Friday, November 16, 2007

what it all comes down to

I spent a little time in L.A. earlier in the week and I found myself both fascinated and terrified. As I've spent very little time there in the past, I find it hard to see through the mythology. That is, it was difficult to see from outside the cliches of such a mythologized place. I saw a lot of surface showiness, a thin facade of glamour stretched over another sprawling wasteland.

The photo I wasn't able to make that described it so well- an older stretch limo, tagged with graffiti, and seemingly abandoned on the edge of a four lane highway, against a lone palm tree.

One important discovery though, is that I was staying in the wrong part of town. I was in Marina Del Ray, near Santa Monica, and four of the five things on my list of things to check out, for example Ari Marcopolous's show at MC Kunst and my group show at Shotgun Space, were across town, up to 1hour40 minutes away, depending on traffic, according to googlemaps. So, there's a lot I didn't get around to. But in the midst of a thirty minute, $55 cab ride I found myself thinking about all that money that flows through the entertainment industry, and the world that sustains it. What kind of world do we live in where it's okay to spend 200 million dollars to make Evan Almighty?

I think to a certain extent it all comes down to purpose & meaning. That is, we're all looking for purpose and meaning on an individual level. And by that, I mean that ultimately, movies are more than entertainment, they are stories and stories, whether they be in the form of books, movies, photos, religion, etc., are probably the main way of giving meaning to our lives. Isn't that what we all look for on a daily basis, stories that either justify feelings we already have, or stories that inspire new thoughts and ideas? Truth be told, the first movie Sam ever saw in a theater, with Max and I, on a hot summer day, was Evan Almighty. And you know what? It was pretty fun.

I wouldn't necessarily say that it inspired me and/or gave me a clear reason to live, but for my kids, maybe it did, in some small way. Maybe that combination of morality and comedy, does a pretty good job of helping them get through the small challenges of the day by day.

To bring it back to photography, one of my earliest inspirators, Emmet Gowin, comes to mind, specifically because of his subjective use of the medium. For example:

Nancy, Danville, Virginia, 1965

This photograph is one of those that, back at the beginning, when my obsession with photographs was just coming up, really made me realize the subjective nature of the medium. That is, up to that point, I'd maintained a snapshot attitude that photographers take pictures of things. This photo plays with that in such a simple clever way though... yes, there's the cute/dreamy aspect of this child, Nancy, lying in the sun with her dolls, but Gowin didn't crop in on that, instead, he pulled back and used the shadow of his tripod and himself, as a way of making a picture not of cute girl with dolls, but of his relationship to her. That act of self-acknowledgement, the idea that his photographs are not of things, but of his relationship with the world, inspires to this day. In this way, the story told by the photo isn't about her, but of him and his adoration with her & complicity in the play/fantasy life she's immersed in.

Another family portrait from the file of things I love, that works in a similar way:

Larry Sultan, from Pictures from Home

It may seem a far cry to associate this photo with the comedy capers of Steve Carell as Noah, but in the same way that seemingly trite films help my kids make sense of their lives, a photo like this does the same for me. The flash pop/self identification on the wall, the chair in the center, the distance between each member of the family, the sunglasses & keys on the table, etc... this is a photograph about a hell of a lot more than what his parents look like.

Thanks to Matthew for relaying the story of Sultan moving the chair in the making of the picture (note the trail on the carpet).

1 comment:

starlen said...

Hi Shawn -

I think I happened to be out of town when you came through, but in the future, don't hesitate to contact me, and I'd be happy to traipse you around some of the more interesting parts of Los Angeles. It sounds like you have a similar view of the place that I do; even after 9 years here, it doesn't feel like any real sort of home for me.
But there are sparkles in the dust, if you look carefully.