Sunday, March 4, 2018

Analog Photography: one part romance & one part quality

There is an excitement to not knowing how your photographs turned out right away. No more instant gratification with these 100-year-old film cameras.
Last April when I bought a century old camera and lens that just happens to be named a Century Studio Camera, I wasn't sure if it would ever be used or become a conversation piece in my house? I intended to use it and finally a few weeks ago I was able to test it for the first time. I have now photographed four people with this camera, and I am in love. I am in love with the process and the quality of the images. I have a smaller Century View Camera no.1 in transit that I will test on arrival. This new camera will give me a 5x7 view camera that is lighter than the one I currently call the beast. I plan to use both, and I am excited to see the image difference between the two lenses. I have been in photography for 40 of my 53 years. I embraced digital as soon as it came out and the quality was high enough to use for commercial applications, but I never turned my back on the analog process. I did leave it for long periods of time but am now experiencing it once again with childlike enthusiasm and magic.

Many younger adults are discovering film for the first time having grown up only knowing digital photography and image capture. New generations are discovering analog recordings boosting vinyl record sales to significant numbers. Craft beers and liquor, independent quality restaurants, bookstores, craft, and art are recognized and embraced by a generation that has grown up on zeros and ones. Maybe, just maybe, there is a new sense of appreciation for processes and quality that requires a little more engagement and less instant gratification? Digital is here to stay; artificial intelligence will be driving us to our jobs, retouching our images, delivering our packages, performing surgeries. The human touch will always be a personal and desired product of our creations.These 5x7 inch film portraits have fantastic detail and nuances of tone that are difficult to achieve with digital capture. (for now)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Finding My Center

Once again on another cold January, I returned to Greenfield Park. A big part of my youth. I'm currently reading Sally Mann's memoir, Hold Still, so memory and emotions are often at the surface of my own life both past and present.

The park is 282 acres with an 18 hole golf course to its northern border, a lagoon and water park in the center, and woods that occupy its southern border end. Today I walked the entire park borders while also zigzagging back and forth through the woods, resulting in a 5-mile hike that both brought back memories and some clarity to today's complexities of life. As I allow 2018 to unfold and reveal itself, I concluded, on today's walk, that this park will be a focal point for me. It creates a bridge between the past and present. This balance is what I've been striving for many years and finally, last years life decisions, put me on this path.

I try to get my students to do stream of consciousness journaling or at least thinking. Walking through this park creates an 8mm playback of my childhood. Much of it spent in solitude. I've always been a loner. As I was walking through the park today, the most vivid memory was one of faith or no faith. Interesting how this was front and center with the challenges that are currently in my life and those I love and those of a friend. Early on, I can't remember the age, maybe 10, my best friend and neighbor Jimmy and I were at the park fishing on a hot summer day in August. We approached the lagoon at the entrance of the park pavilion. We separated some to fish on our own. Soon I was approached by two young adults, a male, and a female, asking if I believed in God? My family hadn't gone to church, and God was never a part of our conversations. I said that I don't know. They began to tell me about these awful things that would happen to me if I didn't believe in God. As a young boy of maybe 10, to say they scared me would be an understatement. I tried to move away, and they followed me, even grabbing my arm. They finally moved on, almost in tears, I left with Jimmy pedaling by my side. I got home visibly upset and told my parents what happened. By the time my father and I returned to the park to find these people, they were gone.

I dabbled in Christianity from adolescence into young adulthood. I never could understand or feel committed to thinking or believing that what I believed or should believe was the only way. I also witnessed enough actions from people who called themselves “Christians” when their lives and methods contradicted the most fundamental values of the Christian faith that I finally, after trial and error, declared myself a humanist. I don't believe in a higher power. I believe in the power of humankind and the strength and knowledge to do good and treat others with respect.

That brings me to the second part of my thoughts during this cold winter walk. That of the present and people in my life facing challenges that stand tall and obstruct the ability to look even briefly to the future without knowledge of outcomes. I don't pray anymore and even when I did, I had questions. Science, logic, and experience tell me otherwise. So I hope. I hope for the best outcomes. I hope for strength for all involved. I hope for science and medicine to work it's proven methodology to a positive result.

These are the nuances of life that stream through my head while walking in 9 degrees above zero temperatures.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Trying to appreciate the tiny details...

If 2017 was the year to disengage from that I had control of to create a simpler and less chaotic life, 2018 is turning out to be the year to take a deep breath and experience the subtle nuances of life. A self-imposed moratorium on the big things of the past like solo exhibitions that I'd spend 2-3 years creating work for, to only have it come and go, leaving me depressed until a new series would reignite my high. Don't get me wrong, my work has value, and I enjoy creating it. I relish in the process. I also enjoy it when people respond to it, but the etiquette of the art world was wearing me down. It's probably because I never felt like I fit in, in the first place. I always felt like an outsider. The work I create is so important to me, but I found that creating it and showing it simply enough on social media like Instagram or Ello is, for now, enough for me. It seems to a small degree to have put me back in control.

I'm currently reading Sally Mann's memoir, Hold Still. In it, she says “If my early years sound a bit like those legends of wolf-teat sucklers, I guess they were. But, all the same, when I compare the lives of children today, monitored, protected, medicated, and overscheduled, to my own unsupervised, dirty, boring childhood, I believe I had the better deal. I grew into the person I am today, for better or worse, on those lifeless summer afternoons having doggy adventures that took me far from home where no one had looked for me or missed me in the least.”

Isn't that the truth though. Unfortunately my current life was beginning to look like what Sally Mann was describing about todays culture; overscheduled, monitored, and medicated. Pretty much during my youth, as long as I was home for dinner and then before it got dark, often I was left to my own devices. This included something I've begun to revisit this frigid winter season. A local county park that was only a few blocks from the house I grew up in. Greenfield Park was where I would ride my bike, go swimming, fishing, catch crawfish or at least try to, ice skate, hike, and later golf. Fortunately, I still live close enough to this park to drive there and on these cold winter days, hike through the woods. Both reading and hiking have become two of these subtle nuances that have begun to make my life have more flavor and less tunnel vision. Hiking late this afternoon as the sun was setting I enjoyed both the crisp 9-degree temperature which makes you feel alive and the contrast between the monotone woods and the setting sun skyline. As the sun set and the woods became large vertical shadows contrasting with the white but dimming snow, I'd stand in place, close my eyes, and listen. I'd look to the leaves rustle on the ground from squirrels scampering about. I listened to a single owl hoot and bark. By the time the woods were covered entirely in the darkness, I had heard three owls throughout the woods expressing themselves. I am trying to slow down and appreciate my surroundings in stereo of all the senses we possess. I'm off to a good start.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Simple by Design

For many years I sounded like a broken record. Each year I said I was going to slow down and each year passed with me busy as ever. I had fun times and great experiences, but I also missed out on a heck of a lot because my life was set-up like planes waiting to take off. One right after another. Then last year I wrote again reflecting on 2016 and stating my goals for 2017, and of course, it included the critical phrase to slow my activities down and enjoy the moments. Upon reflection, for once I can say that I was successful. I feel happy, healthier, and more alive than I have in a very long time. 

Last year I did 51 photo sessions that related to my fine art and portraiture aesthetic. This year, including the one I'll conclude 2017 with next week Tuesday, I'll have done 12. That is making significant progress in the slowing down department. Do I miss the hustle? Sure, at times I do because much like an athlete or those runners highs, I get immense personal and professional satisfaction from the work I create. 

"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." Gustave Flaubert

This quote is how I began my 2016 reflection and it is fitting to continue this practice for 2018. Even though I created so much less art, I have discovered and felt a lot. I am my harshest critic, and first and foremost the work I produce must speak to the person I have in front of the camera. People often ask me why I continue to create work if I don't plan to exhibit anymore? Here are three reasons from a few of this year's photo sessions.

"I want to be confident and love and embrace my changing body, but sometimes it's hard. Thank you, William Zuback, for making such beautiful photos with me."

"William Zuback is a phenomenal man... full of mystic, wisdom, talent, love."

"I just love all of the photos so much! Wonderful job!! I think you captured a raw vulnerability so artistically."

It is moments and experiences like these that make my drive to be better for myself and for those who come in and out of my life while always remaining grounded in my intent, process, and outcomes. I only have one try at this thing called life, and when it's over, I hope that I can say I ended a better human than I started.

What else occupied my time and life in 2017? Family, friends, working and teaching. All vital aspects of my identity and value as an individual. I spent more time with family, especially my one and only, Sue. Longer walks, more intimate talks, greater understanding, and love. Nothing brings me greater joy than to still make her laugh and sometimes blush. Studio conversations with dear artist friends over a glass of bourbon. Teaching photography to creative young adults and watching them turn in work that is beautifully crafted and at times, visually vulnerable. And last but not least, working on me. I learned to eat better and exercise more. Two things that have helped me move toward a healthier mind and body. Aren't we all just a work in progress trying to make each day better than the one that came before it.

"You don't need to change the world; you need to change yourself." ~ Miguel Ruiz

Friday, December 22, 2017

Ghost Ride

Those who know me well, know and understand my fascination with objects. Specifically old objects, things passed down, sentimental objects that inspire memories. My favorite book, a very tiny book, and one that I often read, much like those who read the bible, is Tim McCreight's The Syntax of Objects. This book identifies our desire to remain close to those objects we hold dear.

Almost a year ago, January 29th, to be exact, I published a blog post about my dad's old Ford Ranger truck and my exercise. It didn't happen overnight, in fact, it almost took another six months before I seriously began to exercise in earnest. On one of my four-mile evening walks in September, I passed the used car dealership where we buy our used cars. The owner, Ralph, is an honest stand-up guy that we feel very comfortable with, buying and having to fix our vehicles. This particular night I noticed a big and beautiful 2002 Ford Ranger truck. This truck was different than my dad's truck. This one was four-wheel drive and had an extended cab. It had low miles for a 2002 and was in remarkable condition. This vehicle had only 5,000 miles more than the 2011 Ford Fiesta I was driving. His was gray and this one a gold/tan color. It spoke to me. I went home, told my wife about it; we went back a couple of days later to test drive it. We officially bought it on Saturday, September, 30th, my birthday.

We know of our two-fold nature, how we are body
and spirit, mind and matter, heart and soul. Is there a
religion that hasn't identified this, that has neglected to
invent myths to explain it? Our finest selves exist in that
untouchable realm of emotion, inspiration, and spirit. It is
the home of philosophy and poetry and love. In that
universe, time does not exist or exists only as a breeze exists
over the ocean, a thin phenomenon of little importance.

The intangible world of spirit sits in contrast to our
material world, where gravity operates, and chemical
forces play out their predictable reactions. As those same
religions know, we are rooted here, bound to our dancing,
shuffling, weary bodies. We can dream ourselves across the
heavens, but return to find ourselves curled in a chair with
a cramp in our neck. We love in ways immeasurable but
are left with nothing more vast than a kiss to carry the
wonder of it. Locked in the material world, we find in it
vibrations from that other universe tokens that connect us
with our largest selves.”

excerpt from The Syntax of Objects by Tim McCreight

Here I am almost three months into owning and driving my truck on a daily basis. It sucks gas which drives me crazy, but I've never enjoyed driving anything more than I do this Ford. I cherish my drives because I know that I have a co-pilot. These are my ghost rides. Since owning the Ranger, some days on my way to work I detour through the cemetery. I don't usually stop but slow down as I pass the marker of my dad's burial. I'll give the nod, say good morning, or I love you and continue on my way to work. On the way home, I'll occasionally detour off of Greenfield Avenue, head south on 124th street until I enter the park my dad would often drive through in his truck. It's not as spectacular of a drive now that they closed the road through the woods to vehicle traffic, but it still brings back memories. During the year I kept my dad's Ford Ranger after his death in 2004, I would often stop at my mom's house, pick up my dad's dog Snuggles, and drive through the cemetery and park. Snuggles could feel him too.

It has been thirteen years since my dad passed and yet the connection to his truck and my memories have transferred to my own truck. I remember the first Christmas without him, which was about a month after he died, it was Christmas Eve. It was a cold Christmas eve, about 5 degrees above zero. I got in the truck and drove the bypass/I-94 loop a couple of times, exiting briefly downtown and cruising along the lake, just to feel close to him. My new, used Ford Ranger fills that abyss. If you are out this Christmas Eve in Milwaukee and come upon a tan/gold Ford Ranger pick-up truck, give the nod to my old man, he'll be in the passenger seat. We don't talk much, we never did. Our silence was as golden as the few words exchanged. I'll be enjoying the ghost ride.

Peace and love to you all. May your hearts and minds be filled with personal, beautiful memories.

Friday, November 17, 2017

An Artful Business Decision

About this time a year ago I decided that after my Transcendental Beauty series exhibition ended in Spring, I would stop exhibiting. Coming from a commercial art background and not a fine art one, I had to make the decision that financially this path wasn't a smart one anymore. What I couldn't give up on was creating personal work and photography projects.

I decided to concentrate my efforts on Instagram as the place to showcase my work. I am also working on other online avenues to sell work soon. I haven't amassed a considerable following, but those who follow are interested. My efforts over the last year have increased my reach way beyond Southeastern Wisconsin. I am featured in a few online journals which have expanded interest in the type of work I create and post. I pay close attention to those who repeatedly respond to my work and reciprocate with private messages to interested individuals. This approach to promoting my work has cultivated a small audience of people either considering buying work or collaborating with me on projects.

My decision a year ago allows me to create work and not in a vacuum. It still provides purpose and exposure. It was a tough decision but a necessary financial one based on my past outcomes and future goals.

Getting messages like this help make the decision more palatable.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Emerging from the fog

Today my daughter asked me how I was feeling and a few people have asked me recently, “How did you do it?” when I shared on social media, the fact that I finally am feeling amazing after over two and a half years of mental fatigue and depression. During this time I also shared, not specifics, but vague references to having the hellhound on my trail. I was filled with great amounts of stress, anxiety, and depression. I had recognized a lot of this coming and knew that I needed to slow down and create a more balanced life for myself. It’s a tough thing to do when most of the things I chose to involve myself in, I enjoy. Realize that this new and embraced change of feeling better is only a month old. I’d never share my experience as an antidote for anyone else’s personal struggles. I’m sure if I would have gone for professional help, like I have in the past, I may have felt better sooner.

Four weeks ago my wife and I went on vacation for a week. We rented a cottage on a lake in Indiana. It didn’t take long to recognize that this was going to be just the vacation I desired and needed. The place was amazing both in place and structure. The lake was quiet and beautiful. No motors of any kind allowed on the lake. I proceeded to enjoy the most relaxing week I had experienced in many years.  The stress headaches were going away and I was beginning to feel refreshed both physically and mentally.

A week later we head back home and as we drive the six hours home a slow but steady stress headache begins to build. We arrive home in the late afternoon and by 6pm my head is killing me. I’m trying breathing exercised, aspirin, and a cold compress, everything, to try and get control of this stress headache. It felt like an exorcism that travelled through the muscles around my skull, starting in the front and moving around the skull to finally exit some fifteen hours later from the back bottom of my head. During that time, more than once I really was hoping I’d die.

So, Saturday late morning, I finally wake from this awful experience and know that, beyond the active steps I’d been taking to slow down my life and create a better balance, I needed to change my outlook, be more positive, and take control. Other than ending the week with this huge stress headache, the vacation on the lake was the catalyst for a new beginning.

The following day, Sunday, I download an app that can track my food intake and I dedicate myself to being more consistent with my walking exercise. I challenge myself to be more positive and to not let things that are out of my control affect me as they had in the past. Fast forward three weeks and I haven’t had a single stress headache, I’ve lost ten pounds, and I feel more alive than I have in a very long time. My greatest fear is that it won’t last.

My wonderful wife, through love with blunt honesty, has always been my greatest support. She knows when to be nurturing and when that just won’t cut it. I can hear her say often, “just relax”, “don’t carry the weight of others problems on your shoulders”, and “When did you get to be so negative?” Even with her support, their came a time when she finally said, “Bill, I can’t help you anymore.” She helped awaken myself that it was up to me to save myself. So for the last four weeks, life has been really, really, good. These photos are a reflection of the beauty and tranquility that filled me during that week at the lake and has continued to inspire me to feel that way as often as I can. One day at a time.