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ART and honesty

6 August, 2013
Pacific Northwest from the air. Used with kind permission of Stuart Sipahigil. Copyright Stuart Sipahigil 2013

Pacific Northwest from the air. Used with kind permission of Stuart Sipahigil. Copyright Stuart Sipahigil 2013

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!

  1. 6 August, 2013 12:17 PM

    Thank you Ed for what you’ve written. It inspires me–and I know it will others–to think about honesty in their own work.

    Something else struck me when you said you needed to strengthen your conviction about the feeling of honesty in your work. This is what it means to make art for yourself. Not that superficial cliche many of us go to when we feel the need to defend what we make. Our work needs to have the strength of our own beliefs, not in that they are good or in a self-referential manner, but in the way that we have something important to say. I cannot think of a more noble conviction than honesty in our work and your images have that in spades.

  2. 6 August, 2013 4:36 PM

    Excellent advice, Ed!

  3. 6 August, 2013 4:43 PM

    Ed – there’s been a long gap between your last post and this one. A very long gap. Some would suspect nothing has happened in between. But that would be a wrong assumption.

    Sometimes the illusion of nothing can conceal a great deal.

    It may seem odd, but I am reminded by your comments in this post of something my dear old (sadly departed) dad once said to me” “If you tell the truth you can forget about it immediately, but if you tell a lie you must remember it forever”.

    It’s all about honesty, in art as in life. Having the courage to simply do it and ‘put it out there’ with confidence, and free your mind to engage with whatever comes next.

    I look forwards to seeing where this takes you……………

    ……………and us……………………

  4. 6 August, 2013 8:14 PM

    Ed, I wrote a big long response to this post on my iPad while sitting in a coffee shop this morning but for some reason it is lost in the ether.
    The tone of it was something like this: to be honest is to continually question your honesty. To continually dig deeper and deeper to discover deeper honesty and find new layers of honesty. Or some such.
    I’ve been wrestling with how to do this photographically since last year’s ART. Good to know I’m not the only one!😉
    looking forward to seeing what comes.

  5. Ed permalink*
    7 August, 2013 11:02 AM

    Thank you everyone for your comments. Sabrina, John, Brian, I think you’ve all made excellent points here that expand on this. Thank you for doing so!

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