(this conversation happened online the week before the show when i had the flu)
Mom: You're spending a fortune on this show.
Me: Yeah...about $500
Mom: Alyse, you don't have that kind of money!
Me: Yeah it's a good thing i was sick this week, huh? I didn't have to eat.
Mom: That's not even funny.
Me: Sure it is.
I found out about the Around the Coyote winter arts festival two days before the application was due in December. I decided to throw together the necessary components and press my luck, hardly telling anyone that I applied because I had my doubts of whether I'd get accepted. About a month later I found out that I had officially been admitted as an artist.
When I lived in NYC I showed my photos in several shows, but all of them had some sort of NYU tie...as in I was just automatically a part of it because I was part of the class. (Well except for the Gallatin Arts Festival, which I did have to apply to, but even that was still school-related.) Because of this, I never really considered myself an "artist." It was time to "test the waters," as they say, and see if I could prove myself otherwise.
I had about a month to get everything together. I had the prints made with about two weeks to spare, but then I saved the framing until the morning of. Part of the delay I blame on my unwillingness to sit down and sign my name at the bottom of the photos. I had what one might consider a meltdown the night before the opening. My dad unfortunately had to witness this. Nothing was ready. Nothing was good enough. And I thought writing "A.Liebovich" as my signature could be mistaken for "a liebovich," like I am "a Liebovich" instead of "I am A(lyse).Liebovich." I know that sounds ridiculous, but it got to the point where I almost e-mailed everyone I had told about the show to tell them not to bother coming. My dad came with me to paint my wall space before the kick-off party. I wanted to look like a normal human being for once, so I changed out of my usual sweatpants attire and put on my one pair of jeans sans holes. I had only bought a tiny can of white paint, which apparently wasn't enough, which in my mind just added to why I wanted Thursday to end already. So I started haphazardly rolling paint, not realizing that the excess had been flying of the wall and covering my hair, my face, my hands, my jeans...I gave up on trying to make my wall a cohesive white. "I don't have the patience to be perfect," I told my dad. And with that we left to go across the street to the party. My dad was bummed because it cost him $20 to get in and because of my breakdown we were an hour late and therefore there was no food left. So, while I stood by myself with a plate of chips and guacamole, self-consciously trying to eat with my paint-covered hands, he continued double-fisting margaritas. After maybe an hour I finally initiated our exit. All I could think about was how I didn't fit in with the pretentious art crowd and how much work I still had waiting for me back home.
Friday morning my dad and I worked like a machine. He decided to skip the auto show, his motivation for spending the night in the city, just to help me, which was awesome and much-appreciated. I put the matted photos into the frames (the mattes by the way were all cut by my former high school photo teacher/current friend, Colleen Duncan, who I owe a lot of thanks to), begrudgingly more than once in some cases because there'd be specks of dirt caught behind the glass. Then he'd put the wire hangers on the backings. As soon as we finished the final one, Jenny got down here. Between the three of us we loaded up the car and headed to the Bongo Room for brunch before hanging the photos. We had an overly-huge meal and then carried all the frames and tools two blocks and up a long flight of stairs. Once there, we jumped right in. Jenny helped me figure out what height we should hang everything, and then my dad hammered in the nails. As soon as we hung the first one I was nothing but smiles and bursting with positive energy. That's all it took...seeing that it was all coming together.
It was a long (22 total hours) weekend of sitting on my folding chair watching people walk by. I actually brought four books along with me, thinking I would get a lot of reading done. I read one one page. What I loved most were the people who glanced at my work and looked like they were going to pass it by...I imagined their thoughts--oh they're just photos...and then some of them would stop in their tracks and turn back around and start studying what I had displayed. Something they saw drew them in, and just seeing that was valuable.
I found it interesting how the consensus seemed to be that I somehow managed to digitally enhance/manipulate/create almost all of my photos. People seemed shocked when I told them that first of all, all 15 images were shot with 35mm film, and second of all, I barely know how to use Photoshop, so even if I wanted to make the pictures look better, I wouldn't know how.
The comments/questions I got on my "love shadows" picture alone:
* "Now, you staged that, right?" No.
* Someone thought it was a building with two fire hhydrants sticking out of the wall and people standing on them...?
* "I don't get how you took that. Were you flying, or what??" Haha, I wish.
* "Is that photo famous? Or did you take it?" I looked at him, confused. He thought that I had just framed a "famous photo" I liked and put it in my show. I told him I took it, as I had taken the rest of the ones hanging around me, and that as far as I know, it's not a famous image.
* "Now you transposed those shadows onto the wall, right?" Well first of all, that's the street, not a wall. Second of all, I don't even know how to transpose things.
Then there was the woman representing a gallery that was showing work in the festival. "How did you get those seats [on the ferry] red?" she asked. Again, I was confused. "That's the color they were...?" I said. "Really? Wow. See, I thought you went in and colored them." "Nope. I just saw what I saw and pushed the button."
Someone asked if i set up Sol's apartment before snapping his portrait. Not only did I not set it up, the reason I love that particular image so much is that how he is and how his apartment is (even down to where he hung my coat in his doorway every time I went there) and the angle I shot him at were exactly how everything looked from my point of view during all of our conversations. If you look closely, you can just barely see my shadow in the reflection of the T.V. Someone else examining that photo said, "It's rare you can see into a person's soul, but I feel like I can look right into his in this [photo]." Maybe I am doing something right, I thought.
If people asked, I shared the stories behind the photos, especially with the 9.11 accidental double exposure (which I had to repeat several times was truly an accident and had nothing to do with Photoshop tricks) and portrait of Sol. Who is he? What's his story?
One man walked by, looked briefly and said, "You've got beautiful compositions." And another man, who I later learned was a commericial photographer, complimented my "eye for natural light" after I told him that all of them were shot with available light. "I hate using artificial lights," I admitted. "Well, if you can use natural light that well, you don't ever need to use the artficial ones." I smiled.
And then finally someone got it, pin-pointed the quality I like in my own work. He rounded the corner (my wall space was on an end of row of zig-zagged wall spaces), took a look, and said, "Now someone just told me there was no realisism in this show...here it is!" I said, "Well I like to show life as it is. I appreciate people who do abstract work or manipulate images to make them 'prettier,' but I'm a straight-forward kind of person, and I think that attitude manifests itself in my photography as well."
A woman asked me to "teach her how to have an artistic eye." I told her I'm not sure that that's something that can be taught because everyone sees things differently. She saw the photo I took of my aunt's torso, which I titled "Funeral Gloves," and asked, "Like how do you find the courage to only take a picture of someone's torso? To just cut their head off like that..." I said, "I guess it's just that I don't think you necessarily need to see someone's face to understand their emotion. You can get just as much information from someone's body language or how they dress. It's rare that I do take such close-up pictures of people like that, but if I see someone standing a certain way, it's like I have to capture it because if I walk away, intimidated, I will regret never having taken the photo."
She stood silent for a few moments, flipping through my tray of unframed photos. Then she held out my "red bike" image. "I just don't get it. How do I teach myself to look at things like you do? For instance, with this one, why not keep the whole bike in the frame?" I had to think about it for a minute...I'm not used to attaching words to my art, I'm used to them speaking for themselves. "Well..." I started. "I guess it can be more interesting to look at only part of the bike because it leaves room for mystery or room to form a story. Maybe the front tire was flat and that's why the person is standing next to it. You just never know, so the possibilities surrounding the frame and what's outside the frame are endless."
I didn't think anyone was coming by on Sunday. One second I had my nose in a book, and the next hour or two I was overwhelmed with visitors--mostly former high school teachers. It was so wonderful for all of them to come out, and as most teachers do, they tried to make me make the most of my situation. I got scolded for not placing a price on my photos, told that there's no reason to apologize for telling someone how much my work costs, that if if I want this to be a career as opposed to a hobby, I need to start respecting my work. The thing is, if i thought my work was crap, i wouldn't have hung it in the show. I do like my "eye" and that I can transcribe how I see the world into a photograph. But I don't think I will ever be comfortable dealing with the business side of art. I hate money...that's what it comes down to.
My friend Matt jokingly, but astutely pointed out, "This is like a petting zoo for artists." I laughed, but then I thought, he's pretty much right. People display their work in festivals like this to, in essence, search for validation from the commonfolk that they are worthy of calling themselves artist. The ATC people sent out a survey via e-mail yesterday asking how we think they can improve the festival, etc. One of the questions asked: "Did you sell any work? If not, would you still consider the weekend a success?" I did, in fact, sell some work--one framed and three unframed, which is way more than I expected. But even if I hadn't sold anything (which is what I expected), I still would have considered the weekend a success. I met a lot of great artists on my floor--(such as, John Kowalcyzk [another Fremd grad], Shawn Stucky, Damien James, Gabriel Mejia, Tifanie O'Riley, Nichole Chandler, and Michael Jackson--a girl so obsessed with the pop star, he's the sole subject of her paintings and she even adopted his name for the show...you can view all their work by clicking on the link at the bottom), had lots of interesting conversations with people, a lot of friends and family showed up to support me, and I feel one step closer to feeling comfortable about labeling myself an actual "artist."
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