When is your work finished?

I ask myself that very question on a regular basis. I have a hard time letting go of a project and drawing a line in the sand that designates the end of one thing and the beginning of the next. Most of my photo projects are unfinished and I will continue to work on them in the future. Like a river they all just seem to flow into the next and become part of something larger. A few are finished. Signs of Life was finished the day that Google started adding in watermarks all over Google Earth. Richard and Thelma is near completion as my grandparents are about to move out of their home of 40 years and into my aunt’s house due to their failing health. However, both of those are considered finished because of outside influences and not because of my own decision making process.

So as you can see I have a problem. Or maybe it isn’t a problem at all. Who is to say a project can’t just keep going on? Why do we need do draw definitive lines? Is it the nature of the photographic beast? So then the next question is, when is the work ready to show? That is a question that I don’t yet have an answer for. One of my past mentors would never show work until they were clearly done with the project and already into their next one. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that philosophy. I am currently working on a project that I don’t know if it will ever have an end to it and I am in the process of putting the work out there for the public now. As it continues to grow over time I am sure it will morph into something bigger and hopefully better, but I don’t think I should wait until 30 years from now when the project is officially “finished” to put the work out there.

So when is a project finished? I think when you lose interest in your subject matter then it is time to move on. When the act of going out and photographing for the project becomes a chore then it is probably time to take a good look at it and possibly move on. For myself, generally, I have a hard time moving on to the next because I rarely lose interest in a project. In a way most of my projects are all related to each other and focus in on the same basic idea, so technically speaking, they are never really finished and they are all just part of one continuous exploration for something I may never actually be able to capture. That doesn’t mean that I won’t keep trying though.

The death of the blog?

My bookmark list for photo and art blogs used to have well over two hundred blogs on it. It is now down to twelve after I just deleted two more today. Why you may ask? To tell you the truth, much like Facebook, I was no longer getting anything out of them. Many used to post interesting work and opinions. I no longer look at blogs that post others work. Many do so without permission of the artist which is a form of theft in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I have done it in the past as well, but I no longer do so unless it happens to be an event flyer that turns you onto a new show or gallery. Many others only post their cohorts work and it literally goes round and round in circles until I begin to believe that there are only about 200 hundred or so photographers out there. As for interesting opinions… well…

Now it may seem odd that I am writing, or more aptly, complaining about something while doing the very thing I am complaining about. The truth is – it is odd. Why keep writing something if I don’t believe in the power of it anymore? Actually I do believe in the power of the word, it is just that these days I have very little time on the side for writing as an underpaid (or not paid) position. Making new work, getting a graduate degree, working, and taking care of a six month old is quite capable of filling my time.

I think many of the blogs out there in the ether world of the Internet were started for very good reason and then like me many discovered that it was another job that we didn’t have the time for. Some now lay defunct like the garbage in a Burtynsky photograph while others just post guest written filler that amounts to nothing but self indulgent blabber and doesn’t add much to the conversation at all. Some have cashed in their chips and rolled their success into something bigger. Good for you. For some people the blog was simply an inflation device for their ego. Either way it got old quickly for them too.

I can’t remember the exact reason I started writing this blog. I do remember having a genuine interest in passing on interesting shows and bits of my working process to others which is what I continue to do, albeit at a varied pace these days. I also get the chance to rant every once in a while, which if you know me personally, I do on quite a regular basis. I am a huge fan of expressing my disgust with injustice. But I also started this to help others along the way. I have a genuine interest in helping others and moving the photographic world another step forward. It is the reason I chose teaching as a profession. It was the reason I sat down with David to start Fraction magazine a few years back. That experiment didn’t quite pan out the way I had in mind so I moved on to other pastures, but luckily David continued on to keep it alive.

So where does the blog go from here? Hopefully the future of the blog involves a new iteration of the comments section. That has failed to evolve into anything more than a bathroom wall in a truck stop as far as opinions and new knowledge goes. Even lively discussions have often turned into mud throwing and trolling insults as of late.

More importantly what can we learn from blogs in the future? Or more succinctly, what would I like to see from blogs in the future? I would like to see more of fellow artists work in progress and their working process. I would like to see more community form that isn’t just interested in promoting each other, but in truly forming community that benefits each other and one where true friendships form. I would like to see more open and honest dialogue about the future of photography as art and a viable business. I don’t even mind seeing tutorials on being a better photographer etc, just realize that if you are in the business of photography you are giving away your knowledge for free and creating armies of competition for yourself. What would I like to see less of? Less shameless self-promotion. Less commercial product placement. ( I don’t care what photo bag you use) And most of all less filler.

Free camera? and the marketing miscellany…

Seriously? All you have to do is be careless and place your camera in precarious situations and then post the video? Wow. Marketing has really taken a dive. I know tons of talented individuals out there who could use a free camera and they can actually promise to make some compelling work. And that is my question for the day. What is good marketing? Apparently to some it is giving away things to popular videos. In terms of money, it is a good marketing strategy. A half a million views give or take and your name plastered on it. But what about responsible marketing? What about putting free equipment into the hands of some people who need it and want to make a difference? What about free equipment for people to use to get their voice heard around the world? Imagine putting the cameras into the hands of young people living in poverty to let them document their world for everyone else to see. Don’t get me wrong there are a few people doing this, but for the most part we don’t hear about it. Instead we get cameras being destroyed making stock footage.

On a lighter marketing note, I deleted my Facebook account today. Now that may seem very strange to most of you marketing geniuses out there, but honestly I think my time can be much better spent. I don’t care who ate a bagel with whom and I haven’t checked my account on more than a weekly basis in months. I would much rather spend my time having real conversations with people face to face or actually working on my craft and my art.

BTW has anyone else noticed that the death of the blog is nigh?

Gallery representation

I recently received and email from a gallery that I will leave unnamed. The email went something like this…

We saw your work on your website and we absolutely love it. We would love to have your work in our gallery. Please email us for more info or visit our site to learn more about us…

This seemed a little odd to me. I have helped other artists get gallery representation and have talked to other galleries about showing my work, but never have I seen the whole process initiated through the email. Usually it starts with a phone call or a face to face conversation at an event. Never the less, I was already sensing some sort of come on so I immediately began to research the email. As far as I can tell, I am one of the only people I know who has received this email. I asked around to see if it was a mass email. If it came your way too, I would love to hear from you.

Upon reviewing the gallery and their website I discovered their business model and the “artist representation fees” that I would be required to pay. Basically $3500 a year. For that price an artist gets work hung in what sounds like group shows, space on the gallery website, various promotional materials, and a 70/30 split with the gallery.

Now I realize that this is a perfectly good business model for a gallery these days. They make some money either way without having to gamble on final sales. As an artist $3500 a year is a little steep for me with no return guarantee. I mean, I would have to sell a few pieces before I even saw anything remotely resembling a return on my investment. I suppose there are lots of people out there who would be ready and willing to put this on their resume and run with it. But what will they get besides another line on their resume? What, if any, are the proven financial track records of galleries such as this? Will this gallery be around in five years or even two years? These are the kinds of questions anyone serious about gallery representation should be asking themselves. If you are truly wanting gallery representation or a book deal or whatever other success benchmark you can think of, then do your homework and get down to some serious business. Find every galley you can that represents the kind of work that you make. I once went through a list of almost 5,000 galleries for an artist to narrow it down to 100 galleries that he might fit in. From there we went on to create very slick marketing packets of his work and shipped them off to the top 50 or so. After all that he got two bites and ended up in one of the galleries with interest for the future from the other one. It didn’t cost $3500. It cost a lot less than that and the gallery does a great job promoting and selling the work.

Stop and ask yourself – what is success as an artist for me personally? Don’t get hung up on the traditional models of success like gallery representation. I have known quite a few artists who had gallery representation and found it more trouble that it was worth. Rarely was their work sold and the investments of printing, framing, and shipping the work were never recouped. Make your own version of success and make art because you love it – not just because you need an ego boost.

Catching up

Today I finally got somewhat caught up on the ol’ blog here. This is of course its third incarnation since 2007 and I finally got some of the backlogged articles from the other versions onto this one. I am now as far back as 2008 and I hope to get it all the way back to the beginning one of these days. I’ll get that done right after I finally add in the 300 or so links I have to put up on my website. Mañana compadre.

On a side note I have also been catching up in the darkroom the past couple of months and making new work. That is correct and your eyes are working fine – I did say darkroom. I have been working in black and white over the past year or so and developing my own film for a project I have been working on. Now why many of you may ask “Why the fuck would you waste your time in the darkroom?” I also think many of you know the answer. Digital, while it is a speedy and useful tool for cranking out a plethora of images, is not how I generally work when I am immersed in a project. I am slow and methodical.

I have also been working quite a bit in large format. Setting up the camera gives me the time to think about what I am doing and especially useful for portraits. It gives me the time to chat with the subject and get them comfortable in front of the camera. After 20 minutes or so, most people settle into the experience and become completely different people in front of the camera. One of my favorite images of all time was made because my camera lens was malfunctioning and after an hour of fiddling with it and talking to the subject we had this amazing final moment when the shutter clicked. You can see in the photo of Ralph below what I am talking about. He started out completely nervous and fidgety, but after he read me some poetry he had been working on and told me about having rickets as a child we were on a completely different level. Ralph was almost in tears when I brought him a framed copy about a month later. His exact word were – “This is me”

Superheroes Show

For those of you in the New Mexico area… go see this show. Quite a few great artists in this one.

Superheroes: Icons of Good, Evil & Everything in Between

Superheroes is a multi-media, group exhibition about heroes, villains and other less-definable examples of human possibility. It explores the way we absorb these archetypes, and for good or ill, use them to inspire, author and rationalize our behavior. The exhibition features heroic representations of humanity’s light side, dark side and all shades in between. It is informed by pop culture notions of “Super” – both hero and villain – and examines the ways in which the Superhero and Supervillain archetypes are integrated into our culture, informing ideas of morality, civil responsibility and human achievement.

The exhibition is curated by 516 ARTS with Neilie Johnson, and also features a looped program  of short films titled It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane… curated by Bryan Konefsky.

Participating artists:

Esteban Bojorquez (Santa Fe, NM)
(Liverpool, England)
Aaron Campbell
(Albuquerque, NM)
David Cudney (Albuquerque, NM)
Lawrence Getubig (Washington D.C.)
David Gremard Romero (San Francisco, CA)
Ben Johnsen
(Albuquerque, NM)
Joel Jonientz (Grand Forks, ND)  

Mark Newport (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Aaron Noble (Los Angeles, CA)
Marc Ouellette
(Albuquerque, NM)
Min Kim Park
(Chicago, IL)
Dulce Pinzón (Mexico City)
Cullen Washington, Jr. (Boston, MA)
Jolene Yazzie (Santa Fe, NM)

Donating time

As some of you may well know I have been back at the books at VCU working on my Master in Art Education. The program has been a fantastic experience so far and I have really enjoyed having access to the VCU (number one public school art program!) art department as well. While their photo program was not exactly the pride of the department in the past, Brian Ulrich has been hired as a new professor and I am sure the program will likely be on the ups.

While at  VCU I began volunteering at the Carver Promise program at GW Carver Elementary. Carver Elementary is in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Richmond. The average family income for the students at Carver is around $10,000. The kids there have a harder go of it than most of us do and the Carver Promise program has made a huge difference in the lives of these kids. Most of them now graduate from high school and most go on to college.

I spend an hour or so a week working with students from the program helping with their homework and creating art. It has been an amazing and eye-opening experience. Last year I wrote a grant for the program to get some new computers into the mentoring room. Needless to say the grant was not approved. The grant had tons of applicants and very little money to give out with the economy in the toilet.

I was disappointed and to top it off, our department at VCU announced we were going to be getting all new computers to replace our 2 1/2 year old IMacs. It made me feel even worse that while the kids at Carver can’t get anything newer than an 11 year old PC we get brand new IMacs every three years. I guess my feeling must have been felt throughout the department as I recieved an email from the head of the department asking if the Carver Promise would like some of our old computers. I delivered five IMacs loaded with Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, and tons of other great programs to Carver yesterday and it made their day.

Being involved in this program, even just an hour or two a week, has made a huge difference in my life and hopefully has meant something to the kids I have worked with. I encourage those of you who have the time to help out wherever you can. It really does make a difference.

More trouble in paradise

So I finally get some time to start blogging again and my old blog will no longer let me log in. So here is yet another incarnation of this damn thing. I will try and get some of my old blogs from the last one up on this one for continuity’s sake, but in the meantime you can use this link to get there if you are looking for something in particular.  You will note that this time I invested all of about two minutes in the look of this particular blog. Visit the old one here – www.joshuaspees.com/word2

While you are in the mood for checking out blogs, check out my former professor Laura Andre’s fantastic new blog. She was an amazing person to learn the history of photography from and I am forever in debt to her for what she has taught me and the fact that I met my wife in her class. Thanks Laura for some amazing classes. http://photofixe.blogspot.com/