The only rule is work

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Here are the official rules for Corita Kent’s art department at LA’s Immaculate Heart Convent, appropriated from a class project she taught there in 1967-1968.

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I especially love the last paragraph and that final sentence in particular.

“Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later. There should be new rules next week.”

– Corita Kent

For more, check out her inspirational book, Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit.

Empty days

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I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged, damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.

May Sarton

I’m getting better at accepting the empty days. The days when I don’t make anything, or if it happens, I let it happen naturally. Maybe I’m tired, run down or I just don’t have the energy to write or pick up a camera. Instead, I’ll read, walk or take a nap.

Empty days get overlooked but they’re so important. They’re days when the pressure to perform, lifts. Forced productivity all of the time is, ironically, not productive. It leads to burnout, ambivalence and exhaustion.  

So, take a day off, if you can. Make time for yourself. Live in the changing light of a room, like May Sarton, and feel the pressure lifting.

Something creative that’s just for you

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A hobby is something creative that’s just for you. You don’t try to make money or get famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy. A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take.

Austin Kleon

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about forced creativity, about working under pressure, to deadlines and briefs. I don’t do this. I can’t, for me, it just doesn’t happen. I have to be engaged and interested, whether it’s photographing a piece of rubbish on the street or a beautiful view.

I don’t force it because forcing it kills it. Whatever it is in me, that urge to press the shutter, crumbles under pressure. And I should underline that, put it in capital letters, because sometimes, often, I forget. I don’t wait it out patiently, knowing that it will pass. Instead I prolong the slump by panicking and feeling bad.

I spent three years studying art at University, scraping work together, coming up with bullshit reasons for creating, when the truth was, I just wanted to. I didn’t need to discuss it, analyse it, to sit around in groups critiquing it, digging myself into a big hole and ending up so exhausted and confused that I didn’t create anything for weeks, months, even.

Not everything needs to be considered a potential career. If something you love ends up making you money, that’s cool, but that doesn’t always have to be the end goal. Some things you do just for you, for fun, to unwind.

Know the difference.

You can observe a lot by watching

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You can observe a lot by watching.

– Yogi Berra

I found my first discarded film inside a broken bellows camera at a car boot sale. Although I didn’t hold out much hope for the results, I wound back the half-exposed roll and dropped it off at a local photo lab.

A few days later, I collected the developed negatives along with a little packet containing six images. The medium format film had long expired so the resulting images were beautiful shades of pink, purple and blue. My favourite was a picture of a man and woman turned towards the camera. Their figures were blurred and unrecognisable. The woman had one arm raised, as though caught off guard.

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All found photographs are enigmas. Their true content can never be known for certain because the original context has been lost. Sleuth-like, I scan these mysterious images for clues, making up stories and assumptions based only on what I can see.

Several conflicting responses come into play when I encounter found photographs; I respond with voyeuristic fascination fuelled by stereotypes, but also with a surrealist’s glee in discovering the bizarre and with an anthropologist’s interest in photographs as cultural artefacts.

– Barry Mauer

Found images are virtual time machines and portals to other worlds. They enable us to visit moments that no longer exist. Through them, forgotten memories are reclaimed and made precious. Most serve to document people’s lives and as such, there’s no agenda. Snapshots tend to be honest and authentic. I also love the instinctual way amateurs take photos; the accidental light leaks, double exposures and blur make even the most mundane images appear magical and surreal.

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Some people prowl flea markets and auctions searching for very specific images to add to their collection, such as vintage cars, smiling babies and people with their heads cut out. Others gather found photographs to repurpose in their own art like Joachim Schmid. Often, finds appear out of the blue, in skips and rubbish bins, on the pavement or between the pages of books, cropping up where you least expect them.

I most enjoy finding exposed rolls of film and getting them developed. There is no selection process involved and the end result is always unexpected. The surprises are part of what drew me to film photography in the first place.

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Maybe it’s the inevitability of time passing and of death that draws us to found photographs; the intrigue of the unusual or unexplained; the snippets of another life which remind us of personal experiences. Maybe it’s the seemingly endless, fascinating cycle of human beings photographing the same troupes again and again.

It could be a combination of all of these things and more. Our choices are highly personal and are as unique as the images we covet. All collections can be said to contain elements of the person to which they belong. In this way, a stranger’s photographs can tell us as much about ourselves as our own.

 

Lee Friedlander

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Lee Friedlander

We photographers don’t really make anything: we peck at the world and try to find something curious or wild or beautiful that might fit into what the medium of photography can hold.

– Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander is an American social landscape photographer, best known for his humorous, poignant self-portraits and pictures of everyday people, urban places and objects. In The Little Screens, for example, disembodied heads float on television screens in hotel rooms, while street signs turn into surrealist sculptures.

Friedlander has said he throws photographs into boxes, waits until they’re full, and then revisits them to assess their similarities and potential use in future series. His projects tend to grow organically, a little at a time and can be the culmination of several years of sporadic work.

On the street, almost everything is left to chance, apart from where Friedlander stands and when he clicks the shutter. He is so familiar with his 35mm hand-held Leica camera, square-format Hasselblad Superwide and trademark black and white film, that he barely has to think about using it.

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Route 9W, New York1969 © Lee Frielander

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Washington, D.C.1962 © Lee Frielander
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Detroit1963 © Lee Frielander
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New York City1980 © Lee Frielander
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Aloha, Washington1967 © Lee Frielander

Anything that looks like an idea is probably just something that has accumulated, like dust. It looks like I have ideas because I do books that are all on the same subject. That is just because the pictures have piled up on that subject. Finally I realise that I am really interested in it. The pictures make me realise that I am interested in something.

– Lee Friedlander

Friedlander’s self-portraits are particularly interesting because they aren’t conventional. Overlapping reflections and shadows are often included, and he isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself or to self-deprecate.

Often, he will present huge amounts of information in his frames, due to his preference for wide-angle lenses. He also adds foreground obstructions in a radical break with tradition.

For over 60 years, Friedlander has been taking photographs. Even now, aged 83, he still manages to inspire and innovate.

Recommended Reading

Friedlander: Museum of Modern Art

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Published to accompany Frielander’s retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art. This book includes over 750 photographs grouped by series and is the most comprehensive review of his career to date.

Self-Portrait: Photographs by Lee Friedlander

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Includes an introduction by John Szarkowski and is one of the most creative books about Friedlander’s self-portraits.