(coming soon!)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Do Photographers Need to Write Well?

A photographer/professor friend, Ann Mitchell, has asked several photographers the following:
"From some of my students, I often get the 'Photographers don't need to write well [for] a photograph is worth...' response. Has it been important for you to write well as a photographer? If you could send me a few lines as to why it has (or hasn't) been a significant part of your success I'd appreciate it."

The question intrigues me for I am a writer as well as a photographer and the written word underlies much of my work, whether literary or visual. I often write down words from my reading and at times when out photographing, a phrase may return to inspire me, often months later than when it was read. When on a speaking engagement about the two books for youth on contemporary art & poetry that I created and edited, marrying the paintings of known artists with the words of evocative poets, I highlight the "conversation" that thus ensues between the words and the art. That is just what it is when the fine arts weave together. Many times an active collaboration as well.

Writing and writing well for me is an integral part of the creative process and, as a photographer, it is key to how I see and shoot and formulate a project as well as how I may describe it later... for "describe" again is about the word.

This is adapted from my response to Ann:

1. Writing is as much about expression as is photography.
2. Writing is about metaphor. Isn't that what a lot of photography is? A visual expression that can be symbolic of idea and emotion? It takes being able to write well to understand the nuance and true significance of metaphor.
3. Writing well is about searching for the best possible expression, whether in the written word or in the image. It is essential to both.
4. Writing well is an exercise that sharpens the questions and focus of all that is being done photographically.
5. Writing well is about ensuring that the rules are learned. Well. It is only when absorbed into one's psyche and creative process that they can be broken.
6. Writing well is about grammar, spelling and most importantly, editing whether for a note dashed off or for a formal exercise that, when combined with or interpreted into the visual image, creates that picture that may be "worth a thousand words."
7. Writing well can be about collaboration, i.e., working on an idea or an edit with another whose mind and skills you respect to hone what it is you want to say.
8. Writing is having the skill and the knowledge to present oneself in the best possible manner and in this case, writing also includes reading to broaden and understand what is to be expressed. See http://www.simpleartmarketing.com/blog/category/writing-for-artists/

How does knowing how to write and to write well mean in terms of photography?
Learning how to write well enhances the application of those skills to one's photography to achieve what is to be expressed.
Learning how to write well enhances the photographer's ability to articulate what it is that is being done photographically and, can even lead to a different tighter photographic focus when, by editing the statement, that direction is honed.
Learning how to write well enhances the opportunities to enter into the business of photography from
1. Artist Statements
2. Proposals
3. Titling a photograph
4. Creating and preparing a website
5. Writing a blog or even Twitter! The latter: when there are only a few words permitted, they must be right.
6. Preparing a college and/or graduate application
7. Job applications
8. Press releases about the work
9. Grant applications - From a grant website "But this opportunity is often squandered when photographers don't appreciate the importance of the written proposal. "We look for a good idea first and the portfolio second," says David Sutherland, a professor of photography at Syracuse University and administrator of the Alexia Foundation for World Peace student photography contest." A caveat to this quote: many curatorial and gallery friends, while recognizing the importance of the written statement, entirely disagree, saying that in all cases, the work is the first to be viewed, the statement only after.
10. Learning how to write well opens up the range of artistic expression to add to the piece of art being made, whether in a fine art application or commercial.

Writing well is about reading, and reading well, for it may be about "a photo is ... " but it is also always about the word. And the better the word is expressed - through great literature, through poetry, through hip-hop and rap - the better the opportunity for visualization and aesthetic conversation

Here is the visual poetry of Federico García Lorca beginning his Romance Sonambulo:
"Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea
and the horse on the mountain. ....."
... or in the original Spanish:
"Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaña. ..."

When one reads such words, says them aloud; when one writes down a word or phrase just to savor it for a while, the words - the concept - infuse our being and our photographs.

Writing. Reading. Words. All are about creation, expression, appreciation and adventure. Emotional. Risk-taking. Sensory. Powerful. Edited. Focused.

Wait, are we speaking about writing or are we speaking about photography?

FotoFest and MOPLA

Coming out of March which had truly roared in like a lion with an intense 10 days at FotoFest, the incredible Houston Biennial.

A reviewee. A visual enthusiast in heaven between the many exhibitions in Houston, my favorite visit always to the Menil Collection (and the Rothko Chapel, the Twombly and new for me, the Byzantine Chapel!), and of course the special opportunity to see the work of fellow reviewee's, from all over the world. Incredible inspiration. Tried to take it all in. And so I did, meeting some terrific new people who could be photographers, could be reiewers but who became professional acquaintances - Facebook anyone? - and hopefully in time, many will become good friends.

Good reviews. Much hard work ahead. Some announcements to come!

And then MOPLA where, within a week after FotoFest, two projects were up for exhibition... both projected, getting away from the print for a moment. The first through a trailer, 'Lucy," onto chance walls for the GroupSC 2009: AN INTIMATE VIEW OF LA. The second: A one-night projection of four artists, part of MOPLA's themed show 160/160 CELEBRATING 160 YEARS OF LOS ANGELES BY SHOWCASING 160 PHOTOGRAPHERS.

Great fun and a fresh new way for me to think about my work: a quick slide show, not always in my favorite order, but...

Some installation pics from the opening nights:
from GroupSC 2009 at the MOPLA opening, 3 April, at Bergamot Station (The Santa Monica Airport project).
from Pro'jekt LA: LA Sights + Scenes, Tuesday, 6 April at Space15Twenty in Hollywood. (The Gridlock Project).