Wednesday, April 27, 2011

30 to 40: Part I

1. It's impossible for me to write coherently about I-95. But this is a book about I-95 and 10 full years of my life, so I'm going at it and doing my damnedest to write a brief synopsis.

2. You should look at the 2 photos below because they say much more than I ever could with my writing.

If you want, you can stop reading this essay now because those photos are enough.

3. I-95 was an epic narrative about the beauty and struggle of everyday life, comprised of 231 photographs adhered to the concrete support pillars under an elevated highway that runs through South Philadelphia, Interstate 95. The installation of photos went up once a year, from 1PM to 4PM, on the first Sunday in May. I worked on 95 for a decade, from 2000 to 2010.


The concept for 95 came to me pretty much fully formed and I spent a little more than a year making sure the concept was strong and the execution was going to be rock solid. With money I got from my wife and immediate family for my 30th birthday, I bought a camera within the month and began to make photos for the installation.

I had, and still have, very little interest in exploring how this idea came to me. I don't care about why. But I did care a great deal about bringing it to fruition and completely committed to doing so. In nailing I-95 down, I endlessly mulled over the format and laid out a blueprint for the installation.

For example, I knew from the start it had to be a 10 year long project.


Did it need to be 10 years?
A decade would allow me enough time to make a strong body of work. I needed to learn to make photographs and couldn't gage my capability until I actually started working. Setting a time constraint assured that the installation wouldn't be overworked. Plus, I could go at it as hard as possible without fear of burning out.


Oh friends, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There were many, many components that made up the basic structure of 95. I would never obtain a permit or ask to use the space under the highway, I would just use it. The process of making the photos and the editing of the photos would be as transparent as possible, allowing people to see each step of how the installation was constructed. All of the portraits I would make would be of strangers and come from an initial meeting where I asked to make a photo of them specifically for this installation. Each year would be a different edit of the epic narrative, and it would change each year with my entire body of photographs available to construct the yearly exhibition. I would create photos that would allow people to construct their own narrative when moving through the installation. I would be open to making any photos that would work within the installation, but portraiture, text heavy images, and architectural images would comprise the majority of photos; those 3 formats would work best to allow viewers to forge their own connections among the photos. The ordering of the photos would be both intuitive and intellectual and everything would be considered, there'd be no arbitrary placement of photos. Each photo included in the installation had to a strong individual photo and had to fit with the larger body of work, meaning that sometimes stronger images would be edited out for inclusion of images that helped move the narrative forward... oh, that one turned out to be much more difficult than I could have ever imagined.


In relation to making work over the course of decade I thought of 95 in terms of a "lifetime musical career," specifically Bruce Springsteen's career, with consideration being given to how of songs, albums and live performances connected over the decade. I wanted to account the way the body of work would grow and change, with the once a year installation being akin to a set list for a live performance.

And I thought of each yearly installation in terms of poetic form. The villanelle is a good example of how I thought about 95. While a villanelle relies on repetition as a device and has a strict rhyme scheme, it allows for great freedom within the form. I was looking to use the personal and specific to get at the universal, and staying within a strict format allowed for a looseness and fluidity within the form that let me get at "everything." Plus, it was important to create a number of different ways to keep people moving around the installation, pinballing back and forth among the pillars and repetition of form and theme was really needed to keep that kind of movement going. Keeping everything fluid within a that form was a little more difficult than I had anticipated, but there's no question I couldn't have gotten it done without a framework that allowed me be wide open to all experiences when making photos. I wanted to allow for my conscious and unconscious to work as equals, so photos could be made with both the cerebral and intuitive present in all of the photos. And I didn't want the photos I made to be constrained by location, I wanted to make photos as I moved through my life no matter where I was. When I started the project I had no idea I'd be traveling extensively and bringing photos home to the installation, photos I'd made in places around the United States, and a few spots I'd been in Europe. And so while the images traversed place and time, the location and exhibition time of the installation was immutable, allowing the narrative to shift within the framework until the last very last 3 hours in 2010.


A billion things changed between 2000 to 2010 but the installation remained completely true to concept and construct from inception to end, with one exception. In 2005 I added an hour to the exhibition time and made it a three hour exhibition. I had originally scheduled it to from 1Pm to 3PM but decided that 2 hours wasn't long enough to everyone to traverse the space.

Although I-95 was a constant, like almost every other person in the world I had family members die and family members born during the course of my thirties. Family got married, friends died, new friendships happened. Life changing world events occurred. And I became middle aged, with an unexpectedly whole new set of life management needs arriving. During the run of I-95, I lost 3 teeth. Essentially, they just broke and fell out of my mouth. All of them are now replaced with expensive crowns. I think 3 teeth is a high count for the duration of one art project.

In my mid-thirties my wife and I decided that we were most likely not going to have children. I'd always been certain I wanted children but suddenly found myself full force going at this all encompassing, life-filling project and I decided I didn't want to stop, I would forgo being pregnant and possibly ever having children. I don't know if I'll regret that. It was a painful decision to make but I was moving forward like a full throttle freight train and I felt strongly I had to choose one or the other. I picked I-95.

Though the decade there was an almost complete confluence of my everyday life and my work on I-95, and that meant personal boundaries were constantly being modified and transgressed. Not just for me, but for everyone in my life. My commitment to transparency of process as an integral component of I-95 meant that the lives of my family and friends had to handle constantly changing and dissolving demarcations between "life" and "work." The invitation of strangers into my life through my work meant the invitation of strangers into the lives of my wife and family too. And on top of that, I devoted the great majority of my time to my work: constantly making photos, continuously editing on several levels, offering up stream of consciousness writing and digital contact sheets online for everyone to see. I went at it.


4. Oh, my darling. Now's the time to introduce my wife, Lynn Bloom. Without her, none of what you're about to check out in this book would have ever been produced.

When this essay is published, Lynn Bloom and I will have been together for 22 years. She's supported me emotionally and financially throughout the duration of I-95 and she has given up more than you can imagine for this project, with her desire for privacy at the top of the list. She's a private person and time and time again I put things out there that she would prefer I not share, but the transparency of each part 95 was of utmost importance to me and that meant letting people into her life, too.
And she has graciously and generously allowed that to happen.

I often go into strangers home within moments of meeting them to make photos, and while that matters for my work and for myself, it's not that great for my wife. A couple of years ago I called LB to let her know how excited I was to have just gone into to some man's apartment within 5 minutes of meeting him, and having make a series of nude photos of him. My lady was in the middle of a 12 hour work day at a trade show in the sweltering Las Vegas convention center and here I was calling her to let her know about my great day of going into a man's apartment to take nude photos of him. I can't remember her response to my call, but rest assured she said the right thing. Oh, her patience. Literally the patience of a saint. If I didn't have Lynn Bloom as my wife, I would have never been able to make that photo. Or any photos for that matter. Her support and love is the biggest component of how I was able to go at this project for 10 years.

man on stairs nude standing2web


Allan Smithee said...

Very good explanatory piece. Nice texture too.

Allan Smithee

History will absolve Mike said...

You are a much better writer than I am. Beautiful.