NOCTURNE premiering at Cinequest Film & VR Festival

I'm excited to have my short film Nocturne premiere at Cinequest this year.  The film festival happens Feb.28 - March 12, 2017 in San Jose, CA.  More info about the film below...

In a strange school house, brainwashed children outfitted with gas masks are run through drills, while suited men broadcast propaganda from a mysterious board room.  Events build to a climax as the masses are encouraged to choose war, at all costs.  A true fiction created from actual footage.  But are we witnessing our past, our present, or our future?

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In the spring of this year I became overwhelmed by the constant trauma the news was bringing in from around the world:  the quick succession of terrorists attacks, and our increasingly circus-like presidential election (extreme even for a typically circus-like political process).  I had to self-enforce a media blackout for a couple of weeks to get some perspective.  Was the world really falling apart?  
I felt disoriented watching the politics of Trump as he mobilized the hatred and fear of many Americans.  After hearing the media make repeated references to McCarthyism I began reading about Joseph McCarthy and the Cold War and then, as history so oftens illuminates for us, began to see that everything old is new again.  Around this same time I was researching archival footage for a video project and came across a vault of old public domain film and radio recordings from that era.  Something told me to just start compiling this stuff, and over a weekend I edited together something that expressed what I wasn’t yet able to articulate.  This became my short film Nocturne, a darkly comic and dystopian vision of where we have been, and where we could go once again.  
In this "true fiction" created from actual footage, I want viewers to ask themselves: are we witnessing our past, our present, or our future? 

The Photographic Journal: "Visitors"

The Photographic Journal has a new feature out today, showing unpublished images from my ongoing body of work "Visitors".  What I love about TPJ is the voice they give to a diverse range of photographers, from very established veterans to up-and-coming unknowns, all given equal space to tell their stories in a beautiful minimal design that showcases the strength of the images.  Here is a statement about my series they printed with the feature, which you can view here:

This series was born out of a lot of changes in my life last fall and resulted in me taking a solo drive up the west coast through Big Sur and spending a lot of time alone and being quiet, observing the world as an outsider, as if I were in a foreign country.  During my trip I noticed actual foreign tourists with their cameras, and I related to their not quite understanding the language and customs happening around them.  I watched them document the everyday details that most natives wouldn't take notice of, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, and taking delight in it.  This way of perceiving the world I carried with me back to New York City and into the next 6 months as I created new work, incorporating new portrait shoots and delving into my archive of unseen work.  I wanted to create a view of the everyday that feels otherworldly; beautiful and deep but simple and emotional at the same time.

Roger Ballen: You may be a photographer, but are you an artist?

I remember first coming across Roger Ballen's work a number of years ago, and as it equally mesmerized and repulsed me, I recognized the fierce originality of an artist who has fully come into his own vision of the world.  Here he gives some guidance to photographers willing to take that same journey, by asking some important questions.  Thanks to the Cooperative of Photography for creating this inspiring video.  

Aesthetica Magazine

"Covert Presence", an atmospheric portfolio of my work, is in the new issue of the art and culture magazine Aesthetica. There are no people in nearly all of these photographs, but there is a presence.  Can I still call them portraits?

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Works in Progress, Droga5, Bowie

IN the middle of ad agency Droga5's NYC headquarters art production floor they have an "artists wall" that rotates every month with new works-in-progress, new series, or whatever the guest photographer chooses to share.  I was asked at the end of last year if I'd like to hang some prints, which I ended up doing last week.  I decided to show a body of recent work, much of it created for Instagram, that had been originated or modified using iPhone apps to achieve the varied effects.  These images were then printed on 20x20 archival fiber paper.  It was an interesting experiment for me to see how images that I've been creating, working on and posting on such a visually tiny platform would fare enlarged to that degree and printed in such a classic manner.  Most made the transition really well, and it reminded me of how in some ways this work has brought me full circle since my early art school days when I was layering negatives in an enlarger, creating double exposures and printing black + white negatives onto color paper in trays by hand.  I take it for granted (and yet it blows my mind) that I can now achieve similar effects using only my phone.  But it also proves to me that the tools used are really beside the point, whether it is film and chemistry or a smart phone, the point of view is what carries across all media.  
I find this is the case with the artists I most admire.  With the recent death of David Bowie, it seems everyone is taking stock of what this great artist achieved, in his music and even more expansively, across our culture.  But no matter what role he was playing, what character he inhabited or what phase he was in, it was unmistakably Bowie.  Even with his roles in less than stellar films, he remained unscathed, keeping somehow apart from everyone and everything else, carrying his artistic world with him like a protective bubble that could not be pierced by the outside world.  Not that most of us will achieve the greatness or groundbreaking originality of a Bowie, but in realizing that the tools we use, whatever they are, are only that, a way to make your voice heard, your vision seen, we can then focus on our own unique points of view.  That is something I think David Bowie did for many of us; while blazing a path of his own he showed others that they could do the same, inspiring people to find their own fierce creativity within.  

Higher Consciousness

The writer and philosopher of the everyday Alain de Botton has now started A School of Life to help us all find a little more guidance in our lives, and he does it in the most generous, least annoying way possible.  I've been a big fan of his since his books How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Consolations of Philosophy.  Here in this video (from the School of Life Youtube Channel) he talks about the idea of higher consciousness, a subject often touched on in relation to meditation.  Though the practice of meditation and the idea of higher consciousness are much more in the mainstream than they used to be, they can still intimidate and confuse people who are new to both.  I've struggled with this myself, as I've slowly come to meditation in fits and starts over the past few years.  The confusion is not surprising. Often the very practitioners or teachers who could help don't remedy this situation much by giving it all a gauzy mystical touch when relating it to others.  I've discovered the practice of creating space and quiet in yourself is a very concrete and teachable skill, like building muscles with exercise.  Which is a relief, in some ways.  It doesn't have to feel out of reach (like striving for enlightenment), and it's an especially good skill to have as artists, for with these glimpses of our larger selves, we also tap the most creative aspect of our minds. 

'Higher consciousness' sounds mystical and possibly irritating. It shouldn't. It just captures how we see things when we go beyond our own egos.

Not Knowing: Art, startup culture, and the genius of Charlie Kaufman

We are told so much these days by "thought leaders" that we are all artists AND we are all brands, that we are solo-entrepreneurs (solopreneurs?), that we need to use social media to market ourselves, that our social network is the most important thing we have.  It is in this dizzying environment that I find other artists as well as myself taking cues from Silicon Valley rather than art history.  I agree we have a lot to gain from studying startup culture; the lessons of real-time prototyping, A/B testing, pivoting your business quickly, bootstrapping, iterative correction rather than the drawn-out expectations of a perfect launch, disruption, the list goes on and on.  But there is a certain soullessness to all of this.  What is missing, I think, is what William Carlos Williams famously summed up in his long poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower:  

It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.

We live in a consumer culture, and inevitably non-consumer things get swept up in that way of thinking.  Obviously we all need to make a living, but there is often a simplistic equation that makes popularity into a barometer of quality, especially when it comes to marketing, to social media presence, to pure revenue.  Great artists can be greatly successful, and I wish that for everyone who does inspire me.  But often we are misled with the lures of this virtual popularity, the rush of internet mini-fame, advertising that masquerades as legitimate art or worse, some kind of social awareness or justice all the while selling us a product.  None of this is new.  We all buy into these ideas, and I'm not above any of it.  I work commercially, and my images have helped to sell products.  But there needs to be an awareness, and a balance.  I've spent the last two years deeply immersing myself in business & marketing books, startup guru podcasts, life-hacking blogs, life optimization groups, you name it.  I've found it fascinating and yes, there are some helpful ideas to glean from these worlds for sure.  But in them all there lacks the one thing art offers above all else--a wordless beauty and a sense of comfort, but comfort given not by gentle platitudes, it is the comfort of recognition; that we are human, that we are flawed, that we often fail, or that we just get lost sometimes, and we don't know everything.  These things are beautiful and we can gain wisdom from that recognition.  We learn how to live not by becoming super-human, as many of these blogs cheer us on to attempt, but by gaining insight and acceptance, kindness and clarity, forging a community of understanding, these are the things that will keep us all going in the face of difficulty.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”  This is the spirit that goes beyond the often narrow view of business culture.  

Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter whose films include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malcovich, Adaptation, and others, is one of the most conscientious observers of the human spirit of our time.  He doesn't pull any punches, but he has infinite grace when it comes to illustrating our struggles in this world.  I came across this speech he gave to the British Film Insitute last year, and it addresses many of these ideas.  It is an antidote to the constant inescapable striving and self-sellling we see so much of these days.  It is worth watching.

Aperture Foundation Benefit 2015

It's that time of year again, and I'm excited to be part of Aperture Foundation's Benefit Auction & Party on October 26th at Terminal 5.  Marking the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Aperture Foundation presents an evening of art and entertainment featuring Nan Goldin's famous slideshow of The Ballad, with a live musical performance by Laurie Anderson and special guests.  DJ sets by rock photographer icons Bob Gruen and Mick Rock should be a blast, too.  Dubbed "The Playlist" there will be a live auction of new photographs donated by artists such as Stephen Shore, Sarah Moon, Richard Mosse, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Catherine Opie, as well as a silent auction of framed photographs, each inspired by a song or a piece of music, featuring the work of a fantastic list of artists.  

My donated print "I Dream A Highway" (below) will be part of the Playlist's silent auction.  The online bidding has opened on artnet here.  I took the title from Gillian Welch's dreamy, fourteen minute folk-country epic I Dream a Highway, which captivated me the first time I heard it in my car.  As I drove through small upstate towns, the abstract lyrics unspooled an expansive almost-narrative that bent and wound around like the terrain I was driving.  It's hard to explain the mood it captures; a sense of reverie and melancholy, with the feeling of a secret, clustered longing in a sun-raked, lazy heat.

The Things You Get Fired For...

I scribbled down this quote from the great Francis Ford Coppola while listening to him in a segment of the Harvard Business Review's Ideacast.  It is one of my favorite sentiments and something I have to remind myself of every now and then.

"The things you get fired for when you're young are the exact same things you win lifetime achievement awards for when you're old.  Which is to say the things that run against the grain, that are not common, are not logical, that don't fit in to the standard approach… if you do survive and get that across--remember that the things that get you in trouble are the same things that are later remembered as being exceptional."   

-Francis Ford Coppola

What Changed My Work: Audio Interview

I recorded this audio response to the question a photography blogger asked me: "What was the best thing I ever did as a photographer?"  I took this not to mean literally what was my "best" work, but instead what thing changed my work or the way that I worked.  My answer involves two stories, but in both I talk about a couple of pivotal moments in my career that helped to define it and evolve it in a new direction.  Thanks to Michal Fanta for posting.

Women Are Beautiful

The master street photographer Gary Winogrand who left us in 1984--too soon at the age of 56, was able to make art out of single fleeting moments that most of us don't even notice as we make our busy way to work, to the coffee shop, to the train, not bothering to look up in the morning rush, the rush home, the rush to weekend plans, the rush through life.  

This is a tension I currently feel in my creative life:  when I was younger, with less responsibility perhaps, I used to actively observe more, watch human behavior, notice subtle interactions in the world around me.  I had more time on my hands, but this was also before the age of iPhones and apps, which largely take up everyone's concentration and this "nothing" time, the seemingly dead moments between things that most of us try to fill up with busy-ness, with productiveness, or at least with incessantly checking Instagram (just me?) all while wearing that feeling of being busy as a badge of honor.   And yet now, that very (iPhone) object that monopolizes my attention contains a tiny decent camera that I keep with me at all times, and thus ironically I am more capable of snapping immediate moments, street photographs, and catching spontaneous beauty that is gone forever, save for the image I made.  

In the past I never felt much camaraderie with that generation of classic street photographers and photojournalists.  My taste always leaned towards the work of visionary portrait and fashion photography where a reality was constructed as much as it was observed.  But in recent years I find myself equally drawn to the disarming truth the best documentary work has captured for all of us to witness, the seemingly ephemeral truths that will endure after we too are gone.  Lately, with the knowledge of this small camera at hand, I have found myself looking around again, and every now and then I have been able to grab some wonderful unguarded scene; my brother swimming in a watering hole upstate with one of his daughters, the glimpse of a well-placed telephone pole and old car as I leave a bar in a night parking lot, a girl touching a boy's newly shaved head as a square of sunlight falls on them both at the bottom of a stair case.  

Winogrand's street photographs echo and rebound with other images of his era:  Robert Frank's The Americans that ushered in the change about to hit our country in the 1960's, and abroad the stripped-down creative rebellion of the French New Wave filmmakers, breathless images photographed by Godard and Truffaut in glorious black and white light.  Winogrand's world was even mirrored strangely by Catherine Deneuve's listless secretary wandering the streets of Polanski's great film Repulsion.  

Jack Kerouac famously said about Frank's off the cuff snapshot of a lonely elevator girl --"What's her name and address?"  He was smitten by her dreamy gaze and a story of her he could only imagine.  Winogrand's photos are full of these women, leaving us to tell our own stories, and maybe even just a little, to fall in love.  Women Are Beautiful is the name of Winogrand's 1975 monograph of these romantically un-romantic street portraits.  It is a wonderfully apt title.  People will always be beautiful, if someone is paying attention.

I'm thankful for karamolegos35 for creating this fantastic little slideshow I came across one day on YouTube.  

Quote for the week.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Pierre Huyghe at LACMA

I was lucky to have a friend tell me I should check out the Pierre Huyghe exhibit at the L.A. County Museum of Arts when I was in town back in January.  On a perfectly rainy museum day, I went alone to the LACMA and spent several hours there, but most of that time was spent at this singular show from an artist I'd never heard of until that day.  

At its best, art should challenge, temporarily alter and possibly even permanently change your perceptions of the world.  It is rare for me to encounter that, but when I do, it really excites me.  I hadn't seen a show that gave me that visceral response in quite a long time.  But here was an artist working in multiple disciplines and media (high-production filmmaking, performance, drawing, installation, audio/video, sculpture, natural objects) and excelling at all.  An underwater crab with a Brancusi shell, floating boulders, a reclining woman with a bees nest for a head, a ghostly white dog walking among the audience with a scarlet-painted leg, a man with a glowing LED face-mask, on and on.  I felt dropped into an alternate universe.  But the films were what really astonished me.  There was that sense of odd beauty and playfulness with a little foreboding, combining everyday elements into striking new images that made me think of other artists--Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham, Spike Jonze and Matthew Barney, even the great European director Krysztof Kieslowki--though Huyghe's work felt completely original.  Unfortunatey, the show only runs for a couple more days as I just discovered, so I thought I should post this now.  It is hard to get a sense of his work online, you really have to just see it, and I hope any of you reading this will get the opportunity.  

SCOPE Miami Beach

The Scope Art Fair returns to Miami Beach this week (Dec.2-7) for its 14th year, with over 100 exhibitors, including LUSTER GALLERY, who will be showing work of mine along with two other artists in their booth situated in an enormous tent built right on the beach sands.  Pretty cool.  The image below "Untitled (girl at pay phone)" is one of my works included in the show.  I'm excited to be a part of this illustrious fair…now I just wish I was there.