Have you ever heard of behavior modeling?
(If not, that’s cool.)
I hadn’t, until I began teaching at Chrysalis High School, here in Taos, back in 2005.
(Shortly after we moved home from Brooklyn.)
The school started a few years prior, designed to help at-risk teenagers; children who who had abuse histories, and didn’t fit well in the structure of traditional learning.
It was a rag-tag place, for sure, (now since abandoned,) and art was a huge part of the curriculum, for all the reasons I’ve discussed in this column over the years.
Art can allow communication that is too painful, traumatic, difficult, or confusing for words.
It was at that school, teaching art in a therapeutic environment, (in a pilot program for UNM-Taos,) that I first learned the term “behavior modeling.”
And while it is much as it sounds, the concept is profound.
Basically, behavior modeling is the idea that acting in calm, measured, polite, adult, well-adjusted, healthy ways, around people who have not witnessed such things before, (or perhaps rarely,) can be cathartic.
We all need role models.
That’s a given.
But for people raised in dysfunctional, unhealthy families, or systems where poverty creates extreme conditions for addiction and abuse…
…just being around someone who’s nice to them, follows through on what he/she/they says, listens, doesn’t rush to judgement, gives positive feedback, doesn’t fly into a rage, or undermine one’s dreams…
…when I first started teaching there, it was stressed that behavior modeling alone could have a positive effect on the students.
So I learned to do check-ins, ask good questions, and care.
I learned how to teach a demographic with which I had little prior experience.
And ended up staying a decade.
(Because sometimes, showing works better than telling.)
I mention this all, because if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know this is my final column here at A Photo Editor.
It’s February 2023, and I published my first piece on the bog in June 2010.
Nearly 13 years, and my column lasted 11.5.
As I’ve written before, (and won’t get into today,) the community I’ve covered here as a blogger/journalist has changed enormously.
It’s like another Universe, as social media was not yet ascendant, when we started.
Back then, Trump was just a loudmouth on TV, and I’d never heard of Elon Musk.
I still felt like a kid, (in a way,) at 36.
Or at least, I identified with my 20’s, and still partied a bit.
Now, at nearly 49, my son is in high school, we somehow have four dogs, and I’m glad we got a decent interest rate on our mortgage.
Nothing about any of this feels remotely like my 20’s.
(Not even a little.)
Having four dogs is cool.
It started with a pandemic pup in August 2020, and while Summer 2022 brought her a companion, (Billy Bones,) it wasn’t until last month that our canine family became complete.
We adopted Sunshine and Olly nearly a month ago; fraternal twin sisters we brought home from Stray Hearts Animal Shelter in Taos.
You can choose to believe me, (or not,) but the twins are a tad magical, and kept each other alive, when they were abandoned in a box at the shelter overnight, unnoticed for more than a day.
Sunshine is hearing impaired, (not sure if it’s OK to say she’s deaf, but I am positive I’m not supposed to say she’s among The Deaf,) and has taken to following me everywhere I go.
Like a sidekick. (Or maybe I’m the sidekick?)
Frankly, it’s a long story.
But the twins have had such an impact on our lives, in a short amount of time, and between them seem to represent so many elemental things…
…I decided to name my new blog after them.
It’s called Sunshine and Olly.
Because Sunshine and Olly is non-commercial, and just for me at the moment, I will iterate, and make it more professional over time. (The first post is live, but the homepage is broken, so I’ll try to fix it.)
I’ll learn WordPress better, (Rob was a pro at giving me an easy system to use,) and hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy reading me over there from time to time.
It is a culture and lifestyle blog, but I’ll def be writing about photography, as the whole impetus for Sunshine and Olly was to review the photo books people had sent me, before I quit.
Whether you care to read about sports, art, food, travel, politics, or such things from me, when they’re divested from photography entirely, is up to you.
(Or when they don’t come into your email inbox from Rob, or go out to his massive Twitter following.)
But it doesn’t matter.
I’m doing this for fun, as art, and because I thought it was the right thing to do, according to my personal ethical code.
Given how much I’ve tried to teach in this column over the years, choosing to leave, (and when and how,) seemed like some of the best behavior modeling I could do, in 2023.
(Having the guts to walk away, and the willingness to embrace the future, without knowing exactly what that future’s going to bring.)
If you’ve been reading for a while, (or maybe even all along,) you’ll be familiar with my style, and voice.
I mixed it up over the years, for sure, but then some things are probably just as they were in 2011.
Understanding when it’s time to go, or change, is so difficult.
So this is how it’s going to end.
I went to PhotoNOLA in December of last year, held at the International House Hotel in New Orleans, and as I’ve previously reported, it was a problematic affair.
Not going to land on the negative, in my last piece, so suffice to say, there were plenty of awesome moments as well.
More than enough to make great memories.
I met four artists, at the review table, whose work I thought was worthy of publication here.
One of them, Undine Groeger, (originally from Germany,) isn’t ready to release the project, before a major publication can do it justice, so of course we respect her wishes.
(But you can check out her website, and hire her!)
The other three women will share the distinction of being the last few artists I published/promoted/appreciated during my time as a world-famous-photography-blogger, who told stories to the planet from a little, horse pasture outside Taos, New Mexico.
As with all the articles in the past, the artists are in no particular order.
Mary Anne had shown me moody, Southern Gothic, mysterious narrative images, (often featuring grandchildren in costumes,) and they were great.
I didn’t love that they were presented kind of like fabric curtains, and told her so.
Last year, at PhotoNOLA 2021, Mary Anne showed the prints, large and slickly framed, in the Currents show at the Ogden Museum, and I was floored.
They were dynamite, and I told her so. (It was nice to reconnect.)
When I met Anne, I mentioned her own moody, grayscale, constructed narrative images reminded me of Mary Anne’s work.
After a moment’s confusion, Anne told me that she was friends with Mary Anne, and along with some others in the Georgia photo community, they made work in a similar style.
When I came up, we tried to differentiate our work from our buddies. It was a point of pride.
Larry Bird is always talking about how players in the 80’s and 90’s hated their rivals, but the soft NBA kids today are friends with their enemies.
Times change. It’s cool that hoopers are friends today.
I’m no hater, so I adjusted to the idea that they liked making similar types of work.
And Anne’s pictures are lovely. Really well done.
(That penguin pic!)
Anne and I then talked about editing, and refining her image choices to make the most surprising, edgy, and original grouping she could.
It’s beautiful stuff, and I’m sure you’ll like it.
So of course we have to talk about Anne Walker next.
Anne used to be a pastry chef, and reported she just had hand surgery. (We hope you feel better soon, Anne!)
She also had grayscale, constructed images, though these were less about narrative, and more about object resonance.
Anne admitted she was relatively new to this, but I felt her past incarnation as an artist/craftsperson definitely informed her growth, because the selenium-toned prints were gorgeous, and flawless.
Finally, we have Lily Brooks, who works as Assistant Professor of Photography at Southeastern Louisiana University, and was recently named Edward G. Schlieder Foundation Endowed Professorship in Environmental Studies and Sustainability. (But she came South from New England.)
Lily showed me two projects, mixed together, and both were environmental series focusing on weather, pollution, and the effects of Climate Change.
We discussed whether two projects were actually one, and I shared I saw a divide between more emotional, moody images, and ones that were clinical/dry/academic.
How one weaves those strands together, or even understands where one project ends, and the next begins, is why art is art, and not science.
So I guess this calls time on the JBlau era at APE.
If you like what I do, I’m easy enough to find.
Everyone’s welcome to follow along on my next adventure.
(Except you, George. Fuck off!)
Take care, be well everyone, and thanks for reading!
This has been the best 13 years of my life!