A wonderful journey
March 12th, 2019
Recently I had a pleasure of spending good few hours with a very young person who felt the urge to create something. To be precise, to paint or – at least – to draw something. While staring at a blank A2 sheet of glossy drawing paper which was staring back at her as an artist’s abyss, her biggest problem was that she had no idea what she wanted to paint (or at least draw).
In this vexing frustration of a young artist she tried to turn herself to all-encompassing internet in search for guidance and inspiration. As you can imaging, the result was far from encouraging. She found many great images there, almost as many as the lame ones. In the end, she felt more exhausted than before.
This was the point when our conversation started. What I tried to put to her in not too many words (it has been a long time now since I discovered that if you are just ten years older kids are somewhat impervious to lengthy lectures from you) was that the only avenue is to put it all away, leave all inspiration behind and just start paining. Anything. Nothing. Does not matter. It will come to you – I said – in time and practice you will find your own way. And whatever happens, whether someone will like it or not, even if others will put it down hard – it will have one wonderful thing about it – it will be truly yours. As this is something that cannot be challenged or ridiculed.
It is all very well but I want to paint something of note, she said. Something people will like, or event admire.
Don’t we all.
Getting up early before anybody else and driving for miles to reach the location before sunset, choosing the frame that speaks best to you, setting your tripod, camera, preparing freshly cleaned filters and waiting for those few minutes of prefect light – can you honestly tell me that what you want is different to what that little girl wanted at the moment? There is no real pressure to create a masterpiece with every click of the shutter but at the same time the desire is always there – the desire to come back home content with an image, that it will be presentable and – who knows – maybe even sellable.
I am right? I am afraid I am. Not that long ago a landscape photographer whose work I greatly respect wrote to me that he is now very busy establishing himself as a professional photographer. In that moment, for a tenth time, I pondered the meaning of the expression. To me ‘professional’ pertains rather to the quality of one’s work than the number of sold copies – but I readily appreciate that ‘professional’ also stands for ‘those who sell’ or ‘those who do not make their living any other way’.
Correct me if I am wrong (and I will happily stand corrected) but that is exactly when pressure kicks in. Do not get me wrong – as a very lazy person I worship pressure – as long as it comes in reasonably small amount. A modicum of pressure works wonders: kicks you out of bed on a frosty morning, makes you do the necessary research and all that. It is when it gets to the point of meeting your bills through your art that we risk turning pressure into anxiety – and almost inadvertently into artist’s block.
When a prolific and influential composer of the classical era(baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart) wrote his work for Emperor Joseph II as his ‘chamber composer’ it grew on him that although the influential posts provides well for his family, it is nonetheless a certain kind of suppression. Rightly or not, Mozart is understood to be the first of the long line of those who rebelled against the providing patronage in pursuit of artistic freedom (though I trust there have been many before him). Did he fulfil his dream of an artist free of any art-restricting bondage? I do hope so.
Almost a hundred years ago Diego Rivera was working in New York City’s Rockefeller Center on a fresco called ‘Man at the Crossroads’. It was originally slated to be installed in the lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the main building of the center. ‘Man at the crossroads’ showed the aspects of contemporary social and scientific culture. As originally installed, it was a three-panelled artwork. A central panel depicted a worker controlling machinery. The central panel was flanked by two other panels, ‘The Frontier of Ethical Evolution’ and ‘The Frontier of Material Development’, which respectively represented socialism and capitalism.
Although the Rockefeller family initially approved of the mural, the painting became controversial after Rivera included an image of Vladimir Lenin and a Soviet Russian May Day parade. Nelson Rockefeller – at the time a director of the Rockefeller Center – made repeated requests for Rivera to remove the portrait of Lenin, all of which Rivera refused. In May 1933, Rockefeller ordered the mural to be plastered-over before it was completed. ‘Man at the Crossroads’ was peeled off in 1934 and replaced by a mural from Josep Maria Sert three years later. Only black-and-white photographs exist of the original incomplete mural, taken when Rivera was forced to stop work on it. Using the photographs, Rivera repainted the composition in Mexico under the variant title ‘Man, Controller of the Universe’.
Mozart, Riviera, young girl, you, me – we all share the same ambition – to have our work at least accepted. Some of us have the wish granted. Some never do.
Over the past six months I had the pleasure of looking at hundreds of images. It is a very dangerous thing to be exposed in such a short period of time to so much of varied works. Every day I find I must take five – or fifteen – to clear my mind for fear of letting a really captivating image go unnoticed.
I showed a few of the images I have recently selected to be featured in LEMAG to the little girl. As we were looking at them I told her what drove my choice. In every case, apart from other things, it was the impression they made on me, the difference from all other images from the same place I’ve seen so far. Sometimes it is a minute thing, easy to disregard, that makes all the difference. Browsing though countless pictures from New York, Venice, Lofoten or other locations I am searching for the difference, for the proof that for this person photography is not about technical skills only, not about equipment, not about likes on social media – but a wonderful journey into the world and into him or her self.
Emperor Joseph II was, for Mozart, relatively reliable employer. Rockefellers, at least for Diego Riviera, were not. When photographers pursue their dream image the potential admirer or buyer is a big unknown. Whimsical, ever-changing and often irrationally picky. As we send ourselves out in the field, we face the same dilemma that made the little girl so anxious. And just like her, we should cast it all aside and purse only this – our own satisfaction, fulfilment and above all – our own voice.