Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Poetry by Patrick Friesen

You Don't Get to Be a Saint (1992)

like stars snow's falling all over town
headlights are passing on the walls
a god's walking barefoot through the drifts

the town drunk's leaning against a tree
he sees a dead hand in the snow
and reaches down to offer his own

you don't get to be a saint the dead man says
you get to warm your hands for a moment
you get to catch your breath and say one thing

I can make you a wizard he says
I can give you life forever
but I can't take the price off your head

I don't want to be a wizard says the drunk
I live with the price and I don't mind dying
I just want to sing a lullaby

he clears his throat and sings the dead man to sleep
then he turns into stillness
like none ever heard ever more still than snow

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Photography and the Demagogy of Inclusivity

Within the last year I've been concerned with photography forsaking its historical concerns in the interest of imitating other mediums. Jumping off of the historical precipice of photography's uneasy placement in the corner of the tent of the arts, seemingly leaves photography in no other position but to try to swim from its own self-destined archipelago back to the land it has left long ago, or to continue to imitate the other arts. Or I suppose, practitioners can do whatever the hell they want to do, as long as they can democratically wage a war of rhetorical inexactitude, or speak coherently and convincingly enough, to imbue work with intelligible academic or didactic utility.

A strange notion within the context of photography's mythological narrative, besides the narrative itself, is that in contemporary photographic practice, postmodern vanguards of the arts have imbued the environment of the arts, within the institutions which house works of art and their creators, with a totalizing spirit of all-inclusiveness. This all-inclusiveness is of course a myth, by which are hidden, the truly demagogic individual concerns each carries when approaching work. The irony of the spirit of postmodernism itself in the context of critically examining the value and utility of creations of "art" institutionally, is its intransigent denial of its own demagogy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

"People thats honest do their work out in the light."

"Now Laben you shouldn't have done that; those photographer fellows go into a dark room when they do their work., and people that's honest do their work out in the light."

- Aunt of Laben Deardorff, founder of L.F. Deardorff and Sons Cameras

Friday, October 2, 2009

Robert Adams on Teaching Photography


I find a startling level of kinship with the thoughts and attitudes of Robert Adams, more specifically within his writings on photography. Adams holds a PhD in English literature, and began working full-time on his photography after many years of teaching on the university level. He also considered being a minister during much of his young adult life, a fact that has equally repelled and compelled me for some time now, although the life of the Jesuit seems more and more distant from my imagination as I continue to grow older and younger simultaneously.

As the spring quarter of my second year of schooling in photography came to a close this past May, I found myself riddled with incorrigible questions as to the nature of arts education, and of the institutional framework which forces working artists to need the economic and political relationship proffered by the university arts-based professorship. I could write pages on the dysfunctional nature of sublimating the arts to a process of standardization and the tutelage and patronage of economic institutions fueling the ideals which art strives against, yet the more pressing question is, what does it take to teach in the context of death-bent institutions funded on the hegemony of a culture of economic and political nihilism--ie: the collapse of local cultures, local economies, the family--the prioritizing and partitioning of life based upon the leviathan of the pathology of capitalism and its myths--and apart from that, how is it possible to teach something like photography as an "art," when it is the newborn baby trying to communicate in a room with the learned elders of the other artistic disciplines?

I will continue to wrestle with many of these questions. Here is what Robert Adams has to say in his phenomenal book, Why People Photograph:

Can Photography Be taught? If this means the history and techniques of the medium, I think it can. The latter, particularly, are straightforward. If, however, teaching photography means bringing students to find their own individual photographic visions, I think it is impossible. We would be pretending to offer the students, in William Stafford’s phrase, “a wilderness with a map.” We can give beginners directions about how to use a compass, we can tell them stories about our exploration of different but possibly analogous geographies, and we can bless them with our caring, but we cannot know the unknown and thus make sure a path to real discovery.

Ought photography to be taught? If at the beginning of my own photography I had taken a course in the mechanics, it would have saved time. Learning the history of the medium might also have been done more systematically in a class, but it was fun and easy to do on my own. As for the studio courses in “seeing” – which usually place student work up for evaluation by both classmates and teachers – I was never tempted to take one, and so am not attracted to teaching one. Arrogantly I believed right from the start that I could see. That was the compulsion, to make a record of what I saw. And so listening to most other people speak didn’t seem helpful. Even now I don’t like to discuss work that isn’t finished, because until it is revised over the span of a year or several years there are crucial parts that are present only in my mind’s eye, pieces intended but not yet realized. If I were forced to pay attention, as one would be in a class, to a dozen different understandings and assessments of what I was putting together it would amount to an intolerable distraction, however well meant. Architect Luis Barragan was right, I think: “Art is made by the alone for the alone.”

Am I one to teach photography? When I consider the possibility I can’t help remembering a question put to me by an affectionate and funny uncle when I told him I might become a minister – “Do you have to?” Experience later as an English teacher brought up the same issue. Teachers must, I discovered, have a gift to teach and the compulsion to use it. And faith. Anything less won’t carry you through.