Thoughts on Creating Fourth Wall

I waited 14 months to share my “Fourth Wall” series with you, and longer if you count the time conceiving of it. It was difficult for me. Up until this point in my career I have released every image I’ve created instantly. “Instantly” isn’t the right word, but I never had anything holding me back. I would wait a day or two, or maybe a week, and then share what I had made. It felt natural to create and share because that is the reward system that social media has put in place. I create something and then I share it, naturally, for feedback. The more positive the feedback, the more we want to share, and more frequently.

Therefore it was a step in a totally new direction for me to create without sharing. And it felt amazing. There were images I wasn’t so sure of and was happy to keep them to myself, and other images that proved to be a true lesson in self-control.

May I interject here and say that I am proud of the work I created. I wish more people would come out and say that they are proud of themselves. We should love the work we do. We should be proud of the work we do. If we aren’t, how can we expect anyone else to be? During all of 2016 when I was creating Fourth Wall, I wanted to share because I was proud of what I was doing and you are my community. It felt great though to let that part of me slip away. To acknowledge my happiness within the work I was doing and to let that be enough.

I found that the longer I waited the more I could go back and tweak them – and sometimes overhaul them. I would re-shoot an image if I knew I could do better, and time – months – gave me that gift of understanding. I started to realize the layers that I wanted to go into each piece and I was able to digest that and then create it. Time is such an arbitrary thing. We push and press ourselves into the future so quickly that we forget to see the present. We set deadlines for ourselves that mean nothing in the grand scheme of life and if we don’t meet them, we believe we have failed. It is a terrible thing that we do to our creativity when we put a timestamp on it. Letting these images breath was like giving them life.

It took me a whole year of creating to fully understand why I wanted to create this series. There were three main reasons.

One was for a new creative direction. I had never built anything before and had always failed when trying, and I needed to know that I could do it.

Another was to go in a different business direction to attract a New York City gallery.

And the third was powered by my love of theme and a desire to portray ideas that we keep hidden yet all connect with.

Those three motivations made for a great way to actually get me to create. I have had a photo business for seven years now, and this is the first time where I have followed through in creating a series that I would package and sell as such. It was a really interesting direction to go in and one that I enjoyed immensely.

One of the most common comments I got on the series was “Why didn’t you just Photoshop it?”. For the key image, I did. It was a financial necessity for me. However, the rest were done in camera as much as possible. There was certainly still post processing on all of them, but not to the extent I had done in my previous work. The reason is simple. I wanted to be there, in that space, spending time with the idea as much as the material that created the idea. I wanted to spend hours upon hours gluing yarn to the floor. I wanted to feel what it felt like to really be trapped in a flooded room. It was important to me to be there.

That made the series ephemeral as well. The sets I was creating were temporary and would not be duplicated. Each image has a timeless quality to it that I associate with building something in the space, physically.

The big reason why I laid off of Photoshop and did the series at all is: CHANGE.

It is so easy to forget that change is part of the human experience. What we will all do, inevitably, is change or perish. I would rather change willingly instead of by surprise. I want to be in control of my creativity, my self. I want to explore my depths, knowing that they are infinitely long and I will never reach the bottom. I want to go as deep as I can while I still breathe on this Earth.

Is that not the true soul of an artist? To desire to work. To never be finished. To seek to know oneself intimately so that we may create meaningfully? That is my why. Do you echo that?

At the end of the creating process, and while I was preparing for the gallery debut, I decided to submit to some awards. I am not the type that does this usually but I wanted to prove to myself that I was proud of the work I did, so I submitted. To my astonishment the series has placed in a couple of those awards so far. It recently got 2nd place in the International Photographer of the Year awards for Fine Art: Conceptual. It got 1st place at the ND Awards for Fine Art Series and won the grand prize in those awards as well.

I don’t share that to brag. If you know me you know I’d rather fall into a flaming pit of hot lava (a totally normal scenario) than believe that what I do is “better” or “more deserving” than another persons. I tell you this so that you believe in yourself. Learn from my journey. Belief in yourself shouldn’t be waited for. It is here for the taking no matter if you’ve never won an award. It is here if you feel so far behind everyone else. It is here if you feel that you’ll never create your best work.

I called my mom a few days ago to tell her that the series had placed in these awards, and she said something to me that I had been thinking: If only I had known earlier. She said that if only I had known in high school that I would succeed in something.

She said it so lovingly, though it might sound weird to you. I grew up loving to write and, I felt, being fairly good at it. But when it came to things that all the other kids my age were doing, I just couldn’t compete no matter how hard I tried. And trust me, I tried harder than everyone I knew. My grades were below average, I consistently made the “B” soccer team, and I had a hard time with most new things I tried. Nothing ever came easily. I am so glad for that. It taught me that talent or not, we can build our dreams if we choose to work at them. It might take countless tries and a lot of years and heart-tugging failures. It might mean that we have to continuously re-define what is important and how we will see a desire through. Eventually though, we make it. “It” may not be the place you always thought it would be. “It”, that elusive “successful place” that we all so desire, is nothing more than a mindset.

It is taking pride in what we do. It is not the awards we win or the circus that is social media telling us that we should love what we do. It is a genuine and irreplaceable bliss that we feel so fully when we engage in something that shares our soul with the world. What a beautiful “it” to find.

There were many images that I ended up not using in the final series. Here are a couple of them that I never quite finished, but simply knew that they didn’t belong. In the past I never had to curate my work. I simply released it and put it in galleries when asked and it was simple. But for this series I wanted to be absolutely certain that the images in the show truly reflected my intention in every aspect – visually, conceptually, and how it was created as well. I debated with these images extensively. The cobweb photo was my husband’s favorite. But I knew instinctively that it wouldn’t make the cut. We simply wrestled too long together.

Other images that I created but didn’t make it in…

I wanted one to look like a girl was frozen underwater. This is a picture I have wanted to create for a very long time. I bought a giant piece of plexiglass and cracked it, and then put my model underneath. It was difficult to stop getting glare while having enough light, and in the end it wasn’t the right time.

For another I put hundreds of pounds of dirt on the floor and planted flours. I thought it was going to be great. It turned out that I couldn’t quite get enough flowers in there to look vibrant enough and the dirt looked too much like mulch. By the time I had realized my errors the passion for the image was gone and I never reshot it.

One of the most difficult things about scrapping an image is the loss of money and time. It might sound arbitrary, but I don’t have a lot of money to spend on creative endeavors. In fact, I have spent the first many years of my career creating with no budget. It was hard to let something go that cost me so much, but in the end it wouldn’t have been true to my purpose if I had kept them in.

I have published over 700 pictures in the eight years I have been shooting. These nine images rank above my favorite for so many reasons, not least of which being the effort and the love in each one. I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at creating some of the images from the series. It was a wild and beautiful ride.

Thank you for your support and encouragement, and for your ever evolving kindness that gives me the courage to create something new despite previously earned acceptance. It is a freeing thing, to be able to create anew without fear of rejection. Though it will come, and does, there is solidarity in our community.

If you are interested in obtaining a print from this collection, please email the JoAnne Artman Gallery for details.

42×42 inches, Edition of 2
8×8 inches, Edition of 3

Printed on Elegance Velvet Fine Art Paper, archival certified, signed with certificate of authenticity.

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