Turn Off, Get Out: Cultivating Disparate Artistic Input Beyond the Internet

Managing daily input & output is important to continuing to grow as an artist. Many of our daily rituals are centered around the Internet and cell phones. I’ve been ruminating lately on how the online world is extremely useful for displaying artistic output, but the input that really inspires me often comes from somewhere else, outside of these little boxes. Please embrace the irony of a guy writing a mildly abstract manifesto on a computer, telling you to turn off your computer and go experience the world. Are you sitting in your cubicle reading this? Go outside on your lunch break. Take a camera. You have a camera with you, right? Your assignment is to go walk around the block. No talking. Only listening. Watching.

This adventure recap is a manifesto to myself to stay motivated to get out and directly experience the amazing place that I live.

Deeper Listening

Last week I went to the Sutro Baths to shoot at night. What a beautiful place to photograph — especially on a clear night under a big bright moon. Find places that inspire you. Turn off your machines and go there. Sit and listen to the waves. Your breathing. When the stimuli inside the electronic boxes goes away for awhile, something more interesting may happen.

Sutro Baths (#30) -- by Joe Reifer

Sutro Baths (#30) — by Joe Reifer

Not Knowing

During the last full moon I also photographed an abandoned rural farming area. I didn’t know exactly where I was going. Friends led me to the place. Surprise. What fun! Pressing buttons on Google Maps isn’t nearly as good as a brisk hike in the middle of the night. You need to know enough to get there and be safe, but sometimes you don’t need to know everything.

Untitled (farm) -- by Joe Reifer

Untitled (farm) — by Joe Reifer

Open to Disparate Input

Saturday I attended the Berkeley Peace Lantern Ceremony to commemorate the 64th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Seeing children and families gather together to create and launch colorful hand made lanterns for this beautiful memorial was an intense experience. What events are happening in your community that might inspire you?

Peace Lanterns (2009 #02) -- by Joe Reifer

Peace Lanterns (2009 #02) — by Joe Reifer

On Sunday I went to a pancake breakfast on the SS Red Oak Victory, a Liberty Ship that saw service in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The juxtaposition of touring a military vessel after the previous night’s vigil was thought provoking. The dedicated volunteers of the Red Oak Victory have done an amazing amount of restoration work since I last visited 2 years ago. The Red Oak Victory is hosting movie nights, tours, and another pancake breakfast on September 13th. A recommended outing.

Red Oak Victory (diptych) -- by Joe Reifer

Red Oak Victory (diptych) — by Joe Reifer

Close Your Eyes

I picked up a few back issues of Artforum at the library, one of which happend to be on Pop Art (October 2004 issue). Thinking about Warhol is strange — we just take him for granted. When I got home from work today I listened to Lou Reed and John Cale’s Songs for Drella. When was the last time you sat down, closed your eyes, and listened to a great album all the way through? Perhaps more listening would be easier on the eyes and the brain than firing up the computer after work.

Double Dog Dare: A Day Without Your Phone and Computer

So what are you doing this Summer? Sending people lollipops on Facebook? On Friday I’m going to see the Richard Avedon and Robert Frank exhibits at SF MOMA (Note: The Robert Frank exhibit closes on August 23rd). I’m leaving the iPhone at home. Friday will be completely Internet and cell phone free. Consider this a challenge — go one day this week without looking at a computer or cell phone (except for an emergency, of course). Do you think you can stand it? I’ll admit that I don’t think it’s going to be easy. But I’m double dog daring you. Let me know how it goes — but don’t call me on Friday, my phone will be at home, and I’ll be out.

13 thoughts on “Turn Off, Get Out: Cultivating Disparate Artistic Input Beyond the Internet”

  1. Hey Joe

    I hear you and I’m with you. On my recent expedition to Utah to do my light painting, I was sleeping out in my swag well out of mobile range and without access to internet. I would stop in town every few days and hit an internet cafe, but to be out in the landscape and nightscape just listening to music and really taking in the surroundings was wonderful

    As a father of teenage boys, I have some real concerns about the impact of social networking on the adults of tomorrow… but thats a topic for another day.


  2. I hope to be at the SF-MOMA on Saturday. By the way, there’s actually three photo shows going on there right now. Along with the Avedon show and the Frank show, which you mentioned above, there’s also the Georgia O’Keefe/Ansel Adams show.

    I wish I could have joined you at Sutro last week. If I could have skipped out of that meeting the next morning, I would have done it.

  3. Great advice…

    BTW, SFMOMA has been kicking butt on great photo shows. Next month on the 12th there’s a show opening on post-war Japanese photographers – Daido-heads take note. Also features Araki, Hosoe, Tomatsu, and others.

    And then next year starting in November there’ll be an HCB retrospective – the first in the US in 30 years.

  4. The high point of my last trip was laying on a flat rock by a lake while waiting for 30 minutes worth of star trails to accumulate. The bullfrogs started up and the song reverberated off the rock faces…it was a little bit of paradise and I had it all to myself.

  5. The Frank show is almost overwhelming in one viewing–I had to go three times to take it all in!

    But I hear you on getting out and experiencing. Best part of night photography this moon wasn’t even about photography–it was listening to two packs of coyotes howling in counterpoint.

  6. Brent – going somewhere beautiful without reception is a perfect way to detox. When I was a kid I played some pong and watched cartoons a bit, but I’m glad that part of my life I wasn’t glued to a screen of some sort all of the time.

    Andy – Frank is my #1 priority. Then Avedon. I’m sure we’ll shoot at Sutro again one of these moons!

    Brad – Yeah, SF MOMA has definitely been rocking. Looking forward to the upcoming Japanese photographers show, too!

    David – Exactly!

    Steve – That was one of the craziest sounds I’ve ever heard in my life.

  7. Great post! Subconsciously, I’ve been doing things along the lines of your theme. Shooting during lunch, shooting more film instead of digital, and not scanning film, just enjoying its tactile and visual pleasures. Viewing more photo books than viewing online. And if I did not have two very young children to care for I’d be out on some midnight hikes. Thanks for the sage words.

  8. “When you’re all alone, any old night,
    And you’re feeling mighty blue,
    Pick up your hat,
    Close up your flat,
    Get out, get under the moon.”

    Larry Shay (m) William Jerome (l) Charles Tobias (l) 1928

  9. Andrew – Sounds like your practice is similar to what’s working for me. Books are definitely an important part of the equation. Glad you dig the post.

    Tim – Good advice. I like the Helen Kane version: http://bit.ly/8Ayig

  10. I’m going to Robert Frank tommorrow, one more time, maybe the last, excellent exhibit. That upcoming Japanese photographers sounds real good too

  11. Speaking of Japanese photographers, just got word that Fraenkel Gallery is going to have a Sugimoto show in September called “Lightning.” I don’t know the details, but he apparently used a Van de Graaf generator in combination with his large format gear to make the prints!

  12. Great recommendations, Joe. And I’m glad to hear that there are a few out there who are listening and doing the same. We’re recently returned from vacation to the Yooper (Upper Peninsula MI.) where our phones didn’t have coverage, (obviously the locals have no trouble) and the laptop was @ home. We had to rely on hiking beaches and dunes, kayaking, bicycling, eating out, even experiencing culture at a couple of museums. It wasn’t too tough to go without the electronic devices, but then I’m an old fuck who remembers what it was like before the interweb.

  13. Steve & Rodney – There are details about the Sugimoto show on the Fraenkel Gallery website. I really enjoyed the Sugimoto show at the de Young in 2007, especially seeing large prints of the movie theater work (both interiors and drive-ins).

    Kent – Glad you unplugged and had a great trip!

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