I love photography! When the weather turns, the sun peeks through a cloud just so, or I feel an uncontrollable urge to capture an object that piques my abstract eye, I pop the camera in the bag and I'm off.
The death of yet another artistic talent, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, has us scratching our know-it-all, yet unknowable noggins about the prevalance and persistence of addiction. Neuroscience and medicine have made huge strides in spelling out the witches brew of genetics, individual lifeways, and personal trauma that have helped us to bypass judgment and move towards greater understanding. Still, no one-size-fits-all remedy prevails.
I would imagine actors, like Hoffman, are more prone than most to yo-yo-ing between the unsteady states of never good enough and grandiosity that plague the human condition. The thespian hauls to the stage the entire pallet of human emotions and must color them true for our entertainment. Like soldiers returning from war, we become uncomfortable when performers bleed the theater into their everyday existence.
We all have our secret sauce, ritual behaviors, or places we go when the daily merry-go-round spins out of control. Creative processes - photography, writing, and other visual arts, have provided me with the metaphors I need to balance my world between jet-fueled propulsions and a vegetative state. Daily walks in the desert also help to erode the buildup of psychological plaque that can endanger the health of my heart.
As I've contemplated this subject over the last few days, I realize I need to suspend judgment as to someone else's struggles to balance the weight of their world and/or to withdraw from critiques of the efficacy of their chosen flavor of brain smoothie.
Through the lens, the landscape before me is framed by the camera, yet only serves to inform my vision when I take the time to compose what I want to create. With the same lens, with your eye, other worlds and possibilities appear.
The same, yet different, where we see each other through it.
I had my first breakthrough the other day, not from the artistic anxiety and paralysis I currently find myself in, but through the ice into knee-deep, freezing water. I only walk on creek ice where I know such occurrences will not end in catastrophe to either my camera gear or myself so I made it through with only a wet pant leg and boot.
The experience got me thinking though, about my frozen feelings of discomfiture. This past year has brought into focus old habits of trying to mold myself into second-hand visions. I've since put away the ice picks and am sitting with the uneasiness and slow drip of melting for a bit. I rearranged my work space, began a reading frenzy on abstract photography, writing and photography, and contemplative photography, as well as taking daily forays into the back country.
My grandchildren and their parents, usually without their personal knowledge, often provide new ways of seeing that I'm unable to get to myself. As I turned from the sink with a drink of water, my shadow, posed with a paper plate snowman taped to the front door, caught the whole of what I've been working to open.
If you've ever visited Moab, Utah and driven up the river road (Highway 128) when the rains wash down Professor and Onion Creeks turning the river a bright brick red, you're in for even for more of a treat when traveling along the Colorado River in winter.
Coppery red reflections slice through the ice and snow that creeps through the flow of water as temperatures drop and seize its movement. Capturing these views is challenging as the pull-outs are often covered in deep snow or packed down to ice with little room to stand with a tripod, let alone park a car. As the sun makes its move back north and the ice breaks into slushy chunks, pockets of air become trapped under the crust and freeze at night to create frozen abstracts.
The past year has been one of great unthawing for me artistically and photographically. The confluence of my writing and photography has opened up new opportunities and possibilities that were unthinkable last year at this time. I want to thank all of you who have supported and promoted my work. I hope you will join me on upcoming adventures into the desert through photography and writing.
I have particularly enjoyed getting back into the writing life. I am going to step back some on my writing here though, in order to spend time on research, contemplation, and fine-tuning my photographic vision. I will be focusing on updating and restructuring my website this month so if you experience difficulty with any part of the site let me know. As always, I am interested in your views and thoughts on my work. I consider my photography and writing a conversation rather than a product.
Hope you have a wonderful 2014.
By Deborah Hughes
I just finished my first book, Becoming What’s Left: A Desert Erosional (see Preview below) The full 24-page book of poetry and photography in print version as well as an ebook for the ipad are available through Blurb. I am currently working on producing additional e-versions compatible with Kindle and other platforms.
As with the beginnings of any new venture, the bookmaking process was fraught with various setbacks and stumblings and numerous frustrations. It would be all too easy to extend that long-armed rifle with the pointy finger and start shooting my mouth, but when I aim my attentions away from the coiled crouch of production I come away amazed at the tools and opportunities available to individual artists for creating and marketing their own publications online.
Not ten years ago, the road to publishing, whether it was a novel, a book of poems, and/or large format photographs, was bottlenecked by the whims of large publishing houses where an unknown author’s manuscript usually ended up lost in the translation of what was sellable in a handful of editors' eyes. Self-publishing was considered a vain and presumptuous undertaking.
All manner of publishing opportunities are available nowadays from online, one-stop, plunk your picture and print services, to more sophisticated self-publishing software, to e-books - all from the comfort of your treadmill desk. Some of the easier to use sites are fairly rigid in their offerings of templates and use of text if you’re looking to produce a more complex photography book. If you plan to create a number of books and enjoy the design phase as well as want more control over the whole process, software such as Adobe In-Design or Serif’s PagePlus may be more to your liking. I just purchased, PagePlus for that reason. If you download the free version first, you can then upgrade to the full program for $20 less than the price originally advertised. If you have upgraded to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, I think In-Design is a part of their full subscription. I use Serif’s SketchBook for drawing with my Wacom Tablet and find the user interface easy to navigate and learn. I’ll keep you posted on my journey into PagePlus.
After rummaging around several self-publishing sites, I found Blurb to be the most flexible in terms of formatting and text placement. You can choose to use their online service, which has pre-set templates, or download their BookSmart program which is relatively customizable. They also offer an e-book conversion for the ipad and a low quality PDF, but not for Android platforms, hence my move to PagePlus which offers e-book conversion to Kindle, Android, enhanced PDF and others. The online service and program are free to use. With most online self-publishing sites, you only pay for actual printed copies, e-books, or PDFs.
Although these self-publishing opportunities are a boon to authors, artists, and photographers, and advance purchase of a minimum number of copies is no longer required, finding one's way through the maze of self-publishing chill's the brain. The term self-publishing can mean anything from total control over writing, editing, printing, marketing and distributing one’s own work to hiring someone else to perform one or more of those elements. Becoming knowledgeable about such services and how they interact can save you time and money.
The printing, e-book conversion, PDF preparation, are sometimes included in online self-publishing sites, but sometimes not. Distribution to online sites like Amazon or main street bookstores like Barnes and Noble are usually not included. Some sites will print your book, but offer no e-pub services. Some sites like Blurb as mentioned above offer e-books, but only in specific formats. Most sites like Blurb offer marketing by way of a store and links to social media sites along with badge previews of your book, but not much beyond that. Some companies offer a full spectrum of distribution and marketing services.
Distribution and marketing are two different animals. You can distribute your creative work to every bookstore and cyber shelf on the planet, but if you don’t shout about it from atop tall mountains of social media, email, book signings, etc., you’re no better off than ten years ago. Most of us, particularly girls, were brought up to shy away from self-promotion in favor of helping others. It’s been okay in the past to be discovered and pay someone else, such an agent, to do all the shouting. Today, though where each individual artist has been given the opportunity to hold the reins to guide the promotion of their own work, it has become more acceptable to toot one’s own horn.
In the times of old sailing ships, a structure called the “poop deck” was constructed over the aft cabin where the helmsman, with an elevated view, could direct the crew and ship’s navigation. I invite you to join me here on the poop deck for future navigationans through the sea of creative opportunities. Toot, toot!
This morning flecks of frost scribble five degrees at four a.m. from the back porch light out into the unenlightened. From the north window, a line of yard lights necklace the unseen base of South Mountain, its morning mood unknowable at this hour. I sip a cup of hot, dark roast and ponder numinous dreams that wiggle their way into waking up.
I find this time of morning contemplation ripe for writing. The shadowy room ablaze with the blank white from my computer screen where the conduit between possibility and its expression translate meaning into my multi-chambered life.
I woke this morning with Nelson Mandela rattling through the cells of my brain. Two thoughts kept flitting around waiting for the coffee to kick in to populate the vacancy of this page. The first idea came from a quote about the imprisonment of anger. The other idea caught in passing on NPR noting Mandela’s impact on President Obama as a young man related to the power of the individual.
I cannot claim Mandela’s 27 years behind bars – an hour in a pee-painted, concrete compartment was more than enough for me, my detention one of association and naïveté. I did spend a number of years though, in a self-inflicted jail of anger against the individual whose misdeeds put me in that physical space as well as other relational lock-downs. I still struggle with the confines of other people’s pigeonholes, but my greatest challenge now as I perch on the edge of great-grandmotherhood is to step back and allow others to break free from their own prisons in their own time and in their own way.
Early on in my tossing and turning through many dark nights of the soul, I worked with a wonderful therapist who gave me the tools to get up from the bed of someone else's lying. I kept notebooks of poems detained in a backpack worn like a life vest. One Christmas, I printed a poem for her about making compost out of shitty circumstances and attached it to handmade paper with pressed flowers. She displayed it on an end table in her office. A few weeks later, she told me a patient, who after years of working through a childhood trauma, read the poem and asked how to move forward.
The example of Nelson Mandela’s strength of spirit and vision may be a once in lifetime experience for many of us, but his ability to get back up after a fall again and again lives within each one of us. Many of you reading this, in ways known and unknown to both or either of us, have provided little glimpses through the bars, a hand held out for a help up, and tiny keys of words and images I keep close for escapes. I’ll keep putting out a poem, a photograph, and other Get Out of Jail Free cards for when you need to do likewise.