Carnival photos series featured on Huffington Post

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My series of black and white street photography that documents Fat Tuesday in Ajijic, Mexico has been featured in the Huffington Post. Head on over and check it out – they were nice enough to let me include a small essay about the experience.

Especially thrilling for me was it was not some writer with and interest in arts (nothing wrong with that) but an artist and a writer named Micheal Ernest Sweet. His work has always impressed me and this interest from a very accomplished street photographer based in New York is very encouraging. Generally when artists and children like your work then you are doing something right.

Thanks to Pat Apt for her support, encouragement and providing me the space to exhibit this work.

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Christopher Healey

Some thoughts on the art and idea of photography

One of the reasons I choose to pursue a graduate degree right now is to catch up to what the current thinking is about many of the things I have been interested and involved with in the last 20 years. Communications, new media and art are the three big ones. Some of you hear “animated ad banners on a blog” when I say that, but really I am interested in what we think we are doing in these areas and where this thinking comes from.

For example, I read some very compelling arguments about how everything from the 1939 British Monarchy visiting Canada shaped the CBC’s style, to an eccentric French nobleman from 1583 invented the way we use social media today. I have now seen an overview of communications theory that I recognize in the art world. I have researched new media art work and community projects that I never knew existed and push me to deeper into the rabbit hole of my own studio ambitions. I’ve learned new words and have had some great conversations. Sure beats making animated gif ad banners for blogs.
Research at this level is very rigorous and any sloppy or unfounded  aspects of your argument can be met with, at best, derision and mocking to, at worst, expulsion and scowls for life. Good. I mean, we must be paying all this money for exactly this sort of thing, right?
However, it is a good thing to have a blog in these cases so one can just spit out some ideas that 1) have no references or basis in demonstrated fact that appear in a lazy top 10 results on Google 2) are more speculative and initiative than even “East Sweat Sock U” would allow and 3) probably has already been written about by someone, and that someone is probably smarter, a better writer and better looking than me. Certainly slimmer. Not may giant academics out there but I imagine there are a few in Viking countries, but I don’t know why. This is an example of a statement that belongs on a blog rather than in an assignment or conference paper. Maybe.
Anyways. I have had some thoughts about photography since I am in a photography class and am hearing a lot of what photographers are telling about what photography is. Those who know me know I don’t think the experts in any field are the best judges of what they are doing or why. Forest versus the tree thing. Those who come fresh to a scene can see things others can’t, often quickly.
So with that faint justification, I’ll jot down a few thoughts I’ve had about photography recently.

1. There is no such thing as photography

We are not talking about the same thing when we discuss photography. What your grandparents had in the family album is not the same thing you see uploaded to Facebook. What Edward Burtynsky hangs in a gallery is not the same thing as the selfie someone uploads to Twitter, in the same way War and Peace is not the same thing as a stop sign. The technology, uses, functions and underlying philosophies differ so greatly, we may as well refer to anything that arrives through the post office as “mail” as opposed to what it is i.e. a cheque or a book or birthday card. Yet at one point these all arrived as the same thing (mail) through a certain frame (postal service), as do photos through a lens.

2. Imagery is primarily physical

I thought this when learning about what the fashion magazine and advertising industry does when treating photographs of models. I realized that this treatment, which is a controversial topic of oppression by unnatural body proportions, to me makes these models look almost identical, at least without closer and sustained scrutiny. Maybe this is because I am exposed to this imagery in places like grocery store check out lines and highway bulletin boards. I don’t have a TV and I don’t go to shopping malls very often. But for those who do, I think they see a great amount of difference in the subtlest of differences or adjustments. I think their physical proximity to these images shapes their relationship to this certain philosophy of lens and computer graphic work. I also think our brain plasticity is affected by what ever media and environment we are in and so people who buy into this world, which I think is most people where I live, are literally hard-wired for sensitivity to this. Or perhaps they are de-sensitized to it and simply don’t notice that there is no difference.

3. No one cares about digital imagery. Not really.

If you cared about it enough you would print it out, and print it on super fancy archival musuemy paper. If others cared about your work enough then they would do the same. Every image you have out there in the cloud will be gone in a hundred years because that is longer than our best digital archiving technologies allow for. This does not even take into account how current media that somehow may survive will be able to be viewed in the future. Have a gramophone player handy? Or how about a telegram clacking machine? Third party websites are not your fans, guardians or sponsors. They are tenuous apparatuses that at the moment are storing your shit on servers they are paying for. Not only that, but a lot can go wrong with our telecommunications platforms for a variety of economical, political and natural reasons.
Don’t believe me that only physical imagery matters? Think about this: would you rather buy 3am commercial time on your local TV station to present a slideshow of your lens based work or would you rather have show at your local gallery?

4. If you call yourself a photographer, then the imagery you make is already pre-defined.

I’ve previously made this same argument about calling yourself an artist. Just use a camera as a tool to get somewhere else, and stop worrying about an audience. Unless you want to be a commercial success, then by all means call yourself a photographer and tell people who’re looking at it that this is, indeed, photography. But if you want critical success, then you need the confidence to wait for others to label what you do.

Rise of the Social Eunuchs: Trusted guards of Reputation’s bedroom.

art hamont 050

During discussion in my media & reality class last week, I learned of and been thinking about the concept of two classes of social media citizenry emerging – those who keep their reputations online clean and those who don’t.

Of the those with a clean reputation, there are those who flourish online as communicators and those don’t.

Of those who do excel in this medium, there are those who digitally represent brands and personas.

These are trusted and valuable to an organization, as they are closest to the identity machinery, are typically not an owner but an employee, and yet trusted with it. This reminded me of Eunuchs, castrated to serve as of class of slaves or servants throughout history. They too were trusted in the most intimate and public environments as the thinking was that, among other presumed losses of particular desires, there would be the lack of ambition.

I’m thinking of that person who dropped their pants or posted something in passion or conflict. The Social Eunuch would never do that – so you can trust them.

I mulled in an earlier post about how it seems better to not have a presence online at all for some. Some politicians and organizations now wish they weren’t. So the next best thing is to have a replaceable, dependable and (at least as an online footprint) completely unremarkable person as your social media lead. This is the Social Eunuch and is perhaps has emerged as the most valuable class of online citizenry today. The stereotype of our historical notions of the personality traits typical of a Eunuch lends itself to a Social Eunuch’s presumed virtues of no desire for sex, no ambition, docile and dependable.  This lends itself to a standard of reputable online presence free of sex scandals, criminal accusations and no desire for online conflict like being snarky to a competitor or critic.

Eunuch’s were considered easy to replace – so is the employee who tweets out something racist or sexist. First impressions are very important on social media so if suddenly a lot of people notice your social media profile online because of a bad or embarrassing behaviour, then that is your first and lasting impression unless you become immediately and permanently bland and unremarkable. This is strategically attainable to middle class citizens by never appearing publicly on Social Media again  – and thus castrating yourself from your shameful extension.

For a brand, the only hope is to acknowledge a distinct personality was associated with the brand.  Little he/she had a mind of their own and are now cut from the team.

To achieve Social Eunuchism:

  • Hire someone who does not have an online presence or has a very careful, minimal and unremarkable online presence.
  • Person(s) anonymized when acting as the brand voice or the person(s) are identified as persons but only publicly online as the persona.
  • Person is a dedicated professional.

Does this affect artists?

I think artists are, as usual, a special case and social media is a different tool for us. Our reputation can “take more heat” than non artists, intellects or celebrities. Even boutique or cultural enterprises can cross lines on the web and actually benefit from it. There are Social Eunuch artists and cultural entities, to be sure, but there are also more social selfies (social media as a self portrait construct) and more controversial artists who are also social media elite citizenry. I look forward to posting more thoughts about this.

The Mona Lisa by DaVinci

Great art is 99% media and 1% substance

If you think about some of your favourite art you then you might note that you have probably actually never seen the work in person.

Take the DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, for example. You know what this painting is, I know what this painting is and we can discuss this painting with a reasonable amount of familiarity – but chances are, like me, you’ve never seen the actual, physical painting.

The Mona Lisa by DaVinci

The Mona Lisa by DaVinci

In a more contemporary timeline, think about Damien Hirst’s Dead Shark or  even his Spot Paintings. Love them or hate them, these works transcend their physical location through the media’s reproduction of them. They are well know outside of contemporary art circles now and they will be part of art history classes for many generations to come. Am I saying that controversial work is media friendly? Not exactly, because no one would of cared about these controversial art works if they were not intrinsically “media friendly” already.

This is not an aspect of great art that is isolated in the last century – it is an enduring characteristic of art history for all peoples since the very beginning of time. Cave paintings were seen and reproduced by different artists of that era. Manuscripts and their illustrations were hand-copied by monks throughout many centuries. That Mona Lisa painting was copied by artists as a drawings, prints & paintings so patrons in many cities throughout Europe could view the work without having to travel. Damien Hirst’s Dead Shark appeared in hundreds of magazine and newspapers, and countless websites and blogs.

A work that is easy to reproduce does not become great work because of this characteristic, but it is an essential ingredient for whatever elusive formula for greatness is out there. A work can be a masterpiece, a subtle and delicate work that defies proper documentation or description (and isn’t that the point of art, many would argue) but if it’s not easily reproducible as a quick sketch then it won’t be immortalized by media. It’s stays mostly substance and less media. In this sense society’s most common experience of art history is essentially that of a collection of rock stars who appeal directly the masses both commercially and aesthetically.

This has led me to wonder if when we see and identify with a reproduction of a work of art, if in fact we are mislabeling our experience of what we are seeing – this reproduction is no longer a reproduction but a stand alone work of art on it’s own. There is not one Mona Lisa or Dead Shark – there are millions of them.

Side note: This insight was supposed to be a blog post four years ago, but I didn’t have a blog. So I started this blog and decided I needed a few other posts to put this into context – and now here we are.