Archive for the observation Category

attention span TENSION (museum visit)

Posted in Art with a Capital A, observation on May 19, 2011 by brynforbes
Who are you aiming at?

I was recently in the Montreal museum of contemporary art. I walked in to a dark room, so dark I couldn't see if I was going to bump in to somebody else. A video was projected on the wall. At that moment it was a scene of a beautiful river somewhere, then a cowboy riding a horse slowly crossed in to the frame and out. It was peaceful, and I stayed a little bit longer to see if there was something more. There didn't seem to be and I left.
We are a culture of skimmers. I've probably already lost the attention of many of you reading this.


If we want viewers, we have to play to the fact that they have other things to do, other pictures to look at, growling stomachs, and wandering minds.
However, that desire for viewers, CHANGES THE WORK!. That video would surely have been different. At it's most extreme it'd be the Bourne movies where no camera shots lasts for more than 1.4 seconds (EXAGERRATION!)
In walking through the museum I saw things I didn't get that were seemingly complicated and I chalked "not getting it" up to my lack of knowledge of art or context. There were simple things that I "got" but also "didn't get" (as i thought I understood the message but it didn't have any bearing to me or emotional appeal) and I saw some things that did resonate. One was a pair of curtains hanging from overly large hula hoop esque things that formed circles, that twisted slowly back and forth sending the curtains outward a bit,  which reminded me of young girls at play, twirling, spinning their dresses. Too me, the take away was whimsy. I watched for a bit, perhaps not all that much longer than the video but I left satisfied, whereas the video I felt like I let the artist down by not staying to perceive the entirety. 


Further along in the exhibit hall I came upon the video installation "Soliloquy" 1999 by Shirin Neshat. I walked in, two screens playing two videos opposite each other, clearly connected. In the first 30 seconds, I saw a woman staring at my one screen and seemingly a very similar women walking in a very different world in the other. The womans eyes staring back were completely arresting. There was a hint of a story too -- the woman looking back over her should from time to time. My normal video installation attention span having lapsed I stayed  to watch. It turns out the two videos are the same woman with some plot, no dialogue, one set in an arabic architecture and the other in a more western architecture. I was intrigued by the similarities, and when to be looking at which screen, and the architecture, and the questions, what's going on? where is she?  I sat down and watched all the way through loop beyond where I entered. 


Having found such rare interest in a video installation, I decided perhaps I should return to the video that I didn't get and watch its entirety, give it a fair shake if you will. It did have something I didn't see the first time, the cowboy sits down and sings a song that clearly was tied to the title of the piece and clearly embodied much of the message to the viewer. Then some more peaceful river  scenes. It was pleasant, but certainly not gripping me by my lapels. Perhaps if I needed a calm moment the piece would have appealed to me more. 

WHAT I LEARNED (well at least something that I think I learned)

Clearly one video was more compelling to me, and I suspect the other visitors agreed. So as an artist (or a blog post writer) tailor what I'm about or at least sprinkle in compelling aspects, in order to grab the average viewer. Should I have mystery? Do I need story? what if I just want to make a pretty picture of the ocean?
Did the director of the more compelling movie intentionally add these aspects so as to connect with more people?


How important is it to reach lots of people? i.e. what good is it, if your message only reaches a few people
Is it more important to me to please the sophisticated critics and lose the masses? i.e. is it too costly to me/the message/the work to have the broad appeal?


I feel I am in the middle with lots of questions. I have many works that I think of a simply elegant and can draw the viewer, and let them float in the visual waters, but the message isn't a deep one trying to effect social change. I have pieces that are steps in either direction away from the middle. Pictures that are more appealing such as a flower, or that are more about a specific message or intention. Hopefully I'm still many steps from the banal, and far from the overly complex Art with a capital A looking down its nose at the people that don't understand. Yet I'm still feeling like both are tied to my wrists and pulling me down two opposing drag strips.



Posted in observation on February 11, 2011 by brynforbes

I used to say one of the major reasons that I took pictures was because it kept me looking out the window.

I am a huge reader. Not quite the epic reader that my sister is, but still. On car trips as kids we used to read the whole way. People would always ask don’t you get car sick? Nope, not even on highway 1 through big sur, though that ability has diminished somewhat, though I was able to survive the Nurburgring at super high speeds looking through a telephoto lens bouncing around aimed at the car in front of us, but I digress. I read instead of looked out the window. My mom would always be trying to get us to look at something interesting.

Once I took up photography, the type A part of me knew that there were interesting things out there, and now that I was fitted with a camera, I could record them. Huge type A so suddenly it was a game, so suddenly I was looking out the window. I may not have gotten great images, but I was getting the reward of looking out the window and seeing.

I’d see cool textures, or notice graffiti, or funny signs. The sort of thing you do while travelling in a foreign country, but don’t do in your home town.

But somehow I’ve gotten jaded with my photography. I used to notice professional photographers that wouldn’t photograph because it wasn’t the best light or it was just a “nice” waterfall. I think this comes with constantly trying to top your portfolio, rather than record the interesting things you see. You develop a callous filter that says “nope not interesting” “not portfolio worthy” and you take so many pictures anyway, that’s it such a nice break to give yourself permission to just read.

So now I play a game I call “I notice you” when I’m in the car by myself. I actually say out loud or just the narrator in my head “I notice you stop sign with bullet holes”. “I notice you broken railroad crossing gate”. I do this especially when there isn’t anything interesting to notice. I force myself to say it, because it’s legitimizing the discovery and adding value to the act of noticing. ¬†Whereever my eyes land, I plant my verbal flag on the moon and declare it noticed in the name of The Bryn or for Brynlandia.

Anyway, by playing the game with myself I can practice observation, much like I practice holding my 500mm lens. It’s a workout for the eyes and the brain and sometimes it gets me warmed up enough that I see things that I want to photograph at some point.


I notice you horses sheltering behind graffiti building.


I notice you blog readers.