Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Postcard Collective Prompt That I've Been Considering for Two Months

On 10 November 2011, Chris Toalson sent the above postcard for the Fall 2011 Postcard Collective submission. My first response was "Crap! When am I going to find time to do this?" That was followed by several thoughts on how good it would be for me to do it which resulted in how depressing it would be to think about Muncie, Indiana as an art project. I knew I had to complete the prompts though for reasons that I can only describe as personal obligation plus it was a fun tangent to whatever "serious" thing I was working on that week.

I set certain rules for myself before starting: 1) I could only take brand new photographs not recycle ones I already had as enticing as the latter sounded due to finishing it quickly. 2) I must follow his prompts verbatim without radically reinterpreting them (though I would fail on one account). 3) I would do it to the best of my capabilities even if it took two months, hopefully without over thinking every aspect of the process (yeah right - failed partially there too).
4) No iPhone camera photographs or use of Instagram - only high quality resolution depictions.

Some of them would be very easy tasks yet others were surprisingly difficult. The images follow with commentary below.

1. Take one self-portrait at home. I knew this image had to be composed in my newly arranged living room (though the new bookshelves are hardly noticeable on the far left). It is also the only room in the house that resembles "me" without the popcorn ceilings and 1970s duplex architecture taking over. It's impossible to take a photograph in this house without a cat appearing. The trace of Oatmeal's tail is on the far left blue square only to be hopped on by Button Omelet on the couch all within the span of the 20 second exposure.

2. Create one photograph from around Muncie, Indiana. This address on North Aspen Lane is where my first cousin lives who I have never met and probably never will. I've often wondered where he and his family reside. He has no interest in meeting me because he doesn't care to explain to his wife's family and their mutual friends how we are related (1930s illegitimacy is still a problem with some deeply conservative and religious Midwestern viewpoints). This was a very difficult photograph to take because it meant hunting down someone who refuses to acknowledge my existence. It also moderately reflects my interest in the Artist Stalking series and some curiosity was satiated in finding this location.

3. Record an item of personal significance that is reminiscent of another time or place. Like I said to Drew and Amelia last week: "You mean like nearly every single photograph I've ever taken for artistic purposes in my life ever?" My 39 year old teddy bear photographed especially for this project.

4. Take a portrait of someone close to you. This was clearly the most difficult prompt of them all. Questions that were running through my head: What does close mean? Is it okay to photograph someone I approach on the track at the gym from behind as I gradually overtake them or is that too creepy (i.e. getting closer)? Can I photograph someone standing too close to me at a line in a department store three days before Christmas and will that suffice? How does one photograph "close" when one is so far from those they love? If I chose to photograph one person for this series, what will all the others think who I could have photographed and am just as close to? UG!!!

When I first moved to Muncie, my friend Kelli photographed me as part of a series she was working on with people who live alone. I wanted to sit by myself eating at the kitchen table because that was (and remains) the time I feel most distant from those that I am close to. I reinterpreted this prompt in this manner because I had to. I'm hoping the absence of the person represented only by the overturned photograph is indication enough of "portraiture."

5. Photograph Muncie, Indiana's historical significance. I was convinced that my portrait of a Muncie native would result in her answering the obvious - the Ball Family, the Ball Jar, etc. for the next two requests. Rather than photographing the same topic, I chose the Middletown Studies (perhaps the second most important thing Muncie is famous for). I obtained access to the archives at the Ball State University Library and photographed what is officially known as the "Middletown Documentary Films Outtakes." I felt very fortunate to get access and was also thrilled to see two areas of the library that are off limits to the general public. The whole process of taking this photograph forces me to get in gear and start Part 3 of the Library of Loss series (once I finish half a dozen other things).

6. Take a portrait of someone who grew up in Muncie, Indiana. This was the very first photograph in the series (rather shocking since I'm not one to take portraits). Braydee Euliss was also the first person I thought to ask and fortunately she was born in the Ball Memorial Hospital right down the street from me. It was photographed on 4th December on a dreary day in her studio at home.

7. Ask them what Muncie, Indiana is famous for, then make one photograph of their suggestion. I took lots of notes in my conversation with Braydee. The first thing she mentioned was the reality TV show "Armed and Famous" starring LaToya Jackson and Erik Estrada. It was filmed seven months before I moved to Muncie and clearly left Braydee unimpressed. Mock responses to underage drinking at parties were filmed for more footage. She was "disappointed as an intellectual person who grew up in Muncie who wanted more for her community than it seemed to want for itself."

I, too, wanted more for Braydee than to photograph this so my first attempt was her second choice which unfortunately ended in failure. Braydee's mom worked for the Ball Corporation where Muncie was the headquarters. The buillding where the Muncie Star Press is located downtown was their former head of operation. Braydee told me they used to have a room inside the building devoted to the Ball Corporation as a small museum. That was my first choice to photograph. When I ventured into the building, I quickly learned that it had moved to the Minnetrista Cultural Center. Since I was following Chris's list verbatim and Braydee and I hadn't discussed this change in location and presentation, I reverted back to "Armed and Dangerous."

The above image was taken on Monroe Street where prostitutes wearing sweat pants often congregate on bicycles with child seats. It is where LaToya Jackson dressed up as a hooker (not with Muncie in mind - only Hollywood) to simulate a prostitution sting for a reality TV show.

8. Travel for 10 minutes in the direction of Carmel, Indiana. Stop and make one photograph how this momentary journey made you feel. I took this photograph en route to completing #2. "The end of the road" is the most apt description.

9. Take one photograph looking toward Carmel, Indiana's geographic location. This local scenery generated from this project was really getting depressing so I resolved to complete this task elsewhere. This was photographed at the top of the Hyatt in Bellevue, Washington looking toward Carmel, Indiana.

10. Show me something that I've never seen before. (!!!!) It wasn't until Amelia showed me her Christmas present that I knew this could possibly be the item Chris hadn't ever seen before. If I had never beheld an old school Gangsta Rap Coloring Book, maybe he hadn't as well? Thank you to Amelia for allowing me to photograph it and borrow her camera in my attempt not to use a cellphone photograph for documenting any of these images.

Please respond by sending these 10 photographs to me along with a prompt of 10 images which I will create and send your way. And now the moment I have been waiting for...

• Photograph the place furthest from home.

• How would you visually interpret the title of Wim Wenders' book Places, Strange and Quiet?

• Photograph Carmel, California with Carmel, Indiana in mind.

• Make one artwork inspired by On Kawara's "I Got Up At..." postcards (see below).

• My brother wants "an island" for his 36th birthday. What should I take a picture of that conveys this?

• Geotag something on the Southside of Indianapolis and document what you find.

• Describe monotony and repetition in the landscape in an aesthetically pleasing way.

• In 100 words or less, tell me about the image you most recently missed the opportunity to capture with your camera.

• Attempt to recreate that photograph.

• I've always been interested in this Umberto Eco quote: "Two clichés make us laugh but a hundred clichés move us, because we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, celebrating a reunion." In response to your prompt of showing something you've never seen before, photograph something I've seen hundreds of times before in a brand new way.

I can't thank Chris enough for instigating this project in addition to coming up with an usual theme for "newness" while forcing me to consider my surroundings for the first time in a long while.


  1. I'm so glad you posted this. I've had Chris's prompts on my mind since I got the card. They've taken a backseat to everything else, but I'm taking this as a kick in the pants from the universe and doing it this weekend.

  2. Thanks Cat! I hope someone else does it and I'm glad to hear that you are thinking about it. Camden wants to post them on the Postcard Collective blog when Chris gets more responses. We'll see...


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