“Listen to what your work is trying to tell you, because it is the mother of your next work.”

Anthony Gormley’s advice to artists, from an excellent interview on the Art Talk podcast. Lots of insight into his practice and all the wisdom about art and life that you would expect from such a deep thinker and practitioner. I also particularly liked his explanation for using his own body as a basis for much of his work (and interestingly, from very early on in his art journey):

“Can I use this bit of the material world that is closest to me, in fact the bit that I live inside, as both the tool, the material, and the subject of the work? Not because it’s special […] but because it’s the only bit that I can work on from the inside — from the other side of the accident of appearance.”

Lots of great stuff about his choice of materials and ‘the studio as a tool for artmaking’; as well as deciding early on with his wife, the painter, Vicken Parsons, on the life and art practice they wanted, and reverse engineering it to help them decide what to do in the present.

A man taking a photo of an Anthony Gormley sculpture of a man, that is affixed perpendicular to the gallery wall above his head. There is another sculpture of a man further up the adjacent wall and a young girl in a red dress is standing next to the man taking the photo.

According to Zola a work of art “is a corner of nature seen through a temperament”.

Via Edward Burtynsky from In the Wake of Progress

A Broad Church

Paulie B’s Walkie Talkie series is one of my favourite aspects of photography YouTube. I loved two of his most recent episodes — for passion both subjects have for photography, but also because, set against each other they show what a gloriously broad church (street) photography is.

Laura Fuchs is a pulsing beacon of pure joy who radiates throughout every interaction she has on the streets of NYC. Her mission is seemingly to meet everyone and anyone, blast them with her megawatt smile and make a portrait of them. Quoting from the comments, she’s “casually walking around giving people their [sic] best profile pictures in their lives for free”. I watched the entire episode with a huge stupid grin on my face, and if it hadn’t been late in the evening, I would have grabbed my camera to go and take pictures. Pure positivity, pure enthusiasm.

Jake Ricker has been walking the Golden Gate Bridge almost every day for four years, photographing the people, cars and views. The video gives an insight into his compulsion to make work about the bridge, and the difficult and beautiful experiences he has had while doing so. It’s a place that often attracts people in extremis, as well as commuters passing through, and working on the bridge as led to him saving a handful of lives as well as photographing car accidents. It’s often uncomfortable viewing — the pictures are incredible, but it’s heartbreaking to hear that he has gone into debt to continue the project and at times you can see how conflicted he is. Evidently there’s a tug of war in his heart and mind about whether the obsession is worth the psychological and financial pain. In a different way to the Laura Fuchs video, it makes me want to make images. Not because of the feeling of sympathetic joy that I get while watching Laura work the streets, but because his intensity is awe-inspiring (literally so: it inspires equal parts fear and respect.) It makes me wonder what I could achieve if I dedicated myself to a project with even a fraction of his ferocity.

The two photographers have very different approaches and personalities, but they’re united by the core demand of street photography — relentless engagement with the world, over an extended period of time.

Eternal Cognitive Locations

A car window frames a night time landscape, with the fading light of dusk seen through a hole in the storm clouds on the horizon. The interior of the car is dark and the landscape is blurred from by the speed of travel

I loved Matt Webb’s short post about driving in the dark, listening to the Twin Peaks soundtrack, his wife and child asleep. He talks about night driving as “an eternal cognitive location”, an in-between space, a thinking state.

In Matt’s lovely words:

I think you access something other and special when you escape time, escape selfhood, whether that’s driving in the dark or sitting in a hotel lobby or walking, that’s another one.

It does a disservice to this cognitive state to believe that it can be found only with psychedelics or meditation or whatever, whereas there are mundane apertures too, and we do a disservice to alternative cognitive states to choose to name “flow," simply because it relates to productivity, and to leave nameless this mode of becoming diffuse and sensitive, able to sense resonances and new ideas from species memory and from the future, and from there, pluck them, and return home with them.

Driving at night is just one of the situations that act as a gateway into a similar subtle and unbounded creative state for me. I love the feeling of being the only passenger still awake on a night flight, listening to music, perhaps looking out the window at the faint black curve of the edge of the world. Or being awake in the early hours pacing back and forth, lulling the baby in your arms to sleep using a combination of deep breathing and telepathy. Also, working late at my old studio on a Friday or Saturday night, the building empty, the present moment stretched to infinity, nothing beyond the glow of the screen and the warm pool of light from the desk lamp.

It’s a different kind of quiet in the early hours. Being alone, or alone amongst others is a big part of what makes it peaceful, but it’s not lonely. The tranquility embraces you, smudging your edges. Comforted, you’re able to let the tendrils of your thinking radiate outwards. The darkness is essential too — it drapes a blanket of stillness over the rest of the world — as if the only movement in the block universe is happening in the dimly-lit space that surrounds you. You’re outside of spacetime, gestating in womb-time.

The top fifth of the frame shows cars and their brake lights driving away from the viewer on a motorway, the horizon tilted. You can see oncoming traffic in the top right hand corner. The rest of the image is completely black, obscured by the dashboard of the car that slices down and right from the top left corner of the frame

Don’t think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide whether it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they’re deciding, make even more art.” 
—Andy Warhol

Some Recent Botanicals

Bush with pink flowers seen through out of focus chainlink fence and thin branches small green pot with red and green plant on side board in white hall seen through an open door. there is a white staircase with white banisters in the background red camelias and dark red leaves catching a patch of sunlight. The foreground is in shadow and there are the fronts of out of focus terraced houses in the background. A tree with pale orange fluffy hanging blossom reflected in the car roof in the foreground

Regents Canal

Looking up a flight of stairs at the underside of an office building entrance canopy. There is light breaking across the brick wall next to the stairs, illuminating the small tree with white blossom behind the glass barrier Backlit view across a city canal. There is a blue and red barge on the left and a worn grey and black barge on the right. In the background on the left are two cranes and a block of new build flats and a stand of trees on the right. There are two small backlit trees and a red bench between the barges, with a black building site hoarding covered with two large white and red graffiti tags
crow stading on top of building debris in a skip in front of a large brutalist block of council flats back lit by flaring sun.

UVA: Synchronicity

A few images from the penultimate day of the UVA : Synchronicity show at 180 Studios.

“I don’t have a philosophy. I have a camera. I look into the camera and take pictures. My photographs are the tiniest part of what I see that could be photographed. They are fragments of endless possibilities.” —Saul Leiter

In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.
—Patti Smith

Primrose Hill, December 2022

“All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice.” —Elliott Erwitt

and

“I am a craftsman. I often say that I am a photographer with a hobby, which is photography. Most of my images are commercial, but I also take pictures for my own pleasure. Sometimes the two go together, but not always.” —Elliott Erwitt

Attention and taking pleasure in the world — the two key ingredients for insightful, humanistic photography.

Jubilee Pool, Penzance, September 2023

Sunset at Jubilee Pool, Penzance. The Pool is closed and empty of swimmers and there is seaweed floating in the water from the fresh sea water that has been drawn in.

Going Critical

Going Critical — Melting Asphalt

I’ve had this essay stashed in my to read pile for ages and it was totally worth the wait. It explains the concept of ‘diffusion’ in networks using concision, clarity and interactive demos. Better yet, you can tweak the parameters of the demoes live to get an intuitive grasp of how, for example, transmission rates affects critical thresholds. Reading this and playing with the demos has given me a much better understanding of how memes, infectious disease, knowledge and culture spread through networks. The end of the piece, which focusses on how cities / density are powerful both for positive (scenius, cultural transformation and intellectual breakthroughs) and negative (infectious disease, shitty social phenomena) reasons was particularly interesting. One to read on a desktop, not mobile.

“You must cultivate activities that you love. You must discover work that you do, not for its utility, but for itself, whether it succeeds or not, whether you are praised for it or not, whether you are loved and rewarded for it or not, whether people know about it and are grateful to you for it or not. How many activities can you count in your life that you engage in simply because they delight you and grip your soul? Find them out, cultivate them, for they are your passport to freedom and to love.”
—Anthony de Mello

Action Bias or "Do Something"

Back in the day, famed Broadway director Gower Champion was directing a musical. With time pressure mounting, he entered the theatre during a rehearsal and was alarmed to see the cast just standing around on stage. The choreographer was just sitting there, in the second row of the audience, his head in his hands.

The director asked, “What’s going on?”

“I just don’t know what to do next,” the choreographer lamented.

The director blinked. “Well, do something, so we can change it!”

I enjoyed this story from Do Something, So We Can Change It!, Allen Pike’s post about tackling ‘two-way’ decisions proactively. If a decision is reversible, it’s better to make your choice quickly, and refine from there. You can undo a mistake if needed, and if you are quicker to take action, you’ll receive feedback faster. Then you can tweak your approach based on how it performs in the real world, rather than ruminating about various options and their ever-branching outcomes.

As someone who is prone to analysis paralysis, I’m working to cultivate a bias to action. I‘ve chosen better defaults to help make simple decisions quicker, and I’m prioritising starting over theorising, shipping over finessing.

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”

Annie Dillard from The Writing Life

via Austin Kleon

View through a ground floor window in local authority housing showing green grass and a tree with autumnal leaves backlit by sunshine. A round light and a 'ground floor' sign are visible on the righ hand brick wall.

They work as if this were the natural thing to do; they create as if this were the natural thing to do; they give birth to beauty as if this were the natural thing to do. They have entered the way of salvation through unconscious faith. It is a path open to all. And once they have entered this path, the creation of plain, natural beauty becomes a thing of ease, a matter of course. This natural, unforced beauty is the result of a kind of unconscious grace. This grace is a special privilege of craftsmen and leads them to a realm of blessed unawareness. Without consciously thinking whether something is good or bad, creating as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do, making things that are plain and simple but marvellous, this is the state of mind in which artisans do their finest work.

—from The Beauty of Everyday Things by Soetsu Yanagi (emphasis mine)

Shadow of a woman in profile in a recatangle of sunlight on a white cupboard door. She is mixing something on a kitchen counter.
looking down at a baby's hand pushing out against a pram's clear plastic raincover, with out of focus cobblestones in the background
Side view of a low council block in north west London at night. The two central windows on the first floor are lit up, one red, one blue. The other windows are glowing with various warm to cool tones. The light from the windows is spilling over the patch of grass in front of the building.