Tuesday, October 20, 2009
In many ways, this exhibition represents a coherent and even logical next step in an ongoing and eclectic series of collaborations. Earlier projects have included, among other activities, drawing, plein air painting, site-specific installation, local-source pigment manufacture, story-telling, canoe camouflage, portraiture, and printmaking. Like them, this one was inspired by an experience of place and fellowship acquired over many summers’ sojourns at Spencer Pond in northern Maine. Also like them, it was the product of a conceptualization and editing process directed at achieving coherence and unity over a field of work generated by a diversity of personalities. What makes this particular show novel within the context of our collaborations as a whole is its obvious uniformity – uniformity of medium, format, subject, and even treatment. Certainly for a general audience, it would be challenging to discern, without explicit attribution, who made which photographs or even to divide them into five discrete sets.
The source of this tangle of uniformity and authorial obscurity is of course the Holga camera.
The fabled quirks and lucky accidents associated with this device were of only secondary importance to us as we began conceptualizing the show. What really attracted us was the potential of the Holga’s rudimentary mechanism to afford us as forthright and unmediated contact with the world as possible. The less the camera can do, the less the photographer can do. It followed that, since image collection was to be so accessible, immediate, and difficult to manipulate, thematic opportunities would reveal themselves more freely, with a higher-than-usual degree of artistic unselfconsciousness.
The photographs were taken over a six-day period in August of 2007. During that week we ranged to and fro, this way and that, across terrain whose contours and eddies had for years become ingrained into the experience we fondly refer to as “the fishing trip.” And in doing so, we discovered – predictably enough – that we were often stationing ourselves in quite close proximity, one to the other, sometimes even standing side by side taking pictures of the same feature, the same aspect, the same prospect. This shouldn’t have been surprising, since every hallowed place must have an established iconography…but it was, a little bit. It was something like having another fisherman cast his line too close to the sweet spot you’ve been working. We weren’t elbow to elbow, as on Opening Day, but still...
In all, we collected nearly 800 images. These were developed and posted online to provide us all with remote access for the initial stages of editing. Of the original resource, about 150 were selected for printing. Most were selected because a majority of us felt a personal kindredness with the subject represented and also thought them good photographs. None were rejected because of redundancy, which accounts for the presence of multiple likenesses.
The final stage of the editing process was particularly revealing. As we rearranged images across a gallery wall, grouping them by one method and then another, the certainty with which we could match photograph to photographer began to slip. This was both amusing and edifying. Amusing because, after all, what can you do about the one that got away except smile, shrug, and keep on casting? Edifying because it reaffirmed the value of shared experience as the stuff of life and art. Focusing the project around the Holga presented us with an entirely new way of foraging in long-familiar territory. That novelty led us back to the same places we’d been going to for a long time, gave us a new language for telling their stories, and – coincidentally – suggested the importance of presenting these 53 photographs as an open body of group work rather than the impressions and meditations of five individuals.