Today we experienced the class participants assignments. The assignment was “extend the photograph”. “What?” we all asked on Monday? Sean cited past examples. Polaroids were positioned throughout a space (the space we were holding class in – one of the Polaroids was still in position next to the Exit sign years later) inviting viewers to search the area carefully. A viewing device was directed toward a scene and when used a composition of an orange in the tree was revealed out of the chaos of the total background. A flashlight illuminated a patch of gravel while audio played of footsteps running for minutes and then abruptly stopping, referencing a rape in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was so open ended, we struggled with the assignment all week. That means we all came up with more ideas than we actually executed. It was a great assignment.

What happened this year? Here are a few highlights.

Jeanne Reilly constructed an accordion display of the Center for Maine Contemporary Artists exhibition space.

Elizabeth Opalenik constructed a book shelf, part photograph and part found objects, inviting the viewer to interact with the piece.

Alison Shaw created two pieces – a dyptich of prints of water submerged in water and rephotographed and a group of 9 atmospheric nautical images presented in a grid.

Sean Harrison filled an old doctor’s bag with eggs and photographs, collecting ideas.

Tara Law performed a candlelight reading of her writing sitting on lace beside one of her photographs.

Virginia Hastings created a trail of clothes leading to her performance piece, silently reading a magazine in her slip and curlers in the bathroom below a postcard of Marilynn Monroe.

Maria asked us to partner up, one person the photographer and the other the camera leading them blind to a composition of our choosing before asking them to “make the exposure” with our eyes. Along the way we searched for her installations.

Jay Maisel presented a stream of consciousness slideshow.

Greg Heisler made two 20×24 prints with guides to view them at a specific distance to intensify the impression of space within them.

Arduina Caponigro constructed a manageable landscape of white sands made of salt in a pinhole camera with varying tops to control the light and tiny rakes to change the dunes.

Dee Pepe created an altar installation in a dark room with smoke and candles referencing the burning of her mother’s home.

Russell Kaye did a performance piece around the theme of moving, with boxes of photographs and film, destroying some of them in the process.

Sandra Lee Phipps first displayed environmental self-portraits dressed in orange and then left the building to release orange balloons in an orange cloak symbolically releasing a self-image.

People let go in many ways.

What did I do?

The idea struck me immediately on Monday when we got the assignment. It was a breakthrough moment. I got confirmation that the idea was good when I tested it at home on Thursday night in the open air. The response of the other participants further confirmed my impressions. What I did for the assignment wasn’t just an experiment. It’s a new mode for my work that I’ll start presenting this summer.

I projected one of my images of a sunbow in a dark room so that you couldn’t see the image. Then I invited viewers to find and help create the image by scattering flour in the air, which created a moving 3 dimensional screen. The still two dimensional image became a moving three dimensional image. A point became a line. A circle became a cylinder. Pieces were always missing but the mind completes the unfinished. The angle of view changes the appearance dramatically.

How did I come up with this? Mix part Milton, part Speed Racer, part scientific diagrams, part Richard Serra, part James Turrell, and a lot of the work that I’m doing now. The experiment really worked for me. I’ve been wanting to do environmental sculpture for over a decade. This is practical and timely. I’ll post video of one or more on site installations on YouTube during my summer exhibition open studio event (August 2 – 3).

The big message I got? Just get started!

Stay tuned!

Check out Sean’s blog entries on the class here.

Check out fellow participant Russell Kaye’s blog here

Who’s Sean Kernan? Find out here.

Read my in depth conversation with Sean here.

Read Sean interviewing me here

Check out my creativity workshop here.
Check out Sean’s creativity workshops here.

You can take Sean’s workshop at MMW this summer!

Flow was easier today.

It could have been we had time to sleep on what we experienced yesterday. Often, I find that in a research and discovery phase you get fatigued from becoming supersaturated with new information. Then you have to put the problem down for a while. Gestate. When you return you don’t just pick back up where you left off. Essential things, sometimes conceptual, sometimes emotional, sometimes visceral, have been processed. I think of it as adding energy into an atomic structure. Add enough and electrons jump to a new level.

Alison Chase (veteran modern dancer, former artistic director of Pilobolus, generally delightful woman) worked with us today. We worked in teams. Mimicking. Passing movements down chains of people. Working in pairs to find a common center of gravity while transferring weight back and forth. All the exercises built upon one another, culminating in free form improvisational movement piece. She had all kinds of wisdom to share. “Play with ease before you go for virtuosity.””In improvisation there’s always a gray zone. Don’t stop and think. Just work your way through it.””Don’t think. Just respond.”

Greg Heisler and I spent most of the morning rolling around on the floor together. It took a while to work it out. But when we did, we did good. It felt good – physically, mentally, emotionally. Then we noticed the smudge of gum that had been under us the whole time. Neither one of us wants to know where it had been before we came in contact with it or where it’s gone since.

At the end of the day there was a palpable sense that something had been accomplished. What’s more it was accomplished in a medium most of us have essentially no skill in. It was confirmation of the suspicion that even out of our fields something resonant can happen. Alison encouraged us to continue, “Get our of your idea and respond. Stay in and things come out.”

Oh! Also. Did I mention we’ve been laughing the whole way through? Play leads to joy. Joy leads to inspiration. (There are other roads to breakthroughs besides “No pain, no gain.”)

We have a big assignment for tomorrow. “Extend a photograph.” Find out what that means tomorrow!

I tested my project tonight. It worked out great. I finally jumped into installation/sculpture work.

I’m sure that the other participant’s projects will be really interesting.

Check out Sean’s blog entries on the class here.

Check out fellow participant Russell Kaye’s blog here

Who’s Sean Kernan? Find out here.

Read my in depth conversation with Sean here.

Read Sean interviewing me here
Check out Sean’s creativity workshops here.
Check out my creativity workshop here.

After meditation. After making marks with Japanese ink. More movement exercises. Free form modern dance improvisations.

We did a lot of distributing weight between partners – leaning, pulling, propping, lifting. For me, the most interesting was an exercise where we paired up. One person was the ‘sculptor’. The other person was the ‘clay’. The sculptor moves the other clay’s body into position with the corresponding body part – i.e. to move an elbow move it with an elbow. The flowing shapes were fascinating. At the end, Sean asked us to stop. And then asked the clay to walk away while the sculptor held the position. The shape of the sculptor was as expressive as the shape of the clay. You could see the missing clay in the void left behind.

Today was challenging. My flow in the first two days was excellent. I struggled more today. Trying to see how this relates to photography is a real stretch. Trying to see how I’ll apply it in teaching is less of a stretch. It’s good for team building. It’s good for improvisation. It’s good for shifting gears. It’s very collaborative. So how does an artist working in isolation with inanimate objects work this into his or her process?

My interpretation of what Sean is leading us to is that when we let go of convention (aculturated habitual responses – a language) and ego (our individual constructs for dealing with convention and society) we get down to an inner core (often unexpressed or highly filtered). This emptiness is full of potential. If you trust the process and just keep going, authentic responses emerge naturally.

We had a great breakout discussion at the end of the day. I learned a lot about Sean and his orientation to photography and other disciplines. It’s pretty courageous to consider giving up photography in order to seek a more authentic response in another medium like writing a novel, which he did temporarily. It’s pretty honest to respond, when asked by a publisher for 60 to 100 images, that, after a long career in photography, he has trouble finding more than 40 of his own images that really hit the mark for him. Those images still provoke a shift in consciousness.

So what do you do after a long day? Go drinking! My family (my wife, son, father)(and my assistant David Wright) had dinner with Sean Kernan, Jay Maisel, Greg Heisler. Afterwards, Jay and Greg came down to my studio and we drank wine and talked long into the night. It’s not surprising to find that we’re all our own worst critics. That’s good, as long as we don’t carry it too far.

Check out Sean’s blog entries on the class here.

Check out fellow participant Russell Kaye’s blog here

Who’s Sean Kernan? Find out here.

Read my in depth conversation with Sean here.

Read Sean interviewing me here
Check out Sean’s creativity workshops here.
Check out my creativity workshop here.

Sean (Kernan) used a great metaphor today. “For me, discovering photography was like finding a white horse in the woods. You get on and it runs away with you. I spent a long time learning to control it. Now I spend a lot of time trying to get it to run away again.”

I knew the week would be different. I knew I would be kinetically and theatrically challenged. I know Sean. I didn’t know how I would find a personal connection to the exercises. I did today. I’ve always been fascinated by birds flying in flocks and fish swimming in schools in unison. We participated in a bit of that ourselves today. This connected with my interest in sensed but unseen patterns.

Today involved more motion. Sean patterned a lot of today’s activities on an acting method called Viewpoints (Anne Bogart and Tina Landau). We moved to varied music. We gestured in response to architecture. We walked patterns in unison. We made shapes with each others bodies. We followed and reacted to each other’s rhythms and gestures. None of us are trained actors/dancers, most are complete novices, and yet the results today were surprisingly expressive.

The picture for this blog entry is an improvisational exercise in motion Sean Harris and I did together. It was surprising. It felt good. Onlookers enjoyed it.

I use other art forms (forms I intentionally remain an amateur at) improvisationally (being spontaneous and suspending judgement), looking for reminders of what it takes to enter, sustain, and direct flow states. Doing this helps my professional work. You can develop an instinct for flow. You can prepare for it. You can learn to enter it faster and go deeper with it. But you can’t will it to happen in any traditional sense of the word.

Letting go was a big theme today. When we tried too hard it didn’t happen. When we cast aside ego and intellect another part of ourselves kicked in – and things worked. It seemed to me that true mastery comes when this happens. Technique is learned and facilitates expression and reception but is aimless until it’s put in the service of something. Curiously, that something always seems to involve surprise for the creator. Discovery. Break through. So what does it take to get into that state with photography? How do you know when you’re there? How do you sustain it? How do you direct it?

I’ve got a few clues but no definitive answers. Sure I want more and I’ll keep searching for them. But I’ve come to understand that the questions themselves are more useful than the answers. They keep you on your toes. They keep you awake. Trust the process. Out of engaging the process unexpected answers come.

Who’s Sean Kernan? Find out here.
Read my in depth conversation with Sean here.
Read Sean interviewing me here.
Check out Sean’s blog entries on the class here.
Check out Sean’s creativity workshops here.
Check out my creativity workshop here.

(Kernan, Heisler, Maisel)

Last week, I taught my workshop Illuminating Creativity. Now I’m taking a workshop on creativity!

This week, my friend Sean Kernan is teaching a special workshop for instructors only at the Maine Media Workshops this week. Sean has a very different approach to teaching creativity than I do. He too loves to collaborate. In the past, he’s brought in people like Alan Arkin and the dance company Pilobolus.

Who will be taking the workshop with me this week? My wife Ardie. Oh and some guy named Jay Maisel. And another great photographer named Greg Heisler. And another great photographer named Elizabeth Opalenik. And another great photographer named Allison Shaw. And many more! I have no idea what will happen. I just know it will be a great week. Stay tuned! Every day, I’ll try to share at least one highlight here.

Today started with meditation. Nice move. It increases awareness. It focusses attention. It reduces judgement. It encourages receptivity. I often think we don’t focus on or speak about enough the states we’re in when we produce work, particularly the states we’re in when we produce our best work and how to get there. Meditation is one key among many. Play is another.

On the first day we played a number of theater games. Walk an imaginary line. Throw an imaginary ball. Play an imaginary game of tug of war. It worked when the participant focussed. It worked better when another participant cooperated with them. The event was changed by the group observing and focussing at the same time. Group dynamics (and how each of us responds to them) are fascinating. Collaboration can be extremely stimulating.

We walked and watched ourselves looking while focussing specifically at things and monitoring peripheral vision simultaneously. Taking notes in class made me even more aware of the elements in play while doing this. A significant new object or space demands attention. Moving objects demand attention. Motion produced by moving your body is less demanding. Focus of attention moves when a stronger pattern is observed. All patterns are contextual (patterns within patterns).

We watched Charlie Rose’s interview with sculptor Richard Serra. Serra speaks very visually about his primary passion – space. Its clear sight is one of the primary senses he experiences space with. At one point in the film he walks through his sculptures and the camera follows while he describes the experience of space produced by his sculpture. His physical gestures as he navigates his labyrinths make a statement like “This is the inside of the outside. This is the outside of the inside.” understandable. His sculptures give us a heightened experience of space. His work offers experiences of archetypes of space.

Moving in space seems to be the theme of the day.

What’s this have to do with making images? Nothing. Everything. None of us expect to make finished work this week. All of us expect to have a better understanding of what it takes to make better work at the end of the week. Sometimes not focussing on a final product, but focussing on the process instead reveals more and in the end, if that understanding is applied later, more work and higher quality work may ultimately be produced.

Who’s Sean Kernan? Find out here.

Read my in depth conversation with Sean here.

Read Sean interviewing me here.

Check out Sean’s blog entries on the class here.

Check out Sean’s creativity workshops here.
Check out my creativity workshop here.


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