Safety cones

When you try not to let your editorial impulses get in the way of your creative ones, you generally give yourself permission to photograph whatever attracts you, and after a couple decades you may begin to notice some unusual themes in your subject matter...

The phone booths of Quebec City

According to research by writer Lawrence Papoff, Bell installed the first public telephone outside its offices in Lancefield’s Stationery Store in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1881. Pay phone use peaked in Canada in 1998, when there were 90,000 phones from coast to coast. Bell remains the largest provider with some 45,000 phones, mostly in Ontario and Quebec.

In 2013, Bell Canada and Bell Aliant told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that, of the 55,000 pay phones then in use, 10,501 phones were making revenue of less than 50 cents a day. Still, the regulatory agency found that the phones are critical for low-income or homeless people who don’t have cellphones or landlines of their own. They are also critical in rural areas and aboriginal communities with spotty or zero coverage, and are often used in emergencies.

I am not the only photographer who finds these relics of a pre-mobile era interesting. Joshua Nelson has a large collection here.

Signs

NY Manhattan 4th Avenue--11 Nov 2006 03;22.jpg

 

 

 

 

graphic designer in me can't help taking pictures of signs. I love well-made typefaces, logos, ads—and old hand-lettered billboards make my heart melt. I also love the uneven and unconventional letters of DIY signmakers, and how letters change when exposed to the elements.

 

Then there's the actual meaning of the words—the intentional and unintentional jokes. These images are just from Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.

Singular things

A decade ago I began documenting lonely objects in empty landscapes that I called "singular things." I still find myself drawn to odd relics of abandoned activity, but the series never went very far. Maybe these photos are their own singular thing.

Watching water

I'm always amazed and grateful when I learn something new and astounding about the world I've lived with my whole life.

This is how I feel about spotting satellites (yes, on a dark night you really can see those dim masses of technology orbiting above us) and standing eggs on end. (They say you can only do it on the solstice, but with patience, the yolk will settle to the bottom and an egg will balance upright on a flat surface, any time of year.)

This is how I felt when a 7-year old taught me I could curl my tongue, or when I discovered the left side of my jaw bone is ridged like a small bicycle gear.

And grateful amazement really was my first reaction when my wife suggested I might be, at least slightly, on the autism spectrum. Besides feeling near-constant overstimulation, having trouble with transitions, and processing some social interactions rather mechanically, I love watching water. Cats and autistic people, apparently, love to watch slow-moving water.

Note to self re: creativity

By nature, creativity is indulgent. It requires excess—extra time, extra effort, materials to burn. The resources don't need to be extravagant but they must be expendable. Embarking on a creative venture with a conservative mindset is like rationing sand at the beach. It’s counterproductive and unnecessary.

If you can’t be careless with the materials at your disposal, trade them in for some that matter less. Start painting on scrap wood—or on paper. Write in the wee hours of the morning or when you’re traveling and can ignore other demands on your time.

Your resources must feel worthless because you’re going to be wasting a lot of them. Spending listless hours in the studio. Forgetting to turn the mic on. Blowing up ceramics in the kiln. Accidentally deleting the best part. 

These failures are not altogether bad. In dying, each lost piece creates the vision for a flawless outcome that lives on in your imagination. It teaches a testy balance between anxious care and disgusted carelessness.

Set out to regain what was lost, if you like, but don’t try too hard to retrace the steps of your last mistake. Each piece pulls toward its own destiny and comes with its own potential for success and failure. One frustrated dream can birth a whole family of promise. 

Diptych, December 2015. Old color prints altered with saved vinyl lettering and stickers as I was preparing to move to Philadelphia.

Deja Vu

Sometimes culling through old photos feels like playing an immense game of Memory. Where did I see that shirt before? (Manhattan, New York 2008, Asunción, Paraguay 2009 and Chino, California 2010)

Portals

During a childhood trip to Arches National Park in Utah, I was mesmerized by the shapes the soaring red sandstone cut out of the deep blue desert sky. I tried to capture the illusion that the sky was thick, smooth material somehow pasted onto the rock. Later I made a painting of a cube where the front face of the cube was a square cut out of the canvas.

Left: Þingvellir National Park, Iceland 2011. Right: White cube painting 1998.

Around the same time, I became intrigued by solid surfaces that seemed to act like doorways. Top row: Lancaster and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 2014. Bottom row: Westbrookville, New York 2008 and Jersey City, New Jersey 2002.

Split frames

When I began creating photos made up of multiple connected images, I also started enjoying the way a subject can divide a single image. The straight line of a building or the flat field of the sky mimics the shape of the photo itself, and can momentarily trick your eye into looking at the photo rather than into it. 

Top row: Lancaster, Pennsylvania 2012 and 2015
Bottom row: New Orleans, Louisiana 2008 and Grindavík, Iceland 2011

 

Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania  2013

 

Inter-Laken, Colorado  2014