Douglas Gorney is a writer, editor, ghostwriter, Internet start-up entrepreneur, marketing consultant and serious photographer, and in the past year he’s become an Instagram artist, and his work is worth examining.
A few of his images are here on this post, but you can also go directly to: www.instagram.com/gorneaux to see more of his work. The thousand words here are like the restaurant review, while his site is where you can find the actual meal.
He lives in the Mission District of San Francisco, and as he exits his home every day he has his Android HTC smartphone with him, and a 2” by 2” frame in his head. He snaps photos of doors, gates, handles, rails, walls, windows, curbs, and garages. He likes the bright colors of the Mission, the twenty layers of paint on wood, stucco and metal, and he captures that interesting intersection where one piece of man made construction ends and the other begins.
We often race past these details around us without noticing, but Gorney sees them whenever he steps outside, and then captures them in that small square on his Android screen. He’s always looking, and he can easily spend two hours going only three blocks, while snapping dozens of photos. What’s worth framing today? If you’re wandering in the Mission, you may see him lying on the cement sidewalk, peering at a mail slot, or examining a stucco wall for five minutes, his nose two inches from the plaster. Gorney doesn’t feel hampered by the limits of 2” by 2” frame -- he feels it both challenging and freeing. And pulling out an Android or iPhone is easy. It’s a way of seeing, and serious photographers who embrace the smartphone and the smaller frame it provides gain speed, access, flexibility and freedom from it.
He’s engaged in urbex - urban exploration - but instead of crawling underground into the subway or climbing the outside of bridges, he goes “micro” and dives into the cracks of the city. Luckily, so far no one has confronted him, stepped on him, or opened a steel gate or window in his face. Once, at the Mission and 16th Street BART station however, an undercover SFPD police officer did grow suspicious and shadowed him for awhile. The officer let him off with a stern warning about drugs, which Gorney took in stride.
Gorney describes himself as a minimalist, and he has been invited to be part of RSA Minimal and RSA Doors and Windows, where his work is often featured. Most minimalist photography is true abstract art -- it exists on its own, separate from the time and place where it was captured. Even the objects themselves disappear as the frame defines a new two-dimensional beauty. The time and place where it was captured no longer matter, only the resulting “discovered” art does.
But what I like about Gorney’s work is that time and place still exist in all his photos, like a thick texture. Gorney admits that although he sometimes strives for that anonymous flatness of minimalism, you can’t help but feel the Mission District of San Francisco in his work. He loves what he calls the colorful grubbiness of his neighborhood, one of the oldest on the West Coast. Right now, the Mission is a mix of the original Hispanic neighborhood that flows with the street names -- MIssion, Valencia, Guerrero -- and the new hipster crowd who climb on Google commute buses that roll on those same streets. It’s a battle of gentrification, but this is still a place where it’s easier to add another spray of red stucco, another layer of pink paint, and another piece of blue trim rather than stripping it all bare and starting new. That would be like stripping away history, and it wouldn’t feel right.
The images he finds are thick with those years of paint, which seem to add thickness to the photo itself. I feel the neighborhood around the edges; I sense people are walking past, just a foot out of frame, and that someone will walk through just after he snaps the photo. He also goes through stages: "X" patterns, mail slots, small windows, numbers, then blues and now reds. On his page, you can see where he finished with one inspiration and then moved on to the next.
In terms of his work-flow, he used to feel compelled to take the photo and then instantly post, but now he’s slowing the process down. He collects images in the field, downloads them at home, and then tends to use the applications Pixl’r Express or Snapseed to reframe, crop, adjust color and saturation, and then carefully selects the ones worthy to post on-line.
He also feels his overall Instagram feed must have as much balance as each photo he creates. A photo is just one 2x2 shot that he fusses over, but the Instagram feed also shows his entire body of work, which he then must work on as well. The dozens of images flowing past must have the same balance as any individual photo, so the resulting whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s one of the quirks of Instagram, or any Internet feed -- as he adds to it, Gorney is forced to constantly analyze and edit a retrospective of his own work.
Besides the RSA groups listed above that like him, Gorney recommends the Instagram groups Candy Minimal and Sundoors. He also likes MissUnderground, who is an urban explorer who snaps wonderful images of the London Tube. She has picked one formal theme -- the Tube -- and she never varies.
Calling all my cinematography, photography and fine artist friends! Let me know what you think of www.instagram/gorneaux and let’s get a dialogue going about his work, and then let’s discuss yours. I know you’re doing this too and that you have favorites of your own!