Red Vines and Pondering the Tourist; an early credo

I’ve taught college art courses since I was 22. I remember standing outside of those quanset-type ‘temporary’ buildings that held the darkrooms at Scottsdale Community College with an Intro Photography class going over exposure settings and practicing depth of field. Someone, (rather boldly I thought), asked me how old I was. I felt proud. Not that I was so young but that I was doing something I loved that was connected to something I loved even more. I knew my way around teaching black and white photography because I threw one stepping stone down at a time and that included learning how to teach. After an undergrad degree in photography to test out what’s next I went to the Maine Photographic Workshops to work as a Teaching Assistant. It was there I could really dive into teaching with a summer of students coming and going, learning to use a camera, make images, print, exhibit, and talk about the work we were all making.

Studying photography for seven years meant I allowed myself time learning how to translate what’s in front of the lens or in more basic terms, what’s between light and a light-sensitive paper base to make images— images that meant something, told a story or connected to a viewer, to me, maybe to us both. I’d eat red vine licorice in the darkroom for the van dyke non-silver printing that had 20 minute exposures or graham crackers that had cinnamon on them if I missed dinner in the dorm and wanted something more substantial from the nearby Sun Devil market.

Bill Jay had our graduate seminar class write a credo. A this-I-believe about our lives which were together at a point of taking ourselves seriously as artists. I wrote about being a tourist and explored the use of that word. I was the most excited about this paper for Bill (and another about Tony Ray Jones who made photographs nothing like my own work but I named my red  Montgomery Ward 10-speed after him anyway) because he introduced me to thinking and slowing down to notice the whys of what I was doing, making, and wanting from working so hard making images, studying photography history and theory, and taking it all in huge gulps and little tastes. He suggested we write a credo every year and gave us this assignment in January for over the break so it coincided with a January first. I haven’t done this again, but I’ve never forgotten that one and still love the idea of knowing that there was an enthusiasm for just looking, traveling through, moving towards, responding, seeing as new as a tourist… time for slowness and a giving of time over to questions of what-if and why-not chasing of making work that presents oneself to oneself then slowly includes others in the exchange.

Today I saw a post on Facebook about yoga. My friend said she stayed awake pondering a question of ‘what it means to do the work’. I immediately had a response that this inside-work question was ego centric, selfish, or unproductive in some grander scheme of things and that who are these people who have time or even energy to ‘ponder’? But here’s the question: when did I get so far from being a student that implied a permission that was never questioned. Permission to spend days photographing and printing endless hours, finding out who I was with this medium, with others, with ideas, to now discounting ‘what it means to do the work’ if it isn’t driven by shoulds or have-to’s or whatever or whoever is tugging at my sleeves?

The daily list will always be added on to and the ponder-space will always be interrupted. But here’s a question: when can I be a tourist again? When can I frame the 3-hour studio classes I teach, the design work in my studio, the work of DesignInquiry, the years-worth of digital images that live in my hard drive, and the not-even-touched-yet or dreamed-of projects as that of someone looking, traveling through, witnessing and taking-in with an urgency to ponder? — with the intention of the tourist?

How about tomorrow. Or today.


  1. Thank you, Margo. I hardly know how to pause to even let the question set in, let alone ponder what it would mean to consider it. But you’re good at making me (and others) think about these kinds of important things. Wonderful.

  2. This is really an important question, how to allow for ‘time for slowness.’ I have been trying to explore this more, with collaborative projects, and also when I prepare to make presentations about my work. I have been trying to use these as opportunities to learn something for myself about what I am making and why. I especially love how you describe the process—giving time to question something for oneself and then opening it up for others.

  3. We seem to hardly ever allow or permit time for reflecting or sitting still eating red vines. The beauty of that photo process–and others that required time just w–a–i–t–i–n–g———–was sometimes so excruciating (especially at 4am when it was the third time around, with two previous failures). But strangely, those moments are ones that revealed something or are memorable (even if it was frustrating).

    The other wistful, significant part of Margo’s essay: on waiting and pondering and MARKING a moment in time, in your life….it’s so easy to lose that moment, to forget or overlook with all the rush and scramble and ease of NOT stopping to make a peculiar or unique indication that you were there….a tourist sends a postcard?

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