Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Gospel of Modern Art According to St. James the Photographer of Experiments

NOTE: The Following Was Originally Published on J.T. Kirkland's art blog, Thinking About Art. I Am Deeply Indepted To Mr. Kirkland For Providing The Inspiration For This Online Project Extension Of "The Death Of Film".

"THE DEATH OF FILM” REDUX – The Prophecy of a Littoral Art Project Artist

The opening reception on 9-11-04 for "The Death of Film" at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center in Arlington, Virginia, is a distant memory for me now.

Within the many emails I have recieved regarding my work, there have been sincere questions posed by some passionate young people challenging me in one way or another to define a clearer association of “Rough Edge Photography” with my three major art concerns as an artist, as well as to explain how my photographs convey these concerns or address them, if in fact, they do at all.

For those who do not know my Gospel, know ye this:



3.) THE FUNCTION OF LITTORAL ART PRACTICES TO FIND AND RECOVER STOLEN ART – I believe that Art in the (dis)United State(ments) of (an) (un)America(n) needs to be reclaimed from illegitimate CON-art-IST entities who kidnapped it and are holding it hostage in corrupt “art” institutions so that Art can be liberated from its ARTofficial prison and reunited with the every day lived experiences of every citizen of this country for the artful purpose of making art-starved human beings more ArtFull. Littoral Art Projects are concerned with liberating the human he(art).

I have decided to present the following in the hopeful spirit that it will offer answers to some questions.

Q - What is “Rough Edge Photography”?

A – It is a personal Littoral Art Project of my design. Its immediate primary purpose is to bring attention to my three major concerns. My hopeful long-term goal is that liberated people of conscience will, whether motivated by my project or not, involve themselves in a grassroots effort to demand change in the State of the Modern Art.

Q – What is Littoral Art?

A – My philosophy and definition of Littoral Art is based upon the writings of artist, Bruce Barber:
“Littoral describes the intermediate and shifting zone between the sea and the land and refers metaphorically to cultural projects that are undertaken predominantly outside of the conventional contexts of the institutionalized art world.” - Sentences on Littoral Art by Bruce Barber.


On the night of 9-11, in a motel room in Biloxi, Mississippi, all of the philosophical, social, political, artistic and cultural issues and questions in my mind, formed, if you will, into a Vision.
The Vision that I received said that I should develop an art process that would inspire me to create a Littoral Art Project response to concerns that I had long believed were linked in an conspiracy to destroy the meaning, value and intimacy of art in its legitimate moral relationship to the American people.

As I have previously written, I believe that supreme elitist powers in the hierarchy of the art world have conspired to separate art from the meaning of life for the purpose, within a corpo-capitalistic market, of creating market share value for art suitable for a consumerist society.
Ultimately, the end result of this fraudulent scheme is the creation of careers, fame and monetary wealth.


“Rough Edge Photography” is a component of the Littoral Art Project to address my three concerns. This Littoral Art Project itself is concerned with spreading the Gospel of what I believe I received in my Vision. The physical images that I have created are functional, tangible and tactile elements of that message.

The repetitive question that seems to have been asked is this: how do the physical images communicate the message or messages that I intend?

First, I would refer anyone interested to the description of my previous Littoral Art Projects that are listed on my web site.
These projects provide a context for the point that I am at now. “Rough Edge Photography” is simply a more intensive long-term daily practice of my life, as opposed to the goal-defined short-term projects that I previously developed.

My previous Littoral Art Projects were conceived to be private moments of communications between myself and other people. This present project is concerned with a larger potential audience because the stakes are higher than in my previous projects.


The inspiration for the style, content, theme and substance of my physical images derives from the overwhelmingly spiritual inspiration that I have had from viewing historic photographic images captured curing the American Civil War.

As I have mentioned before, my background is who I am. I am Southern. I am a native son of Mississippi. My family settled in Mississippi in 1830. They have lived and died in the same county since they arrived generation after generation. I am the first member of my family to ever leave the state.

I am an obsessive genealogist. I have thousands of pages of historic documentation of my family’s history tracing them all the back to Ireland, including a massive family photograph collection.
I also have five direct ancestors that served in Mississippi Infantry Regiments during the American Civil War.

The Civil War is not an abstraction for me. It is deeply imbedded in my family’s history and my home state’s culture and has always tugged at my intellect and spirit of creativity.
My father’s grandfather was a Confederate Veteran. He shared all of his stories with my father, including his participation in the Battle of Atlanta. These stories were passed down to me. I’m passing them down to my son.

The Civil War destroyed the South in a way that modern warfare had never affected a civilian population. In my home state, ¼ of the adult male population that went to war did not return home. The devastation of lives, families, communities and cities was unparalleled in history up to that moment of 1861-1865. The world had never seen a war carried to the extremes of this war.

This legacy of this destruction pervades every corner of the South. One can not walk through a cemetery in Mississippi without seeing many headstones of Confederate, as well as Union dead. By some estimates more than 400,000 people, both Confederate and Union, were killed in four years of brutal conflict.

In my home state the ghosts of the Civil War pervade the culture in a deep and troubling way. Our poetry, literature, music and history seems forever linked to the horrible realities of what happened.
In four years, Mississippi went from being the 4th most prosperous state in the Union in 1860, to the most economically depressed state ever since.
The Civil War was fought, the Union won, and the South was left to fend for itself.
More importantly, former African-Americans slaves who were promised 40 Acres and A Mule by the Federal Government of the United States of America were left in the hands of brutal and angry Southern white racists who were allowed to control the post-Civil War era right up to the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960’s and beyond.

In my opinion, war is about death. War is killing.
Every government under the sun has tried to justify killing other people for a higher purpose.
Witness Iraq and witness the claims of the victors of every other war.
The American Civil War was carried out on a scale and size that the world had never seen at that time. Entire cities in the South were burned to the ground.
At a point in the war, particularly after The Battle of Gettysburg, it became clear that the only way the Union would ever prevail was to take the war to the civilian population.
This is what was done all across the South. And done in a way that is unimaginable by any known standard.
It has been estimated by military historians that the devastation brought to the South by the Union during four years of war was equivalent to 20-25 WWII era atomic bombs.

As a Southerner, and as an artist, this historical legacy and it impact on my home state and my family’s history has always influenced me deeply.
My grandmother used to have photographs and collodian wet plates of my ancestors hanging on her wall. I have a photograph of my great-great-great grandfather, John R. Bailey, wearing his Confederate uniform just prior leaving to fight in The Battle of Chattanooga, among many other photographic memorabilia.

This is my history and my inspiration. I don’t say all of this to re-fight the Civil War.
Again, I think war is evil. Killing is evil. Slavery is Evil. Weapons of war are evil. Weapons of war are Weapons of Mass Destruction no matter who owns them or uses them.
There is always another solution to the problem of evil in my opinion.
Killing is an easy option.
However, killing, especially on a mass scale, always requires the victors to justify their cause and actions in order to maintain their moral superiority.
Again, witness Iraq and every other war that has ever been fought.


As is probably evident, I am a student of the American Civil War. I study it because I believe it was the defining moment in history for everything this country ultimately became.
One of the things in my research that began to inspire me as an artist, prior my 9-11 Vision, were the extant photographic images taken during the Civil War, primarily by Northern photographers who traveled with Union troops.

Because of the technology of the times, Civil War era photographers were not able to shoot real time photographs of actual battle scenes as they unfolded. There are some very rare images of a cannon being fired, for example, but these are far and few between.
The cameras at the time primarily employed the wet collodian plate method that Sally Mann has once again made famous through a recent Corcoran Gallery of Art exhibition, “What Remains”. This process was labor intensive and required in some cases 15 – 20 minutes or more to set up in order to shoot an image.
Photographers would not have wasted their time or money trying to shoot actual battle scenes because the resultant images would have been a mass blur.

The result of this process is that almost all of the images of the Civil War, the first war to be photographed in such an intensive documentary fashion, are that the images are post-battle conflict photographs: Images of dead soldiers after the battle, burned farm houses, destroyed cities, etc.
The images themselves have an almost ghostly, haunting, peaceful and contemplative aesthetic value. This was not intentional. Fine art photography was not the goal of these photographers. They were trying to document the war for the purposes of providing newspapers with proof that the war was going well for the North.
The photographs were intended as a form of propaganda.
The Civil War in reality never went well for either side. The horrors, brutality, deaths of soldiers and civilians, as well as the true economic costs of the war were suppressed by both President Abraham Lincoln and President Jefferson Davis through manufactured propaganda in order to secure, as Noam Chomsky says, “manufactured consent” to keep the war going.
Witness Iraq and every other war that has ever been fought.

As I spent more time researching and studying the images of the American Civil War, what began to interest me as an artist was how disconnected from the actual horrors of the reality of death and blood and guts these images were. What I saw was that these extant images almost convey a separate identity from the context of what they originally were and were intended to be.
Now, all these years later, they can be seen as fine art photographs. Again, they were never conceived to be fine art photographs.

Inspired by this observation, I reached to the accidental aesthetic value of these photographs when I conceived the style of the physical photographic component - “Rough Edge Photography” – of my Littoral Art Project. I wanted to create a photographic style that seemed peaceful, quiet, underwhelming and contemplative.
I intentionally desired to place these images in frames that seemed connected to my grandmother’s framing style. I want to create physical images that seemed like they might have been found in her attic, long after she had died, by someone who didn’t know her.
I wanted to create an image that would create a question in somebody’s mind that saw the image that did not connect itself to any concern for answers to any questions about any of my concerns. I wanted somebody to feel some impression of what I feel when I look at those Civil War photographs: What is that in the photo? Who took the photo? Where was the photo taken? Why was it taken?
I wanted to create small images that asked small questions in a quiet voice.

I did struggle with the question of how my physical photographic component of the project should link to the concerns I have about digital media as part of this Littoral Art Project.
At one point, I thought I should go all out and over the top to create some monstrous chaotic type of photography that would seem to envelop and overwhelm the viewer with a cacophony of imagery as if to say, “DIGITAL MEDIA IS EVIL AND IS BRAIN WASHING YOU AND YOU DON’T KNOW IT!!!”

I rejected that. That’s not me. I couldn’t honestly do that.

I kept coming back to the quiet contemplative and disconnected value of Civil War photographs.

The fact that they suggest what ever the reader reads into them and the fact that they are very much visually disconnected from the terrible reality of what the horrible imagery of a real time battle would look like if it could have been captured by cameras then as scenes of war can be captured digitally now.
Similarly, I wanted to create a “death of film” image that was very disconnected from the data manufactured reality of digital imagery.

The physical images of “Rough Edge Photography” that I have created for this project are meant to stand on their on as small scale pieces of anti-modern art. This means that they are not works of art, but are the art of work. The work being that they function as a component of the Littoral Art Project.
Aesthetically they are purposely shot and framed in a way that reflects a casual and non-concerned sensibility with issues of commercial and fine art photography.
Some in their reviews of my work mention that they are snapshots. I have admitted that this is a correct observation that is exactly what I did in shooting them. I shot them as snapshots using typical found cameras that are primarily used for snapshots. Again, I was reaching to the accidental quality of Civil War photographs.
Civil War photographers never thought in terms of fine art photography methodology when shooting their images. Their images eventually evolved into fine art.
I did not want my images to reflect a fine art photography sensibility either. I wanted to create a physical photographic image that simply might prompt someone seeing it, especially in person, to say, “I’ve never seen a photograph that looks like that before”.
For me, that simple reaction is Art.

CONFLICTS OF INTERESTS – Sinners and Saints and the world before the WORD

With “The Death of Film” I am trying to communicate through the physical component of my “Rough Edge Photography” that imagery can be disconnected from reality and the words of reality and the WORD of non-reality.
I am deeply concerned about digital media, but I did not want to create a physical image that says that. I wanted my WORD component of “Rough Edge Photography” to address that issue.
The WORD has been communicated through the press, through conversations, through word of mouth, and yes, most interestingly to me, on this site.

The communication of the WORD through web sites and art blogs, for example, has been the most amazing and unexpected pleasure of this Littoral Art Project.

There is a deep irony with my “Rough Edge Photography” in the sense that the communication of my Gospel does involve the use of digital media. That fact has not escaped me and it is, again, purposeful and part of my project.

Let me explain: I was searching for a rationalization for the issue of whether or not I could morally justify using digital media to spread an anti-digital media message. I felt that I needed a cultural context and entertainment precedent to justify any such potential scheme. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is the thing to do that is right given the response of our society to digital media.

From my Southern roots I found inspiration and justification in a bizarre cultural phenomenon that inspired me: Within the conservative Christian movement there has been for some time a very slickly organized so-called Alternative Christian Music industry. This industry was born in the South.
The Christian music industry for the last 20-25 years has kept its ears to the ground for the sounds of emerging pop-American musical values and quickly and thoroughly appropriates and mutates them into the mainstream of its programming for the purpose of luring aspiring young Christians to buy their artists records and attend their concerts.

From Amy Grant to D.C. Talk and a million Alternative Christian Rock bands in between, the manipulative goal is this: Locate the newest hip pop thing, develop an artist to sing in that style with that imagery, promote it as the Christian alternative to the corrupt real thing and lure the kids in and get them hooked on Jesus while fleecing their pockets and tapping out their parent’s credit card limit.
“If inner city gansta rap is hot, then let’s invent a white bread gansta rap Indie Christian rock band and take these kids to the bank!” - is the mindset of the industry.

Of course, the point of this con game is not ultimately lost. White Christians don’t give a damn about rap music or the culture that generates it or any other cutting-edge cultural phenomena. What white Christian Alternative Christian Music businessmen do care about is co-opting the attributes of successfully appealing pop culture for the purpose of making tons of money.

This corporate pseudo-Christian bullshit, believe it or not, inspired my rationalization for the co-opted use of digital media as part of my anti-digital media Littoral Art Project. I began to see that perhaps there might be a way to use digital media to spread the anti-digital message, and still insulate myself morally, to a very questionable extent admittedly.
I wanted to put myself in that jeopardized position because I believe you do not become a saint worth a damn unless you have lived a life as a damned sinner.
My sin in this Littoral Art Project is confessed use to digital media as part of the project to spread an anti-digital message. I am praying that I don’t go to Hell because of this sin - may God have mercy on my Soul.


The digital images of my work on my site, as well as the digital images of my work that have been shipped around the world via the Internet and through digital reproduction in newspapers, play into this concept of “The Death of Film”.
I myself am participating in its death by agreeing to and encouraging this digital distribution.
The words on this site that are being held out to the world in cyberspace also play into this concept for the same reasons.
As my grandfather in Mississippi used to say, “Sometimes to beat the devil you have to become the devil.”

St. Paul says in the New Testament, “I have become all things to all men so that by many means I can win the few”.
I don’t know if I agree with the Christian Church that St. Paul was a great saint, but I do believe he was a terrific sinner.
St. Paul’s goal is mine…to win the few…not the many.

The ultimate purpose of the physical component of “Rough Edge Photography” is to function as a platform for the communication of the totality of the Littoral Art Project.
The physical photographs have served to draw attention to me, my views and the works themselves. This was their intended critical function. Nothing more.

The WORD component of the Littoral Art Project is, and has been, communicated digitally and non-digitally.


In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was made flesh…

“Rough Edge Photography” is conceived to be a project that had a birth, will live a life and will die.
If it has a soul, perhaps that will live on somewhere.
I feel that God has put me on this planet at this time to do what I am doing and say what I am saying.

I do believe that digital media is evil because I believe that is was designed to alter the human brain for the purposes of mind control.
I pray that the scientific community will someday investigate this matter. I believe that lives and minds are in the balance.

I also believe that the state of the modern art world in America is corrupt in a way that makes our politics look innocent and clean.
I pray that art becomes reconnected in a daily and meaningfully way in the lives of every American similar to how art is part of the lives and souls of tribal and native peoples around the planet.

I do believe that art can and should serve a higher purpose than being an object of desire, admiration or even inspiration.
I also believe that art can ultimately become a non-visual experience that changes the world for the better in a true sense.
As the the Bible says, “To See You Must Become Blind” in order “To Bring Unto The People A Peace That Passes All Understanding”.

“Rough Edge Photography” through “The Death of Film” is a mythology of the missing image.
It is the non-art of the Art.
It is the non-visual image of an open eye looking at a digital reproduction of a non-digital moment of time.
I am the Prophet of “Rough Edge Photography”, not the Messiah, or Apostle or Disciple or Pope or Chief Defense Counsel.

There are a million issues and wrongs in this world that are infinitely more important than my concerns. I don’t have solutions to any of these problems anymore than I have solutions to my concerns.
I simply want to share my Vision in my way and hope that somehow, somewhere, sometime down the road, something will change.

Stan Brahkage believed in what he called the 400 Year Plan. He believed in the power of art to slowly effect major changes in society over a long and extended period of time, as opposed to the American obsession with immediate solutions to immediate problems that must be solved today at any cost.

“Rough Edge Photography” is my volunteer contribution of 1 hour of my time out of 1 day of my 1 life in support of the 400 Year Plan.
I believe that every person in every generation should contribute their one hour.
I also believe every person has a moral obligation to do this.
I have heard from many young people of passion who I believe are meeting their volunteer requirement in support of the 400 Year Plan to make the world a better place.
All of us may not agree on everything, but everything in agreement is not even human state of mind.

"Art in Passion of Action – Protecting the Future by Watching the Past Very Very Closely" - James W. Bailey


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home