Michael Bilotta Photography Blog

the Sadness Will Last Forever

sadness natural 850


There is a lot of conjecture about the nature and reality of depression in the modern world, and I daresay a lot of people diagnosing themselves with it who perhaps do not truly qualify. It is not a "blue" feeling, it is not merely a low point. It is actually quite hard to describe, even for someone as verbose as I tend to be. I tried to recently, in a blog and an image called "the Pull of the Tidal King."

This fictional ruler has grown more and more real for me over the last year - as a way to describe the experience, he is as close to an accurate description as I can get. Image being stranded on a small island, alone, with little to do or see. You try to build a life on this island, but far across the sea, there is an unseen ruler, a king, who can command the tides, and, without warning, send a force of waves at your island so powerful it will knock anything you've built down, and temporarily drown you. When his waters recede, you need to do it all over again - to find the strength to rebuild your life.

The Tidal King cannot be reasoned with. He cannot be conquered. He is forever unseen, legend, but nevertheless potent and all too real. A tormentor, for sure, not directly trying to kill you, but rather drive you to it, to wear you down, to drag you under.

This is the metaphor I have created to explain my troubles, which have been lifelong. I do not look for mercy, for pity, or even understanding. I rail against those that insist on classifying people as "healthy" or "toxic," "positive" or "negative." To those that think passion, a word used far too often these days, must be accompanied by ebullience, consider how much art is created in people considered "dark" or "low."

I am not trying to justify myself or even classify myself. I am as honest with these notes as I can be, and I do not see a lot of value now in holding something back.

This image was constructed using some recent shots I took in New Mexico. It is not a happy image, and the trip to New Mexico was not a happy time. I went specifically for my art - to gather imagery for another year of creating my digital paintings, or photo manipulations, or whatever you wish to call them. I went alone. The trip was a miserable time from the start, and I haven't yet recovered from the intense feelings of grief that were stirred in me whilst there.

On some level, there is an imagined self - a construct, an idealized image you aspire to be. I wanted to be this person - this adventurer completely comfortable with traveling to a new place by myself, getting lost on new roads, not knowing what will come. I think I realized, on this trip, that I am not that person or version of myself, and I am not likely to ever be that person. I think I came to an understanding that the affliction or imbalance, or whatever you wish to call depression, which has been with me since I can remember, is here to stay, and it is indeed hard-wired into my mind. There is no surgical removal, no alleviating it, no simple matter of altering its course.

Why was I drawn to lonely, desolate places in New Mexico? Why did I seek out forgotten ghost towns and abandoned structures, or this place seen in this image - white sand dunes with no trace of water? Why do they speak to me so clearly? Why am I drawn to these towers that I imagine will be here after we are all gone? They are as potent a metaphor for loneliness as I can find in this world - a communication tower with no one to communicate with.

This image takes the two towers in this abandoned and lonely place and puts the man in between, his head removed, showing the circuitry that makes him as he is, circuitry that cannot be removed, that echo the towers - pointless towers transmitting perhaps, but no one is receiving those signals. To the chronically depressed, this is how it feels - no one really can understand or interpret your signal, and so there is a fundamental and permanent breakdown of communication. A man without a country, without a tribe, without a face, without a hope. There is no angst in his pose, there is a quiet relaxed manner - after all, there is no one to see your reactions here, no one to comfort you or even speak to. All masks are off, there is only the raw circuitry of your core being - exposed and reflected in the harsh isolation of the land around you.

My thoughts turned to Vincent Van Gogh this morning. Not sure why. Well, he was an artist known for his depression, or as it was considered then, mental illness or madness. Some of his last paintings were of wheat fields, and even in those fields, he found sadness there, and painted storm clouds above the wheat. I think that characterizes a depressed person more than anything else - how they view the world at large.

The alleged last words of Vincent Van Gogh, relayed by his brother Theo at his deathbed were, "The sadness will last forever." Years later, a songwriter named Don McLean wrote a song called "Vincent." It was a song to the depressed artist who died 80 years before, and the chorus contained these lovely words:

Now, I think I know what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will

Michael Bilotta

May 2nd, 2015

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a house but not a home


A few weeks ago I tried something I have never tried before in my imagery: a conceptual image with no human in it. Ultimately this experiment resulted in firing a blank - there was nothing in it for me emotionally.

Let me back up and explain the intent and the image itself.

We see a house at night. On the top floor a set of windows are alight, and next to it, another set of lights in an adjoining room, but dimmer. The house looks peaceful - trees and bushes nestle it on either side, but above it, in the darkening sky, menacing hawks fly overhead, and a faint wisp of smoke is seen from the brightly lit windows of the upstairs room. In the foreground, in front of a house, a coin-op viewer is pointed at the house.

That was all it was. What was the concept?

When I was 12, I spent a year listening to almost nightly fights between my mother and father leading up to their inevitable divorce. I would sneak to the top of the stairs, and listen as they tore into each other in hushed and heated tones. I learned things about their relationship, the problems they had, and probably I had a feeling that it was all ending soon. I was not surprised when the announcement came, and perhaps I was even relieved.

My image, which had the working title "the Divorce" or "Harry's Home," meant to convey this year spent listening in on the misery of a failed marriage. The room of light was meant to symbolize the fight, the two adults awake and tearing into each other. The adjoining room meant to convey my room, or me listening in to the goings on next door. The smoke coming from the adult's window was the heat of the argument, and the hawk overhead was the predator, the inevitable end, the threat lingering overhead. Finally, the viewer was symbolic of how exposed I felt in the neighborhood after the divorce, that part of the privacy of our lives was ripped away and we were now the house people gossiped about.

All this sounds well-conceived and functional, but…

I looked objectively at the image I'd made. There just was not enough of an indication that something was going on, that there was something not right, and at first glance, it was just a boring scene of a house at twilight with a bird overhead. I believe in the concept, I wanted to make this work - but in the end, I felt it didn't take the audience, the viewer to the clues enough, and I firmly believe a conceptual image should do at least some of the interpreting itself.

It's hard accepting the patient is dead. This one took as much work if not more than some of my other big edits. This house was not in this environment  - the setting, the lighting, everything was added and augmented one element at a time. Days were spent, seemingly to no avail.

All this led me to long internal thoughts on the audience for this type of work, and who they were and what they wanted. Who is my personal audience? What have they come to expect? While I believe it is important to try new things and explore the outer edges of your methodology, it is also important to have a constant line, a mark of recognition, a signature throughout your portfolio. Would this one look like it belonged in my portfolio? Sure, probably, but it also might be regarded as the least interesting in it as well. Over the years I have slowly been building up what I consider a respectable portfolio and my output has decreased over the last three years as well. This is intentional. I would rather produce half of what I did in my first year if that meant most of them were "keepers." In other words, I am trying to whittle down the lesser pieces, the ones that needed more time, the ones that had every good intention but in the end, found themselves lacking.

I also have had recently the opportunity to talk about Fine Art photography with a fellow photographer who absolutely hates the genre, and has no patience for trying to deduce meaning from visual clues. I showed this person a few of my images, and he spent no time at all looking at them, and said something to the effect of "they look cool, I mean, something is going on but I have no fucking idea what."

Now, I am never going to win over a person like that. If this was the world of literature, this person would prefer non-fiction and I would be immersed in the world of allegorical fiction. I realize that not everyone will like conceptual work. But what is important here, in my opinion, as it relates to the "divorce" image, is that this is the attention span someone may have out there - and if they saw this overly subtle concept piece with no human in evidence, they would conclude that there is NOTHING going on at all. They will not spend time on it, they will not want to. If this was to be the only piece of mine a given person saw, what would they think of me or the type of artist I am?

I think this failed image and the conversation I mentioned above helped drive home something important - the need to give a visual punch that is immediate and hard enough that someone would sense something unusual about it even with the most cursory of glances. I am not saying that things can't be subtle, I mean that they need to have a potency - every element in the shot, that serves the overall concept in a meaningful way. It is not sufficient to put birds in the sky because they look good. It is not sufficient to tell a story of divorce with lit windows only.

I present the image here but nowhere else because it is not worthy of portfolio status, in my opinion. Lessons were learned, certainly, and surely I am better for the journey of it all, even if it resulted in a dead end. How to tell a story in one frame…it is never an easy task, and I have often said it is indeed not possible, but it is possible to assertively point to clues that make up a story - they have to make sense though, and not just to the artist himself!

January 28th, 2015
Michael Bilotta

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2014: the year in review

My third year in review. As always, this is about my creative year, or year of creativity, more than anything else, but as real life tends to impact art quite a lot, some of that might slip in as well!

So, here goes…

My year started off pretty well, creatively. I had shot two model sessions in late 2013 and still had a lot of material to work with. A bit of a superstition of mine is to make sure I start each year off with a new image on the first day of the year, and I did that with this one…

Better than my previous New Year image, I felt, and a good way to set the tone for the work ahead. What was in short supply was imagery for creating landscapes and scenes though, and as I live in New England, there is not a lot of variety to be had in winter here. I was also let go of my day job in November of 2013, a blessing in many ways, believe me, and this stint as an unemployed but in other ways full time artist turned into quite a long one - nine months of time away from jobs I didn't want to do, and the ability to focus on my art. I decided to go visit a friend in San Diego in March, and in doing so, capture some material for building environments with more variety than my area allows. For one week, I shot beaches, deserts, mountains, and a quick spin through Salton Sea gave me some really interesting, if bleak landscape material. The trouble is, I was low on money and low on model shots by the time I came back.

I managed to shoot three new models between spring and summer, and this was a life saver, as they all donated their time. This is something that unfortunately has to happen now - I simply cannot afford to pay models. I pulled together all my new imagery and model shots into what I feel was some of my best work this year. Every year I have been doing this type of art I inevitably produce some clunkers along the way, some I wish I never posted, but so far, 2014 is almost clunker-free for me - I am more or less proud of most of this year's work, well, okay, maybe a few not so much…

As I had a significant amount of time on my hands this year, I also found time to get back to making some music, something I put down three years ago to focus on the visual arts, and as ever, it is pretty much an all-consuming affair. As the summer came and went, I found I had needed a break from the visuals anyway, had little material left to work with, and dove deeply into recording, and even writing some new music.

Three things happened this summer that made the break from photography longer than expected. The first was the completion of this piece: 

When I completed it, I felt something new. Beyond the usual but brief euphoria accompanying the completion of anything, I also felt, quite strongly, that this was my best piece yet. It had a lot of my sentiment and feeling in it, technically was a strong one for me, and to me, packed a strong punch visually. After the euphoria wore off, I felt…empty. Where do I go from here? What else can I do with this medium? It became a roadblock in a lot of ways, because I couldn't imagine moving past it to a better level. I spent some time after that retooling older ones that I felt could use some updating and a stronger execution:

But other than that, it was weeks before I tired anything again.

Another thing that happened was firmly relegated to real life. Simply put, I was out of money, out of unemployment benefits, and had no job prospects. The latter was not really a deep concern - after all, I never liked the jobs I had in the past - they were time killers, time I wanted to spend on art, and they were far from art. I hate working in offices, and yet I have been doing it for twenty years. But, we all need to make a living somehow, and I could not land any job I was interviewing for. The panic and stress of this eventually swallowed up any space in my head for art.

Lastly, and this is a big factor to my time off, was some of my peers, some of my contemporaries, and some pretty bad behavior demonstrated online. As immersed as I have been in growing my art online on various sites, I watch how some people handle their presence, how they come across, what message, if any, are they broadcasting. I didn't like what I was seeing in a few of them, and the whole ugly affair made me want to just leave the online world behind altogether. I won't name names, I won't go into detail, but it did help me decide on what I wanted to put forth for myself, and who I wanted to be online. Simply put: myself. No affectations, no dripping sentiment, no hate mongering, no positivity for positivity's sake. Honest, and focused on the work, not the formulaic cliches of those aspiring for fame in this weird online world of art we are in.

Anyway, back to the year…

So, in late July, my time, money, and hope was up, and no job. And then I was shown a listing for a job - a real company, a fairly large one, looking for a Photoshop Retoucher. A what? Is this a real job? And could it be any more ideal for someone who has spent 14 years obsessed with Photoshop?? Yes, in fact it was a real job, and I lobbied for it hard - I went after it like no job before. Imagine a chance to earn your living something that interests you, that you don't loathe, that is at least closer to something that matters to you. I couldn't imagine it  - it never happened before! Anyway, the money was not great at all, in fact, it was almost half of what I was making before, but this would be a chance to better my future doing something creative, or at least a chance, and I had to try for it. I got it - and suddenly was gainfully employed as a full-time Photoshop Retoucher. I work in a photo studio now, I edit about 50 photos a day, and work with the photographers and art directors on compositing elements to create rooms out of nothing, adding furniture when there is none - that sort of thing. At this point, four months in, I can honestly say I am grateful for this opportunity still, and now am not ashamed or embarrassed when asked what I do for a living. That is a huge improvement in my life. The money, well, there are some things more important, but I do wish it was a little better. Another drawback is, after an 8 hour day working on Photoshop, going home and doing more if it, well, sometimes even I need a break from it.

Slowly, as life settled in again and I adapted to the relative shock of working full time again after so long a break, I tried getting back to some new pieces. Still tentative from my highpoint of "the Lonesome Death of Giants," I managed to produce a few new ones that I quite liked: 

This year is drawing to a close now, and I can look back on the year's work - less prodigous than previous years but stronger work in my opinion, and can at least foresee a direction going forward. Certainly I will need some new imagery, some new scenery, but as always, I need more ideas. Without ideas, I am producing nothing but a picture with no intent, no purpose. I decided to keep doing what I do, regardless of online "celebrity" status, which, based on what I see it do to others, I can do without. I only want to be an artist, and really, that's all I ever really wanted to be, and have been. I also decided I want to keep music in my life and not take so long a break from it. There may be less time for both, but when I hit a wall with one genre, I can pick up the other to satisfy my creative urge. It's pretty great to have both now.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone for their continuous support, views, and encouragement. To all the models that donated their talent and time, I am so grateful. See you in the new year.

Michael Bilotta



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Even Here We Are

It's a beautiful flower in your garden
But the most beautiful by far
Is the one growing wild in the garbage dump
Even here, even here we are

by Paul Westerberg

This title and lyric has long been on my mind as a concept for an image, but the pieces needed for it never seemed to line up until now. Sometimes things come to you or come back to you seemingly out of nowhere and inform what you are working on. This seems to be the case here. The "garbage dump" I have been in has been a wasteland of artistic blockage for some time now. Life gets in the way, depression can stop short momentum, doubt can unhinge the most ironclad resolutions.

In other words, I have been questioning what I do and how I do it. This is not to say I am down on it, or frustrated by it, but restlessness within one's process is natural, and it is often advisable to pay attention to it. Long periods of emptiness have come this year, but it is also a natural result of pushing the art against its own pace, of insisting on output when a time of dormancy is wise. This year, for a variety of reasons, I decided to create a little less, and by doing so, increase the personal value of each completed piece. This may have been the least productive year I have had in terms of sheer output, but the potency of them was amplified, at least for me. They were each more satisfying for me.

Being after all a human being with the requisite ego that comes with that status, I did succumb to doubt, to fear, to impatience at not being artistically active for most of the last few months. I feel better creating, I feel more settled. No ideas would come though, or very few, and some time was spent contemplating what it was I wanted to convey and how I might do it.There are very few ideas that compel me strongly - this medium tends to generate a lot of repetition amongst the individual artists as well as the community overall.

When I visited Salton Sea earlier this year I knew there was a lot of story to be gathered there. Wastelands, ruins, ghost towns, a stillness and perhaps a sadness is easily felt there. A far better "garbage dump" than I imagined for this image. Being too literal with it would somehow limit the metaphorical potential. This ghost town is far more suited to an artistic wasteland, a lull in creative energy made manifest. Putting a man in the image to represent the artist, or me, gave me most of what I needed for the concept to be satisfied. Adding a touch of growth emanating from the man, in this place were nothing can grow, made it complete.

Waiting for this image to happen naturally on its own time was certainly not easy, but the completion of it, the lyrics, and the meaning behind them all became more potent for the waiting. It reminded me that the artistic desire, the need to create, the ability to create never really dies. It will prosper and live in even the lowest places and periods in your life.

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the Big Sky

The ancient astronomers of Greece were the first to postulate the notion of a geocentric system of the cosmos - with the sun in the center and celestial bodies rotating around it. The desire to learn the path of the stars, the heavens, is a metaphor for the human condition, and one for the creation of art as well. We seek - we need understanding, we need order and logic. To make sense of the universe. We can live with a mystery for only so long before we succumb to our innate nature to learn and comprehend.

This is true of my approach to creating these images too. I inevitably create mysteries for myself to make sense of by shooting things separately and trying to put things together to mean something, at least to me. This can be said of this piece, certainly, as it has been sitting unfinished for several months now. The pose of the model, shot on a blank background, and then several grounds and skies and objects were tried and rejected. For most of the time, the working title was "Hello Earth" - a nod to the song by Kate Bush, and I was going to put my figure on the moon looking back at Earth in the night sky. Certainly the pose of the model seemed to suggest a sense of "behold!" but the inability to go to the moon to shoot our planet myself, as well as my aversion to using stock photos for my images meant this idea was not possible!

And so, for many month he was just a man on the ground surrounded by a sea of black. I then found this armillary sphere, or celestial astrolabe, and decided that this was the object to finish this piece. I knew it represented the world in some way, but was not sure how exactly. I knew it was antiquated, but  wasn't sure just how old it was. It turns out it was a Greek invention by one of the first astronomers, Hipparchus, and it represented at first the earth in the center, and later the sun, and the rings represented the celestial phenomena occurring in the night sky - the eclipses, the path of stars, the longitudes and latitudes, etc.

Once I positioned it in the sky above, I decided this would make a nice bookend to an earlier image, "the Time Traveler" - the model was the same, and I decided to use the same environment as well to connect them. That image was about our connection and perceivers of linear time, and this one is about the perception of motion, or the order of things - the birth of reason and logic, the persistence of the human mind. I thought the arrow nicely mirrored the arms of the model, as if he is feeling the polar directions himself and trying to connect to the model, or perhaps controlling it like a conductor - the orchestra of the heavens before him.

I wanted to finish this image today especially, as it's an anniversary of sorts - three years to the day since I completed my first conceptual/fine art image and started down this particular path with my art. In the end, I decided to rename this piece "the Big Sky" - another Kate Bush reference, and certainly relevant to the daunting task the ancient astronomers had of mapping the night sky and the mysteries beyond it.

Michael Bilotta
September 14, 2014



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the Business of Dying

the Business of Dying

It started simply enough - a shot of a model walking away from the camera, mostly in silhouette. Lately I tend to do this - masking the identity of the person in the shot with a downward glance, a manipulation of the face, a from-behind angle. Why? Well, it's sometimes easier to keep it ambiguous, to lend the viewer some space for interpretation. It is also very anti-model, something I am gravitating to more and more. These are very few shots of someone posed, giving the cheekbones, the attitude and the heavy lids. Most of the time, I tell the models to almost never look directly into the camera. It's an aspiration to capturing a performance, an actor, and actors don't tend to stare directly into the camera when delivering their soliloquies.

That same ambiguity can have a reverse effect on the artist however…

What is this man doing? What is he feeling or thinking? What is he here for? While it's great to have a world of possibilities, it can also be troublesome. There are simply no clues except those I choose to inject myself. And so, like so many do, this image sat unfinished for a few weeks while I pondered this man's role in it.

I have always been fascinated with using cables or strings or chains and working them into and around my models. They are one of the few objects I have come to think of as "ultra metaphors." Strings, keys, doorways, lights, skies, birds, fire…these are all ultra metaphors - teeming with implied connections and meanings. They are also timeless and universal - two elements I look for and prefer.

You will see strings or chains or cables in many of my images - manipulating the propaganda and the destructive force of the boy in "the WarMachine," spreading DNA material in "the Prometheus Primer" and holding someone prisoner in "the Soul Cages." Sometimes though, you feel you have used up these ultra metaphors and grow frustrated with looking for new ones. And this was the case here. I had no plan on using them here - in fact, this image was originally meant to convey the slow march towards death and its working titles was "the Dying Light." I wanted a dim and distant sun and long shadows, a cool palette, and the man's pose seemed one of resignation. A lot of that is still in here - not much has changed  - but a man walking towards a dying light and the mountains isn't really all that interesting or compelling.

It needed IT - that something else, that extra metaphor.

While waiting for it to come to me, I spent some time making the environment, well, beautiful. I chose a never before used sky that I quite like, I dimmed the sun way down, and the mountains, which I have used before in images with this same model, were extended and softened to fill the frame. The ground was one I have not used before - it was muddy, chunky soil with some tufts of grass poking out - it took some finesse to get it dense enough, but I had no other ideas yet, so I spent some luxurious time on it.

I should say here that I long ago categorized and organized my growing image library of RAW shots into, well, categories. I have "Skies" and "Fields" and "Objects." One of these folders that I have used quite a bit recently, is called "California and Deserts." My recent trip to Salton Sea/San Diego/Joshua Tree has gotten quite a lot of use in the images this year, but alas, I was running low on fresh elements even from this large folder.

I was scrolling through it and I found some shots I took from the monorail at the San Diego zoo. I took the camera out to capture some skylines, some aerial shots of buildings, but I did snap a few of the cars in front of us dangling on the cables. These cables happened to be in roughly the same angle as my model and I thought they would go together seamlessly. And they did fit quite nicely…but…

What now does this mean? What do monorail cars have to do with a meditation on death and dying?

Actually, quite a lot if you think about it, and if you happen to make the journey all one way with no return trip cable in evidence! Once I added the cars, I had to manipulate the one good clear shot I had of a car a bit - I painted out the numbers on the car, and I removed the right-hand occupant in a duplicate as well as changing the head position of the remaining occupant to keep things a little less "duplicate." With the cars placed on the cables, I now had passengers heading towards the man, who now appears as a giant (or they are quite small). Okay so, what does that mean?

Well, I am not terribly interested in spelling everything out much anymore. I used to make writing these notes a custom to accompany each image, but lately have veered away from that. It is much better for the viewer to be able to see something and have the freedom to interpret it how he or she sees fit, than have a dissertation on what every element means in the piece.

So, the man, well…he could be death, he could be a preacher or a religious figure, or religion himself, or the sum of man's fears regarding death, or some representation of the passenger's ancestors. He could be the guide towards the underworld or a powerful historical figure - an inventor perhaps. It doesn't matter really, but we see his is the destination, the guide, and he himself appears to be heading somewhere as well - the distant mountains - towards the dying light.

I decided to add lights to the assemblage on the man's head as well as on the cars themselves. The lines of something moving towards light is echoed between the cars, and between the man and the sun.

Death is a one-way trip. We are certainly all moving towards it, but there is no returning from it, no reprise, no second pass at it. We jump in our cars and dangle precariously over the chasm of it, and look all around, and try to enjoy the scenery, but once in awhile we look ahead to where we're going, and realize how short the ride is, and it's rather terrifying. It is to me. While I never intended to add a return car or line, I did want to reinforce this notion of no-return with some empty cars that the man seems to be gazing at. The lights still burn, but the occupants are gone - consumed by the mountain, consumed by time, consumed by the great yaw of death. There is no going back. And what are these cars? How did some of them get there if there is no return? Perhaps they are the relics of superstition, of belief in the afterlife or tales of people returning from the dead? Perhaps these empty cars were put there to give us hope, to imply a possibility on cheating the darkness ahead.

I decided to keep the title the same as the working title because this is indeed about death, and the intent is not morbid, but reaching and trying to grasp the full implications of it. There are a lot of banal phrases and isms in use in our society about death and how to deal with it: Live life to the fullest! Live every day like it's your last! Death is not an ending but a new beginning! Yes well…

It is still the end, the unavoidable end of the only life we know, and it is so final, so constant, so inevitable, that I may never be "okay" with it. I think we all would like to believe there will come a time in our old age when we have "made peace" with the notion of dying, but I don't know. I truly wish it didn't occupy my thoughts as it does now, but when you reach the midpoint, when there are as many days behind you as there are ahead and the light is dimming, thoughts of mortality - with all its poetry, horror, ghosts and fables do indeed visit you more often.

At least they do for me.

Michael Bilotta
September 6, 2014

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Further To Fly

I have been in a bit of a self-imposed exile lately, in terms of producing and posting new work. There are many reasons for it, burnout is certainly part of it, but the other is the rather insidious nature of social media and the rat race that most photographers succumb to all in the name of getting noticed. I will not get sanctimonious here, or place myself above anyone, but the process of trying to climb higher, to turn your art into your career, has been largely on my mind for the past year. I have been unemployed for the better part of a year, from my day job of the office world. That has not been a hardship - I hated most of the jobs I've had to have in order to support myself, but since losing my last job, I have focused rather heavily on trying to push my art into a career, a way to make money. Naturally, one turns to social media these days.

It can be as savage a place, more so even, than real interactions.

One of the issues I encounter is my "genre" or a way of classifying my art. Am I photographer? Sure. But that's a starting point. That's only because I cannot paint. My pieces are put together by photographs that I take. So naturally, I am on all the expected photography pages. But it's not "pure" photography, whatever that is. There are no sites I can go on for mixed media, for montage, for composites, or whatever you decide to call it. And what do I find on most of these sites? Photographers trying to copy each other, trying to best each other, trying like hell to get to the FRONT PAGE. I also get a fair amount of criticism from so-called purist photographers, who mainly lack imagination and object to any "tampering" of a pure photo. On the other hand, there ARE in fact some people that arguably do what I do, in the same vein at least. The ones who rise to the top stop talking to you. The ones who rise to the top are safer in their content - no nudity, no religious subject matter, nothing that would cause a stir. Lots of children. Lots of beautiful ladies in lavish dresses. And then, legions of people all trying to emulate that style, that look.

It can get the better of you, and it did; this bitterness, this resentment wore me down over the last year until I wasn't even enjoying what I was doing. It seems that no matter what I do, I cannot climb higher, cannot garner the attention that others have gotten, cannot make the sales, cannot get the magazines. I have had some, mind you, and somewhere, deep down, I am truly grateful for those that do support me, that enjoy what I do. But I have also had a lot of disappointments over this year, and no matter how much you tell yourself to keep at it, to not give up, it can corrode your process until making a splash is all you care about. I have seen people I used to chat with on these sites, once they get some notoriety, turn into vicious savages - an ugly, swollen ego wielded like a blunt hammer, swinging away at the "less successful."

The truth is, I got tired of trying to climb, trying to get to the top, and I missed the natural thrill of creating "just because." I also produced, in this hectic period, an image I consider my personal best, one that I hold as a personal victory, and…it didn't do much at all - the ripples it created were no more or less than anything else I have produced. It can be a blow to your ego. What else can I do? What else does it take?

I would be remiss if I did not take this time to thank the followers and comments and support I do experience. In fact, in this 5 week hiatus, I have been pleasantly surprised at the level of viewership I have gotten in this dry spell, and I do thank you for that. The point is, that part of it should not be so important. It is if you want to get ahead, but it can also overtake the art itself.

I cannot compete with photographers. Portrait photographers who snap sessions with clients have a seemingly endless supply of images to post - usually it becomes an onslaught. This helps them make a bigger impact - the sheer numbers of their posts. In my best weeks, I can produce maybe two images. They take me days. So, photography sites are really not where I should be, but, there are no alternative sites that I know of to showcase my work. But I need to care more about the work than the attention, and that obsession with ratings, or numbers, or ranking, or whatever it's called can be a bitter road indeed.

I am trying to lay low to let the desire come back - to want to do this because of a compelling idea, not producing something for fear of winking out of existence and getting surpassed by others. This is a pretty raw confession, but then, if you have followed me before, you know that this blunt honesty is not new. In summary, I was angry that I cannot seem to get ahead, get featured, get attention, and nothing I seemed to do would change that.

I found this unfinished piece the other day, and to my eyes, with the perspective of this soul-searching month off, I found it to be, well, rather complete actually. It perfectly reflects what I feel, what I've just written about. The man has reached the end of the ladder, the ladder of success perhaps. He can go no higher, but still has his sites set on what is up there, past the frame, past where he finds himself. No matter the heights you reach, you always have further to fly. This is somewhat a sequel or a companion piece to an earlier one called "Further To Fall." The concept is the same, but this is probably the prequel to that one.

Michael Bilotta

July 5, 2014


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