Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sofobomo – The Next Chapter

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Tuesday I was so relieved to have settled on a theme for my SoFoBoMo project that I couldn’t get to my camera fast enough. For most of that day, I shot as though my hair was on fire. Yesterday, I was exhausted from the adrenalin high and only experimented a bit with a different lens. I have spent much of today agonizing over a book cover. Of course all this activity, is the result of my struggle to refine both my theme and my plan for execution.

I have these recurring visions of someone viewing my book and asking, “Why did you make this book? What is it about.” “Because a bunch of other people signed up for a a challenge and I thought I would give it a go” isn’t an acceptable answer. That’s what has had me stewing. Okay, I’m making a photo book. What is it about? Will I produce a collection of thirty-five mediocre images that collectively scream—these photographs were taken for no other reason than to get to the magic number of thirty-five. For at least a week, I felt the title of my book should be “Sharp Images of Fuzzy Concepts”, because I was haunted by the famous Ansel Adams quote. Can I clearly define what this book is about—why it should be made? Am I clear enough about what I want to say? And, just as importantly, can I say it well?

While Paul Butzi has laid claim to “the stupidest idea ever beheld”, I may have to challenge him on that when all is said and done. After much agonizing, I have committed to a theme that has some emotional heat for me; now, I wonder whether I can come close to making pictures that will convey some of the very feelings that have produced the heat. My subject is saying goodbye to a place that has been my home for twenty years. I will make my thirty-five pictures within a radius of about five miles of our home here in the San Fernando Valley in California. This is the very small world where I spend most of my time—our house, the yard, the barn area where the horses are stabled a couple of miles away, and an area along the Little Tujunga Wash, between the stable and our house. So, I finally know what I want to photograph and why. Now, comes the issue of successful execution. Can I bring a viewer into my simple little universe—the places where I spend, by far, most of my time—and put across some of the feelings of melancholy I am already experiencing at the prospect of leaving it behind? Or, will the passion be strong, yet the craft weak?

I confess that I had not wanted to immerse myself in these feelings about another ending. But, here I am plunging into the abyss. There is no easy way out of this. The feelings will supply the energy and inform the work. To deny the feelings is to turn off the energy supply. Best to not snuff out the flame. Predictably, I will waste some time trying to worm my way out of the pain that goes with the experience and rely on the “understanding” of purpose to get the job done. Nope. It doesn’t work that way. Red Smith’s observation on the ease of writing included in William Bronaugh’s book, “Just Open a Vein” says it all. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” If we set out to create—regardless of the medium—there is no getting around the struggle. What SoFoBoMo amounts to is that a whole gang of us have elected to—if I may paraphrase Red Smith—pick up a camera and open a vein. I suppose the only sensible course is to take comfort in the observation made by more than one participant that it won't last forever. They are right, of course. A month will fly by. No, wait. That last part isn't comforting, at all.


  1. Anita, I think that making a book about something that is deeply personal will result in a better bit of work.

    I like the analogy of opening a vein. Photography, I think, as well as any other art form, is equivalent to that. It involves pouring forth one's soul into the work.

    I think that your work, when you look back upon it, will have deep personal meaning. I'm pretty sure that mine will. It may not be but a collection of shadows to someone else, but it will have significance when I gaze upon it in the future, especially after we leave this house and move on ... which we plan to do in about 3 years.

    So, not only will you have successfully moved into your new home, you'll have heartwarming memories of your home of 20 years and a great work product, to boot!

  2. I have little hope of getting through this exercise without emotion to power me through it. Besides, I agree that the personal investment is bound to result in better work.

    It had already struck me how similar our projects are and, after seeing your comments here, the similarities appear even more obvious. While I will be shooting outside the house more than inside, there are bound to be a number of images featuring shadows. Having seen your pictures, I am already intimidated when it comes to anything with shadows in the frame.

    It will be lovely, won't it, to look back years from now at our pictures of what once was home?

    I look forward to seeing your book. Are you starting April 1?

  3. I think you should give yourself permission to be selfish, and make the book for you. Don't worry if someone else would be able to 'get' the ideas, just make it a project of recording your feelings for your own benefit. That may take some of the pressure off, and not considering a wider audience might allow you to be more honest and open when you're actually shooting, too...

  4. Julie, thank you for the reminder and the push in the right direction. Of course, the person I most want to "get" it is me, and I'm not certain that I can put those feelings into images. But, it certainly will be a valuable experience. Just thinking about this project has gotten me to experiment more and that's positive.

    I read your March 15 post at your site and wanted to thank you for all the excellent points well-made. You have touched on so many things that I need to keep in mind. I do seem to keep forgetting the part about this being an exercise. Just as each picture is "a" picture—not "the" picture, this will be "a" book—not "the" book.

  5. Anita, the really good thing about this whole exercise is that it is NOT a competition, so chase those shadows and have fun with them! :-)

    About my start date, I'm not sure. I may start on April 1, but then again, I might not. I'm not really sure what will be the impetus to get me to start. It may well be procrastination, but I hope not! ;-)

  6. So far, I am having fun and the shadow chasing is certain to be part of it.

    I think I am eager to start the first of April mostly because of our unpredictable living situation. We are thinking now about staying here through April. I would like to finish this project before starting with a new internet provider and while I still know where to find my toothbrush and the clean towels.

  7. why is the thought of being creative so much more painful and worrying than the act of being creative ?

    You know, that fear and loathing about starting anything creative, that usually fades into the background once you actually get going (assuming you ever do)

    Never really had that with photography, but get it all the time with writing. I can't start, then I do and I usually can't stop.

  8. Gordon, thanks for your comment.
    One of the main reasons I check your blog regularly is that I don't catch angst from you. Of course that serves to highlight my hangups, but it's worth it. It is curious isn't it that so many of us can't walk away from these creative endeavors, in spite of the doubts and fears they stir up? Some people would ask, why bother? Funny that we just can't stay away from it. As far as your anxieties about writing are concerned, once you get going you certainly do a smashing job.


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