Negative Space is Now.

After weeks of writing, editing, designing, shooting, more editing, and telling myself a hundred times over, not to do it, I went ahead and did it anyways. I pushed the button and Negative Space has been let loose into the wild. Negative Space is labor of love created by artists, for artists. This digital magazine looks to inspire great art by fostering healthy artists. Simply put, we are about three things: Art, Love, and People. All we ask, is that if you find any value in our for now quarterly magazine, that you pass it along to someone else who might find joy in it as well.

This magazine started off as a whim several months ago. That whim turned into an idea and quickly morphed into a project. Negative Space really took on a life of its own when other people began to get involved. As more hands took to the plow, the rows straightened and the vision became clearer. I am thankful for all those who have made this project their own by putting a bit of themselves into it. Not only is it better because of you, it only exists because of you.

Negative Space is now. Enjoy. We made it for you.

Click on the cover below to navigate to the magazine. Send us your thoughts, praise and criticisms here and sign up to receive email updates here.

NSMAG 1703 March cover

March 2017

Perspectives: Carrying the Dream

Perspectives: Carrying the Dream

Like a spindly thread strewn across the hulking landscape, the Colorado highway lingered longingly over the rugged plateau, undulating ever so slightly into the eternal sky. In the middle with so much ahead and so much behind, we weren’t sure if we were climbing or descending. Impossibly it seemed as if we were rising and falling all at once. Alpine vegetation grew in sparse patches. In the absence of trees they ruled the world. I can’t quite recall how old I was. It must have been late elementary school from my frame of reference of the images burned into my brain. If I close my eyes I feel the old thick seat belt across my shoulder and rubbing against my neck. Slipping in through windows cracked ever so slightly open, the smell of clear mountain air enters the car and swirls around us, tracing its chilly finger across our skin. The sharpness was invigorating but the air was not harsh enough that the coolness burned our lungs. I remember the back of my mom’s head. Judging by the eighties mom-cut I remember her sporting, yup late elementary school. We were on the road, in the thick of a legendary Vaughn family summer adventure, and yet all this was just a prelude to the memory that would move me so deeply a full thirty years later.

Now, our car had been stationary for awhile. Two tires nested snugly in the crushed white mountain stone while the other two were still resting on the black tar-veined asphalt. Mom was beginning to fidget with restlessness. My sister and I were still buckled in our seats as if we were dangerous inmates in transport. Between the inclination of the car, the elevation of my mom’s hair-do, and the restriction of my prison restraints, I couldn’t see what was happening. Dad had been on the ground for awhile. His body contorted and moving erratically. “Mom! What is Dad dooo-ing? I can’t seeeee!”, I asked my mom so annoyingly. She exhaled slowly. Then in thinly veiled sarcasm responded, “He is rolling around in the dirt, that is what he is doing.” I squirmed up as high as I could in my seat, craned my neck to the side,  and by pressing my forehead against the glass, I found a narrow viewing angle by which I could  bypass my mom’s bangs. There he was, all 6 feet 2 inches and 350 lbs. of him, wallowing  around on the dusty Rocky Mountain gravel.

Cars slowed as they passed, assessing the situation. One by one they decelerated to take in the scene, then quickly accelerated after unraveling the mystery. I can only imagine the visual. I bet that it looked like a 3XL man rolling around on the side of a mountain road, having what seems like some sort of terminal medical episode. All the while his family sits nearby safely strapped in their vehicle staring blankly into the horizon, probably wondering what the chances were of them finding a Stuckey’s pecan roll in their immediate future. No, pops wasn’t dying within viewing distance of our apathetic disdain. And, no, this wasn’t his first time doing this…today. The hulking figure that was my Dad was taking a photo…of a tiny delicate flower, in the rocky clefts, on the side of a rural Colorado highway. I remember thinking to myself, “This man has lost his mind. What a dweeb.”

Dad was never the artist. His hands never touched an artist’s brush or a potter’s wheel. He could barely hold a pencil with his aptly nicknamed “penguin hands”. Dad wasn’t “artistic” and he was ok with that. However,  it is interesting to note that Dad did fancy himself a singer, mainly Italian opera in the shower, or obscenely obnoxious choruses to get us out of bed, but still he was a singer. (To this day, I am ashamed to say, I have a visceral response of wanting to throat punch someone when I hear the song “Good Morning to You”).  Anyways, there was one medium that was an exception to this “I’m not an artist” rule, and that was photography. I believe that he dreamed of being a photographer. There are a few years of this brightness recorded in family albums. For a season we have the wonderful yet sometimes blurry images he captured. They were mostly of flowers and of mom, the two things he thought most beautiful.  As the frequency of photos in the albums began diminishing, the dream began to fade. Somewhere in raising a family, being a husband, building a family business from nothing, serving on numerous boards, volunteering faithfully at his church and holding public office, the  dream of being a photographer fell by the wayside. Although he received so much life from serving others, there was some part of him that waned along with that dream.

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Mom and Dad exploring Alaska with camera in tow.

On the other hand, I had been bitten by the art bug as early as kindergarten. Unprovoked, I asked my mom to enroll me at the Artful Dabber, where my best friend’s mom taught oil painting. Initially, I think I wanted to go because my friend’s mom was hot. After my first art lesson, though, I discovered that creating art was an important part of who I was. Ironically, that manifested itself in numerous  different forms and expressions except photography. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, at the age of 31,   that I picked up a camera and recognized  it as a tool of expression and not solely for documentation.

My Dad was always the biggest guy in the room. He would  laugh, joke, sing  and pontificate  loudly over family dinners. So much life, so much love, but changes come. It all happened so quick. A little over a year before Dad was Dad. Now across from me I saw my big strapping father trapped in his own body, hooked up to machines, able to understand our words but not able to communicate much back. Looking into my  father’s eyes and not seeing him look back, was  a hollowing, haunting experience. Then,  all too soon, one morning they gently woke my mom from her place at his side to tell her that her life-long love’s flame had been carried away.

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The only creative portrait I ever took of my dad.

Some  months passed so slowly, and others too quickly.  Mom was tired and spread too thin. Everything that had been before was now altered, changed, or obliterated in Dad’s absence. But my Mom soldiered on through the crater his death left behind. She was in the process of going through Dad’s stuff. Mom asked if I wanted anything of his. At first I couldn’t really think of much. Things are things. They weren’t my dad. No possession no matter how valuable wouldn’t bring him back for one more conversation, one more family birthday dinner, or even one more game of dominoes.

Then a wave of urgency came to me, as if from a divine source. This compulsion overcame my mouth before my brain could look up and see what was happening.  I just blurted it out.

“His camera.”

“Huh?” my mom replied, not fully comprehending what words had just spastically fell from my mouth. “Can I have his camera?” I asked.  Mom replied “I don’t even know if he even kept it.” Eerily enough I knew exactly where it was. Five minutes ago, I had no use for or cared one iota for his  beat up, nondescript hunk of metal and faux leather. Before it was junk but now…it was Dad. It was a piece of him that I could have back. I walked directly to its resting place for the last several years and recovered it from its tomb. Of course it really wasn’t him or even something that he had used that much. Up until this point I had not associated his  camera with any of my thoughts about my Dad. . Yet, it was that memory of being on that country road in the middle of nowhere Colorado that had flooded my mind and compelled me to ask for the camera. This  camera was forever supernaturally welded into my  memory of him. At the time I did not  know why.

Several years prior I had started my journey down the road of creative photography. I took my first macro shot of a flower and  have never looked back since. Still my father and I had never shared our passion for photography together. Time had played a cruel trick on us both.  He was either too early or I too late. I was too disinterested in his low brow art when he was pursuing it, and he was too far detached from his passion for photography when I began chasing  my dream. Never did we go on a shoot together. Nor did we ever talk camera shop. Even though he would have been my biggest fan, he didn’t live long enough to see my work hang in an exhibition. It would seem that fate’s calloused disfigured hand had worked against us.

So many times things are not what they seem, and I am thankful. Instead they are a  God send and a gift. The profile of his old Pentax K-1000 feels different than my Canon. That old Pentax beast is purely a film camera, absent of any bells or whistles. There is no instant feedback on the captured image and the  shots are limited. Each exposure is like gold,  spent only on the worthiest of compositions. . It is a far different experience than the digital camera  I have today, where very little is left to chance. When I feel the  rigid metal frame of Dad’s Pentax, I feel what he felt. My eye looks through the same prism to frame shots just as he  did. In essence when I shoot with  his old curmudgeon of a camera, I can feel his dream still alive and beating in my hands. It is a reminder that so much of our relationships are a transfer of energy back and forth. This camera represents the  energy we shared. We shared a dream and a passion. Until now our dreams had remained on different tracks separated by a little more than arms length that seemed like an unsurpassed gulf between us. Now when I needed it most they converge,  bringing us back together in a unique way. To me it is a strange foreshadowing of what is to come.

Now it is my wife who sits in the car patiently, while I wallow  in the dirt on the side of the road, like a damned fool. I cannot explain the connection I feel with my dad when I dig out that old tank of a camera and shoot with it. I am enveloped with a feeling of hope and a  connection to my father. A feeling that the dream is not dead for him, but is just delayed a bit. I carry  the dream now. I wish I could have helped him carry this dream while he was alive, but then I had so much more than the dream, I had him. I carry it for both of us. I carry it because of us. Most importantly, I carry it to give it back to him one day.

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Dad’s camera – Pentax K1000

Perspectives: Box O’Bones

Perspectives: Box O’Bones

Artist are a weird breed. Even weirder in groups. There are things that make perfect sense to other creatives, but are odd…ok down right bizarre, to the average Joe. Just like normals, creatives save things that are useful as well. For example, if your grandmother is like mine was, she saved those ambiguous brown Country Crock containers to put left-overs in. We save bones in a crate near our dining room for later use.

Welcome to my friend Heather’s house. Her house is as welcoming as it is visually compelling and beautiful. Heather is a multi-disciplinary artist. Walking into her home is sort of walking into a mad scientist’s laboratory and a creative wonderland all at once. Things are fermenting in large glassware in the living room. Fabrics and textiles punctuate this homey domicile with gloriously palatable texture. Tucked away in various cupboards are ingredients she harvested from plants she has grown to make her own organic dyes. Organic dyes with which she will use to dye the yarn she hand spins, which sits as if suspended in time on her old fashioned spinning wheel. Projects are in different stages of completion and each one brings so much life to her every changing creative landscape.

I was on sensory overload as a visual artist. Everywhere I turned there was an incredible visual vignette that was a work of art in its own right. Her entire house is basically her workshop and an expression of who she is as an artist. If the walls her canvas, her paint was fabric samples for a future projects, remnants of an old installations, and even memories from loved ones gone by. This was an artist’s expression in its most raw form splayed out on display. Sewing pins held her inspiration, her memory, even her very heart tightly to the white, pin-cushioned walls. It was my honor and privilege that she would let me into this world, much less even photograph it.

She was kind enough to volunteer her home for some texture background shots that I needed for a project that I am working on called Negative Space. Negative Space will be an artist care magazine written, edited, designed, and produced by artists for artists. It is a little labor of love that I had sucked Heather into. When you are friend’s with artists, we tend to suck you down the rabbit hole of our crazy creative vision if you stand to close to us.

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Skeins of yarn. (not the Angora ones,though)

Organized neatly on her work table in the center of the house was a menagerie of objects. Dominating the field of visuals was the mountain of odd shaped concrete bits she had collected from some old forms. Juxtapose to the harsh granular ridges of the concrete, laid skeins of angora blend yarn she had spun. Their soft silken lines created a unique tension laying alongside the concrete. Among all of the wonderful textures was a metal grid. The shiny structure of the quarter inch squares drew you in to inspect them more closely. Sitting  evenly spaced, were a handful of white bones which had been cut smoothly with a band saw, exposing their beautiful grain and porous interiors.

At first she seemed a bit cautious about leaving bones laying around the house. As I made my way down to their end of the table she commented coyly, “Uh, sorry about leaving the bones out. It is a little weird.” If anything, I thought the muted colors and their matte textures tied the items on the table together. In them both the smooth contours of the angora and the rigid harshness of the cement all blended into one harmonious form. She seemed to be relieved, even excited when I told her I thought they were wonderful. She smiled slightly and almost as a whisper through her grin said “I have more.” She proceeded to roll out a crate with wheels into the center of the room.  Sure enough it was packed full of bones. The sight was such a subtle and marvelous palette of muted tans, taupes, and off whites. I stooped down to grab a handful and stopped to admire them for a bit.

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The fabled Box O’Bones and Random Coconuts.

Then I began snapping off frames. She told me that she didn’t know what she was going to do with them yet, but eventually you will see them incorporated into some of her work. We discussed some of the obstacles she faced as we briefly debated how to apply them to a work. If you are a creative you might understand this. Inspiration comes from anything. Heather being inspired by bones, inspired me to do something totally different, like write this blog. This is what I love about my artist family. We are always spurring each other to do great things, well by great I mean interesting (to us at least). So I guess I need to thank you Heather for not just letting me photograph your house, but letting me see into your process and steal a bit of your creative energy. Her work is truly inspiring. Do yourself a favor and check out heatherclarkhilliard.com  Be inspired. Maybe you will see the old box of bones in a installation some time soon. I hope so.

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Box O’ Bones, February 12,2017
Norman, OK
1/125 sec.
f/8
iso 2000
105 mm
Canon 5D MKiii
24-105mm Canon L-series lens

Perspectives: Planar Avionics

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Love Pack Distribution

It had been a long week. The days were filled with preparing, and distributing Love Packs (personal hygiene items, toys and stuffed animals for the kids, and a bag of holiday treats) through south central Mexico to many who most likely would not receive anything otherwise. We had traveled from village to village winding precariously through arduous driving conditions. The group was growing weary. Only the joy and challenge of working with the kids in each village, made it well worth it every time we headed out. Our small band of strangers from all over the United States and Mexico had become a tight knit Love Pack distributing machine, and more importantly we had melted into a family unit. The village on Paso de Piedras was our final stop on the trip. As much as we were sad that our time together was coming to a close, there was a bit of relief that we were accomplishing a task that seemed so large when we started.

We bounced over the washboard trails that led to the small quiet fishing village. For forty minutes we dodged and swerved continuously trying to miss the barrage of neverending potholes but at times it felt like we hit them all regardless of our efforts. Battered and tired we arrived at the village. After we set up, we had some time to kill so we went to go see the presa, or lake, that the village was seated on. It was a beautiful sight, but we didn’t have time to take all its majesty. We could hear the music trickling out of the village up on the hillside, so we new it was time to head back. We were about to start our final distribution.

This entire week we had been working with a group of orphans who were traveling with us. In each village they worked with the kids of the village. It was the orphans that taught them songs, played games with them, and helped distribute Love Packs to those who had less than them. Each time it was so humbling to watch these children of whom were at one point abandoned, give so much love to other children they didn’t even know. That so eclipsed any sacrifice I might have thought I was making by being so far away from home. Those who had at one time been deemed of no value by those who should have cherished them, were cherishing strangers by giving value to them.

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Some of our crazy crew from the orphanage.

 

After the festivities of the Love Pack distribution were over the pastor of the local church prepared a meal for us. It was a god send. I remember the weather was warm with a refreshing cool breeze coming off the lake. Feasting on ceviche (the best I have ever had) and fried fish (cooked to perfection), we sat in our plastic Corona brand beer chairs on the hilltop and enjoyed the serene views of the lake. Like little diamonds in the sun the lake reflected through the palm, plantain, and papaya trees. There was something magical, more like spiritual about that moment.

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A lady from the village preparing fish for us in the shore of Paso de Piedras.

I bet that if you close your eyes, you go there for a moment. Can you hear the lake lapping gently against the boats tethered to the shore? Feel the laughter reverberate in your chest from great conversation with friends new and old. The aroma of fresh fried fish and tortillas on an open flame fill your nostrils and your very being. All of your senses are experiencing something so fulfilling and joyful, it carries over to something that is palatable to the soul. Now open your eyes.

It is the golden hour. My photographer spidey-sense is going off. Great photos are to be had on the shore right now. I convince my party to join be. With full stomachs and hearts we hike and laugh our way to the lake once more. Upon arrival, the laughter stops. Silent awe overtakes our merry tribe. The bright blue skies had turned to gold and red. Mountains now were overtaking the sun on the horizon, shooting their bold silhouettes across the lake while simultaneously piercing shafts of light emanated from the setting sun. The sky filled with birds of all types were coming home in droves to roost for the night. Pods of pelicans splash down right in front of us. We are surrounded by motion, yet all is peaceful and calming. For a moment, I forgot that I was a photographer. It was only us connected to each other, together connected to creation and the maker of it all.

I snapped awake from an internal transcendental moment and raised my camera and began snapping. Now I was determined to capture this warmth, this holy moment for myself and to share with others. Several photos became my favorite from this set, partially because of their context and partially because the environment was ripe for great photos. Planar Avionics one of those photos. One bird place perfectly on a matte of fire and sky. This photo represents a mission accomplished, a family forged, and how humbled I was just to be a part of it all.

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Planar Avionics.

Planar Avionics, December 31,2016
Paso de Piedras, Veracruz, Mexico
1/400 sec.
f/9
iso 320
420mm
Canon 5D MKiii
70-300mm Canon lens
1.4x Tamron teleconverter

Perspectives: Monolith

 

Monolith

161230-tenexco-creative-1-customShe stands unmoved in the face of time. Unmoved but not untouched. Her stoic expression is not one of apathy procured over a lifetime of bitter resentment, but a calmness that only comes with the deepest of waters. Steadied experience resounds through every laugh line and every scar. She is no easily stirred or bothered, this is not where she has arrived. Time taught her well, only because she became a it’s student. At times it was a harsh mentor grabbing and taking whatever its steely hands could tear away from her. Yet again it would caress her and give to her from it’s wealth. With every silver strand in her crown of beauty is a space and a passage of distance over speed. Each a flicker, a moment. A moment of living and of dying, of loving and of losing, of accepting and of choosing. All of these wrapped up in a word…becoming. Standing still, still standing, she fathoms the depths of her own heart and finds a soul unfathomable.

Perspectives are short creative burst that usually are written memories of when I took the photo. This on the other had is a purely creative piece derived from what I imagine this total stranger to be like based on limited interaction. I met her in the tiny village of Tenexco nestled deep in the foothills of Hidalgo, Mexico. You could tell from her build and her stature that she was an indigenous person. She dressed in her traditional dress which I could only guess to be closely related to if not Nahuatl. Her demeanor was pleasant and calm. She carried with her an aura of calm stillness. I would have like to have gotten to know her better, and hear her stories. Too soon these windows to a time forgotten will be closed forever.

Monolith, December 30,2016
Tenexco, Hidalgo, Mexico
1/320 sec.
f/5.6
iso 2500
300mm
Canon 5D MKiii
70-300mm Canon lens

Perspectives: The Juice Man Cometh

161231-san-andreas-and-chicayan-1-custom-smallThe Juice Man Cometh.

My friend Chris and I did some early morning lurking one of our first days in El Higo.  As we trekked through the heavy mud and fog, we weren’t quite sure which was more oppressive. It seemed that this morning was not going to yield much bounty culturally or photography wise. As shapes of people, cars, bikes, and dogs darted in and out of the dense fog, we noticed a small motor bike delivering juice approaching us and an oncoming tope (spanish for “speedbump of death”) as a fairly fast clip. This was it. I was going to miss the shot of the day. I knew I wasn’t going to get my camera out quick enough to catch this guy ricocheting of the tope and launching himself, as well as the contents of his little honda delivery bike into a vertiable airborne yardsale.

Cringing a bit as he approached terminal velocity to the point of no return, I was bracing for impact. I should have known better. At the last second the driver expertly maneuvered the bike through the tiniest of gaps in the tope, that was just the with of his tire. I was a bit relieved but I am ashamed to say a little disappointed as well. Catching his eye, he whips the bike around, pulls a u-ie and slides right up next to us. He clearly says in fairly good English for the area, “You Americans? I have coffee.” He directed us to the juice stand that sets directly across the street from our hotel.

Oh sweet baby Jesus. He said coffee. Getting good coffee of any sort can be hard in most parts of Mexico, especially the north. For many “coffee” is actually that bitter demon powder that is found in Nescafe jars. I am pretty sure it is made from extracted baby tears. Horrible stuff. As you travel south though, good coffee slowly becomes a reality. The area has their own twist on “cafe de olla” or “coffee of the pot” .  It is made from beans from nearby Tempoal. The beans are lightly hand roasted, coarsely ground and are mixed with copious amounts of raw sugar. Sugar is everything here. El Higo is built around a sugar processing plant.  His little juice stand was parked directly in front of the sugar mill from which he got the sugar. Normally I hate sugar in my coffee, but when you are living literally in a sugar cane field and are stationed across the street from the plant that processes that sugar, you are having sugar in your coffee.

For the remainder of our trip our routine was to grab some coffee first thing and speak to this guy and his wife who wanted to practice his English. They were gracious host and wonderful people. Great guy. Great experience. This are the moments that you won’t find on Trip Advisor.  These are the unique, special moments that you can only find exploring. Don’t be afraid to get out and find your own adventure.

Juice Man Cometh, December 31,2016
El Higo, Veracruz, Mexico
1/125 sec.
f/4.0
iso 2500
24mm
Canon 5D MKiii
24-105mm L series Lens

Perspectives: Mandarina

The warm breeze constantly inundated us with the smell of orange groves and broken ground. The trees were full and ripe to be harvested. We did our part. A couple times a day we ventured into their midst and sought out what treasures the grove did its best to conceal. However, I knew the grove well and its secrets were safe with me. I wasn’t about to share them with the others. They would have to find them out on their own.  The uninitiated sought to find the biggest, prettiest oranges to plunder.  For me I knew that the orchard held something else hidden humbly in plain sight.

I staggered unevenly left and right as the dirt clods crumbled loudly beneath my feet.  I passed up the biggest trees at the center of the plot and sought out a scrawny tree bearing fruit that was dwarfed in appearance by their counterparts.  This was it, pearl in an oyster, my hidden gem. Though feeble looking and a runt, this tree was the prize I was seeking.  Cleverly placed midway into the grove and 2nd row from the side that did not face the road, grew a mandarina tree.  More similar to a tangerine than a madarin orange, it was sweeter, more succulent and more satisfying then any of the oranges.

Gently with the slightest of twist I a gave each candidate a tug.  Finally one released its grip with this tiny bit of encouragement. I knew it was ready. Rolling it in my hands just a bit, separated the bright alluring skin from its contents. Swiftly I inserted my thumb into its navel and began to peel. In seconds I had relieved it of its outer incumberments. They now laid beautifully strewn about on the dark brown soil.

Until now I was single mindedly on a mission to satisfy my thirst for mandarinas. Suddenly, something stopped me, took a hold of me and told me to look around. There was something more to this moment. For an instant, time slowed and it felt as if this was all created for me to enjoy.  The birds singing their soft melodies, the warm comforting aroma of moist earth, this beautiful grove securely encompassing me, and even this tiny mandarina resting in my open palm were all for me to savor. With the warm soothing breeze enticing me skyward, I felt safe and as if I was being lifted up.  Immediately my gaze locked onto the surreal Mexican sky.  So blue. So pure. So free. Perforated only by a half-moon still visible in its setting, to me it was perfect and overwhelming. I closed my eyes and felt the mild heat of sun confirming this was something special and I needed to take note.

Instinctively I knew I wanted to capture this moment. Still a neophyte photographer back then, I fumbled with my camera.  I raise the golden orange globe up and framed it in the depths of mesmerizing blue rural sky.  Awkwardly I fat thumb dialed in the settings with the other hand and took the shot. Up until then, I had become accustomed to being disappointed with my results.  I took way more bad shots than I did good, but this one was different. I loved this one. I still do. Every time I look at it I am there, in the Mexican countryside, standing in the middle of an orange grove, with a tiny mandarina resting in my hand and for that second I am content, happy, and loved.

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Mandarina, January 24,2010
la Haciendita, Nuevo Leon, Mexico
1/1000 sec.
f/8.0
iso 200
6mm
Panasonic DMC-FZ5