I find myself working in the darkroom, that cool dark place, where I am locked away in the basement of an old mechanical building, totally oblivious to the world passing by. I find myself deep in thought with the ventilation humming away, joined by sounds of jazz and bluegrass penetrating the air. I find myself constantly working on this documentary. I spend time in the darkroom with all of my friends, new and old, who are artists in Newark. I spend so much time in this one-sided relationship while working on their images, that when I see them in person after months, sometimes years, I feel like no time has passed at all. I want to pick up the conversation right where I left it, under the enlarger, in the drying rack, or muddled under the soft ripples of developer cascading over their faces. I live in a world of fantastic imagination with my friends. Within that world of the darkroom, I find myself thinking that this may be the most important moment of my life. After all of my hard work, years of education, after hardships, friendships, and worldly travel, after I am dead and gone, what I create in this one moment may be the only physical thing that survives. This one little piece of a negative, or that one print. Who will find it? Will anyone be able to connect these puzzle pieces to the vibrant Newark community which is now full of life, and love, and artistic power? How will we be remembered? Would anybody even care?
Leaving the darkroom, sunglasses sheltering my eyes, I climb up three sets of concrete stairs with heavy legs. I am leaving the darkroom with more proof of my existence, and the existence of my peers, than I had before I entered. I sit in the steamy car and review negatives and contact sheets. Reality begins seeping back into my mind as I make the drive home.
How can I sustain my work? What if I don’t get funding to continue this? How will I pay my rent? I roll down the driveway, say hello to my partner, and shower off the small of chemical. I sit at the computer, follow up on emails, try to find ways to restructure my freelance business, and scour the internet for grants and fellowships. I applied for three grants last month. Is that enough? How many more can I find to apply for this month? My partner meets with a reputable gallery and sends emails and letters to collectors. We are making work, important work. But how do we move forward? The uncertainty will surely lead to insanity if we don’t get a break soon.
I crack open that Creative Capital workbook and sign on for classes. I review my notes from the webinars and contemplate my peer group support meetings. I review my newest artists statement, bio, and CV. I have followed the Creative Capital writing program and am so thankful to be on task, and much more diligent in finding ways to secure my future. It dawns on me that if I made it this far in my career with none of these tools, I will be ahead of the game when I finish this workshop.
While reviewing my life goals in the workbook I see that I have left graduate school off of my list yet again. I have wanted to go to graduate school for over a decade now, but its off the list. Where would I find the money anyway? I don’t want a mortgage sized loan with no house to live in. How could I ever afford it? This program has made me realize that it is still ok to have these goals. It’s ok to dream without having money, because life changes abruptly.
In the evening when I should be slowing down my mind, little voices start creeping into my head… Oh my I don’t know how you do it…. Thats incredible you don’t have to work a real job…. How do you think you will be able to have a family as an artist?… It’s so cool you get to do what you want. … Could you donate to this?… I just want a really small photoshoot…. When are you going to finish the project?… I soon realize that I am battling other peoples fear of living this life as my own, and drift to sleep.
As the days march on, the workshop shifts. In the beginning of the program more things are assigned with clear deadlines. At this point in the program, less than one month away from completion, we are keeping tabs on ourselves and being held responsible by self-regulation and peer group meetings. We have completed the webinars and are given the option to take three online courses at our own pace.
I started my first online course with the blended learning program last week. I decided to take the Grants and Applications course since this is where I am with my project right now. I followed the first half of the seminars reviewing strategies on how look for funding. What struck me was the idea that anyone who partners with me and my documentary is not giving me a handout, they are partners because they share the same values that I do, and find my work to be important to the community.
The Creative Capital program is teaching me a variety ways to get the end result I need to sustain my work as an artist. The main thing, as I talked about in my last entry, is to just keep doing it. The cornerstone of writing better proposals is based on the amount of time I am spending writing them. Writing helps to articulate the goals of my project, and gives me a clear direction for the future Writing was something I used to shy away from. By forcing myself to do these journal entries, and rewriting my thesis for my current project over and over, I have been able to translate my work from photographs to words. This only makes me more confident in talking about the work and my processes. Without this program I definitely would not have pushed myself so hard. I am in training right now and I feel the growing pains. The most encouraging aspect of this training program is that I believe I am getting back what I am putting in.
One of the unexpected results from participating in the blended learning program is the emotional connection to other artists around me, more so than I already had with the documentary project. The peer groups create a platform for us to share our struggles, and has highlighted the importance of working together as a community. We can easily unify in our passion as culture bearers. We can start with that common bond and work forward towards a system for our children, and their children, to truly be free in the way they contribute to culture and society.
Colleen Gutwein is a documentary photographer working in Newark, NJ. She is currently developing “The Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project”