Snow Field, Rocky Mountains
I don’t shoot things because they’re pretty. In fact, I often use “pretty” as a backdrop for troubling things, contrasting the sublime with the symbolic, rejecting simple aesthetic for a more introspective examination of my own relationship with the visual and modern world. Those “fusion” images, to borrow a term from a dear friend, are rare, and even more so those that grab me by the throat and shake me, demanding to be made.
The above image is one of those images for me. I had seen it from afar several times in the high country over the preceding days, but the high altitude light and cheery, puffy clouds had not illuminated the deep, brooding character of the composition. In looking at it, I felt bitter cold, profound isolation, and looming threat. On the third day, with churning storm clouds boiling overhead, and the freezing wind chewing at my face, the photograph finally revealed itself, and I made eight frames in response to its demands.
Town Hall, Gunnison County
One may assume, for a photographer, a drought in the publishing of images means one of three things: 1) the photographer has finally reached the limit of his or her tolerance for despair and thus has given up the craft, opting rather to join the merchant marine; 2) the photographer has been in the field shooting; or 3) the photographer has been eaten by a bear.
I’m glad that No. 2 was the case for me.
I’m just back from teaching at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, where I had the pleasure of shooting with Susan Portnoy, the blogger behind The Insatiable Traveler, as well as my dear friend George Bumstead, a rising star in the photographic world. During that workshop, a bit of black and white humor emerged as the class began equating personalities with Ansel Adams’ and Fred Archer’s Zone System.
The class decided I am a Zone 3.
And so I returned to the Colorado backcountry after Santa Fe to work on new visions, fully embracing the darkness.
Sammy Geisler, Bronc Rider
One of the best parts of my photographic life is the people I meet on the road at rodeos, county fairs, brandings, and elsewhere. Every story is interesting, for each life is different. But occasionally, one story stands out, a story that is vastly different than others. Sammy Geisler is just such a story, for in all my years shooting rodeos, I’ve never met anyone like her.
She’s a bronc rider. The only woman I’ve ever met who was.
In such a legacy sport nearly universally dominated by men, being a woman comes with an uphill battle for respect and recognition that’s tougher than the men have had to face. That means she’s tougher than nails, to say the least.
And I simply had to make a portrait of that brand of strength.
Girls Trying on Hats, Eddyville
I’ve been working on my Rural Rodeos project now—off and on, but mostly on—for 3 years. There are numerous reasons the project and book are important to me, but the largest is that it shows the intersections of tradition, modernity, and coming of age for everyone involved. These girls, trying on hats and making selfies at the Eddyville rodeo, struck me as symbolic of all three of the central themes of my work.
Airline Traveler, Omaha
It’s a tough thing, creativity. It comes and goes, and regardless of projects extant, oftentimes creativity is, as artist Chuck Close so eloquently said, difficult and inconsequential much of the time: “The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” So, I’ve been out sweating. Being inspired? Well, that too.
Doors, St. Elmo
The school year’s over, and except for a few meetings, a vast world of photography awaits me over the next 3 months! It’s my favorite time to shoot, since I can make good time in the field, make tens of thousands of images, and return to my photographic life. I’ll be working on a number of long-term and new ventures during this time, including my rural rodeos project, my abandoned project, and a new, super-secret project that will start appearing here in the next few weeks.
Until then, here’s one of my favorites from the Abandoned project: Doors, St. Elmo.
Nebraska Cultural Endowment: Livelihood
There are surreal moments in a photographic life; after all, that life is often a solitary one, with long, quiet hours spent on the road, in the field, and in one’s own mind. After a time, it’s easy to begin thinking about the absurdity of those pursuits, the frivolity of such a life. But moments like this morning are very nice indeed, and they infuse me with energy for years to come.
Erin Sample, the communications director at the Nebraska Cultural Endowment, the partner organization to the Nebraska Arts Council (where my show Recollections is featuring through May), contacted me in late March and asked if she could feature me as one of their statewide “Livelihood” stories. I didn’t hesitate for a moment, for it is a profound honor. So I sent in my materials, and Erin worked with me to finalize the feature. And then I put it out of my mind, until Erin e-mailed me this morning: “Brett, the story’s up!”
I’ve had a lot—a LOT—of shows. I’ve given lots of talks. Each was an honor, too. But I’m so very moved to be featured in this way, and I’m emotionally and physically humbled as well, because I’m being included in a group of very, very impressive Nebraskans.
And I hope the Cultural Endowment doesn’t regret their decision.
This show at the Nebraska Arts Council’s Fred Simon Gallery has been a long time coming, and like every show I’ve ever done, I’m terrified. I was awarded the show in 2013, and when it comes to this show, I’m in a very different place, artistically (and literally) speaking. Am I too “out there?” Will people not understand the work? Have I been too heavy-handed? These fears are exponentially larger this time, since the concept of the show is so much more complex. This one is…risky. Very risky.
So, either I’ll go down in flames, my photographic career languishing in Icarian glory, or I’ll still go down, but in a pallid hue of boring. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance I might get lucky and people will connect with the pieces and the show itself.
Here’s to hoping.
One of the great joys of my life is working with students, especially on thesis shows. The thesis is an exercise in artistic discovery, of artistic merit, and for artistic tenacity; the show that results is never the show that was planned. And that itself is the most rewarding moment for me in my own shows, too, the looking back on the long and unanticipated road traveled, all the while relishing the destination achieved.
This image is part of a diptych called “The Ostensibility of Nostalgia.” When this project began, I planned no such pieces, and looked for no paths to achieve them. But as I was recovering more pieces from one of the doomed homesteads that have provided many of the materials for the show, several artifacts spurred me to think in groups, in new concepts I hadn’t yet considered.
The show is better for it.