05 Jun Instant Before Instagram
As a photographer I have generally stumbled into projects, only realizing that I was working on them halfway through the process. Besides my mall project, which started as a class assignment, my first big project was documenting the underground music world. I began doing shooting bands before I was in one and the scope of that work expanded a great deal once I started to tour with my own band. I shot that work from around 1989 to 1996 and I shot almost entirely in black and white. At a certain point, probably in the mid 90’s I got a cheap point and shoot Yashica T4. It was an incredible camera because its light meter was pretty accurate and it had a super sharp zeiss lens. I got that camera partly because on some level I knew that I needed to start going in a new direction. I bought a bunch of color film and began to get it developed at the Hallmark shop on the corner. When I got my first roll back I was absolutely floored at the sharpness of the images.
The work that I had been doing in terms of documenting the underground music scene was fairly personal in that most of the bands were bands that my band played with and I shot a lot backstage as well as on the road while touring. The black and white film gave the work a certain romantic quality. When I began to shoot in color the work felt more direct and immediate. While I did a fair amount of street/travel work with the camera, I also shot a good deal with people I knew. I had a large circle of friends from the music scene and I continued to shoot them. As I began to gather new work I concentrated on printing the black and white documentation of the music scene. I put out a book called Scraps and arranged a bunch of exhibitions that combined my photos with “frames” painted by the artist Steve Keene, who also painted a lot of album covers.
A couple of years after getting that work out into the world I began to look through the color work I had been shooting. At that point I had been working on films for a number of years. This process led me to think of my photo work as being more about how the pictures worked together than as single images. I liked arranging them in grids and began to put together collages. Soon I had about 30 of them together and I arranged a show at the soft skull bookstore inside Tonic on the Lower East Side. I arranged them as a massive book on huge Black Fiberboard with 4 big collages to a page. I thought it looked pretty great, but there were a couple of comments in the guest book that just savaged the work. Something along the lines of “get your own style instead of ripping off Robert Frank.” Even though the comments were just mean-spirited I remember feeling a hot flash of shame. Yes, without a doubt, I was influenced by Robert Frank. However, the work was in color- the music stuff was more of a direct reference- and it didn’t particularly call to mind Frank’s work. It was much more personal and direct. If anything the problem was that there wasn’t enough conflict or drama in the work.
It was a time in my life where I felt the most artistically supported, surrounded by others who were also making work, I was in a good relationship, and while things were stressful at times, I was in a pretty positive place, and lucky enough to be traveling a lot. Still though, I also used the work to examine what was going on in my life with a series of “letter books”. I would start by laying out images and then write around them, often riffing off of what was there. Again, I also made a lot of collages like the ones below.
Last night, as I tried to organize my office space I piled up the plastic containers that held upwards of 500 rolls of images from this period, I thought about how on some level that work was kind of like instagram before the visual internet took off. I would get double prints of these pictures and then use some of them to make letter books, and these collages. by the mid 2000’s I had run out of money for film, and I started to shoot with a crappy digital camera. Most of those images were of my kids. That’s the next project I have to make sense of. Near the end of 2011 I got a decent phone and joined instagram. Since then I have posted will over 14 thousand images. I see it as a continuation of the work I began when I got my T4. This past winter I made a video of a few years of that work. I posted each picture for 2 seconds. It’s a slow motion Time Lapse of my life.
Again, I think that the work I made from 1995-2005 was a kind of proto instagram. I was documenting and sharing without a specific focus, and that is what I have continued to do. So much of my work is about simply capturing and storing, waiting for time to reveal its meaning.