We had an afternoon of fashion design and clothing construction for Barbie yesterday. This was followed up by a fashion show for a large audience of stuffed animals and dolls.
This Ted talk with Alison Gopnik is great. I particularly love her description of being a baby as like being in love in Paris for the first time after drinking 3 double espressos!
I also find it interesting to think about the idea (based on research she mentions) that the longer the “childhood” the smarter the animal, and how that might relate to the trend toward “childhood” expanding into the twenties. It fits with the idea Ive talked about before that nowadays “adult” is a state where one is continuing to “develop” instead of being completed as it was thought of in the past.
Gopnik also talks about childhood being a time when your job is to learn and have ideas and adulthood being when you put what you learned into practice, Research and development vs production and marketing … its a great analogy.
At the end she proposes that if we want to be more like this, open minded, open creativity, then perhaps adults should think more like children. Another connection of children or “child-like” and being creative. It’s interesting to think about.
Patricia Lay-Dorsey is another photographer I met at Filter Photo Festival that I found connections with. We talked mostly about her project “Falling Into Place”. Looking through the work, what came to mind immediately is how much it shows the point of view of the subject. It is done in such a way that I think it invites the viewer to see from her perspective and enter into the scene in an experiential way not as much as an outside observer.
As I looked through the images I began to notice something familiar about the point of view; it reminded me of the vantage point I am often photographing from. I found a connection between the actual physical point of view of Patricia in her photographs and my experience of a “child’s point of view” or rather my point of view while relating to very young children. I also realized there is a similar interest in embodying the subject through the photographs, getting away from an object to be viewed from the outside and moving toward inviting you in to connect with this person and their experience…. something I love to explore in my own work.
I think my picture making has been linked to my interest in connecting with people, finding a similar view point as a place to relate, empathy as a way of understanding, and relating to how they are experiencing the world as a way to communicate. I feel like Patricia Lay-Dorsey may be doing something curiously similar in her work.
Two weeks ago was the 2011 Filter Photo Festival here in Chicago. I was invited to be a reviewer as editor of F-Stop Magazine. I met with seventeen photographers and saw a lot of interesting work. In talking with a few of the photographers I found interesting connections between their work and my own interests and photography. Here are the first two photographers.
Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman are two photographers who collaborate on projects exploring “narratives of femininity”. It was cool to find out they were interested in meeting with me because of connections between their work and mine, and there truly are… many interesting ones.
The work they showed me was “Ponder Food as Love” and “Watch Me Grow”. “Ponder Food as Love” is a series of beautiful images with layers of meaning that are still rolling around in my thoughts for now …
The series “Watch Me Grow” shows the “storefront” sort of view of urban daycare centers and the images and language used on their exteriors. I think what connects for me in this project is the taking of a sort of traditional style of photographing – the storefront image – and applying it to a not typical at all subject. It strikes me as humorous and adds a curious layer of meaning to the project.
I find this relates to my interest in the connections between art making and children… it often seems children are not yet “adults” so their creative output or experience or subjecthood is not given the same consideration… And so something funny is brought about when you juxtapose or insert children the idea of children into an “art” context. I began to talk about it a little bit here in talking about project plans for a “dérive as a walk with a toddler” and mapping the movements of a baby’s daily activity.
Here is a link to their site:
I have recently started reading the book “Becoming” by Carol Mavor. In it this morning I read that there is a cliche of “the artist as eternal child.” I found this interesting and it got me rethinking my wonderings about the connections between the idea of “child” and “childlike” and being creative as an adult. I wondered if I had been evoking this cliche in my writing about my work when talking about how I as “artist” relate to children, but I don’t think I have.
In making photographs relating to children/childhood I have often gotten the comment that the images are “childlike” or that they are about me as an adult looking at things from a “child’s point of view.” This always struck me as odd because it seems to me it was MY point of view I was exploring. It is from examining these two ways of looking at this that led me to the discourse of childhood and how it has developed and changed over time.
My original interest began with how our understanding of childhood is changing toward the “knowing” child and our understanding of adulthood is changing toward the adult no longer as a state of completion that a child develops toward but as ever “developing” or as always becoming. This, put simplistically, results in children being seen as “beyond their years,” being given more power and say in their lives and adults having multiple career changes, marrying later, having kids later and continuing to learn and “grow” throughout one’s life. This shift in ideas of child/adult also correlates to changes in economics and societal structures.
So basically the boundaries of these two categories of people are blurring. And because of this, I would say my pictures are in fact about my adult point of view relating to the people and spaces around me. Maybe in a way I’m talking about claiming this way of looking and way of experiencing the world around me as ADULT. While at the same time children are being thought of as already complete human beings not the blank slates to be filled. 🙂
Anyway, some things I found interesting in the book (p25):
Modernist art “grew hand in hand with the invention of a new understanding of childhood: as free, unsullied, playful, utopically in touch with the world.”
“For Baudelaire, the skill of an artist turned on his ability to find ‘childhood recovered at will.’ For ‘the child sees everything as novelty; he is always intoxicated.'”
Mavor also says that Freud believed “that to find childhood is to make art.” and “D.W. Winnicott saw…the artist’s creation of objects (as) and extension and refinement of childhood play.”
(Included above and below are some iphone pictures)
This past week, I have been reading and thinking about “the everyday” in art. Up until now I really hadn’t thought much about the everydayness of what I myself photograph or of “the everyday” as a context for my images. But I would say I am definitely engaged in photographing what I see and experience within the everyday. So with that in mind the essays and discussions about art and the ideas of “the everyday” become an interesting way for me to think further about what my photographs are about.
The anthology “The Everyday (Documents of Contemporary Art)” has a great introduction to what “the everyday” is and the history of ideas surrounding it. It briefly presents Henri Lefebvre and his “The Critique of Everyday Life.” In reading this introduction and a few of the essays, what got me thinking was this idea (that I think comes from Lefebvre and maybe is linked to the Situationists) that within “the everyday” are the makings of transformation, or change or even revolution. Or, that perhaps even in just examining the everyday you transform it. This is appealing to me possibly because I have always had a sort of mild fear of the mundane, everyday, monotony or sense of sameness in life and I find it interesting that there could be some sort of amazingness buried within.
In the introduction to the book, Stephen Johnstone quotes Lefebvre who wrote that the everyday is the place “where repetition and creativity confront each other”(15) … and in “Clearing the Ground,” Lefebvre writes, “Simultaneously it is also the time and the place where the human either fulfils itself or fails…” (27) I love that here in this sort of invisible place of mundane sameness is the makings of “life,” of content, of creativity. It makes sense in an obvious sort of way but also seems like kind of a great contradiction that is interesting to think about.
Further on in the essay, Lefebvre writes, “… it is in everyday life and starting from everyday life that genuine creations are achieved, those creations which produce the human and which men produce as part of the process of becoming human: works of creativity.” (31) As part of becoming human we create and that creating creates us. This “becoming human” I associate with childhood and the idea of development, which has recently expanded beyond childhood to the idea that we are always developing, always “becoming”. For me this gets at the idea that the state of “becoming,” this childlike exploration/development/growth, is inherently creative and to engage with it is to make art… or that life becomes art…or something like that….
I am also interested in Lefebvre’s idea that “the work of art acts as a kind of ‘play-generating-yeast’ in the everyday”. (p14) I like that he links art with play, and that they have creativity in common. It makes me think yet again of ways that Christy-the-artist and Christy-the-nanny are engaged in a similar pursuit. Playfulness/playing in the everyday leads to art making or better yet, it IS art making, it is an act of creation. This is certainly true in all the ways the imagination and the visual and the senses are engaged while playing.
I have talked in the past about the link between art/creativity and childhood/“child-like” and how this plays out in what I do with my photography. I think the added piece that this “everyday” discourse brings to my thoughts is this idea that in the everyday, within the repetitive sameness, there are these opportunities to become aware and to therefore create and transform the everyday into art – to have human fulfillment rather than fail?
Ha! I think I may be throwing together a lot of different ideas and maybe misinterpreting things here and there but it is a start to my thinking about these things, :).
(for example I would think that as soon as the everday has “amazingness” to it, it would no longer be the everyday… and is that the transformation/change Lefebrve talks about?)
Johnstone, Stephen, ed., The Everyday (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008).
I was in Evanston yesterday for the Evanston Art Center faculty exhibition (I have a photograph in the show). As I was leaving I saw a family I recognized from a preschool I photographed at last January. I recognized the boy’s face and then thought, “But he is so little!”. This reminded me of how often I see the subject of one of my pictures again later (a person or a space) and they seem much smaller than I remember. It is like when you go back to a place you haven’t been to since you were a kid and it seems like all the buildings have shrunk or like you have grown (which I guess in fact you have).
I find it really funny when this happens with my pictures. I spend so much time looking at the images I feel like I know the “reality” of what I captured, but then one day I find myself back in front of the subject again and it feels like I’m a giant! There is this weird moment of disorientation that I really love. Here are 3 pictures that has happened with:
The most fascinating to me has been with the preschool pictures. I would spend the morning hanging out with the kids, talking, playing and taking pictures, then go home and edit the images. The next day when I would be back to photograph again and I would be amazed when I saw the kids, they looked so tiny! and then I would remember, “oh yeah, he is only 3!”
I think this may come about partly because of the way I photograph them, making them dominant in the frame, and then spending all that time seeing them that way while editing the images. But, I’m wondering too if it isn’t just my imagination. While I was making the pictures I was in their world, engaging them on their terms, their reality…. the oldest ones seemed like the BIG kids (being 4 and 5) but then like the boy I saw yesterday from the 4-5s class, he was so small! There was a boy in the 2-3’s who really liked posing for the camera (first guy in pictures below), kinda seemed to be a tough, super hero sort of thing to his poses. So I would go with it, taking his picture and talking, experiencing him as he was presenting himself to me. Then later I’d spend that time choosing the best images and editing them, come back the next day and there he was, this little guy, three years old! He is still so much bigger in my memory of him…. In my mind and in the frame of the camera, he is this full sized person with a BIG personality. All of them are. I love that I can have that experience of a shift in my reality through engaging with kids and taking their pictures.
I just finished reading the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. The gist that I got from it is that if you over think things or have too much information about something you limit your ability to use your intuition (which has been found to often be more accurate). Granted it’s a whole book and its not as straight forward as that, but this is what has got me thinking. All that follows could very well be me warping his ideas to fit into my brain, we’ll see. 🙂
In Blink, Gladwell talks about how verbalizing something, through talking or writing can actually impair your “insight” – your ability of rapid cognition, your understanding of things, or your ability to solve things. He says, “When you write down your thoughts, your chances of having the flash of insight you need in order to come up with a solution are significantly impaired” and in another section, “Allowing people to operate, without having to explain themselves constantly turns out to be like the rule of agreement in improv. It enables rapid cognition.”
Jonathan W. Schooler, calls it “verbal overshadowing”. The left hemisphere of our brain thinks in words, the right thinks in pictures. So asked to describe what happened or to explain oneself … your visual memory gets displaced. Your thinking goes from right to left hemisphere and it becomes your memory of what you said rather than what you saw.
Gladwell didn’t talk about this idea in relation to art making, but I wonder how or if it applies. If there is some kind of limiting or something that happens when we become too verbal about our pictures. Like say when writing about ones visual creations, or more specifically explaining one’s photography in an artist statement. This is something I have always struggled with (and in graduate school it REALLY felt like explaining yourself). I often come back to that idea, “If I could write about it I’d be a writer not a photographer”.
One thing I have found about myself is that I tend to take pictures as an exploration into something. I don’t necessarily know WHAT it is I am exploring when I start. But once I do know, once I have figured it out, the exploration is complete and then the project is sort of done. Also, I have often felt like the thinking academic part of me doesn’t really go with the visually creative part of me and trying to bring the two together often makes for some very controlled and boring pictures, or they get very literal or illustrative of the idea I have in mind.
So what I wonder is if by writing about your work in a sort of explanation of yourself and what you have done (artist statement about your photography), are you possibly taking away some of your “insight” from the photography? Or some of what makes it interesting? And would this be so only for you the creator or would it be in the viewer’s experience as well? And perhaps this would only be the case if you were still working on the project…maybe we should only write about the work after it is complete? Does the word thinking part of our brain play well with the image thinking part? I’m sure this has got to be different for everyone (though I get the impression that what the book is talking about is universal). Also from what I read, it is possible that if you make very logical photographs it may not get in the way at all to then explain what you did. In an experiment Gladwell discusses, they had people solve written problems of different sorts and they found, “with a logic problem, asking people to explain themselves doesn’t impair their ability to come up with the answers.”
So I thought I’d share a group of pictures that came out of a project where we started with a myth and made very illustrative/descriptive pictures of the story and gradually worked our way to something more intuitive or insightful. We started out with lots of words and information about the myth and made pictures, then from that point on we let go of the that stuff and just made pictures. I had thought I’d show you the first pictures, the over-thought-out ones, but I haven’t found them anywhere. They were photograms of drawings acting out the story. Anyway, the myth I started out with was Persephone and below is where I ended up. (The images are in black shadow boxes and are kinda dark inside so you have to really look into them to see)
I met Ezra over the weekend (actually two weekends ago now). He is two-ish months old and is Estelle’s brother. Being around him got me thinking about the way of being of an infant, what it is all about, all the amazing things occurring in the brain of a baby etc. Ezra staring up at his blinky star happy as can be, arms and legs wiggling. It struck me as baby meditation.
Being new to this world, it seems to me a big job of a baby is to observe, to take in huge amounts of information. It blows my mind to think about what they are learning to comprehend, tiny details and patterns that we are unaware of. While listening to an audio file of an Andrew Weil Meditation book, it occurred to me that meditation can be described as focused observation and being present and being creative in the world can also have to do with observation and being present….So spending time with the little ones as a nanny, it’s like this big part of my job is to be observant and present. Isn’t it kinda the perfect counterpart to being a creative person?
Okay, so there is observation and being present, but I have also found there is some sort of connection between the way I go about entertaining/playing with kids and with being creative, like maybe it’s the same way of thinking or something. I was sitting at a café and wondered to myself, “What if I was with Estelle right now? What would we do?” And I immediately noticed how the blue sugar packs made this lovely angle toward the yellow and then brown sugar packs in the sugar bowl and I would probably play with them or build something out of them or … and then Estelle would get interested and we would play and talk all around the objects on the table.
So what is interesting to me is that when I asked myself those questions, it was really an aesthetic response I had (in addition to nanny knowledge)… It’s the color and shape and placement I’m noticing and interacting with knowing that if I engage with this the child I am with will most likely get interested and it will go somewhere like decorating the table or a story with sugar packs as characters. Prior to wondering this I wasn’t paying attention to what was on the table at all, partly because I was busy on my computer and partly maybe because I have learned to be an adult in public and not play with the sugar bowl?
I guess what it is I wonder and think about is how this so obviously relates to my pictures of children and childhood – the way I engage with kids is similar to how I engage creatively. And I tend to think of this as part of what my pictures are about, that what I am doing is related and relating to what the kids I’m with are doing… But there is often this comment about me making pictures from a “child’s point of view” that I always stop and question because I see it as my point of view (and well obviously it is). I think maybe it’s just that the adult me point of view relates well with what we think of as a child’s point of view, which I guess now I am saying is sort of inherently a “creative” view of the world (defined here as related to being visually open, curious and engaged in the present moment).
Is the grand thought behind this maybe about creativity and a way of being in the world that we are born with? Are we born artists (and scientists and meditators)? Are kids always in a creative state? I guess this really depends on what you think of as creative. I am thinking of the sort of visual pleasure/appreciation that can come from openly taking in your surroundings with an eye for something to engage with… Okay so now I see I have found my way around to perhaps we are all just born to appreciate the world around us through our senses and young kids are doing that much more readily perhaps than the average adult?
Oh the thoughts keep going and going….