Setting Goals: 2016

Pozos y Casas. Dacono, Colorado, 2016
Pozos y Casas (Holes and Houses). Dacono, Colorado, 2016

 

Before this year began, I set for myself three major goals with my photography. The idea was try to move my work to a higher level in terms of both quality and depth, and in terms of recognition. I figured if I could achieve at least one of these goals, I would be more than mighty pleased.

Well, I’ll be smackered if I didn’t achieve all three!

For the record, here were my objectives…

1. Get a piece or a portfolio accepted for an exhibition at the Colorado Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins. 

The “C4FAP”, as it is informally called, has gained an international reputation for finding and displaying work from up and coming photographers around the world. I had tried several times before to have a piece juried in to an exhibition here but had never been successful–until this year. My photograph “Approaching Inferno” is currently on display, along with 49 other images, as part of the Transitional Landscapes exhibition currently at the gallery (until June 10th).

2. Get accepted into the Boulder County Artist-in-Residence Program

This seemed like a wonderful opportunity to spend a week at the historic Caribou Ranch in the mountains above Nederland, Colorado and concentrate on nothing but creating. Lo and behold, I got it! I will be at the Ranch, out photographing at every sunrise and sunset surely, from August 28 through September 3, 2016.

3. Get a portfolio accepted by Black & White magazine for publication. 

This goal seemed to be a bit out-sized for me at my stage. But, I thought, why not try? I had always admired the amazing cutting-edge B&W work in this magazine, which is nationally distributed but has an international audience. I think it is safe to say that it is pretty much the magazine for anyone interested in emerging photographers world-wide who work in black and white as well as news about upcoming photography exhibitions, current events in the field, stories about the more established and iconic photographers, and so on.

I submitted three separate portfolios to Black & White–and they accepted one for their “2016 Portfolio Spotlight”! [Announced in Black & White Issue #116 August 2016, p.10.] Only 24 photographers a year are highlighted in their magazine in this way–usually with a short one-page article about their work and three additional pages showing their photography. Needless to say, I am absolutely thrilled! I am still not sure which portfolio was selected or the publication date for my “Spotlight”, but I’ll do a more in-depth blog post when I get the details.

What a year!

Moral of the story? Set goals and don’t, don’t, don’t, give up until you start achieving them!

Possible goal for next year: Have my photography actually start to pay a significant portion of my photography expenses. Now, that will be a long shot! You know, the starving artist meme and all that…But we’ll see. Stranger things have happened, eh, ranger?

Photo Walk to Long’s Gardens

With the weather threatening from various quarters, Dana Bove and I, along with Supervisor Shauna, headed out today on a nice photo walk with a couple of budding artists–kids from The Source (Attention Homes). The cloudy skies gave us a perfect celestial lightbox for some wonderful, even, lighting…perfect for shooting the famous iris varieties at Long’s Gardens, a Boulder icon since 1905.

One of the young artists in action.
One of the young artists in action.

It will be fun to go through the memory cards on the kids’ cameras to see what they came up with. Being young, creative, and uninhibited, they always seem to find unique perspectives or subjects. We will post-process and print off a few of their best and bring them to our next photo “class” at The Source. I think the kids like to see their work printed–something that doesn’t happen often these days in this world of Facebook, Instagram, 500pix, Flickr, Twizzler, Tweeter, and Twang (or whatever). [NOTE: Some of their better photographic work can usually be seen and purchased at the annual spring Attention Homes fundraiser, Kaleidoscope.]

Although the rows of irises at Long’s were quite attractive (that is what they are famous for, after all!), there were other oddities about the farm that pulled on my personal monochrome eyeballs.

All of the following images came from the tiny Sony RX100iv, an excellent mirrorless camera if you happen to be looking for something that is very pocket-portable, shoots RAW, has a bit of telephoto flexibility (24mm-70mm equivalent), surprisingly good low light capability, and enough megapixels (20mp, to be precise) to easily produce 13″ x 19″ prints.

 

First, there were the two Ford trucks, slowly being swallowed by the spring grasses and the passage of time. Oh, the stories they would tell if only their radiator grills could speak!

Sunken Ford at Long's Gardens. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Sunken Ford at Long’s Gardens. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Sunken Ford with VW Escort. Long's Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Sunken Ford with Sleek VW Escort. Long’s Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Sunken Ford, Detail. Long's Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Sunken Ford, Detail. Long’s Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Sunken Ford, #2. Long's Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Sunken Ford, #2. Long’s Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Ford Cockpit. Long's Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Ford Cockpit. Long’s Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

And, of course, the trucks needed their very own Texaco Sky Chief fuel pump, right?

Sky Chief. Long's Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Sky Chief. Long’s Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Finally, a memorial to the many thousands of citizen gardeners who have passed this way over the decades to help work the fields or to harvest and purchase a unique variety of iris for their own backyard garden:

Gardener's Fence. Long's Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Gardener’s Fence. Long’s Gardens, Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

A big thanks to Catherine Long Gates and her husband Dennis for their conversation and fine hospitality at The Gardens!

In Navajo Land: The Red Mesa Redskins!

Red Mesa Redskins. Red Mesa, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
Red Mesa Redskins. Red Mesa, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016

 

Yes, that is indeed their official high school mascot–just like that other team in Washington, D.C.

Here’s the thing. The Red Mesa Redskins can be found on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona! And apparently there is a fairly solid base of support throughout the Navajo community for keeping the name, despite all the hullabaloo over the pro football team’s identical mascot.

Perhaps the explanation is this (assuming, of course, that there really is support for the “Redskins”): They are keeping the name in order to co-opt it as their own thus de-arming it as a potentially racist term. Own it, and the meanness dissipates. Just my theory.

For more in-depth background on this interesting situation, here is a link to an October 26, 2014 article in the Washington Post: In Arizona, a Navajo high school emerges as a defender of the Washington Redskins.

At The Power Place On Navajo Land (And Other Thoughts)

Somewhere on the highway between Tuba City and Kayenta you will see a sign announcing “The Power Place” (or ex-place, now?), a Christian outreach center on the reservation. Personally, I find proselytizing to be offensive, belittling to the culture being “taught”, and I think it smacks of hubris (“I have the truth and I am here to give it to you.”).

Let folks make their own way in life, I say. Let them have and maintain their own traditions.

If you really want to sell a point of view to someone, use attraction, not promotion.

All this IMHO, of course.

 

Abandoned. Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
Abandoned. Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016

Diné (as painted on the above ruined building) is what the Navajos will call themselves, meaning “the people” or “the Navajo people”. The Navajo Nation certainly has a proud history–who hasn’t heard of the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II? Or, how about the war chief Manuelito?

In the first example, I cite a group that fought for the dominant white culture. In the second, someone who led the Navajo Nation against the oppression of the U.S. government (until that was no longer a viable option, anyway).

I find it interesting that we (as in the dominant culture) tend to celebrate the Native Americans who worked with us and signed peace treaties with us, and adopted our culture (Pocahontas, Sacajawea, anyone?)…while, at the same time, largely ignoring those Native Americans who fought valiantly to defend their own culture and people. Ethnocentrism at its best, dontcha know, and to the victor go the history books.

Today, the Navajo Nation is the richest (not counting casino earnings) and most populous of the native tribes in the U.S. as well as owning the largest physical land area–over 27,000 square miles (larger than West Virginia!). Still, something like 40% of the tribe has no running water. Alcoholism takes its toll as individuals search for an identity that walks the painful, jagged line between Diné traditions and the economic and social demands of the outside, off-res, culture. Obesity and diabetes are manifest now that high-caloric fast food is readily available.

Yes, Navajo Land is a place of great beauty, but also of great contradictions…a land of great pride and of high hopes–but, unfortunately, it is also a cauldron for an unfortunate stew of problems (as are many of our reservations in the West).

 

On a more positive note, below is yet another example of Jetsonorama’s huge installation art posters. Depicted are Mae Jean Begay (struggling with a mobile phone) and Mary Reese, daughter and mother, respectively:

Abandoned, #2. Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
Abandoned, #2. Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016

 

One final look at the site as the butterflies flutter and hover about. Hope? Pride? Despair?

The Power Place. Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
The Power Place. Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016

Quinton’s Rainbow

And one more photograph from the Navajo Nation near the Four Corners area, this one quite poignant. The combination of Shiprock on the horizon and the partial rainbow just above Quinton’s flowers and framed portrait was calling out to me. Or perhaps it was Quinton himself who was calling me? Below the image, you will find more on Quinton’s story…

Quinton's Rainbow. Navajo Nation, Colorado, 2016
Quinton’s Rainbow. Navajo Nation, Colorado, 2016

 

This is really a story of how we don’t actually die…that existence in some form or another is eternal. Here is a brief explanation of what Quinton’s father learned as quoted from the Press Release tab of the Quinton’s Messages website:

Ernie Jackson’s Memoir Revisits Painful Loss, Inspiring Realization

The tragic death of his son awakens his spiritual understanding of the transition after life

CONIFER, Colo. – Ernie Jackson’s memoir Quinton’s Messages (published by iUniverse) follows his journey to enlightenment as a father – from a childhood marred with violence and fear, into his adult years where he realized something was missing. Living a seemingly ideal life with his wife and two children, Jackson was looking for a sign showing him what he should be doing with the rest of his life up until his family’s last vacation together as a family of four in June of 2009.

As the vacation nears, everything feels different. Something has everyone on edge, looking over their shoulders for what might be pursuing them as they set out for a houseboat on Lake Powell. On their way home after vacation the unfathomable happens. Quinton dies in an accident that is so unusual that the Jacksons can hardly accept it as reality. As Jackson says, “It was as if God himself was present saying ‘Ernie, you are not in control and it is time for your son to come home’”. It just made no sense that Kristine and Ernie survived, while Quinton was called home.

Jackson explains how Quinton first made his presence known within a week of his passing. It is at this point Jackson and his wife realize that Quinton still “is”, even though he isn’t there with them. This epiphany opens them up to a considerably expanded view of reality, preparing them for Quinton’s visitations.

Quinton’s Messages describes Jackson’s understanding of the impact Quinton had on everyone in his life. As Quinton visits his parents, they begin to consider his life as an example of how they should live their lives.

As Jackson heals, he begins sharing the astonishing experiences they are having, and a funny thing happens: people who had suffered through the loss of a loved one share equally, if not more, astonishing events. As Jackson sees the impact of his family’s experiences on others, he begins to wonder how common it is for people to sense their departed loved ones.

With Quinton’s Messages Jackson shares his journey of spiritual awakening – a journey he says was made “on the wings of Quinton’s transition.”

 

For the complete spiritual journey, Quinton’s Messages and the follow-on book Quinton’s Legacy are both available on the Quinton’s Messages website. The next time you pass this way, stop by for a moment of reflection and silence at this beautiful spot that is an overview with a view of the entire universe…and punctuated by the Shiprock formation on the far horizon reaching into the sky like a giant Gothic cathedral.

POSTSCRIPT: For additional background on this story (and more thoughts on the power of forgiveness), here is an interview with Ernie Jackson, Quinton’s father, on the website Heal You First: “Ernie Jackson Shares His Story of Forgiveness“.

Or, if you prefer a video, here is Quinton’s father in a two-minute interview:

Tumultuous Skies

Most of the times I have crossed through or visited the Navajo Nation, the skies have been of the classic Arizona “blue-forever” kind with nary a cloud to be spotted (except for maybe a few cumulus hovering over the San Francisco Peaks or Navajo Mountain).

For me, it is the sky–and the filtered and varied light it generally tends to produce–that really make an image interesting. When I look back at my favorites, the one common denominator of my landscapes seems to be a stormy or unsettled sky.

I guess I like the dynamism that is introduced (vice the static feeling of a plain sky). I also think, as I press the shutter, that the scene is one that will never, ever, be repeated in exactly the same way…just one of an infinite number of combinations of the elements.

So…I was quite happy as I crossed over Navajo Land last week as the heavens exploded with vapor in all its myriad forms.

 

For those who have traveled by this spot just above Kayenta, who hasn’t been compelled to stop for a photo op?

Agathla View. Near Kayenta, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
Agathla View. Near Kayenta, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016

 

With most of the landscape in shadow, a beam of light illuminates the massive volcanic plug of Shiprock, a landmark of great importance in Navajo history and religion. It actually lies in the state of New Mexico and I captured this image from the very southwestern corner of Colorado near the Four Corners site:

Shiprock Horizon. Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
Shiprock Horizon. Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016

 

This one is my favorite of the three–although some may criticize so much black in the middle of the image which widely separates the desert landscape from the clouds above. Whatever. I like it anyway. I believe this mesa, on the edge of the Navajo reservation, is part of Ute Mountain tribal lands:

Storm Over West Ute Mesa. Near Cortez, Colorado, 2016
Storm Over West Ute Mesa. Near Cortez, Colorado, 2016

More Jetsonorama in Navajo Land

Here are a few more images of Jetsonorama’s huge photo poster project on the Navajo Reservation. This time (hallelujah!), in color…

This perfect urban art canvas, made up of four tanks, you will find at Gray Mountain, about 40 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona on Highway 89, right on the border with the Navajo Nation. The woman in traditional dress on the right is Mary Williams, and at Jetsonorama’s link HERE, you can see a wonderful image of Lee and Effie Begay posing in front of the giant portrait. What do they have to do with the poster portrait? Well, Mary Williams is Effie’s aunt. Beautiful!

Four Tanks, #1. Gray Mountain, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
Four Tanks, #1. Gray Mountain, Arizona, 2016

 

How about a better close-up shot of Mrs. Williams:

Mary Williams. Gray Mountain, Arizona, 2016
Mary Williams. Gray Mountain, Arizona, 2016

 

On the opposite side of the tanks is a two-word phrase–and very positive message–you can spot in many places across the Navajo Nation. I am not sure if this was done by Jetsonorama as it doesn’t quite look like his style. Still, a nice acclamation, if a bit weathered from the trials and tribulations of life itself:

Four Tanks, #2. Gray Mountain, Arizona, 2016
Four Tanks, #2. Gray Mountain, Arizona, 2016

 

At the base of the photo mural, Jetsonorama’s signature:

The Signature Block. Gray Mountain, Arizona, 2016
The Signature Block. Gray Mountain, Arizona, 2016

Art and Entropy in Navajo Land

Cow Springs Station, #1. Cow Springs, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
Cow Springs Station, #1. Cow Springs, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016

 

Jetsonorama is an artist (and medical doctor) who has been living many years on Navajo Land in northeastern Arizona. His installation art, in the form of huge photographic posters pasted to the walls of various structures, you have very likely seen if you have crossed through the Nation any time in the past couple of years–and you kept your eyes open.

His goal with his poster project was to help instill and affirm pride among the Diné who live a tough life among the deserts, mountains, plateaus, arroyos, and washes of this beautiful painted land.

I stopped at one of his installation locations recently whilst on my way down to Tucson for a family visit. In this case, what caught my eye was the context within which I found his art–a run down ex-service station that advertised “Standard Oil Products”. The place was obviously of another era (happier and more hopeful??? or simply more exploited?)…and slowly crumbling and rusting into the dust from which it was erected, along with Jetsonorama’s huge photographs of sheep–a mainstay of the Navajo economy and diet.

Like urban street murals, when the elements begin to take their toll, the original artwork begins to take on additional depth and dimension…of time, certainly…but also of nostalgia…of loss…of inevitability…of that unavoidable cycle of life and death.

Here are a few images from near the turn off to Cow Springs, on the highway between Kayenta and Tuba City…

 

A poignant graffiti comment given the context. Jetsonorama’s sheep (now lost, sans herder, and wandering aimlessly through the ruins) can be seen on the far wall to the right:

Remember Who You Are. Cow Springs, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
Remember Who You Are. Cow Springs, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016

 

The sheep, from a bit closer. The window frames a cleaner landscape:

Window and Sheep. Cow Springs, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
Window and Sheep. Cow Springs, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016

 

A shadow catches the photographer at work:

Cow Springs Station, #2. Cow Springs, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016
Cow Springs Station, #2. Cow Springs, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 2016

The Portfolio Review (The Basics)

Pozos y Casas. Dacono, Colorado, 2016
Pozos y Casas (Holes and Houses). Dacono, Colorado, 2016

 

As one of the participating artists in the current “Landscapes” show at the Ft. Collins Center for Fine Art Photography, I received a free portfolio review from the C4FAP curator, Hamidah Glasgow. That experience–plus the mutual sharing of our portfolios among the ten or so photographers who were present this weekend–turned out, for me, to be quite an exercise in right brain implosion, immolation, and expansion.

In case you have never done a portfolio review, here are some basics:

What is it? Someone, usually a museum curator, gallery owner, publisher, or very accomplished photographer, sits across the table from you for a mere 20 minutes and looks through your work. Some reviews can be very informal and low-key, as was mine with Hamidah. Other reviews can be pretty high-stress with national and international-level reviewers (see, for example, this list from LensScratch).

What do I bring to the review? Bring somewhere between 12-20 finished prints (in a convenient case) that can be easily handled across a tabletop. Also be prepared to summarize/explain your work and what exactly you hope to get out of the review in a 1-3 minute spiel. After that, be prepared for a discussion of your work that can range anywhere from soft and easy to sharp and pointed. Finally, bring something to leave behind with the reviewer. This could be something as simple as a business card to something as elaborate as a foldout flyer or miniature publication containing your imagery. I personally like the idea of a postcard-sized card with all your personal info and website on one side and one of your iconic images on the other.

–What DO I hope to get out of a portfolio review? First, for me, it is all about improving as an artist. The feedback you get can be extremely valuable. In a first time review, you may simply want general feedback on your print quality, the conceptual framework of your portfolio (does it make sense?), whether you are communicating your message, and so on. More advanced artists may be seeking gallery representation or a book contract. A secondary effect of a portfolio review is the networking aspect–those looking for new work get to know you and you them. And, of course, you get to know the other participating artists as well.

Just the process of editing your work and preparing for a 20-minute portfolio review can be a difficult and, thus, growing experience as an artist. Knowing that an expert will be closely examining the artistic objects of your blood, sweat, and tears has a way of forcing you to think much more deeply about your work and where you might be going with it.

If you are just beginning, consider an informal portfolio review with a local, experienced, photographer, then work your way up to the higher level reviews.

This is yet another excellent way to improve as an artist and photographer–don’t miss out!

POSTSCRIPT: For some additional images of me with my selected image, the opening itself, and our portfolio sharing session… CLICK HERE!