My New Thing

Artistry evolves in waves.

You become interested in new things as you become capable of making them.

For a few years in college, my highest aspiration was to transcribe the structure of an Autechre song into a poem. (I use “song” loosely.) Gradually, that gave way to an obsession with finding a poem’s surreal, secret truth, its dream logic. A few years after that, a friend introduced me to Gibran and Calvino, who encouraged me to lay out that truth, and then get out of its way. I’ve followed that philosophy ever since. A few years ago, I brought it to confessional poems (which may lead me to a two-person play, but more on that another time).

But these movements are confusing. When a new way of working arrives, it doesn’t come with a template. And it’s usually not until you see several examples that you realize you’re changing. In that sense, you make your own template. You look at your hands and realize they’ve been drawing a map.

I’ve been drawing a map

In the last year, I’ve migrated from representing shapes in the world to taking those shapes for fodder. I embraced the sun, shadow, and architecture of my city, found shapes I liked, and made stranger shapes from them, which I liked more. Though there’s more strange architecture here than in Albuquerque, Boston’s been unforgiving with cloudy, unpredictable skies, and it’s forced me indoors. At first I was pretty mad about that. Gradually, I’ve come to see it as an invitation. I’m trying something new.

It’s scary to try something new. What I’m trying now some people will consider no longer photography, but digital art. There’s a lot of manipulation now, a lot of removing elements, and reforming the image as I see it. At what point does the image cease to be a photograph, become something else? Could I have arrived here just as well by drawing boxes in Photoshop?

My first day in class with Martín Espada he wrote a squiggle on the blackboard, and above it, “Is this a poem?” We debated for a while, until a young woman reframed the question: “Who cares if it’s a poem; is it a good poem?” It’s easy to get lost in an unproductive debate. I remind myself I’m making art that makes sense to me. That’s enough.

Old ways die hard

There’s often bleed between the last way and the new. You never stop seeing the thing you figured out how to see; you just get bored with it. I still shoot in that Upside-Out style (there’s always more to learn) but as I start to get a foothold in my new thing, hard abstraction, I’m less drawn to the old. Last summer I was already feeling like I wanted to radically simplify. I guess it just took Boston hammering it out of me.

So I’ve been shooting at the MFA a lot, lately. Two of the images below are from the museum. One is from a church; one is from a strip mall about a half mile from my apartment. The joy of working indoors is the opposite of the joy of working outdoors: Outdoors, you have to catch the sun at just that moment you want, or the lines will be different, but indoors, it never changes. There’s still an element of chance, and constraint—I can’t ask the Museum of Fine Arts to change their track lighting—but I can also be fairly certain that what’s there on one Friday will be there still a month later.

What do you think of this new direction? Is it compelling? Impersonal? Let me know in the comments.

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The author

I bring 11 years as a professional writer and designer, as well as my feminism, ecological philosophies, and editorial aesthetic to photography. When no one's looking, I bring my sense of humor, too.

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