2023 - ART AND COMMERCE -PART ONE

December 29, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

                ABSTRACT ARCHITECTURE

The image above is emblematic of my year in 2023 - in my opinion, a year of artistic experimentation and business frustration. In this 2023 survey I will try to communicate both the "best and worst of times" by summarizing my business struggles and looking back at what I thought were my most interesting images of the year. The images, 24 in number, are a difficult selection of about 75 in the original batch. There are 8 new images, created on short walks and three longer and delightful trips during the year. The larger number of images arose from trips into my archives that featured in many of my blog posts this year. I perceive these as images from 2023 because most of the time they were not just discoveries, but to some degree completely transformed from the original captures ranging in time from 2022 to almost fifty years ago. I have so much fun discovering that I wasn't that bad in the past. This revelation, combined with the continued depressive state of our urban environment that constitutes most of my photographic world, led me to find most of jollies in the past.

This image was created on one of my short walks downtown in 2023. Although it appears to be a figment of my artistic imagination, it is a straight photographic of a very distorted and enigmatic architectural fragment. The subject is a facade of a parking garage that is doing its best to not appear as a parking garage, maybe because it hides four floors of parking at the convergence of three types of mass transit that should render its existence unnecessary. It is a rather clever assemblage of square folded metal plates that hide the fact that there is no glass between you and the cars inside. Sometimes the plates are not folded to present a more opaque appearance, injecting more than a hint of randomness. I love reflections, and this is a straight view of a segment of the facade that is reflected in a blue glass curtain wall across the street. I have carefully straightened the grid of this building and removed any context so that this scene appears much stranger than it really is, and is now all mine - which might explain why it has not "jumped" off the walls of my booth.

                                                                  TILIKUM CROSSING AS AN EGYPTIAN ARTIFACT

Not that anything else provoked many sales this year. Everyone at the market, including me, suffered this year from declining sales brought on by the decline in the ambience of Downtown Portland. The tourists, bless their hearts, both from abroad and around the rest of the country, seemed to have resumed normal life and enjoyed their trips to the Market - which is after all the second biggest tourist attraction in the state. But Portland residents still seem to be stuck in a doom loop that both recognizes and exaggerates all that is wrong with Downtown, and just don't seem to want to come anywhere near it. It doesn't help that our civic leadership wants to do almost anything else except lead, so that nothing seems to get better. We were left with a Market where visitors seemed to be having a great time, while everyone else was staying away. My sales to locals were down almost 90% this year, while tourist sales held steady. That kind of statistic is something that even I can't ignore, and was the basis for my coming back home on Saturday night with $100 dollars less on the average than I did last year last year.

The image above was created on a walk across the Tilikum Crossing. I've taken so many images of this bridge since it opened that I now search for almost anything new. This rendition focused on the symmetry of one of the four towers, and all of my post processing served to heighten the affect. Careful cropping and the panoramic vertical aspect ratio left no doubt, at least to me, of what I was after. The black and white conversion increased the abstract nature of the composition and allowed for increasing the contrast and textures beyond what a color rendition would allow before it was no longer realistic.

                                      SUN AND SHADE AND "MUD" IN ALBUQUERQUE

In looking at my sales this year, while profits held steady or improved, there just weren't enough sales. Even though for the first time my coasters were actually cheaper than my competitors, coaster sales were only 25% of the levels before the Pandemic. I think this really reflected the economic stresses felt around the world. It was almost painful to watch tourists, who used to debate whether to buy one or two sets of coasters, pick up one coaster, set it down, pick it up again, and then just leave. I almost felt worse for them than I did for myself, although I felt pretty bad when I returned to reading my book.

The image above came from our impromptu trip to New Mexico in February. Fran and I both loved the landscapes and the architecture once we gpot used to the fact that they were almost as alien to Portland and Oregon as almost anywhere in the world, much less a short flight away. Gray and rain and green were replaced by sun and blue and grit, and it took most of the week to get used to it. The image above intrigued me with both its curves of "mud" and strong, even harsh light that seemed to produce shadows in multiple directions at once.

                RARE WATER IN NEW MEXICO

A few years ago at the Market I came up with a line of what I called "Miniatures", 4x4 images on thicker wood blocks that "belonged on the wall" since most of my customers refused to believe that their coasters could easily go on their walls no matter what I did to show them that they easily could. Not that I'm complaining, since I make a bigger profit with the miniatures. I've also discovered that different images do better in that format, or at that price point, than they do as coasters. In any case sales were fine but incredibly frustrating since while they averaged one or two a week, I really would sell half a dozen or more one week , and then not sell one for a month. In my continual unsuccessful attempt to "bring less, sell more" I think you can see why this drove me to distraction.

The image above is a tranquil landscape outside of Albuquerque. What I love about has almost nothing to do with the image itself. You are looking at "Wilderness" since no people are ever allowed into this wildlife sanctuary we viewed from a Visitor Center. The mountains beyond are about ten miles away, and the biggest city in New Mexico is sitting unseen in between. The ordinary Douglas Firs in my neighbor's yard that could crush my house can only grow on the tops of those mountains, ten thousand feet up, which shows how different the climate is in New Mexico.

               ROCKS AND CLOUDS OUTSIDE OF TOWN

Most of my booth is filled with metal prints, and I believe that they are an incredible way to show off my images. I was the first photographer at the Market to try to sell them; everyone else has joined me to one extent or another. The only trouble is that they are a premium product and are perceived that way, even though they are actually much more reasonable priced than a conventionally matted and framed print of the same size. Thus I can not sell the larger metal prints that fill my booth, even though I can justify their existence as "billboards" that can drive traffic to the booth and sell smaller stuff. Thus my 8x8 metal prints consistently sell, netting a reasonable profit, while I bring fewer and fewer larger prints to the market. Changing the prices to equal or even beat my colleagues at the Market seem to have no affect at all, and they don't seem to sell any either. It's my fault that I have another whole booth of these prints in my basement; it's not my fault that my bungalow's wall space is already full and can't take another image above ground.

The image above was taken from a trail through Petroglyth National Monument outside of Albuquerque. I wouldn't go for the petroglyphs, although you will eventually learn to scope them out. This is another example of what is essentially wilderness, since there is only one trail, and you are not allowed off of it since you fellow human beings would of course destroy the very things they came to see. Thus you are left with this incredible hillside, the clouds, the heat, and Albuquerque looking incredibly tiny and insignificant in the near distance down in the valley.

                                                           ELEVATED SUNSET

One bright spot at the Market was the resurgence of sales of my posters, which had bottomed out so badly ago that I stopped exhibiting them, relegating them to packing material to protect the metal prints. This year I sold 40 of them, which is quite amazing since I still use them at the end of the day when I pack away the small metal prints. I hate to admit it, but this weird turn of events supports Fran's retail theory of "what do you have to lose?" It also calls into question any conventional theory of pricing, since  the "costs" are long forgotten. For some of the items in my booth the only real costs left are the aches in my back or the inability to display something else.

The image above, taken on the trip back from Albuquerque, delights me beyond its aesthetics because I am amazed that this view is available to human beings today for the price of a cheap air ticket. For the entirety of human history before only last century this image was beyond the imagination, much less the reality, of anyone on Earth.

                A JOURNEY BACK IN TIME

                PAINTED HILLS PANORAMA

I'll leave off any more Market complaints until next week. These last two images both come from the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which we visited with our old friends Vinny and Steve during the Summer. These geological wonders are in the middle of nowhere in Central Oregon, and their isolation is only matched by the wonder you feel at viewing over forty million years of geology in one fell swoop. This trip's revelation was that the more neglected areas in the park had wonderful hikes and views to offer, even though the Painted Hills are always the highlight. This ridge is so amazing that no matter how many return trips you take, you still are speechless when you make the last turn and see this in front of you.

Both of these images rely on the technique of stitching together multiple images on the computer to achieve a viewing angle beyond any wide angle lens, one that comes closer to being on the site, where of course you are moving your eyes and head to "take in" the view. Experience has shown me that less is more - that the best results come from combining only three to four images. In fact the first image is only a bit wider than a conventional image, but includes just enough to show the entire central portion of the ridge. These images end up containing so many megapixels that you could make a billboard-size print - and that require a coffee break to let your computer create the stitched image.

These images are some of my best of the year, in the humble opinion of the artist who created them. You can certainly disagree. Next week we'll take a look at the older images which I transformed in 2023, making them "new" again. I hope you will enjoy them as well.

 


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