The Cloud Project

2013, 2017

I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in 40 years about photography. Through clouds to put down my philosophy of life—to show that my photographs were not due to subject matter—not to special trees, or faces or interiors, to special privileges, clouds were there for everyone—no tax as yet on them—free.
Alfred Stieglitz, “How I Came to Photograph Clouds” (1923)

In The Cloud Project we construct clouds that defy the binaries of photography. Each image is part recorded, part imagined, complicating the categories of fact and fiction, reality and fantasy. The photographs are unremarkable on the surface, snapshots of clouds passing in the sky. Yet like the confabulations that exist in our memory, these images are hybrid, comprised of a recorded photograph shaped by a drawing. Each image begins as a sketch of an imagined cloud and a photograph of a cloudy sky, donated by friends, family, and strangers. The clouds are digitally shaped and sculpted until they look like the sketch, creating a kind of false documentation, the photographic evidence of a memory that never actually existed.

At the heart of this project is a simple exchange. There are two sets of creators: the artists—myself and Emily Moreton, a summer research student—and our collaborators, a group of people we have asked to participate in the project. Collaborators give us drawings and photographs that are embedded with information about where they live and how they see. As the artists, we take their information and create an image that is as individual as a fingerprint. From the finished image we print two identical photographs: one is mailed to the collaborator and the other becomes part of The Cloud Project. I often imagine the moment when a collaborator opens the brown envelope and sees their image. Is there a deep recognition of themselves in that moment? A sense of awe at the object conjured as if by magic?

The Cloud Project is an archive of these objects. It expands with each new contribution and has as many authors as images. As a collection it can be read as a visual taxonomy of the clouds we see in our minds. I chose clouds as my subject as an homage to an earlier taxonomy of clouds created by Alfred Stieglitz in 1925. Over nine years Stieglitz captured more than 350 photographs of clouds and grouped them into a project titled Equivalents. When I was a child I was mesmerized by Equivalents and spent hours looking at each photograph and comparing them to each other. I believe The Cloud Project functions in a similar way—meaning is found in the comparisons and juxtapositions of the individually authored images. There are subtle similarities such as the very particular shade of blue that draws some of them together and points to the proximity of their origin. In two images collected from a mother and daughter there is a sameness in their massive lurking clouds that suggests the passing down of a drawing style from one generation to the next. Taken together, the images of The Cloud Project constitute an alternate record of the sky: through the simple forms of these clouds, a kaleidoscope of experience and memory emerges, woven together by shared spaces, traditions, and creations. The following pages document publicity materials for the project and images in the series to date, including collaborators’ sketches and finished photographic images.