Book Updates

I always try to plan for the expected...because it usually happens. This morning I hoped to make a dent into creating the unique encaustics that will be encased in the limited edition, artist made book,
 I was working away and the heat gun began to smoke and the coils on the inside turned an angry red...pretty scary. The studio smells like a burn but happily, I unplugged everything and found myself with time to update the blog.
I can hardly believe it is almost spring. The sun just came out after 4 days of grey, snowy, wintery days and it feels wonderful. One thing I love about living in Chicago is that nothing lasts forever, the seasons are in constant flux which keeps things interesting. 
 I have been spending the last 2-3 months preparing files for my upcoming book, The Burn. It will be published by Kehrer Verlag is will be released this coming fall. After great struggle, I finally decided to write the book  essay with the help of many eyes and ears. It was a true collaboration.
 Natasha Egan of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago helped me to sequence the work. Her first question was ..."what would you like the first and last photograph to be?"
Everything else fell into place after that. It was an amazing process to see how her keen eye could sort thru 60 some photographs and restore order and grace to the work.
 Walker Blackwell of Latitude ran some proof prints for me. Once the final design decisions are made, he will make another set to send to the publisher for color corrections. I turned all the proofs and text over to  Renata Graw and Jeremiah Chiu of  Plural, a design firm in Chicago. I can't wait to see what they come up with!

 And now I am focusing on a very exciting new venture, creating a limited edition handmade artist book with interdisciplinary book and paper artist, Teresa Pankratz. Teresa has created an amazing structure and design for this book, which is really more like an art object. It  is pure poetry.
I am really thrilled with being able to make / create this with her and look forward to the actually assembly of the book.  The unveiling will be this coming May 17th...stay tuned.

 All of art making is a labor of love and I feel so luck to be in the throws of the creative process.

On Being "Original"

..."newness" or originality are often matters of subtle degree. The new doesn't have to be an epoch-shifting breakthrough. Just as we all have different fingerprints and handwriting, we all have a potential for some increment of originality. I am always on the lookout for a spark of necessity — a feeling that this particular artist had no choice but to make this particular artwork this particular way. That is the only way authenticity or even originality can start to emerge.”                     Roberta Smith 9/28/08

Gregory Crewdson : Brief Encounters

 It is not often that one has the opportunity to see the process of an artist's practice. A new documentary that was just released on Gregory Crewdson offers the viewer insight into what drives Crewdson to construct elaborate sets for the one moment of narrative. It is a stunning documentary and not be be missed.
 I love the fact that the film follows Crewdson over several years and shows the influences on his art from  his childhood into the present day. His father took him to a Diane Arbus show in NYC when he was 10 years old. Exhibitions in NYC of Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger were important in forming his work while he attended  graduate school at Yale. His father was a psychoanalyst and had an office in the basement of their home. Crewdson grew up knowing there were "secrets" contained in the office, not unlike the "secrets" contained in the orchestrated images he constructs.
Beneath the Roses, a stunning body of work, taking 8 years to complete.  I think he may have started it after a divorce (they did not go into this much in the documentary).  I can't help but wonder
how much of the longing and sense of disconnect that permeates his images over those 8 years was an outgrowth of his own pain...
The film is playing at the Gene Siskel Center in Chicago this weekend. If you don't live in the city, look for it playing near you.

For the Love of It

I have recently seen 2 outstanding documentary films that I can whole heartedly recommend. They are about extraordinary people who have pursued their passions with a disregard for fame and fortune. There is a purity of intention that is really inspirational.

Searching for Sugarman is up for an academy award this year. You can see it via HBO on demand. It  will probably be available via netflix soon. An amazing story, you can hardly believe it is real.

The second film is Dorothy and Herb. It is an older film that I just got around to seeing. I am really inspired by people who work just for the love of it.

Both films were so well made with lots of surprises in them. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

It Takes A Village...

I am in full swing now, dedicating this year to getting The Burn published by Kehrer Verlag in Germany and making an accompanying limited edition, hand made book that will include a unique encaustic piece. This process is an education. When I had my Look and Leave book published, I pretty much handed over the files and the Center for American Places did the layout, sequencing, editing and designing. George Thompson did a fabulous job. There is much to consider when creating a book and I am realizing that the photographer, whose work it is,  is not the most objective. Bookmaking is a collaborative effort and I feel so fortunate to have wonderful, talented people on my team.
  Teresa Pankratz, an incredibly talented interdisciplinary book and paper artist is collaborating with me on the limited edition book. I had a long conversation with her about how I envisioned the book. Next thing I knew, Teresa came up with this amazing structure that will delight the viewer. We have the broad brush strokes in place and are now honing in on the various papers, dimensions etc. It is VERY PRECISE work and Teresa is a master. Each book with have a "jewel" at the back...a unique encaustic piece in addition to the prints.  
I have also had the pleasure of working with Walker Blackwell (formerly of Black Point Editions).
He has started, with other passionate photographers (Maria HummelEileen MuellerAshley SingleyMatt AustinVictor Yañez-Lazcano and Kate Roger) a community darkroom for Chicago, called Latitude. Walker is going to help me convert my files so they are the European CMYK standard and make proof prints for the publisher.

Then there is the writing. I started by looking at poetry I loved, especially by Mark Strand. I sent some of the poems to my dear friend and mentor, Dick Olderman. What I got back from him was....
 "What do you have to write of your life that would be what you want to pass on, as the poetic image of a glance ... and can be reached without a camera. See what comes out of you.  Look to yourself for nothing and that's where it begins.", I have been challenging myself to write more. I am finding that if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can sometimes have access to thoughts and words without my censor at work...  a  beginning. 

stay tuned

The New Year

I know I haven't written much on this blog over the past couple of months. It has been a time of  transformation. As you may know, I had a sister who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 5 1/2 years ago and the disease finally took her this past November. I have been consumed with this "sea change" in my life and have not felt much like writing. As time has passed, I am finding my energies slowly returning, hence,  an update on my creative endeavors.

I have always used the camera to better understand the world around me. These past 5 1/2 years have been no different. As fate would have it, I started The Burn project at the same time my sister was diagnosed. It has been a gift to me because I have been able to funnel many of my ponderings on the meaning  of life  into my photography.

The year 2013  will be focused on having  The Burn published by Kehrer Verlag, a publishing house in Heidelberg, Germany. The book will be dedicated to my sister. I envision it as a quiet, meditative experience for the viewer.  I have had much input from others on how to think about the creation of the book.

My first "mentor" was Joerg Colberg, the editor of the blog Conscientious. I met Joerg in the Netherlands at the Noorderlicht Photography Festival. He shared with me a few invaluable suggestions:
Never rush the process of creating a book and  every decision made needs to support the underlying vision for the book, including the design , text, papers, format etc. I must say that I was a bit overwhelmed, but it all made sense.  I am so appreciative of Joerg's generous guidance.

The next person I met with was Lauren Henkin. I had signed up for her workshop at Filter Photo  titled Turning Toward Books : Creating Artist - Directed Publications. I thought I might get some ideas for the trade book. Unfortunately I was unable to attend (at the hospital with my sister) but I did have a brief visit with Lauren, who shared some thoughts on  limited edition, handmade books. The idea appealed to me not only as a way to raise money for the trade book, but also because I have always enjoyed making things with my hands.

In doing more research on Lauren's site, I realized that she had lived in Portland for a few short years and  had tapped into a talented pool of artisans. It was at that point that I decided to think about trying to collaborate with someone locally. Immediately, Teresa Pankratz popped into my head. I have known Teresa for years and knew she had just completed a MFA in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College in Chicago.  I called Teresa and the rest is history (not quite, but is in the making)! Teresa has come up with an amazing structure for the book which includes an encaustic piece.
Form and Content seamlessly joined.

I am thrilled to have these 2 projects in front of me and will keep you posted on how it all develops.

New Year, New Projects, New Challenges.

Life is good!

Socrates on Death and Dying

© Jane Fulton Alt

"To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise: for it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. And what is this but that shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?"      Socrates

Paul den Hollander ~ Luminous Garden

Feast your eyes! One of the many pleasures of traveling to the Noorderlicht Photography Festival in the Netherlands was learning about the work of Paul den Hollander

  I was immediately transfixed by his work. At first I thought I was looking at deep sea bioluminescence, the production and emission of light by a living organism as the result of a chemical reaction.

 But no, these images were "lit up" by the creative ingenuity of Paul den Hollander. Somehow, Paul is turns the invisible visible by bridging art and science. The electromagnetic field's of these plants are stunning.

 In his words...

 "My photographic work can be seen as an example of photography which breaks through the familiar way of looking at our physical world; it is an adventure in consciousness and perception. It is a fundamental idea though that our limited sensory capacity excludes from the field of direct awareness almost all the electromagnetic spectrum.
In the series ‘The Luminous Garden’ I penetrate deeper into the secrets of the vegetable kingdom. Showing a known physical reality in relation with the, for the naked eye, invisible electromagnetic field that penetrates and surrounds the physical plant. This creates a very different experience of ‘reality’."

Instead of using a formal scientific method in showing this unseen reality, I am using an artistic way, full of imagination, in revealing this important and vital aspect of life, this fascinating world full of magic and enchantment. "

Marie Cecile Thijs

As you may know, I was in the Netherlands this past September. I loved the country and the people I met. I was just sent a link (thank you to Deann and Frances) of Marie Cecile Thijs's work. The portraits are so well seen and remind me of the best Dutch European  paintings. The subtly and light....extraordinary!
 "Marie Cecile Thijs  specializes in staged photography (portraiture and autonomous photography). In her photographs she strives for intensity and stillness. She mingles contemporary style with classical references. "

Marie Cecile Thijs initially had a career as a lawyer, but more than fifteen years ago she rediscovered her earlier love for the camera, and decided to become a photographer. 

Mark Rothko ~ The Formula

                                 Mark Rothko ~ From a lecture at the Pratt Institute, 1958.
The recipe of a work of art—its ingredients—how to make it—the formula.

Burn No. 29 © Jane Fulton Alt
1. There must be a clear preoccupation with death—intimations of mortality...Tragic art, romantic art, etc. deals with the knowledge of death.
2. Sensuality. Our basis of being concrete about the world. It is a lustful relationship to things that exist.
3. Tension. Either conflict or curbed desire.
4. Irony. This is a modern ingredient—the self effacement and examination by which a man for an instant can go on to something else.
5. Wit and Play..for the human element.
6. The ephemeral and chance...for the human element.
7. Hope. 10% to make the tragic concept more endurable.

I measure these ingredients very carefully when I paint a picture. It is always the form that follows these elements and the picture results from the porportions of these elements...

A Meditation

©Ben Canales; The Star Trail;  Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
National Geographic 2011 Traveler Photo winning photo
What is "art" but the effort of giving permanent form---- in language, in painting, sculpture, music ---to those elemental forces in our lives, those passions, hurts, triumphs, and mysteries that have no permanence otherwise, and so require art to be known at all? Our lives, especially at their happiest moments, fly past as quickly as a mountain stream rushing along its rocky course, throwing up frothy, sparkling spray; the effort of art is to slow the rapid motion, to bring it to a halt so that it can be seen, known. All artists know either consciously or instinctively that the secret intention of their life's work is to rescue from the plunge of time something of beauty, permanence, significance in another's eyes."
                                                                              Joyce Carol Oats ; Telling Stories


I am very pleased to be included in this international photography festival, Noorderlicht, which takes place annually in the Netherlands. 115 photographers from 36 countries will be shown at "Terra Cognita, an exhibition about the relation between man and nature. How do we experience nature, and what is its value for us? Our romantic longing for pure nature is diametrically opposed to the practical desire to control the world and cultivate it. "

This is a mock up design display for the work which will be presented outdoors. 
My Burn pieces will be blown up to 30" x 30" and printed for outdoors. 
I am leaving shortly for the Netherlands to attend the opening festivities.
So fun!
© Toni Hafkenscheid
Father and Son at Grand Canyon 2007

Nature, Toni Hafkenscheid tells us, almost always comes across as artificial. It is as if it has been transplanted directly from the model railway he has as a child. Hafkenscheid associates the North American landscape with the trees of cotton wool and cardboard mountains through which his trains used to run. In CONFABULATION he tries to give the real the appearance of artificiality. For that he uses  tilt-shift lenses, which, because he uses them the ‘wrong way around’, offer him the possibility of having only a small slice of the landscape in sharp focus, leaving the rest of the image fuzzy.

More information on the festival can be found HERE.

The Art of Human Rights and Healing ~ Survivor Quilts

Some amazing work had transpired in Chicago under the creative brainpower of Greg Halvorsen Schreck, a photography professor at Wheaton College
Greg collaborated with Chicago’s Heartland Alliance Marjorie Kovler Center in creating a photographic/quilt project with survivors of politically sponsored torture. The Kovler Center transforms the lives of individuals recovering from the complex consequences of torture,  providing medical, mental health, and social services.

Constructing the quilt 

"We had discussed possible photography projects for years. However, the need for survivor confidentiality made conventional documentary approaches impossible. Instead of a traditional documentary project, too often cementing images of individual victims, we decided to use an approach that visualized a community of survivors. Through a collaborative group project, we were able to create a process that promoted dialogue and understanding between survivors, students, and staff members. We all wanted to create an image of a supportive community that would present survivors with dignity and beauty. Posing torture survivors for photographs might reiterate the problem of someone exerting control over them, so we allowed each person to depict themselves in ways that offered self-expression, autonomy, and anonymity. The basic set consisted of a computer monitor next to a camera, allowing the subject to see each image on the screen as it was made. Most importantly, we gave them a remote control to make their own self-portraits. We wanted the survivors to see themselves in community—in solidarity with case workers and other service providers—so the Kovler Center staff participated as well." 
"After making photographs to their satisfaction, the survivors were invited to choose two photographs that they liked the best. The images were cropped into squares and printed on-site. The photographs were then cut into strips and woven back together. The editing and weaving process allowed the participants another way to alter their identity, as needed. They could control exactly how they would appear. Finally, the completed squares were sewn together to create a quilt. Students were responsible for various parts of the collaborative process: helping with the camera; editing, cropping, and printing the images; cutting the images and weaving them back together; troubleshooting and overseeing the visual design of the quilt; and sewing the quilt together. The production room was festive and energetic, with students, survivors, and Kovler Center staff working together in various combinations. The quilt was reinforced and finished at Wheaton College."

The participants’ response was overwhelmingly positive:
 “They did the worst things to me, the worst. I have scars all over from where they hurt me. I thought I didn’t have a body anymore . . . I brought my therapist with me, and then I felt okay. I made some pictures, and I started feeling happy. I could do it by myself, without the therapist anymore. I liked the pictures I saw. I started moving and having fun.”
“I realized that I could have a body again; I could be in my body. I could move. I realized I could have a life here. I could start again. I felt like I was a model, that I was beautiful.”
“After what they did to my body, I never knew I could feel this way again.”
“You made me beautiful . . . I am beautiful!”
“I felt immortal.”
"A non-traditional intervention, the finished quilt has proven to be uplifting, empowering, and transformative, beyond what any of us could have imagined. Something magical and healing occurred when survivors took the remote control in their hands, determined how to pose their own bodies, and decided when and how their image was to be recorded."

Greg shares more ideas from this past fall on working  with another underserved population in the Chicago area...
 "I started my class this semester working with the escalating refugee population in Wheaton.  Mostly from Congo and Burundi; the civil war there is pretty harrowing.  A number of us in Wheaton donated our backyards for some of them to farm.  My students documented the gardens and we had an exhibition a few weeks back: all the African gardeners came.  There was abundant Congolese and other food that they made.  Only a few of the homeowners came.  The refugees had never been to an opening, nor had most of them seen pictures of themselves.  It was quite a wild time.  So Karen and I invited our gardeners for dinner this afternoon with another refugee family.  Talk about culture shock..."

 You can read more about the quilt project HERE.

The Art of Human Rights

Charles Gniech, Chief curator of The Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago and fellow artist, is at it again. He has organized an alternative exhibition at the Zia Gallery in Winnetka to support the amazing Heartland Alliance of Chicago. His energy and curatorial abilities are impressive. The show will only be up for a few short days, so if you are interested in supporting both artists and a wonderful social service organization, be sure to stop by.

Zia Gallery, 548 Chestnut Street;  Winnetka, Illinois
Monday, August 27 – Exhibition opens
Thursday, August 30 – Main event: 5-8:30 
Saturday, September 1 – Exhibition Closes

Special Places

I am about ready to head out to a special place that I have been visiting for the past 35 years. Every summer I make my pilgrimage to a remote location in Northern Wisconsin where I am able to dip into nature. Every year I bring my camera and am surprised by  new discoveries. It reinforces my thought that the longer you spend with your muse, the deeper the work becomes. 

I thought it would be fun to share some of the images I have made over time.


The Evolution of an Artist Statement

I began the Burn work over 5 years ago. As many of you know, it coincided with my sister's first chemotherapy treatment. For the first 2 years of the project, I couldn't / did not want to, make the connection or discuss it in my artist statement.

Burn No. 21

Artist Statement Version #1

While accompanying restoration ecologists on prescribed burns, I am drawn to the ephemeral quality of a single moment when life and death do not seem opposed to each other, but are parts of a single process to be accepted as a whole.
The Burn series evolved from my ongoing interest in life cycles. Controlled burns imitate naturally occurring fires by removing accumulated dead vegetation and releasing seeds from dormancy. By opening the woodlands to more sunlight, the fires prepare the soil for new spring growth, and the cycle of renewal continues.
Burn No.74

After attending an artist residency with many writers, I was convinced that my sister's illness was a very important part of this work, and that I needed to include it in my statement.

Artist statment version #2
   While accompanying restoration ecologists on prescribed prairie burns, I am drawn to the ephemeral quality of the single moment when life and death are not opposites, but rather parts of a single process to be embraced as a whole.

As fate would have it, this project began on the same day (and actual hour) of my sister’s first chemotherapy treatment, having just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The parallels between the burn and chemotherapy were immediately revealed to me as I photographed with my sister in my heart and mind.

Burning helps reduce invasive vegetation that crowd out native plants, allowing sunlight to reach the seedlings. By opening the woodlands to more daylight, the fires prepare the soil for new spring growth, and the cycle of renewal continues. So too, chemotherapy removes unwanted growth, allowing for new healthy cells to reestablish themselves. It with this deeper understanding of the life cycle that these images were created.
And then I went to Fotofest where I met a curator who said that the artist statement did not really reflect what she was seeing in the work. I let this feedback simmer for a few months. I knew she was right and struggled with how to rewrite the statement. I worked on it on and off and nothing was coming to me. I could "feel" it but not articulate it.
I then had a very interesting conversation this summer with 2 dear friends who both completed their PHD's in art history. To my utter surprise, one friend said, and I quote, "It is not the job of the artist to write about the work. The job of the artist is just to make the work. Writing about it should be left to others." 
You can't imagine the weight that was lifted from my shoulders. I felt liberated....only I still didn't  have a statement that could guide the viewer.  My other friend offered to write the statement for me. I can't tell you how appreciative and grateful I was.  
I am thrilled to finally have an accurate and articulate statement which accompanies the work as I send it out into the world.
Burn No. 96
Final Artist Statement
These photographs are part of a series begun in 2007 when I observed my first controlled prairie burn. I was immediately struck by the burn’s visual and expressive potential, as well as the way it evoked themes that are at the core of my photographic work.  A controlled burn is deliberately set; its violent, destructive force reduces invasive vegetation so that native plants can continue to prosper.  The elements of the burn—the mysterious luminosity, the smoke that both obscures and reveals—suggest a liminal space, a zone of ambiguity where destruction merges with renewal.  These images of regenerative destruction have a personal significance—I photographed my first burn at the same time my sister began a course of chemotherapy—yet they constitute a universal metaphor:  the moment when life and death are not contradictory but are perceived as a single process to be embraced as a whole. 
Burn No. 48
Thank you Debbie!

Taking the Summer Mary Schmich

Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune wrote a wonderful essay yesterday that I wanted to share with you, Taking the Summer Quiz. I am grateful for her wisdom as I thought about it this morning while swimming in the exquisitely delicious waters of Lake Michigan.

Light House Beach, Evanston © Jane Fulton Alt

Mary Schmich

August already.

The flowers are open wide. The air's still warm and as soggy as wet cotton. The days are still longer than the nights.
In other words, we've reached the season's peak, and perched here above summer's downhill slope, it's time to pause. Assess. And, if necessary, correct course in the summer time that's left.

Here's one of our occasional quizzes to help you. Select one answer in each category. Points are awarded for attitude as well as achievement.

1. Summer Harvest

A. I go to the local farmers market regularly! +10 points

B. I have Googled farmers market locations and fully intend to go to one before the summer's over. +1 point

C. Anything I can get at a farmers market I can get cheaper at Jewel, without the preening people, their annoying dogs and that bleepin' hammered dulcimer. -10 points

2. Water Sports

A. I've gone swimming so much that my bathing suit has a suntan! +15 points

B. Spare me the skin cancer, but I've read four trashy beach books lying in my backyard with a glass of sweet iced tea. +5 points

C. Why would I swim when I can lie on the couch in the AC and watch Michael Phelps? -10 points

3. Outdoor Entertainment

A. Millennium Park, Ravinia, neighborhood festivals! I've done them all! +25 points

B. Ravinia is too far. Neighborhood festivals are too loud. But I fully intend to go to Millennium Park now that that bleepin' electronica "music" is off the schedule. +2 points

C. Why would I go outside when I can lie on the couch in the AC and read about Kristen Stewart's love life? -30 points

4. Outdoor Exercise

A. Hardly a day goes by that I don't take a long walk/run/bike ride! +20 points

B. I walked over to Chick-fil-A to see if those sandwiches were worth the fuss. 0 points

C. If God meant humans to exercise outdoors, she wouldn't haven't invented temperatures over 75 degrees. -15 points

5. Lollapalooza

A. I'm in! +10 points

B. I am too old for Lollapalooza. +15 points (For self-awareness.)

C. What is Lollapalooza? -3 points (Age is no excuse for ignorance.)

6. Summer Dining

A. I've gorged on fresh tomatoes, peaches, corn, etc. + 15 points

B. Fresh tomatoes are overrated, but I'm all about brats on the grill. +1 point.

C. Does eating Cheetos while lying on the couch in the AC watching the Olympics count? -15 points

7. Heat Appreciation Index

A. Heat is the soul of summer, and I've savored these hundred-degree days! +15 points

B. Heat sucks but I'm not ready for winter. 0 points

C. I cranked up the AC in April and haven't turned it off since. -25 points

8. Summer Vacation

A. I spent half my vacation posting photos of my vacation on Facebook. -10 points

B. I spent half my vacation on Facebook, jealous of other people's vacation photos. -10 points

C. I spent my vacation without checking Facebook or email once. +30 points

9. Summer Reading

A. I finally read that fat classic I've been meaning to read since high school. +25 points

B. I've read four trashy novels and all my old magazines. +10 points

C. Does Facebook count? -40 points


Above 100: No summer regrets necessary.

0-100: Still time to improve.

Below 0: Remember this when you're grousing about winter.
© Jane Fulton Alt