Here is my project proposal: I wrote this before I began the project, but it represents the main ideas of what I wish to accomplish...Sorry for the formal language; this was the original proposal.
I grew up in Aspen, Colorado. Generally, when I tell people that I am from Aspen, they want to know what it was like living in such a famous ski town. However, because my hometown has been so thoroughly described by the media and in popular culture, everyone already has a notion of how they expect Aspen ought to be, and they are expecting a certain sort of response. It is no mystery that tourism drove Aspen’s identity to be what it is today, and its identity is not unique in this way. Everyone has an idea of how Las Vegas ought to be, how Hawaii ought to be, how Alaska ought to be…the list goes on. Without ever visiting many of these locations, people feel that they know a place because they are familiar with the images associated with it. These notions of reality are not necessarily negative, but they detract from an individual’s experience of any “familiar” location because they drive the viewer to seek images and experiences they already know and understand. This creates a divide between actual experience and perceived reality. Maine is another location famous for certain scenery and emblematic images. By tracing the origins of the perceived realities of coastal Maine, I hope to understand the functions and ramifications of constructed identity more thoroughly. There is so much more to coastal life than lighthouses, lobster boats, and sunsets. The ideals set forth about the identity of this place serve a specific purpose—to attract tourists—but I hope to discover what effect this mild propaganda has on our conceptions of the Maine coast. Certainly not all Mainers live an L.L. Bean lifestyle but perhaps there is a fundamental quality underlying the advertising that resonates with people who are intimate with the local environment.
The typical modes of dissemination for the characteristic Maine identity are through painting and photography. I intend to research and work in both these rich veins, both to understand how they affect the collective consciousness and also to learn how to manipulate the media in order to relay meaning.
The historical richness of landscape painting in Maine is unmatched by any other state in New England. Carl Little, the author of eleven art books including Paintings in Maine, publishes books that are simply catalogues of landscape paintings that he feels best represent Maine. He lives on Mount Desert Island, and as part of this summer’s research, I hope to meet with him and discuss his reasoning behind the paintings he chooses. The choices he makes influences the works of current landscape artists. This subsequently furthers the perceived realities of the Maine coast presented to the public.
Photography is always a highly influential source of visual information. Photographic images penetrate popular culture thoroughly because they are used to communicate information more often than text and because they are omnipresent, readily available sources that are easily legible. The verisimilitude of photography is widely accepted; it is generally thought that photos are evidentiary whereas paintings are influenced by an artist’s perception. Of course, this is entirely untrue. The photographer has just as much control over their subject, composition, and message as does a painter. However, it is this distinction that lends photography to becoming the more subtle carrier for Maine’s identity propaganda. The images found in postcards are repeated themes; they drive people to only want to see purportedly “scenic” views, thereby ignoring what may actually be occurring. During this research project I intend to gather as many postcards as possible and use them as visual information juxtaposed against my own photography of the Maine coast. In my own photography I will seek out scenes not found in postcards and try to shoot scenes of coastal Maine that are not commonly shown or that are necessarily “scenic.”
With these thoughts in mind, I intend to drive deep into the tourism-driven identity of Maine. The work I want to produce will speak to the clichés and to the norms presented and attempt to take steps beyond their superficial meanings. To do this, I have a number of process driven projects to undertake.
First, I plan to directly, and patiently, observe the Maine coast. By using the traditional techniques of observation painting, small landscape studies done in the field, I will try and connect with the same phenomena experienced by landscape painters in Maine. I will study light, geological formations, the movement of the ocean, and general landscape/seascape compositions. By taking this formal approach, I hope to see if I will naturally lean toward familiar images of the Maine coast, or if I will be able to find new angles and perspectives. During the course of the summer I also plan on taking a trip to Monhegan Island, one of the most popular places for summer landscape painting in Maine. I also plan on spending some time on Mount Desert Island, simultaneously working on my own reconnaissance and also exploring the many painting galleries found in Bar Harbor. The end product of this part of the project will be a series of paintings.
The next step in the process of the project will be to accumulate a large number of postcards from varying parts of the coast. As I mentioned earlier, these postcards will be compared with my own photography and ideally the conversation between the two will provide for interesting dialogue. I also expect that I will do some large-scale collage projects with the postcards, ideally arranging them in such a way so that from far away, certain emblematic images will be visible. For example, I might arrange the postcards on a large wall in such a way as to suggest a lobster (all the reddish postcards in the form of a lobster surrounded by bluish postcards to suggest water). The end product of their part of the project will be a series of photographs and photo collages. Additionally, I plan on spending a great deal of time in L.L. Bean in Freeport. L.L. Bean has been successful because they have been able to create a very marketable identity for Maine and the lifestyle lived here. I intend to explore every part of the store and to really delve into the images and ideas supported by L.L. Bean. If I get permission from the store, I also intend to take photos of their products, advertisements, and customers (again, with permission). Using these photos and photoshop, I will make a series of posters in relation to my findings. Hopefully these will be comical.
The final product of this entire project will be a gallery space presented in a way that allows the viewer to realize the implications of ingesting assumed realties. I want people to see that the identity of a place does not entirely have to do with advertised or popular notions, but instead, that the identity of a place comes from experiencing it for yourself as an individual. I hope to inspire awareness and make people think twice about what they believe reality seems to be. I want to show people that experiencing beauty is personal, and that each of us has a choice to decide what moves us.