2014: the year in review

My third year in review. As always, this is about my creative year, or year of creativity, more than anything else, but as real life tends to impact art quite a lot, some of that might slip in as well!

So, here goes…

My year started off pretty well, creatively. I had shot two model sessions in late 2013 and still had a lot of material to work with. A bit of a superstition of mine is to make sure I start each year off with a new image on the first day of the year, and I did that with this one…

Better than my previous New Year image, I felt, and a good way to set the tone for the work ahead. What was in short supply was imagery for creating landscapes and scenes though, and as I live in New England, there is not a lot of variety to be had in winter here. I was also let go of my day job in November of 2013, a blessing in many ways, believe me, and this stint as an unemployed but in other ways full time artist turned into quite a long one - nine months of time away from jobs I didn't want to do, and the ability to focus on my art. I decided to go visit a friend in San Diego in March, and in doing so, capture some material for building environments with more variety than my area allows. For one week, I shot beaches, deserts, mountains, and a quick spin through Salton Sea gave me some really interesting, if bleak landscape material. The trouble is, I was low on money and low on model shots by the time I came back.

I managed to shoot three new models between spring and summer, and this was a life saver, as they all donated their time. This is something that unfortunately has to happen now - I simply cannot afford to pay models. I pulled together all my new imagery and model shots into what I feel was some of my best work this year. Every year I have been doing this type of art I inevitably produce some clunkers along the way, some I wish I never posted, but so far, 2014 is almost clunker-free for me - I am more or less proud of most of this year's work, well, okay, maybe a few not so much…

As I had a significant amount of time on my hands this year, I also found time to get back to making some music, something I put down three years ago to focus on the visual arts, and as ever, it is pretty much an all-consuming affair. As the summer came and went, I found I had needed a break from the visuals anyway, had little material left to work with, and dove deeply into recording, and even writing some new music.

Three things happened this summer that made the break from photography longer than expected. The first was the completion of this piece: 

When I completed it, I felt something new. Beyond the usual but brief euphoria accompanying the completion of anything, I also felt, quite strongly, that this was my best piece yet. It had a lot of my sentiment and feeling in it, technically was a strong one for me, and to me, packed a strong punch visually. After the euphoria wore off, I felt…empty. Where do I go from here? What else can I do with this medium? It became a roadblock in a lot of ways, because I couldn't imagine moving past it to a better level. I spent some time after that retooling older ones that I felt could use some updating and a stronger execution:

But other than that, it was weeks before I tired anything again.

Another thing that happened was firmly relegated to real life. Simply put, I was out of money, out of unemployment benefits, and had no job prospects. The latter was not really a deep concern - after all, I never liked the jobs I had in the past - they were time killers, time I wanted to spend on art, and they were far from art. I hate working in offices, and yet I have been doing it for twenty years. But, we all need to make a living somehow, and I could not land any job I was interviewing for. The panic and stress of this eventually swallowed up any space in my head for art.

Lastly, and this is a big factor to my time off, was some of my peers, some of my contemporaries, and some pretty bad behavior demonstrated online. As immersed as I have been in growing my art online on various sites, I watch how some people handle their presence, how they come across, what message, if any, are they broadcasting. I didn't like what I was seeing in a few of them, and the whole ugly affair made me want to just leave the online world behind altogether. I won't name names, I won't go into detail, but it did help me decide on what I wanted to put forth for myself, and who I wanted to be online. Simply put: myself. No affectations, no dripping sentiment, no hate mongering, no positivity for positivity's sake. Honest, and focused on the work, not the formulaic cliches of those aspiring for fame in this weird online world of art we are in.

Anyway, back to the year…

So, in late July, my time, money, and hope was up, and no job. And then I was shown a listing for a job - a real company, a fairly large one, looking for a Photoshop Retoucher. A what? Is this a real job? And could it be any more ideal for someone who has spent 14 years obsessed with Photoshop?? Yes, in fact it was a real job, and I lobbied for it hard - I went after it like no job before. Imagine a chance to earn your living something that interests you, that you don't loathe, that is at least closer to something that matters to you. I couldn't imagine it  - it never happened before! Anyway, the money was not great at all, in fact, it was almost half of what I was making before, but this would be a chance to better my future doing something creative, or at least a chance, and I had to try for it. I got it - and suddenly was gainfully employed as a full-time Photoshop Retoucher. I work in a photo studio now, I edit about 50 photos a day, and work with the photographers and art directors on compositing elements to create rooms out of nothing, adding furniture when there is none - that sort of thing. At this point, four months in, I can honestly say I am grateful for this opportunity still, and now am not ashamed or embarrassed when asked what I do for a living. That is a huge improvement in my life. The money, well, there are some things more important, but I do wish it was a little better. Another drawback is, after an 8 hour day working on Photoshop, going home and doing more if it, well, sometimes even I need a break from it.

Slowly, as life settled in again and I adapted to the relative shock of working full time again after so long a break, I tried getting back to some new pieces. Still tentative from my highpoint of "the Lonesome Death of Giants," I managed to produce a few new ones that I quite liked: 

This year is drawing to a close now, and I can look back on the year's work - less prodigous than previous years but stronger work in my opinion, and can at least foresee a direction going forward. Certainly I will need some new imagery, some new scenery, but as always, I need more ideas. Without ideas, I am producing nothing but a picture with no intent, no purpose. I decided to keep doing what I do, regardless of online "celebrity" status, which, based on what I see it do to others, I can do without. I only want to be an artist, and really, that's all I ever really wanted to be, and have been. I also decided I want to keep music in my life and not take so long a break from it. There may be less time for both, but when I hit a wall with one genre, I can pick up the other to satisfy my creative urge. It's pretty great to have both now.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone for their continuous support, views, and encouragement. To all the models that donated their talent and time, I am so grateful. See you in the new year.

Michael Bilotta