Saturday, September 12, 2009

belated post of my 1st residency summary paper

AIB Residency Summary

June 2009

Algirdas J. Nakas

Q: Where can one get creatively nurtured, inspired, prodded, befriended and challenged?

A: A 10-day residency at Art Institute of Boston.

The simple truth is that I experienced all of the above and more at my first residency in Boston. That is not to say it was in any manner easy. On the contrary, it was anything but. I furiously took notes, sketched, photographed, changed my portfolio exhibits, and participated in appropriate ways in numerous critiques, talks, seminars, field trips and other presentations and events, (I even emceed during the group 1 introductory talks!). Returning home, I was left somewhat overwhelmed by what I had just experienced, but filled with the anticipation of the work ahead of me. As I navigated each day’s schedule, I felt like I made the most out my chance to meet many people and hear their ideas. I participated fully in all of the scheduled events and I know I have taken a solid first step into this new journey into my soul. My goal is to assess it’s condition and reveal it through my art. AIB is giving me an opportunity to edit and sharpen a barge full of experience so that I might speak with refreshed specificity in my artwork.

The residence for me can be broken down into a number of distinct elements: 1) critiques, 2) artist talks, 3) seminars, 4) special events (time based work , meetings with faculty and advisors, and introductory sessions), 5) field trips, 6) free time and meals times.

I will describe my experience at the residency in that order.

The Critiques

The critique experience was exhilarating…both on the giving and getting ends of the equation. I was in with a group of very creative photographers and media artists that had some astounding work to show. Although I am a group 1 newbie, that didn’t deter me from sharing my opinions with my crit group. I am not a newbie to art or a newbie to life, so I felt as though I could offer some relevant, thought provoking comments and spoke freely and honestly. Fortunately, the work I was critiquing was very high caliber and there was no need for any strong expressions of negativity. I felt like my peers were very receptive to my ideas.

As for my own work, the graduate students were equally gentle for the most part, and I sensed that the originality of my work intrigued them. One difficult assessment I had to digest was from Liz Schrenk, an acquaintance and a graduating group 5er. She said the word “creepy” came to her mind as she viewed my photos of adolescents descending an escalator after a senior prom. This comment was helpful since shooting kids of any age, in almost any context can raise questions. Are the photos exploitive, could they appeal voyeuristically, or in other ways not intended by me? This is something I am concerned with and probably requires more study on my part. Also brought into question during most critiques of my photography was the question of the lack of model releases. This is a problem I must solve to continue similar streams of work with young people. It will require obtaining releases from parents or guardians to display the images of their kids.

Then there were the critiques by faculty members and photographers, Oliver Wasow and my advisor, Oscar Palacio. Both of these artists seemed impressed especially by my work involving the kids on the escalator. Oliver liked the play of camera awareness versus lack of camera awareness. He also loved the mat finish, 20x40 poster printing by Costco. Oliver was also interested in my thoughts about the Photoshop color work done to give the pictures a hand tinted appearance. I wanted the pictures to have a washed out feeling to express a sort of “been through the ringer” emotion. Oliver felt the work was strong and even showed the work to other faculty members. Oscar Palacio commented on the witness aspects, the apparent surveillance style of the photos as indicated by the camera angle from above…and the longish distance from the subjects. For Oscar the more appealing photos were the ones where the subjects either ignored the camera or were unaware of being photographed. In fact, he suggested I edit out the ones where camera knowledge in the subjects was apparent. Oscar felt I should pursue the idea of private information in public spaces with a sort of detached, surveillance like approach. I found this interesting. Despite the knowledge I have of my subjects as one of their teachers, I often feel very aloof from them as I shoot. I observe expressions, movements and behaviors in a very removed, almost machine-like way. Similar to an impartial security camera, I feel non-judgmental, simply recording “facts” of reality. That is basically my modus operandi, and I find it intriguing that Oscar wants me to focus on and develop this aspect of my style.

I was also extremely fortunate to have personal critiques from established visiting artists and academics as well. These included Sarah Charlesworth, Cory Arcangel, and Jan Avgikos.

The question of model releases was also raised by all of them, but besides that they differed quite a lot with suggestions and reactions. Sarah felt I should continue in the same vein and that I was fortunate to have access to the students I often photograph, but she felt I might refine, polish, and plan my work to better effect. Cory, on the other hand, disagreed and liked the rough lighting, candid, immediate, appearance of my work and felt it should continue that way, especially in light of my affinity for today’s Facebook culture and internet networking in general. Jan agreed more with Sarah on this point, but I choose a sort of middle ground. That is to say that I feel my projects could be better planned, but the spontaneous appearance of the work should be preserved as much as possible. I have already purchased a new SB-600 flash unit for future projects and a new Nikkor ultra wide-angle lens. I know I can use this hardware in creative ways to produce stronger finished work. I have begun some test shooting with this equipment to good effect.

The Artist Talks

One of the important features of the residence is the artist talks by visiting guest artists and graduating MFA candidates. I attended all of these that I could, missing only 1 group of grad talks when I had to make a choice between attending simultaneous events. This is something that I would like to see changed in the program. I regret missing any of the live talks, even though recorded versions are available on DVD. Despite missing 1 group I was treated to a wealth of fabulous talks and Q and A sessions by gifted and experienced artists. Without going through a detailed list of each speaker I would like to note that Cory Arcangel, Wendy White, Sarah Charlesworth, Richard Calabrese and Laurel Sparks all gave interesting, memorable presentations. I loved Laurel’s rock and roll aesthetic and attitude and I especially related to Cory’s sense of making the most from what is in front of him on the web and from his own previous experience. I found myself taking notes at all of these talks…but not sure if I will really reference them. I may opt to try listening without notes during my next residence.

The Seminars

Group 1 students are all assigned to Critical Theory with Stuart Steck. He is a wonderful teacher and every moment in his seminars was time well spent. Stuart is not afraid to entertain comments and participation and the group did wander into areas of study that may not have been intended, but were always valuable and worth examining. I admire Stuarts ability to field questions, digress and examine ideas about theory as they arise within the discourse of the seminar. We looked at modern and post-modern art and talked about the artists and the historic relationships of their work.

My other seminar, although it was also not an elective for group 1 students, would have certainly been one of my first choices anyway. It was Visual Remix with Oliver Wasow. Oliver has his finger on the pulse of internet networking and content. He offered a fascinating view of what is going on in that universe today. This is a world that I frequently inhabit and reference in both my teaching and my fine art photography, so I was really excited to be in his seminar. We also examined copyright issues and took a field trip to the Young Contemporaries art exhibit.

The Special Events

By special events I am including viewing screening of video work by AIB students, introductory sessions and meetings with Judith Barry, Louise Goldenberg and Jan Avgikos regarding program feedback etc. Also advisor meetings with Oscar Palacio to discuss mentorship, my work and MFA program requirements.

Meetings with Judith and Louise about the program were positive in the sense that it seemed as though comments by students were really heard and considered.

My meetings with Oscar Palacio were productive and concise. I feel lucky to have Oscar as an advisor since I sense he understands where my work is coming from and this was apparent in our succinct meetings. There didn’t seem to be the need to spend too much time on clarifying our thoughts. Communication was there. He gave me reference to study, recommended 3 books to read (which I have purchased and read) and went over and ok’d my photo project ideas for semester 1.

Oscar also approved my mentor selection for semester 1, Christopher James. I will be spending a week with Chris next week in Maine. I value his feedback and am sure it will help me get off to a good start at AIB.

The Field Trips

Field trips that were sponsored by the residence included the Museum of Fine Art trip to view the great Renaissance painters of Venice; Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. It was wonderful to listen to Tony Apesos offer his highly informed comments about the fabulous work on display by these important painters. I also enjoyed having some time to sketch as I was wandering the exhibit.

Another trip was with Oliver Wasow’s seminar group to the Young Contemporaries exhibit that included work by many current and former AIB MFA students. It was a wonderful show in a huge, interesting space. It is always great to see the work of friends and acquaintances on exhibit.

Trips I managed on my own included the very moving and provocative Shepard Fairey exhibit at the ICA. I found this especially relevant in light of the surveillance focus of my own work. Also a visit to Isabel Gardner’s home to see her art collection displayed there.

I’m glad I made the effort to get there for my first time.

I should also mention that I attended the graduating student exhibit at Lesley in Cambridge as well as the exhibit and graduation event at Beacon Street.

The Mealtimes and Free Time

Beside the consumption of food, mealtime gatherings also gave students and faculty a chance to get together and react in a casual, friendly way. This was important in forging new friendships and academic relationships and provided me with quite a bit of interesting conversation and discussion. It was also a time that Louise used to go over scheduling points, etc.

I also used this time to meet with former students of mine who are currently undergrads at AIB. They saw my work and I looked at theirs and we had lunch and caught up. That was a fun and worthwhile facet I managed to carve out during these meal time moments.

Another mealtime was spent on a personal photo expedition around Fenway Park. I simply

Walked the neighborhood and took hundreds of photos of Fenway from all angles (see my blog for some of these). This an important time for me since it gave me time with myself used just for picture taking.

Lastly, some well worthwhile free time spent was at the Kareoke dinner party. I won’t describe this too much other than to say a little fun is always good.

In summary, the residence was rewarding for me in every detail. I believe I genuinely made the most of my time in Boston. It is my intention to continue this path toward my MFA. Making the most of time as I work with my advisors and mentors toward my degree.



peer communication:

Monday, September 7, 2009

paper photos

the photos i just posted belong in my paper..i couldnt get them into blogger the way i wanted so i posted them outside my paper with captions..i'm sure you can figure where they were inserted...

incomplete title

didnt fit in the spot i guess..full title is

Snapshot: The state of mankind (or a portion thereof)

An analysis of critical thought in relation to my photography

also i am trying to get the pictures to upload

Snapshot: The state of mankind (or a portion thereof) An analysis of critical thought in relation to

Algirdas Nakas

Professor Palacio

7 September 2009

In reading published critical thought about photography as art, I notice threads that seem to bind my own work. I am vigilant to note intellectual interpretations of stylistic elements found in the work of others that echo in my own. One of these elements is the photographer seen as a detached documentarian of a moment, object or event. Another is that this photographic process occurs usually in public spaces. Whether the subject has knowledge of the camera or any measure of emotional involvement with the photographer is unimportant as long as it is not evidenced in the photograph itself. It is photographer as a self automated machine more than a human participant in the event of creating an image. Much like a surveillance camera mounted in a public space, ignored or unnoticed by those that enter it’s frame, constantly recording intimate details that can be innocuous and/or deeply provocative and unique. But often revealing volumes, or at least glimpses, of information concerning the present state of it’s subject. The information primarily refers to what is gleaned about the subject’s identity. That is who, what, where and why, and the relationships of the subject to those questions.

In the broad context of the medium one could interpret this method as a sort of negative voyeurism that exploits a moment, while doing nothing to improve it for the better. Like pictures of starving children shown without giving information as to how to provide aid. However, the conscious awareness by others of a subject made possible by a photograph may be a precursor to change for the better. Just as AP photographer Nick Ut’s picture of screaming children napalmed during a US bomb raid in Vietnam was instrumental in hastening the end of that tragic conflict when it was published on the front page of the New York Times.

My own photographic work has elements of a reportage approach. Though the public scenes and story’s evoked by my frames may not resonate with the urgency of news events, they do show moments that may give pause to an observer, evoking or answering questions. Perhaps even effecting a change of mind. As I read the critics that dissect the work of others whose pictures have similarities to mine, I am both reminded and newly informed of views that give context and meaning to this way of working, adding confidence and validity to my approach.

Because of the assigned brevity of this thesis, I will limit my remarks to a few critical readings and photographers that resonate with me. The critics referred to include Liz Wells, David Campany, and Charlotte Cotton. Photographers discussed are Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Hannah Starkey, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfield, Gregory Crewdson, Larry Clark and Nan Goldin.

In 2000, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, already known for shooting people in public spaces, rigged some construction scaffolding with photo flashes triggered by New York city passersby. Photos were taken of different subjects over a two year period. They were framed tightly in a head and shoulders composition through a long lens without their knowledge and without opportunity for them to compose themselves in any manner. The resulting pictures gave intriguing looks at people who appear lost in thought, or otherwise detached from the photographer and therefore the viewer of the picture (Cotton 46). The series and a book of these pictures known as Heads, was more elaborate than his earlier work, also shot in public, because of his strategic placement of flash lighting and lens setup was much more staged (Campany 29). The series of portraits also became controversial because it tested, quite unintentionally, an artist’s license to shoot in public places. Lorca diCorcia was sued by the subject of one his photos, and the case ultimately went to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. His right to photograph in public for the purpose of making art was upheld there (Gefter). In my own work, After Party Escalator, a 2009 self published book and a 20x40” color series of 9 prints, I also captured mostly unaware subjects leaving a high school senior prom at the Hilton Hotel in Stamford Connecticut. I stood above a down escalator and shot 100 pictures from above, most students did not realize the presence of my lens and those make for the most interesting shots. Though less elaborate than Philip Lorca-diCorcia’s heads, this work allowed one to look long and hard at a brief but telling moment of the subjects world revealing something of their human condition .

“After Party Escalator” "Head No. 13, 2000,"

by Algirdas Nakas. by Philip-Lorca diCorcia.

The work of Hannah Starkey and Gregory Crewdson, as well as more recent work of Philip Lorca-diCorcia, give us a seemingly candid, detached vision of our world that sometimes looks like a newsmagazine report or at other times, surreally haunted Wyeth-like versions of a photographic “Christina World”. Although their work is highly staged, planned, rehearsed, and preconceived, it appears natural. It looks like one is peering into a captured moment of a scene that has great significance, and has actually occurred. Gregory Crewdson’s black and white Hover series are works that are entirely staged but look like they actual occurrences. These “happenings” were shot from a crane far above the scenes and well isolated from them. What their importance actually could be is at best conjecture. Just as when Wyeth posed Christina in a field, her strained longing for home evoking an existential desperation in the viewer, despite the fact that the painting was contrived to appear as a moment that must have, in fact, occurred. This premise of ambiguous yearning also inhabits Hannah Starkey’s staged c-print, Untitled, 1997, an interior view in a diner of what appears to be a woman grasping at the image of her face in a mirror. She is observed blankly by another diner patron whose image is reflected in the same mirror. The story is unfinished, left dangling to be completed only in the speculative observations of a viewer. Importantly, in relation to my own work is the apparent realism that exists in the frame, despite the staging. In describing this image, David Campany writes:

“Starkey has developed an understated and poetic approach to everyday situations. Placing the camera at the edge of the subjects personal space, she depicts moments of absorption and reverie, states in which looking becomes curious and open ended. This is clearest in her images of young women whose actions seem to be both self conscious and unconscious. Starkey’s photography is a staged naturalism that seems to echo this state of mind”. (Campany187)

“Untitled” by Hannh Starkey “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth

Similar to Starkey’s approach, in one of my planned semester projects I will stage natural looking situations that revolve around high school students and their cars. I will show students congregating with their personal transportation after school in the senior parking lot, leaving the symbolism or story within the photos open ended. I will edit from the series any shots that indicate consciousness of me, the photographer. I want the images to reflect a discreet surveillance of seemingly “real“ moments in the after school lives of these adolescents. My intention is to reveal information about the evolving identities of these youths in relation to their cars.

Like Stephen Shore, and Joel Sternfeld, I tend to photograph everyday subject matter without idealizing it. Sternfeld’s book, American Prospects, published in 1984 depicted ironic moments in contemporary encounters with nature. The images were created to show ironic or randomly surreal events often in rural landscapes (Campany 192). His photo “Exhausted Renegade Elephant, Woodland, Washington, 1979”, was elaborately designed to appear both incongruous with the setting, but also to appear as an actual news event that might make the local newspaper. Complete with an elevated point of view of the event showing an elephant lying on a country road with a parked sheriff’s car and a truck that appears to have been carrying it. There is also a group of about 12 people standing around observing the scene. Just as Sternfeld, Stephens Shore does not idealize nature like does the work of Ansel Adams. Rather, Shore’s landscape photos refer to location as context for their actual contemporary usage. His picture, “ Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13th, 1979” shows the grandeur of the national park setting but unlike Adams, depicts vacationers in the foreground using a beach on the river for social bathing (Campany 192-193). I visited Yellowstone National Park several weeks ago and found myself compulsively shooting the impact of, and the human use of the park, intentionally framing tourists and handrails with an emphasis rivaling the landscape itself.

“Asian Tourists, Yellowstone, 2009” by A. Nakas “Merced River, Yosemite National Park,

Calfornia, August 13th, 1979” by S. Shore

In somewhat of a different vein, I am drawn to intimate work of Nan Goldin and Larry Clark. Although not as related to my work since they are both very close to their subjects in terms of experience as well as proximity. Still, if not much commonality, there is admiration. Goldin’s book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1983, is a visual diary of her own life. She is actually the subject of the photos along with her lover. Goldin opens the door to her bedroom and her life, and in doing so, presents a universal theme of codependency that is cathartic in it’s strength and clarity. Clarks work, Tulsa, containing images of his friends, that he began shooting in about 1963 while just in his twenties, is like Goldin’s work, highly autobiographical. A number of years later Clark published Teenage Lust, which contained graphic images of teens shooting methadrine in sexual situations (Cotton 148). Although my work often uses adolescent subjects, the only autobiographical aspect of it that I can claim is that, some 40 years ago, I also experienced those sometimes difficult teenage years and teenage angst. Rather, I consider the strand that connects me to Goldin and Clark is my interest in honesty, even if it can be brutal. The difference between us is that rather than autobiography, I use simple surveys of people in public places from detached and somewhat distant points of view. Goldin and Clark were literally in the frame or just outside of it.

What my photographic surveys discover about the state of mankind may be noticed or not. Still, just as the artists before me, and those that are still working, I am driven to continue recording our condition and striving to show it to others. Hopefully my efforts may contribute on some level to our betterment.

Works cited

Campany, David, ed. Art And Photography. 1st. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2003. Print.

Cotton, Charlotte, ed. The Photograph as Contemporary Art. 2nd. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2006. Print.

Gefter, Phillip. "The Theater of the Street, the Subject of the Photography." New York Times Arts 03 19 2006 1. Web. 19 08 2009.

Wells, Liz, ed. Photography: A Critical Introduction. 3rd. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.