This is the first time I’ve visited the Salton Sea in April. It is a much greener time of the year and the flowers are beautiful. It’s all about flora today (although not all green).
I am of the belief that a photograph isn’t truly a photograph until it is a print. Perhaps I am “stuck in the past.” Nonetheless, to me, making a print is the final step in the photography workflow without which the image cannot becomes the object it is meant to be. When trying to produce the best rendering of the picture – a true surrogate of the world I photographed – I find that looking at the print, rather than viewing it on a screen, best shows me what needs tweaking. I can then re-process and re-print.
If you’ve read my blog you know that I have been taking photos at the Salton Sea, in California, for nearly three years now. After the first two trips, I began making 4″x6″ prints so that I could easily pin them on my wall and move them around – to live with them, if you will. Over time, I experimented with various printing paper to get the right “feel of place” that worked with the image, colour palette, and light. Paper choice was critical and I ended up producing 5″x7″ proofs on bright, matte paper. Through this process I also realised that intimacy was key to viewing the work and decided that I would make most of my prints no larger than this.
The point of a small picture is the sense of privacy it affords the viewer. Only one person at a time can move in close to see it. The picture becomes a metaphor for an interior space. Small photos feel more personal; they remind us of old family albums, where we can touch and hold the pictures so that our senses are filled with memory.
However, for numerous reasons, I recently experimented with printing this body of work larger. Though it should have come as no surprise I was struck by how much more detail I could see with the bigger print. This inevitably led me to experiment with larger and still larger prints, until the photos felt as though I could almost walk into them. Despite their intimacy, small prints simply could not create that feeling.
Scale clearly affects how the image is viewed, the degree of depth that can be seen, and the emotional impact it elicits. The physicality of larger prints seems to place the images into the physical world and allow them breathing room – encouraging the viewer to both move further back and closer in. Yet, much as too-small pictures may actually become lost, too-large prints run the risk of being dominant.
Thus, a next step for me is to print bigger again and play with various sizes of sequenced photos – to see how the body and mind react to and perceive their placement together.
It has been a gradual learning process for me. Finding the appropriate scale for the pictures , along with the tools I use as a photographer (from camera to computer to printing paper), helps create the photograph as an artifact and contributes to the tangible experience of viewing the final print.
One day, in the middle of my art residency on the island of Ilhabela (Sao Paulo State, Brazil), I got a ride with a 4×4 Jeep (one of the few vehicles that can navigate the rocks and holes over the island’s central mountain which is part of the Atlantic Forest), to Castelhanos. My visit was but a few short hours, but one kind couple welcomed me into their home.
They were exceptionally sweet. We exchanged names but sadly I forgot to write theirs down. We managed to communicate somehow – me with my poor Portuguese, and the three of us with our hands. He was a fisherman who made his own nets. She stayed at home. I never asked if they had children.
The house had one small bedroom, large enough for a bed and a chair, a very modest kitchen, and an even more modest bathroom. Outside, in the back, a few chickens ran about. She proudly showed off her new washing machine to me; her life has been made easier. This washing machine matters. Shortly after that I left. If only I can recall their names.
The sequence of 20 photos in this post is a glimpse of the immediate environment in and around the two houses on the property of the Casa Na Ilha Art Residence, in Brasil, facing the Atlantic Ocean with the Atlantic Forest behind it. I have wandered in and out of these houses and up and down the grounds (the houses sit on the rocky slope that borders the forest). Since I am the only artist staying here this month, the days are my own. This gives me a chance to look at the small things and not just the magnificent landscape surrounding me. The forest is known to have a similar biodiversity to that of the Amazon. Daily, I take note of the diverse flora and the myriad of birds, butterflies, and fruit trees growing here. 60% of all of Brazil’s threatened animal species live in this forest.
What attracted me to the residency was the idea of slowness – an art residence that sits on the edge of the forest, on the island of Ilhabela, off the north coast of the state of Sao Paulo. There is one main road that runs north/south on the west coast and goes through three small tourist towns that are easy to avoid. 85% of the island is preserved. So… staying here I have the opportunity to just think and/or create without distraction. It is a retreat of sorts.
Before I arrived I had a specific idea of what I wanted to do: visit and photograph the native Caicara people and their homes in Castelahnos on the east side of this island (just beyond the state park) and on Bonete beach on the south side of Ilhabela. However, as it turns out, my first two weeks were more about taking the time to think and photographing the houses and land, here. This environment allows for reflection.
Trees bow and sigh in the wind. The ocean rolls and crashes or whispers a breath. At times, ones sounds like the other. Insects, such as beetles, ants (and of course mosquitoes) abound. The commotion and calls of parrots in the trees wake me up at 5am and later remind me that it may be time to stop working, or at least take a moment to listen to them, at around 5 in the afternoon.
My room, to date, has been a magnet for:
- a spider (non-venomous, hairy, approximately one inch long with a leg span of about three inches)
- a (dung?) beetle (about three inches long and one-two inches wide) – it sadly did what many beetles do: hit a wall or door, fall on their backs, struggle to turn over and fail, then die
- a baby tree-rat (that scared me half to death when I saw it at the foot of my bed)
- a cockroach
- a few fireflies
Of course, none of this is unusual given that most of the island is forest and the house sits at its edge.
Everything is on the move and has its rhythm and yet there is a quiet here – a stillness. In part, these photos capture this.
Since I bought a smart phone, three years ago, I have taken photos of my self (many of which are posted on Instagram). This “self-portraiture” has been a necessity of sorts – a way of seeing myself in the world as I pass through or (more precisely) live in it as a physical being. It is a way of viewing my ordinary body without a mirror. Skin, hair, creases, and folds are so utterly commonplace and things that we all share, as human beings. Despite this sameness I feel out of place and flawed. In some photographs I am dressed. However, it is nakedness that is of greatest interest to me since it is literally skin that separates my inner landscape from the outer world.
Each photograph is of a fragment of myself. It is a distorted and incomplete view – a detail. Since I hold the mobile phone in my hand there is no other way to see myself except through these closeups.
The photographs of me are not always flattering but, the only body I truly understand and need to embrace is the one I occupy. Yet, I often want to reject it since it is now a heavier and baggier form than it was in its youth. Wrinkles are now laid bare. I am not quite old but old age is a taboo in North American society. I am past the age of fifty and women, in particular, are led to believe that their shapes are imperfect and regard them with disdain (and all too often I believe this is true for myself). In fact, reshaping one’s body with plastic surgery (in an attempt to recapture youth) is widely accepted.
Some pictures are meant to give a sense of mood. Many are simply the camera (and an app, perhaps) drawing my figure. The person (me) is not the subject; it is the body (mine). I am not dealing with older age, per se.
There is something freeing about turning the camera toward me. I feel alive and empowered. My body is all mine no matter the imperfections. I intend to continue these photographs. This act of imaging my self as an evolving being is a path to self acceptance.