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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Seven Day Facebook Cleanse

So it's been a week since I deactivated my FB account. In full disclosure, I must inform that I remain active on Instagram, Ello, and occasionally Linkedin. What has the week been like? It's been really good for me. For someone who spent every in-between time checking FB, scrolling, monitoring likes, etc., I had a very productive and less stressful week without the big FB. Maybe it's time to give it the big FU?

I tried to reduce my time on FB in the past, but after a couple days, I found myself back on the social media mega-ride. Maybe it was easier this time because I don't have anything to promote anymore? Do I miss it? I do miss it at times but not enough to go back on for long periods at a time. It helps me to deactivate my account instead of just logging off. I took the app off my phone so I'm not tempted to log on. I keep messenger active so that friends can still contact me. My experience and opinions moving forward are my own and not meant to be a judgment on other people's engagement with FB.

I'm sure I missed a lot the week I was gone. I know that there are artist friends that post regularly, I miss seeing their artwork and creative observations. I'll miss getting invited to my friend's art exhibits. The good news is that those people know how to reach out to me, so if they want to invite me, I'm only an email or text away. I missed posts from my family. Especially the post of my son Josh, proposing to his fiance Ericka. The great news is that I was present during this heartfelt event so FB wasn't necessary other than to post my photos and track how many people click “like”. Don't get me wrong, I like the “likes” but I have to ask myself, what purpose was it serving me? One thing I do like about FB is that it works as a big journal. You are reminded of things you did many years ago. Some of these are good and others make your jaw drop in surprise that you actually said, done, and posted it.

What did I like about being disconnected from FB for the last seven days? I liked that I actually paid closer attention to those around me. I wasn't constantly checking my phone. I was more engaged. In fact, now the biggest thing my phone is used for is to tell me how many steps I walk each day. I enjoyed not being reminded of our messed up political system from news sources and people that will post anything that they see, without checking if it's accurate or not. I can say this, having been guilty of it myself. We are passionate beings and our emotions can get the best of us. I read a beautiful novel, I haven't done that in years. In fact, reading used to be my escape. I see this being a more valuable part of my life moving forward. I am sleeping longer and more soundly. My wife says I have been snoring really loudly the past many days. I am getting more accomplished around the house. I don't like to sit and watch TV much so I find myself putzing around in the yard more. I recently planted some wild flowers I'm excited to see bloom. I've rearranged the photo studio and spend more time reflecting and thinking, rather than reacting. I read, even more, poetry in the morning than I did before. It's my morning meditation before going to work.

Maybe it's that I've passed that 50's threshold and I want my experiences to be more personal, like the portraits I created over the last seven years or so. It may reduce my interactions, but those who I connect with will be much deeper and more personal engagements. As Tom Bodett says, "We'll leave the light on for you." Here at the Zu, the light is also on, reach out, stop by, let's share some conversation and whiskey.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Come full circle

My last post was titled, My Last Picture Show. People joke with me that it's not true or maybe they truly don't take me at my word, when I spoke that sentiment. Without rehashing all the details of why I started doing my personal work in the first place, I'll just highlight what my plans are, going forward.

  1. No exhibitions, doesn't mean no more art. I plan to keep creating art, awesome art, art series, and stand alone images. In fact, I still think my best art hasn't been made yet.
  2. Why create if you don't plan to exhibit? Early in my education, the president of the college I attended, came into our class and said, “When you graduate, you will be a good photographer and a great businessman.”. I think in time I've become better than “good” as a photographer and have been fortunate to be able to monetize my commercial photography whether with freelance or full employment. I can't continue to produce big art exhibitions with big expenses without the offset of some financial returns. It's not good business. I have limited space to keep storing all these images I produce for exhibition and limited funds.
  3. Like any creative person, I have to create. It's what makes me feel alive. I enjoy the process more than the exhibiting of the work. Social media provides a little exhibition space every time I post a new image. Feel free, if you see an image you like, contact me. All the work is for sale. Internet sales of art was 9% of the art market in 2016 and is growing. I’ll continue to research other online sale avenues and hopefully experience some success.
  4. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. At age 52, hopefully retirement is ten years away. A much different view than when I was even 40. My financial priorities have to shift for this pending reality.
  5. Balance. For too long I have neglected my own health, my family, and my friends, to maintain a very aggressive pace of creating art. Without deadlines, both personal and professional, I'll be able to find time for many more things in life that are important to me.
  6. I love to experiment and play. I had a difficult time doing that with so many exhibitions. I want to experiment with old and new processes. I want to experiment with art outside of photography. I want to be a student again where failure is not only accepted but required.

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.