tourist or local?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 20, 2011 by brynforbes

Following up on the previous post, who should I as an artist be spending my hours working for? The person that walks by with little context or background, that I have to grab in 30 seconds? The art critic that has seen it all before and dismisses the simple, desiring the meaty layered message with depth and requiring knowledge of references and context? the sophisticated connoisseur that is somewhere in between?

In the front of my gallery I have a big wall of monitors that I have been exploring how best to use.

Three paths

  • BEST OF THE BEST — Do I have it rotate my top 20, so people walking by the first time are guaranteed to see the best of the best, in order to increase my chances of getting them to stop and come in?
  • WIDE VARIETY — Do I have it rotate my top 200 or 500 so the people that live locally always have something new to see, and incentivize them to come by more often at the risk of not having the best work for the tourists?
  • FLASHING NEON — Or do I go stroboscopic, moving stuff around, flashing HEY YOU, and other such eye searing vegas like tactics? No no I won’t. I just add it here for discussion.

In the social media world, do we blast our message repeatedly trying to get the people that only check facebook/twitter occasionally at the risk of repeating ourselves over and over alienating our most loyal readers?

The tourist or local quandary is an analogue to the attention span quandary, I wrote about in the museum. Do we play to get the simple message to many or the complex message to a few?

I think the answer is a personal one for each of us. Are we looking for fame/notoriety? respect? some sort of validation from the critics/experts/nobel committee? is it purely a financial data model waiting to have its tables pivoted and the maximal revenue path spit out? If so, I suspect the answer depends on the price of our goods/service. The lower the cost the more slanted towards the flashing neon lights, because you require volume, and impulse purchases don’t have a high threshold to get over. Though its true that if you throw enough monkeys at a typewriter farm, or darts at a dartboard, or social media posts at a vacuum, you increase your chances of finding that person that’s interested in a deep purchase, you also alienate many deep purchasers in the available pool.

Perhaps the solution is a layered approach. Have some part of your message by shouting from the rooftops, and another part of your message be a million volume library of careful consideration.

But seriously, should my video wall be TOP40 or DEEP TRACKS?


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.


Music to photograph by?

Posted in focus, getting inspired, inspiration, music on March 31, 2011 by brynforbes

blue aqua and gray small wave flowing towards shore Not all days do I leap out of the car, camera blazing. Sometimes when I’m having an off day and not feeling the creative juices flowing, I listen to music while I’m exploring a subject. I like to listen to music that half keeps my attention. Enough to drown the “ugh I’m tired” thoughts but not enough to occupy my attention fully or drown out the “hmm maybe vertical” or “maybe fisheye would be good” thoughts. Typically the songs are airy, mellowish, upbeat, not aggresive.

Anybody have any suggestions for me?

Like showing art, it’s scary to tell people what you listen to for fear of judgement. But I accept I am not cool, and I am always looking for new music (though rarely have the patience to explore, hence the asking for recommendations)

Here’s some songs in my “get me in the zone” (upbeat yet calm) or the “keep me undistracted and in the zone” (background) playlists:

Looking for energy, inspiration, need to get started playlist but ease me in to it:

Christmas TV – Slow Club
Tire Swing – Kimya Dawson (Juno Soundtrack)
A Good Run Of Bad Luck – Clint Black
The Secret Of My Success – The Night Riders (Secret of my success soundtrack)
Camera One – Josh Joplin
Bette Davis Eyes – Gwyneth Paltrow (Duets soundtrack)
Once In A Lifetime – Talking Heads
I’m On A Boat – The Lonely Island [warning bad words]
Hello City – Bare Naked Ladies

Creative flow:
Hallelujah – Allison Crowe
Make You Feel My Love – Adele
The Old Ways – Loreena McKennitt
All Souls Night – Loreena McKennitt
A&E – Goldfrapp
Wish U Were Here – Bliss
Mad World – Gary Jules (from Donnie Darko soundtrack)
Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14 – Joshua Bell
Orinoco Flow (Remastered 2009 Version) – Enya
You Gotta Move – Cassandra Wilson
Will I? – Ian Van Dahl
Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World – IZ
Square One – Tom Petty (Elizabethtown soundtrack)
Suite From Forrest Gump – Alan Silvestri
Deep Breakfast – Ray Lynch

Of course, these are tailored to my needs at this stage in my life. Some people work better with a loud speed metal playlist to pump them up.

Anyway, given the examples above, can you send me suggestions on what to add to my playlist? I’m in desperate need of some new stuff.

“The Good Needs To Be LOUDER”

Posted in Uncategorized on March 28, 2011 by brynforbes

A friend’s facebook status today reads

My lost wallet was found in the parking lot of Whole Foods by a sweet elderly couple who turned it in to the police. Everything was still in it, credit cards, including the $17 cash. I donated it in gratitude to the goodness of the people. An old friend of mine used to say, “The good needs to be LOUDER!”

We are inundated with the bad at every corner. With our extremely efficient media channels we easily here about every crisis and alert (amber or otherwise) from 3000 miles away. With the increasing noise of modern life, the media outlets need drama to capture attention and so these crises get elevated with 24 hour news coverage and dire possible predictions. As a result we make decisions based on this information. We remove playgrounds because somebody somewhere got hurt.

To offset all the negative, I agree with the quote, we need to emphasize what is good. We need ready access to examples of good. Examples of things that make us happy. Examples of things that are right with the world. We need these with ready access, right in our hearts, so we can turn to them at a moments notice. These things need to be loud, so we can hear them, and when we need to listen to them, others can hear them too.

We also need to emphasize that some risk is ok in exchange for the good. The playground is a perfect example. Our society has gotten so safe that we think we can control risk and aim for perfect safety. But there’s a cost, that is not easily measurable. Things that are hard to measure get de-emphasized in our society. So all the joy that comes from a playground takes a back seat to the kid that broke his arm falling on the concrete and whose parents who love him dearly and want to protect him from the bad, sue to make playgrounds more safe, but end up eliminating the playground. Of course here I am mired in the bad, projecting it out to you. PALETTE CLEANSER -> Check out this picture inadvertently taken by John Nack’s phone (Adobe Photoshop Product Manager and all around good guy)

Anyway, good needs to be louder. We get what we reward, right? Well, we need to reward our friends for the good in their life. If somebody has a nice painting up on their wall, tell other people about your friend who has excellent taste. Pat somebody on the back for smiling when you can’t muster a smile. Share a song that is making you happy even if it’s a catchy jingle and not hip or indie.

To summarize:


Yes And…Click — Warm up games (part 2)

Posted in creativity, improv on March 27, 2011 by brynforbes

One of the challenges of improv is to get in the game aka get yourself in a place where you are ready, open, ideas flowing, creativity at the ready.
There’s been many a day when I trudged through the rain the 12 blocks to the theater, tired before I hit the door, and somehow I have to bounce around the stage with a smile on my face.

Luckily one of the many things you learn in improv classes and your teammates is a pantheon of warm up games to help you get in the mood. I think some of these games would be at parties, business meetings for learning names or just getting the blood flowing and people focused. I know I have definitely been out for a photo shoot and feel uninspired. I think a little activity that keeps the brain from thinking of the task at hand and gets the blood flowing helps me get in the zone.

Get to know each other

Name game:

Stand in a circle facing inwards. Somebody (Bob) starts by pointing at somebody else, and saying their own name (“Bob”). The person that was pointed at (Sally), points at somebody else and says (“Sally”), this goes for a while. Then phase 2. Then Somebody (Bob) points at somebody else and says the pointees name (“Sally”). Phase 3. When you point at a person and say their name, they respond with yes, giving the pointer permission to cross the circle and take their place. They have to point at somebody else and say their name, get permission and then move. Build up speed. You can also add a phase 4 where the pointer doesn’t say a name at all and has to ask for permission entirely by eye contact.

7 Things
In a circle, one player points at another says their name, and says ” Tell me 7 ____ you ____” . Example “Bob, Tell me 7 places you’d like to visit” Then Bob says a place, the group says loudly with excitement “One!” Bob says another place the group says “Two!” When he says the 7th, the group says “Seven! Seven Things!” Bob then turns to someobody else says their name and “Tell me 7 ____ you ____” you can also play this as a pattern game “name 7 car companies”. The goal is to rattle off the seven as fast as possible, doesn’t really matter if you truly want to visit san antonio, but it gets you a little more familiar with the other players and gets the brain in a free association mode.

Energy games:

Pass the clap
Stand in a circle. The first person turns to a person next to them and makes eye contact and claps once One Clap only. The clap receiver attempts to clap in unison with the clap sender. they then turn to the next person in the circle and attempt to clap in unison with them. The clap goes around the circle. A clap receiver can hold the eye contact and clap a 2nd time (in unison) to reverse the direction of the clap. Try to speed it up as fast as you can while still being in unison.
Phase 2: everybody starts walking around randomly and relying on finding people to make eye contact to pass the clap to.

You can also pay pass the clap by having each person make a unique sound or phrase they pass to the next person (each pair says that pair’s unique phrase in unison)

Purely an energy game, that I like to do right before hitting the stage. This can either be done loudly or by a “shouting” whisper.As a group form a circle (noticing a circle trend?)
Put your right hand way up in the air and shake it in and out 8 times, counting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 then the left hand 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, then the right foot 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, then the left foot 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8
then go back to the right hand but only count 7 (1,2,3,4,5,6,7 for those of you challenged at math), left hand, right foot, left foot.
Then do a round of 6, then 5, with each round get faster, until the last few you are flailing like crazy.

Concentration games:

Everybody in the circle raises their hand. One person picks a category such as “colors” and points at another person keep their arm pointed at the pointee and says a color. The pointee points at somebody else that has their arms raised and says a different color. The last person pointed at, points back at the category originator and says a color. Everybody then drops their arms. The starting person points and says their color, dropping their arm after the person registers they were pointed at. They point at the person they picked and say their color and you try and go through a few times as fast as possible.

Then you do the same thing with a different person starting and picking a category e.g. “car names”. People should try and point at somebody different from the first time. Build this 2nd pattern up until everybody has got it figured out (each person basically needs to know who pointed at them/their word, and their own word/point target). Run through building up speed.

After people seem to have the 2nd pattern down pretty well, the person who started the first pattern can start in on the first pattern while the second pattern is still going.

We usually add a 3rd layer, and then finally a 4th layer which is movement. Instead of doing a word pattern for the 4th layer, point at somebody and say “you” and then go and take their place in the circle. So you have to remember the words/people rather than position. Instead of saying you, you can make it easier by using names.
It’s up to the pointer to resay their word if the receiver doesn’t hear or register it.

Group Counting
Everybody get as close as possible in a circle. People close their eyes. The goes is to count to a specific number. Say 20 to start. Somebody (undesignated) says “one”. If somebody else started to say or did say one, you start over. then somebody says two. Again if two people speak at same time it resets. Everybody screams when you get to your goal.

There’s so many more fun games. They may seem silly or hoky, but if some of the players commit to the game and do it with energy (even if they are faking the energy) they tend to build. The great thing about improv people is that we are trained to say “Yes…And” aka to go along, to add energy and ideas to what they were given. Turn off that mental judge and try committing to the simple game, and enjoy.

Where would you photograph?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2011 by brynforbes

I recently saw a twitter contest asking “Where would you photograph if you could photograph anywhere?”
Of course I had a thousand places and only 140 characters. (some of which were taken up by the link to the contest – normally I dislike spending my twitter followers attention with contests but I thought it was an interesting question)

Some of the things that came to mind:

1) Fedex hub in Memphis — What a fascinating logistics ballet it must be to get all these packages everywhere. Same goes for an Amazon warehouse.
2) behind the scenes at So You Think You Can Dance
3) The International Space Station (hey they said *anywhere*)
4) Behind the scenes at a las vegas casino — I heard they have tubes carrying liquor to the bars and coins to the slot machines
5) Airport — I love airports as a concept, the people, the dance of airplanes coming and going, the frustration, the kiss-n-drive dropoffs, but apparently everybody near an airport with a camera is a terrorist now
6) Baja Mexico, where the humpback whales give birth and bring their young up to the meet the tourists in the zodiacs
7) Anywhere with dolphins
8) White Sands New Mexico (this was inspired by George Lepp who has an incredible pano from there that I just love)
9) Northern Lights viewing spots
10) Bhutan or Tibet — mostly because I want to travel there


Such a fascinating world.

Where would you photograph?

The Burden of Ideas

Posted in Uncategorized on March 24, 2011 by brynforbes

I can’t say for sure but I think I have a lot of ideas swirling in my head. I mean, it seems like the fish swimming in my mental aquarium are roiling the waters but I can’t see what’s in your mental aquarium to know relative wise. That’s not to say my fish are good fish. They’re just fish, popping out of hiding and playing in the bubbler at the most inappropriate times like when I’m trying to fall asleep or when I’m concentrating on something else. Ooh I should write about blog post about XYZ. Oh it’d be cool to photograph more bridges. I should buy a bigger ladder for tulip season. I should try printing on acrylic.
It’s a blessing to be interested in many things and have thoughts about ways to experiment, but it’s a problem for me as it means I have an ever increasing to-do list. It also means I feel defeated when I see somebody has actually made progress with an idea I had. It means I could probably be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. It means I go in the other room to get protective spray and find myself rewiring the gallery music system.

Ideas are cheap, it’s the hard work and the follow through that makes an art piece, or a startup company. In the tech world it’s rarely the first company to the market that wins. In the art world we all interepret an idea differently, so there’s still validity in proceeding. But the cost of the idea is that burden of hope that it places in your mind. The seditious optimism that one could and should be accomplishing that.
Of course, I imagine it’s worse to be on the opposite end of the spectrum, a perpetual mental dial tone (for you youngsters that’s a reference to pre cell phone days). But sometimes I’m at my happiest, when I’m executing and in the groove, and focused. Often this is when I’m busy enough running, putting up framing studs, playing a video game, that it feels like a flowing stream, rather than a small whirlpool in an aquarium.

Here’s a stretch but is indicative of the weird connections in my brain, this ideas/hope vs. focus/acceptance sort of continuum (I’m not describing this well, ack parenthetical idea! stop, assume your readers will forgive you, back to your run on sentence) is how I imagine the continuum of single and looking for “the one” vs. an arranged marriage. Why is it that we seek perfection and end up with loneliness, and I hear and read about so many people in arranged marriages that are very happy (exceptions abound in both cases – just a thought experiment). What about us is happier when we don’t have choices? if we don’t have an idea for something better, are we happier with what we have?

Would I be happier in a authoritarian regime, telling me exactly what to do, NO, but I am interested in learning more about how to deal with unpursued ideas, possibilities just out of reach and the alluring siren of hope keeping me from settling in with a extra large refillable tub of popcorn, a backpack of soda, a 2×4 of Kit Kat and watching this mostly pg-13 life flow by.

Hmm. I’m weird.