Lauren Henkin

Lauren Henkin, Visual Artist

Casual Consumption

With all of the chatter over the last few days on the benefits/detriments of viewing photographs online, I thought I would expand my comments from the original blog post that brought forth the discussion on The Ten Blog. Jennifer Schwartz of the Jennifer Schwartz Gallery was kind enough to ask me to contribute to this post. It was difficult to invest as much time into my response as I would have liked because when I got Jennifer's request I had literally just checked into a hotel for my last night's stay in Seattle after spending 5 exhausting days printing with master printmaker Tyler Boley for my upcoming show at Newspace Center for Photography. I've written about my friendship with Tyler before on this blog. I met him 4 years ago in Vermont. He was giving a workshop in printing fine art black and white photographs using Jon Cone's beautiful inks, a process now known as Piezography. Since that time, Tyler has been a mentor to me on the printmaking process. He has answered questions that no one else would be able to answer, he has shown me techniques in Photoshop and with my printer that quite simply, have made my ability to continue in photography possible. I firmly believe in the printmaking process. For me, the end result is the print, or rather, the full experience of viewing the print. Without it, photography holds little interest for me.

During the times when I've gone up to Seattle to print in Tyler's studio, we often get into heated discussions about viewing images online, about why photographers don't invest more time, energy, and yes, money into becoming really good printers, and about how, as artists who passionately care about the craft of printmaking, can we make both artists and non-photographers aware of the value and importance of maintaining the level of craft that the founders of this medium trustingly bequeathed to us. These conversations usually end in frustration.

I've spent the last two years building a new body of work titled Growth. I've spent the last 3 months preparing to show this work and other unpublished, unexhibited portfolios in September. For some reason, which is very unusual for me, I have held back on sharing these new images online. They're not on my website, blog, or Facebook. In fact, I’ve hardly shown them to anyone. I don't know why I've kept them to myself. But maybe it was this very idea of casual consumption that I didn't want.

Selfishly, I don't want to offer my work, that has taken so much from me, to be immediately devoured, digested, and discarded by this community which lately, always seems ready and eager for more.

I listened again to the interview I did with Cat Gwynn for Photo Radio about her series, Hungry – The Insatiable State of America. What Cat is showing in that body of work, is another kind of casual consumption, one that I can speculate that most of us would look upon with disdain, our consumer culture becoming ever-more demanding for anything we don't already have, what is new. But are we just as guilty—always craving new imagery, rather than what might take time to appreciate, what is subtle, what is well-conceived, and well-crafted? Is there a place for subtle work in this online emporium we all now have frequent-viewer memberships to?

There may be ramifications for not sharing these images. I doubt that many of us would, and it is against my own advice when I talk about expanding your audience. Yesterday, in the midst of all this discussion, I got an e-mail from Andy Adams of Flak Photo, asking to see the new body of work. I told him, that in thinking about all of this, I had decided not to publish the images online, at least for a while. I didn't hear back from him. Did I piss him off? Maybe. Did he want a first look to possibly put it on Flak Photo? Maybe. Am I missing an opportunity by not giving him what he wants? Maybe. But I want, for once, the prints to make the first impression.

My fear is that our community will become that which so many of us are disgusted by and focus our work on, ever-hungry consumption. I don't want the same afflictions that we look down on, the devouring of our natural resources, the lack of patience for experiencing what is real and in the moment, and the focus on instant gratification to be what our legacy is to the next generation of photographers.

Hope to see you all in September.