by Adam Field
(from NCECA Journal, 2014)
Long before learning to use a potter’s wheel and years before experiencing the squish of clay between my fingers, a 35mm camera was my tool of choice and the darkroom was a place I knew well. I was fortunate to have had some exceptional art teachers who gave me an early introduction to photography as a form of artistic expression and documentation. Learning to view my world through the lens and being encouraged to tell stories with an image opened my eyes to a new way of communicating with others. As photographic tools and technology quickly evolved, my scope of interest expanded to include digital photography and video production. While technological advancements offered exciting new possibilities, the hardware required was still in its infancy and proved to be sluggish and cost prohibitive. I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of immediacy in the new digital process, spending countless hours in front of a computer left little time for composing images in the real world. The mass migration from darkroom to hard drive in the late 1990s left something to be desired for an idealist like myself.
My disillusion with digital technology coincided with my introduction to pottery. Much like working in the darkroom, I found studio pottery to be a gratifying and challenging balance between structured technique, intuitive decision making, and spontaneity. The gradual choice to give my ceramic work priority over my photography was fragmentary; while the majority of my time in the studio was spent working in clay, photography was still an important part of my daily studio routine. Documenting my own process and finished work was more economical than hiring a photographer and it allowed me to play a creative role in the way my work was viewed by a larger audience.
With the introduction of affordable user-friendly digital cameras and editing software, I produced three process-oriented videos in 2007 and posted them on the relatively new YouTube website. My series was designed to be entertaining and informative with the specific intention of educating collectors on the labor-intensive techniques used to create my work. The videos were fun to make and they helped customers to understand my work on a new level. The enthusiastic response from YouTube viewers was an unanticipated perk; in a short period of time my remote Maui studio had become accessible to thousands of people. An encouraging flurry of questions, comments, and dialogue became my introduction to the virtual clay community.
In 2008, I moved to Korea for a rare opportunity to apprentice under master Onggi potter Kim Ill Maan for one year. Documenting and sharing ancient Onggi techniques offered the virtual clay community a unique glimpse into an important disappearing ceramic tradition that has continued to play an important role in Korean culture. The response to the 7-video series was much greater than that of my first series, with view totals approaching 250,000, this project had been seen around the world and had reached far beyond my intended audience of clay people. Putting a spotlight on the traditions, techniques, and people who are dear to me was very gratifying; it inspired me to continue creating videos as a resource to my colleagues and to a wider audience beyond those working with clay. After returning to the US, I have continued to produce videos; I have gathered footage while traveling to teach workshops and during my current residency at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, MT for my latest YouTube series featuring friends in clay.
My return from Korea in 2009 marked an important milestone on my path to technological enlightenment—I bought my first cell phone…a smart one! The decade of industry research and development since my departure from the darkroom had seen major developments in digital imaging. Quality phone cameras had become ubiquitous and were now providing a quick intuitive photo option; it was like having my own pocket darkroom. New photo editing and image sharing apps like Instagram made it possible for me to connect with other image-makers and clay workers while fostering the photographic dialogue I had learned to love as a child. Instagram became my sketchbook with a window to the world, an easy way to gather and share my visual inspirations as they struck me. Unlike a sketchbook, the social aspect of Instagram informed and inspired my studio practice by providing welcome feedback on my posts and a continuous stream of fresh imagery from others. While Instagram had proven to be an ideal platform for creatively sharing and gathering images and ideas, it was lacking a large clay community. In an effort to encourage more participation from clay artists I created and debuted an interactive Instagram scavenger hunt called HIDE-N-SEEKAH around the 2013 NCECA conference in Houston, TX. The project was a success and participating artists gained an average of 500 followers to their Instagram feeds. The population of clay people on Instagram had grown considerably, invigorating the virtual exchange of information.
I am optimistic and confident that communication within the clay community will continue to benefit from new social media platforms and future advancements in digital technology.