Semester 2 Recap & Summary

At the end of our most recent residency, my world was awash with ideas – veritable seas of thoughts, methods, practices, and approaches. I had no bearing, no course plotted out, only a vague hunch and an incalculable curiosity. If I’m honest (which I’ve found to be imperative), I’m still in that place, soaked to the gills in theory, sodden with data, by have-you-heard-of-this-person and you-should-really-read-this, and completely immersed by precedent artists and their work. Stemming from this have observed a process of fear in myself over the course of the semester and have come to accept a few (and cliché) anchoring ideas through the process of wrestling with ideas. First, a reminder that failure is inevitable as well as subjective. Second, that I’m the only person that is going to create the work that I am making for the reasons that I am creating it. Third, I need to trust my intuition. And also, I don’t have to have all the answers before I start to create work.

Leaving the previous residency, a few key points stuck out to me about some of the functional elements of my work. It was altogether too direct and at the same time completely unspecific. I loved the work because I loved the process of creating it, but that didn’t translate to the viewer. While it was heavy-handed and opaque, it was something. It stuck with the people who saw it and they were very curious as to my process. I thought this was a good thing, because I love process, but soon realized I was mistaken – without a concentrated idea to function as a unifying element throughout my works, my work fell flat. The overriding question became, How can I open this up conceptually? I’ve fought with the question over the last several months and continue to fight with it. I’ve made several observations, which I view as some sort of progress.

  1. I like love detail. I like that high-resolution imagery provides an overwhelming amount of visual information and choose methods and processes that render me a large amount of detail. I am simultaneously overcome and intrigued when I am unable to discretely process such a volume of visual information. I feel that the camera is playing to its strengths in medium and large format – it still has the ability to lend to the ‘truthiness’ of the image. I like the distance a medium-wide lens at a distance gives. A wider, more distant view is preferable and allows for more of the aforementioned ‘information’ to be present in the work.
  2. I thought I wanted to photograph people, but realized that I didn’t. In speaking with my mentor, Alec Soth, I realized that I was more interested in people as a whole – groups and formations of people – and I wasn’t interested in seeing them in my pictures at this point. I love the traces we leave, the marks we make unconsciously and the way we organize ourselves as micro- and macrosocieties.
  3. I’m inextricably drawn to the West, but can’t afford to spend much time there. It may be that it interests me because I don’t live there, it may be that I don’t want to actually deal with the fact that the Midwest is less visually striking, it may be that I am emulating so many of the artists that I’ve already seen.
  4. The aerial view and the ground view paired together interest me immensely. The simultaneity of two perspectives – one natural and the other machine-assisted – is really compelling to me. The ability the aerial perspective gives to see through space is of immense interest to me. I’m going to continue to explore this idea of simultaneous perspectives.
  5. My photographs are objects, but simulations. As such, they are synthetic, malleable, and begging to be worked. I walk a fine line between ‘straight’ photography (which I think is an idealistic fantasy) and constructed reality – not quite tableau, but certainly not true. I’ve begun to experiment with anaglyphic glasses, painting on my images, and utilizing other media such as silver leaf to break the ‘reality’ of the images.
  6. I would photograph these places myself if I had the means. Google Earth is a next-best-thing at this point. I’ve got to use whatever I can.
  7. Man-altered landscapes are an area of interest, but the field is overwhelming. It has been difficult to narrow a field of particular interest because there is so much to discover and understand.
  8. Maps don’t seem that different from aerial photography. When I see aerial survey photographs, I see maps, and vice versa. I am drawn to both of these because of the ability they have to be understood and trusted. They seem to fundamentally be texts to be read.
  9. I’ve found out (finally) that visual art is Many of the languages, ideas, and philosophies of art stem from the study of the function of language. I’m looking at you, Saussure.
  10. I’ve got to let my intuition lead. It’s there to be trusted, but I’ve got to have an ongoing conversation that includes critical self-analysis and refining of my idea. I can’t work backwards from a pure idea and I can’t start without one, so I’m starting with a fuzzy idea and working outward in both directions.
  11. I’ve learned the first idea is usually the worst. I’m really good at being heavy-handed, obvious, and cliché, so I’ve started gunning for the later ideas as they are generally more refined and better filtered, which makes for a much better fit.
  12. I’m still playing catch-up. There are so many ideas that I’m learning about. Every time I read a book or an article, I have sixteen more to read just to feel competent about the article I’m reading.
  13. While I’m playing catch-up, I am a new voice. I’m the bridge between the pre-internet and after-internet crowds. I speak both digital and analog. I really think this is a strength that I have. It scares me, but I need to follow it.
  14. I really need to stop trying to become other people. I revisit ideas and thoughts I’ve had and realize I’m trying to recognize a pattern and repeat it rather than creating a pattern.


I’m still adding points to the list. I feel that I’m making large leaps forward as an artist over the course of this semester. My work hasn’t been prolific, but my development as an artist and as a thinker has been worth a bit drier semester. I’m currently working on quite a few different ideas, as I will expand upon later.

The semester has been heavy on reading and looking. I got approved for unlimited interlibrary loans through the University I work at and have been leveraging this to my advantage. I started the semester with Robert Adams and read through essays and work on and reacting to New Topographics. I was introduced to Lewis Baltz and Joe Deal, having been familiar with Shore, the Bechers, Adams, etc. The idea of man-altered landscape was arresting to me – the photographs seemed anachronistic, pallid, pessimistic, and desolate, but the discussion was about something much larger – a view of the scope in which we live. Much of the work I looked at from there had a duality – it fascinated and appaled. I loved how I could be disgusted and intrigued at the same time. Emmet Gowin’s work from the sky did that to me, and from there I looked at quite a few suggested photographers: David Maisel, Richard Misrach, Ed Burtynsky, Florian Miaer-Aichen, and Sophie Ristelhueber, John Gerrard, and Barbara Galucci. These have really helped me to see the ways that photography can function – the modes with which it is able to operate on it’s own. I’ve also expanded my understanding of critical theory. I don’t have much of a theory background, so speaking the language is difficult. I read about Kant’s sublime, I read DeBord and Koolhaas, Tufte, Smithson, Sontag, Berger, Baudrillard, and several survey books on theory and art. More than anything, I’m drawing connections between the artists I’ve been told to look at and understanding the significance they have and conversation in which they are working.

All of the information and the data has been helpful and immensely imperative, but the most helpful advice I got revolved around and worked against my process. I was told to obscure, to show the seams, to create an unexpected agenda, and to work against explicit clarity. I was told to free myself from references, to look at work irrationally, and even to include a hint of personal narrative. This frustrated and confused me. As I’ve been doing more reading and looking at liberal volumes of work, I’ve begun to understand and let go of the control. I started bringing in non-photographic methods to my work – started to follow my intuition.

And this is the point I am at. I’m experimenting wildly and trying a whole bunch of really captivating ideas. I’m not sure where it’s leading, but I know I’ve got the wind and my bow is pointed in a favorable direction. I’ve got a final meeting with Alec right before Christmas. Between now and then, I’ve finally got a few days off to commit strictly to the studio and I am hungry and anxious to get there. I realize that this isn’t the ideal position to be in, but I’ve drawn in some tighter parameters around my work and hope to have some good feedback as I go into my third residency and third semester, ready to create work and gear up for thesis.

Jer Nelsen – Semester Reflection Paper – LUCAD – SUFA2015

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