P.247-248 Peggy Nolan and Beatrice Debney

Task 5.

On John Szarkowski

Step 1.

Step 2. Artist Portrait

“I’m an incredibly late starter. I have seven kids…When my youngest was about three, my dad gave me an old Nikon and said, ‘Make pictures of the grandchildren.’ And I got hooked. I got so hooked I can’t even describe it to you. One roll of film got me.”

Peggy Nolan now takes her camera everywhere she goes, revealing to us the wonder of every day moments that we take for granted. Photography is so important to her, it has fueled her later life.

Step 3. Photograph in the style of the artist

Peggy Nolan’s images have a real sense of sentimentality within them, they are warm and homely and hold both a feeling of the past and the present in one shot, they could be interpreted as a “snapshot” but the composition of each image is too well placed for that to be the case.

Step 4. Task

‘…
And I learned something
So painful:
That I was ordinary
And so were my eyes
And so were my desires
And so were my
Well not all
But most of
My thousands and thousands and thousands of pictures
But
The good ones
The few
Good
Ones
Joined a
Community of
Really good pictures
Authors forgotten
Images never.
And he welcomed me
Into                                                                                                                                        Extract from ‘Ode to The Shark’
The club.’                                                                                                                                                                     Peggy Nolan

What struck me most when I read this poem was the last idea (quoted) that our ideas and creations as practitioners are never going to be unique ever again. We live in a society built upon thousands of years of replication, of history repeating itself and of items being passed down through generations and then replicas of these items being created when lost; where nothing is really new. And in a world where nothing is new, yet art is supposed to be unique in order to be successful then I have often been asked by myself and my peers as well as those who do not practice a creative subject, ‘why are you bothering with this, you know everything has already been done’.

           ‘That I was ordinary

            And so were my eyes

            And so were my desires’

It is something that I am very conscious of when it comes to starting a new project and I am relentlessly asking myself what is new with this idea? What new place can I take this to? New. It’s a terrifying word. Bringing something into this world that has not existed before. It’s a daunting prospect that I might be in a place where I can bring nothing original to this world that I am passionate about because I am ‘ordinary’. Where I have been told that to create something new is practically impossible and with all the other thousands of people also trying to create the unique and world breaking it is unlikely that any of us will make it to the top of the ever-growing pile of wannabes. So why do we bother? It is at exactly this point that I am happy. At this moment in the thought process I am suddenly relieved of all pressure that I have to create the best, because I know in reality that I will not and therefore I do not have to. Here I am free to make whatever gives me that rush of excitement and the idea that I have to create something new is replaced with the magnetic attraction to just create. My brain is now free. However, just because I no longer have to create the best work in the world I naturally still crave to create the best that I am able to. This comes with picking the right concept to run with so that I am able to continue the passion for an idea once it gets hard. Personally I am dissuaded from areas that have been saturated by the artistic community. I become very aware of how that area will gain no benefit to my art being added to the collection and so I take very little time to attempt to do so. Instead I head in the direction of areas that have had less attention, where I might be influenced by what has been done and see if I am able to take this as inspiration to form my own interpretation. There are subjects that have not been explored in such depth ready to grasp, perhaps they are difficult subjects to tackle or they are new thoughts that have only arisen through the evolving world that we are part of; these are usually the ones that I aspire to contribute to and so I make a decision not with my brain but with my gut, and then I do a lot.

             My thousands and thousands and thousands of pictures

It is imperative that if you want to take one really good image then you have to take a couple of hundred first. I remember at school, on my first day in photography, we were all given a digital camera and told to take a minimum of 20 photos, I came back with four full contact sheets. And even then, within about 150 photos, I only really found three that were worth editing. This is an essential part of the photo-taking process because if I had stopped at the assigned twenty then I wouldn’t have even taken one of the photos that I later edited and my work grew physically stronger because of the amount of work that I put into it.

            The good ones

            The few

            Good

            Ones

            Joined a

            Community of

            Really good pictures

 To be able to step forward and promote your work as something good is frightening. Similarly terrifying to saying that your work is new. If you are trying to say that your work is both then you have to really know your work and have confidence in it. But if you have faith that what you have produced has a piece of you in it, if the work is the product of the equivalent of ‘thousands and thousands and thousands of pictures’ then you may be lucky enough to join that club, the exclusive platform of ‘really good’ where your images are allowed to live on once the author is forgotten and be relatively eternalised. Until, that is, the inevitable happens and the area becomes saturated once more. At this point, though it may be very far down the line, there is a chance that as the pile grows higher your once ‘good’ piece of work is now covered up by more work that you cannot rise above. But I would reflect here and say that at least you were able to have that time in the club, you still have your entry ticket and are able to say that you were there. That you have been good.

Step 5. Critical Rational

For this task I was inspired to do a written response reflecting on my own thoughts of the reality of how photography is a truly difficult field to enter. I am often crushingly aware of how ordinary my ideas might be and it was awakening to read this put so bluntly by Nolan. I loved how she wrote, her phrases were simple and elegant and yet not pretentious and that is why I wrote rather than took photos for this task. I really wanted to make myself go deeper into thinking about what it is in the project process that makes a photo good or not, concluding that one must put a lot of effort into the work to produce something to be proud of. I also discussed the daunting reality of putting your work out there because this is something that I find particularly difficult. The thought of deciding that your work is good enough to be published can be very intimidating when you begin to think about who you are sharing the stage with. Whilst considering this however I was conscious that I did not want to make this a depressing piece of writing. Although the reality may be that very few of us will truly ‘make it’ that doesn’t mean that anyone should stop trying because it is impossible to know that you are not going to be successful, unless you give up, then its certain.

What I have found comforting though is how Nolan practically fell into photography just for wanting to take photos of her children. She found photography relatively late in her life and now she has found her passion to be her living; this is a dream turned reality for many aspiring photographers. I am not even convinced that I want to be a photographer in the traditional sense but Nolan’s story is inspirational; how she is able to keep such a level head when she knows that not everything she creates will be the absolute best and yet within her photo archives there are some real gems of a beautiful quality, it is a wonderful thought to think that this could be me too.

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