later this month,
I’ll have work in my first art show, and I’m pretty excited about that.
The story of how this happened starts about two years ago. A writer friend of mine often refers to herself as an artist. And though I was well into my tenth year as a photographer, I had never felt that way about myself – an “artist”. To me, an artist was someone who brought work from their mind into the world, that whatever they produced was first an idea conceived within themselves. I saw myself as a craftsman: creating photographs for my clients the way a woodworker would build a table. Room for personal expression, but by and large, following a time-honored formula to produce a beautiful and reliable product. I believed then (and still do) that Art communicates something from within the artist, and good art challenges our thinking or our perception. A woodworker doesn’t want to challenge the thinking of his table buyer- he wants them to eat at the table. I didn’t want to challenge the thinking of my clients- I wanted them to hang their portraits on the wall.
But the question began to nag me: was I an artist? Was there anything within me that could come out, if given room to do so? And… how do you find out something like that about yourself?
I decided I would try meditation. I’d done a little meditation a few years earlier, on my own, when I was pregnant with my son, with the goal of flooding both our systems with calming hormones. This time though, what I hoped meditation might provide was mental space. Some room in my mind to just think, to explore my own self, to listen for any thoughts within that might indicate anything like art was brewing in there.
To my surprise (but really not surprising at all, if you know anything about meditation), I got what I hoped for. In the mental space that formed as I kept up that practice, an idea came to mind and I was listening!
The idea came during a call with my grandmother. You can read all about that here. Long story short: within a few weeks of the initial idea coming to mind, I was traveling to Oklahoma to spend a week with my grandmother and her widow friends to complete a photo essay project called The Grief Girls. I’d never done anything like that before, birthed an idea into being through my photography.
A few months later I signed up for a workshop with an online photography school about creating and shooting personal projects, and my project, Vessels, came out of that. I was beginning to feel like an artist.
Last summer, in the hot part of August, we spent a week in Brooklyn. One afternoon I went out alone to see an exhibit of early street photographs by Diane Arbus. It was actually my first exposure to her work, and I was captivated. It led me to read more about street photography, which opened a giant can of happy creative worms for me – and by fall I had purchased a small discreet camera and was shooting street work almost weekly, in DC, Denver, New Orleans, Philly – anywhere I went, I’d scrape out time to shoot street photography. That ongoing work is called American Streets.
And that, almost inevitably, led to the work that will be in my first show, at Busboys & Poets in Takoma Park later this month: documentary photography of the protests following the contentious 2016 presidential election. Collectively, the work I’m creating documenting these protests covers many different voices and concerns over the months following the election and inauguration. The work at Busboys will focus on women and children in the marches.
From shooting these images as both a witness and a participant in many of the marches, through the process selecting the ones that best tell the story I have in mind, test printing, re-editing, printing again, framing… it has all driven home to me that being “an artist” is maybe something you invite into your life, as much as it is something innate that invites you.
Whatever it is or will be, I invite you to join me the last weekend of April, at my first art show, opening April 29th & 30th, all day, with an artists’ reception from 5:30 – 7:30pm. It’s gonna be a good time!