Rachel Rushing

I recently started using ZooTool to keep track of artists I’m interested in. I’ve been envious of friends who are meticulously organized. I had a professor for undergrad who always amazed me. He was a veritable living library of artists- any project I had in mind, he could pull up 3 artists in his Bridge library who worked in that area. At any rate, I hope this will be a great way to keep myself current while cataloguing other artists who influence me. You can see my full zoo here.

John Chervinsky was one of the first photographers whose work really resonated with me. His simple still-lifes are quiet and beautiful, and yet, not so simple.

Angle of Repose, ©John Chervinsky

I first learned of Chervinsky’s work when I was in a Concepts of Photography class.  The entire quarter was basically getting to play with fun cameras we’d never used or seen before. We tried out Holgas, Rolliflexes, a Hasselblad, and a few Calumet view cameras. My professor tried to teach us about shifting & swinging & tilting and all the effects these can have on an image. Jay showed us John Chervinsky to illustrate what is possible with perspective distortion.

Perspective distortion has a lot to do with focus and foreshortening. The closer the camera is to a subject, the more enhanced the focal point becomes, and the larger objects closest to the camera appear. Distortion is usually most obvious in images with straight lines. Some distortion occurs because a camera’s lens is convex (curved out) and the glass ‘bends’ the lines of the image. Foreshortening, especially in architectural images, mostly occurs because the plane of focus is not parallel to the object being photographed. Tilting the lens of a view camera can change the focal plane from being parallel to the film back, to being at an angle, which can bring objects both near and far into focus at the same time.

Understanding a process or dissecting  can often take away some of the charm behind beautiful things in life (I don’t really want to know exactly how my hamburger was made), but learning how a view camera works made Chervinsky’s work all the more enticing to me.

Time Machine, ©John Chervinsky

You see, an image like Time Machine is all the more magical when I understand that the chalk lines and the top half of the cube drawing are on a wall behind the table the clock is sitting on. The entire image looks in focus and on one plane, but there are actually several depths.

Work, ©John Chervinsky

Once the ‘trick’ is revealed, then these quiet images become playful and even more intriguing. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a man who runs a particle accelerator at Harvard.

Design, ©John Chervinsky

The Pitfalls of Measurement, ©John Chervinsky

Hope, ©John Chervinsky

All Watched Over, ©John Chervinsky

As I keep learning about photography, I’ve come to understand the importance and the difference between making a photograph and taking a photograph. I wrote briefly on a similar concept here. It seems to me that the largest difference between being a Maker or a Taker (cue the Steve Miller Band) is premeditation and motive. Each perspective has it’s own appeal.

I’ve found that a large majority of  photographers today (at least most of the ones I discover online) tend to be Takers, desiring to interpret their world by capturing moments, and they have a rich history.  Makers tend to have a much slower working process, meticulously crafting their images and staging their scenes.  Both of these genres are relevant to the future of photography, and have some beautiful work.

I remember first hearing about the concept of making vs. taking from a former professor and being blown away. The idea that I could be actively contributing to what I was photographing empowered me and brought out the beginning of my voice as an artist. More than even making a photograph, I get excited about constructing my images. It can be tricky to play semantics and say that every photographer constructs their image to a certain degree- playing with exposure, composition, even what subject they choose to photograph. And that is true, to a degree. That’s the trick, isn’t it, though. To what degree?

Maybe that’s the beauty I find in photography. When I look at an image like Rugen’s and see a moment of life that seems too perfect to be real, that’s where I get drawn in. When I can feel the artist’s hand in the image- their thoughts almost reaching through out and out of the picture towards me, communicating some sense of themselves that they’ve found or shared with whatever I’m looking at. That’s magical. And maybe my appreciation of seeing the maker’s hand in the creation stems out of the need to discern what’s truly valuable around me. Being bombarded by imagery from almost every direction gets tiring. I need to seek out images that can rise above that din. This is different for everyone, which images resonate, but work that sticks with me is work that I can see has been crafted and affected by the photographer.

A Few Makers

©Dan Busta

©Vee Speers

©Kahn and Selesnick

A Few Takers

©Nathanael Turner

©William Eggelston

©William Rugen

©Byron, Library of Congress

Prior to modern art it was the norm for artists to be commissioned for their talents and duly paid for services rendered. The artist had a regular, albeit small, function in the economy as a service provider and a producer of quality goods. Once modern art struck, the Idea was considered the product rather than what was physically produced or experienced, and that made it a bit difficult to gauge the value of art. Since that time, the Art World has redefined what the success and accomplishment means for this generation of artists, but I think they’ve done a poor job of it, so far.

I’m speaking specifically to the prolific Suffering Artist.  Victimization of the Artist, by fellow artists, has lasting consequences that affect ourselves, artists coming into the scene after us and the world’s ability to approach our work from a place of equality, rather than guilt. We’ve become bitter fear-mongers, and we’ve blamed the rest of the world for our problems. I’m sure this stigma has been around far longer than I can comprehend, but it has become a crutch for the industry; it’s a poor excuse to keep wages down (and labor up) while giving artists a false sense of accomplishment because they have ‘suffered for their art’.

Patting ourselves on the back for suffering through our work encourages the paradigms that put us down in the first place. Not only that, but the idea that an artist is noteworthy only after struggle and hardship devalues any artist that did not have to struggle through poverty or racism, sexism or any other kind of “ism”.

We cannot rightfully expect anyone outside the art world to take us seriously or pay us any sort of fair compensation when we don’t take each other seriously or pay each other what we deserve. An attitude change is overdue. The need for competition is short-sighted and short-lived, and leads to bitterness and paranoia. If we can change our perspective as artists from one of competition and isolation to one of community and betterment of our respective crafts, it would yield a refreshing sense of humility and overall quality in everyone’s work.

I remember one of my professors telling a story about a street photographer from a few decades ago who was walking down the street, working, when something dramatic happened, like someone was having a heart attack or fell and hurt themselves. And the photographer kept shooting. It made for some great images, but I’ve always had a feeling inside me that curls when I hear that story. Part of me wonders if I’d keep photographing or if I’d stop and help the man up. Sometimes I’m not really sure. In the images there were a lot of other people around, so the victim had help available, but still… what would I have done?

At what point do you stop doing what you do? When does a worship leader at a church just need to be silent? When does the busy Mom stop and listen to her kids instead of worrying about being late?  When do you help someone pick up a mess they spilled everywhere?

There’s another story about a guy making a bit of a road trip. He was in a fairly dangerous area where the road got very narrow and was mugged and beaten and left for dead. Two different people passed the guy, and at least one of them was clergy! It wasn’t until a 3rd man passed before the victim was helped.

Now not many people encounter someone in such helpless and desperate need, but how much does it take to shake us out of our safe spaces?

Every time I pick up a camera my heart starts pounding and my palms get sweaty. I get insanely anxious. I’m shooting bridals for my sister-in-law this weekend, and I will probably be just as nervous and panicked as ever. I think I get nervous because I know that to be a good photographer takes a lot of guts and stepping out taking risks. It’s down right terrifying sometimes, and I know there are images I didn’t pursue because I was scared. But that’s also what I like about photographing. I get challenged by it, all the time, to make images that are interesting or challenging or beautiful in unexpected ways. I crave that challenge and that’s why I think I’ll always photograph.

But I am also aware that one day I could end up hiding behind my camera because I’ll be playing it safe. I don’t know when that point will happen. That challenge to step out will probably come several times throughout my life, as will the challenge to hold back. Sometimes we need to be brave and speak up and step up. Then sometimes we need to keep our mouths shut and just listen to what’s going on around us- sometimes I’ll need to put the camera down.

I think being able to tell the difference will take some discernment, but I just want to encourage anyone else having to take the same risks, that it’s worth it. Sometimes we have to do the opposite of what our instincts (or our pride) are telling us. Sometimes you have to give up in order to win.

The new website is officially up and running!

If you are in Ruston, LA anytime during the next month, go check out my senior BFA Photography show.  Every spring the graduating photography students at Louisiana Tech have a group show.  The opening was April 30th, but the show is open to the public and up until May 21st.  Stop in during normal business hours to the Louisiana Tech Enterprise Center at 509 W. Alabama Ave.

Go to the website for more information and directions!