Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Art of Impermanence

Maybe because I've come down with a case of spring fever or perhaps because I have several friends venturing to Japan for spring photographic jaunts, either way recent thoughts have turned to cherry blossoms. Yes, my friends, it's that time of year again. I do believe the cherry blossoms are just about going to start blooming in Japan (if they have not already) and, sadly, the experts advise us that the Washington DC blossoms are quite frail this year, possibly creating a shorter season but making an appearance now as well. This late winter snap has been especially cruel in Washington DC, taking its toll on the stateside blossoms. Perhaps even nature itself cannot stomach the ugliness of politics in my nation's capital. Nevertheless, spring is dawning and it's time for the blossoms to come forth yet again even if only for an abbreviated season.

Cherry blossoms are not restricted to Japan and Washington DC, of course. Actually, I have fond memories of a cherry tree in my backyard. As a child growing up, I took for granted, even disregarded the bright pink blossoms selectively appearing each springtime. Our cherry tree was actually a variety akin to a sort of a crab apple-the fruit was all but inedible, but this did not stop the array of pink blossoms dusting the yard each spring, as if to remind us cherry trees do more than just produce fruit. I believe too that I had on more than one occasion scraped my knee climbing said tree. Like I said, I was a foolish child and thought the tree more a nuisance than a blessing. Oh what wisdom I have gained over the years, right?

While cherry blossoms are quite usual and yes, I have been obsessing over them recently, the metaphoric significance has not been lost on me as well. Cherry blossoms represent impermanence. The Japanese poetry and haiku is an endless source of inspiration too, heck you don't even need the pretty visuals to get inspired by this natural display. Some of the words and thoughts, writings and philosophizing make for beautiful inspiration for artists.

"Break open a cherry tree and there are no flowers; but the spring breeze brings forth myriad blossoms." --Ikkyu

"The notion is called wabi-sabi life, like a cherry blossom, it is beautiful because of its impermanence, not in spite of it, more exquisite for the inevitability of loss." Peggy Orenstein

I hope you can enjoy the cherry blossoms this year in your own little way. Even if you don't live near the flowers, even if you never get to see the flowers, I sincerely hope you get out and photograph or maybe at least enjoy something as impermanent as a cherry blossoms. Life is short, flowers don't happen all of the time, the world can be a very ugly place. We should all collectively enjoy it while it splendid, no?

Until next time...

PS This one taken with the Canon 5DS on my kitchen table. It's a cherry blossom tea cup with some white tea steeping so that I can clear my throat of my blasted allergies. Hey, I never said the blossoms were perfect now, did I? Achoo!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

More Than Just a Tone Poet

Being a tone poet is wonderful but, as a photographer, you can also be a "poet poet." Using photography, we can listen to a song, bring words to life, include metaphors in our work. We can engage in a sort of "visual haiku" that plays with the viewer's sense of reality all the while presenting our unique perspective on a scene. Now, mind you, I'm not above being a tone poet. Heck, if I could manage it, I would be a tone poet each and every day. Tone poets make things look easy but, in some ways, it's easy to be a tone poet as well. I mean, all you have to do is present us the most perfect composition with the most perfect, subtle, shaded, contrasted, lighting and BAM! you've got it. (OK, so I did actually admit it wasn't *really* all that easy now, didn't I?)

Seriously though today I pose this question. Is it easier to be more of a pristine photographer, to be more "classical" in the true sense of the word? Is it easier to craft the most absolutely perfect shots down to the minutest nitpicking detail? Or would it actually be more difficult to forgo that and instead focus on the challenge of seeing something differently? Are the two really mutually exclusive? I wonder about that sometimes, but not too much, as I have never actually been blessed with the luck (or acquired the skill) to master the notion of tone poetry. If I'm being honest here, I must confess, the entire concept of the tone poet somewhat escapes me. It's just not my wheelhouse, no, rather I'm more aligned in the slightly off kilter, crazy, wacky, did you really just take a picture of THAT kind of camp. And, frankly, I'm not sure I would change that even if I could. I mean, I do admire the work of the tone poets but, if I'm being honest here, not sure I would really want to burden myself with being among that group even if presented the opportunity.

For those who formally study art, there are generally accepted elements in art and design. Roughly speaking they are things like: line, form or shape, tone, texture, perspective, and scale. Many people believe they are just not good at art and that's possibly true but probably more likely is the theory that most people excel at one or two of these elements but not all. There is a bell curve at work here which dictates we mostly fall into the big lump in the middle, as it were. That is to say, most of us are maybe good at line but, perspective and scale? Not so much. I've been convinced, either through study or just to lean on as an excuse, that my "tone" foo is a lot less than my "perspective and scale" foo. What can I say? I've grown to accept (be it true or not) that I just don't have all that much going on in the tone department. As an artist, I've grown to accept this and quietly move on. Sure, I'd love to be able to work with tone more and it is, in fact, a big part of what we do, but I also recognize my limitations. Creativity and perspective are my sweet spots, at least that's how I've always viewed myself as an artist.

No, I think it's safe to say I'll never be a tone poet along the line of a Michael Kenna or a Joyce Tenneson but that's alright. I can still be a "poet poet." I can still have fun with visual metaphors and haiku. I can still bring song lyrics to life visually. There is enough in my playground to keep me occupied and I've grown to accept that. My joy is quirk and I've grown to enjoy playing in that particular sandbox.

Until next time...

PS This one taken with the Canon 5dMarkII and the walkabout lens in Santorini, a dreamy city view indeed. 


Tuesday, March 07, 2017

From Small Things

You've probably heard the adage, "from small things big things one day come..." It's as true in the art work as it is for this leaf. Not many out there start out with the intention of becoming a great artist, of making a masterpiece, of traveling the world, crafting images, becoming a visual storyteller. No, it usually starts small. You can hear echos of it if you read interviews with photographers, "I got my first camera when I was..." fill in the blank. "At first, I just started taking snapshots and over time I..." And so the story goes. Repeated more often than not, it's a tale told by countless men and women of the photographic genre and even in the broader sense the artistic world. To put it bluntly, many a great artist or photographer started out making mud pies and refrigerator art just like you and me.

If it's true that the giants who came before us started out small, then it also follows that they became giants somewhere along the way. Somewhere, in between the mud pies plus making art Mom might find suitable for the refrigerator door and the esteemed museum circuit or the hordes of Internet followers complete with piles of sales, why somewhere in-between this humble beginning and glorious triumph of artistic merit, something must have happened, no? I mean, you have to connect those dots somehow, right? Just think about what that connection might be for a moment.

Sure, there are many who have talent, yes, I'm not going to deny that. Talent plays a big role in what we do. But, for so many out there, talent is a mere starting point. It's a foundation upon which to build, not a finished end game. There are many talented artists who never get discovered, who give up, who run away and join the circus, who...well, you get the idea. If talent is only a jumping off point then what might be the real thing going on here? I think a large part of what we do and who we are, in many ways our core success boils down to tenacity. The ability to try and to fail and to try again and to fail again and to try harder and to fail harder and to try and finally succeed is also echoed in many of those artist interviews. It happens over and over and I've seen it time and time again. The people who just don't quit wind up getting the prize. Tenacity is one of the most underrated qualities in the art world. Everybody always thinks they can wake up tomorrow, paint some great masterpiece, finally be discovered, and that this formula for success is repeated over and over again. More often than not, it's not the case. The harder you work, the more you do, the more you create, the more you devote to your craft, the better you get. As you get better, so too it follows, success seems to come out of hiding. It's a path, a journey not a destination and one only you can tread to your own personal finish line.

In some ways, we're all starting out. We're all, each and every one of us, are getting better, carving out our artistic vision as we work. We are continually improving, even if it doesn't feel that way. Sometimes, you have to step back to move forward. It's all a journey. Art is a path. No, I would reckon there are no small things in art. There are simply buds that have yet to blossom. The little boy or girl making art for Mom to put on the 'fridge door? Why, it's just he or she is a bit closer to the beginning of his journey, that's all. "From small things big things [indeed do] one day come."

Until next time...

PS This one taken with the Canon over at the water gardens with a 100mm macro lens. Spring is on the way, as it's starting to bud in my neck of the woods. I hope you're seeing it too. Saw my first bluebonnet today. Woo hoo! 

Monday, March 06, 2017

A Personal Note/Barking up the Minimalist Tree

On a personal note, I have to report that I've gone barking mad. What do I mean by that? Allow me to explain.

For starters, on Friday I had to get my car serviced. OK, this is nothing out of the ordinary, nothing unusual here, right? So far, so good. I had an appointment at 7 am, the way I always like to do, get it done early in the morning and all, so I packed up my belongings, insurance cards, and the like, and headed over to my local car dealer, due for my next round of state inspections. With my car being 15 years old, this is always a gamble so I was sitting there watching the morning news, waiting, wishing, hoping, and praying I was going to pass the great state inspection lottery once again this year. Come on, street legal! As luck would have it, I was far from a winner this time. The serviceman happily notified me that I needed new brakes, a new front end alignment and there was an issue with my battery, actually the electrical system in my car. Now, I probably could have guessed that last bit because I had been having lots of issues with odd things in the car, things like the door locks would suddenly stop working and the like. At one point, I went to change the radio dial and I noticed that the radio had in fact gotten hot. When I say, "hot," here I mean like actually hot to the touch. OK, so we have electrical issues going on, new brakes, new alignment and a bunch of other car repair woes. Oh joy! They told me it would take about two to three hours so I decided to chalk it up to my cheapness and wait.

As I was sitting there in the repair room, aka the lonely hearts club location for all things automotive, I decided I would pop on over to the dealership and check out the new cars. I had been thinking about starting to look for a new one because, yeah, the current beast was in fact fifteen years old, more than 100000 miles on it, new brakes, electrical system issues, and probably more hidden than I cared to find at this point. I would up test driving an Acura RDX, which is a small-ish SUV. It's a five passenger SUV that actually has some cargo space and is quite comfortable. I wound up going for a test drive and liking the thing enough to actually pull the trigger. Yes, you read that right. On Friday, unexpectedly, I managed to purchase a new car. It's the one you see pictured here in case you were wondering. This is the front of it anyway.

But this is not all of the craziness, no. I took the car home and decided that I needed more room in the garage so I started cleaning that out. This weekend, I actually spent a bit of time tidying up out there, so that I would have room for the new car. Also, instead of transferring all of the "junk in the trunk" from the old car to the new, I stuffed it all into one bag and brought it into the house. Today, just now in fact, I went through it and tossed out anything I absolutely don't need. You read this right. I'm getting rid of crap that I don't need. It's not just getting rid of stuff, no, I've gone barking mad and have become somewhat overwhelmed with the notion that I want to lead a more minimal lifestyle. I seriously want to just shed everything. Well, maybe not *everything* I mean, I still can make a case for socks and clean underpants but like almost everything else needs to go. Seriously, be gone you pesky STUFF! Out of my life! I can't help myself, I do believe I've started a purge of sorts.

A few days ago, maybe it was last week, a friend of mine told me about something called "40 bags in 40 days." This is a de-cluttering challenge corresponding with lent. It started on March 1 of this year and runs until April 15th. The idea behind it is pretty simple, you just pick an area to remove clutter and remove one bag a day of items until your 40 days is up. You can read more about it here: http://www.whitehouseblackshutters.com/40-bags-in-40-days/

I did say I was barking mad, yes? Lately though, I can't help but feel like if I were to truly do this, to sincerely downsize, declutter, rid myself of a lot of the crap I keep around, it would really help my photography. Now, I know you think I'm probably crazy, but I just want to not only work as a minimalist photographer but lately it seems like I sincerely want to lead a more minimalist lifestyle. I just don't want to accumulate stuff anymore. I want things simple and sparse and I want open room and just the bare minimal items that I actually need. I have started to seriously look around and question why I have so much junk and how can I rid myself of most of it.  

If you're trying to figure how this relates to photography, I've been thinking that, if I had fewer items, if things were easier to find, easier to care for, less cluttered, why it would free my brain up for the "heavier lifting" of my art and photography. I am honestly starting to think I would be more creative and I would be able to shoot with more passion if my brain were a bit tidied up and free from all of this crap, so I've gone a bit crazy trying to rid myself of it. Now, I don't know how this is going to end. I've got a few guesses. I might just stop when things get a bit tidier and go on with my life or I might just have some kind of success and seriously rid myself of the junk I feel I have been keeping. I am also starting to feel I really want to drop some pounds as well. I may even start exercising again. I am seriously looking around at anything and everything and questioning why it is in my life, do I really need it, and how can I best get rid of it so I can move on. Interesting times, I tell you, I live in interesting times.

Please wish me luck with this latest project, for I have no earthly clue how this is going to end. The car has been wonderful so far. A bit larger than I wanted but I'm determined to keep the junk out and let it live a newfangled clutter free existence. Wish me luck with that, no?

Until next time...


Friday, February 17, 2017

Llama Drama Ding Dong

Happy Llama Friday! No, this is not an official holiday, rather one I have just declared, for today the lonely life of the llama played an integral role in shaping my humor for the afternoon. Allow me to explain.

As you might recall, this past summer I had some work done on the house-renovations as it were. Part of that work was having the house painted. In an effort to spruce things up, one of the things I noticed was that my doormat was getting kind of, shall we say, ragged looking. After the painters were in I also noticed that they had splattered some white paint over my once dark doormat. It was kind of, shall we say, ruined. Shortly afterwards, once the renovations were done, Mom got a bit sick and so I have not been doing my usual shopping at the home stores and places like this. Not to worry as a doormat was not an imperative purchase, I just brushed it off and moved on, onward and upward to bigger and better things. As luck would have it, while I was browsing the Internets this past week, I happened upon a site that was selling, you guessed it, doormats. Now, they had one in particular that I liked so I thought, heck, why not right? I mean, after all, I do need a new one now, don't I? Yes, so I purchased a doormat online.

Now, the place I purchased said doormat from is actually somewhat reputable. They even have a brick and mortar store relatively close by, I just couldn't stand the traffic, crowds, and the like, so the online thing seemed like a really good idea at the time. It was a cute doormat too, kind of a turquoise-y/teal type color with a design of a llama on it. (You knew llamas had to factor into this somehow, didn't you?) All well and good. Said llama is now racing towards me at the speed of Internet delivery which, on the whole, really isn't all that fast but like bear with me here. It gets funny after this, I promise.

Seeing as the place is a reputable outfit and all, I got an email notification that my dear llama was on his way to me. Oh joy! Here comes my doormat. They shipped the package UPS and indicated that I might have to sign for it. I pondered this for a minute when it dawned on me that, yes, I was actually going to have to sign for a package which came in a box that I would subsequently unwrap and leave on the front porch unattended permanently. Isn't irony grand? If that were not bad enough, I got a notice today too that there are a band of package thieves in my area, going around ripping packages off people's front porches and the like. Package thieves? In my neighborhood? Why, my poor utterly helpless llama. What's a girl to do?

So now I sit in waiting, hoping the package makes it through, wondering what I would do should I encounter the dreaded package kidnappers. I mean, imagine that surprise? They would stalk and steak out their prey, do the dastardly deed, run off with my treasured doormat, jaunting off thinking they got some high quality package, you know, something like a stereo component or maybe some computer gear or the like, only to go home and discover they successfully stole a doormat. Imagine the frustration on their part after that. Ha! Not to mention I started having visions of catching them in the act. I mean, what would I do? Run out of the house in my pink fluffy slippers yelling at the top of my lungs, "Stop! Put my llama down! You are not welcome here! You bastards!" I imagine that would go over oh so well with the neighbors who as it is now can barely stomach the odd artist on the block, let alone witness her turn completely bat poop crazy chasing an imaginary llama in her pajamas down the street into the cul-de-sac. Thin mint, anyone?

Now, I realize I'm probably being overly dramatic and that the llama is probably going to arrive just fine, heck, I possibly won't even have to sign for it and all will be well in the universe again. I mean, that could happen too, couldn't it? A girl can hope, yes? Here's hoping I wind up with more llama and less drama in my life because, frankly, we could all use a little more of that, couldn't we? Unless, of course, you're a llama in which case I apologize profoundly and offer up a welcoming spot comfy and tidy on my front porch.

I guess if there were to be a morale to this story, I'd have to confess to offering up the following advice. Don't buy a doormat online. It will make your head explode.

Until next time...

PS This one from the archives. Taken with the Canon Rebel XT and a 100mm lens I believe. Not really sure about the American dromedary either, as this could be a llama, an alpaca, or perhaps what is behind door number three (AKA your guess is as good as mine, probably better in fact.) I do recall a story behind this image though. I was on a trek down to Texas wine making country, traveling with a friend, Marlene. We had stopped along the way to checkout what we thought were horses. Turned out to be our little friend you see pictured here. As I kept inching closer and closer, Marlene hesitated saying, "You are so going to get spit on!" Turns out we never did find out if horses were nearby and I did manage to avoid the llama loogie so luck was on our side that day. Let's hope my luck with llamas holds at least until the doormat shows, right?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Deserving of Disdain?

This week, the World Press Photo organization announced their selection for photo of the year. The photo in question captured the assassination of Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey by Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a 22-year-old off-duty police officer. The image was taken by photographer Burhan Ozbilici from Turkey using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera. Relevant EXIF data shared includes information about the focal length used to take the shot and other technical details. It was shot using a 58 mm lens at f 5.0, ISO 1600 with an exposure time of 1/256 a second. The image itself depicts Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş holding a gun in a somewhat animated gesture while the body of the ambassador lay at his feet. You can see the image at this link if you would like to view it on their website.

The selection of the image for Photo of the Year has stirred a bit of controversy. NPR labeled the image "explosive" while Stuart Franklin of The Guardian UK proclaimed, "This image of terror should not be photo of the year - I voted against it." (In the interest of full disclosure, The Guardian UK has previously published some of my work. Ancient history and all but I did think I should mention it if I'm trying to be honest and fair in my assessment of the award.) There have been several people in the photographic community discussing both the image and the award. Franklin brings up several valid points. The assassination was a planned terrorist attack and, by awarding the image such a prestigious honor, does this amplify the terrorist message? Is publishing such an image akin to publishing a terrorist beheading and can it help promote terrorism by rewarding such acts on an international stage?

My initial reaction to the image (I had seen it prior to the award recognition) was a sentiment echoed in Franklin's remarks as well. Franklin states that, "It’s the third time that coverage of an assassination has won this prize, the most famous being the killing of a Vietcong suspect, photographed by Eddie Adams in 1968. " Referring to the now iconic image "Saigon Execution" which depicts a Vietcong suspect being shot. My reaction to the Ozbilici image was initially, "sadly, every generation appears doomed to have its own Saigon Execution. Eddie Adams lives on in the spirit of these awards." Upon further reflection however, there are some notable differences between the images.

For starters, the Adams image was taken in Saigon in 1968. This was a long time ago and mores change over time. The Vietnam era in particular ushered in a gruesome experience for photographers as the war itself was quite brutal. An image considered socially acceptable during a long running brutal war might not be embraced with the same level of acceptance during peace time.

Apart from the time and place, another difference I noted was the emotional tone for each of the images in question. In the Adams image, nobody is celebrating. There are no smiles. The execution is carried out as a soldier would perform an execution (one might imagine.) The Ozbilici image depicts Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş in a somewhat celebratory pose, finger pointing in the air assuming a gesture of defiance. He is far from an anonymous soldier carrying out orders. He is the face of terror for a new generation. There are other notable differences between the images but these are several that jumped out at me.

Now, I'm not really qualified to say if Ozbilici deserves the award or not, as I am not a judge for such competitions. I can say that, from looking at the EXIF data, the image in question was shot at 1/256 of a second. In that moment, in that instant, in that brief flash of time, one life was ended as a terrorist celebrated his victory. If anything, this should give us all pause for consideration. The world can and indeed does change in 1/256 of a second. Ozbilici was there to capture it. It's neither his fault nor his celebration, merely his job to convey that change. Frankly, I think he did this brilliantly, although that was never in question. The larger question posed here is one that we as a society face. Do we want the moments that define us, that define our generation, our life and times, to be the Eddie Adams "Saigon Execution" or even the Ozbilici moments or should we all collectively look for something more? This is a question I hope the Ozbilici image will bring to light. Awards are awards, and we give them out sometimes to the most brutal of images but, honestly, is that who we have become? Is that really genuinely what we want to celebrate?

Until next time...

PS This image is a reflection captured with the Canon 5DS of sky in water. Taken with the walkabout lens, more from Washington.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Rejection Ritual/Balls in the Air

There's something about jugglers. I'm told it's not hard, what they do, no, neurosurgery and rocket science are hard but, juggling? Not hard, but there is a trick to it. And that trick? Why, it's to always have one ball in the air and work the momentum in your favor. If you look at jugglers, really watch them, you'll see they indeed do always seem to have one ball in the air at all times.

How is this related to photography or art in any way, you might ask. And, I'd be willing to tell you. The other day I got asked, "As an artist, what is your rejection ritual?" Perhaps one of the most daunting things is to learn to deal with rejection. Rejection is all around us, it comes at us in many shapes and sizes, so we have to learn to deal with it, right? Perhaps I'm better at this than most as well. Seriously, I don't like to toot my own horn but I've always been one to never let rejection get me down or get to me on any hard core deep philosophical level. What's my secret? Just like juggling, it's not hard, but there is a trick; a method to my madness if you will. The trick? That's easy. You guessed it, it's the same trick the jugglers use: always have one ball in the air. What do I mean by that? Allow me to explain.

I always have opportunities out at sea. What does that mean? Easy. I never just send out one gallery packet or apply for one show or submit work to one call for entries. Nope, I never do. Rather, I send out multiples. I submit to two, three, heck even four things at a time. Send it all on out there, go ahead, why, I dare you. The more you send out, the more likely you are going to be rejected, right? That's great. Rejection is a part of what we do. But the secret? The secret is that the more work you send out, the more likely you are to get accepted as well. Think of the juggler. If he only has one ball and he threw it it would be gone and he would be left with nothing in his hands. The rhythm would be off, no momentum there. But now, give him three balls and he drops one? There's still the other two to throw around and he can learn to work with the momentum. Over time and with practice, he gets really good at juggling and learns to sense the momentum. He feels it coming when he's going to drop a ball and when one is going to fly. He just knows, because he always has one ball in the air and he's learned to work the momentum.

When you send work out as an artist once you get rejected you can focus on your other balls, as it were. "OK, so I didn't get into Gallery X but Gallery Y might still want my work. I haven't heard back from them yet." You also have a hand free so you can, just like the juggler, work that momentum. Send to work out now to Gallery Z and keep that momentum going. Don't stop and wallow in the Gallery X business, no, you've got more balls to throw out into the wind.

The "trick" if you want to call it that is to not take yourself too seriously (never take yourself too seriously,) have fun at it, and keep those balls flying around in the air. Build that momentum. Just like our happy juggler, one day you might find you can juggle chain saws and not just balls. Woo Hoo!

So, to boil it down, my rejection ritual is that I don't have one. I don't have one because, Ha! I never get rejected. Now, I might get a "no" or drop a ball once in a while but I've always got stuff out there, always got more stuff to send out there and there are always more opportunities ahead of me than behind me, so I don't wallow in what I might have missed. No, rather, I focus on what's coming into view next and try to keep that momentum going as best I can. That's my little secret.

I mean, I do sometimes drink a spot of whiskey but I don't cry in it, Instead, I toast my cup to the next, to the better opportunities that are surely coming my way. I hope you consider doing the same. Now, get your work out there. Go on, throw a ball out there and see where it lands, I dare you!

Until next time...

PS This one shot with the Canon 5DS on the Washington coast. Lovely sky, cloudy day, great day at the beach, it sure was.