This work began as an experimental assignment. At the beginning of one of my graduate photography workshops, Paul D’Amato offered up a suggestion as means to begin to produce new work if a previous direction had grown stale or rang false. “You have the option of doing a Master’s Study,” he said. “In the spirit of what it meant to painters who would focus upon the work and process of an agreed-upon Master painter, learning all they could about their process and then attempting to make work using that process and in the spirit of that maker. Pick a photographer that interests you or that you feel sympatico with, and do a master's study on them.” At that point in my graduate career, I had been fumbling about with various projects that were primarily classic documentary in focus, and had met with reception that had varied from widely enthusiastic and supportive to roundly dismissed and discouraged. The two projects I had been swinging between, a diaristic documentary on my evening work as a shot-girl at the largest nightclub in the city and a documentary on the culture of Civil War reenactors, had left me feeling like I had been spinning my wheels and chasing false idols. The invitation to make work in the manner and spirit of a photographer that I admired and respected felt like being liberated, and as soon as it was suggested I knew that my aesthetic soul-mate was Masao Yamamoto. And so I embarked on a project where I made images of the ordinary urban landscape, trying to notice and capture vignettes and moments that were fleeting and often missed by those that populate the space.
As I now effortlessly produced work week after week for the workshop, I recognized that I had been suffused with both Yamamoto’s manner of seeing and the aesthetics behind how he sees, that of wabi-sabi, for a very long time. I had been steeped and marinating in it, in fact, and was astounded that it took the sensation of being given permission to make this work that I had always loved and carried within me (so was Paul. "You made these?!" he exclaimed the first week I put them on the wall for critique. "The same person who was shooting color photographs of tanks-on-trucks and dead re-enactors did these?!").
Setting simple parameters such as making photographs within a one-mile radius of my home and school (where I spent the bulk of my time), I treated my photographic shoots as walking meditations, and the subsequent images I made (invoking the spirit of both Yamamoto and wabi-sabi all the while) as visual poems. I believe the work I made for my M.F.A. thesis to have been my answer to what a poetry of the present would look like.
The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi heavily influenced the process of my making and producing these images. To my thinking, wabi-sabi is an aesthetic of removed/impersonal vulnerability. What do I mean by that? That this manner of thinking is inherently vulnerable and yielding to nature, events and circumstances beyond its control. That it is quiet and retains its dignity while being originating from very ordinary places. Within wabi-sabi is a lack of fear or an expectation, of any kind of specific reception or reward. In stark contrast to project-based works that so heavily populate the landscape of contemporary photography, work like Masao Yamamoto’s, or the work I made in the spirit of Yamamoto’s for my M.F.A. thesis work, does not insist on much, nor does it try to convince anyone of anything on its behalf. Both Yamamoto’s and my images function more as offerings and suggestions for thoughtful contemplation as opposed to a body of work made with some progression to some kind of conclusion or argument as an end-point ideal.
The simplicity of trying to make images that did justice to articulating the present moment as I experienced it, and the attendant self-empowerment in allowing myself to find value and meaning in functioning this way photographically, was immensely rewarding and restorative in ways that were important and surprising to me. Instead of operating from a position where I felt that I had to come up with something Important and Relevant to communicate and prove via a photographic project, my project instead became one of granting significance and voice to the unimportant and banal; to communicating a sensation of feeling or recognition with the viewer via the absence of charismatic personality, technical virtuosity. I have always been interested in the capacity of photography to be its own kind of poetry, and in the idea of visual poems themselves. I believe the images I have been making with this series speak to that idea: a poetry of the present.