The artist’s statement is one of those obligatory documents required when exhibiting in public places or entering a juried competition. It’s supposed to be a succinct summary of the artist’s relationship to their art. I’ve read several guides on writing an artist’s statement, but none have ever answered my first question. What do you write when you don’t think you’re an artist?
I think of myself as a photographer, not an artist. Certainly, there are photographers who were artists – Ansel Adam and Edward Weston come first to mind – but I’m just a bloke taking pictures from a small boat.
If art is simply making choices about how you represent the world – and if that definition isn’t so vague that it becomes meaningless – then I suppose I qualify, but I don’t create the world from my imagination, I don’t shape it with paint or ink or even Papier-mâché. I have immense admiration for people who do. I choose what I photograph and I choose how I represent that photograph, but I don’t know if that makes me an artist.
The advice I’ve read on writing an artist’s statement can be boiled down to the bare bones – how it is you do what you do, what it is you do, and why you do it.
My process? As I said, I paddle around swamps and blackwater creeks in a folding kayak that weighs less than a Basset Hound until I find something that captures my attention and arrests my eye. Typically, it involves the interplay of water, shadow, and light. Often early morning light slanting beneath the overstory when mist often graces the surface of the water. It’s not complicated.
I don’t take photos of street scenes or abandoned houses. There’s nothing wrong with street scenes or abandoned houses, I just don’t find them as compelling. I’m intrigued by the beauty of swamps and wetlands, the disdained places most people still associate with disease, poisonous snakes, or Jungian nightmares.
In the psychogeography of imagination, swamps are both fearful and alluring, dark and foreboding, a marginal place, a refuge for outcasts, outlaws, and monsters. The swamps are where our fear of being overwhelmed by nature still lingers.
They’re also surprisingly beautiful.
I want to make that darkness visible.