Iteration Number Seven: Stay Behind the Barrier

This edition of Iterations was originally going to be about words, but at the moment, I'm pretty far down that rabbit hole and I think I need to root around a bit more before I come out the other side. Instead, let's talk about barriers — specifically the barriers that we put up around us that stand between making and shipping and not doing anything. The little voices that gnaw at us, making us wonder "what if I don't have the right camera? What if I don't have the right pencil? The right brush? The right notebook? The right website? The right hammer?" Guess what, gang, you have exactly the right camera, the right pencil, the right brush, the right notebook and most of the time, there is no right hammer. There's just a hammer. So pick that thing up and bust up those barriers because the barriers are a lie. What you (read: we) really have is fear. Fear that what you do with those tools will be shit, that it won't be liked, commented on or that it will be ignored completely. Spoiler: so what? Remember what Gary Busey calls fear? False Evidence Appearing Real. Did Picasso paint for likes? No. He painted because he had to, because it fed his soul. And I know this because he said "The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls." Sure, he sold his art so he could eat (and drink). But he made his art so he could live.

I've been working on building out a new studio in my basement off and on since we moved in — more off than on, frankly — and some days thinking through all of the variables really kicks my ass. I'm trying to design work tables and a vertical easel and all sorts of tools to help make my art. The problem is, I'm spending more time thinking about the tools than I am making art. The tools — in this case, the tables and the easel — are my barriers. Sure, on one hand, these are real physical problems that need to be solved, but on the other, am I overthinkinking the whole thing? In an effort to get myself off the hamster wheel of overthinking, I've started doing Instagram Live paint sessions in the laundry room. No fancy work tables or easels, just a piece of cardboard under an awful fluorescent shop light and my iPhone to capture the process. I don't even use real substrates; I just use printer paper that I coat with gesso. But the beauty is, I make. It's practice. It's meditation. It's play, not work (which we'll talk about next time) and it feeds that desire to create something from nothing, even if that something is rubbish. I'm sure I'll figure out a solution for the tools, but in the meantime, my hands are in motion putting paint to surface. Make. Smile. Repeat.

What are some of your barriers and what are you doing to get to the other side?

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How did Claude Monet go from being denied credit and living off potatoes in 1868 to become the world’s most expensive living artist by selling a single canvas to a Japanese tycoon for 800,000 francs in 1922? Read this fascinating essay by Ross King to find out.

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Photojournalist Benjamin Rasmussen documents beauty pageants held by immigrant communities throughout the United States in this portfolio for Vogue. “It wasn’t about mainstream pageant culture,” Rasmussen says. “It was learning about and honoring the countries their parents came from, while making an American life for themselves.”

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The new video from Elliot Moss is a surreal journey through remote natural and urban landscapes captured by a drone illuminating the scenes with a single powerful spotlight. As operator Daniel Riley notes, "When it's up in the air and you flick on the light, it's almost like you've turned on an artificial sun."

Iteration Number Six: Objects in Motion

Most of you are probably familiar with Newton's first law of motion. For those who aren't, it basically states that an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force. The same is true for an object in motion. But while Newton applied this law to physical motion, it also applies to creative motion. It's basically what Picasso meant when he said, "inspiration exists, it just has to find you working." Chuck Close, on the other hand, doesn't wait for inspiration, insisting that "inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work." I think he's saying the same thing as Picasso—and Newton for that matter—in that his work happens only when he's in motion, when he's engaged in the act of making. Now this may sound obvious, but the doing—not just the thinking about the doing—is often where we stumble. I know it's where I stumble. I have journals and notepads filled with sketches and ideas for projects—things that I should be DOING, not just thinking about doing. But for whatever reason, taking the leap from thinking to doing often requires an extraordinary amount of creative energy and sometimes I just can't seem to move the stone. I wax poetic about the creative process of others and yet so often my own process gets mired in analysis paralysis, fear or just simple procrastination, bringing a halt to whatever creative inertia I was attempting to jumpstart. The irony is that starting and stopping is really all we have control over. When we begin and when we ship. The rest is alchemy. So what's the answer? How do we (read: I) break this cycle of stagnation and move to act? The answer will be different for everyone. For some, it may mean adopting a schedule like "from 9am to 11am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I write [or paint or take photographs]." For others, it may mean enlisting an accountability buddy—someone who checks in with you periodically to make sure you're still on track and who kicks your ass if you're not. For me, I think it's both of these things—at least for a while—along with trying to play the part of someone more confident than I am. I don't mean "fake it till you make it"—I used to be much more confident than I have become in recent years—it's more like "fake it till you find it" and the "it" is the motion of doing.   

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For years, I've used Coffitivity as a way to break the silence of an empty studio while I work. Thanks to Boing Boing, Coffitivity has been at least temporarily been replaced by the sounds of cracking ice, howling wind and the low drone of the diesel engines of an Arctic icebreaker.

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John Berger's landmark 1972 BBC series Ways of Seeing is now on YouTube and will change the way you look at art.

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Lensculture has a terrific article on some of the photographic inspiration that cinematographer James Laxton pulled from for the recent Oscar winner for Best Picture, Moonlight.

Iteration Number Five: Apology Accepted

It's New Year's Day and I've been sitting here staring at the empty pages of a new notebook for about an hour and half, trying to resist the urge to wax poetic about the past year. I've sharpened and resharpened my pencils and I've filled, emptied and refilled my fountain pen. I even went so far as to text my friend Jon about it. His reply: "Then wax poetic. Be yourself." He sometimes has a wonderful economy with words that just gets to the heart of the matter. The thing is, I can't say that he's wrong. Waxing poetic is part of what I do — maybe even part of who I am. It's certainly a part of why at least some of you subscribed in the first place. 

However, in this edition, I'd like to resist the urge and instead take the opportunity to apologize for the complete and utter failure at getting issues of Iterations out with any degree of regularity over the past year. I really do sit down every other week or so with the intention of producing a new one, and every week or so I stare at the blank pages, trying to come up with something relevant or inspiring or at the very least interesting for you, the reader. But, as I sit here thinking about it, maybe that's exactly the problem. Perhaps instead of angsting over making it interesting for you (because really, how can I know what that would be?) I should instead just share what's going on with me and what I find interesting in the moment and perhaps that will inspire you to share what's going on with you. Stories, after all, are like fuel for me and I really would love to hear or read some of yours.  

When I first decided to do a newsletter, I described Iterations as "an occasional brain dump of thoughts, inspiration and ideas." However, the "brain dump" part quickly fell prey to what happens to so many of my projects and ideas: I end up killing it by trying to overly define it and make certain that it's a polished, structured, finished and fully realized piece of "content" (for the record, though I use it I really dislike that word). So, since we're only a few Iterations in and it's the start of a brand new year, I'd like to start again and jettison the whole idea of "complete" and just get back to connecting. 

While I don't yet have a clear roadmap for the year ahead, 2017 is looking like it will be filled with collaboration and a number of terrific creative challenges — some new and some so old that they feel new again. In the next edition, I'll give more detail on what's to come (spoiler: lots of analog) but will tell you now that 2017 will be a year of shipping and I can't wait to share it all with you.

WHAT'S ON YOUR 2017 ROAD MAP?

Iteration Number Four: Coming Home

Today is day two of my life as a homeowner. Technically, it's day three — we got the keys on Tuesday — but yesterday was the first day I actually woke up as a homeowner, so I'm calling it day two. I love this house. I haven't even moved in and I love this house. I love it as a place, as a symbol and as an object. As a place, it represents home, of course, but perhaps not only in the traditional sense of "this is my home." Beyond the back yard dense with decades-old oaks and pines, the mid-century modern decor and the basement workshops, it represents an end to a lifetime of feeling like I don't really belong anywhere. My parents divorced when I was four and my mom and I moved around a lot. In fact, I never went to the same school two years in a row until junior high — and even then, we moved again the summer before high school, so I was effectively starting over. College and the years after came and went along with the growing number of places I lived — or rather occupied. It wasn't until 2000 that I had an apartment for any length of time. And while I enjoyed the complex, I never felt like I belonged — not really— and the apartment never felt like home. Fast forward to a couple months ago — keep in mind, I'm blowing past leaving California, moving to the East Coast, falling in love and getting married, all in the span of about a year. My wife and I had been looking off and on at houses and one night, she was looking at Zillow and I think she may have even gasped. "Oh, my God," she said, "you have to see this. I think I found our house." We drove up to look at it that night and, as we walked up the driveway, one of the first things we noticed was a momma deer lying under one of the many trees in the back yard. She wasn't startled, nor did she get up and run away. On the contrary, she just — and I really don't know how else to put it — she just "welcomed us home." I'll save the rest for another story but, suffice to say, from the moment we walked around the house it felt as though we belonged here. We fell in love with it from the first walkthrough. With the exception of the lighting fixture in the entry and the wallpaper in both bathrooms, we literally would not change a thing. We learned that the couple who owned the house were the original owners. They had built the house themselves in 1956. He was an engineer and a woodworker and she was a painter. This was a house built by makers — with studios both on the main level and in the lower level. The evidence of their "makerness" is seen throughout the house, from the impeccable woodwork and decor to the presentation space on the lower level where new paintings were unveiled to family and friends.
I've wrestled with the notion of home for much of my life, and in recent years, I've also wrestled with my own creative output — especially as it relates to personal work and finding my voice. But in this place — steeped in the legacy of love and craft that runs so deeply through its bones — I feel as though a great existential weight has been lifted and I no longer have to eat up processor cycles searching for what it means to belong...to be home. I am home. I am grateful. And I'm ready to get to work.

Does the place where you make affect how or what you make? 

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I've been fascinated by crows since I was a kid. Recently, I came across this documentary on the intelligence of crows. One of the most fascinating (some researchers say "human like") traits is their ability to actually recognize faces and are able to even associate specific faces with danger. They are also able to pass knowledge to offspring as a form of social learning. 

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In 1966, artist Ed Ruscha photographed every building on the Sunset Strip in Southern California. He released the two and a half miles worth of photos as a book called, appropriately, Every Building on the Sunset Strip. The accordion-folded book unfurls for twenty seven feet. This short film about his work (charmingly narrated by Owen Wilson) is a terrific watch. 

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If you have an interest — any interest — chances are there's a convention of some sort dedicated to it. In his book Conventional Wisdom, photographer Arthur Drooker takes the viewer beyond Hall H and into a world of weekend mermaids, plushies, ventriloquists, fetishists, Santas, and even Abraham Lincoln cosplayers. "The wisdom I’ve gained from this project," Drooker writes, "has shown me that regardless of what they’re about, where they’re held or who attends them, all conventions satisfy a basic human urge: a longing for belonging."

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Select prints of some of my photographs are now available. I'm releasing them as "rolls" of twenty-four images at a time. Prints are open editions on 11x14 inch Baryta paper using archival inks. Visit the store for details. 

Iteration Number Three: Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Exactly one year ago today, after a five day road trip across the country, I woke up on the east coast to begin a new chapter of my life. I had gotten to perhaps the lowest period in my life, with the exception of the deaths of my parents. My world had become grey and full of ghosts—of both people and places—and I needed to make a massive change to get myself out of the grey. So I packed everything I owned into my car and drove east through the California desert and across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and finally into Washington DC. The trip was my hero's journey, an offering to the fates to show I was serious about earning this new chance and this new chapter. Looking back, I wasn't prepared for how incredible this past year has been—not just compared to the dark in my life, but against the totality of my life. I was talking to a friend about it and he asked if I had ever played video games like Civilization or Age of Empires. I told him I had and he went on to explain that life was like the map in one of these types of games. It's all dark until you start to move and as you move further out into the dark—read: the unknown—more of the map is revealed to you. But it's only in the moving that you able to uncover possibility. What a perfect metaphor. I can't wait to see what else is out there in the dark, just waiting to be uncovered.

How has your life changed over the past year?

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Photographer Reka Nyari shoots incredibly sexy, stylized fashion but it's a simple set of black & white nudes that really set me back on my heels. The woman is beautiful and the ink reminds me of the incredible full-body yakuza tattoos, but the way it's shot—poses, lighting, composition and the super-contrasty black & white toning—is just sublime.

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I've been reading and watching quite a bit about Daido Moriyama lately. I've been a fan of his black & white work for years, but have just recently started to get into his color work. I'm fascinated by his process of exploring his neighborhood over and over again for decades, looking for changes, new details or previously unseen compositions. His latest book, Daido Tokyo is a terrific introduction into some of his color work made on the streets of Shinjuku.

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While thinking about how I'd like to tell stories with video, I've been looking at how others are using the medium. I don't want to be in them, per se, not seen anyway and I'm not sure I want them to be straight interviews. I love the intimacy of audio and having a crew of people—even a small crew—could be intimidating to people who aren't used to being in front of the camera. That, and if my attention occasionally shifts to checking focus, or making sure it's lit "just so," that takes me out of the conversation, and that's not an option. A few years ago, NPR did a terrific piece on Charles W. Cushman, an amateur photographer who began shooting Kodachrome in 1938 and continued for three decades. The way it was put together is just terrific—it manages to feel like video, but it's not. Instead, it's a cleverly produced slideshow that uses animation and voiceover to create an incredibly compelling portrait (no pun) of an unsung hero of early color photography.

Lately, one of my favorite sources of inspiration for the type of video I'd like to produce is Great Big Story. An offshoot of CNN, Great Big Story is available as an iOS app, an Android app and a website, all of which feature bite-sized stories across four categories: Human Condition, Frontiers, Planet Earth and Flavors. Stories are only around three minutes, but I can't think of one that didn't educate, entertain or otherwise hold my attention from beginning to end.

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I'm going to be making prints of some of my photographs available on my website. I'll be releasing them as "rolls" of twenty-four images at a time. I'm still not sure whether I'll add subsequent rolls, or remove the current roll when I've assembled enough images for the next one. Prints will be open editions on 11x14 inch paper and should be available within the next week or so at http://jefferysaddoris.com.