Sometimes, a girl needs a fresh start.
I can’t remember who initiated our meet-up. I think it was Jessica. We somehow found each other on social media of the visual kind. We both were really into photography so we decided to do a photo walk. This was May, 2012. We’ve met up several times since, once even included a spring roll making party. There was also a missed opportunity to see them at their Arrested Development party, which I still regret not being able to go to. I’m sure it doesn’t need to be said, but I was floored/honored when Jessica and Eric asked me to shoot their wedding.
Jessica might be the craftiest person I know. Pretty much all the decor you will feast your eyes upon below was made by Jessica. Raise your hand if you think this girl should start her own stationary/event planning business!
Jessica and Eric, thank you so much for asking me to shoot your wedding. I’m happy to call you two friends and I look forward to some bike adventures with you guys. Xo
P.S. Big thanks to Mike Robards for second shooting – some of his pictures are scattered in here.
My Feet Stink, February 26, 2014
A good story has the ability to grip us. What’s most interesting about photography is that it has the ability to either be the story or be part of the story, an accoutrement to words.
A documentary about Vivian Maier came out recently. Her story, shrouded in mystery, has gripped the photographic community. A Chicago nanny who incessantly took “street” photographs but barely shared them passes away and a historian and collector buys boxes of her negatives holed up in a storage locker only to find that he’s come across a photographic savant.
It’s a great story right? There are so many questions left unanswered – the biggest one being why didn’t she share her photographs? And here we all are gushing over these images made by her without any context, background, captions or words. Which makes me think – how important are words with photographs?
What’s clear to me is that words can change the meaning of a photograph. I’m reading/looking at Sam Abell’s “The Life of a Photograph” right now, which is an interesting juxtaposition to Vivian Maier’s veil of mystery. In this book he explains the process behind some of his most iconic photographs. In addition, I think the genius of the book is that repeatedly throughout it he places two or more images from the same moment in time, but from different perspectives, next to each other. This gives a clear argument that the photographer’s eye trumps gear any day; that you can tell two totally different stories by moving your vantage point or even just moving the camera slightly to the right/left/up/down. Choice and intention, then, are paramount to good photography. And knowing the photographer’s intention can give serious weight to their images.
Vivian didn’t shoot multiples, if I remember correctly. She simply took the picture she wanted and moved on. Granted, Sam was getting paid by one of the most elite magazines, National Geographic, to produce the best storytelling images (more pictures = insurance) but he used multiple shots in his personal work, too. And we know why – he wanted to tell a story.
I find myself debating whether to add titles or captions to my images. Even dates, I’ve noticed, have the ability to add something else to an image. It’s clear that words can enhance and words can detract. If I put a cool image up but then talk about how stinky my feet are in the caption, that would detract from the image. If I put up a picture of an apple with a caption that says “teacher’s pet” you would most likely interpret it differently than if I would instead put the caption “before the rot”.
Good images are able to stand on their own, without words, it seems. Sam Abell’s images are still amazing with or without words (although they have been heightened for me by learning more about his process). It seems Vivian Maier proves that theory as well - that really good images don’t need words or captions. But, I can’t help but wonder if her images are cloaked in her mystery - making them all the more intoxicating? Is the non-story the story?
Mike and I made it over to the Haggerty Museum of Art last Sunday to see Brian Ulrich’s Copia – Retail, Thrift and Dark Stores, exhibit. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I took away from it and the lively discussion Mike and I had about it afterwards - it’s an exhibit I highly recommend going to.
I should preface this post with a note that the topic of “dark stores” deeply interests me. About a year ago when my photography started to go in a different direction, I felt a pull to explore this question that was tumbling around in my head: what are we building that’s worth saving 50 years from now? So I went ahead and started my first “photo project” but ultimately stopped because it felt cliché. Like I’m the millionth photographer taking pictures of vacant buildings. The beauty of this project is that Brian weaves vacant stores into a larger narrative of consumer culture.
In Copia Brian explores three different aspects/stages of consumerism -Retail, Thrift and Dark Stores – to provoke questions and thoughts about not only the stuff we buy, but the whole economic system that we partake in. The first portion of the exhibit is Retail, which touches on the retail experience.
The first large image we were confronted with was a woman on a cell phone looking at the array of choices in front of her. Are we to assume she’s on the phone to ask for help on deciding which cheese to pick? Her face looks befuddled and, for me, this image not only captures the stagnation that comes from the vast amount of choices we are given in retail, but also how cyclical buying can be. We need cell phones so that we can call for help when we can’t decide what to buy…
This image is copyrighted by Brian Ulrich
The image that struck me most in this portion of the exhibit was a giant image of a Target checkout area. I’ve been a part of this scene hundreds of times. But spending three minutes to actually stop and look at it, without the emotions and haze that go along with the whole shopping experience, was startling. It really is the focal point of the store – giant red numbered flags that usher you through your purchasing experience. Seen out of context it’s quite patronizing, really.
I think it’s fascinating that he included thrift in this project, and it really made it quite impactful. I kept thinking, when I was in this portion of the exhibit, “where all the stuff goes to die”, which is weird because thrifting actually gives stuff new life. But the mood of the images is not jovial. It captures so well how not special the things we discard are that once felt so special when we purchased them.
Dark Stores completes the exhibit. It’s what you think it is: images of vacant big box stores and shopping malls. What’s interesting is his use of repetition – whether it’s one building through the four seasons, or the same style buildings through their various iterations of tenants – to dial in on the breadth and universality of bygone retail. It’s obvious the amount of time this project took (a decade!), and it makes us confront the fact that it’s not as simple to discard the infrastructure that holds all the stuff we so easily discard. Additionally, the decision to make many of the images of vacant retail big box stores at night is brilliant. The storefronts take on an almost gravestone-esque quality.
I heard a statement the other day that completely resonated with me (actually the whole video did that). In the video Lewis Baltz, a key player in the New Tophographics movement in the 70′s, discusses what makes photography so compelling: “Photography begins with a world that is, perhaps, overfull and it needs to sort out from that world what’s meaningful.” I used to put photography into two camps: obvious and abstract. I thought obvious photography wasn’t as artistic, and therefore not as meaningful, as more abstract photography, i.e. taking an image straight on of a building vs. making the building look like something it’s not by shooting from an interesting angle or vantage point. I realize now how wrong I was to think that. Although composition and lighting are important, what can be just as important are the questions raised by an image or sets of images. Sometimes, making someone stare at something they see every day, taken out of the context of busy life, is as impactful as a mysterious Saul Leiter composition.
This set of images asks some really tough questions. Why do we feel anxiety when we go shopping and is this something that’s necessary? What are the forces that go unnoticed that make shopping so enticing? Where does our stuff go when we get rid of it? What do we do with the buildings we’ve built that we no longer need? Why are they empty?
You can see Copia at the Haggerty Museum of Art on Marquette’s campus until May 18, 2014. The Museum is free and open to the public.
Found these two images today that I’ve never shared. I’ve never really noticed them, they just kind of were there, but today they really speak to me. I must be in an abstract-y/museum-y mood today.