Wednesday, September 5, 2007

September Paper.

I began this semester with a week in Santa Fe New Mexico at the Santa Fe Workshops. I had signed up for an advanced alternative process workshop with Christopher James. However, after 10 days in residency at AIB I was feeling a bit drained and was not looking forward to another week away from home. Luckily, I was unable to change my plans and I flew back west and dove into the week with enthusiasm and a deep need to create art... not talk about it. This was a very creative time for me and opened up some very good dialogue with fellow workshop artists as well as some very helpful critique by Christopher James. On the technical side, the workshop this year provided a large HP printer where we were able to make large pictorico neg. for contact printing. I was able to do a three color separation and create a gum bichromate print in three passes. I really love the effect of applying three or four colors separately to create a total image. We also worked with albumen prints, salt prints and were treated to an afternoon of carbon printing at the Bostic and Sullivan shop. I continued to explore pinhole photography with a polaroid back and digital photography with pictorico neg. That week in Santa Fe, although not directly related to this semester’s study reminded me how satisfying it is to produce images with your hands. It is so rewarding to apply the sensitizer to the paper and watch it burn an image in the sun, then run to the darkroom and splash it in the developer. I feel so connected, and in control of the finished product. There is an organic feeling for me, that takes place with old methods and practices of film and negatives. A slowing down of the current speed in which images are created today. In On Photography, Susan Sontag writes:
“Not using fancy equipment has been a point of honor for many photographers - including Weston, Brandt, Evans, Cartier-Bresson, Frank - some sticking with a battered camera of simple design and slow lens that they acquired early in their careers, some continuing to make their contact prints with nothing more than a few trays, a bottle of developer, and a bottle of hypo solution.”
I can totally relate to this passage in her book. It is why I have become “slightly obsessed” as my daughter says, with my Brownie Hawkeye film camera. While I was waiting for families to return from summer events and travel so that I could shoot my nanny pictures,I focused my attention on shooting quite a few rolls of 120 film with my Brownie Hawkeye. The beautiful uncoated glass lens and fixed focus of this little box camera is amazing to me. I have become very good at predicting the point of focus and surprise myself each time I look at a roll that comes back from the lab. Garry Winogrand has a great quote in On Photography which is “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” This is exactly what I do with my Box Brownie. I take pictures of anything and everything just so that I can see that image through the eye of my obscure little camera. With the Brownie Hawkeye I created three series of photographs, one at the Orange County Fair, one at the beach, and one at a historic automobile show. I have 30 or more images in each series, and I was expriementing with laying them out in a grid. I have two sections of the grids shown in my blog. While the squares are only three across I envision the pieces larger at maybe seven or eight across and down. Ultimate size being about 24”X36”.

While in Santa Fe I met my mentor, Frank Ockenfels. I approached him the last night there and he agreed to work as my mentor this semester. I had my first meeting with him in LA and we discussed my Nanny Project. He was very helpful in the early stages of conception and I will meet with him this week to show him my work.
I originally thought of this study at the end of last semester while reading The Familial Gaze. I discovered a chapter on the family photos of the early 1900’s where Nannies and caregivers were photographed with the children they cared for. I felt that living in this affluent area I could find and photograph similar situations but in current settings. I started the ground work and the phone calls throughout July and just finished my first shoot. The family was wonderful. The mother informed me that they had employed their nanny for almost eight years. The bond between the children and their nanny was very strong and she was looking forward to the photo shoot. I was thrilled she understood my idea and concept, and was very relieved that my first shoot was with their family. I arrived at the house and was greeted by Libby, my art student, her brother Pearson (P for short), and Faustina, their nanny. I knew from the rambunctiousness of the kids that this would be a fast and furious photo shoot. I was right. I showed the children the variety of cameras I brought: Brownie Hawkeye, Kiev 88, 35mm Olympus, and the digital Nikon as a backup. We sat for a few minutes and I did some digital shots first to get them comfortable.(These are some of the best). Then we moved over to the pool and shot some posed portraits with the medium format camera. I knew as I was shooting I would have something nice, as I felt a closeness with them that I knew would come through in the photos. I had thought of trying for a formal portrait in the living room or a more stately room in the house but the outdoors seemed so comfortable for this lively group. Plus, the back yard was beautiful and the light was really nice. I knew right at one hour that I could not have the attention of the kids for one minute longer. I had the mom and Faustina sign their releases and off I went. When I examined the shots I was very happy. I could see the bond and caring touch in the photos, I hope it shows to others.
While preparing for this part of my study I looked at various photographer’s work, as recommended by my advisor Oliver. While the styles of Katy Grannan and Loretta Lux provide a stunning surreal stylized form of contemporary portraiture, I do not feel my nanny series will evolve to this level. I love some of the beautiful poignant up close faces Lorna Simpson has done. I fell like you are looking right into the souls of some of her subjects. Dana Hoey, Cindy Sherman and Taryn Simon have the keen ability to tell a story leaving plenty of room for the viewer to add their own view. Tina Barney has a remarkable style and errie way of showing familial tension and relationships. I was very impressed with her ability to arrange and pose the families she photographed. I am still in the experimental phase of this project and feel the next few families will help to get the look and feel I hope to convey throughout this semester. I am pretty sure the thread of connection between the families will be caring and nurturing. No political statement, alienation, or loss. Simply caring, protection and comfort.
I am very pleased so far with my direction, in shooting and the books I have read so far have been informative and directly relating to the craft and heart of photography. I still look for some slightly more insightful readings relating to the maternal connection. Possibly studies or works on domestic service throughout the early century as well as today.
I can’t wait to take more photos of the families. And now that school has started, I have a few more booked. I will post all new images as soon as I take them.

Books read:
On Photography; Susan Sontag
Letting Go of the Camera; Brooks Jensen
Why People Photograph; Robert Adams
Beauty In Photography; Robert Adams
Aperture, Spring 2007: “Pieter Hugo’s Portraits”
ARTnews, June 2007: “The New Portrait”
US weekley, August 2007: “Britney’s Nanny Tells All.”

Up Next:
Forget Me Not:Batchen

Nanny Diaries
Nanny McPhee
Mary Poppins

1 comment:

liz schrenk said...

Hi Mary! It's great to hear from you, and even better still to visit your blog and read what you've been up to. I enjoyed reading your last post, and look forward to seeing your new work in January! I haven't heard back from Oliver yet, I've only had a couple e-mails from him so far. Hopefully I'll hear more soon! Good luck with your "Nanny" series, and with your reading and writing!