Resurrections and Redirections

Why do we remove ourselves from the orbit of things that we love?

Interests, activities, engagement that takes us out of ourselves, literally lifts us from a default state of self-defeating self-absorption, and transports us to a wider field of options and opportunities than we could have imagined? How do we begin to stagnate, and why do we persist within it once we recognize it? And what are those loves, interests and inclinations then replaced by? How do we spend our time? Why do we spin our (metaphorical) wheels so endlessly? Why do we stop caring what or whether we do, or dismiss the specter of our old selves that used to? Where does the curiosity and wonder and desire to make connections and communicate go? And how do we find our way back to it again, once we remember, with something approaching longing, that we miss it?

Such has been the case with me for so long that I feel embarrassed to even count the dd/mm/yyyy since it hasn’t. I wonder at reason, and causality, and what I must have done wrong. There are reasons, there are excuses, and there is Life, of course, that manages to insinuate and complicate and for stretches of time, totally subsume everything. Some of those entirely normal and collectively shared traumas and life events have been unfolding for me in the recent past, and for far too long they have served as convenient and comfortable blinders, hiding from my conscious self the kinds of ideas, art and people that excite and enliven me.

This space has been many things over many years, but one place that it—I—became stuck was in ceding to it a singular way of thinking and recording. A mode that became arduous and in turn aggravated an innate sense of perfectionism, so that I didn’t feel like I could write here unless all the writing was the way that it had become: longform, lyrical, thoroughly researched. There came to be this inability to be personal, or to switch gears or voices or to move between lightness and heaviness in the tone or topics of things I wrote about. And I began to feel a prisoner of what I had so meagerly created, and honestly probably came to resent creating. And so what happened was radio silence. For a period of years.

I don’t really believe in explaining oneself, in giving an accounting for any choices you do or don’t make, to yourself or the universe— unless you have wronged someone somehow. And the only person I really wronged in my prolonged absence from writing, reading and looking was myself. My method for making amends is to begin playing in this space again, truly and with regularity. Years of editing professionally for others has given me skills for things in the publishing sphere that somehow never occurred to me to apply to my own writing endeavors. Beginning with adhering to my own editorial calendar is a first step. There will still be longform writing (this is unintentionally approaching that zone), but there will also be more fragmented looking and musing, as well as trying to keep some level of engagement and conversation on current topics that I’ve always been partial to, if not awash in: Japanese photography, the odd current practitioners who interest me that aren’t Japanese, the history of photography, convergences, literature, the rich and unceasing world of ideas and questions. I’d also like more playfulness, when possible, and to be more connected to having an extended, virtual conversation with others that share some of the same sympathies and predilections that I have.

So: not exactly a manifesto, or an explanation of anything. Call it, to borrow language from the land of things woo-woo, setting an intention. Look to this place often in the near future for the manifestation of that intent.

(some housekeeping errata: About page and Links have been overhauled. The latter now is heavily curated, with preferences given to presses, online magazines, blogs writing about Japanese photography, personal favorites and lots of places where I buy—or more precisely: want to buy—monographs. Have fun finding out where I spend my time and money.)

a return to writing (or: this time, with feeling)

© stacy oborn, 2008


so i’ve been a long time away from writing, and in this and many other ways, a long time away from myself.

in the interim between the silence from the old typepad site to this moment at this shiny new wordpress site, some major shifts have been occurring vis-a-vis my internal view of photography and its place in the world and art, which i will attempt to define and articulate here. in the personal realm, i’ve also had a transcontinental move, and now write, listen & look primarily from the environs of Berlin, Germany.

there is much to share, much to discuss, and more than one new way for me to try and interact in this space. sometimes existence in the self-publishing realm undergos a kind of personality shift, as in the case of todd walker’s site recently (with his relocation from nyc to denver), and sometimes they go completely silent, as in the case of alec soth’s invaluable blog. one thing i have wrestled with here (as many others do, i’m sure), is reconciling the pleasure and satisfaction i get from writing with the self-imposed pressure to deliver some perfectly resolved and genuflected thing in its most finished and evolved state. i don’t know why i do this, but i do. in order to rescue myself from it, first this new space. like scrubbing down and repainting a room, it needed a good overhaul (the links listed have also been updated, to the right ==>). secondly, a re-conception about what writing and sharing here is for, and what else it can be like than what i’ve previously made it out to be.

for anyone out there that might be new to me: welcome. there is a pull-down menu of categories to the right, and it offers a good representation of my aesthetic whims, and how i attempt to get them out of my system and into the world. i should let you know, in the interests of full disclosure, what this site is not:

  • not up-to-the-minute reviews of currently exhibited work
  • not principally a place of massive linkage to other sites, artists or projects
  • not about a way to convince you of anything or an attempt to sell you something

what i have endeavored to do and will continue to do is to write and discuss topics that i’ve let percolate for some time, done some research and deep thinking about, and think interesting enough to put down for others similarly inclined.

it’s not all defined and worked out, nor is it probably ever meant to be. i’ve a long list of things i want to dissect and discuss, and hope you’ll follow me as i try out my new skin here at the-space-in-between.

the thing of the thing

a blog is a funny thing.

in the beginning, it is a tabula rasa, a place where you can project onto all that has needed a very particularized and niched space to simply be. because of its newness, you are able to create and alter at will the tone, the subject matter, the seriousness and the obsessiveness of your own little piece of the self-publishing cyberspace pie.

given time and diligence, some of the reasons you carved out your little niche begins to come manifest: you receive responses to posts, emails and find through your statistical log that other people, other blogs, are discussing your posts. sending people your way. creating community, audience and critics in a seemingly fast amount of time.

it is when this above mentioned occurs that something about how you think about writing takes a subtle shift. before response, we’ll say, you wrote thinking that maybe somewhere someone might be reading, but it wasn’t a given. after response, you know empirically that people are, and you might even know, in that indirect way of the internet, who some of them are. it’s like heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: the observation of the experiment begins to change the quality of the actual experiment such that you cannot know if, or to what degree, the observation taints the experiment being observed.

i bring this up not because i have become stymied and inconsistent in my writing due to the fact that i know someone is looking, but because i find it worth mentioning that when one hesitates in the face of their experiment, and then when something outside of that niched out, projected-place she created fundamentally shifts–say, a job, a relationship, a move or all three–the blog is the first thing to go.

at least, that’s what introverts like me do. i become exhausted at the thought of producing the very sorts of things that it gave me great satisfaction to produce not for you (solely), dear reader, but for me. and like the garden in my yard which is slowly being prepared to weather the brutal winter that will undoubtedly be coming soon to my new locale, i have had to take a long meditative breath away from this space and communicating these things which i ponder on a greedy, constant basis. my neighbor is laying cardboard on the ground, and then hay on top of the cardboard, so that the ground underneath stays warm, moist and fertile through the frosty, biting winter. i feel i have been preparing myself much the same.

so, with renewed purpose and a clearer mind, i return to this too too neglected space. perhaps some redecorating is in order. since i would like to be more frequent in my musings here, it may be appropriate to open up the floor to writing that is not only the full-length artist psycho-biography–though i do adore that and will keep writing them–but some more fractured and fleeting writing. sometimes i forget about the gems that can be found in fragments; truer thoughts which rise so quickly to the surface because you imagine you care about them less.

speaking of fragments, i offer you this one. it swept all the art pretense from underneath my feet and knocked me sideways:

at the met this month i was rushing back and forth between galleries trying to get my one-day-in-the-city special exhibitions fix. i had gone to look at the the spirit photography exhibit that was showcased, and was excited as i’d never laid eyes on these types of photographs in the flesh. the show was packed with people, and i seemed to be eternally in line behind these two loud women that kept pointing and saying things like, how could anybody ever think these things were real, anyway?” over and over again. anxious to leave and visit another part of the museum, i rushed between the hallways which connected their photography wing to their painting wing. the hallway that has the oft-changed permanent collection of photographs, and, as you near the exit, a gallery of drawings. i almost missed it, and then i stopped.

it was a drawing of hokusai’s the great wave at kanagawa, copied by van gogh. his familiar ink stroke, those wobbly lines on yellowed paper. next to the drawing was an excerpt printed from a letter by van gogh, discussing it. the image of this wave, which has been co-opted by every new age purpose known to man, has been commodified to symbolize an experience of serene zen calm. it used to be the advertising symbol for a holistic health care place i worked for in grad school. to van gogh, however, it did not embody any of those fuzzy warm things. look at the foam, he wrote, you can see that they’re really claws, they’re clutches. and that they’re coming for the fisherman in the boat. i’m paraphrasing from memory, but that’s the gist of it. and it was astonishing to me. this ubiquitous image, this famous woodblock print that i’ve only ever glanced at, apparently. how could i have missed the danger inherent here? the vulnerability and tinniness of those wooden boats caught underneath the crest of that great–as in inspiring fear and awe–wave? those clutches?

i wasn’t even looking to catch a moment like that, and out of all of the ones i was seking in my art hiatus weekend, this was the most stunningly felt and realized.