Studio Log

process work, writing, inspiration, and studio documentation. 

Gioncarlo Valentine: The Soft Fence


I saw the most arresting exhibition today. (Gioncarlo Valentine at Blue Sky Gallery) I’m not going to try to analyze it here, with my pale words that don’t really mean anything in the face of photography. Instead, here’s a list I wrote in my notebook while in a room with images staring back at me from all sides.

Defense mechanisms

Images that treat men as soft objects
Images that let light fall on men, black men, softly


casual touches

Mix of black and white and color—not putting subjects into a specific stylized box*(More thoughts on this later.)
Portraits where subjects exist outside of the frame, are fully blurry, are obscured


For a lovely little write up of the work from this exhibition, go here:
I wish I had gotten my shit together and seen this show when it was still going to be up for a bit, instead of the day before it closed, but I’m grateful to have stood in the same room as these photos. I also have some more formal responses—mostly the combination of color and black & white, and the inclusion of both candid and posed shots. (Athough, to be fair, even the shots I know must be more posed still feel so casual that they read as pretty candid.) But really my favorite thing about this work is that it’s sentimental and soft without being cloying or trying to pander.


Currently Absorbing

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. 

Current Inspirations

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.

View her website (and some better photographs of the show) here, and see her show (by appointment only through June 24) at Melanie Flood Projects in SW Portland. 

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. 

View her website here (So many amazing projects to look at!), and keep up with OV Project Space here. (Take/Cover was a one night show, but I'm sure OV will be putting on more good shows.) 

Thoughts on Fragments | Tim Walker

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. 

Current Inspirations

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. 

©Jennifer Timmer Trail

©Jennifer Timmer Trail


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. 

©Joy Newell

©Joy Newell