A New Year and More Inspirations and Louisiana Artists to Seek

As I sit and listen to the swaying coconut trees in Tulum, Mexico, I have had a chance to unplug from the day-to-day work world and tap into the majestic Mayan land in it's beautiful abundance. I am currently reading Todd Mouton's new book "Way Down in Louisiana" which is all about the roots of Zydeco music and the trailblazing path Clifton Chenier paved for so many after him. Reading about all of the small clubs that they used to play in the 1950s and 60s, and reading about the Louisiana towns like Cankton, Franklin, Sunset and Lake Charles, keeps my heart grounded in what inspires my project. 

I have decided since the land possesses so important a factor in the inspiration of each artist, I need to include my portrait of the land in the same manner as each artist. I need to ask the land the questions I ask of the artist, I need to listen intently on what she says and feels. Any great documentary on any subject needs to have intense communication with every participant. 

I am very much looking forward to this communion with a new community of swamp, prairie, and highland. 




My first successful My Louisiana Muse bromoil was like the sun shining through the clouds...

I am going to be honest. Printing in the darkroom after a decade long absence was tough. There were times when I was in the safe light glow of the darkroom at the Scott Edwards Gallery, I felt like I was a contestant on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" - using my lifelines and phone calls one after the other. With each call and conversation I gained more knowledge and retrained some old muscle memory in the interim.

It wasn't until a few days ago that a finished print emerged from my brushes and I finally felt like I was on the right path. The My Louisiana Muse project has taught me so much about how much PATIENCE I thought I had - and I really had none when it came to wanting to finish something. I can be the most patient person in the world but when it comes to having a quickly approaching deadline looming over me, I tend to rush. I also tend to get agitated, anxious, and short tempered. How's that for art being a "healing" medium. At times I wanted to break the brushes and call the whole thing off...but I continued to practice: patience. Patience...and it will all work out. And it is.

Artist Nick Slie in the swamps of Pierre Part, LA. ©Zack Smith Photography 2015

Artist Nick Slie in the swamps of Pierre Part, LA. ©Zack Smith Photography 2015

"It's the Process not the Product" - Musings on My Louisiana Muse

These last few weeks have been very, very trying. There have been many high moments and just as many moments of doubt. As I have embarked on relearning a very difficult alternative photographic process I once thought I had in the bag, I have learned so much about myself, my craft, and the many amazing artists in My Louisiana Muse. I have struggled over my processes, my water bath temperatures (which are VERY hard to regulate due to the ground water temp in NOLA in August...), my fixer dilution (was it stock? was it mixed properly?), why is the lith ink not spreading right? I was driving myself into a tunnel of self doubt with fatigue as my co-pilot. But that's over.

I truly now believe the process is the journey and the product is secondary to how we got there. I can’t tell you the last time I really truly learned something about looking at a photograph I made. There it is, it's done. Move right along...

Don’t get me wrong! I love photography. I love my work as well. I value that "moment in time" that TRUTH expressed in a way that no other has. But for, the backstory is where it’s at. The final product is pretty but it's just a door: I want to know where you are, what it smells like, what and who was there before and how can I visit that ONE SPOT.

And so the journey that allows me to produce an image is where the reward is its greatest for me. By the time the image is up on a wall, in a book, or backlit to no end, the knowledge has been passed on and I have moved on. In the case of working a Bromoil from each artist portrait from My Louisiana Muse, I have emerged from my own alternative process boot camp to a new awareness and perspective. I see myself differently. I see the artist differently. I see Louisiana differently. As I take each swollen silver print from its water bath I notice the frailty of it s gelatin and the excited promise of it accepting ink. With each brush stroke I am rebuilding the shadows like retelling an old story with a new angle. I am wiping away highlights like one would pepper a white like on a fishing story. The moment is now ours. The moment is now yours. But how we got here, is always what we hold on to when we leave...

* my gratitude to Christoper James in his intro to "The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes 2nd ed." - you got it right man.

* sincere humble gratitude to the highest for Sam Urrate for bringing me back to solid ground I always knew I had.