Thursday, October 7, 2010

2010 NWHPC Portfolio Challenge

There are times when photographically I bat it out of the park. The question is, how do I talk about those times without exposing my monumental ego? It is difficult to appear properly modest when the only terms you can think to use about your work are all superlatives. O, what to heck!

Last night was the Northwest Photo Club's Portfolio Challenge review. The members that participate in the Challenge put together a portfolio of ten to twenty photographs in as professional a manner as they are able to do. The club brings in people from the professional side of photography including professional photographers, educators, curators, gallery owners. Lots are drawn and each participant gets three or more reviews. Because of the mixed backgrounds of the reviewers the participants get a mixture of insights from different areas of expertise. This is the reason that I belong to this particular club.

This is my third year to participate in the Challenge and each time I walk away with a bigger head than the year before. However, there is a downside—that is if I wish to continue to grow—I have to do better than I did the year before.

There is a common theme that runs through all of my portfolios so far—randomness. This is possibly my favorite photographic theme. I look for objects that have been arranged randomly—without conscious human input. I call it spontaneous design and it has played a big part especially in the portfolios the first year and in the one this year. Last years theme was more order/chaos which is a subcatagory of randomness.

Tar and Stars--shot this week of the sidewalk
across my my home.
The first year I did Wall and Walks which has been an ongoing project for many years. I am constantly photographing objects that I find on the ground and design/pattern/texture that I find on walls. All of these are elements that have come together through randomness. The reviews were overwhelming. All three of the reviewers encouraged me to seek out a gallery to display the photographs. I toyed with the idea but I am so adverse to rejection that I never carried through with it. I claim that I have never wanted to be in the spotlight with my photography, however, I really have no qualms with that. I do not do it because I have never learned to handle rejection well and I know from being on the periphery of the art world through Janet’s profession that rejection is the norm in pursuing artistic acceptance. I am just not willing to face that. I have no idea why that is because I have sufficient ego for ten people. Never the less I am not willing to really work toward an artistic acceptance and frankly, Scarlet, I am really quite happy where I am in my photography. At least I am showing it which I did not do for many, many years. I also think that I am continuing to grow photographically and maybe even one day I will be pretty good at it.

Another Totem of the same light pole that
originally started to Totem project.
The second year I did Totems, the Graven Image and Other Stories, which is where I realized that I actually do not pursue photographic themes I stumble upon photographic themes. I came out of a restaurant, saw an interesting cloud formation and needed some foreground interest and selected a light pole in the parking lot. The pole with the lights on arms extending out from the top struck me visually as a Northwest Coast Indian totem pole and immediately there was a mental connection not only to the similarity in physical appearance but in the purpose of protection that the two objects shared. Mulling it over I decided to do a series of photographs of light poles as totems. Fortunately there was a period of about two weeks following the original photograph when we had late afternoon thunder storms and the cloud formations were exceptional. There is only a period of about a half hour each evening when I could really do the type of photographs that I wanted to do so Janet and I packed up each afternoon and went searching for light poles that were juxtaposed with interesting cloud formations. Again, because of the uniqueness of the subject matter and because of the relationship I attempted to build in the photographs between the use of light poles and totem poles the portfolio was well received. I again came away with a greatly inflated ego marveling at how I had pulled it off two years in a row. Like Walls and Walks, I still shoot photographs of light poles.

Poster assembled from many of the photographs from the Forensic Evidence project.
This year, I again stumbled upon my subject for the Challenge—Forensic Evidence Found in the Containers of a Life Past. I will leave the Artist Statement to explain the project but basically I was in my garage, saw a container that I thought was interesting and decided to photograph it. Later that night, unable to sleep I was mulling over the photograph and realized that in my garage were dozens of containers of objects that defined a life that I had once had. The next morning I began removing drawers from the cabinets in my garage to photograph.

Here is the Artist Statement for Forensic Evidence Found in the Containers of a Life Past:
When I was young I thought a great deal about death. Now that I am old I think a great deal about life; not about prolonging life but about the whys and whats of a life experienced.

In this endeavor I find the pivot points of life to be extremely fascinating. What I call pivot points are the events that when they occur spin life so dramatically that life afterwards will never again be the same as life before. Graduating from school, getting married, having a child, losing a parent - these are all points where life is expected to pivot as though to almost begin again in another form. A financial disaster, a horrendous auto accident, losing a child, a diagnosis of a life threatening illness - these are among the unexpected pivot points that are frequently encountered with overwhelming ramifications for the future.

I experienced one such unexpected pivot point almost a quarter of a century ago at precisely 2:15 A.M., February 11th, 1986. My wife, Janet, suffered a massive stroke. In one brief second, life pivoted so abruptly that life prior to that moment was gone forever. It was so life altering that for over fifteen years I gave up the single consistent defining point of my life, photography. Still I hopefully clung to the relics of that past. No amount of hope will spin the world backwards.

What is left of that life past is, with little forethought, haphazardly crammed into boxes, drawers, coffee cans, peanut butter jars, even baggies - containers - all stored away in a ill kept and infrequently visited garage. In these containers are the remains of bicycle touring, wilderness camping, sailing, oil painting, woodworking, diesel mechanics, home maintenance, and a deeper involvement in photography - the passions of a life past which I once greatly enjoyed but in which I no longer participate.

This is a photographic study of those containers. I tried not to disturb the accumulated randomness created by the intervening years. No aesthetic rearranging, no removing the many layers of dust that blankets the containers as time blankets and dims the memory. I did intensify the colors to more closely coincide with the recollections of that past life as memory embellishes with exaggerated colorfulness the joys of the past.

The only intent was to reexamine and extract any thoughts that might come from these disheveled remnants of what had been. Each container is presented honestly without fanfare or pretense for as casual or as meticulous a scrutiny as the viewer desires. I hope that in these simple elements there are discoveries to be made about life, what life was, what life is and life’s response to pivotal years.

This photographic study contains the Forensic Evidence Found in the Containers of a Past Life.

All three of my reviews were extremely positive (as though I ever required an ego boost.)

Chuck Thompson did comment on the appearance of “newness” and pointed out a couple of the photographs where there was slightly more cross lighting and how that added to the theme of objects as being old. Of course that was the opposite of what I had in mind at the time I took the photographs. I was a little disappointed that I did not have a ringlight so that I could eliminate all shadows but Chuck convinced me that the cross lighting along with some of the items being almost hidden in the shadows not only added to the depth of the image it also gave the viewer the opportunity to pause to look harder into the shadows to identify objects. He also pointed out how the cross lighting increased the appearance of layering so that it gave depth to the object lying on top of objects. Chuck mentioned that after reading the Artist Statement that he expected to see much more of an accumulation of dust, more indication of the period of time when the containers where basically untouched. He gave me an entirely new way to see the photographs.

Dion McInnis and I discussed that I had chosen not to rearrange for aesthetic purposes the object in the drawers. My objective was to simply remove the containers and to photograph them as they had been rearranged at random over the years. He suggested that I comment on that in the Artist Statement so that it would be more clearly explained. He probably grasped the autobiographical nature of the photographs, or at least commented on it more, than the other two reviewers which dealt much more with the technical side. He made one comment that I greatly appreciated, that this was a man’s life, something that could not have been photographed by a younger person. I am pleased that came across because to me that is something so very important to what I want to do with photography—keeping it very personal, very much about what I experience, have experienced, see as important. It is good to know that at least on occasion I come close to that. He also mentioned that this was a set of photographs that would be seen very differently by a woman. Interestingly that is what I have actually experienced from the women that have seen the photographs. I have gotten considerable compliments from men, even thought I was going to have to take Larry’s son, Tony, a tool freak, home with me or give him the photographs Tuesday night, but not a single woman has commented very favorably on them.

Rudy Hernandez was encouraging to try Glicee or at least ink jet on watercolor paper which I think would be outstanding. He is emailing me a link to a gentleman in Texas City that he says does outstanding ink jet on watercolor very affordably. So who knows maybe there is more life in this series of photographs? Maybe I will even dig out the containers in the storage closet and continue the project.

Okay, I came away from Portfolio Challenge once again ego inflated and floating on cloud nine because people that I feel know what they are talking about seemed to get my photography, near genius, knew it all the time. But then again when am I not on cloud nine. That’s the real downside of being egomaniacal.


  1. Gary, I am thrilled to know that your portfolio was so well received. This project was clearly a "walk down memory lane" for you, probably producing a mixture of emotions because as you said, the objects photographed have very personal meaning to you. And it's the icing on the cake to have your work appreciated by others. I will be interested to see them if you decide to go with the other printing ideas.

    I'm entering 6 photos in the Woodlands PC Fall Contest next week. I didn't participate in the Spring Contest as I forgot to turn them in on time. The competition there is pretty stiff with different (professional) judges from the outside each time. Wish me luck, I'll need it.

  2. Jan, thank you for the kind words. I was pleased with the reception. All three asked me what I was going to do with them and I told them that the four of us would probably be the last people to ever see them. One of the groups I belong to is getting display space at a cake shop in the 14000 block of Stubner Airline but I do not know that I will ever put up any photographs. As far as the additional printing. I probably won't do it. I already have more invested in this project that I should have. I may do one or two just to see how it goes.

    I do wish you luck in the Woodlands competition. I remember you telling me how tough it is. Please let me know how it turns out.