Let’s see how well I follow a friend’s bit of advice. Steve Smolinsky (excellent corporate consultant and accidental chronicler of travel and culture) visited Whidbey for a few days and pointed out that I should give my most prominent projects their own posts instead of lumping them all into one. My life and workday may have them all jumbled together, but maybe my readers would be happy to read deeper. A wise man is he, even if he does try to carry firewood past paranoid TSA screeners. This weekend isn’t nearly as jumbled as the rest because it is the culmination of a five year project. Twelve Months at Double Bluff, a photo essay of Whidbey’s nature premiered last night at Raven Rocks Gallery. An evening of wine and cheese and friends is followed by this post which will be followed by me hanging out at the gallery for the afternoon. Local artist on display. It took me a long time to get here. And that’s true of much of what I do. Art reflects life.
I take on long projects. I take on big projects. Think about it. I bicycled across America and walked across Scotland. (I can hear Steve now. You’re diffusing!) So, when I decided to photograph Whidbey Island I knew it wouldn’t be just a random series of photos. A proper Trimbath project has a structure and a theme while also maintaining fluidity. At least that’s my goal. Eight years ago I started my series of Twelve Month series. I visit a place a few times a month for twelve months in a row. I fell into the habit by running out of inspiration for finding new adventures and found a new type of adventure. Instead of trying to simply see and visit every corner of the world I started to experience and sense specific places. Most guidebooks guide people to a place for a sunny summer Saturday. I witnessed that and also had the contrast of a mellow mid-winter Monday. It is the difference between a one-night stand and a long-term relationship, or so I’ve heard.
One lake didn’t define a mountain range, so I visited three in the Cascades: Barclay on the wet west side, Valhalla at the high and dry divide, and Merritt on the dry east side. Whidbey may be an island, but it is longer than the Cascades are wide. (Books available on amazon.) I knew a proper portrayal would require more places; so, I picked five: Cultus Bay at the southern tip, Admiralty Head at the mid-latitude, Deception Pass at the northern tip, with Double Bluff and Penn Cove nicely filling the gaps. At each place I’ve learned things that weren’t obvious for the first few months. (Patricia Duff wrote a marvelous article describing the project.) I’ve also learned things that weren’t obvious for the first few years. Each place has its own palette. To some extent the geology tints the plants that grow in those soils and the animals that camouflage themselves amongst the plants. The land defines its inhabitants.
Long term projects are somewhat out of fashion in today’s world. I know that I am producing a five year project that has five long chapters broken up into twelve paragraphs each; but, I also know that people viewing (and hopefully buying) my art see individual photos. A few times I’ve been touched by people who grouped images that represented the commonality of a place, whether they knew it or not. A certain corporate coach may point out that creating one thing when people are buying something else may be a bad business model. Maybe. But most art is created for one reason and appreciated for other reasons. The artist’s inspiration does not have to coincide with patrons’ appreciations, though without sufficient monetary compensation the artistic expression necessarily stops. I see the impermanence of our constructions. Someone else sees an appealing pattern that they can’t describe. Unintended consequences permeate the experience.
So why do it? Why document something that hasn’t been documented? The Cascades have plenty of adventurers and the Seattle area has plenty of writers. If none of them have chronicled Washington’s year-long wilderness why should I? Maybe they know something I don’t. Whidbey has so many artists that it has layers of studio tours. None of them consciously compiled their images into year-long treatises. Why should I? Maybe they know that most people only care about one image at a time. I have to agree that the patron most likely to buy many images from a series would be someone enamored with the island and photography, maybe a corporate client that has the wall space and regional identity to accommodate more than an image or two. Fortunately, I understand both worlds, the small house that only has room for one or a few, and the corporate world that needs to create ambiance across an entire wing of a building.
Innovation helps. Just because something hasn’t been done is sometimes the very reason to do it. Inventions wouldn’t exist otherwise. Maybe my Twelve Month format will begin a trend. I’d welcome such a trend. (Innovation is one reason I have some of the images printed on translucent satins. Houses are built with more windows than walls. Sometimes the light is appreciated more than the view and a translucent window hanging is a way to improve the view without losing the light.)
Our lives are scattered and our attention spans are shortened. As Steve and others have pointed out, sixteen projects is a lot of projects for one person. Trust me, I’ll winnow them down when a select few begin paying my bills. Until then, hello Rule of 7. I edit my YouTube videos (tetrimbath) down by a factor of eight or more because I know that I don’t want to watch the tiny screen for too long.
Yet I maintain a long term view whether that is in investing (LTBH), Langley’s Renaissance, our technological advances and cultural shifts, or the planet’s climate. My recent financial turmoil hasn’t significantly changed my opinion of long term investing, though the possible causes of my turmoil have diminished my trust in certain institutions. Current hardships and chaos are examples of pervasive transitions, but they are unsustainable and therefore temporary. Every increase in our awareness of them increases the chance that we’ll positively influence our future.
Increasing our awareness of our situation is a major inspiration for me. I don’t take pretty pictures to sell to people purely for profit. I sell the photos to pay for the photos and my bills: value received for value delivered. My identity is not based on being a photographer or a writer. My passions are people and ideas. My photos and words are ways for me to bring people and ideas together – for people to see the beauty that exists around us every day, not just on the primo opportunities when the lighting is exquisite and the subject is iconic. I rely on my camera, my intuition, and serendipity rather than Photoshop and technical expertise. (Though we can all thank Joe and Nancy at Fine Balance Imaging for removing the dust spots from my photos. I’m not very good at keeping my equipment clean.) I don’t move things. I don’t use a flash. I accept what the world provides and present it without artifice. The world doesn’t need makeup to look amazing.
Personal perspective produces a wider range of impressions than any contrived production. Standing one way over a beached jellyfish creates an image that mimics the universe. Wait a while and find another one that creates its own smile.
Time reveals many aspects and insights.
My exhibit of Twelve Months at Double Bluff is on display (and for sale) at Raven Rocks throughout September. In October will be the first time when all five years of photos will be on display (and for sale) in one physical place at one time. The Whidbey Island Open Studio Tour is October 6th & 7th. And of course, you can always view all of the photos from Whidbey and the Cascades on my online gallery. (Which is where you can even customize your order to the point of making cards or other more convenient art.)
So, Steve, how well did I follow your advice? I may have touched on a few other things a bit, but hey, that’s the way my world works. I mean, I didn’t even mention the consulting or the teaching or my home being for sale or my job search status or the fact that I’m going dancing tonight at the return of Janice Eklund’s Second Saturday dances. And then there’s the work I’m doing with NRM and WCLT and Sandra and and and . . .