Out of the blue, my mother sent me a rather long essay response to Gray Days.
Those who have known me a long time understand that I have a strange and sometimes strained relationship with my mother. Of late, we’ve been a lot closer, or at least a lot nicer to each other, but it’s been a long path with various ups and downs. Like many a mother, she invests a lot of time in seeing what I’m up to, but her conclusions are often far from mine. She was most supportive of my most commercial imagery (contrasty, studio lit, pretty and vacuous.) It seems she has had trouble with most of my art work.
In this response, it’s interesting to think about what comes from her struggles and our relationship and how she applies that to the images I’ve created. Or applies it to her image of me – is it an accurate depiction? I think that a lot more people see me as a goofy guy, not someone dark and broody. Those that know my attitude toward art are familiar with my fondness of visual jokes. Bitterness towards established visual trends is usually dealt with in dark humor, not necessarily dark spirits.
A series like this lends itself to reflection – it’s not propaganda or idealized imagery. It becomes meaningful through interpretation. Gray, in this work, is a shifting of contexts, not only the dark and dreary fog of a sullen day. I picked some images to illustrate this while I was trying to understand what she was referring to – it’s hard because I don’t necessarily feel the same way about the images. Many of the spreads seemed much too upbeat for her words.
I could go through and make a line by line “no, but, I mean” but it would be boring to read. I also wasn’t sure if I should edit it at all, but in the end decided to post it just as she sent it.
Hopefully you have or will now look at Gray Days before reading this and find your own interpretation. Many people have told me the images are beautiful and uplifting. The images work best in the book, quietly lived with, instead of quickly browsed through online, of course.
In any case, here’s my mother’s response:
Thoughts On Feeling Gray
What is it about Gray Days that grabs me and also leaves me uncomfortable? Well, for one, there are images of me (above right, below left) and my home in this book. They seem at times mundane, moody, and sad. There is a quiet atmosphere and a sense of emptiness. Some seem just still, muted, and others depressing. Some actually have bright colors and seem out of place in the sequence. They capture some active moments, seem upbeat (not my notion of Gray). I find a disconnection rather than connection between some of the paired images and a break in the consistency of the theme. That in itself is unsettling and confusing.
Looking at the somber, muted, personal and a bit alienated images, I can relate to the mood and existential angst. What is the meaning of this proscribed life? I also feel a bit guilty. Perhaps my son would be out shooting a more engaging world, if his younger life had been different, or his genes. Maybe his images would convey the vibrant beauty and energy of the world around him if I, his mother, had been more able to connect him to it, to live with verve and joy rather than fighting fatigue and the sense of clawing negativity on many days, for many years. Maybe his work would have more clarity, color, drama, and be striking. Some of his early stuff was. Why is he pulling away from that? What is the message he is reaching to make- is it partly to me?
Life with me was not all dark, muted. I look at the videos and photos of my children’s childhood. I did try to surround my children with color, both in the home and outside. I chose to live in a beautiful place where nature surrounded us. I took them ‘out to play’ and ensured they would have contact with other children. We went biking and hiking and to the beaches. We went skiing and watched theater, dance, circus, and surrounded ourselves with music and comedy. I read childrens stories with lots of pictuers and moral messages, of hope, beauty, and of can do attitudes,with wisdom. I exposed them to others who were thoughtful, kind, loving, smart both in and out of school. I tried to bring a bit of magic and wonder in to our home even while concerned with day to day survival. I tried to feed us well, although my stress around being an adequate cook and homemaker often seemed to taint the food, destroy the meals- sap the joy out . In stead of tapping in to the nourishing and nurturing energy I wished to convey, create, I tapped us into tension, mine and my own sense of futility or failure. At times I had little sustained joy in the process. I touched and hugged and cuddled, thought often I wanted more, and it seemed that it was my need I was satisfying, not theirs at times- reaching to closeness and connection that was difficult to sustain?
My children became sensitive and aware, but maybe too much so, too self conscious and perhaps not relaxed. Or is this still just my experience and my impression? Is it a striving I feel in these Gray day photos, striving to find a theme, meaning? And yet not quite getting there. Striving to claim beauty and meaning in muted and not tehnically stunning photos. Or is it a lazy or muddled appoach to shooting a subject that is conveyed, that I encouraged? Do these photos demand approval for being imperfect in rebellion of the perfection my son may have felt, feels, pressured to achieve? Is it me he is rebelling against or the society around him and commercial art aesthetic he has been exposed to? Or is it this work influenced by a fine art/performance art aesthetic- artist as rebel that he has embraced?
I am not sure Ian was quite aware of what was drawing him to shoot these images. Was he trying to find depth in the superficial and simple surroundings of this home, life and places he was living in – just his own student experience?
Was he feeling blue and lost? Muted? Gray? Was he trying to put a life with years of struggle and depression into perspective? Yet did an emotional fog that pervaded then surround the sequencing of this series? Some seem so unclear, uncertain, though Ian claims a process that was very precise in selecting the images, and often a stubborn one of inlcuding images others felt did not fit.
Gray, the term and shade, IS what I would describe as the tone of my depression for years, I was not able to really ‘see’ or sense the sunsets, the rich blue of the sky, the billowy white or varying shades – pink to bluish gray of the clouds. I could hear birds chriping and singing, in fact numerous varieties, but I couldn’t really sense them. It was like it all seemed to blurr into meaninglessness, sameness, eveness, numbness.
I knew it was not quite right. It was not ‘good’ to feel or think this way. There was a world that should encourage wonder and delight, and all I felt was bleh- gray, lack of a range of tone. My expression and experience was monotone, or close to it. Careless.Although I wanted to care, be excited, be motivated.
I strived to shed light for myself on this state, this state of mind and body, I tried to accept. I tried to distract. There were days all I wanted to do was sleep.I had to push myself to work , to shop, to pick up children, to dance. Each effort and action seemed heroic. As If I was on my deathbed, or a battle field and had to arise, or drag myself out of further dancger. Normally- all these activities should have been manageable, maybe they would have brought up some feelings of effort and frustration, but also joy. Yet it felt like I was sentenced and at times I wanted,,waited for a painless execution, exit.
Some of the gray days photos convey this alienation, the darkness, shadows, limited light, diffuseness, but many do not. And that is confusing. Many do seem like they were taken randomly, maybe should have been edited out, or developed into a theme by adding more images to, before them. Are they really ‘Gray’.
And as I think of this-I wonder- should Ian really delve into this topic, consciously seek out the sorrow, deliberately shoot to expose the underexposed. To express a deadened moment (duskiness) both in landscape and portraits. Could he really build a consistent body of work that captures this consciously? And to what end?
I also think of his Bad News project. That had more consistency, was shot with a theme and technique in mind. How do these relate or not?
People generally want to be cheered, healed, encouraged to action, to passion, to feel . Generally they want art to lead to something positive or at least cathartic. Dramatic? To experience insight, understanding, compassion? Does ‘Gray Days’ allow for this, point to this possibility? Maybe the project itself did this for Ian, allowed catharsis, gave him a focus, helped him find a meaning or purpose?
Yet, I find that without words, Ian’s words, I am unclear what is the story that is being told. Can it be told more clearly even if it is about the fog- the Gray? What is the next chapter?