The proofs of Making Photography Matter are being finalized as I write this, and at the end of next week I'm meeting with the marketing folks at University of Illinois Press to discuss the book's May publication. This book feels like it took such a long time to appear. There are a whole host of reasons for that, including the fact that guess what? Life happens while you're writing books! But it's also the case that this book started out as one thing and then became something else entirely. I'll let my 2007 self explain, as I put it in my blog first efforts during my sabbatical year at Vanderbilt University:
ka-BOOM!The sound you just heard is the sound of my book blowing up.
Thanks to two really useful seminar sessions with my fellow fellows, over the past week or so the project has exploded in scary, messy, and (I hope) potentially compelling ways. I have sensed for a while (but not wanted to accept) that I need to add an entirely new chapter as a kind of "prequel" to the time period I'm discussing (1890s to 1930s). After today's discussion I'm convinced that this is absolutely necessary. I'm also more convinced than ever that this is as much a book about deliberation, judgment, and agency as it is a book about photography. Which feels very, very right to me.
Guess this is what sabbatical is for.
I was lucky to have that sabbatical year at the Robert Penn Warren Center in Nashville. It made me smarter. It made me think bigger. And it made me more tolerant of ambiguity. And now, finally, the scary mess that emerged from that productive year of thinking and talking and writing has, I hope, been wrestled/cajoled/loved/worked/reworked into something compelling about photography and agency.
(originally published at first efforts, 12.17.08)
Every few years I reread Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write. There's no precise calendar for when; no alarm bells go off when it's time. I just know. And right now, it's time.
As the name of this blog attests, I'm something of a connoisseur of books about writing. I have my favorites: Lamott, Goldberg, Cameron. But Brenda Ueland has always had a special hold on me. It's the first book on writing and creativity I ever read. I bought it during the summer of 1988 when I was working at Bearskin Lodge, at a now defunct Grand Marais book-and-art-supply store called The Book Station. I read it after work on the dock outside my cabin and before work in the lodge dining room overlooking the lake. My copy still contains the Book Station bookmark I got the day I bought it.
There are a number of reasons I love this book. Brenda Ueland was a Minnesotan and the book is replete with place names like Wayzata and Lake Minnetonka. Brenda Ueland was the daughter of Clara Ueland, the awesome woman suffrage activist. And the book was published in 1938 - love those 1930s! - which means that when Brenda Ueland frets about the bad state of contemporary writing, she complains about stuff like Eleanor Roosevelt's columns (which she derides as superficial).
The primary reason I love this book, though, is because it tells the truth. Because it has chapter titles like "Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It For Their Writing." And because of images like this:
"Inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness. I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten,-happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another" (49-50).
Research news, commentary on visual politics, and a few old blog posts given new life.