What of the photographs in between the covers of Photography Is Magic? In Cotton's own words from the book: "Collectively they provide a timely narrative of art photography's relationship with the technologies of contemporary image culture." The camera is a starting point; it is the adaptation of technology that intermingles and coerces a new imagery. She continues: "They also implicitly show us the critical positions that artists are adopting within media systems." There are many applications after the shutter. In so many ways the initial image is like a freshly stretched canvas, bare and plausible. The next step is to reimagine, add, subtract, restructure, and transform the photograph. This process may allow the image to become less precise but more specific. It can be executed this way, and why shouldn't it be? Photoshop isn't a photography tool as much as it is a painting tool; it provides that potential. It's up to the person in the drivers seat to decide what needs saying, or needs making.Maybe the last important thing to realize is beyond technology the new addition to photography (the "newest technology") is the body. Not a literal photographed body but the addition of the hand and gesture to photographic images. Photos are being allowed distinct parts and joints that interact with real space the way a sculpture would. It has more surface and qualities of being an object now than it ever has. A photo isn't just a window anymore: it has touch, it can be tampered with, and it can establish an elaborate system of vision while also upholding a constructed narrative. It gives back to its viewers because it allows them to think: "What the hell is it I'm looking at?" The exciting part is making a connection and finding that magic.
Every Breath We Drew is a collection of people of all different sizes, shapes, backgrounds, orientations and identifications. Dugan is fascinated by masculinity and capturing what she refers to as "vulnerable masculinity." "I find all of my subjects myself. It's hard to say exactly what it is that qualifies them. Something about my initial reaction to them." The process every step of the way is about this kind of personal intimacy. Dugan is very involved and an integral part of the photographic narrative. She uses self-portraits throughout the body of work; they become a constant. With Dugan as the familiar face throughout the photos she turns into a representation of the identifiable self. Dugan becomes anyone, in this way the viewer is interjected into the narrative through her. Suddenly her subjects are more noticeably looking at you. The conversation evolves, as the viewer is able to take control of the portraits.There is a huge sense of community given the nature of the images. How does a person come into their body while also connecting with others? The source of this inquiry can be open ended; after all, it's highly individualized and deals in the self. The images keep pushing on a desire to seek a genteel masculinity. Dugan stresses that there is a need to redefine; masculinity is more expansive than commonly understood. The self is a starting point, as the subjects allow their comfort to creep in, more information is revealed. Light and pose play into these peoples places. All of Dugan's images are crafted in the subject's home where they could be most susceptible to allowing an authentic moment to play out. Dugan's frames are slow, the thinking and consideration to the environment is evident, and each moment retains a charged emotion.
If you've ever taken a trip through New England, Cape Cod or Provincetown, it goes with out saying you know something about the quality of light out there. Those tender revealing hues of light, and the color blue like nothing else you've ever seen; everything's rich. That light and those blues, touch every inch of you - every inch of everything. You can't be out there and not think about Edward Hopper's paintings. John Arsenault's work is a lot like them, if Edward Hopper had a hidden closest full of good shoes, leather, and a cache of kinky friends. Similarly to Hopper, Arsenault has that sense of light and surrealism. His subjects don't simply pose, they penetrate their frames. What on earth could they possibly be thinking about?
What's on anyone's mind at the Eagle in LA?
© John Arsenault, "Exit (Self Portrait)," 2012
"It's so important to me to be open to the gray areas of my life. At first I didn't see photographing the Eagle as a project unto itself. I fell into bar backing totally by chance. As I got to know the people there I felt a commitment to them, myself, and this story." Arsenault's work has always been very rooted in the self and the work is diaristic. It's interesting to note both the love and care in the photo's, and the way Arsenault talks about them, and his experience. He's always sought out this intimacy, with people, with place, with light. Oh, that light. You don't need him to tell you his influence, the painterliness, and gesture are clear. He has taken an otherwise cacophonous escapade and quieted it down. Arsenault is a keeper of moments and tensions before, or maybe just after something wonderful, something sexual, something depraved or totally unforgettable. The environment becomes isolated and calmness sets in. But in the dark of the bar there is never a complete assurance of that controlled moment.LA's Eagle provided Arsenault with an opportunity to be a little out of place, maybe very out of place. "At first I would come to work with this ideal of what I should be or look like. And I realized I didn't need to pretend, it's more important to hold onto myself." It's pretty easy to get sucked into the atmosphere of a place, you walk different, you move different, and sometimes you are able to forget everything just to fit in. People showing up and being who they are and not some list of ideals is Arsenault's strongest message. It's good to keep that in mind. The Eagle is full of vice, and it's the individual people, the dark corners, and intimate moments that make it what it is.
Metropolitan Life, Flatiron Building, New York