process work, writing, inspiration, and studio documentation.
I just needed this to exist somewhere.
We could call it Girl with eucalyptus.
We could call it Girl who’s learning how to live in her own skin.
We could call it Girl cradles foliage.
We could (even) call it Girl who needs to prove her own existence.
There was a jar with precious inches of water
A few chive blossoms,
still tight in their papery bodies,
punctuation marks on the ends of stems.
They were all yearning towards the sun
They were all growing,
Still, even cut
Even in water
I was still growing too,
And the only thing to do, in the Portland sun,
in the warm spring light,
Filtering in through the arched windows
The only single action to take, was to strip off my shirt,
To pull a single tulip from the jar,
Just beginning to open like a bowl
A thing that holds other things
And hold it against my chest,
An empty hand on my skin
A nothing person running their palms along me
They’re dying too,
Just like this tulip
Just like me
Everything’s always dying
The sun’s always hovering in the golden hour
This tulip will stay half bloomed for it’s entire life
And I’ll stand here,
Ghost hands on my body
Ghost arms wrapped around my ribcage
A non-being pressed against me,
crushing the tulip between us.
And I exhale.
And the shutter clicks.
I spent the better part of the past sixth months carving this salt block.
At first, I just needed something to do with my hands. I was having this encounter with someone in my life—a spark in the darkness—and I felt like it was consuming me, the only thing I could do was make this very physical, very laborious work.
So I started at the top, carving it down flat with a box cutter because I don’t have any real tools in my studio, only cameras and books. Pretty quickly I decided to carve it into a cup. And I decided to carve it upside down, which meant I had to make a flat plateau first.
I made mind maps about salt, and about want, and about cups. They’re all connected, I swear. I just wanted something real, some proof of what had happened to me, what was twisting me up.
Sculpture is destructive and creative at the same time. There is debris and residue and what’s the point of it all? I just collect it in other cups. But also, there is something new being made, being unearthed. I feel like I’m dusting it off, like it’s a bone, a fossil I’m uncovering. Like it was always there. (Like we were always there.) Like it was inevitable. (Like we were inevitable.)
The more my want consumed me, the more my body chained me up, the more I couldn’t have him, even when I had him and I just wanted more, the more salt covered my hands, the more I wanted to rip every last bit of my skin off of my body, the more I wanted all the salt to fall onto my table, the more I needed to carve and carve and carve. Like a teenaged version of myself cutting lines into my hipbones. Like a wild animal. Like a woman, unhinged.
I used a hammer my grandfather had in his garage to pound a small flat blade into the salt. The sponges soaked with salty water dried up and crystalized. Little rock sponges. Papery sheets of salt flaked off the trays that held the water. Everything was disappearing. The water, the salt, myself.
And the salt kept collecting on the table, and then the work changed, and the cup became a real thing you could see, people could see, I could run my hands along it. To gauge my progress I found a similar sized cup and used it as a sheathe. It showed me my mistakes, where my lines were bowed and I need to shave more down. How I needed it to be smaller, still needed to subtract more.
Then I was onto a kind of precise shaving. The salt coming off wasn’t crystalized and sparkly anymore. Salt powder rained down on my hands. It fell onto my pants, clung to my sweater when I pressed the salt against my body to get a better grip.
A callous formed on my left hand pinky. A hard little bump where the wood handle of the chiseled blade sat and rubbed.
I sawed the cup form off the block. Started carving the interior. So much of my life has changed in the past six months.
At least at the end I’ll have this fucking cup. And my pinky callous.
I’ll have my proof, my weeping salt.
Thrilled to have some work up in a new show this spring. Along with 3 other graduates of OCAC, I'll be showing 5 photographs from my Fragments series.
See the show by appointment at the Guild Mortgage Building, 1953 NW Kearney St., by contacting MaryAnn Deffenbaugh at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're in the Portland area, I would love to see you on the 13th of March for a conversation with the artists.
For the month of August, Melina and I have to move out of our studio in the Yale Union building. They bring a group of Japanese residents in for a program called End of Summer. As such, I'll be spending the month not actively making physical work (aside from the ever present Fragments.) But doing a lot more reading, writing, and listening.
I've set up a little desk in our garage, Steele's studio, and am trying to get out here as much as possible to write and write and write. It's been a long time since I've written anything real, and my brain feels clumsy, like my fingers are swollen and they can't type what they mean. But even so, there's so much stillness sitting at this desk under the window, looking out onto the garden.
But really why I'm here is to record two recent pieces of writing/thinking that I've digested today.
The first is the most recent episode of the podcast Dear Sugars, with Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond. This episode was on Creative Dreams, and there were so many good nuggets of wisdom, but I particularly liked this train of thought from their guest George Saunders, on taking a practical day job to support his family.
So maybe as a way of gaming myself I said "Ok, look, if you're a writer you should be able to find material even here, everywhere." Since these are human beings gathered together, this must be percolating into my artistic machinery, therefore it's not a waste.
This is sometime I wrestle with all the time. The need to pay rent, while also wanting to take my time in the studio seriously. I may never get to a point where that side of things is supporting me, so learning to be okay with a day job is something I'm going to have to do. It was so nice to hear these issues grappled with honestly and openly.
The second is a piece of writing that Crystal Moody linked to in her weekly newsletter, Agnes Martin Finds The Light That Gets Lost. Written by Larissa Pham for The Paris Review, it's an essay about art that makes you feel something real and true about the world. About chasing that feeling. And also, about Agnes Martin, whose work I adore.
When my traveling companion asked where I wanted to go, I always pointed at the bluest mountains. I wanted to be inside that heartbreaking lapis-lazuli blue, not stuck down here with the mortals among gray-green sage bushes and dusty-red ground; I wanted to be both there in the place and able to behold its beauty at the same time. I wanted to feel the way I feel standing in front of an Agnes Martin painting, where if you stand back you see one thing and if you get close you see another, and all it takes is leaning forward to fall into the details of how it’s made and what it says.
Please go read the full essay. Reading it felt a little bit like falling into the open sky for me, a big 360° inhale.
This weekend I got to see two shows for photographers I admire—both who play with what a photograph is, and what it can be besides an image on the gallery wall.
Carlin Brown's show, What else is a window did a fantastic job of housing photographs and sculpture in the same space. My favorite piece was the Blue Room, which besides being serene and otherworldly, also made me think of windows as the frame of a photograph. Her statement says it best: The window opens onto a world beyond—it is where surface meets depth, where transparency meets its barriers.
The second show, Take/Cover at the OV Project Space was for artist Serrah Russell, whose work I've been following mostly on Instagram. It was really lovely to get to see some of it in person. Since finding her through her work with Vignettes, I've been so drawn to her use of collage. The splices of images she works with play so much with the idea of photographs as physical objects. (An idea I love & work with myself, and it's so refreshing to see other interpretations of it.) I also really appreciated her use of sentimentality. In the piece I was most taken with was Finding what you never knew you lost, a necklace trapped behind a vellum sheet. This physical object seemed to hold so much sentimental weight, and the simple photo collage on top gave my mind space to form my own readings and attachments.
Thinking about this bit of writing from a book I got for Christmas—The Photographer's Playbook, which is a fantastic thick book full of assignments and ideas. This one in particular is written by Tim Walker. I'll leave the full text below, but this is the excerpt that has been stuck in my head, "Anything you ever put in front of your camera you have to love. Truly. Madly. Deeply. Whether it's a person, a flower, a dog, or the muddy tire of a tractor, you have to be mad for it. Absolutely in love with it. Whatever anybody says you have to know in your heart that it's beautiful."
This idea has been the driving force behind the Fragment series. I'm collecting these words, images, objects, scraps. Scraps of information, little bits of nothing. They're broken things, pieces of a story, they're unfinished, uncertain. They're insignificant, full of longing, vague little ghosts. And I love all of them.
I'm about a third of the way through this year of Fragments. And so far what's it's teaching me is that I love the parts of a whole better than a complete finished narrative. It's teaching me that things are beautiful when they're broken, forgotten, abandoned. And of course it's teaching me that by collecting these things, by saving them, they become something to be memorized, idolized. Something to hold onto.
I think photography responds well to the word play. Having a playful attitude to what you take a picture of is a good, positive approach to many photographic projects. Play suggests a lightness of touch. Even if you've labored over an images it should still look easy.
But that's just my love of a joyful picture. You can always tell in a picture when the photographer and subject have enjoyed the photographic playing. Of course not every worthy photography subject can be approached with play and joy. And that which can't be approached playfully should be approached with love. Actually, I believe universally that photography can only be approached with love. This is the fail-safe guide.
When I was a photographic assistant to Richard Avedon he had "only photograph what you love" written on a scrap of paper pinned to his wall. It took me a while to really understand how deeply this rule can apply to photography. In the end, photography is only good if it's true. And I think a photographer's truth is born from their love of their subject.
Anything you ever put in front of you camera you have to love. Truly. Madly. Deeply. Whether it's a person, a flower, a dog, or the muddy tire of a tractor, you have to be mad for it. Absolutely in love with it. Whatever anybody says you have to know in your heart that it's beautiful.
Before I make a picture of value to me, I ask myself, "Do I love this?" I analyze my love for the subject, and that study of why I love what I'm about to photograph gives me a grip on my day.
My friend and studio mate Melina Bishop recently had a show with Vignettes up in Seattle. I was lucky enough to have the day off work and got to drive up there and see it in person. Afterwards, I wrote a little essay + interview for Vignettes in response to the show. You can find the full piece on the Vignettes site, but I'll include an excerpt below:
"Walking around the show, I made a hasty mind map. The word human branches out and connects to forms, clothing, skin, body. Loose threads connects to patchwork, which connects to covered, cleaned, corrected, connection, attempted, which reaches out to longing. Another note scratched down on the next page simply reads: Outgrowing shells and abandoning them.
It’s this thought I most see in Soft Logics, although perhaps “relinquish” would be a better word. For it’s not abandoning past shells, or past selves, but letting them go and moving forward. Growing another shell out of the same material, creating something new out of the fodder."
Every year the forsythia blooms and I think of this photograph. It was taken back in 2011, on a trusty little Holga, the shutter clicked by a friend who hasn't spoken to me in 10 months. I lived in the old four-plex that was filled with traffic sounds, right off Natio. One night my best friend was staying with me and we went on a night walk, watching the traffic getting onto the Ross Island bridge. We found this huge forsythia bush. At the time I didn't know it was named forsythia. I just knew it was a big blazing ball of yellow, that appeared after months and months of rain and dark, like a flame.
I stood in it, wondering about spiders, while she photographed me with the Kodachrome film in the camera. The shutter was set to bulb, the photograph is so blurry. Just a ball of yellow and a girl in the middle.
Each spring the forsythia blooms, I always notice it while I'm driving, the big balls of yellow flowers dotting the hills by the highway. Like torch flames leading me from one point to the next. And I always think of this image, the girl standing in the fire, captured by her best friend.
A new self-portrait. I don't remember how to be in front of the camera, and that makes me feel like I don't quite know how to be. So here's a photograph of me hiding.
Yesterday Ali and I went to the coast, to the river that feeds out onto Cannon Beach and into the ocean. Ali was there to send an offering to her dolphin.
The river’s not that deep, but it’s fast moving and it’s fucking cold. Ali had to cross it to get to the part of the coastline she wanted, so I stayed behind on one side, and she waded into the water holding her flower garland. I took photo after photo of her crossing, walking, becoming a tiny dot in my viewfinder. Then I focused my attention on the edges of the river.
The water carves right through the beach. There’s not a riverbank, but it doesn’t care, it just cuts right through the sand and makes one. Where the water laps at the edges, the sand gets carved away from underneath, until the weight of it is too much to bear, and it cracks and falls with a splash and gets reabsorbed by the water.
It seems sudden, but if you stand there for a few minutes, you can see the pattern, see which bits of sand and protruding further out. You can tell which are going to soon be too heavy to hold, and if you lock your eyes on one, you can eventually see the crack that starts appearing just before it falls.
So I was just standing there, watching these little pieces of sand break off and get smoothed over by the running water. I wanted to catch a photo of it happening. I could get the crack, the crack widening, but then the next frame was the chunk of sand splashing into the water. I wanted that one frame of the piece of sand still almost connected, the crack too wide to heal, but the sand not totally in the water. But it didn’t happen. Maybe some things you just can’t photograph. Too brief.
Eventually Ali came back, and I photographed her small body coming into view until it was standing in the river in front of me, looking tired and happy. We walked up and down the beach a little after that, the sun still low and the light warm, like a second sunrise.
Mostly I find myself falling in love with the endless expanse of ocean in front of me. I think about drifting off, and being surrounded on all sides by water, and above by sky. I let myself feel small, like I’m the tiny dot in the viewfinder. Things get quieter. But yesterday, I was just thinking about those cracks in the sand, the edges of the river breaking off. That moment I was trying to capture—separated, but still attached. Both sides trying to stay together, and the water just running out to sea.
I wanted to share two photographers I've been inspired by recently. The first is Jennifer Trail, who I found through Small Talk Collective, a group of 7 women photographers based in Portland. Particularly her current project Cassiopeia A. I love these small pieces of a life, that seems strange and otherworldly and fictitious, while also being starkly normal.
The second is a photographer by the name of Joy Newell, who I've been following on Instagram for some time now. I mostly know her editorial work (which is what's on her website.) Recently she's also been posting some images from her project "You Can Have My Half", a documentation of her twin sister and their relationship. The writing that she's been posting along with the photographs has also been really captivating. I really recommend seeing some of those on her Instagram page.
Mind maps from two recent days
Spending a lot of hours these days thinking about friendships. Most particularly a lost friendship. I'm not sure I want to make art about it, it's a little angsty, a little too raw. But I'm also not sure I have much choice in the matter, it's the only thing coming to the surface these days.
It reminds me a little of Sophie Calle's Exquisite Pain. Except instead of a lover I've lost a friendship so big it seemed like it would go on forever, a horizon line.