Recently I posted a review of my goals from 2011 and found that I had ticked off most of them. Great. I got to feel a momentary sense of pride of accomplishment. But something was lacking a bit. At first I couldn’t recognize what it was but eventually, as I thought about it more, I came to realize that my checklist of accomplished goals for the last year failed to tell the fuller story of my photographic year. You see, I accomplished more than just my checklist. I learned a lot by surprise along the way.
Yes, I was focused on my goals, but not so much that I failed to pay attention to other opportunities which presented themselves along the way. Not only did my skills as a photographer grow, but my focus, intention, and attention all grew as well.
You see, for a long time my focus in photography was what is “out there”, outside of me and outside of my community. I wanted to photograph what was exotic, foreign, new, distant. My focus was on distant lands, distant ideas. But then I read Close to Home by Stuart Sipahigil (listed here on the Craft & Vision website.)
Close to Home has become a highly regarded and highly quoted book in the past year. In it Stuart turns his attention to a challenge many-if not most-amateur photographers have: making compelling images out of their “ordinary lives”-close to home. People loved it! From what I understand it is one of the bestselling titles from Craft and Vision this past year, and rightly so.
But Stuart’s book influenced me in a slightly different way. I wasn’t just looking for a way to make compelling images close to home, I was looking for a direction for my photography as a whole. I was searching for meaning in my photography. I was becoming less content making singular images of pretty stuff. I was wanting my photography to mean something more-if not to others, then to myself. And as I sat and thought about what I wanted to do with my photography I realized I was limited by my current life situation.
My young family and job prevent me from traveling to distant lands (Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand, Peru) to photograph exotic people in exotic locales. I am pretty firmly planted in New Mexico-a land I’ve inhabited for 16 years and feel pretty familiar with. But then, as I thought more about what Stuart was encouraging in his book I started to ask myself what I could photograph-what I would be excited to photograph-near home? And suddenly I realized, “holy cow, I live in NEW MEXICO!!!” This land is filled with the exotic, the new, the interesting, the fascinating, the joyful, the sorrowful, the pain, the hardship, the beauty, the sky, the sun, the mountains, the dust, the tumbleweeds, the cacti, the outdoors, the drugs, the mix of cultures…..well, you get it, right? This land is fascinating and enchanting and filled with wondrous stories of people and cultures and art and music and life!
And out of this was born the idea of my Tierra Encantada Project as well as my direction, purpose, meaning, and excitement-to try to tell the story of New Mexico as I know it. To try to show you, the viewer and reader, what this land is like and about. To try to point you toward why this is an enchanting place.
So, if you haven’t read Stuart’s book, Close to Home, do so! If you have read it, make a point to read it again. It is not a long book, but its depth is palpable. And I have heard from a small bird that he is working on another book due out possibly this Spring; I can’t wait!
Note: Those of you involved in the photography scene may be aware that my new friend and Blurb photographer at large Daniel Milnor (aka Smogranch) is also working on a very similar project. His work is absolutely fantastic and if you haven’t seen it go follow his tumblr blog where he is being completely transparent about the project’s process and progress for the sake of his subjects-people who would not otherwise see the results of their portraits. Also check out this video of him at work here in NM. He and I met recently and shared ideas on our projects. It is great fun to watch how he approaches the same subjects and what he comes away with. At first I was concerned I would be repeating what he’s already doing, but he comes from outside the state and sees things in a much different way than I do. That combined with his mega years of experience, his photography education, his outgoing nature, and the fact that he tends to shoot with a Leica means his work is going to look wayyyyyy different from mine. Can you tell I’m a fan? Still, I hesitated when he began to make his project public until I realized I could not deny the push inside that drives me to work on this project.
All of these images were made after meeting with Daniel in Santa Fe with my manual film camera, a Pentax K1000. All except the second-that was shot in my driveway. Talk about close to home!