Category Archives: Fear & Doubt

Fear & Doubt

When Art Becomes A Mirror To Ourselves

I often become obsessive about things. I will get stuck on an idea or a person and research all I can to learn as much as I can about that subject.  About a month or so ago my buddy Austin mentioned he was going to see a filmed production of A Streetcar Named Desire that was being broadcast at a local movie theater.  I happened to have the night off, which is a rare occasion for me, and we went.  It was a production that had been telecast from the Old Vic Theater in London and featured Jullian Anderson as Blanche Dubois.  It was mind blowing good, tapping the raw sexual underbelly of the script that is often softened to make it more digestible for the average audience.  I suddenly was in a spiral obsession of everything Tennessee Williams.  I discovered there had been a new biography published this past September by John Lahr called ‘Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh’ that cut to the core of Williams personality mostly revealed through his personal letters and the actual text and historical drama that surrounded his career.   Let me preface this by saying some 30 years earlier when I was a budding theater-directing student I turned my then obsession with Tennessee Williams into my graduation thesis project.  I have been a fan and avid Williams –o- phile for most of my adult life.   This is the one man in my life I truly wished I could have met.  Unfortunately he choked to death on a pill bottle lid and died before my obsession began.  The new book reveals there was little separation from Williams and his work.  His works become a product of his own neurosis.  No wonder his works evokes such strong emotions within me.  Then as now his work inspired me to become my own sort of artist and seek to express the truths within myself.  So to become an artist, did it mean we had to become deranged self-loathing alcoholics who are essentially social outcasts?   I don’t think so, but perhaps it helps in revealing who and what kinds of lives we have lived.  Art is an expression from the perspective of the artist’s experiences.   The more we become aware of those experiences and don’t repress or deny them, the more powerful they become.  It can take a lot of courage to look within ourselves and show others what we feel.  To bare our souls and put forth for others to either connect with or judge.  Most of my life I have faced hardship, censorship, much of it self imposed, fear, doubt, and anxiety.  But I have always tried to look at it objectively and figure out how it has shaped my own humanity.  In a sense I think my greatest gain has been compassion for others, those less fortunate.  I see the positive things in others and have the ability to reflect them back showing them the more positive aspects of themselves.  I deeply connect to this, come up with how my own life experiences and create a reflection.  A while back, a kid approached me about an incident that he couldn’t remember. He had gone on a date with someone and next thing he remembers was waking up in a hospital after being found in an alley stripped and severely beaten.   He was having difficulty dealing with it emotionally and needed desperately to come to terms with the incident.  I also had a similar incident happen to me when I lived in DC when I was also very young and strongly connected to what he was going through.  We talked about it for hours and finally agreed that we needed to turn this into some powerful visual representation.  I staged and lit the studio and we worked on what would become an emotional photo shoot and a very powerful series of images for both of us.  Today’s image is from that series.  This time around, my obsession with Tennessee Williams I have a greater appreciation for his work.  I am grasping the deeper meaning in the context of his world and characters because how much it now relates to me and the history of what I have become.  I only aspire to express such emotion within the context of my own work!
Thank god for my obsessions.

Gilbert M: A Lust For Life

Today I wanted to write about a man to which I owe much of my creative life. His name was Gilbert Millikan, probably one of the greatest champions for arts in the state of Montana. Gilbert passed away in 2003 from brain tumor and I cannot let this year’s project pass without paying a tribute to him.

Gilbert was born, raised and spent the greatest portion of his life in Missoula. His father was a smart businessman who invested in properties and owned the original Bitterroot Market, which is now where the Bitterroot Flower Shop is located. Gilbert’s mother was involved in many social organizations throughout the valley so Gilbert inherited the best of both those worlds. He is probably the kindest, most generous man I have ever known. He was somewhat of a philanthropist toward the creative process, the creation of art, and artists of all sorts. There were two sides to Gilbert, one his outgoing social butterfly, and the very reclusive man who often chose to remain hidden. He lived in an old Victorian Mansion, with his two little yappy dogs Sunny and Happy. He was passionate about gardening and developed the grounds of his Victorian Estate into the most extraordinary gardens. This is how I sort of got to know Gilbert. I was a student in college and rented an old carriage house on the property that had been converted into a self-contained guesthouse. I would occasionally help him with the upkeep and planting of those gardens. Movies were another passion we both shared and every Saturday afternoon we would go off to see whatever was new. His passion for movies so astonishing that he bought a video rental business that he grew to become one of the biggest and best in town outlasting any franchise that would dare enter our small community.

Probably the deepest level Gilbert and I bonded was that we were both gay. Though he was much older then I was, he was fascinated by how open I was and how the culture around us was becoming more open and the world seemingly more tolerant. The reclusive side of Gilbert’s stemmed from a certain amount of shame he felt from being gay and the difficulty he was having with his own acceptance of his sexuality. He had a long time partner, but they had become estranged and lived in separate houses in the same block. Anyone who would meet Gilbert would instantly recognize he was gay, as much as he tired to conceal it. I worked off and on for Gilbert for many years whenever I was in town, eventually becoming his personal assistant until his untimely death. I nursed him through his final months as he struggled with the tumor taking command of his life. Upon his passing, he endowed everything he had owned, properties, massive art collections, and estate to four arts charities in the state of Montana, which were considerably under funded at the time.

All those years with Gilbert I learned to face a lot of my own fears and anxieties. Gilbert had instilled in me a passion for what was beautiful and that all creation comes from the soul weather you are photographing, gardening, or cooking. He was a man of amazing means that lead a humble life. Everything was done and approached with as much enthusiasm one could muster with no expectation of an end result. Though he was not an artist himself, he was fearless in his approach for cultivating other artists and brought humanity to the creative process and instilled a passion for others to create. He became a great patron for many artists in the region, filling his house with the works of others. He believed in me when I couldn’t see it within myself. He believed that we had to earn everything, and didn’t hand it to me, but always created an exchange. The honor of artistry was something that had to be earned, like any other business and that anything was possible with a lot of hard work. This instilled an ethic in me for my own creation that seems to drive my passion deeper.

My dear friend, though it has been many years since your passing I wish you could see the seeds you have laid in my heart for what I have become this year. You would ever be so proud of what I have been able to accomplish. The best of everything you ever were I now carry forward. I have now become that artist you had always believed in as a young man. My compassion, honestly, lust for life, and ability to see into the humanity of others I owe to you. Thank you for the gift of such a precious life.

I Can’t Take It With Me

I saw the University production of You Can’t Take It With You last night. The play was written in 1936 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1937. It’s about a woman, from an eccentric family of contented misfits that live life to it’s fullest, falling in love with a man, from a ridged tight wound capitalist family and clash of the two ideals. The play is still quite brilliant and seemed completely relevant to where we reside within our modern culture and what is happening in the current recession. But ultimately the play, for me becomes a complete summation of this Naked Man Project, all that I have been working toward and writing about the entire year. Ultimately revealing that we must seize the talents and gifts we are giving in this life and appreciate and enjoy those things we cherish most. In the end of the play the grandfather character states that so many people are never capable of doing what they dream. They become stuck in their lives, sometimes not by choice and then life goes so quickly that suddenly they wake up too late realizing the lives they thought they lived really have little meaning to what they have actually set out to accomplish. Dreams of youth pass compromised, left in the closet to be forgotten or ignored. The play suggests perhaps it time to clean those things stowed in our closets, reconnect to those lost dreams we have forgotten, and once again live our dreams because life is too short to let the simple pleasures pass without engaging them.

This has certainly been a year for me to get back in touch with my own idealistic dreams from youth and allowing those creative dreams to prosper. I certainly began the year in a different place then what I will end it. I have faced a lot of fears and anxieties and over come so many of the obstacles that held me back. One of my greatest fears was being able to express my appreciation for beauty of the naked male in a place like Montana. Previously feeling a certain amount of shame in my process, I keep it hidden in a place of security, veiled in secrecy, remaining in that metaphorical closet, yet knowing in my heart what my desire was, but to afraid to reveal it. Now I will end this year, content, sharing my secret obsession for beauty and art. I began the year thinking I was too old to be vibrant or have anything to offer in a modern culture based on the modern media of the Internet. Yet the vitality of my life and expression seems to have moved so many others and have found a niche following which now seems to flourish. With the modern recession it feels like we live in a dark time were we are discouraged to be in touch with ourselves. What is happening within our environment is stifling to so many that as a culture we are becoming weary and more often depressed. Last year I lived in fear of my world collapsing and it felt like it was a struggle just to maintain my existence. So I took this year off to focus on my creative process and myself and to truly follow my passion. This year I have not made any more money, but I have not lost any more money either, always in past spending a great deal of money to make money, mostly all that going to others. In so many ways it becomes a wash with nothing gained but ending up right where I started. At least this year I have lived the life of my dreams and followed my heart and so far it has been one of the greatest adventures of my life. Perhaps it’s time to examine your own dreams, remember things forgotten, that has been put far back in your own closets, and makes a leap. There is no time like the present. You have nothing to lose and perhaps you might just discover something about yourself you thought was once lost.

We Are Not Made of Stone

Why is that so many of us don’t feel that we can live up to our potential or achieve what we often feel in our hearts?  Though I feel appreciative that I have lived a fairly creative life and had the opportunity to follow my desire, I still feel I have lived in the shadows of self-doubt for large portion of it.  I always think so much of it had to do with my sexuality and going against the norm.  But the more I talk to others, the more I begin to see it’s really a universal issue that everyone seems to struggle through.  The older I get the more I regret how much of my youth was fraught with angst and lack of self-esteem.  While I was cocky and defiant, it always felt that something held me back.  I always thought it was a lack of hustle and not being self-motivated, but when I look back, my achievements were vast and I have experienced a life time of wondrous experiences.

As this project begins to wind down, I am looking back at the journey of what I have felt through its course.  I guess trying to find perspective and get to the core of what brought me here in the first place.  But in a sense, everything I have learned was something I already knew it has always been here.  I liken it to Dorothy’s proverbial return to home after visiting the wondrous Land of Oz only to discover, with the click of her heels, she was always where she wanted to be.  As a kid, her journey always had a profound impact on me emotionally.  I would cry so hard every year that my mother would threaten to not let me watch it and I would beg and plead with her until she consented and once again I would be utterly moved to the point of tears.  I now recognize Dorothy’s desperate plight to find herself is universal and see it in everyone else around me.  What a strange world we enter, with sometimes even stranger friends.  In their mythic land they accept their differences, a man of straw who is easily destroyed by fire, a hollow man who can’t move without the help of others, and the embodiment of ferociousness, intimidated by others.   Their real journey is that of self-acceptance and in the end finding their sense of security.  Being a gay man growing up in a strange land like Montana, I have always been keenly aware of the differences of others, feeling myself never really quite understood.  But have been greatly appreciative of “men who can dress in women’s cloths and mouth the words to other people’s songs”, others infected with a deadly virus that still creates fear and anxiety and is still greatly misunderstood, the straight acting and not so straight acting personalities, whatever that meant, and the imperfections in others.  It has always been my desire to be a part of a community of understanding and acceptance and of course appreciation.  Yet it feels like as similar as we all are, we push each other away, with these labels and still ostracize others for their differences.

Yesterday I wrote about a young boy who killed himself because he could not find acceptance and my heart aches deeply as I morn not only the loss of a kid not able to live a miraculous existence, but the ignorance with others that fed his doubt.  I still see the internalized homophobia within our own communities that becomes judgmental, condescending, and harmful.  I think THIS IS perhaps is the real limitation from us feeling what’s in our hearts and recognizing our potential.  Perhaps this is my gift as a photographer because I am willing to look beyond the difference with compassion and empathy and search for that truth within myself and my subjects and the culture that surrounds me.  After all, we are not made of stone.

Art of Politics

As an artist, I have always avoided politics.  The daily yammering of it on new stations like Fox News, bores the living death out of me.  It’s not that I don’t want to stay informed; I just don’t want to know all the details of everything going on.  It feels like politics and arts rarely mix and it seems the people who are quite interested in politics are not the slightest bit interested in the creation of art, unless it becomes public, and contains something they deem immoral.  Our economy still does not seem to be rebounding at all, everyone around seems to have been hit very hard by this recession as the impact still lingers in the standard working class, yet the people working for the government rarely are impacted by what happens in the economy.  I find this rather disturbing, as I am a tax payer, whose taxes keep increasing at a consistent rate, the values of property in my neighborhood has dropped considerably, meaning the fair market value has still bottomed out, yet the property taxes only increase.  In Montana we don’t have a sales tax and the bulk of the taxes that fund the state are put on the property owners creating a hefty property tax on top of a state income tax.  Yes, America seems to go deeper and deeper into debt, yet the government seems to continually grow.  It feels like it’s becoming very disproportionate and does not reflect what’s actually happening in our economy.  It scares the heck out of me because it feels like I am living on the edge and what I once produced and made a good living on photographically seems to have lost all is value when the economy tanked a few years back.  I see more and more people giving up and going on welfare, young kids in their twenties, completely capable of working, but giving up because the struggle has become meaningless and it’s an easier way out.  You can work all day for a living and have nothing, or you can go on welfare, do nothing and still have something, though it’s very little you have to live on.

I have been watching the decline of the US Postal Service for some time now.  It keeps losing billions of dollars every year.  Recently we have been informed that some of our offices here in Missoula will be shut down. This is the only area where I see a possible pull back in government. Will people actually lose their jobs?  Yet, I work for UPS one of the most solvent self-sustained companies in the world.   I watch how UPS adapts to the economy and makes adjustments.  As far as I can tell it’s one of the smartest companies because it is run with a highly efficient business model.  When the economy tanked we too felt that as a company, but we made adjustments company wide, some of them quite uncomfortable, like turning the heat down, to what I felt was an unbearable work level.  We all dressed warmer and got through it, everyone in the company became conscientious of what needed to be done and became a part of savings.  But for one winter, we cut cost enough company-wide that we did not have to cut jobs or sacrifice production.  We constantly know what the bottom line is as it changes day to day.  UPS through adaptation, has found what works, by employing people for what it specifically needs and creating an efficient part time position for about forty percent of its employees who specialize in certain areas of production, like myself.  By cutting out all the excess, they are able to afford their employees, even the part time ones,  great benefits and some of the best healthcare in the country.  We have recently begun a new process of contracting a lot of our smaller packages to the US Postal Service to deliver thousands of packages each day.

It’s too bad our government can’t seem to take example from what works and has worked for 106 years.  UPS is a company about the people for the people.  We are its greatest assets.  It’s that the way this country started and was founded.  How is it that the land of the free and the brave, no longer seems to be about the people it’s designed to serve?  Things have got to change.  We are headed toward a collision course for disaster if this trajectory remains constant.  No wonder we are in a state of collapse and people now live in fear day to day.