The Portfolio of Justin Simoni
Pins: Pacific Coast is a continuation of a project I started in July of 2004, called Pins: Seattle.
(Click on any of the images below to see a large version of the image, plus notes for that particular image)
The sculptures are made out of two materials - straight pins and letters cut out of an old, dusty copy of, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I found the book in the, "Free" shelves of my school's library (The Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver, CO)
Why straight pins? Pins are used to bind things together temporarily. They are not created to hold anything together forever, but are only a tool to use, before, say, grabbing a needle and thread. Pins, however simple, are also exceedingly flexible when it comes to placing them in am environment. You can stick them into something like a wooden beam, or inside a crack, tangle them up in seaweed, magnetize them to stick to metalic objects, or just lie them down on themselves. This project wasn't to see how many ways you can place pins in an environment, but it was a advantage of the pins that they are so amazing in this unintended usage.
Pins also have interesting characteristics of being masculine in shape (Phallic, basically), but de-masculine in scale. Historically (at least, in my autobiographical history of an American from European ancestrey) speaking, women were the ones to sew and create garments to wear. Men were the ones that were learned and if you were of great importance in the church or the state, you could read. You'll notice it's the pins that hold up the letters.
Why this particular book (War and Peace)? There's no real reason- that's basically the reason. The book, which I've never read, has a plot that has nothing to do with me, set half a world away, both in time and place. What attracted me to the book was the typeface used: a very old serif, the diatic title of the book (War and Peace) and, as noted above, it seemed very boring and not of my immediate world.
By simply cutting out letters in the book and rearranging them, I c an find my own name, "Justin Simoni" amongst the list of aristocrats, generals and whatever else makes up this book. I have no real plans of ever actually reading this book. I would like to cut out letters on each and every page of the story, though. In time. If I don't, I don't. There are also many great books that I've never finished reading. It's also not of importance.
The Pins: Pacific Coast chapter of this project differs from Pins: Seattle, since I started at the Seattle Space Needle instead of ending up there with a scultpture that spelled out, "Justin Simoni" and from there, abandoned that idea and started using only my first name, "Justin", which is a quite popular and universal name for a boy - especially one born in the early 80's and couple it with a small phrase that creates wordplay with my first name - the same sort of wordplay I would hear throughout my life growing up: "Justin Time", "Justin Case" - it seemed that just was less a name and more part of a unfinished thought. I actually hated the name Justin, until I started embracing this wordplay and humor.
There's also the very very old philosophic question on what is Just, what is true Justice and who/what is Justest. This project doesn't attempt to answer that, but does attempt to poke fun at the idea at what is, "Just" - being something that, "is what it is", or, "isn't anything else", or, "At the exact correct moment", etc.
A small portion of the project deviates from this entire course, by placing actual character's names from the book in specific places. In this case, all the names are placed at a site called, Fort Ross, which was a Russian Settlement in California. I had no idea that the Russians had a settlement in California when beginning this trip and the decision to place these sculptures there was wholly spontaneous.
The various word-play in the sculptures themslves wasn't ever thought out ahead of time: A spot was picked if I felt a picture should be taken there. The word play was figured out in the moment, from the few different cutouts I had. The materials I had to create these sculptures wasn't exhaustive; it was only a plastic baggie or two of pins and cutouts, that fit in the small zipper pocket of my camera bag. My camera bag itself had to fit in the handlebar bag of my bicycle.
The design of the sculptures is as simple as the materials, but there is an attempt to consciously design them to have something to do with the setting of the photograph.
For example, Pins: Seattle's destination was the Seattle Space Needle - a place I had never been to, in a city I had never been to. The reason was basically because the building had the same generic shape as a pin, skewered with a bit of paper pushed to the butt of the pin.
You'll see other examples, such as sculptures that mimic the carnivourous Pitcher Plants, or barbed wire, or thorns on a weed. The idea isn't representation of these things, but gesture.
A note should be made about what I did with the sculptures once I photographed them. In Pins: Seattle, most of the photographs were done in either urban areas or by the side of an interestate and not in state parks or in places that are environmentally fragile.
In Pins: Pacific Coast, the situation is opposite. Most of the sculptures *are* placed in relatively sensitive environmental places. For example, on a giant Redwood tree, or, on the top of a natural bridge, made up of volcanic material. In such places, I found that it wouldn't be responsible for me to leave these sculptures for others to find or for them to naturally be destroyed and I simply removed them. Some of the sculptures were in actual food I then ate and I obviously removed them from those items before enjoying them.
Since having others find these sculptures by accident wasn't important to me, destroying them right after I created them wasn't that big of a deal and was a main reason for the photography.
The sculptures are, admittantly and not regrettably temporal - they are not meant to last much longer than documentating them. Some of them do last longer, but the idea was not to put up monuments.
Speaking of, the sculptures themselves are also very small. They do attempt to be an antithesis to monuments. This is why I talk of this as a, "performance" and not sculptural work - as performance is nothing really but living breathing sculptures.
Photographing these sculptures proved difficult. Focusing in onto the sculptures forces you into a specific frame of view, in regards of what's outside the space around the sculptures. The point of view isn't the photographers - it's the small sculptures.
This leads to very interesting outcomes: depending on the amount of light you have and the stability of the camera, you can either have a wide amount of area in focus, or a very small area.
If you have a very small area, you can then pose the question to yourself: what does it even matter that I'm taking this picture in this particular part of the world? How can you tell? Is validation of that fact completely critical?
The answer, I found out, was no - no it's not at all. If I were to take pictures of these places, it wouldn't be by taking pictures of these places as backgrounds to a sculpture. You would take a different picture of these places if you were using them for a desk calendar, or if you were taking a tourist shot with your family. The sculputres change your point of view and force you to look at the setting in a different way than you would normally.
I should mention the type of camera I used. Like the Pins: Seattle chapter, I again used a consumer-grade camera. The current camera did have full manual control that did come in handy, but it was still a great step below a full Digital SLR camera, used by photographic, "professionals". I myself don't see myself as a professional in photography and these pictures do prove to be quite amateurish. But, that is who I am.
Pins: Seattle took an extended weekend of traveling to photograph. I traved from Denver, Colorado to Seattle, Washington and back in a small car. I stayed in a hostel once in Seattle and napped along the road the rest of the way. About twenty-five sculptures were placed in this time.
Pins: Pacific Coast was done over a month, traveling from Seattle (I actually started riding from Vancouver, BC Canada) to the border of Mexico by bicycle, carrying along supplies I needed on the bike itself. For the majority of the trip, I camped out in state campsites. In the larger cities I visited, I stayed at friends' and contacts'houses. About seventeen sculptures were placed in this time.
It has to be noted that traveling by car and traveling by bicycle are two completely different experiences. One can go, via a bicycle the same distance comfortably in a day that one can go in a car, in about an hour and a half. It would take a person in a car a day in a half to cover the distance that it took me over a month to go by bicycle.
Changes occured in the time it takes to go from point A to B, what route you'll take, when and where you have to stop for nightfall, what sorts of things you'll eat, what type of things you'll bring, etc.
It would be different again if I hiked a certain path.
None of these ways are wholly better - just different.
Traveling by bicycle, while also attempting to do an experimental photography project does have its obstacles.
Firstly, one needs to switch from a mindset of powering a bicycle, weighted down with supplies, safely and successfully to the next destination (Which you've never been to), to creating a sculpture, however simple and photographing it successfully. There's an internal conflict and arguing with yourself: Do you stop and setup a shoot, HERE, or do you wait an hour. Or not at all? Do you have enough daylight? Should you photograph today, or, tomorrow and make time?
When traveling via bicycle long distances, there's also the issue of weight and what to bring with you. Usually, you bring only the bare necessaties - nothing more, since whatever you bring, you have to move. The more you move, the slower you go and the more you have to work. The more you have to work, the easier you will tire and then your morale starts to waver.
You learn to go without and become comfortable with what you bring. Bringing along the supplies needed to do this project broke this rule. My camera was heavy and clumsy and took up an entire bag. The materials for the sculptures were incredibly fragile. Left out in the rain, they would be destroyed.
The camera also needed to be charged every so often and had to be handled with incredible care. Nothing else I brought needed such attention. For example, my clothes really didn't mind being accidentally dropped along with my bike. My bike was carefully put together to make it 2,000+ miles of hard riding without a tuneup.
Taking photographs in adverse conditions is nothing new, one only has to look back at the wet plate pioneers of photography who brought along a full photo lab with them on horseback into the western part of America in the early twentieth century.
Anyways and to the point - the project itself was a liability to actually traveling.
You'll also notice that the photographs don't give any real idea of, "Travel". I decided it wasn't something that was needed. If you wanted to see where I went, you can grab a map. The actual sense of travel isn't of importance. Having these places even exist isn't of real importance, as is seeing the sculptures as they stand by your very own eyes. If it was, I'd simply make dioramas of places, and place the sculptures in them. You really had to be there, if you wanted to really get a sense of what a trip like this is all about.