Welcome to the May 2019 calendar pages. This image was taken in Asheville, North Carolina a few years back when I began exploring a unique intentional community in that area. One of the properties that the community continues to consider how to rejuvenate includes a farm tract, trailer residences, and a large area where, in years past, folks have dumped old cars, thresher wheels, furniture, motorcycles, concrete mixers and more. A couple of tradesman had set up shop there too. In the midst of this polyglot of sights and possibilities was this very old, partially overgrown outhouse, and these whimsically placed chairs in a row on one side. I immediately imagined the chairs being there for those waiting in line to use the facility, and “Queuing for the Loo” became this image’s title. I was especially pleased to find a font for the calendar page that somehow echoes the feel of the old outhouse and aging chairs with peeling paint.
WayMaking Artist’s 2019 Calendar by JulieV
2018 was the inaugural year for my limited edition calendar featuring photographs I have taken while in a state of mindful awareness, a state of being and creating that I eventually came to refer to as my contemplative photography practice. More about that practice in paragraph 3 below.
Making the Calendar this year and last year: As a creative act in and of itself, selecting the images, assigning each to a specific month in the year and the design of the accompanying calendar page was so satisfying for me that I felt compelled to repeat the process for a 2019 calendar. In 2018 I accompanied the images with poetic prose and poetry that felt somehow resonant with spiritual elements in the photographs. In 2019 the images are presented wordlessly in my attempt to discover if they indeed are ‘worth a thousand words.’ Your feedback is welcome. AND, I have a few more calendars left in the original run of 100 – they begin with February 2019 and end with January 2020. Email me if you’re interested in purchasing one: firstname.lastname@example.org — $10 per calendar plus $2.50 to ship. Tell me your birthdate and I’ll personalize it for you.
About my practice: Even before I found a way to label this practice (or should I say “characterize” this practice?), I had been explaining to the unfortunate souls who had to suffer my long philosophical ramblings on the subject that the act of taking the pictures afforded me an opportunity to be still and be totally immersed in the contemplation of the object or scene in situ; the quality of the light, the touch of air on my skin, the sounds of the place and the sense of being both observer and subject in the image, even if I was not seen in the viewfinder. My experience of capturing the image was actually an act of paying deep attention, which elicited in me a stillness, a focus, an awareness of the breath that everyday noise and bustle of life could never permit.
During my MFA IA studies at Goddard College in Vermont, my photographic practice was awakened again after lying dormant for some years. When I submitted a series of my photographs as part of my portfolio work for that semester, it became necessary to research this “thing” I was doing so that I could speak of this art practice in relationship to others’ work in the world – how it might be similar, where it differed, etc. I was gratified to find Stephen Batchelor’s essay “Seeing the Light – Photography as Buddhist Practice” in Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, edited by Mary Jane Jacob and Jacquelynn Baas (University of California Press, 2004). I saw how Batchelor and I were aligned in our approach and experience, even though the work we produced was not at all similar. Having read his essay, I was able to lay claim to the term “contemplative photography” as the way to refer to my practice.
About the cover image: I took this picture on my way back home from Goddard College summer session in August 2014. I had stopped at a local motel for the night. The next morning this motorcycle was in the space next to mine. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the message and had to dig out my camera to take the picture before I went across the way to get my free coffee and continental breakfast (i.e. dry sweet roll) prior to continuing my drive home. When I feel most aimless or hopeless or clueless about whatever road I have found myself on – be it spiritual, metaphysical or literal I try to remind myself of the value of exploring. The straightest distance between two points is not A way, or the ONLY way, or the best way, to get where you’re going. Life happens on the journey.
NECESSITY GIVES BIRTH TO A CALENDAR of IMAGE and WORD
Over the holiday break this year while I was down with some indefinable malaise – who can really tell what is flu and what is cold? Especially if it moves into bronchitis? Too sick to do much, I did find focus and drew energy from reviewing thousands of images that I have taken over the years. I’ve come to understand the lion’s share of work with camera as my contemplative photography practice. A subset of images within this practice contain the presence of the WayMaking Cairn (WMC); an avatar-like manifestation of my spiritual engagement with my surroundings as I walk. In anthropological terms the WMC serves as both witness and subject in the environment where I framed and took the shot.
GETTING ONE’S CREATIONS INTO THE WORLD COSTS TIME & MONEY
As I reviewed all these images I was experiencing again the almost intolerable frustration that I couldn’t share these images in a tangible encounter with others. Paintful reality that I need to overcome: getting my images out into the world is a time consuming enterprise and costly. Here are the biggies:
- Printing images ($15 – $100- depending on materials and size) and
- Framing images ($50 – 125-depending on materials and size) ;
- #’s 1 & 2 are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of cost because applying to the various galleries also costs time and money – one spends a lot of time combing the internet for opportunities.
- 98% of the time to apply to be in an exhibit or show requires an entrance fees of $20 – $40 for the privilege to submit 3 – 5 images for the curator’s review.
- Let’s not forget the time to frame and mount the images and the costs to deliver the finished images – either I drive these images or I ship these images – shipping is always a coin toss. The real risk of damage to the image requires especial diligence to protect it – and more material costs for packaging
- Applying to show work in festivals is another huge time suck that requires more money to pay for the booth, the tent, images printed on spec with no promise of sale, and time and travel to and from these festivals also requiring overnight stays in hotels and restaurant meals
- Those who are early in their practice are pretty much confined to group shows in pop up or non-traditional sites. Opportunities for solo shows in accredited galleries are slim and none. There are a few more opportunities to get a solo show in a coffee shop, or a bank or a clinic, but those require a lot of prospecting and the possibility of sales from these personally curated shows are not significant.
THERE’s MORE THAN ONE WAY TO….
As I pondered these things and weighed their costs against my limited resources of time and money, I wondered how I might get my work in front of peoples eye’s without a gallery, group show or retail outlet. Challenge: How to get my work to a place where they would see it all the time? Where they might also have a chance for a contemplative experience? I couldn’t afford printing, framing and shipping complimentary full size 16 x 20 images to their home. Plus, giving it away sets a very bad precedent. I need to at least cover the costs of that printing/framing/packing/shipping exercise. How to get my work tangibly present in their homes and offices? Though I love the digital world for its reach – its getting too noisy out here and there’s too many distractions. Attention to one’s work on a website and blog is fleeting. The tangible, physical artifact seemed the strongest way in. So, I determined to design and print my own calendar of images. This way each month there would be a fresh image and opportunity for a contemplative encounter for the onlooker. Publish a limited edition of these calendars and give them to family, friends and prospective clients as a loss leader, if you will. An audience that includes potential buyers of future calendars, as well as organizations that might commission the design of special interest calendars, and outlets where I might place my own calendars for sale.
ECONOMIC LIMITATIONS = LIBERATION + EXPANSION OF ARTISTRY & BUSINESS MODEL
This calendar becomes a liberation and expansion of my artist’s role: I have curated my own exhibit for each calendar recipient. This also sets the stage for the next phase of creating a way for these and other of my images to be purchased online. I also hope to design each year a new calendar which can be ordered on line as well. A survey will be sent soon to all who received those calendars to get a sense of how to think about next year’s design and how to price it.
Along the way though, another idea came to mind, springing from my love of poetry and poetic prose. Though not a novel practice – many other calendars have been printed pairing evocative imagery and writing – I welcomed the additional exploration and discovery to pair my images with text that in some way created a rich dialogue of deepening discovery between word and image. While I made every effort to look for writers’ whose work was in the public domain, occasionally a contemporary writer’s work was so perfectly aligned with my own spiritual stance that I could not look any further. This is a challenge and an opportunity for future calendars.
I’m a little late in this first explanatory post of the what and why of the calendar and hopes for future calendars. The next two posts will serve as catch-ups for the January and February images and text. At the beginning of each subsequent month I’ll post another image and the literary work that appealed to me.