During Strange Times

I’m finding that the outside world just doesn’t interest me lately. The structures that enticed me a just a couple months ago don’t seem to have that much meaning anymore. Everything looks familiar — I’m not finding new angles or ways to photograph the same things over and over. Maybe I’m just tired. That’s probably it.

To combat this, I’ve been working on 2 different projects during this period of social isolation: “Flow”, centered around my siamese fighter, Mitra and “During Strange Times”, a series based on portraits of my family as well as myself. This series aims to capture the binary between stressed and excited. They are all candids, captured during quiet and loud moments. After all, most of my work explores opposites — it’s a constant juxtaposition. These are some of my favorite moments (seperated by space)

The Table always serves as a space to vent about our days, reminisce about past nostalgia, and just to talk in general

The Couches, as well, is a central gathering spot in the house. We end up watching Trump’s press briefings about the virus, VOX videos, or Indian films.

The final space is my room. Not to brag, but everything in my room is very comfy — there are a lot of nick-nacks on my desk and bookshelf, and Mitra so.

Abstract Expressionism

I think it is safe to say that today has been one of the best photography days I have ever had.

Yesterday night, I shot a couple reflection shots of my Siamese fighting fish (i’m purposely trying to avoid using “betta” because it devalues the cultural heritage of a fish originally from Thailand), Mitra, and was hooked on one shot. (See below).

Reflection in Simplicity

I was enchanted in the way Mitra moved through the water, watching his beautiful, almost velvety fins contort in impossible positions as he strutted through the tank.

I did some research on Visarute Angkatavanich, a Thai photographer who is well known for his stunning, abstract surrealist portraits of siamese fighter fish of every variety possible. In a certain section of his work, it is almost impossible to differentiate the fish from a cloud of smoke or ink dropped in the water (its insane, and I highly reccomend taking a look into his work (https://www.bangkokpost.com/life/arts-and-entertainment/1434250/from-screen-time-to-the-big-time).

These are my results.

The four portraits to the right were my first attempts at photographing Mitra up close.

In this set, I wanted to focus on the form of the fish, without abstracting him. I wanted to focus on the eyes, as well as the deadly juxtaposition of the velvety texture of his scales and fins to color. I did not want to sacrifice one for the other, because texture cannot exist without color, and vice versa.

Now, this is where it gets interesting

See the difference?

The portraits to the left were purposely shot and edited to mess with your mind. Unlike the previous set, these do not include Mitra’s face. They capture the fishes movement in less conventional positions, compared to the “traditonal” side ways view of the first set.

They are still closeups, but I focused entirely on texture and color, without putting a lot of emphasis on the form. These portraits are designed to be psychological in nature –> they are meant to challenge the boundary between reality and imaginary.

I thought I was done after this. However, I saw something right when the sun went down that intrigued me. When the sun went down, it minimized the extra lights and set up I had to do to recreate such a situation (the 2 sets of portraits shot above were in broad daylight, the window shades were down, and 2 desklamps were perched upon trashcans to recreate a studio lighting environment).

It was all about the fish in the environment. Suddenly, the structure of the fish came second. My primary goal was to shift my view: I was thinking about the fish in relation to the environment, rather than isolating my subject in a fit of violent color and movement. It was now a peaceful coexistance, not a violent seperation of subject from environment. Everything here is in focus, highlighting Mitra’s peaceful fluid presence amongst the unmoving objects in his tank: there is no heirarchy here. Everybody is equal.

There will always be more to come.

A bit of a long reflection post.

Bit of Background

So. I adopted a new betta fish yesterday, 6 days after my first fish, Mr. Pickles and his companion snail, Sir Cornelius passed away one day apart.

It was a tragic death that happened a week after Clark closed down due to the coronavirus. As far as I am concerned, the stress of being moved from my college dorm room back home presented an entirely new setting, new water, different temperatures that caused their passing. That and the fact that I overfed Pickles and did not, for the life of me understand how to take care of a Mystery snail properly.

I also told myself that, from now on, only 1 fish.

I made my best effort to educate myself on how to create the best possible environment for my new little man.

Here are the three most important things that I learned from this research:

  1. There are more than 10 different kinds of fin varieties in betta fish, which can be classified into 2 categories: long finned and shorter fins
  2. To gain specific traits, many betta fish are bred to produce beautiful colors and long, gorgeous fins for display
    1. this impacts them from living their best life
      1. overbreeding to produce traits such as vibrant colors and long, symetrical fins for display leaves them more likeley later in their lives to die from genetically predisposed conditions –> everything from thick scales covering their eyes making them blind, fin rot, fungal diseases, and internal diseases that impact their breathing and swimming capabilities
    1. Out of all those varieties, the shorter finned Plakat and the veilteil variety in the long finned bettas are the least likeley to suffer genetically predisposed conditions because their gene pool is largeley unimpacted by overbreeding, producing healthier fish that will live a better life in proper conditions
    2. Even though the longer finned betta fish are gorgeous to look at, having longer fins prove useless in swimming against currents that the filter produces
      1. Pickles suffered of this big time, cause the fins dragging behind him made it impossible to swim
    3. Think about having long fins to gaining weight as a human and feeling inhibited to move around (longer fins = more weight)
      1. *also, longer fins are also liable to being torn if the decorations in the tank are not chosen carefully (I only realized this after looking back at some of the photos I took of Pickles a week before he died) –> torn fins will also inhibit movement and make the fishes life even more difficult
  3. The neurochemistry of a betta fish is strikingly similar to humans: a betta who is stressed, not provided adequete mental enrichment, or is given too small of a space WILL experience depression to a level scarly similar to people as well as other pets
    1. They will float aimlessly in either the top or the bottom of the tank, won’t eating properly during feeding times, will stop engaging with their environment, and will show general vibes of being disinterested in pretty much everything in their tank, along with the people who they see everyday
  4. They can suffer from digestive problems, such as congestion and slugishness due to over feeding and water that isnt filtered (again, overfeeding is one of the key reasons behind Pickles’ passing)

Betta fish are a lot more complex than we give them credit for. They are living beings who deserve the proper living conditions that allow them the freedom to explore and be challenged. Even though the fish that are sitting in cups in pet stores have never experienced their origin place, bettas living amongst humans as pets should be considered as emotionally intelligent as their humans. After all, how would you like it if the space you lived in resembled that of your pet fish? Think about it that way.

When I was doing this research, it struck me how uneducated and naiive I was about caring for betta fish. I made the correct choices in the tanks design and components, such as mental enrichment along with a heater and a filter, which I never thought to get when I had betta’s in the past. However, I never did enough research on mental illnesses that may affect Bettas, because I never realized that these little fish could experience depression, sadness, or disinterest in the same way as a human. Even though I lost Pickles because I didn’t pick up on the silent cues, I am educated enough to provide Mitra with an environment that will allow him to live out the best life possible 🙂

This is probably one of my favorite photos that I shot of Mitra since yesterday: he plays hide and seek 🙂
Inside the mason jar
A long ways view

So that was a very brief reflection. From now on, I just want to state some observations that should not be understated. If Mitra can do this, then a lot of other Betta fish will probably exhibit such forms of intelligence as my little guy.

Within 24 hours of introducing him to the tank:

  1. See the cube in the first photo? It has 3 holes: 2 sides and the top. He figured out the mechanics of that toy within an hour of being introduced to the tank. He dosent like it as much as the mason jar, though.
  2. The mason jar took a bit of time because it was a bit of a challenge to understand. However, maybe 3 or 4 hours after the cube, he entered the mason jar (which my mom actually saw when she came up to say hi), and within a couple tries of treating the solid jar like the cube (he thought there were holes on the top of the jar like the cube), he swam right through the hole in which he entered. After that, he probably swam in and out of the jar maybe 12 times in 4 -5 hours.
  3. He understands and can recognize individual voices and when each person is trying to talk to him. I woke up this morning to say hello and he made eye contact with me for maybe 5 seconds while i was saying good morning. He addresses the rest of my family in the same way.
  4. If he is inside the mason jar and there is an audience, he WILL break fourth wall and stare into the camera, proceeding, then, to psych the viewer out and swim in the opposite direction towards the closed end of the mason jar instead of swimming through like we expect him to.
  5. The realization that if he stays in between the stems of the short plant in the front of the tank, the current wont impact him. My sister made this observation after she connected the pattern: when he wants to take a break from swimming, he settles in between the leaves.
  6. If Mitra just wants to stop swimming mid water, he stops near the flow point of the filter modification and floats where the current takes him — no issues at all.
  7. He has a love for music of any kind — he will swim and chill out near the side of the tank closest to the speaker

Just. Im just stunned.

Photography Reflection

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Photography

noun

the art or practice of taking and processing photographs.
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Im a photographer. I try to capture emotions in my pictures, whether it be through my DSLR I got on my birthday last year, or through my iphone se. Its a passion i picked up by accident, cause I liked to document my life through the copious amounts of pictures I took on my own of literally everything around me, from my house, to my street, to my family. It helped me capture their essence. Preserving the moment in all its colored or black and white glory.
I never realized that a lot of this would become a huge part of who I am and how people percieve me.
I naturally gravitated towards candid, everyday photography, often placing preference on my iphone over my bulky DSLR. Its forced me to be more creative with shooting, to make things more interesting for me, as well as for the people who view my work online. Shooting on iphone also seems (for now) to give me one of the biggest covers, to shoot around me cause people won’t
Ive taken so many sneak photos of my family and college friends just doing everyday things, like doing homework, interacting with their friends, cooking, talking, and overall just being human. Its seperated me from a lot of people (at least I think so) w\from others who I thought seeked to portray the “perfect” version of themselves, devoid of any kind of emotion.
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Quarantine

So. I have to admit the beginning of this week has been a rollercoaster. The coronavirus has hit, and is currently edging and blindfolding society. At least for me, college has been cancelled for the rest of the semester, putting a rude halt to senior year and the two extra months I was excited to finish.

I’m not going to say that the move back home was easy. I really wish that I could say that, but it’s difficult to leave your life behind at college and start again (3/4 from scratch) at home. For the first couple days before moving out of Clark for the last time, it was pretty miserable. I think the day I moved out of Clark, said goodbye to my roommate, and yeeted back home with all my stuff and my fish was a turning point.

Literally the minute I got home I bought Pickles and Sir Cornelius upstairs, and started setting up their tank. It’s a different, almost enlightening experience knowing that even if the world is getting blindfolded, that you can set up a fish tank that supports two other living beings. Its a safety net of epic proportions. The day after, I organized, set up, and adorned my room with nostalgia and memories that I was unwilling to let go of.

Having my own space, in many ways, is helping me combat and adapt to the overwhelming changes that are happening around me. I’m able to come upstairs and immerse myself in a world that is of my own creation and design. However, I think the best realization that i’ve had is that: my life has not changed — only the location has. So why get bogged down? I’m still texting my friends. My work still isn’t getting done. I have a room and literally the best family. If I am upset, is that changing anything? No. So why should I be?

Anyway, I shot some self portraits messing with a fisheye lens correction on Lightroom. It takes a bit to get used to, so I’m warning you now. Just because we are socially distancing ourselves, it does not, for a second, mean that I am stopping my art.

My friends, it is only just the beginning.

A long vacation

I don’t even know how to write this post without breaking down. My undergraduate run has ended with Clark being like — alright see ya suckers time to leave with no prior warning. I don’t even know who to say goodbye to, how to say goodbye to them, and I’m in a mental place of just being stuck. It’s a strange and unexpected experience being uprooted so fast from an environment that I have made my home over four years be moved with no notice whatsoever.

But I can’t say that I’ve had an incomplete experience. It’s been full of ups and downs and crazy ass turns, but I’ve had people.

To them: my college experience would not be complete without you. The immeasurable laughs, gossip sessions, movies, tea and wine nights while watching shitty Netflix romcoms, all the walks to the dog parks and parks and just into oblivion, late night bistro runs, library “study” sessions, countless dinners in the cafe, all of it will always stay with me. I’ve grown as a person, artist, and general member of the human race emotionally and mentally because I’ve been around you, and it’s no question why. You challenge me to be better, you inspire me to be better, and you sarcastically nudge me every single step of the way. Even if it means pushing me off a cliff, I wouldn’t trust anyone but y’all to do it. I’ve grown into the person I wanted to become because y’all were by my side (side note i also know what angle gives me somewhat of a jawline, but growing into myself amiright?)

I have all the photos to show how much I’m unwilling to loose you and the happiness you’ve injected into my existence. Regardless of the amount of time you have been in my life, your presence was immense, even if you didnt know it. They say pay attention to what a person photographs for they are the things the person is unwilling to forget, and that has never applied more to all of you.

I know this is long but I’ve been thinking about how to say it since yesterday. This is never a goodbye, it’s a long vacation where we inevitably cross paths like a cheesy rom-com in the middle of nowhere, where we least expect it kind of a moment.

It’s been an honor captains.

My captains.

*and dont worry, your not getting rid of me that easy

Epiphany

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a photographer who came to print downstairs in the photolab about her work. She was printing 3 different portraits on a silk screen: one where the subject was out of focus, one where the subject was in focus, and the last one where both the subject and the background were in soft focus, but equalized on the frame. When I was looking at her work, I realized how much the third portrait, where everything was in soft focus stood out to me.

She said to me, you must really like deep focus photography then. Where everything in the frame is equal, either in tack sharp focus or no focus at all. Its not a question of form over color, rather now it becomes about color AND shade.

I kinda had a wonderful epiphany during that conversation. That’s what i was missing in my own portraits and work. There was no harmony of subject and environment, it was always about one or the other. There was no interaction, only a sense of peaceful isolation. My work for the past month was experiencing a state of isolation. The world didn’t seem to matter, only the people in it seemed to matter. It was fun for the first couple weeks, focusing in on only one lens, and isolating the subject. It didn’t really hit me then, but looking back on it, I was definetley going through a similar period, where I didn’t really care about the rest of the world, I was only focused on the people in it.

I changed that today. and boy, was it a fun time. Here is some of the stuff that I shot .

Figure Study

Lately, I have taken to sketching marble sculptures on my ipad. It’s a conscious effort I am making to challenge myself creatively by translating these 3D sculptures into a 2D form. Its an exercise in shading the human body in a way that makes it seem 3 dimensional, and i’ve been having a blast with it.

This drawing is of a Pieta (i’m not sure who the sculptor was) photograph that I found on Pinterest. I was incredibly drawn to the way the piece as a whole looked, from the folds of the fabric to the realism throughout the work.

I really attempted to capture the intricate folds of Mary’s clothes and the sloping nature of Christ’s body through the shading and the structure of the piece as a whole 🙂

A Change

I’ve been noticing a change in myself over the past 2 years when it comes to photographing people. Earlier today, I had a freshman look over my shoulder at the portraits that I shot of some of my friends during a critique that had finished about an hour ago. She asked “So i really like your photos…could you take a photo of me?” and I asked why? I think she was taken aback because she saw the multiple shots that I had made about people who I genuinely care about. “Do you take these photos for class, or for fun or..”

I explained my process, explaining to her that, as of now, I only take photos of people who I want to remember forever. Its a process of memorializing a moment on how somebody felt at a particular moment in time that captured their essence. An essence that I have been chasing to capture well for the last 3 years of my college experience.

Guys, I’m not the same photographer I was 2 years ago — its a crude, almost stupid realization. I’m not as emotionally flexible or able to interact with people back to back, cause I’m human? I guess this what happens after 4 years of idiots typecasting you into the same damn box. What have i become? Nothing more than a robot who lives to take photos of others — Am I nothing beyond the photography cross that I’ve been nailed to? Who am I? I can always tell myself that I am more than the box that I have been typecast but it feels impossible to swim against a riptide that has been specially created to trap you. The idea of the “Jay photograph” as a measure to further social capital on campus as well as a promotion of self on instagram, tinder, facebook is something i want to disintegrate into thin air, and hopefully after I graduate in a couple months it will.

I’ve been pushing back — for literally the entirety of this year (my last year), I have not been working on my Human’s project as intensely as I was sophomore and junior year, rather opting for other projects that challenge me technically as well as creatively. I can’t say that Ive ever been happier — it honestly feels as if I am doing something illegal by taking pictures of people that matter to me and make me the happiest at the cellular level, and making those choices independent of whoever is around me. Yes, this is my life, and the people that are in it have come in, left, re-entered, and stuck around at various points throughout my undergraduate career.

And I would not like to have it any other way.

Detatchment

2 months of summer are already almost over, and I’m still struggling with the fact of graduation next year and this whole feeling of mental “weightless-ness” that I’ve been feeling since coming back from Texas.


These ghost photos were taken in the forest across the street from my house. Although unremarkable (I mean, come on, its just a sheet standing in the light), these photos are symbolic for me. I’ve been feeling a sense of detachment, and the whole concept of the ghost is a physical representation of that feeling.


The choice of the forest to make these photos was also intentional, for forests are often symbolic of the unknown, and often the strangest creatures come from there. Its also a place of great spiritual awakening and wonder, and the choice to place the ghost in the center of the path for me was an obvious one.

Anyway, that was a bit of a rant, but I thought it was important.

Inspired by Duane Michals

So I can say that I have been struck with a lightning bolt of inspiration after yesterday’s critique from 6 – 9 and I discovered 2 photographers, Ralph Gibson (whose aesthetic I’m trying to emulate) as well as Duane Michals whose narrative collage structure I am trying to copy.

I made some photographs of my friends William and Liza in Goddard yesterday when the sunlight was incredibly evocative. (I think it was around 2pm or 3pm). I cropped out close-ups on specific features and arranged them in a grid. I think I am going to try and experiment with the whole photo narrative concept for a bit and see how I like it.

If you notice closely, the crops that I have made on the portraits highlight the parts of the face that make that portrait important to me.

Here are the photos I made.

This is the series I am the most happy with. I photographed closeups, and then cropped them in the 4:5 aspect ratio, while dividing their bodies into the 3 parts that I found the most interesting. They both are mirroring each other, engaging in similar activities irrespective of the other person, which I found pretty comical.

365 Project: 208 – 217

January 21 – 30

Monday, January 21, #208 : Jacob and Alex

Tuesday, January 22, #209 : Liza and Anna

Wednesday, January 23, #210, : Crows over Freud

Thursday, January 24, #211 : Kate, Will, and Liza

Friday, January 25, #212 : Star Clusters ft. Goddard

Saturday, January 26, #212 : Savannah, Liza, and Will

Sunday, January 27, #213 : The Art of the Fugue

Monday, January 28, #214 : Kaylyn

Tuesday, January 29, #215 : Stella

Wednesday, January 30, #216 : Snow Storm