As another little fun post, here's some photography I did back in 2002, when I was still in high school. Ah, how adorable the angsty teenaged artist, with their point-and-shoot camera and best-friend-model. Notice the blur in what should be easily focused photos, the cheap aftermarket special effects, and the longing for an escape from the mediocre.
I don't normally draw. However, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it. One of my friend's photos inspired me to put a galaxy in her hair, and then translate that image to drawing. Enjoy this little bit of fun. The model is Artemis Faye, she is experienced, a damn fine cosplayer, and she accepts modeling gigs.
Ganesha is a beautiful soul I had the luck of meeting back in Nashville, and has since supported Standing Rock on-site, been on the front lines of the protests and civil disobedience no one else wanted to participate in, and has been willing not only to do the hard work of social justice, but to educate as well. And sometimes, when Ganesha goes off, they send me receipts.
Today, I read a beautifully worded response they wrote to some bullshit in one of these said receipts and said to them, "You should copy+paste that into an article and get it published." Then I thought of one better. If the numerous publications with audiences won't publish Ganesha's generous words of education, why don't I? Sure, I don't have a large audience, but since I'm photographing activists and loved ones on the daily, why not share their words, as well?
With that, I am adding guest bloggers to this blog. They are people I love, whom I have photographed, and who have a fucking lot to say.
I want everyone to know that I DO NOT EXPECT THEM TO PARTICIPATE, THEY ONLY DO IT OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL.
This is some hardcore emotional labor that they're giving. Emotional labor is where people exert their time and mental energy to explain difficult topics about oppression, which is both mentally taxing and sometimes triggering of trauma. This is a particularly important concept within social justice, as oppressed folks already exert a lot of energy into just adapting to an oppressive society, fighting it, trying to survive, but generally all three. Educating and writing about these issues is further exhausting. It's common and only right that we pay reparations to these folks for their unpaid labor. Reparations are ways in which we try to offset the harm that systemic oppression causes these folks for just existing. We (white folks, or any majority class) unknowingly get access to a lot more resources and benefits than they do due to this system. In order to facilitate paying these authors reparations, they will be adding their paypals or cashtags to their posts. If you're touched by a piece or if it helped educate you and you have a few extra dollars, please give it to them in payment for their work.
Without further ado, my first new blog contributor, Ganesha Deva Kriya.
I know I've wandered a bit from my photography work as of late, but I'm still doing bits of freelance work here and there. If you've followed my work long, you know I weave in and out of photography and tech work as the years go on. I tell myself that it's so I don't get burnt out, but you can always come to your own conclusions on why I do this.
I don't have anything insightful to really add to this space today, but I have been working on a little bit of a personal joy project. Enjoy a few samples!
In my recent wanderings of the internet this week, I've come across Phyllis Dooney's work in progress, "Gravity is Stronger Here." It's been important to me to immerse myself in work like mine, so that I know not only that I'm not alone and can be vulnerable, but that there are some great artists and photographers tackling stories similar to mine.
Dooney was recently awarded first place in The Center's Editor's Choice category for this body of work, and is well-recognized for other work of hers. I have to say, rightfully so! "Gravity is Stronger Here" is spot-on when it comes to representing families trapped in poverty in the Midwest and Southern United States. I spent 18 years in the same situation, and her images bring memories flooding back - both good and bad.
Although Dooney herself isn't in these images, I can credit great vulnerability on the part of the subjects. It's quite respectable to let someone in your life like that. From an artist's perspective, I am drawn by her use of color, space, and framing. The images are natural, seemingly untouched, yet void of anything to distract you from the narrative at-hand.
Most glaringly, I am in awe of Dooney's unabashed confidence in subject and personal involvement. It's obvious that she has a certain comfort that I have yet to fall into when it comes to photographing other individuals.
I hope to see more work from Dooney soon, particularly the rest of this body of work. If she publishes it into a monograph, I have no doubt it will grace my shelves, being pulled down time-and-again to show guests her impressive work. It's inspirational in more than just photography.
Phyllis B. Dooney - http://phyllisbdooney.com
You’ve probably heard it before, “You’ve just got to start networking.” It’s a phrase on the tips of every professional’s tongues, but rarely do they ever divulge any further information. What is networking? How do I do that? Don’t you just come across like a sleazy salesman? How do I not come across as a sleazy salesman?
Maybe it’s the paranoid anti-capitalist punk in me, but I can’t help but think that those in “the know” retain information to stifle competition and maintain rank. I’m sure many of you have had similar thoughts. Right? Or am I alone, here? … Bueller?
The truth is, there are a lot of common misconceptions about networking, particularly in the photography industry. I’m here today to tackle a few of them for you, because I like sharing.
I came across this link this past week, and it really got me thinking about how photography is a medium that tends to intersect other outlets in artist’s lives. Most of us associate Patti Smith with music and songwriting, but she was certainly influenced by other artists (specifically Mapplethorpe), and had her first big photography exhibition in 2011.
Thinking on this, I know instantly that I am an artist with many intersections of mediums in my life. My primary art is photography, but I am also a poet, a spoken-word artist, a graphic designer, an interior designer, a crafter, and a dabbling illustrator. Some people only really see one of these artistic aspects of me. Individuals that see me perform spoken word may never know enough to know I do photography. My design clients are probably unaware of my published poetry.
How many artists do we pigeon-hole into one medium, never truly seeing their complex lives and selves? Yoko Ono was also a photographer. Paul McCartney’s wife is a photographer with a monograph solely dedicated to her life overshadowed by the Beatles. Amanda Palmer is not just a musician, composer, and songwriter, she is a fantastic writer, a producer, and well-known performance artist.
Truly, it would behoove us to not only open our eyes to the complexities of other artist’s lives, but also to our own complexity. Sometimes, one art form is not enough. I’d even dare to say rarely. It’s going to be my personal goal to start opening my mind toward artists’ multitude of expressions. What other mediums do you use to express yourself or make yourself happy, that tend to get overshadowed?
Last weekend, I found myself in a pickle. Months ago, I got word that I was accepted by Gay City Arts as an invited artist for Seattle Erotic Art Festival (SEAF). I was overjoyed that I would be exhibiting in Seattle, as I moved here in September 2014 and had yet to start showing work again. I had shown work in over 100 group shows and 2 solo exhibitions in Nashville, but had taken a long hiatus to focus on my health. I assumed that Seattle Erotic Art Festival was a low-barrier-to-entry exhibition.
When my freelance gigs began spacing out more and more and I found myself low on funds, I shrugged it off and imagined I would pass on showcasing in SEAF. I had yet to print the image I’d entered (it is an edition of 2), or mat or frame it. My friend Naomi, a visual and performance artist as well as publicity specialist for artists and lowbrow galleries here in Seattle, came to visit me this past week. Needless to say, she had a few choice words for me.
“What do you mean you’re not going to exhibit?! I’ve had talented friends enter for SEAF for years and have never gotten in!”
A rock formed in my stomach. Oh, crap. Maybe this wasn’t such a low-barrier-to-entry exhibition after all. Maybe I was about to pass up a great first showing in Seattle. Naomi looked me dead in the eyes and asked, “What can I do to help you get this print ready for SEAF?”
As I’ve mentioned, I am no newbie when it comes to group shows and exhibitions. Something I learned the hard way back in Nashville is that artistic community is more important than competition. I know that when many fledgling fine artists begin this type of endeavor, they are focused on who is more talented than them, who creates the same or similar content as them, how do they stand out, how do they make more money than the next artist. I was no different.
Luckily, I am also a social person, and naive. At my first group show in Nashville, the curators were very kind to me. They answered all questions and helped me make my work visible. They also asked me if I would help them by volunteering to work at their next show. They seemed nice enough, so naive McKenna volunteered. I enjoyed it! So I did it again, and again.
It would have been easy to take advantage of my free labor in this instance, but they never did. When I had a need, or a competing show, an assignment needing fulfilled, they were there to help. They advertised for group shows I was in on nights they were hosting their own. I began helping other curators and artists, and they began helping me back. Metal-work artists and performance artists began asking me to photograph their work. They let me use these images as well, both for assignments and for my portfolio and website. I traded burlesque photography for being allowed to print the images and sell them at shows and galleries. I ended up on a board of directors for an artist’s cooperative non-profit, exhibiting and helping Nashville artists and getting free word-of-mouth advertising for my own work. It was truly incredible, and not once did a photographer in my same market ever hesitate to help me out, because they knew I would do the same for them.
Fast forward 3 years and 2400 miles, and here is Naomi, staring me in the eyes and asking me, “What can I do to help you get this print ready for SEAF?”
Undergraduate freshman McKenna might have bristled or hesitated at this question, but the McKenna of 2016 didn’t hesitate. I’ll be dropping off my print at Seattle Convention Center tomorrow, April 18th, and you can see it throughout the festival from April 22-24th.
And Naomi knows that when she could use some help, I will have her back.
I imagined this would happen eventually, and it finally has, so in the interest of transparency, I am posting it publicly.
Someone wrote to me on tumblr about valid but misguided concerns of exploitation of my photography subjects. I am copy+pasting the exchange below, which is public on my tumblr, so that if anyone else has any concerns, they will be answered.
"ask: ok so I'm sorry but??? Marginalized and homeless queer youth are not a prop for which you get to exploit to launch your career sorry
me: I am a fat, disabled, agender, queer, neurodivergent individual who was homeless for 3 years, and the people I’m photographing are my friends and have ongoing consent and say in their photography and representation. They are participating because they believe there is something vital about sharing our stories (I am in the photographs as well), and they help inform the photography at every step along the way.
Also, I’ve been in the photography industry for 10 years, published a dozen times world-wide, with over 100 group shows, 2 solo exhibitions, with a respectable client list under my belt. So, my career doesn’t need to be “launched.” Freelancing is how I support myself, and I do it well enough that I have been able to house many of my transient friends with me until they get on their feet, which I continue to do. I have the honor of being able to say the friends that I have helped are all self-sufficient in some way, now, and they are the most important people in my life. They are my family.
If you want to attack people who photograph marginalized groups of which that photographer is a part of, maybe consider also attacking Jess T Dugen, John Arsenault, Phyllis Dooney, Jen Davis, or fuck… Maybe Nan Goldin, right?
Or maybe fuck off with that bullshit."
Admittedly, I get a little ripe about subjects like this. I already get too much shit from the able-bodied cishet world and invest too much emotional labor into defending my existence to exert any into educating my own community.
From the start four years ago, I have photographed myself, partners, and friends- all with radical, ongoing consent. So far, that hasn't changed. Although I contemplated photographing new individuals from my established community, I have decided against that in order to tell a more intimate and vulnerable narrative. Rapport with the subjects is also vitally important in order to sustain radical consent. I understand that some of my patrons and followers may not know that, since I discussed it in a patron-only post. I hope that clearing that up now helps eases some minds.
This is and has always been my story, as well as the story of my community. I have already shown this tumblr post to the people who participate in this body of work, and they have all approved of my response. If you have further concerns about exploitation, consent, or autonomy, I have no doubt that they will personally back up that they feel heard and seen, they provide input, and they are consenting to the work. If they did not, I promise you that I would be the first to know, and I would respond appropriately and quickly.
As always, I am open to questions (generally more-so than passive aggressive attacks), but I feel this particular topic has been covered.
Be excellent to each other.
Ah, grad school. How I underestimated your time suck. Supporters on my Patreon today got this post, plus three images.