Michael Bilotta Photography Blog
- Published on Saturday, 05 July 2014 23:53
- Written by Michael Bilotta
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.
July 5, 2014
- Published on Saturday, 07 June 2014 06:23
- Written by Michael Bilotta
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…
June 7, 2014
- Published on Wednesday, 14 May 2014 22:59
- Written by Michael Bilotta
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…"
- Published on Monday, 12 May 2014 01:48
- Written by Michael Bilotta
When I was very young, up until my mid teens, I wanted to be a visual artist, with my work appearing on the covers of books and in magazines. I was always attracted to the fantastical covers of novels and album art, and they were often a lure for me to buy those albums or books. I remember the wonderful album art of Depeche Mode and Pink Floyd, Duran Duran and ELO. I wanted to be the artist behind something like that, and it's a nice turn of events that those childhood aspirations are starting to come to pass all these years later. Imagery I have created is now in magazines, is now on a CD or two, and on a novel. So far. Hopefully this will all continue.
It was never known by me exactly how one becomes an artist for such things - there was no internet back then - and perhaps that is now no longer mysterious since the internet rules much of our lives now. Just in case you, the reader, are still in the dark about how all that come to pass, here is how I found my stuff gracing book covers, CDs and in magazines.
I started doing what some people call fine art photography (or conceptual art, or surrealism, or whatever you wish to call it) two and a half years ago. Before that, it was some portraiture, some dogs in the park, and occasional concept stuff with no real focus or direction. I decided almost three years ago that if my passion for photography was going to be satisfying to me artistically, and still not be a paying career, I should only do something meaningful to myself. That meant no more portrait clients and head shots, and certainly no weddings (I have never done one). I have always had a need to create something I consider art. Been doing it since I could walk, in various mediums. Until photography came along, I was a songwriter/performer, and that was satisfying - I was writing introspective songs that meant something to me. Anyway, once I focused my photography on conceptual art, I started to care about it more - it was becoming art for me, after several years of it being more of a technical exercise.
When you are a photographer in this day and age, you have several ways of getting your work seen. Flickr.com, 500px.com, SmugMug, BlueCanvas, RedBubble, the list goes on. I am or have been on all those sites. They work. You have to be vigilant and attentive, but you can start building an audience. Some of the people in that potential audience work at stock image agencies like Getty Images, ArcAngel, Trevillion. They will reach out to you and invite you into a contract if they like what they see or deem you as potentially marketable. They take all kinds of images - it need not be conceptual or fine art. They are usual worldwide - providing imagery for dozens of countries, in a variety of ways.
Five agencies have contacted me: Getty, ArcAngel, Trevillion, and I don't remember the other two. Until I started becoming familiar with the world, I had heard of of Getty, so when they came knocking, I was excited. They chose the ones they were interested in. It's kind of a lot of work with them - you have to upload them, and fill out a lot of fields, and upload a model release (if needed) with the image in question on the model release. I have five old images on Getty - some macros of oil and water droplets, and a couple portraits of yours truly. Apparently they have sold some of the oil and water shots - I get a small check every year for about $75 or so. No idea who it's sold to or how to find out. Getty wants more of my newer stuff, but word on the web is that they don't pay as much as other agencies. Besides that, I just didn't like the method of sending them images - it's very labor intensive.
Next up was ArcAngel. They seemed to focus mainly on Fine Art/Concept Art, and I knew some fellow photogs online affiliated with them with good things to say. So, I signed up with them and started submitting my images.
Here is where I want to stop though, and tell you what was going through my head at the time. I submitted some of my images to them, but not all of them, and not my best or favorite or most popular. The reason being…well, what if someday these images become part of a gallery show or could be part of a gallery show? That being my ultimate goal, I didn't want the perception of being a producer of "pop art" to affect that. It may have been a little precious of me, or inaccurate, but that was what I was thinking. Plus, I wanted to test the waters with this agency first, and see if they could sell some for me. I think your cut is about half of the sale. I uploaded some good ones, but not my favorite ones at first. About a year into the three year contract, and they have sold one cover. A Polish novel is now on stands, presumably only in Poland, with an image of mine on it. I have to say, this is pretty cool - it's satisfying and a little surreal for that to happen, and it certainly feels good.
And now here's the not so great news.
I found out about the sale from the company's Facebook page, no notification of the sale came to me. I inquired about how much the sale was for and when I might get the money. I was told the client had six to twelve months to pay for it, and they never told me how much I would get. I got it about six months laters, and it was less than $200. So, that's not much. I am told that European publications don't fetch as much as the U.S markets, so those are the Holy Grail. I decided that I needed to upload some more images to my profile there, and some of my better ones. Maybe that would help sell more for me. I still held back my personal best. It's now a year and half into the three year contract and as far as I know, I have not made another sale. It's easy to blame the company, and I do feel they are not great at promoting their artists, but maybe my stuff is not universal enough, too specific, not really sure. Whatever the reason, I am a little displeased with how things are going so far with ArcAngel, and I decided to not upload anything further. And here is why - and let this be a caveat to you if you are unfamiliar with this world:
I cannot sell the images i have sent to the agency on my own without their involvement, without them taking half. That is the risk you take, and that is pretty common. Even if they failed to sell them, and I did, they will be entitled to half because they "own" them for the life of the contract. And that life is three years. So, at this point, those images are their property and I can't sell them for another eighteen months. Besides that, uploading to this agency is also a pain - you have to upscale them to larger than native resolution and prepare them - you have to go through this horrible and extensive tagging process for each one, and the tags have to be ones ArcAngel have established. Finding out what those tags are is not easy, and it can take a full day just doing the tagging to a dozen images. The contributor interface on their site is not great either. These are of course my opinions, but they are true from my point of view nevertheless.
Next, I was contacted by Trevillion. I was pretty much done with the whole stock image process at this point and ignored their first couple of messages, and I even called them to ask about some of the processes. The exclusivity of the contract just never sat well with me. The idea that they own them outright is just really off-putting. But, Trevillion is a big up and comer, their site and art looks great, and I again got some feedback from a friend and contributor of theirs that I respect saying they really do work hard to promote your images. Plus, and this was the big lure, THEY tag your work - all you have to do is send them, and they take care of the marketing. Now this is how it should be, in my opinion. If you are going to own these and take half, you should do some of the work too. So, I have sent them a submission, and I held none of the good stuff back. I am going all in, and hoping this agency will sell more for me than the others. And the other big reason I decided on this agency being a better option? A one-year initial contract. Three years is too long.
Now, onto the magazines…
I have been in Camera Obscura Journal, Practical Photoshop, Vitruvian Lens, and Healthy Living. The first three were requests for interviews or tutorials of images, and Camera Obscura was the result of winning their annual photography competition. These interviews and tutorials mean a lot of work for the artist. You get a list of questions and you have to write all the replies out. Tutorials can take a long time too, and you will likely have to show them images from all stages of the construction of the image. More writing and a lot of images to prepare for print. Healthy Living has been the only magazine to buy my images for use. They have purchased four so far, and it's been a satisfying experience. Satisfying because they are buying them as is, and that is my preference - I want them to value them for what they are, and I am not too keen on doing work for hire. This is an artistic pursuit for me, despite wanting to make a living doing it, it must be creatively motivated. Commerce will have to be secondary, as foolish as that may sound.
However, the fourth one they wanted - something new happened. I was asked to make some changes. I posted the before and after photos above so you can see what they wanted and what they saw originally. My first reaction was "no." But I then decided to go through with the changes and the sale. The reasons were simple: I didn't want to burn a bridge with them, I wanted the money, and I didn't have a strong connection to the image they wanted. That last one was most important to me. This image was not one of my favorites; I felt it got away from me at the time, and that it was a little scattered and unfocused. There was a lot going on in it, and not a lot of it tied together well. It's kind of odd to get a message saying, "we need this image right away, but can you lose the priest collar, lose the blood, change the water to a field or dry land, and can you make the whole thing brighter?" It begs the question "what on earth did you like about it in the first place?" Whatever it was, I did ask for more money since they were asking me for extensive changes and that would take more of my time. So they said yes, and I made the changes in a couple hours and sent the image. That's the frustrating thing about all this though - they need things right away and you get paid maybe four weeks later. I suppose that's the nature of the beast, but it's still trust on your end needed - trusting them to do the right thing, trusting they will honor their part of the agreement. And if this was an image that I cared about, if it was something I considered a good piece of art, the answer would have been "no." Fortunately, this was not the case.
The last bit of advice, if there is any here, I would impart is where to showcase your stuff. All the attention I got has been mainly from 500px.com. The person from the magazine told me she scours the internet, not just stock sites like istock, so I would say that 500px is probably the most important site to be on at the moment. Also, be prepared to have the images you sell be altered before they are published. I can't say that I enjoy this part of it, but there is not much you can do under these contracts. Hopefully you can still see something of your original intent in the final product, and still feel good about the exposure, the business, and the fact that you are starting to do what you dreamed about as a child!
May 11, 2014
- Published on Friday, 09 May 2014 02:53
- Written by Michael Bilotta
It is the nature of life and society on this world that the titans of today become the obscure and antiquated relics of tomorrow. It is unavoidable, though some keep a vigil and a respect for the past. The dinosaurs reigned supreme in this world, and then they were gone. The Egyptians and the Mayans were the most advanced civilizations of their time and now they are not. The proud warriors of the Native Americans were overcome by the Europeans who invaded. The list goes on. It happens in the microcosmic sense as well; the strong man brimming with strength and vigor will eventually falter in the later years, the intellect of another could be erased by dementia.
It is the way of things.
To accept this is inevitable and logical, but it is still melancholic to witness or imagine. I feel that sadness every time I behold a beast in a zoo. The Lion, the king of the jungle, as he is considered, reduced to a prisoner in a paddock with throngs of visitors leering at him.
This piece is about the passing of our stories from belief into myth or legend.
The gods of Greek mythology or any mythology were once regarded as real - temples and shrines were built in their honor. As the years passed and as science revealed the "why" of things, those gods were relegated to the realm of myth and superstition. They became stories, tall tales. For everything we gain in modern society, we lose something too. Our connections to the titans of the past, the lessons and edicts of history, blunt and lose their intensity over the seas of time. Profound revelations of yesterday become quaint and debunked. There are no more giants, no more gods on Olympus, no Prometheus, no Odin or Zeus, no unicorns or nymphs. These wondrous and vibrant creations are no longer believable, and that, to me, is sad.
As we age, this sense of being overcome by the future becomes more and more tangible - we can feel ourselves fading slowly into inevitable obscurity - a coming twilight and the deepening night. It is a profound yet personal experience, and no one in the bright light of their life's morning can understand it or even want to.
We all have our time, we all have our peak, and we all have our slow fade at the end.
So why mourn the passing of the giants or the fantastical creatures of our myths? Because, like everything else in our stories, the truth of our lives is at the heart of them. Just as the gods and titans of yesterday have faded into fiction, so shall we fade into history and memory.
- Published on Monday, 05 May 2014 17:05
- Written by Michael Bilotta
There is a theory in social psychology that proposes a basic conflict in humans having a desire to live but knowing that death is inevitable. This produces terror, and a solution to the terror in the form of religion, belief in the afterlife, seeking immortality and even acts of violence. After reading a bit about it, it seems that the fear of dying, unique to humans, is the prime motivator for what we do in this world. The anxiety of our inevitable end creates laws, belief systems, deities, writers, artists, and it is a subconscious foundation in all our lives, whether we are aware of it or not.
I am in a stage of life where the terror level is most elevated. Apparently, it is high in the young, peaks in the mid life stage, and lessens in the later years. I can tell you for a fact that this is true, because it occupies much of my thought lately, and robs me of sleep. Looking back on my life, I think the terror of it was always there, always closer to the surface than is probably wise, and lately, with every muscle pull, with every outward sign of aging, I am preoccupied with it more and more. My terror management has only ever been one strategy: the creation of art, or something that will last beyond my years, that will be linked to who I was and be regarded fondly or profoundly. I do not believe in the afterlife, I do not believe in Heaven or Hell, and I do not believe in the immortal soul.
I wish that I did.
It would be a profound comfort to have those convictions, that this person, this collection of experiences and memories and thoughts, would go on in another form, but still be intact and unique somehow. I know people who believe that energy can never be destroyed, and therefore all we are will return into the fabric of the universe in some fundamental way. That's all well and good, and maybe true, but it does not provide me any comfort, as that still means all that I am will cease, and the identity, the ego, the pattern I have become will be no more. We are cursed with self-awareness and intelligence, and those gifts make the prospect of death a bitter conflict to contend with.
I am being honest here. I am being as personal as I can, and I think my terror level and reactions to it are not at all unique, but we as humans need to not speak about it, indeed, we need to put it away, force it back, and transform it somehow. Some of us take a dark turn and subconsciously transmit our fear of death into the abuse of others - other humans or animals, to feel we have control over it somehow. Others, like me, seek to take the terror and make some use out of it - knowing full well it will only help a little, knowing that the expression of it into art is, at best, a vague hope, a feeble attempt at immortality or at least transformation of the angst into a visual or musical expression.
I may never get over the terror, I may never escape it being a preoccupation, but my body of work is all I have to calm it a little, and this one is all about me, all about the fear of dying. The model is close to my age, he shows damage or wounds - cracks in his visage, he holds his head in angst. He appears to be in a classic realm of heaven - all light and softness, but he is not at peace. Above him is the "soul" or soul energy, about to be released into the universe. It is a tiny spark, a small speck of light in the end, and it seems like it could drift off into the void with the faintest breath of wind. If he could see it, he would surely try to retain it, to pull it back into himself. His body is decaying, his mind aches. This image, and really, most of what I create, is my terror management.
All these thoughts and feelings were excellently expressed in a death soliloquy by the character Roy Batty in the film Blade Runner as he contemplated his rapidly approaching death:
I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe...Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those... moments... will be lost in time, like tears... in... rain. Time... to die...
- Published on Friday, 02 May 2014 07:41
- Written by Michael Bilotta
It's not an easy thing to do, after all, to create a miserable place. As an artist, I tend to want beauty, escape, surrealism leaning towards the fantastical, but the idea for this piece was hope in the midst of squalor. That requires an ugly place for counterpoint, it requires an undesirable environment, to juxtapose a ray of hope against. Having just endured a seemingly endless winter of cold, snow and darkness, and now in the gradual warmth of spring, the last thing I felt like depicting was more bleak snow, more darkness, more cold. But universally those qualities are regarded as misery incarnate, so they are there now.
I assembled the almost post-apocalyptic wasteland from bits and pieces I shot at Salton Sea in March, and the model was shot recently, with my favorite overhead dish light. Perhaps being an ex-Catholic this pose and this lighting always reminds me of Biblical depictions of Jesus in the garden the night before his death.
I think there is something powerful and sad about being naked in this environment. It is cold, it is jagged and inhospitable, and to be here with no protection, no warmth, is about as despairing as it can get. As humans we look for light, we look for warmth and comfort. Our bodies are insufficient to survive most of the climates on the planet without some sort of shelter or clothing. As I built this, I imagined this man was a survivor of a holocaust, perhaps a homeless man, perhaps the last man on Earth. This place is a ruin, and all the power is gone, the lights do not shine, the walls, if there were any, are gone. And still, he sets himself near the light posts - an instinctual move towards something that once represented light and safety. There is a remnant of a wall, graffiti still on it. Perhaps this wall, with evidence of writing on it is a connection to another person, even if that person is unknown or gone, it means that in this place once went another human, and so he stays by it.
And then we do have a light after all, and it illuminates the man and penetrates the darkness and shadows of his sad home. His gaze is fixed on it, and perhaps he is encouraged by it, but he is not reaching for it, he is not perhaps convinced this is real. A key floats before him - a symbol of hope, of unlocking another time or place, hopefully a better one. And still he does not reach for it. I think what is important, at least to me, is that the light is there, whether he acts on it or not. That, finally, is the point of this image: even here, even in a dark place, hope exists. I think we find it instinctually, will it to be, need it to be there. I think it is connected indelibly to our survival instinct, a part of it. The need and the belief of hope, the very concept of it, has given rise to all the religions of the world, all the spiritual beliefs of individuals, and as mortal beings aware of our own mortality, the specter of death is just too much to bear without hope, without belief, without relief.
Death is a dark place. Death is a wasteland. Those of us alive now have never been there, and those who have passed on have never returned. It is a great mystery, and the great ending to our stories. Some cling to their faith, their religion, and some of us, who exist without those convictions, have other lights and hopes to ease us into that dark place. The hope that something we did mattered. The hope that we mattered to someone. The hope that someone will remember us for a time after we have passed.
My title is derived from two places. a verse from the Bible, which has been translated a million times and basically says this:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Peter Gabriel composed the music for the film "the Last Temptation of Christ" and one of the tracks was called, "Of These, Hope." The title suggests that the composer chose hope over love from the passage, and if that is true, I am in agreement. I think hope is the greatest power we have in this world, and it is hard to see most of the time, yet we will always find a trace of it at our darkest hour, even if it's all in our mind.
- the Paradise Trap
- Who Watches The Watchmen?
- A Dark Matter
- A Compositer's Mantra
- the cult of happiness
- Casualties of the Journey
- Low Tide (on going silent)
- Going Down the Path of Thorns
- 2013 - the year in review
- Building the Top of the City (layer by layer)
- Photography Books Now On Sale!
- Making a Surreal Landscape Out of Ordinary Shots - a video tutorial
- the bad and the ugly!
- Fables of the Reconstruction
- Museums On Sundays
- Shields Up! when real life invades your artistic life
- Unlocking the Soul Cages
- so you think you can print...
- Depression and the Tidal King
- the Demons of Failure
- Blending Layers and Digital Frosting
- gearhead, sort of...
- Making "Quabbin"
- Arriving at the New World
- Making "Myth"
- chasing ideas one layer at a time (a photoshop deconstruction)
- My Time in the Valley
- Negative Space
- Masks, Chess, and Blurs
- the Square Roots
- Deliberate Composing
- "Eleven Kinds of" Editing
- Behind the Mask(ing) - Photoshop Tutorial
- 28 Layers Later: "the Road To Reason"
- the future looks grim...the Arcadia Tarot
- a year In review
- Dark Matter
- the Death of an Idea
- The Complicated Birth of an Idea
- the tech of the shoot
- Attack of the Brookalikes
- Best Laid Plans
- The Subtle Savages of the Virtual Jungle
- The Hunt For Models and the Naked Truth