My semester long photo class ended two weeks ago. It was just the class I wanted to take, since I wanted to learn how to use a printer AND how to explain better the things that I do that I have known how to do but I couldn't explain it to anyone because I didn't know have the vocabulary to do that. I experienced a great deal of frustration in what I thought would be easy, like registering and figuring out what was required, but in the end I survived and thrived.
Since I showed photos last week of local students and artists speaking up about the value of art, I thought it only fair that I share some of my own passion and appreciation for art. One way to do this would be to share the Artist's Statement that I had to prepare for my final "exam" in the class -- a portfolio containing 10 prints I had done from start to finish, and including in addition an Artist's Statement AND a self-assessment AND an inventory of the prints with some technical information about each one. I had never taken a studio art class in college or since college. I hadn't even taken a quiz in forever! I had a lot of catching up to do on multiple aspects of this class.
Anyway, I have pretty much already this spring shared many photos from the class assignments, and now here's the Artist's Statement (i.e. my version of such a common part of the process.) I will end with two photos of my Gallery from the outside. I hope to reopen it after my move there is finished, in about 3 weeks.
Artist Statement, by Ann W. Olson, May 2017, for ART 399
I see myself as a street photographer without any streets. Instead I mainly do photos in the region where I live, which is in general northeastern Kentucky and specifically Elliott County. I came here first as a VISTA Volunteer with the Appalachian Volunteers in the early days of the War on Poverty, and I returned here in 1974. For 40 years I lived on 100 acres across the road from where I lived as a VISTA. (For years I’d write that I lived ten miles from white bread and seventeen from whole wheat.) Now, however, that’s where my daughter and her family live, and I have moved 4 miles closer to Morehead, to the house I have been using as my Gallery. I tell all this because it definitely informs my work. I love where I live.
I never went through a black and white photography stage. I got headaches from strong smells, like in a darkroom, and anyway we didn’t have city water for years, which meant not enough of it to consider setting up a darkroom. I got serious about photography when I did two books with George Ella Lyon, recently Kentucky’s poet laureate. Luckily I needed to do slides then and work in color, which I prefer anyway. Digital was in its early days. I’m a better photographer now than I was then, in the late 1990s, but I held my own. I learn best by doing, and it was pretty intense. I would be covered in sweat alone in the woods with my tripod looking for the items I needed to show in the book, exclaiming to the birds how amazing it was that someone was paying me an advance to do this wonderful work. And I continue to take photos here, of my neighbors, their special funerals, the barns, hay, tobacco, spring flowers, cattle and cats, and always the changes that happen over the years in this rural place. Quite simply, my art is about seeing, noticing, and caring for this place and the people I feel such a strong connection to. I don’t want to show this area as it is not. (I grew up in Connecticut and New Hampshire. I have two cousins who are artists, but it took me forever to realize that was possible for me as well. My college major was French, for goodness sake, even though my favorite class ever in my whole life was the history of art, in college. It was thrilling. (That doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten a lot out of this class as well! My first ever studio art class!)
I have no clear idea whether [the following photos in this portfolio] are “good” or “bad.” I chose them because they made me happy and I know they spoke to me when I was making them. I’m pretty straight forward, and they are as well. I don’t usually have anyone else living nearby who does the kind of work I do -- some are probably off making more money than I do – so I’ve appreciated sharing my photography fascination with my classmates. In the meantime, I am working on a picture book about place with George Ella, to go with our Counting on the Woods, but it’s a slow go. I once had another children’s book accepted, that I had written, using photos from a moving train, but the editor who accepted the book didn’t think photos would work for a fiction story! So, since I didn’t agree at all with that, I turned them down. Doing that was certainly not my best decision ever although it was an honest one.I think my photography should be part of how I live, what I think about -- a manifestation of all that I hold important in my life. I joke that I am like a goose in that I wake up every morning in a brand new world, and photography gives me an excuse to be seeing it all more thoroughly. Maybe I just like to be living more than one life at the same time -- going for layers of life instead of a single plane. I may be a late bloomer with my art, but it’s a joy not to be missing it altogether.
Two views of Sideway Gallery: