New year, old blog, an allergy to resolutions

“Back Alley Blue” ©Casey Clough 2017

I’ve started a Bullet Journal. I’m certain that at some point in the future, I will ramble on about all of the beautiful, time-consuming bullet journals there are on Instagram and Pinterest. Given my love of both good notebooks and fountain pens, the addiction is a natural one.

That’s not for today, though. On my list of tasks for January is one blog post. Just one. I’m not signing on for a 365 project I know I will never finish. I’m not joining any Instagram hashtag challenges. Not this year.

I’m working a full-time-and-then-some job, I’m working in therapy. The country and the world are uncertain and frightening places. I don’t know what direction I want to take this blog, take the photographic practice I have been ignoring.

For now, it is one blog post. One image taken in an alley near the Vortex Theater. One chair on a filthy patio that made me stop and look, both coming and going. One iphone photograph.

It’s a start.

In celebration of the selfie.

 

It took me years to stop feeling a knee-jerk distaste whenever I heard the word “selfie.” To be honest, I still don’t like the word. It’s too cutesy, it has an edge of disdain, it just grates my ears a bit. I found myself internally agreeing when people would grumble about the narcissism of the selfie. I was a devotee of the self-portrait. The serious work, not the casual isn’t-my-hair-cute today shots. I looked down my nose at those.

Francesca Woodman. The undisputed mistress of the selfie, as far as I am concerned. If you haven't, go watch the The Woodmans. Right now. Twice. This website will wait.

Francesca Woodman. The undisputed mistress of the selfie, as far as I am concerned. If you haven’t, go watch the The Woodmans. Right now. Twice. This website will wait.

I was wrong, as I frequently am. First, the people I’ve heard complaining about people who take selfies are usually really complaining about women taking selfies, and that’s some sexist bullshit I’m embarrassed to have indulged without thinking it through. Women, take pictures of your beautiful selves and post wherever you want. Or not, if you prefer. Images of women have been marketing tools and purveyed for the pleasure of men (solely) for long enough, claim your own image. Toss off your headscarf, if you like. Or put it on to honor your spiritual path.

Vivian Meier. She conveys isolation and the power of the invisible eye, even looking at herself.

Vivian Meier. She conveys isolation and the power of the invisible eye, even looking at herself.

Second, I am overjoyed at the proliferation of photography through the spread of the smartphone. You’ll never hear me complaining about how too many people taking pictures is killing photography. There are forums full of bitter people to do that. People taking pictures is photography. I feel like I should say that again – people taking pictures is photography. I am not addressing the financial aspects of professional photography here, there are rude truths there (news agencies stealing images from the internet, the malignant spread of the idea of working for “exposure” etc), but the soul of photography.

 

Today, I am writing a simple celebration of the selfie.

The selfie holds a similar place in my photographic practice as the sketchbook does for my painting and drawing, or journaling for my writing and living; they are quick, pressure-free ways to explore an idea, get past my blocks and see what I’m visually feeling, and so, so freeing. When someone models for me, they usually have an emotional investment in the finished photos looking good, of the photos looking like finished pieces – and I do, too. That’s totally understandable, as for most of us posing for the camera is a self-conscious affair, it raises insecurities and makes us feel exposed, and vulnerable to the eye and the will of someone else. My reputation is also on the line when I point my lens at someone else, in a way it is not when I point it at me. I’m free to embarrass myself however I choose.

Most of my self-portraits selfies are not polished. They are not “good.” An image makes the jump from selfie to self-portrait in my mind when it crosses a certain threshold of quality, which is a distinction I am trying to erase in my own thinking about my work. An image is an image is an image, and it doesn’t matter how it was made, with what it was made, or whether it was a serendipitous snapshot or a carefully crafted set shoot that took weeks to build.

Stop yelling. I’m not at all saying that practice, honing one’s craft, or learning technique is not valuable, it is vitally and critically valuable. I am saying that I do not regard an image that took days of work to create as being intrinsically more valuable than one that was taken by a drunk with an iPhone (ahem). The impact, the authenticity, the resonance of an image is in the image, not the tools. No, I don’t like it either when a photograph I spent hours and hours on fails, while a snapshot I took while holding my phone out of my sunroof sings, but that’s my problem. It’s a mindset I learned in school, where the amorphous metric of “effort” was given weight. That makes sense for young children, but not for grown artists. The image is the image.

Ahem. Slight tangent into rantsville there.

I find that grabbing a camera, any camera, and pointing it myself as I am, or following a half-baked idea, helps me grab the threads of what my creative brain is thinking, back in the shadows where I can’t see in normal light. Like a sketch that opens the door to a series of paintings, or a series of catastrophic existential questions, these unselfconscious explorations are a way to access the lifeblood of my creativity.

Robert Cornelius, you started it all.

Robert Cornelius, you started it all.

Which lately seems to involve a lot of bathing with my phone. Whatever bounces your begonias, subconscious.

As I emerge from a long artistic fallow period, and a long period of healing after shaking the holy bejeezus out of my entire life, I hope to remember to give myself permission to play, to explore photographically without feeling weighted down by the pressure of Photography, and to revel in the simple joy that is the selfie.

The sketchbook, the late-night coffee conversation, the exploratory edge of a photographic practice.

Long live the selfie.

 

[re]birth

© Casey Clough 2016

“from my arms”        © Casey Clough 2016

Last night, I had this strange dream. I was on Galveston, or the place my dreaming mind interprets as Galveston, and I walked into the water at a section of beach that wasn’t popular. The water was viscous and oily, like the surface of bone broth before you skim it. There was an man in the water, brown-skinned and calm, skimming the surface of the water, so the surf was clear farther down at the populated beaches. I thanked him as I waded by, feeling both guilty and grateful.

As I moved into the clearer salty waters, I noticed small translucent bumps covering both of my forearms. I had a few moments of worry in my dream – had I been infected with bot flies, or some other terrible thing? There were small, dark moving things in them now, they are definitely eggs. The worry passed, and the dream continued. I don’t remember the details of all that was happening, but I remember noticing that small fish, some kind of cross between clown fish and angel fish, were hatching from my arms and swimming away. Eventually they all hatched, and later on in a different dream/different chapter of this dream I noticed my arms were healed. Bumpy and scarred (not unpleasantly so), but healed.

I googled the meaning of fish eggs in dreams (I couldn’t find any reference to anyone dreaming of hatching fish from their body parts), and the consensus seems to be creative ideas coming up from the subconscious, or giving birth to ideas. It’s not lost on me that this dream happened at my birthplace, either. I come from the waters of Galveston, as did my family.

I’m totally okay with that.

The last time I updated this blog, my life was falling apart. My relationship of nearly seven years was in tatters, my mental health was not at its best, everything was uncertain and frightening. I was angry, scared, and broken. It’s taken the past half year and change to feel whole and healthy again. I’m still healing, but I’m happy, and the last time I remember feeling truly happy was the spring and summer of 2011.

Other than my inner circles of friends, everything in my life is different now. New home, new job, new priorities, new stage of work in therapy. It’s good. Looking back, I can see how unhealthy things were for the last few years, and I am grateful and happy to be on a new road. It’s time to get back to work; back to writing, back to taking photographs, back to drawing, back to painting, back to loving.

Welcome, 2016.