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Convolution 277

The project that I've been referring to by its methods – panoramic photos on orthographic film – finally has a name.


Names matter a lot to me, and finding the right one takes time. If I don't know the name for a project, or for a photo, it usually means that I don't understand it well enough. I'm okay with that. Almost all of my series have working titles long before I know what they're really called.

For this project I knew that I wanted something with a c-sound, or especially with a co-sound. I didn't have any particular reason for that, but it felt like the right word was on the tip of my tongue for weeks. If I could just make the connection. So I kept looking for words with that sound as possible names.

'Collide' and 'Collision' were ones that I rolled around for a while, both appealing to me for emphasizing the overlapping and merging imagery, with a destructive or violent connotation. (The greatest movie ever made, Hot Fuzz, reminds us that we call car crashes Collisions because Accident implies that there's nobody to blame.) But I also want to use this same technique to explore less conflicted and complex images, so that implied violence is too limiting,

'Confluence' was another possibility. The merging of rivers certainly works as a reference, and gives a much more peaceful and cooperative connotation. That's not a bad thing – I do take nonviolence seriously, even if I don't always attain it… but some of these photos definitely don't merit a peaceful, flowing name. So I kept trying words out and waiting for the one that worked.

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Right before the name clicked I finally realized why I kept circling around words that sound like 'combination' or 'correlation'. And while I felt a little silly for not making the connection sooner, I immediately knew what sound the rest of the word would also need to include.



All year I've been hearing these words, and they've dominated the temporal, physical, and mental spaces that I've been in – presumably that we've all been in – for most of the year. No wonder that co-sound has been an underlying part of how I think about this project.

I had that particular realization while waiting for the stoplight to change. Immediately I knew there would also need to be a v-sound in the word; I found convolution before I finished crossing the street.

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The dictionary will say that a convolution is a loop or a curl; to be convoluted is to be overly complex and circuitous. In calculus convolution is a way of finding a new result by reversing one data set and multiplying it with another. Given that these photos are taken by photographing with the same roll of film over and over – including running it backwards through one of the cameras I use – all of those meanings certainly apply.

I also like the implied feel of the word, sounding like it combines 'evolution', change over time, with the con- prefix, a negative. Sure, I know that's not what it means, but English isn't a rational language and I like the similarity. Things becoming worse certainly fits this year, and the content of these photos. Anxious, angry, confused, and broken – they're a reflection of where I am and what I'm experiencing in a way that none of my other photos have ever been.

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So far I only have a Convolution gallery for selected photos in the series, which will continue to have new photos added to it. There's no artist statement or summation yet. Even more than finding a name, that takes time.

I'm also not entirely sure what the scope of this will be. When will I feel better and not see the world this way? Eventually, surely, but how long does it take to learn patience? I lost my eldest brother in May, completely unexpectedly, and exactly six months later a very important friend ended his experience with cancer. How long will it take for that not to suck? How long until I don't feel anxious when I leave my home, or fear that something – anything, everything – will be catastrophically worse with no warning?

So yeah, I'll be a while.

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At the same time I don't want this to just be a "How I Spent My Covid Vacation" series. There are so many of those out there – it's a deeply shared experience that has changed so much of our lives, so how could there not be? But I do want this to be broader than that.

Certainly, the coronavirus is indelibly stamped through so many of these photos. Since I photograph text and other things that strongly catch my attention there's no way that it wouldn't be. That's what this is right now. Perhaps that will be its own series for these times.

But I also think about photographing other things with these convoluted techniques as a different way to explore a subject. Imagine seeing details and spaces in a hotel – as if I ever go to hotels – layering the facade from the street, its hallways and common areas, and the fixtures and furnishings inside a room, all overlapping and merging in the same way that my transient experience of it does.

Or a shopping mall, or the auto show, if any of those things ever happen again. This can be a way of seeing anything.