA, to attend the 3rd Artists Round Table (ART), put together by Ray Ketcham and Sabrina Henry. ART is an offshoot of other programs they run that approach the idea of “photography as art” from a much different point of view than seems prevalent these days.
Particularly noteworthy is the print and online magazine Ray and Sabrina run, together with several other people, called Rear Curtain. The magazine is aimed at visual storytelling, bringing authors and photographers into collaboration.
Previous ART participant Stuart Sipahigil was also there to act as another mediator, but also to work through some of his own “stuff.” ART does not consist of photo walks, or gear talk; it is an intensive three-day discussion about art and the artistic life.
Everyone attending had the intent or curiosity to at least find out what these things mean to them. Most of the heavy thinking about what is discussed and found during ART is done after the event. And I can attest to this, nearly three weeks after the fact.
Each morning of the weekend program we would meet in the living room of a small rental apartment to begin the day’s discussions. Apart from meals and tea or coffee breaks, all discussions were held there. The days lasted from 9am until 10pm or later. It made for a comfortable, intimate and intense atmosphere.
To underscore that ART was not about photography, per se, but how we as artists are expressing ourselves through photography, artists working in other media were invited to speak. The two artists who came were author Wes Cecil and sculptor Jan Hoy. In addition, Ray also has an extensive background in sculpture.
The discussions every day prodded each of us towards what will be important as we move forward as artists. Whether we knew it at the time, each topic broached an important aspect of how we can define our practices as artists working in the medium of photography.
Throughout the three days, and especially during the final evening’s discussion, thoughts about my own art and artist’s life were slowly becoming clearer. I had a growing feeling nagging at me that we were skirting around a key point. I got quiet and fidgety because I needed to strengthen my conviction about the feeling and to coalesce my thoughts. Eventually it burst from me.
The essential thing to living and working an artistic life, through whatever medium you choose, is honesty.
First and foremost you need to be honest with and about yourself. That will lead to honesty in your art, an honesty that is personal. Someone said to me recently, ”Create work that is personal rather than profound.” In other words, be true to yourself. Don’t succumb to “group-think” art that is so common these days; don’t seek validation in “likes,” “+1’s,” and other such things. Photograph because you need to, have to, want to. And do so honestly.
There is still much to do in finding exactly what this means to me, but the discussions at ART have given me the confidence to be true to myself and freed me to pursue my photographic vision and voice, honestly. For that I thank everyone who was at ART, and especially Ray and Sabrina for organizing it.
About the image: The image used at the top of this post is not mine, it is Stuart Sipahigil‘s. En route to ART I spent the first 3 hours watching a film on the flight. Immediately afterwards, I opened my window shade and was dumbstruck by the landscape below. This was my first trip to the Pacific Northwest, and I was truly awed—from the plains and mountains of Montana, through Idaho and the Palouse, to the chain of volcanoes stretching down the North American Pacific rim. I was immersed in the landscape…so much that I did not make a single photograph [there was the airplane window glare to contend with also]. So thank you, Stuart, for providing me with a reminder!