Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Repentance or Jailhouse Religion?

Sunflower002aA recurring theme lately has been my creative passions, and the struggle to find the time, energy and motivation to pursue them while maintaining the other responsibilities of life. Priorities, I’ve decided: one has to choose what’s most important and somehow find the courage to place that ahead of other, competing interests. 

The problem for me always comes down to my desire to please everyone, to not upset the apple cart, so to speak, to make everything a priority, to want to do it all but (usually) failing to do any of it to any reasonable degree of success. The risk, for me, is in the choosing, because having limits to one’s time, talent and energy means you also have to reject the other things you’d like to do but can’t.

I’ve spoken before about more successful artists who do make the necessary sacrifices in life for their careers, who are able to muster the courage to just say ”no” to some things in order to maintain the other things that are the most important. Sometimes, to the outsider, their behavior might represent a madness of sorts, giving up the pragmatic, practical necessities in order to pursue some idealistic venture.

We live in an age when the measure of all success is as Wall Street might rate the success of a company by rewarding or punishing its stock price. We are told to sit up straight, eat your veggies, go to college, have a career, marry, buy a house, have 2.4 kids, make a go of it, have a healthy 401K and retire comfortably: the American Dream. 

And where does that leave room for one’s inner creative passions? Sunday afternoon, perhaps, if you aren’t watching the game on TV, and if you don’t have some last minute, pressing obligation like running that errand before going over to the Jones’s for a dinner party, and if Junior doesn’t have some last minute school project that requires your immediate and unbroken attention. Priorities: it’s all important, isn’t it, so what do you cut out?

What if, just for once, we demand that our self interests are also important, that we have things that we need to work on, that require our time and unbroken attention and perhaps some place of quiet and solitude, that requires we give up some things, or at the very least work out some restructuring plan in our lives, in order to make room?

I have this theorem, call it Van Cleave’s Postulate, if you must: Our priorities are what we actually do in life.

You see, we can dream about wanting to do something, we can talk about wanting to do something, we can actually make claims of being a doer of something, but until we actually do that thing it’s all just empty talk. Or, as Scripture might teach us, we need to be doers of the word, not merely hearers.

Among a plethora of interests, I’ve been involved with pinhole photography for the last several decades. I have a functional darkroom, I have a large assortment of hand made cameras, I have a particular methodology for working with silver gelatin paper negatives in large format cameras that achieves (or so I have been told by the fine folks at the F295 pinhole photography discussion forum) film-like results. But, I've been found in violation of Van Cleave’s Postulate, in that I’ve let my interest in pinhole photography lapse into disuse while maintaining the claim that I’m a pinhole photographer. This is also known as hypocrisy.

This last Sunday was the annual World-Wide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD), and I used this event as an opportunity to repent of my un-pin-holiness. I broke out my workhorse camera, a hand-built plywood, 4"x5" box camera, loaded up some paper negatives and made several exposures in my backyard.

The thing is, you’ve got to figure out a way of streamlining your process if you want to fit it into your busy life. In this case, I used a Jobo tank to process each negative in the comfort of the kitchen, loaded from the sheet film holders via a changing bag, thus not requiring use of the cluttered garage-based darkroom. The Jobo tank requires only 40ml of chemistry per sheet, thus providing a very economical usage model, and delivers very consistent results. This method has proved to be so efficient that it suggests a mobile technique could be employed, using a changing bag, development tank and water & chemistry stored in portable plastic containers.

Another area that requires some streamlining is the scanning and/or printing of the pinhole paper negatives. I’ve traditionally either contact printed the paper negatives onto silver gelatin paper in the darkroom or, more frequently, scanned and Photoshopped the images on my desktop PC, providing JPEG images that can be uploaded or printed digitally, or sent to a mini-lab and printed on RA4 color paper. I have no clear solution to this problem, since silver gelatin prints are the finest quality printing method one can choose for this medium. It becomes clear that investment of time in the darkroom is needed, no shortcut being available. But digitizing the paper negatives could alternatively be done by photographing them with a digital camera and processing the files on the iPad’s photo-processing apps, rather than being chained to the desktop.

I hope, in the next few months, to continue working with pinhole photography using this more streamlined methodology, repenting of my formerly lackadaisical approach that has squandered decades of experience and learnt techniques, hoping to expand my artistic vision and produce some meaningful work. We will see if, in the near future, I’ve truly gotten religion, or if it’s mere jailhouse religion.

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~Joe

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