What’s next? It’s a question that has plagued anyone who has ever made anything and now it is plaguing me. In a few days I will celebrate my 50th birthday and I’ve recently completed Photography by the Letter, the most ambitious solo project I’ve done to date — over two years in the making — and now that it’s done, I’m wrestling with what to do next. I still have the marketing and the actually getting it out into the world parts to figure out, but as my friend David told me recently, “The artist part is done. Move on to the next thing.” While I’m not sure about the “artist” part, I understand what he meant and I think I agree with him. The trick is to figure out what that “next thing” is. Statistically, I have more days behind me than I have in front of me. I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, other than the realization that the clock is always ticking. Part of me just wants to leap and dive headlong into something — anything — as long as it’s completely different than the writing and production work of the past 18 months. It almost doesn’t matter what IT is, as long as I get myself (read: my creativity) in motion. The medium will find its way to the message.
I have always loved pencils. I have very vivid memories of spending days in the garage with my grandfather, watching him tinker with one project or another. He used Blackwing 602s — long before they were co-opted as Objects by designers and hipsters — and he would give them to me to draw with on long rolls of brown Kraft paper. One of the things that has come out of this book is a rediscovery of my love of drawing — the book contains over 50 drawings — and while the final versions are somewhat technical in nature and created on the computer in Affinity Designer, I have notebooks filled with dozens of loose sketches and wireframes that inspired them, all drawn with Palomino’s reissued version of the 602.
In addition to the drawings, there are about 100 original photos in the book. The bulk of them are used to illustrate concepts such as compression artifacting or white balance. I call these “functional” photographs. Others — 26 of them, to be exact — are samples of my street photography, presented in a tone on tone style as background images for quotes by famous photographers, such as “Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees” by Paul Strand. While these 26 are less prominent than the functional photos, they are a representative cross-section of what I like to shoot: architectural detail and graphic lines and shapes. In a sense, they are a self-contained body of work hidden within the larger project of the book. They may be glossed over completely were it not for the quote on the page, but I think they are important both as a body of work and as foreshadowing — a potential answer to the question we began with — “What’s next?”
As much as I want to know what’s next, there’s really no way I can. I can only do the work — whatever that may be — and see where it leads me. I was talking about all of this with a photographer friend who said, “It’s always better to be doing than just thinking about doing.” Whatever it is, making photographs, having and recording conversations, or even drawing, I’m happier and more inspired than I’ve ever been, and maybe that’s been the point all along.
What are you working on right now? What’s next when you finish it?
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I was recently at the National Air and Space Museum, where I saw a fascinating exhibit called Artist Soldiers. The show looks at artwork created by soldiers during World War I who were “…the first true combat artists.” The centerpiece of the show is the stunning photography by Jeff Gusky, an emergency physician and National Geographic photographer. His gorgeous black and white photographs humanize the horrors and the hopes of what the men in the trenches were feeling and how they expressed it.
In 2014, the BBC produced a series called The Rules of Abstraction with Matthew Collings. The show is a terrific look at the beginnings and rise of abstraction in art over the last hundred years. Watch it on YouTube,
Here’s a terrific photo essay by Magnum photographer Thomas Hoepker, inspired by Robert Frank’s classic work, The Americans. Hoepker says, “For my work, I had a guiding star: Robert Frank’s book Les Americains, first published in 1958, by Robert Delpire in Paris, because, at that time, no publisher in America would touch Frank’s dark and brooding pictures. I had seen the first edition in a bookstore in Hamburg, shortly before my American trip, and I was deeply moved and inspired by it.”