holiday lights….

i am always telling my students and those i mentor that the most obvious and best projects are just at your front door….so it is a concept i endorse and have indeed lived…yet, i need to re-learn it all the time and the subtleties therein…so sure, it was clear and obvious that i would two years ago launch on a drive across country and do medium format work on American Family…keyed off all the work i had done on my own family…good idea, and i moved on it…what never occurred to me until a combo of  the family exhibit in Madrid last spring (which i viewed as a work in progress at the time) and something my son Bryan said to me yesterday, is  that i was indeed “done” with this project after taking the very first picture….after all, isn’t a family album complete even if there is only one picture in it ? how many pictures does a family album make? everyone always asks me regarding projects  “how do you know when you are finished?”….my usual answer is that you just “know”…you  simply feel it is done…

the incredible revelation for me on this one was that i was finished as soon as i started….so, i am done….

in other words it is a movable feast…always a work in progress and always ready to be shown at any time…..for this one there could never be an end and at any point it is finished…i can do a 15 print show as i did in Madrid , or a 100 print show , or a 1,000 print show using the contact sheets alone , or a combo and with hard copy albums and big prints and videos, well, the whole bit……a two book boxed set…one of my own family who i have documented since 13 til yesterday….and the other the med format work of families from all over my country….this of course could have no end internationally once i complete the U.S. work.

my love of family and extended family runs deep…my relationships at Burn, Magnum, NatGeo, are akin to familial bonds (often with all the drama to go with it!!)…that will lead to yet another book (trilogy?) no joke just called “Photographers (i have known)” for i have religiously documented them (i have everybody)  as well and all of my students  and Burn audience etc etc etc…for those of you who have met me, i most likely have taken your picture, right?… this work is family as well…

Sally Mann      Charlottesville, Virginia 2008

so, forget all of my pictures of the world ….what will be important is all the work i did “on the side”…the family snaps…yup, those will be IT i am sure….knowing that now makes me wish i had tried harder…but, i guess that is the whole point…i didn’t TRY…it simply happened….

this simple revelation is of course totally a game in my head…nothing physical has changed…nothing has happened…EXCEPT the way i am thinking about something….a something that was right in front of me…yet this,  as we all know IS everything…for those of you who have studied with me, this is a real work in progress right before your eyes….just as Road Trips and Burn have been as well…i am sure you can all see it…and feel it…there is no way to beat that which is organic…authenticity is the benchmark…

as we swing into the holiday season and the end of 2010, reflection is always our mantra….throwing out that which does not work and moving towards things which do….i doubt any of us get it exactly right, but willingness to change and push new initiatives forward is after all our being….

are you finishing something up or starting something new? or both?

yes, my holiday lights are up all year…they  get blown around in the wind, fall down, get skewed, a real work in progress….just like me..


2105 Responses to “holiday lights….”

  • Nice one. It’s always good to think about things, and re-examine your relationship to the world and the work you do. I guess it’s the philosopher in me that will always champion that.
    I’ve been feeling a similar thing with a project I’ve been working on. I’ve set myself the goal of making a series with a set number of images, but I’m not sure it really needs so many shots. I’m young with photography tho, so the project of sustaining work within these limits over a longer period of time than I’m used to is good for my growth and self-awareness (or photographic-awareness maybe), even if I end up seeing the work as needing less images to stand in and of itself. There’s the process and the, uh, ‘product’ (not sure I’m fully happy with that term) and they can be two very different things. I’m inclined to think it’s healthy to keep the boundaries between the two a bit fluid and ill-defined. At least sometimes.

    I’m finding this site a refreshing and good place to check out. I like that it’s organic and “in-development” continually. Provided you’re clear about that, there’s no problem operating that way. And the world needs more people to just get on with trying stuff out than so much time wasted in planning that never leads to action. Props for pulling this together and creating a community here.

  • a civilian-mass audience

    “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by REFLECTION, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”

    Hey,nice to see you MIMI(Framers)!

    Tick-tock…time to celebrate…where did I put the lights…:)))

  • great food for thought! i hope to submit my first work in progress to burn in 2011!

  • Mimi? Hey matey, how’s things? I’ve been meaning to call you but I’ve lost my voice – all I have is a hoarse whisper left. That Confucius quote is very cool – I like a strong mix of reflection and experience, and less of the imitation. But, right now, I like my duvet even more *reaches for yet more Eucalyptus Oil* Sneezing’s Greetings! Uh, I mean Merry Christmas… ;-)

  • a civilian-mass audience

    I hear you …FRAMERS…sneezing no more…
    Where did I put my lights…oime…?

    Welcome NANCYS!

    MERRY CHRISTMAS…tick-tock…we are almost there…once again…

  • Fantastic insight as always. Thanks David!

  • by the way, i shot the picture of Sally Mann at her cocktail reception at Look3 after her most amazing presentation….she now has a full blown retro at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond , Virginia if you are anywhere near Virginia, a detour to the VMFA would be worth it….

  • Good thoughts on family and projects. Speaking of family photos or videos in this telling: I got a call from a cousin of mine asking for my address. It seems he had unearth some family videos of our family and put them on a DVD for us as a Christmas present. These are home movies I have never seen of my grandfather who has been dead since I was six, me and my siblings and parents in the early 50’s and my cousin and his family. Can’t wait to see it when it arrives.

    Photos of my family are a strong component of my work. I have a very big collection and usually put each gathering or group of shots in a Mac Book for family viewing. I love my family. I love my Burn family. I love my teacher (you DAH). I love the moon; she is so close here I feel like she is part of my family and I have been taking photos of her too.

    Families are our compass; they keep us on course. Without mine I would be lost.

  • Lee, send me the moon next year….

  • Panos, will do. The lunar eclipse will be fully visible here too and I think Maui time will be 8:33 for full lunar on Monday. Making it around 12:33 Texas time. We only saw a partial of it two years ago in February so very excited. Have her route all mapped out and hope the clouds don’t move in.

  • Think my time math is wrong as usual…

  • ohmygosh. did not even recognize sally mann! it’s so rare to see her with
    foofoo hair and lipstick. she is my all-time natural beauty and certainly
    one of my favorite photographers.
    what happened to the photo? why is it all yellow and blotchy?

    “are you finishing something up or starting something new? or both?”

    i’m in my 5th year of a ten year project following 200 homeless street youth who are
    very much a part of my family now and the reason for much of my joy.
    btw, if anyone would like to buy an xmas gift for a street youth
    please contact me at:

    DAH–HAPPY HOLIDAYS!! you’re amazing and inspiring. thanks you for all you do.
    and Merry Christmas to all! with Love..


  • I should have the latest Sally Mann book “The Flesh and The Spirit” just in time for Christmas Eve!
    I would love to see the retro at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. I lived in Richmond from the age of 8 until I was just about 12…never been back since. 1980-1984 long time ago.

  • Paul:

    I do have the book, but I know that if I wouldn’t have seen the prints and seen the movie I wouldn’t appreciate ot as I do now.. her exhibition in Lausanne last year was stunning, went there twice…

    DAH, love that pic of the green man from Mars up here :)

  • Eva,
    I´ve got the movie it really blew me away!! Amazing the way she really digs deep into herself to find the inspiration for her work. Viva the Quotidian in life!
    Dream one and two…workshop with DAH and Sally Mann.

  • “after all, isn’t a family album complete even if there is only one picture in it ?”

    Is a fence painted if you’ve only painted one post? Maybe in the Zen universe, but in the familial universe, a album that doesnt include Uncle Harry is not complete, much as you might want it to be.

    ” how many pictures does a family album make?”

    A family album is made when you have front and side views of all the relatives who owe you money, plus their current addresses and the address of that little place in Florida they intend to skip out to once they’ve taken you for every cent they think they can get.

    “how do you know when you are finished?”….

    When I know I can hand the thing in without a nun hitting me for not doing the work.

    “my usual answer is that you just “know”…you simply feel it is done…”

    I used to use this excuse too, but my father explained to me that things were done when HE felt they were done, not when I did, and so I had to go back outside and finish shoveling the show out of the driveway. He did sympathize about the frostbite, though.

    “for those of you who have met me, i most likely have taken your picture, right?”

    Probably, from what I hear.

    “are you finishing something up or starting something new? or both?”

    Neither. The pointless documentation of our happy little burg continues apace, largely because a body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. So this is all Sir Isaac Newton’s fault, as well it should be. A man who enjoyed drawing and quartering counterfeiters cannot have enough opprobrium heaped upon his head.

  • David, inspiring thoughts as ever of course. I am both finishing something up and starting something new…..both big… the world in the intersection twixt old and new….as you know….

    You’ve always encourage a pinch of the esoteric here and there and so “Intersection” just might be my next work….it is on my door step, at the end of my nose, in my head, dreams and everywhere in between.

    I am thinking on that great premise -that any concept/movie/book can be explained in one sentence. I saw this referred to again the other day. For example: Curmudgeonly weatherman keeps waking up on the same day = Groundhog Day.

    So I resolve to have “Intersection” and my deal explained in one sentence by January 1 2011.

    On that note, looking forward to crossing paths through 2011. Merry Christmas to one and all….and keep those lights Burning all through the year for sure.


  • Any major change is always exciting; and scary. I’ve been practising what Imants has talked about recently, binning stuff that hasn’t worked and starting afresh. It is hard starting your entire previous shooting over from scratch and more than a bit scary.

    But the stuff that hasn’t worked is only showing itself because I’ve been fortunate to have started a period of change in my new work. My “Kids” project is about to go through a major pruning, and I am re-thinking its future shooting.

    My decision to give up mag work (to shoot personal work) seems to be working, although it too is a scary process. The entire thought process of wanting to do better work, and then wondering whether you actually have the ability to produce better work is a bit nerve-wracking. However I’ve found that uncertainty to actually benefit the creative process.

    As for family; the other day I was sitting in Burger King having diet coke a (trying to lose weight too!), while waiting for a family member to undergo some medical tests. That morning we’d driven for 5-hours to the hospital and were driving back again that afternoon.

    I was feeling a bit down, hoping that the tests were going to come back ok. Sitting next to me were a bunch of school kids (on study leave for exams) laughing, flirting and joking. The big screen above them showing the music channel.

    Suddenly one of the girls started singing along to Train’s “Drops of Jupiter”. Coincidentally; a song written by the lead singer about the death of his mother…

    It sounded out softly above the general hubbub and all of a sudden I felt very old. It was lovely while it lasted and made me think “That’s the love of life I want to capture for my kids project” But most of all it made me feel bloody good! And the test results came back clear (a week later). :-)

  • Ross just keeping you on the dusty road of glory……… those pothole of bulldust are the best part

  • KATIA…

    the picture of Sally is yellow because it was yellow in that room…and the blotchy part is because it was shot into an antique mirror …

  • Ross it is a dangerous ground practising the death knell game of “bin diving” (skip diving is about recycling). I guess there are not too many that would be willing to play the game of photo roulette.
    With the last book I kept the initial push of 30 odd images just out of curiosity and found that the BIN IT policy is pretty justified not one image remains in my current book I am working on, a month and a couple of hundred later images later I have about a dozen images. I have no aversion to spending a day or two on a image and then just deleting it…….. like walking into the sun and yearning for it to take me away.
    The best part about the process is that I don’t waste time taking photos of things that could be, may be and never will be….
    ………….. early xmas card

  • LEE…

    one of these days i will pull out some of the pictures i have of you…..when the time is right of course


    one of these days i will pull out some of the pictures i have of you….when the time is all wrong of course

  • “will pull out some of the pictures i have of you….when the time is all wrong of course”

    Too late for his 21st birthday party I think! ;-)


    i know i owe all three of you an edit…there is just no way i can even take a look again until january 2..patience please….you may be thinking to yourself “but it would not take that long”…you are correct…it would not take me too long to edit any of the three of you…but what it does take is exactly the right mood..right frame of mind….the right half hour and i could do it…but getting that right half hour is harder than you may imagine and getting three right half hours will take me til January 2……anyway, you all know it will be done…

    cheers, david

  • ha ha…nah u dont owe anybody anything…we do!…take your time…

  • David

    “so, forget all of my pictures of the world ….what will be important is all the work i did “on the side”…the family snaps…yup, those will be IT i am sure….knowing that now makes me wish i had tried harder…but, i guess that is the whole point…i didn’t TRY…it simply happened….”

    You have a way with words. You know I share these sentiments. Partly, I think it is because of the age we find ourselves. Our perspective changes when we realize we can look backwards a great deal farther than we can look forward. The meaning and purpose of our lives is still hard to grasp, but family and close friends mean the most.

    Yes, I do wish I had tried harder when I look at some of the family snaps I have done over the years. Group photos at Christmas, pictures of long deceased grandparents, could’a should’a would’a. However, part of the power and value of these snaps is their innocence and un-sophistication. They were done usually without artistic intentions, or for commercial purposes, or for the approval of our photo-peers, but just because.

    I love your photo of Sally Mann. She has to be one of the most exquisitly beautiful women, judging by her photograph, and her photographs. Her family photographs are in another realm. Only last month I recieved a copy of Immediate family and was entranced by the beauty, sensuality, and familiarity depicted. Amazing stuff, amazing life.

    Enjoy your family time over the next week or two. I’d love to see a new dialogue in the new year where burnians share their holiday snaps. Let us celebrate our lives.


  • Took a great family snap today of my 92 year grandfather kissing his 2 year old great-grandson on the forehead. Means more to me than pictures of dead rock stars. How it should be….

  • BTW, speaking of binning it, I had a situation this last week where I had to delete some images (some good images, maybe the best of the evening). Interesting ethical dilemma and decided to take the high road. I was partaking in a Lakota Sioux Yuwipi healing ceremony and was given the ok to photograph the altar (rare).

    Except that I wasn’t told until after the fact that I wasn’t supposed to photo a certain part of the altar, of which I had shot the setting up of (essentially an eagle head on a stick). I showed the medicine man’s assistant the pics and even he agreed they were very good… but still a big no no. So I deleted all that included the eagle. Don’t mess with those spirits. Would it be worth it for a photograph (and one you couldn’t even show for fear of repercussion by those in the know – esp the subjects themselves)? I definitely thought not. But it ached every part of me as an artist to destroy what I had just made. What would you have done?

  • DAH, as long as it isn’t one where I am throwing a fit or crying or some other weird thing. like the night I showed up for the first meeting of the loft workshop in that skanky dress to show off the tiger tattoo. That was quite a ride to Washington Heights that night on the subway! I have never really liked photos of myself but because of my constant taking photos of others I never object. One of my favorite ones I took of you was in Cowboy’s Bar in Santa Fe the night I finally got the opening photo of my essay. But it is all red because I forgot to change the white balance from day shooting in the bar to interior lighting when the group came in later that evening! But then there is the one of you on the wall at the bullfighting arena, and the one of you sitting in your chair in your loft. When the time is right I will show them…

  • please watch my New movie..its only 46 seconds and its good advice for better, productive holidays,
    thank you

  • a civilian-mass audience

    Laughter is contagious…

    ROSSY …you will be the first to give us the signal !
    The party is almost here!
    I don’t wanna miss it…hmmm…if this terminal opens up…

    Any BURNIANS in Netherlands area? I might need a big,comfy couch:))) and wine and some delisH:)

    Tick-tock…I can’t hold it no more…I am waiting for the signal!

  • a civilian-mass audience

    The photo of SALLY MANN …she looks like our MICHELLE SMITH…
    Chicken broke my reading glasses…

    Tick-tock…I love you All!

  • David…

    You do what? Owe me? Ok, let me google that, don’t know the meaning of the word.. sheesh..

    ‘sides.. you already have given me a rough edit, I can work from there, I might be wrong, but I think I’m smart and mostly stubborn enough to get THERE.. once I can go back shooting the thing, which won’t be before some months.. so please, when you get time and mood, do the boys first :)

    Still, need to skype for other reasons sometimes soon.. in the meantime, enjoy the family time, big hug to your mom!

  • Charles, you’ve done the right thing!


    yes, i do know what you mean….i am sure age has something to do with how i am thinking right now…but, the reason i photographed my family and extended family at all ages of my life is perhaps more interesting and less predictable…remember , i was really shooting my family as a young teenager..sort of at the rebellion stage and yet photographing just the same..when i went through my negatives from Off For A Family Drive just before putting them in a bank vault, i realized that what i printed was a small percentage of what i had shot…even i have not seen most of what i have done for i printed from the contact sheets on this early work until i had it done in new york a couple of years ago..i did skip shooting my family a couple of years in high school while being a fake motorcycle gangster (too bad those would have been great)..and my photography in college was more about me being a serious photographer…my art etc….and then on to newspapers, NatGeo, Magnum etc…

    all during that time, at all ages and stages of my life i continued to shoot family/extended family…i never declared it or did it “officially” as did Sally Mann or Nan Goldin but i was in fact shooting the world around me and taking my family with me on major magazine assignments around the world , a concept frowned upon by editors and unique to this day in our business i think….at no time did i put any value whatsoever on this family work…that is why most of it is totally disorganized…the only parts i took “seriously” were my brothers wedding in 1970 which i photographed voraciously in b&w and same for my son in 2002 , both of which resulted in one of a kind hand made books….

    so, my age now i think does not have much to do with my values or how i view family, but more of a very practical time to get it done NOW sort of thing…and i think i may have told you it was Martin Parr two years ago who saw this family work and told me i had something unique to our craft and that i had better get on it….

    the timing is also right for another obvious reason…those long long magazine assignments that would take up most of a year and my life at NatGeo just do not exist anymore….those excessive budgets are gone….while i am still doing two modest NatGeo projects right now, i would have very little desire to be gone for six months working in Libya as i might have done just a few years ago…so how lucky could i get…the collapse of the magazine photography industry matched my personal creative needs anyway albeit a financial killer…ahh the struggle…always good, always good…

    of course realizing this is no doubt why i started Burn…to try at least to give some sort of outlet to today’s young photographers because i could see they were not going to have magazine careers as did i…my whole balancing act right now is to figure out how to maintain Burn and do the aforementioned work that is before me…..but alas , something to think about after the holidays and not now…anyway Gordon, here we are….all good….and wishing you and your family the most special of holiday seasons…

    cheers, david


    interesting dilemma…but , you did the right thing…i had faced a very similar situation with the Navaho tribe several years ago and got myself in a similar situation of being the only white man in a particular ceremony..same thing…they actually convinced me that pictures did not matter…and i believed them…i have no pictures….do not feel bad about it at you, and caught up in the moment …do not want to mess with those primal spirits….there are other pictures to be taken…we can leave those alone….theirs is an oral history…it works

    cheers, david

  • LEE…

    that bar in Santo Fe shoot was so long ago i thought you shooting tiger tattoo i remember, but bullfighting arena??

  • a civilian-mass audience

    Whatever happens in the bullfighting arena…stays in the arena…!
    It’s an oral history…it works…:)))))))


    i know you tried to reach me on skype ..can we chat after the 25th by skype please?? i always like to kick back and relax with a coffee and talk to you, but i will have more time once i get to my mother’s house in colorado…time change is two hours earlier than here, so you may want to factor that in…looking forward to the conversation as usual…

    cheers, david

  • KATIA…

    we should do something else here with your kids…not sure exactly what we do , but let’s do something…maybe just as simple as running your new work…anyway, let’s talk…

    cheers, david


    Deadline December, 31st..

  • David all sounds fine with me……………… here is an older slide show family Easter breakfast one from 2007. Sadly a couple of members are no longer with us alas this Xmas will be another new page in the book.

  • I think it is my first slide show so all this photo stuff is still pretty new to me unlike my other activities. It has all been pretty fun stuff……

  • DAH, no film was digital. It was so long ago, 2006 I think, the beginning of a whole new way of life for me. The bullfighting arena was in Mexico and Raul was your assistant. It wasn’t a real bullfight, it was an arena that they used to train the bullfighters.


    great stuff…you know what is funny is that when looking at family/friends pictures, even when you have no clue who they are, they strike a familiar chord…family albums always fun to see…if your own family, then for the memories etc and if not just for the “recognition”….

    cheers, david

  • Imants,
    just finished enjoying your slideshow, brilliant!

  • Thanks
    Paul that’s what it was like on Easter Sunday breakfast we all had to be there, it is an unwritten law ………….. roll some eggs, eat confirmation fish, devour some piragi, generally just be there if possible
    2007 was my last Easter with the family as I usually am away, then another year someone else can’t make it so the saga goes on…………. maybe next year

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