Friday, March 25, 2011

Failure to Connect

The Great Divide

Exactly eight months ago, I left a full-time job at a prestigious academic institution to pursue life as a working artist. My entire adult life has been about an attempt to balance my creative activities (what I like to think of as Who I Really Am) with earning enough money to stay housed fed and clothed (otherwise known as How Other People Live).  Because I have never been able to give enough time and energy to advancing either of these pursuits, but can give up neither entirely, both have suffered. As a result, I am closing in on 50 years on this planet, and have yet to establish myself in any financially or personally successful professional or creative career. I’ll never pull a six figure salary at a job with a fancy title.  And every time I make sacrifices to attend to the making of art, before I can make any real progress I find myself stalled by the realities of the art world, or the credit cards max out, or both, and I have no choice but to return to yet another dull frustrating doomed desk job and begin the cycle again. I’ve made my choices with free will and open eyes, without regret, but I do often wonder what would have happened if I had chosen differently, and stuck with one thing or the other long enough to make a success of it. 

 The Last Market 

I miss crochetting. All winter I have been holding onto great ideas about themes to explore and scenes to capture once my cameras and I started spending more quality time together. I packed up all my scarves and wristies after the last market at the Burren and the return of spring weather, and started doing photo shoots, film and digital. It was wonderful to be engaged in something that felt a lot more like art and a lot less like craft. And I was pleased with the first results. It made me feel that all this time off from a paying job was finally paying off – my creativity had recovered from being stifled in a cubicle chained to a computer, and was ready to expand and roam freely. It made me feel I had done the right thing eight months ago.

 Good Eye
But being a photographer isn’t just about taking pretty pictures. Long after that precious moment of seeing something and connecting with it in a way that allows you to capture it forever, like a wild beast that allows you to tame it and take it home, there is an endless and to me vexatious journey between processing the image and presenting it to the world. It used to be you’d get your negatives and prints back from the camera shop and the ones you liked, you asked for enlargements. The intricacies of film processing and printing were left to the experts. Period. You could send these pieces of paper to contests or galleries, confident that this was a final product, this was, all parties would be in agreement, a PHOTOGRAPH. You could place them in an album, or mount them for display.  Purists and students and the top masters in the field did their own darkroom processing. But you could still consider yourself a serious photographer even if you didn’t know much about the science of photography, the way a good driver doesn’t necessarily know how to build a car, or a good writer know how to set his own type on a letterpress. All you had to do was take a good picture.

 Through a Glass Darkly
Nowadays, everything has gone digital. Even if you shoot film, there is an expectation that the negatives will be scanned and that digital files will be the mode of transport for your image, whether you are sharing it with other people online, submitting it to a contest or gallery, or creating a portfolio, and with that expectation comes an assumption that if you own a computer and a file full of images, you either know everything about how to format them, or have a program installed that does. This past week I had to cancel plans to submit to two photography contests because I couldn’t convert the files to their specifications. I had a nice group of images selected, that I believe had a solid chance at winning, but I lacked the technological knowledge to manipulate them properly, not to mention the right software or the money to acquire it. I was pleased that with my dinosaur brain I actually understood the terminology of what they wanted enough to know I couldn’t provide it, and that I didn’t become one of those people who just send what they have and ignore instructions. But it hit home for me that I have a lot to learn about what it really means to be a photographer these days, and that what I’m learning so far is not making me want to continue being one, and that maybe this is why I have held off for so long taking what has always been a purely private passion to the next level. 

 Here Lies
I seem to recall going through a similar rude awakening when I left a full time job in order to pursue my poetry professionally. I thought all I had to do was write beautiful poems and send them legibly typed to editors until my list of credits earned me a full-length book publication. I did successfully place dozens of poems in literary journals, but the deeper I got into the literary world the more disenchanted and disappointed I became, and the realities of what was expected of me began to sour the simple joy of writing. No book ever happened. Within a year, I went back to working at a library full time. That was 17 years ago, and back then the enemy wasn’t technology, but the disheartening feeling of “this isn’t what I thought I was getting into” was the same.

 Half and Half
My activities as a photographer have lately occupied two realms – out and about with camera in hand, and sitting in front of my laptop managing and manipulating image files. The latter far exceeds the former in time consumed. If you asked me about my work when I was crochetting, I could hand you a scarf that you could hold in your hands, the way I held it in my hands, enjoying  the textures and patterns that resulted from my physically working with raw materials and creating a tangible final product, done when it was done. And I could literally do it with my eyes closed. If you ask me about my former life as a poet, I can hand you my small 1997 chapbook and you can curl up in a cozy corner and read fourteen poems that represent the best of what I had written at that time, each one of them remaining true to itself whether read in book form or manuscript or even read aloud.  To this day, I know what a poem is, and is not.  Ask me about my photography and I am not really sure at the moment where or what my “work” is. I have boxes full of negatives and disks. I have online files of images, some of them in multiple versions, some scans from film, some that frighteningly exist only digitally, having been downloaded from my camera and vanished into a virtual reality without leaving a physical trace of any kind. I have old glossy photographs done by my camera shop last year that look quaint and amateurish compared to what I have now discovered to be today’s standards of printing. Perhaps for other photographers these infinite possibilities and shifting boundaries are thrilling, but to me they are dizzying and baffling. I’m no longer sure what a photograph is, the way you know what a painting, sculpture or collage is, because it is right there, a physical object born of its maker's hands and ready to face the world.  I feel entirely disconnected from my work. 

 Back to Back
This week, after I gave up the frustrations of trying to submit to contests, I made selections from my files for images I’d like to print and frame for Open Studios. They are good images. I think they will have an effect on anyone who stands before them. Some of them have appeared here and done exactly that. Because I don’t have access to a darkroom, I am working from the scans of negatives my camera shop provided.  I don’t care what the dpi, pixel or inch dimensions are, the number of the image quality, if the files are flattened or compressed, in RGB or Grayscale. Even if I can now locate most of this information in several different ways through my computer, I am going to trust that my camera shop guy gave me the best specifications and stick with that. I am not going to spend a fortune to have a dozen images printed professionally by a custom shop specializing in museum quality prints – I’d have to give up food for a month. I am trying to simplify and not spend an hour sweating over each image file before I can safely hit “Print.”

 I Was of Three Minds
But even then, I have to learn about printing. I have to understand what kind of files I have, accordingly what the best settings on my printer are, what the best paper is, and what I have to do to make the image on my screen look the way I want it to on the page. I have a photographer friend who understands such matters, and hopefully he can kindly and gently guide me through the easiest and simplest steps to achieve this result, the way the resident tech expert in an office gives you a cheat sheet with instructions to follow and does not expect you to have a degree in computer technology to launch the Internet every morning.  When I left the library world last year, it was precisely this reduction of physical material sitting on a shelf in a facility miles away to intangible pieces of data to be stored and processed by a machine, not to mention the folders full of cheat sheets required to do the simplest tasks, this bloodless disconnect, that drove me away to a life I thought would be far more connected and less cold. But here I am, supposedly free from life shackled to a computer, required to break down art into lines of data and commands entered to perform work upon them while I sit on my hands, waiting and watching to see if it worked. And I hear myself saying again “this isn’t what I thought I was getting into.” 

I am a poet and photographer. 

But I miss crochetting.


  1. Gabriella....I hear you LOUD and CLEAR!!! I know, I know, I know. It's always this way....finding myself pouncing on something with everything I've got, only to find it's much more complex and requires things that I hadn't bargained on. I know enough about photography to push the button to take pictures of my work for my shop and barely enough about Photoshop to import them and fiddle a bit here and there's just good enough. I never hold to such low standards in the studio....that's why my fragment pile is overflowing with half finished work that I suppose would have been good enough if I'd been satisfied with that. You are a poet and a photographer with the mind and heart of a true artist. Unfortunately, the technology has edged the "real" object over to the sidelines...yes, some things are gained, but much is lost. Get your hands on some yarn to keep things in balance....we're outnumbered and we must, out of necessity, plug away more time than we like at the keyboard, alas.

  2. Patti, in times of such uncertainty it is good to know I can rely upon one thing: that you will understand what I'm going through, my dear friend! Perhaps we would do ourselves a favor by not holding to such high standards? I'm sure others get through life with less anxiety because they don't stress the details, because "good enough" is okay by them. Not by me! Or you. Funny, Brian suggested the same thing when he read this - figure out a way to get some yarnwork back into my routine, though with such limited time and funds it's hard to justify doing something that isn't somehow contributing towards a moneymaking project. Guess it's time to brainstorm again! That's something I do almost as well as panicking! Thank you for your comment. All will be well, one way or another.

  3. Hi, Gabriella I totally understand what you are talking about. Yes, hours in front of a computer, 1000's of files, some images printed and some definitively lost in time. The good thing to me is that I have kept on learning. Do I like it as much? No. Most times it bores me I would like to photograph more and care less about the time in front of the computer "learning". Still I do work everyday and photograph everyday for pleasure and work.

  4. Ah, Luis, I'm glad you understand. I was worried that you as a professional might tell me to just learn the stuff and stop complaining! I'm glad you have found a balance (there goes that word again!) between pleasure and work with your photography - I know that your work always brings me great pleasure, whether it was a joy or a struggle for you to create, or a little of both! All the best to you, my friend.

  5. Balance is such a small word. An inadequate word because without it my world starts to spin. And yes, I think I would join the majority vote and say - put away a little time for crocheting. Time where you can see and feel results.
    And I find it frightening when I think I have an understanding of something and dive in and find it is bigger and murkier than ever I knew.
    From what I have seen/read you are an artist and could no more give up that side of yourself than breathing. And my world would be diminished if you try.

  6. I should have added to my last comment. Be true to yourself - and if that self refuses to settle for near enough is good enough - listen to it. I have never ever been happy or even comfortable when I attempt to deny pieces of my self.
    Consider yourself hugged.

  7. There was a time in which, yes, even if it costs me now to believe it, I was wealth, for whatever a health wallet may be useful. But then, and for making a long (and maybe boring) story short, bam!! everything vanished, everything went to h** and there I was,thinking what to do now with life, with that horrible uncertainty of knowing that you have done all what you had supposed to do: work hard, wake up early, study, learn, read, be kind with the people, be kind with yourself (whenever possible) but still everything went bad. And there it was as well, waiting in silent, the art, staring at me as a silent dog waving his tail with eyes of consolation. It was not so much time ago of that series of events and many, many times I still wonder, well, I am almost 30, lack of absolutely anykind of proper education, not to mention in something related with art. And though honestly talking, I have certainly tried to return to my former way of "common" life over and over again with no success at all, it leads me to think in a such lyrical way that maybe it is nothing but my "way to Damascus" moment. Thus, I seized photography, I seized art in all the possible ways, writing, for me, for those who want to listen what I have to tell, photographing, for me and for sharing with those who sincerely want to see. I perfectly understand your dream of someday be able to make your life by means of your art, since me myself have had such feeling many many times as well. But a certain Finn sculpture, more way of an outsider fully conscient of the price to pay for freedom and independence, said once something that caught my soul,"""The choices that lead one to develop into an artist are not always voluntary, nor are they necessarily made through happy coincidences. Not all artists choose this career from a vast range of possible and interesting jobs; for some it may be a kind of by-product of their battle for survival. . . ."
    His name was Veijo Rönkkönen, a name who certainly will never feature in any famous gallery neither will be mentioned by some famous and renowned critic. But that for me had something more valuable, the courage of living and dying if necessary, for his faith and believes. I am no one such as for going in life giving advice to the people, but Gabriella, I want to tell you something, seize with all your strenght from your art, dont let that the worries, that the greediness, the bad things of the world to corrupt your lovely, wonderful, pure love for your art and for what you do. Just enjoy it, just let it flow, let it always be the source of happiness and relief for you, let it always be a shelter where to hide when the tempest. And like friends, like couples, maybe sometimes you need to take your distance from it, to be angry with it. Your art will be always there for you, as long as you keep it alive, as long as you want it to stay in your life. Dont worry about printings and gadgets and nonsense, there are always a good geek dispossed to help :) God,,I have written so much, maybe pure gibberish, but,,well well,, I think you got my idea. You are already a photographer, a poet, a writer, and architect even, of your fate. and art, yes, maybe art is only a by product of our battle for survival, despite it all. But it really helps, yeah, it really make you feel better in life
    Hugs and all my best wishes to you.

  8. I wrapped myself around Kodachrome for so many years and trusted a local photo shop to provide me with the images I anticipated. Not professional by any means, but what I wanted. Now with this silly digital camera I understand, assuming I had the knowledge, can manipulate and squash and darken and insert and delete and...I don't think it is photography anymore.

    Now ebooks.

    I don't think I can keep up anymore. I'm not sure I want to.

    I fear that art shrivels when one finds that they have to trim and fit into something someone else wants.

    Your treatise eloquently stated much that I fear and don't understand.

  9. your ending makes me smile so deeply.

    i've had to learn just what it is that i want from art because it is so very difficult to live in this world. art is beyond the construct of the society we function (kind of) within, or at least, generally speaking. and so for me i discovered that creating is enough. the will and drive, the need, to create is what art is for me. it enriches my life. this has to be enough. and so i work a menial job that affords me food and shelter. little else more. and i try to create something every day, or at least recognize some astounding beauty in this world, some idea, some paradox, something, or just notice the passing light itself. the frames, an irish band, have a song about how art and money are like blood and water. i'll ask robert for the title of it. i am so bad with these things. and so i try to keep them apart. that is not to say i do not want my poems in a book one day. but it is to say that i will not write for a book. i will write for art's sake and whatever happens alongside my breathing or dying, well then, there it is.

    i wish you all the best. it is not easy, this thing, being an artist, but it sure as hell is fun.


  10. Such thoughtful comments are coming in - thank you Erin, Jerry, Alberto, Elephant's Child - but I will answer them all at length tomorrow, as I am taking a much needed day away from the computer screen. See you all soon!

  11. EC - thanks for the hug - I can feel it, body and soul, as I sit here. It's a new day, and soon a new week, and new month, in which, yes, I will find some project to work on with my abandoned crochet hook and colorful fibers, one that gives me some balance but does not take too much away from the other things I need to attend to. All will be well. Thank you for your words.

  12. Alberto, my dear friend! I loved your comment - it was neither too long nor boring at all! It was just what I needed to read, and the perfect person to write it, and I know it comes from one heart to another. I also love the quote about art being a byproduct of the battle for survival. It does feel like a battle, every day, even when there are no major catastrophes or conflicts happening. I think I will do as you say, and allow myself to be angry at my art and my fate for a day or two, and then get back to living - I am a very lucky and wealthy woman in so many ways, even if my luck is sometimes like a cruel imp, and my wealth does not translate into dollars. I send my love to you, for what it is worth. Have a great week!

  13. Greetings, Jerry, and welcome! Thank you for your comment. I know I am not the only one baffled and not a little disgusted with the downside of so much digitization. It can be such a blessing, but in the realm of art (and literature) I feel it is often more of a curse, further disconnecting us from ourselves and others when the purpose is (allegedly) the opposite. I appreciate your comment very much and am happy to hear from you here! This is one of those times technology and I are at peace!

  14. Erin, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Art for art's sake indeed. I will never give up taking photos or writing. The way words pour from you, dear friend, like sweet air, it's not only who I am, but how I am. I did try to "place" my poems long ago, but this is the first time I have created with a direct agenda of marketing and making a living from my artmaking and it puts my activities into a whole new light. I must find a way to keep the joyful playful natural side alive alongside the realities of what the outside world will demand. Writing especially, for me is the only way I can confront my confusions and fears and try to make some sense of them. This post began as an entry in my journal. I closed the notebook (handwritten, one of those cheap little black and white marble-ized old timey school notebooks) and immediately continued the theme for my post, which was written quickly with very little editing. By the end of it I maybe didn't have the answers, but I felt a lot less upset by the questions, and was able to separate them from who I am. They are now not so much something eating me up inside, as something messy on the table that needs to be cleaned up and put away. The last lines came out of me unconsciously, and were perhaps why the whole post and the writing of it had to happen, for whatever it is in me that knows who it is to utter that cry, simple and loud. Many thanks for your comment, E. Keep writing, sister!

  15. Many thanks, Skizo! Your comments here are always appreciated.

  16. Its so good that you just keep on learning new things gabriella. they will all come together in something great you wait and see. its always best to follow your passion and your heart.


  17. Dear Gabriella, about the job, I Undesrtand you very well, todays days, are unfortunatelly not like at the time the impressioniten where you could pay the rent with 6 months of delay, buy the colors and canvas on credit... and so on...

    todays almost each artist must do a scary job to pay rent, and so on...

    well, but if we have a job than it is not so simple to have time to paint of photograf, and especially to have the inspiration and the free mind...

    I hate my scary job and I want with end this year to paint full time... I will try it...

    I have lot of project but I'm superticious (hihihihi I'm italian hihihihii)
    but when I will do it, my project, that I will write here in blog...

    kiss and a gteat and warm hug, my dear

  18. Hi T! Hope all is well with you. I believe what you say, it will all come together - everything that happens good or bad eventually proves itself to be one more essential thread in the fabric of something beautiful to come! It's just hard to see sometimes when the threads are all still in a tangled mess in front of me! Thanks for your comment.

  19. Dear Laura, I'm so sorry to hear that you have a scary job taking time away from your art. But I am very happy to hear that you may be giving it up and giving your full attention to painting! I hope you can make this happen. Your work is already so wonderful, if you worked on it full time I think we would see some absolutely amazing creations from you! Kisses and hugs for you too, my dear.

  20. My dear Gabriella..
    All the good thoughts and wishes are here to read
    from all your friends.

    In a few months maybe you see all this from
    another better point of view. According to your

    You are a poet and photographer.
    And once in a while why not crochet-ting..

    PS. It is hard for me to follow you and to
    answer in the right language! I hope that
    you understand and I think, that it is better
    to send you a comment than not to...


  21. Monika! I can understand and feel your good thoughts and wishes in ANY language! I always welcome your comments here. It is good to call you my friend. All the best to you.

  22. These are absolutely superb. I can't begin to tell you how superb I think them. I am gobsmacked. And I really feel for your underlying sense of frustration. I have been going through much the same emotions of late, not quite from the same cause as yourself. My bugbear is the frailty of modern technology. It has been one long struggle to get things working satisfactorily. A post like this one, though, does me the world of good. It fires me up and makes me all the more determined to keep on doing art. Thanks.

  23. My dear friend, you put into words what many artists all over the world feel and think.
    To be succesful( in the outside world) is not just a matter of being good at what you are making, there is always that other side...
    I have to divide my time too between a 3days/week job and making art, sometimes it works, sometimes it's frustrating. But there is one thing i know for sure, i will keep drawing and painting no matter what, because i also see it as a great luxery, a gift to make my life better,good. I know i am a bad mamager when it comes to my own work and not only because a lack of time(ofcourse there is) but of the artworld itself. Looking for and talking yourself into the right places and connections no matter what ,isn't just my cup of tea i guess. What works for one person doesn't work for another, that's the way it goes. Anyway, i have always kept my eyes and ears open for possibilities that may work for me, and sometimes they did.

    I'm sure you find a way to cope,you're a tiger after all, and you make beautiful work,xx

  24. Dave - to have elicited the word "gobsmacked" in response to my work, to me is a finer achievement than mastering any technology! Yes, you are right, some days it's the superiority and supremacy and ubiquity of technology that bug me, and other days it's how very frail and flawed and fleeting it can be! I am glad that something as simple as my collection of words and images can still reach people and do them good, even if, ironically, it had to be in this electronic medium! I'd much rather hand each of my followers a book. Enjoy your week!

  25. Renilde - I am happy to know that you understand these struggles, but sad to know that you endure them too. It is a strange time when artists have to be good at what they do, and also be wage earners, career advisors, business managers, personal assistants and now also computer programmers. There is a happy ending to this post - yesterday I learned about a new photo contest whose specifications for file submission were very kind and gentle. In five minutes I was able to successfully send them an application form and five chosen images I could not properly format for the other contests after spending a whole day of frustration. Not only that, but this particular gallery is willing and happy to mount, frame, and even print your digital images FOR YOU if they decide to display your work. That way they get a final product that suits their gallery, and the artist avoids a nervous breakdown! How simple and perfect is that? So, today I am a very happy tiger. All the best to you!

  26. Good for you Gabriella, that's what i meant, keep looking for possibilities that suit you, and this is really good news, the best of luck! x

  27. Oh how i understand your struggles.
    I just love my job, but not the ratrace included at times. And it's also frustrating the job means less time for my art. If i could quit i would quit to be a fulltime artist.
    But also: i am not sure if i wanna be a part of the artworld. Just like Renilde wrote, to talk yourself into it, no matter what.... nah!

    Your photographs are so very beautiful, i am very very happy with your book with wonderful poems, i love your writings.

    Keep hanging in my sweet friend, i wish you all the best and more....

    Hugs and kisses! Monica

  28. Thanks for visiting, dear Monica, it means a lot to me when I know how demanding your life is at the moment! Your words make me so happy, even just a few will be enough! I can feel you out there, I know you understand. Be well.

  29. BUT! Yay for you, you are brave for going after what is true to you - not many can say that.

  30. Thanks TB! I'm not so brave - I get a lot of extra oomph from the example and support of other creative souls, old and new, near and far. And as for being true - I am not very good at being untrue, even when I feel it's the only way. I always end up feeling bad and wrong and frustrated and then I have to write a post about it to get back on track! Have a great weekend.

  31. Such a thoughtful post. Gabriella, I get it, I really do. As an artist who, like you, tries to find balance everyday between my career and my "paycheck job", it's always tough. Settle and be comfortable, or spend as little time as possible near a computer and actually make art?

    These questions dog us all, and they are not easy to answer. But I think part of the answer lies in the question. If we are brave enough to ask this questions of ourselves, "Am I really happy?" then I think we have the courage to live out the answers in our lives.

    Much love to you.

  32. Hi G/TT - I read this with a heavy heart as I think it just showed me how hard it is to follow that dream, be true to yourself and all that it brings. The things you give up; the struggles you face. I think I know that I couldn't totally let go of my day job yet - but we are fortunate to work from home and intermittently rather than regularly and somewhere else. I so understood your concern as well re how hard it is to meet the techno demands of things these days - I almost gave up on an application yesterday when I was sure that I couldn't achieve the desired format, size etc. How ridiculous is that!?!? People making beautiful art get dismissed because they don't know the computer stuff? A special sort of madness me thinks. Go well, stay strong.

  33. I love hearing what goes on in your heart and mind as you create. These photos are so rich. Love them.

  34. Phoenix, you are absolutely right - the fact that I question these things again and again is how and why I can make the changes that maybe don't provide all the answers, if I had those, I'd be rich on the sales of a new book called "All the Answers," - but at least get me to the next part of the journey. Thanks for your comment, my friend.

  35. Fiona, isn't it awful, the techno demands? I too worry that much good work will never be recognized simply because the artist lacked the computer skills to get it out there - or lacked a computer! It is indeed madness. But we will soldier on. Have a great weekend!

  36. Many thanks, Kass! I'm glad my words and images can reach people here - with minimal techno savvy required! - and be enjoyed. Go well.

  37. Well, i sold my soul to the devil.

    I stayed in well-paid employment as a college principal and retired as early as i could. But it was too late. The Faustian bargain short-changed me.

    I'm now too old to gain any real mastery of my art before my appointment with Mr G Reaper. If only i had had the insight and the guts a few decades ago to know i needed to be an expressive artist of some kind.

    Soooooo, as precarious as the balancing act may feel, you are living an authentic life, Gabriella. For what profiteth it a woman if she gain the whole world but lose her own soul?

    And now for a treasure - your photo Back to Back brought unexpected tears to my eyes.

    Why is that, i wonder? So many layers to this work. But i think it's the implied presence that serves to underscore a mutual absence. It speaks so eloquently of one's essential existential isolation - the warehouse-empty-feeling space, the wall of rough bricks we pile up and call our lives, the light of hope blazened across the wall which illumines place, but also illumines circumstance by casting the shadow of the empty chair.


  38. Harry, these words touch me deeply. I am so pleased that you liked "Back to Back." It was taken with a Holga camera, which is about as low-tech a tool as one can use to capture an image, but somehow creates effects above and beyond what is seen in the mind's eye or what can be conjured from a computer program. I have always been drawn to scenes of absence, to the play of light and shadow, and the way inanimate objects can sometimes convey human emotion more poignantly than any portrait. Your eloquent description indicates that all this came through, which is gratifying indeed. And as for your gaining mastery of your art - why would you need to gain something you already have? Go well, my friend.

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