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WORK-IN-PROGRESS: a follow-up

In the previous issue of HYPO I mentioned a few reasons why I like to show and write about my work-in-progress. (Some people don't like to talk about what they're working on until it's complete. Fair enough.)

I asked HYPO readers to send me their thoughts about this. I was thrilled that some of you responded, and that those responses were well thought-out and nuanced. (Sad to say everyone more or less agreed with me. Oh well.)

The fact that there was any feedback at all gave me hope. Maybe HYPO can turn into something more than just me writing stuff, dropping it down a well called "email newsletter" and never hearing the splash.

True, this whole show-or-not-show-work-in-progress thing is really pretty much a non-issue. But I'm interested in the nuts and bolts of process, and any and all back-and-forth adds fuel to the conversation, right?

A big thanks to everyone who answered my call. 
I hope HYPO readers will keep responding.

In the meantime, let's get to it . . .
Smoke obscuring structure, Nº 1
Chris W., from California, responded, "You are right that writing and talking about your projects makes them better or lifts them into another dimension. I am a former research scientist who left the lab years ago to spend my days with a camera, computer, printer, and bindery. In science, communication of the process is required..."

Interesting how Chris refers to another discipline here. Choosing to share, or not share, your work is not specific to art. I get it, we can't all be blabbing about what we're doing all the time (except on Facebook). But judicious public questioning of what we're working on and thinking about tends to open things up.
Andreas Olesen, in Denmark writes, "I do in fact suffer from the what-if-they-steal-my-amazing-idea type of thinking, but I find that it usually cures itself by sharing. Your own head is indeed an echo chamber, and daylight is the best way of developing thought processes (or any process really).

That being said, it is not something I do enough of, and it doesn’t hurt to be a little mysterious as well. Also, for the real hard work of dissecting ideas, I recommend a trusted circle of people who know you and your work
Speaking of stealing ideas . . . your work can only be stolen, in the sense of replicated, if it’s generic. Projects with complexity and depth are impossible to replicate. 

And read Andreas' last sentence again. That's some truth.
Smoke obscuring structure, Nº 2
From Ottawa, MaryAnn Camps says, "I tend to vacillate between wanting to talk about WIP in order to show 'here's where my head is at right now' and maintain connection with people, and an inclination to hold back. Why hold back? Something like not being fully sure of what course I am on.

But recently I needed to write a submission earlier than I thought I was ready to, so I had to clarify my thoughts on new work. It became clear that forcing the issue was in fact helpful. It made the course clearer. So there you go: I like your approach, it makes sense to me, keeps things free flowing. Helps with clarity. And forces one to not be so delicate: the course does not have to be straight. As you said, one thing leads to another.
Couldn't have put it better myself.
Smoke obscuring structure, Nº 3
One respondant put the question to members of Fine Art Photography: Ottawa, a photo-group he belongs to. They sent along some reasons to share, and some reasons not to share.

Against sharing:
- Concern that others would steal your idea
- Shame for talking about something you are working on that never seems to materialize
- Unsure that your project is even worth talking about

For sharing:
- It's a natural approach to materializing your thoughts
- Others may genuinely contribute to your thinking
- Widen your network for access

Sounds to me like withholding might be based on fear, and sharing is about bravely moving forward.
Smoke obscuring structure Nº 4
Finally, Cindy Deachman, who makes drawings, has this to say, "Me, I'd love to share my works-in-progress. Usually though, I get too caught up in the doing of them. Forget about showing them.

Plus, I can't seem to get the hang of photographing them. Maybe, for a start, I should get into that habit. However, I sure enjoy others showing me their processes.

And I wonder if that's one of the main things about sharing, or not, work-in-progress. If you aren't in the habit of sharing and writing about what you're working on, well, you just don't do it. No big philosophical thing. Habit.

Could that be true?
Cindy in studio
Drawing by Cindy


By the way, HYPO welcomes any and all questions, criticisms, insights, etc. Souki Belghiti, from Morocco, sent along an email asking for my thoughts on this:

Capitalism has created an aesthetics. Is that aesthetics so contaminating in and of itself that it invalidates any attempt to subvert it?

Now that's a pretty political question. One of the things I wanted to do as much as possible, was to keep overt politics out of HYPO. (Although photography without any politics is a step in the wrong direction. But that's another story.)

My blog,
drool., has become the political arm of my consciousness, so I answered Souki's question there. If you're interested, here's what I said.
Capitol Bldg with Stealth fighters, Washington, D.C.


The other day I set out to frame a print for a charity auction. An image 10 years old that I hadn't really looked at or thought about for a long time. I dug around in my storeroom and found a suitable frame. It already had a print in it, a photo of a teenage mother I had shot about 20 years ago . . .
Cracked the frame open so I could put in the new print. There, on the flip side of the mat board, was another image. A portrait of an Arsenal F.C. fan I'd shot at Highbury, in London, about 35 years ago . . .
That was a surprise, discovering something buried so long ago. I decided to leave both images in the frame, hidden behind the new one. Maybe one day its new owner will open it up and find those layers of the past.
The Mississippi River at Rosedale, Mississippi, 2010


Looking at that photo of the Mississippi River again, after all these years, brought back some memories . . .

That red sand shore seemed to go on forever as Cindy and I walked across it to get to the Mississippi River. Cindy was walking a ways ahead of me, she stopped when she got to the river. I caught up and stood beside her.

And Rosedale, a small town in the Mississippi Delta. I've been there a few times and have some stories. Here's one:

I was having lunch at the Double L Soul Food Kitchen, a plywood shack on Main Street in Rosedale (pop: 1,685). After lunch (which was excellent), I asked Lordish Lewis, the cook and owner, if I could photograph her. She said, “Sure." At that point an old fellow came up. Lordish introduced him as her father.

Right after we were introduced he told me, as he straightened his back and looked me in the eye, “I’m 72 years old. I got 12 children. I been a man."

I said to him, “Your wife must be quite a woman to bring all those kids into the world."

He replied, “Took 4 wives."

Afterwards, Lordish told me she’s got brothers and sisters she’s never met.

Lordish Lewis and her dad, Rosedale, Mississippi
Thinking about that led to another memory . . .

Clarksdale, Mississippi. That's the town where, in 1935, legendary blues musician Robert Johnson went to the crossroads of highways US 61 and US 49 and sold his soul to the Devil in order to become the best player anyone had ever heard.

One of two confirmed authentic photographs of Delta blues king Robert Johnson, found in the possession of his half-sister.

Seventy-five years after that happened Cindy and I were in Clarksdale. Holed up in some motel on the outskirts. It was Christmas Eve.

he history of the Mississippi Delta bore down on me. My history bore down. The bad juju was overpowering. My head felt funny. I was bent out of shape. 

I went to the crossroads on the edge of town. There it was lonesome, cold, rainy, windswept. Awful and awesome. I fell to my knees in the mud, broke down, wracked.

The sobbing brought no comfort, only a kind of release.

Best Christmas Eve ever.

The crossroads of US 61 and US 49.
I went down to the crossroads
Fell down on my knees.

Thoughts? Ideas? Something you'd like me to write about? Email me.
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