Ars Photographica


I know. I’ve been quiet.

I’ve been untangling.

The day I left Massachusetts for New Mexico, I started professionalized my art. For 11 years, I designed everything for everyone; wrote a sprawling experimental novel; taught myself to bind books; published the Underground Guide; ran a press; ran a restaurant; ran a farm; ran from my feelings. I made a lot of art, a lot of connections, and shockingly little money to show for it.

I was bored but respected. I was treading water. If I could never eat in a restaurant, drink in a bar, wander a museum, or visit far-away family, that was… fine.

Except it wasn’t fine. I was, actually, miserable.

And one night in 2016, I accepted reality.

Making good art doesn’t make an art career

I’d burrowed into my craft, made good art, and lived in a haze of resentment. I knew meritocracy was a manipulative lie, but I clung to it, anyway. A failing career pretty well levels out successful art. Targeting meritocracy just made me mediocre.

The problem was I didn’t know how to run a business. And I didn’t want to run a business. Sure, I’d tried to partner with several people who did did. Some were flakey; some were just winding down their careers when I got to them. Most just didn’t write back. I gave up, went back to treading water. Until my best friend kissed me in my mom’s basement, and said, “Albuquerque is killing you. Move to Boston.”

So I shook the box.

Quit freelance. Quit the the novel, the farms, the bookmaking. Moved across the country, directly in with my new girlfriend. Got an office job. Jabbed my career in the arm.

And it was great. I leapt up the ladder and caught up with my peers. I was a steady-working graphic designer! Eating in restaurants, starting a vest collection, buying a round for the bar.

There was just one problem: I’d moved to Boston. My $500 Albuquerque casita was now half a $500 Boston bedroom. And of course, that was just the beginning.

Breaking the key in the lock

I’d picked up photography a few years before, and it was starting to make sense. I was getting intentional. I traded Intimate Landscape for pure abstraction. Where sun met stucco, I was panning for gold. Let me explain.

Stucco is a canvas: textured up close, smooth at a distance. The New Mexican sun—almost never diffused—makes clean, sharp shapes on it. It nurtured my sensibilities, co-created my style; I don’t think I would’ve stayed in ABQ so long without it.

In Boston you can lose the sun for weeks (and let’s not even talk about the architecture). By moving here, essentially, I was starving out my art. I probably could’ve worked through that, if not for something else.

This… relationship. I wanted an art career; she wanted a family. I needed lots of solo time; she saw that as withdrawing. We argued constantly about how I used my free time. Before long, we didn’t want to be in the same room. But the final nail was when I learned she didn’t actually like my art. I’d been my own cheer squad for years, but always for my business; everyone agreed, my art was always solid. This just broke my brain.

I’d miscalculated so many things, and they all rallied in my head, every hour of the day.

I felt betrayed. By the sky, by the fates, by my instincts, by my best-friend-girlfriend, by my muse. Even making good art seemed impossibly out of reach. I’d fixed what was broken in New Mexico… by breaking the rest of it. So, no surprise, I lost my motivation. I did what any well-intentioned, if misguided person would do.

for six years, I panicked

That is, as an artist. At my day jobs, I was launching startups and leading design teams. I even got hired two days before lockdown started in Massachusetts (shoutout to Heather Cole at Robert Half).

This was my “throwing shit at the wall” period. Since photography was at the heart of my artist identity when I got myself into this mess, it stayed there the whole time:

Yes, it was exhausting. But just like that toxic relationship, I’m glad I went through it. Now my art is battle-tested. I’m still learning, still growing.

My thinking is shifting

Boston will never offer me hot stucco, but it has art museums, and you’d be shocked what you can find in there.

When I visited Albuquerque last year, I was struck by how far we’ve grown apart.

In February, I was laid off. I spent two seasons in Boston with no job and no art. Losing both at once pushed me to realize… I need both, at once. I am rule-breaker and rule-follower. I am artist and cog.

Wind me up and watch what I can do.

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