When I’m driving around the suburbs, I see them as if they were a set where dramas are unfolding all the time. I’m setting the stage for an imagined story.
I keep this list of rules for art students in my office, the same list that John Cage kept in his studio. They’re by Sister Corita Kent, and the first rule is, ‘Find a place you trust and then try trusting it for a while.’ It’s okay to stay in the same place for a while and to trust the desire to do so. I’d go to the same suburbs and make pictures of houses at night with lights on. I’d see that a picture was really good and then make another one to see what happened. I’d go back again and again, making pictures in the same places. Slowly but surely the work evolved. I don’t think our human nature lets us truly repeat ourselves. Repetition is just part of the creative process.
Much of what happens in a picture is subconscious at the time I make it. I’m really seeing what’s there later, when a picture is done. Joan Didion puts it this way, ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I see, and what it means. What I want and what I fear.’ I feel the same way about photography. I learn things from my work about what I’m thinking. My mind is way more sophisticated than I realize. Sometimes, I pull things out of my hat while I’m working and later I think, ‘Whoa, where did that come from?’
October 1942. Milwaukee, Wis. “Supercharger plant workers. To replace men who have been called to armed service, many young girls like 19-year-old Jewel Halliday are taking jobs never before held by women. Her job is shuttling workers between two Midwest war plants for Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co.”
Photo by Ann Rosener for the Office of War Information.
San Francisco circa 1925. “Auto at Twin Peaks — North Peak seen from South Peak.” 5×7 glass negative from the Wyland Stanley collection.