Over the course of this semester this project has taken on multiple forms, and experienced many shifts in both how I choose to talk about it as well as how I am choosing to present it. Do I just display polaroids in a grid on the wall? Do I just show the ‘last words’ written by my sitters? Do I put up the diptychs that I started making at the beginning of the semester?
Do I do something completely different?
Yes. Yes I do. While I loved shooting with the Polaroid camera for a majority of the semester, I have chosen to put that little guy aside in favor of a dumbed-down digital camera (I have been putting my Diana+ lenses on my DSLR) – and the results are very exciting for me. I needed this work to go somewhere else, to tell a different story – and to share the stories I was hearing in a new sense. Currently I have shifted completely from where I started: I am no longer focusing on the desired last words that people have shared with me, and am instead looking deeper into the real stories of loss that the people I have interviewed have experienced. These stories are banal, utterly unexciting, but true and real in a way that the desired words were falling flat for me. I have been finding a lot of meaning and power in the mundane and everyday world around me lately, so I suppose it was only natural for me to be drawn to the banality of a lot of these statements.
Three weeks to go. Crunch time. More work coming soon.
“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” – Diane Arbus
Changes, the starman says it all. After a successful second group critique, and a great meeting with my mentor, my project has started to take on a new form. For this critique, I displayed some more and newer images I had constructed from the collection of portraits and statements that I have amassed so far, and I also tacked up all the polaroids and paper scraps that I have collected in a secondary piece on the side. The overall feel that I got from my classmates and mentors was that the actual objects that I have been gathering are far more interesting to see than the constructed images I had started to make. The diptychs that I had been creating were starting to feel too cliche, lame and over time have become secondary to the actual polaroids and last words that I have been collecting.
So now I am looking at ideas of beauty found in the mundane, memento mori and the power of the snapshot when thinking about how photography captures a moment in time that is impossible to retrieve.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what Barthes had to say about photography:
“If photography is to be discussed on a serious level, it must be described in relation to death,… It’s true that a photograph is a witness, but a witness of something that is no more.”
So now that I am leaning in a new and changed direction, my project is turning into a new and before now unknown entity. More to come, we shall see.
“I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object” – Roland Barthes
Went to SPE this past weekend, it was crazy. Lots of great talks/seminars, networking, art books and parties – needless to say, I’m drained. While in Baltimore I found a few more people to take part in the project, which is great – however in talking to these people about the project I discovered that I have become much more interested in the stories they tell me than the actual last words they write.
I guess I’ve always been interested in stories, and what I’ve heard from people has inspired me to also try to photographically represent those stories along with the others.
I’ve also been continuing to try and compose the final images of words/polaroids with environments inspired by the words. Finding the right spot, or the right weather, or any number of other needs has been a fun adventure, but also limiting. I’m worried that the compositions I create are going to be unreadable or just too damn cliche to convey the meaning. So I’ve been working a lot on that.
Going to New York this coming weekend/week for spring break and further investigations into my project. It will be good to visit old friends, meet new subjects for my project, build some more finished works and hear more stories.
First critique went really well last week! Been continuing to formulate ideas about interview questions as well as locations for finding new subjects to talk to and photograph. I think I have come up with the desired format for my images, of all the things I’ve tried out I like the idea of a diptych the most. I’ve also played around with some new ideas about last words on Facebook, since there are close to 30 million Facebook profiles belonging to those who have passed away, and looking at the last things people posted on their walls as a sort of unintended last words. Still testing this idea out.
I’ve started The Last Words Project Facebook page to spread the word, as well as posted announcements to Reddit, bulletin boards in my building and am in the process of making cards/flyers to hand out at this year’s SPE conference in Baltimore along with other places.
The Facebook page has already gotten me a number of local people to take part in the project, as well as a few people from New York, where I will be visiting over spring break, so things are looking up!
Stay tuned and spread the word!
So in time for my first critique I have been asking myself three questions regarding this project:
– Why a photo of a photo?
– Why Polaroids?
– Why the sitters own handwriting?
I see these as three of the main questions I will get while being critiqued, and while I’m not yet sure if I can answer them now, they will be in the back of my mind as I move forward.
I’ve also been thinking about ‘why’ I’m doing this project at all, besides the personal background story that put this project into motion. From that experience I’ve become interested in the difference between the desired last words of someone, and what happens in reality… which is often of little or no consequence, simple and unrelated to any prolific statement regarding legacy. Many people probably have grand ideas about how they want to be remembered, or what they want their final statement to be – but it is often far from what they actually end up leaving behind.
I’ve been looking at the work of Anne Collier, Sophie Calle, Leslie Hewitt and I’m continuing to look at the Humans of New York project for inspiration. I’ve also recently looked back at images from DISCARDED by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, who I have been in contact with about techniques for approaching subjects in the street as well as getting advice for interview questions. All these photographers work with street photography, photo-of-a-photo work, and interview-like projects – all of which have been very helpful for formulating ideas.
Had a VERY productive mentor meeting today with my wonderful mentor Crystal! Back on track for my project, test images are being made! Research into the importance of Polaroid images, the concept of ‘taking pictures of pictures’ and the importance of using the sitters actual words were all discussed. I’m very excited about moving forward, searching out new people to interview, and the final construction of images. This is gonna work, thank goodness!!
While I’m feeling less stuck on my overall project, I’ve been having some troubles with the formulation of proper questions. I need to come up with a series of questions that I can ask during interviews to get my interviewees/models to open up about their experiences, and to get them more comfortable with having their photograph taken. I have been reading all the Humans of New York stories I can handle, listening to various stories on StoryCorps, and reading up on how Duane Michals combined words with his imagery to help explain a narrative better.
Still trying to find people on the street to approach, still being screwed over by the weather. Will be moving inside soon, as well as starting a Facebook group/Craigslist search in hopes of finding people easier and setting up interviews.
Thats all for now, stay warm.
“I had to write about all the things you couldn’t see,… the artist has to make a leap of faith to insight, otherwise it’s just description.” – Duane Michals