At Least At Last

At Least At Last

in the woods behind our house where we scattered some of Dad's ashes

in the woods behind our house where we scattered some of Dad’s ashes

This morning a friend of mine posted a video that I made for a song by my band Sleepyhead. It was a profoundly emotional experience because as time has passed both the song and the images have accrued a great deal of new meaning for me. The song is from the mid 90’s but I made the video in the fall of 2012 after visiting my mother for Thanksgiving. She was in the slow motion process of moving out of the house that she had lived in for over 50 years. It was also the house that I grew up in. My father had died nearly 7 years earlier and she was preparing to move to a retirement community but she did not feel ready to move. I took a lot of photos on that trip and also made a few videos.

I shot the rooms that were being cleared out.
I shot Thanksgiving dinner.
I shot as my kids played in the meadow behind the house, and as they became friends with the children of my friends from high school.

As I watched it this morning it had even more impact because now, 4 years later, it is the house that I live in with my family. I am sitting at the dining room table as I type. Like the members of my family, the house has become something of a character in a film that we are coming close to finishing, “All The Rage”. We had a rough cut screening a couple of weeks ago (in the living room of this same house) and the people who viewed it all talked about what an important role the house played in the film. Last week, partly in response to this feedback, we put in a new opening that incorporates a great deal of footage from that Thanksgiving weekend. It was a little bit shocking to see the video from 4 years ago that uses images that are also in the first moments of the film.

I shoot a lot. For the most part I do it in a fairly unfocused or undirected way. I’m usually working on a couple of films, and more recently on some photo projects but I shoot a great deal of work that is not directly connected to a project- and for the most part- even as I work on my films I have no idea where they will end up. I just feel compelled to shoot; to document. One of the reasons that we moved to North Carolina was to make the space and time to finally finish some of these projects, including “All The Rage”. For me part of that process has been about making sense of the work I have done- and the unfinished work that I have collected. I have slowed down and started to take stock of what I have and what kind of patterns exist in the work. This hasn’t changed the way that I shoot, but instead the way that I work with the footage. Just before spotting the above sleepyhead video that my friend posted I had written another post about the political film making I have done over the past 20 years. The Republican Convention starts today and I decided not to go, but I have been going back through the work I have done in order to put together an installation.

I have always been an artist but in my teens I did not have a great deal of belief in myself. When I discovered photography my work began to blossom, but I still didn’t see myself as an artist because I had an idea of what an “artist” was and I didn’t fit into that ideal. I didn’t see myself going to art school- but I also didn’t have a sense of direct purpose as I entered college. I knew that I didn’t want to be a professor- I simply wanted to learn more. Still, I took some photo classes and I went to a number of galleries and museums. I was struck then, as I am now, with the fact that all schools are in a sense “trade schools”. When people go to art school they are explicitly taught about “art” but they are also implicitly informed about how to be “successful” as an artist. The students who tend to get extra attention are those that create work with a strong sense of “focus”. It’s work that is “brandable” that makes it into galleries and into the press. There is a strong push towards work that feels “professional”- that hews to standards – many of which are unconscious. Work that challenges these systems and standards is pushed to the edges. When I first presented my mall slides to a couple of galleries in 1989 they were met with complete dismissal. Even after they went crazily viral they were still ignored by the galleries that I approached.

mall walkers jpg

The same issues exist for filmmakers, musicians, and writers. If the work doesn’t aesthetically fit the expectations of buyers or press it is often rejected out of hand. With the proliferation of media channels it has become increasingly difficult for work that challenges expectations to find the spotlight. While in college I took a lot of pictures, and increasingly I began to photograph bands. By the time I was a junior in college I started my own band and this became the focus of my creative energies for the next decade. I shot a lot of photos related to this part of my life and also began to make films.

Now that I have begun to look backwards I have found ways of incorporating this past work into my present process. This cache of images and videos has proved invaluable in the process of crafting “All The Rage”. As I watched the video this morning I was struck by the last line, “At least at last I’m finished with this song.” Thankfully the same can be said of the film.

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