The light the camera captures rules completely the nature of any art created from it thereafter. I’ve made the point before – as an artist I simply look into the pixels to find what’s already there and try to bring the art of it to the surface. All the photoshopping in the world will not completely compensate for a badly exposed, poorly composed shot.
The Missouri State Capitol Building, an enormous marble affair finished in 1917, is in the midst of a $50-odd million-dollar restoration. At the very top of the 238-foot Capitol dome is a bronze statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. Ceres has been struck by lightening dozens of times over the last century; her skin is pocked and discolored because of it. As part of the restoration, she has been hauled down to great ceremony, wrapped in the Missouri State flag, in order to be bundled off to a Chicago company that will bring her back to full glory. Several thousand people surrounded the Capitol to watch the descent.
I shot photographs with little intention of doing anything with them other than marking the moment. I’m not a photographer – I’m just a punky photo artist – and I don’t possess the ungodly expensive equipment that would allow me to properly zoom into the subject. But that’s the thing; as an artist I’m looking at levels a photographer might not be. Deep into the pixels …
The effect used here is one I’ve only been able to apply a few times – it requires particularly high contrast and direct light. But in this case, it worked. The colors require additional techniques to accomplish the soft pastels I wanted to bring out. It was by sheer luck that I happened to capture the airplane floating past in the background but the act of capturing the original photograph is part of what makes this so much fun.
It was more a social affair than a photographic one. The thousands of us gathered waited for hours in chilly air before workers finally lofted the lady into flight. Everyone remarked in awe that it was a sight they would never see again in their lifetimes.
Folks … she’s gotta go back up.
My master’s thesis in Community Development was on the subject of systems theory, specifically human systems, after all, I was studying in the house of sociology. System theory incorporates the principle of entropy as taken from information theory (not the thermodynamics cousin), essentially characterizing systems as ‘open’ or ‘closed’ depending on the intake and generation of information (and please note this is an enormous simplification of an incredibly complex theory). In this system, I suggested that ‘open’ human systems in which information flows freely would be especially dynamic, whereas closed systems would be fairly static. The flaw in human perception is that open systems in which ideas and social change are rapid and unceasing would seem to suggest the community is going to hell in a handbasket, when in fact such change is indicative of a healthy community adapting to changes in the broader environment. ‘Closed’ systems, on the other hand, in which few new ideas are floated which do not facilitate the status quo, may be seen as positive due to the lack of stresses brought about by change, but are in fact running down and becoming irrelevant as they fail to adapt, grow, and evolve.
In a dynamic social environment, then, someone is always pissed off. Someone is always trying to change the world to a new paradigm and someone else is always digging their heals in because they like everything the way it is.
What bothers me is that at times in human history the differing paradigms that define human reality are so diametrically opposed that one side or the other resorts to great violence, followed shortly thereafter by the other side doing the same. Not just conflict; not just heated argument. War.
The political landscape of parts of the ‘open’ world are so polarized that opposing sides can’t even talk to each other; they couldn’t even agree on the color of the sky because they staunchly believe alternate facts. The situation is worsened by parts of the ‘closed’ world using misinformation to exacerbate polarizing values.
‘Art’, by its very nature, is part of an open, changing environment. Artists, by our very nature, seek to disrupt perspective. What is our role in preventing war? Or do we simply wander the streets of Sarajevo waiting for a wrong turn …
Once upon a time a rich man who had purchased a vault full of classic movies decided those shot in black and white should be colorized, and he actually started to do so. The common folk, he argued, wanted their movies in color. Taking classic films and colorizing them would open said movies to a whole new audience. Actual lovers of classic movies, of course, disagreed. What few he colorized nobody showed, except the rich man himself over his own cable TV network, and when he sold that network the new owners also didn’t show them. But before that sale, when he did show them over his cable TV network, whole new audiences did not in fact flock to them. The were still, to someone unappreciative of classic film, old. Old, it seemed, was too abstract – too removed from expected reality.
In recent years I occasionally cross paths with someone who loves photography but hates photography they deem altered by computer. That most modern cameras are in fact computers themselves which render images in a format they think represents what the human eye sees is an irony lost to them. Of course, most of my work goes far beyond simple adjustments to exposure and sharpness – I deliberately look deep into the pixels of a photographic capture to find light, colors and wavelengths the camera keeps to itself. I go out of my way to find the abstract, sometimes extreme visions buried there (two new works scheduled for next week will offer extreme examples of that). But black and white photography, which I affectionately refer to as ‘noir’, is a form of abstract in and of itself, and requires little on my part other than finding and capturing the photograph.
I started shooting with my dad’s 1960 model Agfa fixed lens rangefinder camera that he purchased at Montgomery Ward’s department store. I still have it – my brother had it but graciously passed it back to me a few years ago. I still pull it out, put in a roll of black and white 35mm film, and go to town. I have to measure the light, set the f-stop and the shutter speed, pull the trigger and wait for it to be developed to see what I have. There is no automatic. What comes out, if I shot it right, is art in its own right. I just try to stay the hell out of the way.
It's not the cold that gets me - it's not the snow or ice either. Someone wise who has since fallen into disgrace (a fate that may be as human an experience as death, and perhaps not all that different) once pointed out that Winter is just a matter of dressing properly. Bitter cold actually has certain advantages when taking the dogs out to do their business - no need to worry about where you step.
No, it's the gloom. Unrelenting winter gloom.
The sun shown brightly Sunday morning for a few hours - before that it had been nine days since it was not shrouded by clouds. By Noon it had already greyed-over, and would stay that way through the night, thus preventing any sighting of the Wolf Moon. I spent the afternoon watching football. I never spend the afternoon watching football. I became disillusioned with the sport after all the domestic violence, assault and other violent crimes came to light and, besides, American football is mostly violence and committee meetings. (Can a world in which the author of those words becomes aligned with liberal thought last long?) But somehow the idea of sitting under a blanket in a dark room watching thugs and buffoons beat themselves to a pulp seemed like a pleasant activity.
This morning there is something slightly brighter in the sky - I'm not entirely sure it's actually the sun yet, but it's an improvement. Autumn brings brilliant colors and crisp air, followed by Thanksgiving and the Holidays and there's so much going on. Then along comes January. By now, for a number of reasons, I haven't gotten out much with the cameras and my bank of photographic captures dwindles to images from months ago, but lurking within are treasures! Images green and warm and sundrenched - the humid dawn filtering over the horizon to the thriving plants on the patio, where there's a garden pool with a fountain and fat, singing birds dancing around feeders stuffed with good things to eat. And in just about three weeks, my friends, pitches and catchers report. The world will fill with play. Summer is coming.
When I was under the belief I would become a community development professional I took a course at the Economic Development Institute, which was located at the University of Oklahoma in beautiful Norman, Oklahoma. Anyone taking the course spent one week each of three years and attended classes covering various aspects of the profession, including retail and service issues, working with organizations, and marketing (which is what most attendees were most interested in, the profession at the time being dominated by such individuals who, truth be known, actually cared little about truly developing community capacity). My department enrolled several of us at any given time as a means of building our professional skills, especially in marketing, which was also politically expedient. I remember many colleagues being most impressed, if not mesmerized, by the fact the Norman had a strip joint, which we had none of in central Missouri, but as so often happens, I digress.
In the second year of this training I took a class on the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, a method of determining how individuals processed information. I had used the indicator prior to this, and considered it nothing more than a good party game. I suppose I thought the class would be a way to kill some time while avoiding more insipid marketing types.
As it happens, Myers-Briggs is much more than a good party game when used appropriately as a communications tool. Among its indicators is a scale which reflects whether an individual is energized by external sources (extrovert), or internal (introvert). Most people are extrovert. About 20% are introverts. The scale didn't just place me to the introverted side, it nearly slid me completely off it. The class described how introverts use 'masks' to get themselves through social situations, although those masks can take enormous energy to maintain, and how successful developers would work to assure introverts had space to function or lose them completely. It was such a revealing class I felt outed - I was gasping for air when it was over. It revealed so much about myself I was overwhelmed and felt completely exposed. It explained why I've always excelled at activities in which I could function independently, relying on my own creativity and with limited oversight or collaboration. I came to realize I would never really be a good functioning community developer, which demands superior collaboration and organizational skills. A good theoretical developer, perhaps, and thus began my damn sociologist period.
It explains, also, why I've always been attracted to places of quiet and solitude. A little gurgling water, maybe a fire pit, back in the trees where I could look out at the world. Long walks. The cliff overlooking the ocean where I used to go to read. All the worlds within.
A version of this very new photo capture went out on social media just last night as more than a foot of snow fell to earth in huge, wet, clumped globs. It's Friday night, right, so I'm shooting in my jammies off my deck using my iPhone and the Camera+2 app after downing a shot and a beer and a plate of chicken wings. Back in my easy chair under a blankie I used that same app to crop and edit the capture to bring the gold winter glow out of the sky and increase the field depth. Out to social media it went.
It was half finished.
Last night's edit brought out the glow in the sky but lost the cool of the snow. This morning in Photoshop I corrected that, sharpened parts of the capture and softened the edges, added just enough texture, and increased the resolution. It was a good exercise in taking the mobile app as far as it could go to create art, then taking it further and with the computer. The computer facilitates both greater accuracy and greater creativity, but lacks the immediacy of the mobile app. The juxtaposition of that also illustrates the continuous evolution of photo art. Simply moving from a simple device to a complex one changes the nature of the art. And in a year I will be able to take both version or the original and evolve them further.
Begging the question, when is an artist finished with a single work? Answer: when they turn their back on it, or their heart stops.
I love working in florals! A flower is the natural world in abstract - automatic art. But as such, is often overlooked as too commonplace. That's too bad because even the simplest flower is a mystery of lines and color and shadow which, with the right lighting, conveys so much mood and emotion.
This particular species, which I believe is a day lily, blooms all year, new blooms replacing dying ones. And thus we have the new year replacing the old. A burst of hope lighting up the cold winter, while only barely obscuring of what, over the coming months, it must become. Like every year before it, tired and forgettable. Like every flower that blooms. Like everyone of us who tries to change the world.
Oh, c'mon, I'm not TRYING to be depressing!
This is not the post I intended to publish today - intended to publish something like 10 hours ago, BTW. Nor is it new work. Many viewers will recognize both these works from previous exhibits where a numbers of individuals expressed a desire to purchase them "if only they were my dogs". No. Not at all. And there's a reason for that.
My day has gone to the dogs. These dogs in particular.
As it happened, the dog on the right, Pen, the youngest who came into the house intending to become the alpha, got into something. We haven't really figured out what, but it was something guaranteed to cause stomach issues. Then the dog on the left, Puck, formerly the 'runt' of his litter and the sweetest dog on the planet, also got into the same substance because that's what Pen was doing. She's the alpha. He does what she tells him to. There's an analogy there to human relationships, but I digress.
So BLURP, Pen gets the diarrhea first. If she did anything right in this adventure, she BLURPED it someplace easy to see and clean. She seemed to get over it in a day, though. Then Puck gets it, only Puck did it in his kennel. Big mess. Afterwards, he seemed to dry up. Nothing at all out of that particular channel for 24 hours. Thought he was through it too. Nope. Woke up this morning to find his freshly clean kennel freshly BLURPED, this time with clear sign that his colon was irritated. Rushed him to the vet, who confirmed there was nothing serious internally going on, gave him a shot and gave some pills to give him until the condition dries up. $95 bucks (actually reasonable, as things go), plus another $85 at the pet store because, in cleaning their bedding, I set the washer incorrectly and caused their old bedding to explode in a cloud of stuffing. Now I've been back and forth to the vet twice (once to drop, once to pick up), back and forth to the pet store, back and forth with work commutes, I'm bleary-eyed having gotten little sleep the night before because Pen was barking (likely because she knew Puck was sick), and tonight I will curl up with Puck to sleep in the couch to monitor his condition - this day had gone to the dogs. And nothing else I needed to do was touched. The dogs got it all.
WHY DO WE DO THIS?!!
Yes, yes, because we love our pets, they bring us comfort and joy, they are a constant source of entertainment, and, yes also, used by some as an in for meeting potential sexual partners. All important. I used to tease a family member, who treats her cats and dogs like her children and believes you should too, that pets are an emergency food source in times of natural disaster or nuclear attack. This did not endear me. Thing is though, days like these they ARE like our children. There are times for every pet owner when they will drop everything to care for the creature they love, and they will dole out large sums of money and devote long periods of time and expend incalculable emotion to comfort that creature.
What are some of your adventures in pet care? This IS a blog, folks; please, leave me your thoughts ...
I once watched a man, preparing a bowl of fruit for breakfast, artfully arrange each slice with delicate and careful consideration for the esthetics. The result was a visual work of art, enticing to both the pallet and the eye. His father happened by at that moment, spied a plump strawberry that appealed to him, reached over, plucked it up, and popped it into his mouth. My friend's face dropped. His creation had been disrupted - unbalanced. The harmony was gone. He actually spent another five minutes rearranging the fruit to recapture the esthetic before he deemed the creation worthy of consuming. (I didn't watch, but as I think about it now he likely ate the slices in a manner that would retain the bowl's balance and harmony). It's why I love the guy - he tries to infuse everything he does with an artful grace and vision. Here's what the bowl of fruit lacked: Marketing. Only he and I noticed it, and I'm not entirely sure he noticed that I noticed. His act was entirely one of self-fulfillment.
This is what artists are about: Self-fulfillment of a craving for expression. Doesn't matter the medium, or its privacy. All the years I've created art and prose the reward was entirely internal - intense satisfaction in having created something out of one's own soul. But when I started exhibiting, very quickly marketing became half the job. It's no use a work hanging in a gallery if no one knows it's there, and gallery owners are not going to promote only one artist's work. Self-promotion falls to the artist, if interested in such. This week is a good example. I have work in two exhibits opening, plus a third gallery in which work needed to be rotated, and a forth beginning next week. There's a fifth location I should also be rotating work and a couple more galleries I'm arranging (or at least thinking about) meetings with. I've actually spent zero time creating new work this week - It's all been marketing.
It's like my friend's bowl of fruit - arranging everything harmoniously is an art in and of itself.
And we begin the year 180 degrees away from how we left the last, with a basic, noir photo capture on film (Ilford Delta 100). Nothing fancy, nothing altered, just cropping, sharpening and lighting. Straight lines, squares and circles; light and shadows. Return to the fundamentals. In photo art, this is as important an exercise as sketching is to a painter.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.