Michael Bilotta Photography Blog

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
2014

 

 

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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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the Purge and the Lull

I have gone silent again, and it might be awhile before anything new surfaces in both art and speech. The reason? Overload and burnout. First, the overload…

We all know social media can be a useful tool for advertising and for raising your profile, and for photographers, it gets your work out there and hopefully your audience will grow. So you join photography or art groups on Facebook, you follow people, you hope they will follow you, and you post your work on all these groups and pages. The result? Over the last three years, I have done these things and I am now so sick of Facebook I don't even want to promote myself on it. I am literally inundated with notifications to the point where I can't even work on something without a constant barrage of interruptions. Notifications, private messages, conversations between groups of people. I have been tagged in things I didn't create, I have had people tag themselves in my work that they are not even in, I have unwittingly been added to groups that I didn't join or know about, and then assaulted with constant notifications from those groups. I have had to remove myself from dozens of them, and shut off notifications to more of them, and amend my settings to restrict people from adding me back into groups I didn't want to join in the first place. I get invites from people to like their pages when they have not done so to mine…it's maddening, it's exhausting, it's overload.

Another part of the game is getting press, getting your work published, and winning contests. Contributing to my current overload and burnout was a recent invite from some online magazine that wanted to do a piece on me, so I wrote my answers to their questions, and they created an absurd, almost insulting headline to go along with the piece. Before that, I had an interview scheduled with some startup online magazine/page/whatever, which was supposed to be conducted via Skype, and the interviewer never showed. Instead, she called me 15 minutes later and conducted a horrible interview in what could only be described as a college cafeteria or quad, with noisy banter and loud music braying throughout. The result of that fiasco was an interview where nothing was quoted correctly, names were mangled, and me asking for the piece to be taken off their page entirely. I also entered an annual photo competition which I won last year, and since the deadline for submissions was February 1st, 2014, there has been no updates about the winner. I then learned that the magazine is on "hiatus" for 2014. Okay, so does that mean that there is no competition this year? If not, what about the money you collected from all the submissions for this competition? Disreputable and inexcusable.

The point is, while this tool can be helpful to raising your profile and getting your work out there, it is also quite horrible and ugly at times. There is more than a little aggression, posturing, and star fucking going on amongst my peers, and I would rather not be part of this clamor, this madness, this garish display of king of the mountain mentality. Enough already. 

On the burnout side, I have been producing a new image once a week or so nonstop for three years now, which means constant, almost daily work, given that they take time. I became so plugged into the machine, so desperate to keep up with the rising stars of these sites and pages, that the work itself started to feel like work, like a requirement, and I was creating things whether I felt like it or not. With each piece, the social media part of promoting it became more and more a drag, and I started to feel chained to this promotional effort, just to get the work out there.

As your profile rises, as you become more and more popular, so does your daily critiques from both the qualified and the deliriously unqualified. I find little value and little humanity in the internet stalkers out there who disparage work and have none of their own on display, and their assaults on my efforts were not appreciated and not easy to shrug off. I finally reached a point where I started working on a new piece and just stopped and looked at it and said 'this means nothing to me, I don't care about this at all" and I knew it was time for a break. I decided to stop everything for a time, cancel upcoming shoots, and just STOP. What I was doing this for, my reason for wanting it, was lost amidst the chaos of this social networking and self-promotion. It became mostly joyless and a drudgery.

The moral of the story is, if there is one, is that it's okay to stop, to rest, to unplug from it. It feel like I am detoxifying, drying out from a harmful binge. It's okay to not have a constant stream of new product if it means that the next one will be better for it. I don't want to produce bad results, and I feel strongly now that it's better to stop and get off this highway if it means the work will be stronger for it. I am sure it will not be a long hiatus - I like what I do too much to just quit, but it will resume only when the joy in it is back, when the excitement returns, and hopefully it will be seen by more who may appreciate and find some value in it, and not by those looking to exchange views for the sake of climbing some social media ladder to nowhere.

Signing off, for now…

Michael Bilotta
June 7, 2014

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Making Patterns Rhyme

Finishing something from nothing is kind of a miracle, every time. I am speaking in this case about creating a finished image from the bare bones of model shots, landscapes, objects and anything else that goes in them. Every time I finish one I am convinced there are no more, there will never be more, that this is the end. But of course that is never the case, and the pursuit of the next one is soon underway. The other thing that can rattle your confidence and make you stop production is reaching a creative high point. I am speaking of personal high points of course, not critical appraisal of them. My last new piece, "the Sad Death of Giants" was, to me, a high point, and I was more than a little scared to follow it up, sure that nothing would be as good as that one. It also did not help that I am running low on fresh shots to use.

So, rather than do nothing for an extended period of time, I did what I always do when this scenario occurs: start doing a series of re-edits of older pieces that could benefit from some improved editing skills and the added benefit of hindsight and distance. It's a healthy practice, I think, to re-edit older work. It keeps your skills sharpened, and it gives pieces with good ideas but less than stellar execution some new paint and new life. But I may have discovered an entirely new way of sidestepping the fear of the next new one  - by re-editing an old one so extensively that there is literally nothing left of the original. Lo and behold, a new one is born from the ashes of an old one, and the curse is lifted without even trying!

Technically this is the reboot of a sequel to another one that was recently rebooted. Hard to explain. Perhaps this is better: Last year I created two pieces, "Is There Something I Should Know?" and "Atlas' Marker" that were sort of a Part One and Part Two to each other. I recently re-edited "Is There Something I Should Know?" and the edit was pretty extensive, so much so that it was almost an entirely new piece, but not quite. During that process, I removed all the symbolism of the original and replaced it with something a little simpler, a little more relatable. Naturally, I wanted to re-edit the sequel image too, but in throwing away all the symbolism of the first one, this really left me with almost nothing in the sequel image that was usable.

   

the original version of "Is There Something I Should Know? and "Atlas' Marker," above.


The idea originally was this: in the first image, we see a young man being guided through a field of ladders by psychic strings and his camera. He was letting go of his conscious mind and allowing himself to be guided by instinct. It was about the creative process, about letting a piece tell you where it wants to go, and not forcing it. The sequel image, "Atlas' Marker" shows the same young man from the first one far in the distance, but he is being led to a rather sad conclusion - a place where creativity is slumped and dying, decay and darkness are descending. The sequel image was all about a dead end, working on something and only to find it unraveling.

 

the revised version of "Is There Something I Should Know?" and "Making Patterns Rhyme," above

Well, that's not a very happy sequel, not that it has to be, but in throwing away the psychic strings and the ladders and replacing it with verdant branches emanating from the camera in the first image, I felt I had to echo the new version of Part One in any reboot of Part Two. I decided to start with removing the original model in Part Two, and using the same model from Part One. What better way to say "sequel?" I found a shot from the same session with the model holding the camera, and it was a silhouette, most likely due to the lights not firing with the shutter, and I thought, well, the first one is very bright and almost cheerful, so this would be a good contrast for Part Two. In it went.

Since this is a sequel, and the original was about all the possibilities the camera and your creativity can produce expressed in the branches, I decided that now the branches would be moved to the head of the man, the idea being that the picture was taken in Part One, and idea formed, and now his mind is taking over the idea - the next phase of creating. First you use your tools to create (a camera) and then your imagination needs to take it to the next level. I still very much wanted the man in the original image to again be seen in the distance in this one, so in he went. But now what did it mean that he was there, since the concept had changed so radically? I quickly realized that this piece was becoming so departed from the original version that the very concept was changed now. In the original, there was a creative death, in this one, the man is clearly still flourishing, the branches from his mind are even more plentiful than they are in Part One. What did it now mean that there was an earlier version of himself in the distance, still doing what he was doing in Part One?

Well, this is where it gets a little personal and autobiographical. Before explaining the why, I added two more young men, making three clones in the distance, all seemingly encroaching upon the man in the foreground. They seem a little benign, not really threatening, but that gave me an idea to infuse into this, at least in my mind.

For three years I have immersed myself in the wonderful, bizarre, and yes, creatively incestuous world of Conceptual and Fine Art Photography. I have seen thousands of images from hundreds of artists in my time spent displaying my own, interacting with peers. There is one thing I found particularly distressing about this world - the penchant for copying others. It's as if many out there have no ideas of their own and look to others for them, and then copy the idea, sometimes verbatim. There are some shameful examples of this, though I will not name names. One person does a floating woman, hundreds copy her. One person does red yarn, the rest of them do the same thing. It is usually a product of the young, the impressionable, and we all do it to an extent. It is part of learning. But others take this too far, and stop trying for their own voice, and hungrily stalk those with bigger names and careers for ideas that they can, well, rip off. Steal. Some call it "inspiration." It's not, it's stealing.

Now, obviously we all have influences, and I am no different. Anyone who knows Art History will likely see a lot of Rene Magritte in my imagery. It's true, it is indeed there. But there is a difference between stealing and being influenced by someone. You will not see an apple in front of a model's face in my work. You will not see dozens of bowler hatted men raining down on a city. You will not see boots turning into feet. Those things would indeed be me copying Magritte. I share some sensibilities with him, or, more accurately, I have absorbed some sensibilities from him and channeled them into my work. Besides, Magritte did not own exclusive rights to a Bowler hat. I happen to like that time period for men's fashions, and so I use it too. But not always.

Anyway, that's what these three figures are in the distance - the thieves, the stealers of ideas, the copycats. Wherever one may go, whatever fresh approach one may develop, there will be those that take that idea or approach and use it themselves, rather than looking for their own. I found it mildly amusing that my main character is busy working on his idea and unaware or uninterested that there are these usurpers on his heels. And I am not at all saying I have been copied - I just see it a lot in this genre I am in. Find your own voices, people. Develop your own way of doing things.

Finally, about the title…

Since this is a sequel image to the re-edited version of "Is There Something I Should Know?" which was titled after the Duran Duran song of the same name, I decided, unlike the last time I did these two images, that this one should also bear a connection to Duran Duran as well, and since this image is about creativity and those that seek to plunder it and call it their own, I thought "Making Patterns Rhyme" fit pretty well. This comes from the lyrics of the band's first single, "Planet Earth" which contained the line "Only came outside to watch the night fall with the rain/I Heard you making patterns rhyme…"

Michael Bilotta

May14, 2014

 

 

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