This series is a divergence from my battered and abused original Painted series. That group of photos got shuffled, culled, expanded, renamed, re-edited—and is still in flux. Pulling these from those clarifies both I think. Though my generalized ‘Artist Statement’ at the bottom of this page still applies equally to both.
In Painted II I’ve been collecting images of unintentional artwork found on buildings around the city. Some of these are just paint jobs carried out without a lot of concern for appearance. Many are the result of graffiti being ‘removed’. In the latter, there’s a sort of dialog in paint going on between hoodlum-with-spray-can tagging walls, and building owner. Building gets tagged, owner paints it over. If you subscribe to the notion that ‘art’ is ‘expression’ then these represent a sort of anti-art that nevertheless result in some very painterly compositions.
OK if I’ve gotta put words to these:
It’s back to my seeing growth or progress in destruction. If this were photojournalism, the pile of wood might be the remains of a family’s home caught in the path of a tornado. As it is, this is lumber thrown out of the dilapidated house next door by its new owners. They’re tearing into the place and bringing it back to life.
But really it’s just a study of light, pattern, contrasts.
I approached this series as a way to ‘exercise my eye’. I left the tripod at home, and went on a walkabout, like a visiting photographer from Romania might do. Gabby—wassup!
No plan or concept in mind, though I did consciously try not to look through the camera, but into it and see the image ‘on the ground-glass’ in two dimensions. So to speak.
The west bottoms is a wonderful mix of architectures, ranging from very old utilitarian buildings that are still around from Kansas City’s gritty cow-town past, and proud masonry warehouses—some abandoned, many converted into apartments and condos. What remains in the area amongst highway and freight traffic, vacant lots, and drifters spans a full spectrum of neglect, decay, and rebirth. As a photographer I feel a little guilty of picking 'low hanging fruit’ here, though I don’t imagine an occasional indulgence will ruin me.
There was a buddhist monk named Bodhidharma who according to legend stared at a wall for 9 years in deep concentration; and when he grew frustrated with being unable to stay awake in his meditations, cut off his eyelids. I can’t realistically expect anyone to give these photos of walls more than about 20 seconds attention, never mind inflict disfiguring self-mutilation. But there is some value—I think—in looking at admittedly banal scenes with more than a casual glance.
I’ve been meditating on such walls as these for a lot of years without any good, conscious justification. And I’ve come to question the formal schooling I’ve received that would have me subdue the world with preconceived intentions and ‘artist’s statement’. I’m trying to un-learn such mental hamstringing and am growing to trust my eye. I accept these walls and poles and wires as a sort of visual koan, or Rorschach inkblot test and resist assigning too much meaning to them. Words can only poorly represent a tiny fraction of the full spectrum of possible thought—the fewer I use to try to explain photographs, the better.
On one level, the idea of photographing in 3-D is just a transparent gimmick to get people to look at my photos—like Lady Ga Ga wearing a meat dress. But on an entirely more sincere level it is an attempt to draw them into looking at what they might not otherwise, and if it takes something like anagrams and 3-D glasses, I’m certainly not too proud.
Besides, I find it pretty hilarious: the idea of presenting flat, two-dimensional scenes in three dimensions. And to heighten the experience of visiting humble Northtown, all the more so. Don’t get me wrong, North Kansas City—or as we locals fondly regard it, the ‘Paris of Southwest Clay County, Missouri’—is a beautiful place! But this is certainly no collection of kitten videos or gorgeous sunsets.
On one level, the idea of photographing in 3-D is just a transparent gimmick to get people to look at my photos—like Lady Ga Ga wearing a meat dress. But on an entirely more sincere level it is an attempt to draw them into looking at what they might not otherwise, and if it takes something like anagrams and 3-D glasses, I’m certainly not too proud. Besides, I find it pretty hilarious: the idea of presenting flat, two-dimensional scenes in three dimensions. And to heighten the experience of visiting humble Northtown, all the more so. Don’t get me wrong, North Kansas City—or as we locals fondly regard it, the ‘Paris of Southwest Clay County, Missouri’—is a beautiful place! But this is certainly no collection of kitten videos or gorgeous sunsets.
Photos of Noble Savages Enduring Wretched Circumstances
This series of photos is an attempt to challenge the assumed inherent dichotomy manifest in linearity, be it tangibly spectral or temporally idiosyncratic. And in the next paragraph, a graphic account of wild animals ripping the flesh from careless tourists.
This has grown into a collection of spaces defined by architectural elements. Not sure what it means yet.
So far what I’m seeing is an odd dichotomy between ‘open’ vs ‘enclosed’. And if you want to get analytical about it, maybe ‘loss’ vs ‘potential’. There may or may not be any more to it than that. But after getting Near Grinders, I unconsciously began to rationalize what it was I was seeing and pretty quickly the ‘concept’ ran out of control ahead of the ‘vision’—the verbal half of my brain had taken over from the non-verbal.
So I’m re-examining these. What you see here is a ruthlessly culled version of the original series including only those photos that most closely represent what my eye initially saw in that first vacant lot. Though I am beginning to reintroduce some of the axed images and have even added one. So maybe it’s begging to gel, finally. Stay tuned.
I've written multiple ‘statements’ about this series, and changed its name (from Painted), but when you get past the rationalization, what the photos are really about is willful blindness.
General ‘Artist’s Statement’
Words are able to represent only the tiniest fraction of possible thought. They can only provide waypoints in a continuous spectrum of meaning, and then only by convention. We can all speak the word ‘joy’ but that single syllable can only begin to communicate one individual’s actual meaning or emotion to the mind of another. And more to the point of photography, words have very limited power to explain or describe images. Words come from the brain’s left hemisphere, images are ‘seen’ and recognized in the right.
And yet the ‘art world’ demands written statements. Best I can do is this:
I find words, concepts, and statements are antipathetic to my work as a photographer. I personally struggle to silence the verbal narrative that happens involuntarily in my mind as I look at the world. My eye and right hemisphere will find some view or scene that resonates in a way I can’t verbally describe, so I willfully attempt not to try. And to conceptualize an artistic goal in advance, or to rationalize the capture afterwards destroys that wordless experience.
The exercise I employ most in my work is photographing buildings, walls, telephone poles that aren’t pretty, aren’t ugly (to my mind, anyway)—just banal. Meaningless scenes that posses no intrinsic beauty or quality, represent no particular issue or subject. Visual Rorschach Tests. Koans. The more I can strip away the distracting noise my verbal, left hemisphere creates the better my visual, right hemisphere can operate. And these banal scenes hold my eye for reasons that, say, a blue sky does not. Not sure why, but I can’t focus my eye or my mind for more than a moment on a blank sky or even a cloudy one. It might be that my brain needs something to process, something to consume and digest.
I may eventually add ‘subject’ as an element in my work—I can imagine a day when my mind is quiet enough to see an image that contains ‘meaning’ or even a ‘message’, but for the time being I will continue with these wordless meditations.
fine print: all images and text copyright Aaron Dougherty