My first attempt at an intellectual autobiography, written 10.6.08
"When people arrange their lives and the rituals that are part of their lives to accommodate the video camera, it's as if the reality of their lives becomes a kind of shadow life, just material for televising and recording." Neil Postman (NYT 1994)
This quote appeared in a brief essay in the lifestyle section of the New York Times about the increasing number of families documenting themselves with home video. I was also quoted in this article in reference to video taping my own family:
“I've been taping for two years," she said. "It's good to have a kid behind the camera. You get a whole new view."
Although, it would be another four years before I became aware of Neil Postman and his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, it was striking for me to read this simple quote from a 14 year old version of myself, and realize that I was already on a path towards deeper reflection on perspective and media making. Putting theory into practice has long been a part of my intellectual process. Now, in my graduate studies I intend to integrate my professional experiences in media production into theoretical writing. Currently, I am exploring many different themes but most relate to the impact of digital media and its online distribution on individual psyche and the greater cultural landscape.
I was raised among a community of artists, designers. With both my parents teaching at a university, all media was subject to a constant level of discourse in our household. Anything from awkward kerning to … were fit for dinner table discussion. By the time I reached high school I had become fairly disinterested in the content provided my mainstream media because it was just less interesting than what I was exposed to in art museums, indy video rental stores or simply city life. I attended an alternative education public high school in urban Richmond, Virginia where there were no grades, bells, lockers, or calling teachers by their last names. Instead students were expected to self-govern, with greater importance placed on community service projects, independent study and participation in student government, than SAT scores. Besides attending classes with titles like “ Drinking Newspaper Juice” or “ The Beat Generation” I was also able to take Philosophy 101 at the local university. This course introduced me to Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Descartes and thus began my interest in application of philosophy in my work.
I began college somewhat halfheartedly, at the University of Pittsburgh, where I ended up in a required English class taught by a particularly inspired graduate student. The semester was devoted to the exploration of authority through the writings of mostly post-structuralist era theorists. To say this blew my 18 year-old mind would be an understatement. I credit Benjamin, Derrida, Fish, Foucault, Ong, and their friends with teaching me how to feel comfortable putting my thoughts on paper. Not only that, but I now had some basis to articulate why I felt increasingly embittered by what I saw in the mainstream media. I went to art school in order to be able to explore my ideas about authority and image making through practice. The ability to explore my ideas in with different media suited me well as visual thinking came very naturally it was a place where I could confidently express my ideas. I was always very interested in the intersections of art and technology so photography was a natural place for me to start my formal creative education.
Despite the fact that the program was not academically rigorous, pursuing a BFA in Photography at The Corcoran School of Art, in Washington, DC helped me to identify some of my lifelong academic interests. I learned about the history and science of image making and physical perception by building cameras, experimenting with lenses, focal lengths, apertures, chemicals, papers and eventually, pixels. I explored my ideas about authority of perspective by creating works that could required the viewer to interact physically with the work. While in art school, I identified with artists like Christian Boltanksy, Hiroshi Sugimoto and John Baldesari whose work dealt with the meaning of making and viewing pictures within a lager collective history of humans in the world. While the program was almost entirely studio based I had just enough art theory courses and electives to discover writings of Guy De Bord, Baudrillard, Dewey and Sontag.
I continued to develop my writing wherever possible receiving an academic scholarship for a paper entitled “American Adam” which examined the patronage by wealthy industrialists of American landscape painters. From this research, I continued to have an interest in the depiction of the American landscape, building on this idea for my thesis project depicting views of monumental architecture from the working class neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. A related theme from my college work, which is still of interest to me today, is the parallels and distinctions between vernacular photography and advertising images of the same time period. I am interested in how these images reflect and refract each other creating a distorted feedback loop. In addition to using found negatives and advertising materials I also worked with text and images from self-help books and social educational films to further explore the why images are so powerful in establishing social norms. During college, I also worked as an academic writing tutor to other art students. Helping artists in this was is something I discovered that I was not only good at, but also enjoyed. I have continued seek ways to help artists articulate their ideas as a consultant and producer of video with and about artists.
Working as an exhibiting artist brought to the fore issues of venue and audience expectations that I continued to explore by moving my entire creative practice to the Internet. Learning about the history of video art when there were several major exhibitions of I interested me that many women artists were influential in the genre from its inception as it didn’t have an existing cannon that was already dominated by male perspectives. During early 2000’s I was involved in political activism and participated in a series of major street demonstrations in and around DC. Disheartened by the distorted coverage by major media outlets, of our activities, I found myself relying on alternative networks for information sharing like Indy Media as well as, the work of Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales at Democracy Now! First hand experience again, factored into my interest in the relationship between independent and mainstream media distribution structures.
Since moving to New York in 2003 I have worked in a wide variety of environments in the development, production, distribution and marketing of, cable access, network and premium cable television, videoblogs, commercials, documentaries, art and film festivals. I have become highly sensitized to different audiences and venues as well as the many legal, monetary and distribution challenges facing both independent and major media creators. I would like to take a closer look at some of the issues facing audiences and media makers today and work on projects that encourage greater level of media literacy for all parties involved.
The writers I most admire are cultural critics who discuss contemporary issues relevant in academia in a manner that is also accessible to the mainstream. I appreciate the pragmatic mindset that presents thought exercises and potential solutions to current and future social issues. Some writers whom I find myself returning to regularly for inspiration are Suzi Gablik, Dave Hickey, Naomi Klein, Marshal Mcluhan, Camille Paglia, Sadie Plant and Neil Postman. I would like, through writing and video to share my experiences as well as the experiences of the many innovative media makers I have worked with and continue to meet in this interesting time.