Chris Coffey Photographs

Artist's Statement

Medium: Photography

There are many steps on the path to get to a place, in the end it is likely that the steps matter more than the destination itself. As an artist I believe that you don’t become your art but your art becomes you. If you are truly tuned in to the things that matter, most of your life experiences end up in what you create. We left Texas for Michigan when I was very young, and didn’t stop moving when we got there. My seeing was shaped as much by the hours I spent wandering the backwoods and swamps near my home as it was by the rail yards and factories close by. It seemed there was always something interesting to go look at, explore, and learn about, and I can say without caveat that I was never bored. That is still true now and I know I am but steps away from something worth knowing, something image worthy. During those years we would travel by rail to the west and I credit the rectangular window of the train as my first camera. In my early years I walked down tunnels of Elm trees on the way to school, rendering their likeness on paper in black and white crayon during art class. The resonance of that experience is in my work to this day.

As a young man I found a place for my creativity in music and the discipline of playing the same piece of music repeatedly prepared me for spending endless hours working on the same image over and over in a darkroom environment. From music I learned to love pattern and texture, rhythm and harmony, how everything must serve the message in a composition. In the 20 years between music and art I worked in the apparel industry where I learned the disciplines of business and value that experience as much as any. The person making the art and the one responsible for business decisions are not even allowed to travel in the same vehicle.

During these non-photographic years I was developing a vision, a way of seeing, a process that never ends in my opinion. When financial gain from hard work allowed it, I would travel to the places I was interested in, borrowing a camera and eventually purchasing one of my own. Dissatisfied with the prints I was getting back, I took a basic darkroom course and rented a local darkroom at night (printing after work until the wee hours of the night). I believe in the value of education in all things and have continued my photographic learning with workshops since then.

In photography it’s a common belief that you have to spend time and money traveling to exotic places, making the iconic images you have seen others make (there’s a whole industry based on this). After I did this, those images felt like copies of someone else’s work, or like the compulsories required in gymnastics before you get to your own routine. A better path would be studying what you have access to, what you know something about, for that is where you will make the most original work. This leads to a way of seeing that is uniquely yours and you can take that anywhere without the risk of repeating the work of others.

March 2012