Monday, February 28, 2011


On Thursday, I received this e-mail from my photography professer:

I rarely have to say this, yet I must let you all know that this semester’s performance is less than I expect.   

I need to see breakthrough work from all of you.  Some of the class is onto compelling artistic terrain that is specific to the artist, yet many of you are in a space between what you discovered in Project 1 and breaking into a territory of your own in your work.  

Labor and focus will get you over this hump.

I’m aware of who is engaged and who is not.  I expect engagement and commitment from all of you.

Please email me images of your work between now and the critique – I look forward to seeing works and to furthering a dialogue with you about the project.

I have to admit that I've lost interest in this class.  Week after week, my professor tells us that we "aren't taking enough risks" or "aren't engaged in our education."  But how are we supposed to be interested in learning and photography when he's constantly nagging us?  He assigns readings that are too flowery and abstract to discuss like texts that attempt to decipher that timeless question of "What is Art?"  We spend an entire day presenting 10-minute powerpoints on an artist of our choosing, an assignment that basically makes us carry out the lecture for the class.  Sure, it's nice to see where my classmates draw their inspiration, but three hours of powerpoints projected onto the high walls only serves to strain my neck.
Today, our second project was due.  We were supposed to cover a theme from the first project, a more reductive view to project 1, and a more complex view to project 1 in three images.  I admit that I procrastinated with project 2.  I spent a lot of time brainstorming, but with Culture Night, homework, and failed plans (see the Great Balloon Park post above), it was hard to find the time to actually take pictures.

The one thing that I dislike the most about photography projects is the printing process.  We print our photographs at the Galen Lab on campus.  Each sheet of 17"x25" paper is $10.  There are about ten computers, and only about four of them have printers.  These printers sit on a shelf about three feet above the computers.  In order for me to use these printers, I have to carry the step-stool from the corner of the room to the computer I am working at, thus imposing upon the personal space of whomever is working next to me.  Not to mention that I have had many slip-ups with loading the paper into the printer.  There have been times where the paper loaded incorrectly, the printer marred the paper, and I had to sheepishly ask the student worker for a fresh sheet (luckily it's free of charge because they can sense the sheer pity radiating from me).  

Today was another rocky printing day.  The printers were all full so I had to wait around until one freed up.  The person before me had printed something smaller and shifted this bar thing on the printer.  That bar thing caused my paper to load incorrectly, but luckily I was able to somewhat save it.  It was a little scratched, but I didn't have time to ask for a new sheet (since the paper is so big, the student worker has to take out a large cardboard box that protects the's a very laborious process).  As my first image was about done printing, I loaded the second sheet in preparation for the next print job.  But of course, the printer went nuts and starting feeding off that second sheet of paper instead of finishing on the first sheet.  I'm not even sure how that happened, but it did.  I canceled the print job, and the only way to save my first image was to crop the awkward blank 3 inches that didn't finish printing.  I decided to save my second sheet of paper (which now had the final 3 in. from the first photograph printed on it) for a future project I had in mind and loaded the third sheet of paper to print the next image while I went to buy another sheet of paper.  At this point, I knew I was going to be a little late for class.

In the end, these were the images I chose for Project 2 (which I accidentally shot as jpegs instead of camera raw files, but again, there was no time to re-do them.  I've been so busy and my head is in a million places.  Le sigh.) (also, when I was trimming the edges to my prints, my charm bracelet got awkwardly stuck in the paper cutter so I had to spend like a minute jiggling my wrist around to free it.  When it rains, it pours, huh?):
Since my professor kept insisting that we take risks, I took a very big risk and decided to explore the darker, more threatening side of imagination.  I covered the camera lens with plastic wrap in an effort to simulate the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a toy box for the viewer.  These collectible figurines, which should trigger a playful or commercialized response, are transformed into unsettling objects that stare back at the viewer with simultaneous stoic and emotional expressions.
Based on project 1, I wanted to photograph familiar objects in unusual situations that would evoke narration from the audience.  I was inspired by a similar photograph that used this formation of forks and a spoon that resembled a person laying facedown.  I added a knife to the scene to enhance the menacing quality of imagination, that point that divides creative narratives from fearful what-if scenarios.
Finally, I used a photograph from my photography class last year.  This is still my favorite photoshoot because it involved my good friend Andrea and her amazing and alarming hypermobility.  Unfortunately, this was the photograph that got cut off a little (stupid, stupid printer) so Andi's wrist was awkwardly cropped.  I wanted to use this photograph to show the physical manifestation of imagination.  The heart, a fluffy symbol on its own that resembles nothing like a heart in reality, is represented in this unnatural manner that emphasizes the overall tense, freakish qualities in these set of photographs.

A risk is what my professor asked for, and a risk is what I delivered.  Too bad that it was at the cost of me receiving the worst critique of my life.  I forgot that the printers tend to darken the photographs, and the lighting in our classroom is pretty weak so my photographs seemed very off balance; the whites were washed out, the blacks were too black, and the last photograph was too warm.  My classmates couldn't tell that there was a knife in the second picture and when I told them what it was, they were very focused on the reflections on the knife rather than the scene itself.  Since the colors were off, my professor said that the first picture looked muddy.  He liked my ideas (especially the third photograph) and the shift my project has taken since project 1, but he said that the execution was weak especially in terms of focus and color (maybe he was mad that I was a little late to class...meh).

As I endured this harsh criticism, I felt the color rushing to my cheeks.  I didn't really feel like crying; I kinda of felt like just walking out of the room.  That's one thing that frustrates me with some art professors; I hate compromising my work to please my professor and get a decent letter grade.  It's impossible to conform art to a grading scale.  In the end, the only opinion that matters is my own.  I create what I want because it satisfies me.  I know that not everyone is going to like what I like, and that's ok.  I can handle criticism, but I'm not going to let my professor make me feel like what I created was meaningless.  Next time, I'm not going to "take risks" just because my professor lectures us or sends us another e-mail describing how much we disappoint him.  

I think the reason why my second project backfired is because I followed something that didn't truly pursue what interests me.  I was too busy formulating some greater philosophical theme (which my professor he said, my ideas were strong but the execution was weak) that I overlooked the aesthetics that please me (in contrast to the playful pink photographs from project 1, this set of images for project 2 are much darker and intimidating).  That's another thing that dampens photography classes; we can't just take pictures for the sake of taking pictures.  They're supposed to convey some sort of deeper political message (which is just a load of baloney anyways).  And my professor's standard of "good photography" is just as flimsy.  During our last critique, he kept praising a photograph of a hose.  A HOSE.  SERIOUSLY.

I just want to take pretty pictures arrrrrhhhhhhggggg!!!

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