Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Art of Impermanence

GOOD tea in a cherry blosso teacup on a table in my kitchen
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

Colorful abstract of cave house architecture on the island of Santorini, Greece near the town of Firostefani
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:

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...