During a time of social, economic and health crisis, the chaos in the midst of the event is taxing. Out of chaos comes periods of order and stability, what comes next is up to the society and the individual. Through great chaos has spawned unprecedented reform and advancements. We are witnessing how actions in one part of the world are transmitted to all parts of our global society. The actions of the one, can affect the lives and health of the many. What’s next is being safe, being hopeful, being well, being informed and moving forward. Do not sit idle and wait for others to take charge, everyone needs to engage and be part of the advancement of the common good.

These were my thoughts when I was looking back on an ongoing recent portfolio.

20200515-F-Persevering Social Distancing In 46ºF Waters During A Time Of An Unprecedented Global Pandemic, Hamlin Beach State Park, Lake Ontario, Village of Hamlin, NY by Joe Ziolkowski—one of three photos included in Small Works, 2020

Quester Lucis: The Self-Portrait
A self-portrait is an unparalleled act of vulnerability and emotional expression; a psychological catharsis. It is an act of sifting through the pain of existence, but at the same time reaching out a hand for human connection. Self-portraiture is a conscious exercise in existentialism; it can be likened to a literary work penned in the first-person. Through the act of self-portraiture, one casts oneself as both protagonist and antagonist in a crafted visual diary. The self-portrait is inherently an autobiographical expression, shaped consciously or otherwise by the artist’s subjective world view. It forces personal growth and reflection, as intimacy cannot be separated from the mechanical process.

“Your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It’s all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a self- portrait. Everything is a diary”. –Chuck Palahniuk

Why create and place self-portraits side-by-side, year-by-year? The repetition, the curation, and the exhibition join together as a powerful statement, a litany of existence. These portraits allow one to affirm and internalize their own reality. This intimate visual record confirms “I exist.” As stated by Nan Goldin, “I photograph myself in times of trouble or change in order to find the ground to stand on in the change.” It is a means of centering the mind, whilst engaging the inner dialogue.

The concept of “control” is essential to self-portraiture. We choose what to draw into the light, and which aspects of ourselves to keep in shadow. We seize control of the space and the decisive moment of capture. No other soul can anticipate your thoughts as you can, and this primacy leaves no chance of misunderstanding, or conflicting vision.

Art itself is a reflective result of self-awareness. When we pick up and turn the camera on ourselves we do so with heightened awareness and internalized projections. Therefore any self-portrait is intrinsically linked to identity. The photographer becomes a representational figure within their own images, utilizing personal signifiers within the realms of gender, culture, race, and a myriad of other formative categories, to propel and direct intellectual discourse. We present that which we want others to embrace or confront. Consciously, we document and shape our inner and outer selves, meditating on purpose, community, and our limited time on Earth.

20200608-B Haven During A Global Pandemic, Finger Lakes Trail, Danby, NY by Ziolkowski
20200608-B Haven During A Global Pandemic, Finger Lakes Trail, Danby, NY by Ziolkowski—one of three photos included in Small Works, 2020

The Coincidental Tourist
Photography pulls its resources from the reality before the camera. The photomechanical process of pinhole photography on 4 x 5 inch black and white film is unique; it records time in a way we do not see and preserves great depth of field without the use of lens optics like our eye, or the variety of camera devices invented since the last millennium. As a way to archive and catalogue my personal history, I have relied on photography to fulfill my daily urge to create. Although I embrace new technologies as they integrate progressive workflow into my life, I never let go of my zeal for traditional analog photography.

It is not the single photograph, but the accumulation of a lifetime of work that interest me. A pile-up, chance discovery; when a location, elements, weather, wind, season, light, time of day all come together to make the ordinary before me, extraordinary in a photograph. The act of pinholing documents coincidental locations photographically, letting me see, and you view through my photographs, things in a different way. I am a tourist of life; I do not like to sit still for long periods of time. I’m one to break up the trappings of a mundane routine; playing it safe is rarely an option.

“This is a dynamic and mysterious universe and human life is, no doubt, conditioned by imponderables of which we are only dimly aware. People sometimes say, “the strangest coincidence happened.” Coincidences may seem strange, but they are never a result of caprice. They are orderly laws in the spiritual life of man. They affect and influence our lives profoundly. These so-called imponderables are so important that you should become spiritually sensitized to them. Indeed, the more spiritually minded you become the more acute your contact will be with these behind-the-scenes forces. By being alive to them through insight, instruction, and illumination, you can make your way past errors and mistakes on which, were you less spiritually sensitive, you might often stumble.” —Norman Vincent Peale

Ziolkowski-Joe-20200624-D Physical Distancing, Emilie Jonas Falls, Lansing, NY by Joe Ziolkowski
20200624-D Physical Distancing, Emilie Jonas Falls, Lansing, NY by Joe Ziolkowski—one of three photos included in Small Works, 2020

Embrace the coincidence of events that happen in your life. Give it purpose and importance and elevate an unaccountable change. Do not fight it and push against it, but instead pause, watch, smell, breathe and follow your intuition to capture and preserve at that moment when it feels right.

“Paths do not come to you. You have to find them for yourself, and sometimes, you have to carve new ones entirely.”—Susan Dennard

Hopefully these pinhole photographs give you a moment of pause. Art-making helps to focus and reflect on the ever-changing events that take place each day and impact us as individuals. If one does not make art, photography, writing, music, our lives would be so ordinary and mundane. We would have no proof, no pile-up of evidence, of the life we have forged. Now if you will excuse me, I see a new path before me, I have a camera bag over my shoulder, a tripod at hand, and a new day with a clean slate before me.

Joe Ziolkowski's Pinhole Camera
Joe Ziolkowski’s Pinhole Camera

Black and White Pinhole Photography Process
I shoot with a 3 inch, 4×5 inch Leonardo Pinhole Camera. I used Arista EDU Ultra B&W 100 film, exposures are usually 10 seconds to several minutes, it depends on the amount of light I am photographing under. I use a homemade radio controlled remote to trigger the shutter. Kodak D-76 1:1 for 8min @ 70ºF. Scanned and retouched in Adobe Photoshop CC. I print on an archival ink jet printer on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Smooth Surface 310gsm Satin Paper.

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