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.
The Recollections show opens in less than one month (April 20), with the reception on May 1 from 5–7. The pieces are composed and prepared, and now mounting and construction will begin in earnest.
Here’s a preview of Intuition under construction.
“I felt…cold,” she said. “Like I wasn’t alone.”
“So you’ve seen her,” the night clerk chuckled.
“Don’t you know the old Jones place is haunted?” she shivered.
“Something awful happened in the barn, and they didn’t want it haunting the ranch,” he warned.
We have all felt it, or at least thought we have. Some may have seen it, or heard it, or dreamt it. But the reality is that our reality is punctuated with the untouchable, the unseeable, and the unexplainable.
I have photographed this bleak outpost in the openness of Wyoming more times than I can count, often from the same angle, but with different lenses, different weather, different techniques and different light. Yet the building remains the foundation of all the images, the solidity of thought within my eidetic soul. What might be if I swayed from this spot? This place? This commitment?
I find the concept of spreading activation, or the involuntary triggering of complex memory, a uniquely fascinating concept; one element brings all.
I have known many who could not purge the visual past from the present. In fact, many we know exhibit such cognitive intransigence, those moments and minutes which seem locked in their omnipresent consciousness, and the flickers of memory mixed with constructions of torment seem as real as the day they were hatched.
It is always a daunting, emotional exercise beginning a new project, and this one began in the spring of 2013 as I began to explore the human conception–and illusion–of memory. That’s a big project, and a complex one to boot, since memory is both tough to define as well as difficult to understand. In a nutshell, it boils down to this: What is reality, and what is perception? Or are they the same thing?
I hesitate to explain the philosophy behind the Recollections show, but here’s a hint: Alfred Schutz, the prominent social philosopher, notes that social experiences are constructed and shared by members of a culture. What those realities reveal presents a clue into the phenomena that underlie the very realities which they inspired.