Expanding on ‘Take a Picture’

In the last entry, I introduced you to the reason for my recent focus on taking pictures of art: My next art project is about this very topic. These are the ideas that have been dominating my thoughts lately. It’s what I’ve been thinking about; it’s what I’ve been talking about; therefore, it’s what I’ve been writing about.

When I’m working on something, I like to completely immerse myself in ideas surrounding the topic I’m dealing with in the artwork. I usually start with a very clear and focused thought that I want to develop. I work out the basics, and create a rough sketch or guide to work with. That rough plan must be very flexible, because I find that the ideas I develop throughout production are far more interesting than the initial thought that started the whole thing. I’ve got to anticipate some unexpected turns on my journey to completion. Countless little choices pop up during the process of actually making a finished piece, and I believe that having the right ideas floating around in my head can inform the decisions that I make, and the result is a much stronger finished product.
Well, that’s the idea at least.

The final paragraph of the last entry listed some of the points I wish to raise with “Take a Picture”, but I didn’t actually talk about how I was approaching those issues.

In this entry, I will break down that final paragraph, and expand on each of those points.

Before I begin, I should probably insert a little disclaimer. “Take a Picture” is a collaborative effort. It’s not just my project; it’s something I’ve been working on with my long-time creative partner, Brad Blucher. Many of the ideas are my own, and many were born out of long 2am discussions with Brad. I’m no longer sure which ideas are my own, which are Brad’s, and which we arrived at together. The points bellow are my current thoughts on the project. Brad has not vetted any of them.

1. I wanted to make something that actually required people to participate in the kinds of actions that I’m thinking about.

I would like to point out my use of the word “participate”. Notice that I did not describe the art as being interactive. I have absolutely nothing against interactive art, I am a huge fan of it. But I do not believe that take a picture is actually interactive. “Interactive art” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but very little of the art under that banner is truly interactive. The project requires audience participation. It does requires the audience to pull out their cameras, but that’s not quite interaction. A video game is not interactive because it requires the player to pull out a controller. Interaction is more open ended than that. Take a Picture is not an open-ended experience for the viewer. Nothing about the art is changed by audience participation; there is no feedback. The audience must participate, they must meet us half-way if they wish to see the image; but the image is still there whether they take out their cameras or not. Take a Picture is participatory, not interactive.
The “actions that I’m thinking about” are how the ubiquity of digital cameras, and the immediacy and convenience offered by digital photography change our behaviour. People seem to be photographing more of their lives now than ever before. Social media encourages those pictures to be shared and publicly commented on. It’s turning everyone into a reporter, pundit, and documentary film maker.

2. I wanted to make art that requires photography to be seen.

This part of the project is a rebellion against the Galleries who have a hard-line no-photography policy. For Take a Picture, hanging a big “No Photography” sign kills the work. By preventing people from taking pictures, the art is made inaccessible. Photography must be allowed, or the art simply does not work.

3. I wanted something that clearly highlights how first hand experience differs from documentation.

This is something I noticed while I was living overseas. I brought a video camera with me, and I made a point to capture as much as I could. Of course, I didn’t always have it on me, so there were moments that I experienced as a documenter, and moments I experienced as a participant. I noticed that those two kinds of experiences felt very different.
Having a camera created a sort of mental separation between myself and the events taking place. I wasn’t living in the moment, I was watching it unfold on a camera screen. When the camera was absent, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the moment, because the thought that “I should be recording this” refused to leave my mind.

XKCD sums this feeling up nicely:
XKCD: Bored With the Internet http://xkcd.com/77/

Then there is the issue of the fragility of memory. Each time we remember something, that memory changes a little bit. The memories that are triggered from watching the edited video are quite different than the memories that emerge from those undocumented events. Experience is very different than documentation, and today, we seem to document far more than we experience.
In “Take a Picture”, the distinction between experience and documentation is made overt: During the experience of “Take a Picture”, absolutely nothing can be seen. It’s just blank canvas. But through a camera screen, and in the documentation that follows, an image is clearly visible on each canvas.

4. I wanted to make something that is friendly to social media.

What exactly do I mean why I say this project is “friendly to social media”?
No, it’s not any sort of complicated automated technological-buzzword measure, being friendly to social media in this case is as simple as a license agreement.
I’ve talked about the legal distinction between image and object before. Even after a painting-the object is sold, the artist retains the legal right to the image-the image contained on that canvas. That legal right means that it very easily could be a violation of copyright for anyone else to take or share pictures of that painting-even though you bought it. Now, in all honesty, this is something that most people would ignore. It is highly unlikely that the copyright police will kick in your door for sending some pictures to a friend, but it is still technically illegal.
So, to erase any potential ambiguity or tension, to make sure there is absolutely no uncertainty or apprehension, we have released these images under a creative-commons attribution non-commercial share-alike license. What exactly does that mean? So long as you credit us (Brad Blucher, Kyle Clements) and don’t outright sell them, you can do whatever you want with the images contained on these canvases. Take pictures, share, copy, edit, remix, upload, download, post, facebook, tweet, etc. Verb whatever nouns you can think of. Do what you want with your images of Take a Picture!

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Kyle Clements

Kyle Clements is a Toronto-based artist and nerd. During his thesis at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Kyle began working on his Urban Landscapes series, a body of work that aims to capture the energy and excitement of life in the fast-paced urban environment. After graduating from OCAD in 2006, Kyle spent a year living in Asia to gather source material and experience in a different kind or urban environment. His work is vibrant and colourful. Whether painting the harsh Northern landscape, or capturing the overwhelming buzz of life in the city, his acrylic paintings hover between representation and abstraction.