a new project

It’s funny the images that become emblematic of a project. I couldn’t plan them but when I see them, I know them.

I think of Inna’Goddess Da-Vida at her piano with her Dread This helmet, Goddess shirt and Shock Me underwear.

I think of the man on the bench in Woodstock, Cape Town, in front of the graffiti: Where will I spend my happy days? which became the title of the series.

And now this. I could probably do a better job on the photo, and maybe I will later, if the chalk remains (it’s already been up for months), and it likely doesn’t contain the future title of the project, but it has that same emblematic feeling.

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WARNING: THIS BARN CONTAINS

* Some cows that can beat you till you beg for mercy
* Horses that are gigantic
* A dog that looks like a polar bear
* A woman who is probably stronger than any other gals you’ve seen.

My new project is still so deep in its infancy it’s squalling and sensitive to bright lights and cold drafts, so that’s all I’ll say for now, and likely for a long time… this one is proving a lot harder to sort out my process on than Yes these bones shall live was in its early days.

blogging the chickens

After too long building a coop, they arrived last week.

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I actually took 400 photos of them today when we let them run free around the yard.

art 21

I just discovered dvd’s of art 21 at my public library for the first three seasons of the show. I started watching season one tonight, and the first section looks at artists concerned with place. Sally Mann is one of the artist’s in this section. If the section is concerned with place, why did they open her sequence with her son talking about what kind of mother she was (lacking)? Granted, she may be most well-known for her photographs of her children, and it is certainly interesting to hear their experiences in front of her lens, but the discussion was meant to be focused on the element of place in work. Not her motherhood.

I can’t help but think that it’s because a mother must, above all else, be a Good Mother. She must be selfless and passive and kind and nurturing and she must never ever place her own needs — for self-expression or anything else — above her children’s. A father can be an artist, and his fatherhood — whether a critique of his quality of fathering or an analysis of his experience — is barely a topic of conversation. But a mother artist must first be a perfect mother before she makes art.

I will be interested to see if the series covers any other artist parents and how the subject is treated. And whether it is treated differently for mothers than for fathers.

Beyond the Single Image

I’m teaching another workshop this fall: Beyond the Single Image. I suppose it’s more of a course, really, since it goes over 12 weeks. I confess I did find teaching the June workshop exhausting with a full-time job and nursing toddler, and it was exhausting for my husband. At the time I decided I wouldn’t teach another. But when I reflected on the value of being able to design my own workshop and teach it, I just couldn’t resist. Also, I just really, really enjoyed myself. It feels so good to share something you’ve spent years studying passionately with other interested people. And so, this fall, I’m going to teach again.

From the blurb:

These days, almost anyone can make one great photo. The technical aspect of making a photo is not complicated. The real skill lies in making a collection of powerful images that is greater than the sum of its parts. Working on a personal project also helps you gain insight into what motivates you photographically, discover the photographs that only you can make and avoid wasting your time on the photographs that everyone makes.

In this intensive class over 12 weeks, you will work on a photographic project with the goal of having a complete body of work at the end. You will learn about different ways of working, as well as starting, ending and editing (as in selecting and sequencing, not post-processing) a photography project.

It will kick off with a full-day session that includes a lecture, viewing a portfolio of your 10 best images, and defining or assigning your project. Then we’ll have three group critique sessions, one every two weeks to give you time to shoot new work, and then a dedicated session on editing. We’ll wrap up the class with a slide show of your projects and a big celebration. Throughout the entire 12 weeks, Kate will be available for email and phone conversations to help you through periods of self-doubt and uncertainty, which are a natural part of the process.

The more you put into this class, the more you’ll get out of it. You will be expected to come to each critique with new work (even if it’s just a few images or an experience). Plan to spend at least two to five hours between classes connecting with your subjects, shooting, reading and reflecting.

If you’re in the area, please consider joining us. I’m super excited about this course. It’s labelled as an intermediate course but I’m sure advanced photographers could benefit from the structure and community to develop a project. There’s an early bird discount for just two more days and, depending on enrollment, a scholarship may be offered. More details are here.

Orange is the New Black

I’ve been watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix. It’s a Netflix original, meaning it was produced by Netflix itself rather than a network, a model I’m rather intrigued by. I’ve only got one a half more episodes to go, and I’m at the point where I’m watching a bit more slowly to make it last and waking up with the theme song in my head.

It’s about a young blonde woman who goes to prison for a crime she committee 10 years ago, apparently while under the influence of her then-girlfriend. But that’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is how many fascinating women are in prison with her, and we get to know many of them through flashbacks.

I may not be in the best position to say, not having cable, but I think these are the most complex women on tv at the moment. Which is great. But they’re also completely disempowered and marginalized – literally outside normal society. Men in the show are almost exclusively jerks who primarily view women as objects for their desire. Even the most sympathetic male characters show this predilection. The main character’s fiancé writes a column about his experience of her incarceration and, somewhat privately, she protests, “I’m not just a girlfriend.” One of the first things he says to her on his first visit is how nice her cheekbones look. Of course, she’s being starved out by the matriarch cook because she insulted her food.

All the time, however, we are reminded, implicitly through the flashbacks, and explicitly through Piper’s arguments, that inmates are people too.  And most of the time the circumstances for their crimes involve abuse, neglect, and/or poverty. It is heavy-handed and obvious at times, and there’s a whole lotta raunch. But, as this post pointed out, it’s telling stories that aren’t often, if at all, told in popular culture. I’m hoping for a second season.

new derby work!

When Critical Mass opened for entries this year, I realized that I had no new work to submit. The last shoot I did was last October, and the one before that was July 2012.

So I panicked and booked a bunch of shoots, with no real plan of how my family and I would actually manage it all with my full-time job. I did four of them in just over 24 hours. That was an exhausting day for us all, and we’re still recovering. I think this effort may match my total work produced in all of 2012. I’m done for at least a little while now.

I still don’t know if I’ll submit to Critical Mass, because I’m not sure it really makes sense to submit the same body of work (although different photos within it) three years in a row. I think a lot of the jurors judge year over year, and it seems a legitimate risk that they might be sick of the work. I don’t know. I’ve got a few more days to decide.

In the meantime, here are my best offerings from the shoots.

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Sofanda Beatin’

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Bitter Pill with Trixie, Ruth and Ursula

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Teargas Tamara in her new Room of Her Own

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Extermi-Knitter

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Miss Universe

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Krunch Bone Kitty, 10 days overdue, and James

The Manor

For those of you who don’t live in Guelph, the Manor is a beautiful, Victorian mansion with an attached low-rise motel on the edge of town. If you follow the signs for downtown Guelph from the 401 to Highway 6 North, it’s the first thing you see of the city as you exit Highway 6 onto Wellington Road. It was built by the Sleeman family, of Sleeman Brewery fame, and the brewery was once across the street from it.

The Manor is a strip club, owned and run by the Cohen family for the last thirty years.

Shawney Cohen, one of the sons, has produced a remarkable, feature-length, documentary film about his family and the club. I was primed to love it: not only do I enjoy the genre (it’s a lot like the Queen of Versailles, which I just watched a couple weeks before), but I am just so impressed that a local person created a feature-length film that was screened at HotDocs in Toronto, to positive critical reviews, and for the last week in Guelph at the Bookshelf, a local book store, restaurant and cinema that just celebrated its 40th birthday. I got the chance to watch it last weekend. I think that may be the first time I’ve watched a movie by myself in a cinema, and what a luxury.

The film is unflinching in its view of Cohen’s family and the motley characters that surround it. His dad, Roger, is morbidly obese , and has moments when he’s kind of a jerk, along with moments of tremendous vulnerability. His mom is severely anorexic and makes for a big part of the film. His brother loves the money and the lifestyle working at the club affords. To me, it’s Bobby, a Quebecois man Roger took in 25 years earlier, I think after he got arrested for robbing a Brinks truck, who steals the show. But maybe that’s just because he volunteered at the Drop In Centre at the same time as I did for at least several months. I was intensely curious about him, even then, but too shy to ask about his story. His story comes out through the film in a series of poignant and humorous moments that I find so well done.

I also loved the scene when Shawney’s new girlfriend, an artist from Toronto, comes to visit. The meeting with Roger is so awkward, with her trying to make small talk about living in Toronto and it just fizzles. Then a naked dancer comes in to give something to Roger and squeezes between Shawney and his girlfriend. Could there be a more awkward first meeting with your boyfriend’s dad? I can’t imagine one. While I’m on the subject, Cohen’s handling of the dancers in the film was brilliant: they’re there and they’re often naked, which makes sense given the nature of the family business, but they’re always shown with a slightly ironic eye and not titillating at all. (Mind you, I’m not usually titillated by naked ladies, so perhaps I’m not the best one to say.)

I have only one real criticism of the film: whenever Roger eats, the sound is turned up so high you hear every squelch and crunch. It’s getting dangerously close to fat hating and mockery for my taste, and seems out of line with Cohen’s sensitive approach throughout the rest of the film. In one scene, the motel’s manager has just been taken to hospital in an ambulance, for a suspected suicide attempt by overdose, and Roger is already moving all her belongings into storage. Shawney protests, “It’s just an insensitive thing to do. She’s at her lowest point and it’s just insensitive to move her stuff so soon.” It’s clear that he applied that same sensitivity to his filmmaking.

As the lights came up in the theatre, the word that repeated itself in my mind was pathos. In a family that could easily come off as sleazy and exploitative, instead they are shown to be wrestling their own demons and wounds, often without much success. And of course, I got to find out about a place I’ve been curious about for ages. That said, this film is likely not for all. The person ahead of me immediately proclaimed: “Well there’s an hour and a half I’ll never get back.“

newish images

Once again, it’s been forever since I posted photos. I haven’t actually made any derby photos since last October. But I occasionally photograph the weird things my kids make or do.

Some of these actually go back to last summer.
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practical changes and big dreams

One of the first people I met through the local homeschool group was Wendy McDonnell, who hosts Family Matters, a weekly radio show on the local university station. Given that we’ve been on homeschool hours, I haven’t always woken up on time to listen to the whole show, which starts at 8 am on Sundays. The last few weeks I’ve almost grumbled that I woke up too late to even hear any of it, but I quickly shushed the grumbles since it meant I got to sleep in – still a luxury with my youngest.

But a change is coming in our lives. My husband and I are trading places starting on Tuesday. He lost his job, along with about 25 percent of his colleagues, a few weeks ago. With only four weeks’ severance, the pressure was on us to figure something out sooner than later. When I was searching around for freelance opportunities, I came upon a recent posting for my old job. I took a few days to think about it, and the more I thought about our options, the sweeter this one seemed. I know the job, I know a good chunk of the people, and it’s only a 20-minute walk or 5-minute bike ride from my house. With my husband staying home, I no longer have to fit drop-offs and pick-ups into my schedule. I’ll be able to enjoy the walk or bike ride in solitude. We won’t need the second car, which was always more expensive than predicted and about which I’ve always been ambivalent. My working will take the pressure of my husband’s job search, so he can find the right role and circumstances for him. It could even move some of my dreams forward.

So I’ve been practicing waking up earlier, and yesterday morning I was up early enough to hear all of Wendy’s show. And what serendipity! She interviewed Alex Baisley, a local person I’d never heard of before, who helps people connect with and work towards their dreams.

I have two big concerns about going back to work (one of them is not relevant here and is totally irrational anyways). The second concern is that I will need to stop pursuing my passions outside of work. Photography has largely taken a back seat in recent months, but I still want to finish my derby project and start another one. And I want to keep learning about sustainable food production and growing my own food and cooking nourishing meals. I had pretty much come to the conclusion just last night that maybe I need to choose between food and photography, and how much does that suck?

Anyways, yesterday morning’s show with Alex Baisley. It turns out it was actually a rerun from 2010 but that doesn’t lessen the serendipitous feeling for me. (I’m paraphrasing based on my memory, so I apologize for any inaccuracies or misrepresentations.) Baisley said that people often see dreams as a luxury (I know I do! And it makes me feel guilty about pursuing them) but he doesn’t see it that way. He says dreams are our way of growing and of being and doing more than we might have thought possible. He points to trees. It seems that the point of their existence is to grow as much as they can with the resources available to them before they die. Why would people be any different?

He talked about how he often has people write a list of 50 big dreams. And how they start out thinking that would be impossible but they manage it just fine. And then he has them pick just one and do five-minute actions to move towards it. It could just be Internet research (one of my own favourite obsessive tendencies). It could be a conversation with someone. It doesn’t have to be big at all. But he said that as you get further in your research and conversations, the dream seems more and more possible. As well, you may discover that four or five other dreams get taken care of in the process of chasing the first one. He pointed out that your dreams aren’t in conflict with one another because they all come from the same heart (yours), and maybe you just can’t see how they’re connected yet.

He also said that it’s important to talk about your dreams with other people. You can be self-deprecating and talk about what a crazy idea it is so you don’t sound obnoxious, and good things may come from the conversations. If you want to run a half-marathon, for example, you could find yourself talking to an experienced marathoner who gives you hot tips for training regimes or specific races. Some people may try to downgrade your dreams but you need the big dreams to get you off the couch. Running a 5k might be more doable than a half-marathon but it’s not exciting enough to get you training. And you’ll likely do a 5k on the way to the half-marathon anyways. It’s important to do things that you find at least a little bit exciting and a little bit scary.

The show gave me hope that I can find a way forward without giving up my other dreams and passions. In fact, I can imagine a future in which my husband and I say that his losing his job was the best thing to happen to us. I’ve learned so much about myself in the last two years, and I’m looking forward to applying that learning to my work life.

Do yourself a favour. Settle in with a cup of tea of glass of wine and listen to the whole podcast. I was rapt.

And if you’re local, don’t forget about my upcoming photography workshop. It’s one of my dreams to teach at least one workshop (preferably more), and the thought both thrills and terrifies me. I’d love to have enough people sign up to actually run it.

teaching a workshop

I’m going to be teaching a photography workshop at Trina Koster’s studio next month: Photographing Strangers. It’s limited to 10 participants, so sign up early. From the blurb:

Much of documentary photography is centred around engaging with people we don’t know and earning their trust. In this workshop you will begin to explore the process of doing just that. This workshop is primarily a shooting workshop, starting with discussion and inspiration on Friday night to get you going, shooting Saturday morning, and feedback in the afternoon on the photographs you made. Shooting will take place at a surprise location or event full of strangers to encounter and photograph.

You love looking at great photographs of people but for whatever reason you’re struggling to make them yourself. Maybe you’ve been photographing your friends and family and you want to expand but don’t know how to meet people or approach them. Maybe you’ve been photographing landscapes and you want to try photographing people but the whole idea is terrifying. Whatever your situation, this workshop will bump you up against the edges of your comfort zone and hopefully help you move beyond it. To get the most of this workshop, be prepared to get a little bit uncomfortable.

I hope to see you there!