Sunday, May 13, 2007

Passports and Nostalgia

Yesterday I mailed my passport to Philadelphia in order to get it renewed. This was my first passport and I feel sad to part ways with it. I remember looking through my Grandmother's passport when I was a kid, looking at all of the places that she had traveled. That was back in the good ol' days when you used to get a stamp for each country, back before the EU. As I was getting ready to send it off, I started to look through all of my stamps and felt a real sense of nostalgia for my own travels over these past ten years.

Growing up, my family never traveled abroad. We would vacation in Maine or Massachusetts, mini golf and yogi bear as opposed to The Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. During my last semester of college, I was offered a job teaching photography at a youth program in Guatemala City for the following year. I had to get vaccinated, started listening to "Learn Spanish in Twenty Days" cassettes on my drive to work and most excitingly, I had to get my first passport! Here we have a photograph of young git, ready to conquer the world, naive as can be. I had never been in a place where the primary language wasn't English, had never taught before, wasn't sure where I would be living once I got there, and got bored listening to the language tapes and figured that I would figure Spanish out once I got there. It wasn't until the week before my departure that it hit me how scary the transition was going to be.

These were the first stamps that I ever received. I departed for Guatemala on the morning of August 27, 1997. I cried on the plane, I was terrified.

When I landed I was met by my soon to be co-worker/friend Daniel who took me in a taxi up to the town where I would be living for the next eight months. The house that I lived in was supposed to be for language students but in reality, it was a boarding house for travelers of all walks of life. The house became the center of my life in Guatemala, it was full of wonderful people who became some of my best friends and consisted of an open walled kitchen and a concrete courtyard that was lined with six bedrooms.

In order to work and live in Guatemala, I had to leave the country every three months for a few days in order to renew my visa. How often in life are you required by work to go on a paid vacation? The stamp on this page is from a visa trip that Daniel and I made to El Salvador towards the end of my stay in Central America. We stayed our first night in San Salvador, which was a pretty dangerous city at the time. We stayed in a cheap hotel next to the bus station and didn't leave our room all night. The amazing thing about this hotel room (besides the cockroaches) was that the toilet was in the shower:

The next morning we departed for the beach town of Zunsal where we stayed for the next two nights. The town consisted of one restaurant/bar and the view from our balcony was amazing:

Another Visa renewal stamp was the trip that I made to Belize with Daniel and my friend Laura (my best friend from college, she was down visiting). We stayed in a tiny village named Placencia that consisted of a small concrete walkway, some huts and two restaurants/bars (I've heard that it has been very developed since). We spent three days drinking beer, laying around and swimming. This is the only photograph that I have from our trip to Belize, Laura and Daniel and I lounging on the beach:

Oddly enough, my best friends in Guatemala were all Europeans. As soon as I returned to The States in March of 1998, I immediately began to plan a trip to Europe so that I could see them again. I had been a literature major in college (specifically 20th century European fiction) and had been dreaming of visiting Europe for a long time. On 4/29/00, I finally boarded a flight to Europe and I was ecstatic (the small black stamp on passport page 13). Before September 11th, it was a lot easier to travel as a photographer. This footage was actually shot on a super 8 camera during my first flight to Europe:

I landed at 6am in Frankfurt where my friend Ute came to pick me up. We then took a train through Switzerland to get to Milan where we met up with our friends Carlo, Henk and Eliana. A few days in Milan and a few days in San Remo. Italy is my favorite place on the planet.

From San Remo, Ute and I rode a train to Paris where we hung out for the next week:

For the final stretch of our trip, Ute and I took the train to Brussels to visit our friend Lucy. My favorite part of Brussels was hanging out on the rooftops. The angles of all of the buildings really appealed to the classical photographer in me and on our last day, I made this home movie of some laundry blowing on the clothesline:

The last stamp on page thirteen of my passport is from my trip to St. Martin in 2001. My friend Ben has a beach house there and we spent a week laying around, smoking cigars and drinking lots of rum and tonics. This was my first time seeing "Blue" water and the snorkeling was out of this world!

Last summer I married Robin and the two of us took our honeymoon in Portugal. We flew into Lisbon where we spent a few days walking and eating. Our hotel was in the old part of town and at night we would eat luxurious dinners. One of the most amazing memories from our trip to Lisbon was the spontaneous music that would occur in the restaurants and bars:

From Lisbon, we rented a car and drove to the Algarve (Portugal's southern tip). The beaches and fish were incredible and the asses . . .

The last stamp in my passport was from a trip to Montreal in February 2006. I had a show at Dazibao (my first show outside of the US) and flew out with Robin and was met there by my parents. This was a really amazing trip because it was my parent's first exposure to hearing a language other than English spoken as the predominant language.

I've since been to Toronto but mysteriously I never received a stamp. The other day I went to CVS to get a photo taken for my new passport:

I hope my new passport brings as many great adventures as my old one did. The first stamp will be from the trip that Robin and I are taking to Barcelona this July.

Homage to Michael Spano

I discovered Michael Spano's work a few years back and really fell in love with it. His use of special multi-frame camera's allowed him to tell a complex narrative on a single sheet of film. I was in grad school at the time and was trying really hard (and often unsuccessfully) to figure out how to create a successful grid/storyboard. I bought his book Time Frames and still enjoy looking through it every now and again.

As "The Garbage Can Project" has begun to evolve, I have had to think about Michael's work once again. We currently have five garbage cans outside of my apartment and my camera can only fit two of them on screen. In order to film (almost) all the cans, I've had to resort to some nerdy technical creations. The other day I set up a second camera out of our other front window and figured out a way to get them both to record onto the same VHS tape using a split screen technique. The effect creates a panorama of sorts and allows me to film four garbage cans at the same time. "The Garbage Can Project" will be launched on the web by June 1st (fingers crossed). After talking about this project for over a year, it will be a big sigh of relief to officially present it to the world in it's proper format. Here is a clip from yesterday featuring my new, Michael Spano-style double image recording. Enjoy:

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Subject: OMG

This semester I have been teaching a "Contemporary Practice" course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Yesterday we had our final critique for the semester and I was really pleased with the work that was hung on the wall. Here is some work by the students, you can click on the images to see a larger view:

This is the work of Caitlin Leonard. Caitlin spent the final month of the semester documenting the life of her thirteen year old sister and the social dynamics of suburban youth. The images were paired with pages from her sister's account.

These are the photographs of Jaime Kim. Jaime became interested in photographing scenes from the underground subway here in Chicago. Her pictures capture the disorienting blur of life as a commuter.

These photographs are by Julius Dorsey. Julius is a painter and he works a lot with the color red. Earlier in the semester he made a photograph that informed this project. He would stay in one place with his camera on a tripod and photograph every person that would walk through his frame wearing the color red. He then composited all of his photographs so that everyone in the scene would be wearing red (even down to the cars and street lights).

This installation is by Lauren Christiansen. Lauren decided to create a family "photo wall" for her final project and skipped lunch to make sure that it was hung just right. We talked a lot about Nan Goldin's work as well as Christian Marclay's "White Noise" piece.

These photographs are by Micah Schippa. Micah's work of fantastical characters inspired a conversation about Anna Gaskell's work (she was a visiting artist earlier in the semester). I thought that the above photograph was made under water ... I was wrong.

Misato Inaba's work examines overlooked mundane artifacts and images of social isolation. I love how the rust on the back of the street sign mimics the pattern of the clouds and her image of the lone girl with shadow is slightly unnerving.

Ryan Uhm spent the final month of the semester creating a series of large scale digital panoramas. The top image was shot over the course of a number of hours from the vantage point of The Field Museum here in Chicago and the bottom panorama was made in Wisconsin. I love the blue lens flare in the rural landscape!

Finally there was Sebastian Alvarez who was our resident performance artist. Sebastian is interested in photographing surreal scenes in everyday places and has a remarkable knowledge of contemporary art. The above images are from two different series and I look forward to seeing how they evolve.

Well, that was our final crit at The Art Institute and you can color me impressed.

Knights of the Square Table

This past weekend, Brian, Matt and I travelled to Toronto to check out the Contact Photography Festival and to meet a few folks. The weekend was a great time, we met some fantastic people and as always, it was sad to say goodbye at the end of the weekend. Our nights were spent drinking, looking at gallery after gallery full of art and of course ... late night pizza. These photographs were taken during a pause on friday night:
Brian Vonne Ulrich contemplating the artwork of Vaughn Von Vonne,
Jeff Harris, Associate Photo Editor of Mcleans, dreaming up the next night's photo shoot,
Myrabelle "Free Pony" Charlebois, Photo Editor of En Route Magazine, explaining to me how cell phones are the devil's work
Chris "The Stash" Taylor causing mischief Vancouver style,
and finally Matt "Vaughn" Siber ... Inquisitive ...Tactile.
Other notables from the trip: chatting it up with Ed Burtynsky, cocktails and chaos with Bruno Ceschel and repeating the same story over and over again to Jaret MacRae Belliveau. I hope to see all of you again really soon ...