12 December 2009
As I begin this summary of my semester work I must disclose that I am still in a revision stage with my biggest project. I still have to reprint work and finalize presentation details. Despite that fact, I will begin.
After returning home from my first AIB residency in June I was filled with the anticipation of the work ahead of me. I felt like I made the most out my residence through total immersion into all that was offered and expected.. AIB is offering me an opportunity to edit and sharpen my life experience so that I might begin a new epoch of art making and I was ready to dive in head first!
The semester for me can be broken down into a number of separate but related elements: 1) studio work, 2) research and writing, 3) advisor and mentor input, 4) peer communication, special events (abandoned work, field trips, personal explorations). I will describe my semester in that order.
The Studio Work
As I began my project based photo work I was faced with problems that needed solutions. Brought into question during some critiques of my photography during my residency in Boston was the lack of model releases from the families of the adolescents I teach and often photograph. 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. I felt protection was in place by a reverse consent form the parents sign each school year that states approval of their children’s images being reproduced in connection with school activities. The concern was that this alone might not protect me from using the images for fine art purposes. So, for my major project of the semester, “Halloween High School”, I had to find a solution to this. After some thought, I designed a system to insure signed releases that worked pretty well. I wrote a letter to parents explaining my project and offered the kids the reward of printed copies and electronic files of their shots when they returned their release forms to me. As of this writing I have in hand releases from about 90% of the participants and more coming. Taking ownership of my work with minors does leave me with a sense of relief.
Another issue to work out was the scheduling of the shoot. It is a tradition at the high school where I teach to dress in costume on Halloween or the Friday before if it falls on a weekend. This year Halloween fell on Saturday so the shoot would have to take place on Friday. For scheduling reasons this was fortunate. Fridays sometimes see less rigorous academic demands from teachers because everyone is exhausted from the week. This fact coupled with Halloween allowed students more opportunity to find their way to my classroom to be photographed. I was able to take nearly 1000 photos which involved over 100 students. This gave my project some volume, some “meat” as it were.
The next difficulty I would face would be how to find the 200 hours I would need to process these images and work them into a strong expression of my vision. This involved the loss of sleep and working while feeling tired, stressed and overwhelmed. The late night quiet hours were best for me and I am nearing completion of this work. The most difficult aspect of the software work I did was individual photoshop and aperture editing of work. Some images took up to an hour of time with about a 1/2 hour average. I began with nearly 1000 images, and the current finished lot has 200 images. As I write this I am considering further edits and a third printing to incorporate feedback from my mentor, Christopher James.
My studio work also included other projects as well. A July national park project with tourists photographed unaware of my lens. And an October project to photograph a high school homecoming dance with a new 10-24 wide angle lens. This work produced mixed results and I feel it is unfinished. I will bring printed examples of this work to the January residence, but I am not decided whether to offer it for general critique. Another project, to photograph high school students in the school parking lot with their cars was postponed because of planning issues. I still believe in this idea, but wasn’t ready to try to pull it off yet. I am trying to plan this for a spring shoot now.
Examples of my studio efforts can be found by going to these links:
The Research and Writing
One of the most rewarding aspects of my semester from a learning opportunity point of view was the academic research and writing projects I completed with the help of my advisor, Oscar Palacio. This included two summary papers (this paper being my second) and three research papers. I was surprised by the time and effort I felt I needed to devote to these. I took this work very seriously, and as I explored my topics I felt like I was in some sort of endless learning labyrinth where one path of critical thought lead to another.
My residency summary was full of excitement and anticipation, and I am not disappointed in terms of meeting my own expectations. In fact, on a personal level I have no doubt that my semester work exceeded what I thought might be accomplished. The research I did was intriguing and informative and my analysis of it was deeper and more involved than I expected it to be.
My first critical paper was on important photographers like Philip Lorca diCorcia, Gregory Crewdson, and Hannah Starkey and critics like Susan Sontag and their relationships to my thought and work. The second was on voyeurism and photography and how my work and the work of others is defined from a voyeuristic aspect. My final critical paper was on the facebook and the use of that medium to publish personal identities. Below is a link to my blog site where this work is published in a public forum:
Without going into detail to describe specific ideas contained in this work, I will say that essentially a stream of thought which threads through my writing and research is the struggle to find and define identity, a search for outward expression of inner self. I feel like my ongoing work will continue in this direction and will largely revolve around the shaping of adolescent identity because in my everyday life, this subject is built in and my teaching work keeps me deeply involved with this group.
The Advisor and Mentor Input
I would be the first to admit that taking on a graduate MFA course of study cannot be successfully accomplished in a vacuum. At AIB the system has effectively incorporated external help into the administration of the curriculum. Monthly submission of academic work to advisors for assessment and regular review of studio progress by mentors does not guarantee the Masters candidate from floundering, but it does insure that difficulty will not go unnoticed and will be addressed by experts.
My experience with my mentor and academic advisor has been thought provoking and rewarding and helped me
progress effectively. Important to me, as a full time teacher was the deadline flexibility that Oscar Palacio allowed me. And Christopher James, despite a bout with personal illness never failed to challenge me in personal meetings, phone conferences and continued correspondence.
During my residence, my meetings with Oscar Palacio were productive and concise as was his feedback on my writing. I feel lucky to have Oscar as an advisor since I sense he understands where my work is coming from. This was also very apparent in his feedback of my papers as he kept me going in a consistent direction from paper to paper. Oscar also assigned three books for my semester which I read and used in my research.
Christopher went above and beyond my expectations in terms of being available for different forms of “hand-holding”. Oscar’s and Christopher’s feedback was invaluable in setting a positive tone to start my graduate studies in a good direction.
Peer Communication, Special Events
At the beginning of the semester my peers in group 1 formed a yahoo group as an conduit for communication. This got off to a great start with everyone posting links, comments and questions about our new academic lives. I was a frequent user then and as the semester closes, I am still a frequent user. sadly though, most others either couldn’t find the need, the time or chose not to use the forum for whatever reason. We seem to have about 4 or 5 occasional users now and I have an ongoing friendship with one of them, Janet Fagan. We usually communicate through facebook and read each other blogs. That brings me to the subject of blogs and other internet publishing of work. I feel as though my work should be made available in this way so I update my blog, my flickr, my facebook and check the yahoo thread often. I do find it somewhat disappointing that blog and internet access to others in my peer group is slim at best. If I have a complaint about the semester, that is it.
I had the opportunity to visit a number of galleries and exhibits over the semester. This began as the residency ended with a mind-blowing exhibit at the ICA of work by Shepard Fairey. I followed this up with a visit to the Gardner in Boston, then later a visit to the Museum at FIT to see a politics and fashion exhibit. Also visited several openings in NYC including the paintings of my friend, Auste Pecura.
Yes, this has been an amazing semester for me although I am not completely finished with my studio work and I am facing a pile of critical readings from Professor Newman, I am very much looking forward to January!
Oscar, I will honestly miss you at the upcoming residence and hope you are able to be there in June! Thanks so much for helping me.