Saturday, April 1, 2017

My Last Picture Show

Tomorrow I hang my last art exhibition. I guess I should put in the disclaimer, “Never Say Never”, but I doubt that I'll do another one after Transcendental Beauty comes down in May.

I have been dabbling in showing my personal work since about 1992/93. My first exhibit was at the Liberty Bank that used to be on Water Street between Mason and Wells Streets if my memory serves me right? Maybe it was between Wells and State Streets? George Anich, an old employer of mine, hooked me up with a contact at the bank. My memory is foggy but I recall he was friends with the bank's president. I hung black and white large format portraits in the bank lobby. I remember my dad helping me matte and frame the work on my parent's kitchen table the night before delivery.

My second exhibition was at a long since forgotten coffee house that was on E. Hampshire Street near UWM called Actwerks. This would have been around 1993/94. I was still photographing with a large format view camera, but the subject matter had switched to nostalgia and relic based theme assemblage still life. I had already been a commercial photographer for many years, and the personal work was a way to offset the paid work, with a more creative personal vision and narrative.

These early works and exhibits began to reveal the personal work as an important part of my creative process and life. Work that was meant to make you think about conceptual idea's and narratives; instead of buying a product or service, which is what the commercial work did. I exhibited about every three years or so, between 1997 and 2004, starting at the Image Zone and then numerous times at Gallery H20. The work began to look at the identity of one's self, family, or society, through still life and later mixed media installations/sculpture. My inexperience in the art world didn't reveal this to me until many years later. Most of the time, I wasn't thinking much beyond the one image or art piece, but I was always creating something that had importance to me.

My creative outlet switched to playing the guitar and writing poetry around 1999/2000. I was doing less photography. I'm sure that some of this had to do with lack of funds and poetry didn't cost any money to create. I also seemed to have a lot of things to say through words at the time. I was on the road a lot doing location photography around the country and words/music fit well into the hotel lifestyle. I think it went hand in hand with the guitar, as I started to try and write my own music and lyrics. As the words dried up and became harder to put onto paper, I found solace once again, in my camera, and photographic expression.

I came full circle, back to photography as a means to express my personal thoughts. Around 2007/2008 I began, once again, to create personal photography/narratives. These series began with Life in Miniature and ends with Transcendental Beauty. In-between these two series I was fortunate to create Book Passages, Gestation, Identity, shutters/dead ends/lens/pens, and The Dress series. I was in numerous juried group exhibitions and was represented by the Frank Juarez Gallery from 2012 to 2016.

I was once asked why I like to photograph dolls? Especially dolls that are old, vintage, and aged. I said I didn't know? While doing the Identity project from 2010-2012 it finally struck me. Identity was about how we as a society label individuals, without really getting to know and understand them personally. Again, I'm exploring through my photography the subject of the individual, group, and societal identity. The dolls I photographed earlier, also explored identity. These dolls were once new, beautiful, and desired by young children as toys and companions. Today these old dolls are usually viewed as scary, creepy, and undesired. Are these dolls any different than us humans? We all have stories to tell and scars to remind us of our journey. So I continued with The Dress and now Transcendental Beauty. Each speaks to some aspect of identity. Have I come full circle once again? I don't know the answer to that. What I do know is that I will continue to create. Maybe at a slower pace than before. My desire to exhibit the work has waned some, even though I look forward to this final exhibition and celebration of Transcendental Beauty. I'll never stop having things to say with my photography. It's how I express my innermost feelings. The process is what I find important. It fills my heart and mind with honesty, trust, and respect of others. I cherish the encounters I have with both strangers and friends, as they sit, often physically vulnerable, in front of me and my camera.

So I'll create, I will support fellow friends and artists in their artistic journey and celebrations. I will buy art!

“I've found that trying to be like everyone else, do what others do and follow others `guaranteed path` to `so-called success` never really works for me. I have found my best strategy is to authentically be me, listen within and follow it....and then to treat and connect with others – wherever I can – personally, personably and individually.” ~Rasheed Ogunlaru

Sunday, January 29, 2017

That old Ford Ranger truck and the Gym

I went to the gym today. It was a huge mental struggle. Today, I went mostly because my wife Sue was going and I certainly should go more often. I read while I'm on the elliptical machine, which makes the time go faster, but today was exceptionally difficult. With almost half way to go I was thinking, maybe I'll stop early and just wait for her to finish. At that moment I looked up from my book and out the gym window, a flatbed tow truck was passing through the parking lot carrying an old Ford Ranger pickup truck. It was the same vintage as the one my dad had and loved. His dog Snuggles loved to ride shotgun in that truck. My dad loved that dog and the truck.

When he died in 2004 I kept the truck for about a year. It was rusted out, daylight through the rusted floorboards, but I loved to drive it. I remember the first Christmas without him, which was about a month after he passed. It was Christmas eve. I got in the truck and drove the bypass/I-94 loop a couple times, exiting briefly downtown and driving along the lake, just to feel close to him. During the year I had the truck, I drove it when I could, but it needed a lot of work. When the time came to get rid of it, I took off the hubcaps as a keepsake and donated it to the Rawhide Boys Ranch. I remember walking home with water in my eyes. It was like dying a second time.

As an artist, I often use metaphor in my photographs to tell a story or illustrate an idea. Today, as that old Ford Ranger passed the gym window, I thought of my father. For the last many years before his death, his legs got weaker and weaker. The doctors, even with many tests, could never figure out why his legs and strength was getting progressively worse. He walked with a cane, had a difficult time lifting his legs, and at times, could lose his legs right out from under him. So as I'm struggling to find the strength and stamina to push through the exercise, what was more a mental than a physical challenge, I see my father symbolically in that truck. The disabled truck required a little help from this tow truck. Maybe it was temporary, I don't know? My physically frail father passed that window, a nod to my silly struggle and mental lapse. The tow truck passed along with my thoughts and I gained the energy to not only finish but push myself harder and faster than usual. I don't know how I'll feel the next time I step into the gym. I still don't like going but maybe now I have a greater motivation to help push me a little bit further. Peace.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The unpredictable and predictable aspects of life

When my daughter was five and in kindergarten, I wasn't at my best, I drank often. One night after work, dinner, and some drinks, I was laying, almost passed out, on the couch. My young and perceptive little daughter of five came down to the family room where I was lying on the couch with my eyes closed. She said, “Daddy”, and touched my arm. I said, “yes”, and opened my eyes. She looked at me, eye level, and said, “I want my daddy back”. I knew at that moment exactly what she meant and to hear it from your five year old daughter is heartbreaking. After that moment, I didn't have another drop of alcohol for the next thirteen years. Kids are the best at honesty and a dose of reality. I have an addictive personality and when it wasn't alcohol it has been aspirin, coffee, diet pills, exercise, and art creation. You can decide which are the more destructive in the list but all had an affect on my relationships and specifically, those I love the most. My whole life I have been striving for a balance that provides me with that which my mind and soul requires.

So I go through the process of experimentation and exploration. It has made me who I am today and I'm a better person today than I was 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. Life is a journey and we must continue to push ourselves to be better than yesterday. If we don't, what is life's journey about?

I am at another crossroads, looking to find that balance in my life. I have the most beautiful grandson, the most understanding wife, and the three best children a man could ask for. Over the last seven years or so I have photographed the most amazing individuals who have taught me about life and about myself. I continue to search for that balance in life. Maybe it's fleeting or not of this world?

I have been on a two year track of changing my hectic life. I have made progress. It's not perfect, but over the last three days I made breakfast for my wife. I haven't done this in I don't know how long. I saw friends. I saw artwork I enjoyed. I met someone who I've only known through Facebook and she is a creative, sensitive, honest, and beautiful soul. I saw a play that spoke to our most pressing issues of the day. I almost fixed my daughters flat tire today. This was over the span of three days. Decisions do have consequences. I am thankful for my experiences and those who have helped shape me into the person I am today. Stay humble and open to what life gives you. Peace.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Life Lessons

A little over two weeks ago, a woman I never met, messaged me, asking if I would be interested in photographing her. I thought the shoot would be for her, and to help her in some small way, to love herself, and to see the strong and beautiful person that she is. You see this person has been battling breast cancer for the last 7 months and soon she'll have a double mastectomy. I don't know if the photo session was a positive for her or not, but it was life changing for me.

We have become Facebook friends and every day I see her strength. Her ability to fight through her fear and physical limitations, for herself and her son. Honest with herself and those around her. She is a tough and beautiful spirit. One that has had a huge impact on me in a very short period of time.

Those who know me are aware that I am not religious or spiritual. I consider myself a humanist. I do believe in the golden rule and I often fail at it more than I'd like to admit. My photography for the last 6-7 years has dealt with peoples identity. During this time I've tried to use my platform with photography to make everyone feel inclusive with respect and beauty, of their individuality. This is genuine and meant to break the societal norms that make us question our own self and unique individuality.

This shoot was different. It was a mutual FB friend that ultimately brought her to the Zu to be photographed. Before, during, and after a photo session, I am often most interested in our dialog. I'm not one for small talk so discussions usually become personal. This session and our conversation, was the same. I discovered a woman so empowered with her own identity as a woman, mother, and human being. Facing such challenges yet so full of fight. Maybe that is the only option available?

I myself have been battling severe depression for many months. Withdrawing from society whenever possible and really faking it until I can pull myself out of it. This experience with such a brave and open soul, has taught me more about life in the 3 1/2 hours we shared, than any other life experience. I haven't snapped out of my depression for those who understand the seriousness of it, it's not that easy. What I have done is use her example of strength to move forward with a feeling of optimism that tomorrow will be a better day, and if not tomorrow, maybe the next day.

Life is learning, and I do feel that there is a rhythm to life. Things ebb and flow. People come in and out of our lives. Nature has a way of teaching us all. In my heart, I know that this special person will beat this cancer and continue to positively affect those around her as she has with me. Peace.

And she danced.....

Thursday, December 29, 2016

One eye on the rear view mirror, one eye on the road

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

Reflecting on my year, 2016, from an art perspective, I first looked back at some earlier, end of year, observations. At the end of last year, I wrote that over the last four years, 2011 to 2015, I had photographed over 80 individuals combined for “Identity” and “The Dress” series's. This year, I photographed 51 individuals and/or couples. Most of these portrait sessions were for my “Transcendental Beauty” series and others, private commissions. Almost all of them took place over weekends, in-between my full time job, part-time teaching, and family obligations. I'm amazed at that number and the consistency of the work. What I've been struggling to answer over the last two years is; is this sustainable? After two years of soul searching and honest reflection, no it's not. I have one exhibition next year and that is by design. I'll be exhibiting my “Transcendental Beauty” series at the Art Mill in Grafton, next Spring. I am very proud of this body of work and in many ways consider it the third phase in a trilogy on the issue of Identity. Those who know me, know how personal this subject is to me. With “Transcendental Beauty”, I feel like there is an exclamation point at the end of these three bodies of work; Identity, The Dress, and Transcendental Beauty.

What does 2017 hold for me artistically/creatively? I plan to slow way down. Create a better balance between all the things that require time in my life. I enjoy my art immensely and I need to create, to feel alive. I don't feel the need to exhibit the work so much as I have in the past. I will continue to do portraits. I'm beginning to get more commissioned work based on the style of portraiture I've created over the last many years. I want to get back to exploring idea's that I have with miniature sets, something I've enjoyed ever since I photographed editorial work for Dollhouse Miniatures magazine, many years ago. So I will be creating new work, just without the deadlines and expectations of exhibitions.

Society has defined “normal” and “regular”, something I've never fit into, from a very young age.  When I wanted to fit in, I wasn't invited. Now that I probably could fit in, I've been on the outside looking in for so long, that it no longer interests me. I see the world through a different lens, it's where I feel most at home and where I can be the most violent and original in my work.

How Does It Feel

We are changing at seven thousand cells a second.
In seven years, if we are still here, not collectively
but in the singular, we will not be who we are today at all.
We will not have one single cell in us that is here now today.
We are melting and forming and swirling and if we could time
lapse our lives in a mirror over the course of seven years
we might be mortified at the graphic violence of our changes.
Who are you now?
There is the land of the living and the land of the dead,
and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.
It feels like a river of darkness and of shimmering light too.
It feels like my fingers are stinging from the cold as I hang
on with all my might in a world of wild weather. And
then I let go and my fingers go warm and I feel a sense that
I am falling. I close my eyes and see myself not falling at all
but standing and there you are again. You with the eyes.
Who I have met before and have never met, and will meet
today if all goes well, or tomorrow, or next month. or maybe
not in this world at all. Only in the world of my hope, and
my faith, and my tangled firing wires of what I believe is
I know those eyes and like an apparition in a Fellini movie
with the gentle breeze tossing the fabric of your white angel
like whatever it is that Angels wear, you slip away again.
And I hang on again. Because I know you're out there waiting
still for me. somehow. How Does It Feel to be on my own?
It feels like home only there's no furniture anywhere and sometimes
I wish I had a beautiful old cowboy couch to just stretch out on,
if even for a second, and just close my eyes. To rest these
weary thoughts.
Cause maybe you'll be there waiting. That's How it Feels,
like the embers in my chest both die and burst like roman
candles across the sky. I shall trudge on til the beating stops.
And I will love you because I can. And I will sing you and play you
to this harsh and brutally beautiful world. I will let them know that
you were here. And that it feels like you will be again.

That's How It Feels
- Jeth Weinrich