Tripping On Art

The found shoes continue to be a source of creative inspiration. These iterations were in part inspired by an open call from Humble Arts Foundation for visually psychedelic landscape photos. Since I found the shoes in the urban landscape, and think of them as part of the regional landscape in New Mexico, I'm going with that. On a more personal level, my associations with the shoes and reasons for collecting them in the first place are not so far removed from a psychedelic experience I had when I was a child. You can read about my work in progress project with the shoes here for some context.

When I was three I accidentally ingested and overdosed on LSD - having a very long and arduous acid trip that resulted in my not walking for several days and compulsively naming all the things I could name in my Richard Scarry books when I came out of it. While I'm not sure if my memories of the event are real or the imagined visuals of having been told the story many times, it doesn't really matter as I believe we embody our memories into our being.

I think art (photography especially) is a powerful way to explore those memories and the vestigal feelings and emotions that accompany them. To dive deeply into the creative process is not dissimilar from being in an altered state of consciousness. While being in that creative flow-state, connections become more fluid and run deeper - I feel like I can see more clearly - it's seductive and I always know that I have to "come back" at some point. For me, being an artist is a way to access that state, of being able to see more clearly and draw connections that would otherwise be obscured, to explore unknown territory with an open heart and mind.

As for these shoe images, I like how they invoke a ghostly visage - straddling two worlds as it were - and conjuring a sense of the people who wore them originally. Presented as artifacts from the urban landscape and garishly revived for a second life, they are a bit of a visual non sequitur, but also a reminder of how our society chews people up and spits them out.

Snippets from the Flow

Hello! It's been a while. Life has been life-y, both hard and good, and as always I've been feeling what kind of art makes sense to make in this bumpy world and tending to my creative development.

I'm still working on Miscellaneous Souls and I'm taking my time with it. It's such a personally meaningful project and I've tasked myself with the challenge of weaving together and condensing a variety of heavy threads - I want to do it justice. I'll update the work-in-progress mini edit soon.

In between, I'm exploring other projects and figuring out how to continue and evolve my photo practice with the decreased ability to photo wander. Someday I'll have a new knee and it will be glorious. Until then, save for strategic and special occasions, studio work is my friend and I'm digging it. Huzzah to the flexible, creative beast of a medium that is photography!

I'm forever interested in symbolism and distilling the complex swirl of ideas, feelings and observations into simple depictions. Seemingly random or ubiquitous objects have the capacity to speak in paragraphs (volumes, sometimes) so I've been sifting through old boxes of bits and bobs, picking up items here and there that resonate (my office, the street, wherever) and making arrangements to express concepts that occupy my thinking. Fragility, strength, our temporal existence, similarity, potential, growth and the hard to describe feelings between all the resolute bits we bump up against. I think of them as visual poems or haikus that are open to multiple interpretations.

Most titles are excerpted bits from blog posts by the writer, Anne Herbert. She condenses soulful observations into poetic snippets that feel perfect for matching with photography. She sees so well and has that rare ability to articulate complexity with brevity. It's worth taking some time to explore her blog archives. I've always wondered why she suddenly stopped posting, but I am grateful for all the years she did and for sharing her gifts.

#besimplethensimplerthanthat

Intersections and Connections

I'm still thinking a lot about place and pattern, about pattern language and stacking meaning, about time - and more and more about creative process.

As is my inclination, when working on one project I get an idea that may not be appropriate for that work, but that I'm still compelled to explore. So is the case with these photo montages I call Lost and Found Soles. While working on a current work-in-progress project, Miscellaneous Souls, I began experimenting with creating imagery using photos of the old shoes.

On one hand I was looking for a creative solution to render the bedraggled appearance of the old shoes in a visually appealing manner without sanitizing them of their emotional resonance - to not only preserve it, but to build upon it. On the other hand I wanted to connect the shoes to the place from which they came as objects of use. Drawing on previous creative experiments working with historic maps of New Mexico I found a visual and conceptual match which places the shoes in geographic context. The combination also reveals how place holds our lives in the most mundane and intimate ways and how it endures beyond our brief existence.

I'm also interested in the power of objects - how they are embedded with meaning and significance beyond their original design purpose. The old shoes are ubiquitous objects of debris in the Santa Fe landscape and were once a person's intimate belonging and item of physical protection. Their presence and condition is unsettling and is a reminder of our vulnerability and temporal existence. They beg the question of what befell their wearer, a person who lives in this place with us, the ways we are connected and are responsible to each other.

To me, these deceptively simple images embody the intersections of art and archaeology, of pattern and place, of creative inquiry and determined effort, of experimentation and thoughtful application. More of these to come!

Each image is 16" x 20"  and incorporates map details or information specific to Santa Fe and New Mexico where the shoes were found. Click the images to view larger and for details on the respective maps.

The Paradox of Change and a Creative Exercise for the New Year

Last year I thought quite a bit about how discomfort is a frequent catalyst for the desire to create change. This dynamic plays out both in our personal lives and in the actions of nations and their citizens. The paradox is that we so frequently feel discomfort (albeit a new form of it) as the change occurs. This new discomfort, or even the anticipation of discomfort, can stop us from initiating change that can affect our lives in profoundly positive ways, or to resist it once it begins to unfold.

I believe that the challenge is to push through our discomfort, to mine the transition from one state to another for wisdom and strength that we can carry forward. So that ultimately we can effect  deeper change in the future, for ourselves and for society. To trust that the process of making change is a journey worth making and that in navigating the new terrain and travails we encounter is how we embody it. In essence, innovating more resilient and complex versions of ourselves.

Raven Paradox #1. Photo montage by Saro Calewarts

Admittedly, it's all rather tidy in theory and another thing altogether to navigate deftly in action. Still, I think that a core belief in the process of transformation and a redefined relationship with the associated discomfort is a powerful tool we can give ourselves.

Photographically speaking, I love how paradoxes provide a wealth of thematic and visual inspiration for creative experimentation. They contain interesting fodder for new ways to approach making or thinking about work. 

#ParadoxPhotoProject - it's my side project for the year and these are the first two images using my own photographs.

Raven Paradox #2. Photo montage by Saro Calewarts

The raven paradox, also known as Hempel's paradox or Hempel's ravens says that observing a green apple increases the likelihood of all ravens being black. It is a paradox arising from the question of what constitutes evidence for a statement. Observing objects that are neither black nor ravens may formally increase the likelihood that all ravens are black even though, intuitively, these observations are unrelated.

This problem was proposed by the logician Carl Gustav Hempel in the 1940s to illustrate a contradiction between inductive logic and intuition. (excerpted from Wikipedia)

It also sounds a lot like the current logic that justifies fake news, no?

Experimentation, Place and Pattern

Unfettered experimentation is a core component of my photo practice. Allowing time and space to wander down creative roads that may or may not lead anywhere is usually more productive than not - if even for filing for future ideas or general skill building. There are so many ways to engage with photography and ways to create work and I'm always interested in methods that can visually layer and stack meaning. The combinatorial potential of photography opens up so many paths for expressing ideas, feelings and beauty.

This image is the result of pushing an idea through many iterations and seeing how far I could take it without the original idea breaking down. By processing a detail of an historic map showing soil types in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico - distilling it to it's fine lines - and repeating it over a repeating photograph of a forest fire fueled sunset in Santa Fe - it creates an abstract and layered portrayal of place through time and elements. Because of it's size (44' square), viewing it up close shows the linear textures, details and text in the map and from a distance they blend to create a damask-like pattern. An idea I'm definitely keeping for future development.

Obsidian Hunting

Well, with me it's always about hunting for photos and searching out interesting trees (first loves always), but I do love minerals. Given the sad state of my knee, this was a rare outing to go rock hounding (with my guy and our dear friend) on Obsidian Ridge amidst the remnants of the 2011 Las Conchas Forest Fire in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. Situated between the supervolcano of Valles Caldera, Bandelier National Monument and the city of Los Alamos, obsidian lies in abundance on the ground, produced by a volcanic eruption 1.4 million years ago. Hiking along the exposed ridge among the burned stags, smoke from a distant forest fire and sweeping mountain views it feels eerie, old and earthy. No cell service, no people save for us three, just the sound of the whistling wind rushing though the valleys and glossy black obsidian winking in the sun. 

Border Light

“In all the activities of life...our whole effort must be to get out of our own light.”  -Aldous Huxley

Taken the day before the August solar eclipse, these photos of a long-favorite forest walk in Olympia, Washington got me thinking about the intersection of light and dark and how it's a symbolically and physically dynamic space. How the light punctuates the deep shadows, which are the greater substance in the frame. How the light is what more draws the attention, distracting from the peripheral shadows.

Shortly after, I came across the above quote by Aldous Huxley. It reminded me of these photos and also  philosophically embodies my thoughts about growth and potential and how our shadow selves play an intrinsic role in those processes.

More and more I feel like our substance and depth, our largeness and potential, lies deep and wide outside the narrow focus of our own light, in the unexplored and undeveloped parts of ourselves that we are hesitant to engage. That our light is a boundary marker between our current limits and our untapped potential.

Not that "letting our inner light shine" isn't important, but to see it as only one facet of our development, to know it’s place in the expanse of our potential. Not to see it as the end-goal, but a jumping off point.

Following that thread, one could say that we hide in our light more than our shadows. With such cultural emphasis on "shining bright" we often end up fetishizing it, missing the greater opportunities that lie in the shadows, the uncomfortable edge places that can lead us to deeper wisdom and capabilities.

Anyhow, these photos are a visual metaphor for some things I've been thinking about lately as they relate to a different photo project I'm working on.

And Woodard Bay Conservation Area is a wonderful place to visit.

Eclipse the Light Fantastic

To spend time with my mom and step dad is to drop into our own alternate universe. There is much laughter, creativity, deep discussion, spontaneity, forgiveness, affection and love. The kind that is hard won and born of the deep understanding of how different things could be.

As is the case with many (most?) families, ours has a history of darkness and trauma. Long before my step dad graced our life, my mother was running from her dysfunctional family, dragging me through a childhood of insecurity, poverty and violence. Under the auspices of the 70's hippy counter-culture movement, it was a more lawless, drug fueled and violent existence than that of peace and love. That we are alive, joyful and share a loving relationship today is rather miraculous. We've traversed dark emotional territory, separately and together, and emerged stronger, more resilient versions of ourselves - keeping the sparkliest parts intact.

Taken during the span of the total solar eclipse in August 2017, these photos document my little family’s viewing and activities during that brief time. From an impromptu decision to join the neighbors on their lawn to rummaging through my mom’s glitter and lace collection – the grandness of the celestial event took a backseat to just being together in the moment.

In sifting through these photos months later, the metaphors that thread through them - darkness and light, obscured or focused vision, connected celestial bodies and woven threads - all seem poignantly relevant beyond the dance of the sun and moon that day. They remind me of what we’ve been through, what we're made of and how far we’ve come. 

Down the Rabbit Hole

This past April I had the tremendous pleasure of attending a week-long workshop taught by the talented and generous, Aline Smithson (photographer, founder and editor of Lenscratch, educator and reviewer), at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops

The assignments during the class were not so much about creating lasting work, but to practice specific concepts that we could carry into our future work. One of our several field trips was to Meow Wolf and from the photos I took there I created a short, narrative story - a surreal, sci-fi take on an experiment studying cell phone use. I still rather like it.