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Time Since Reboot

  • 1060 days, 22 hours, 50 minutes, 47 seconds ago

On Francesca Woodman

The nightly ritual in our house is to eat dinner in front of the television and watch a documentary.  During the week, it’s usually an hour-long episode of a science- or history-themed TV program.  On the weekends, we will often opt for a feature-length selection.  Tonight we watched C. Scott Willis’s 2011 biography of Francesca Woodman – a young, prolific and talented photographer who tragically committed suicide in 1981, at age 22 – via her work and through the eyes of her family and close friends.  The movie is The Woodmans, and I highly recommend it.

I’d never heard of Francesca before tonight, unless you count reading the Netflix description of the title that had resided in my queue for a year, but it is clear to me that she deserves to be regarded as one of the bright artistic minds of the 20th century.  Her work is stunningly modern – for having been produced by an art student in the late 1970’s, the photographs are crisp, surreal, provocative, and cleverly and methodically designed.  And it is this last quality – the deliberateness of the work – that really speaks to me.  The work itself stands on its own, to be sure, and it should… the narrative doesn’t need to be about the artist’s youth or tragically short life, but instead speaks volumes for just what it is – art in its own right.  I can and do admire it for that.  But I am always on the lookout for what I can learn; what I can take away from a work of art or literature or from an experience or a relationship.  What I can learn from Francesca Woodman, and from her family, who are all artists, is the duty and dedication to the craft.

Francesca, in her brief time as a photographer, threw herself completely into making her art.  She lived it.  Everything she did served it.  Her romantic relationships, her bonds with her parents, where she lived, who she talked to, who her friends were, where she worked, even, detrimentally, her state of mind – it all came down to achieving the creation of art that said what she needed to say.

That dedication is admirable to me because of its absence in me.  I have passions – passions for writing and for photography.  Older passions for poetry and music.  Trades and skills like flying airplanes or accounting and auditing.  But I am not and have never been a master of any of these things.  Some of that is just a function, I think, of how I’m wired – taking on new projects and discovering new ways to either to experience life or to express myself keeps life from going stale.  But I’m also a little weary of being the constant dabbler.  I do care about art and about creating meaningful things.  It does not mean much to me to be recognized by others, something that Francesca longed for… but it is important that I feel I have created something of value, even if it is only of value to me.

Why, then, do I half-ass my life’s work?  At one point in the film, Francesca Woodman’s father talks about the life of the artist – perspectives he passed on to his daughter.  Paraphrasing – he says that an artist does not decide, because he does not feel inspiration that day, to stay away from his/her studio.  The artist goes to the studio and “sharpens pencils” – the artist works on his art whether he is inspired or not.  The inspiration will come when it comes.  The artist must still choose to do art.

I am, at best, a lazy artist.  I am passionate about it, but I do not dedicate myself to it.  If I’m tired, I will nap or pursue less taxing endeavors.  If I am cranky or listless I’ll seek out some cheap fix for happiness – a sweet snack or an hour or four browsing the internet – when the real solution for my unrest would be to indulge my passions, dive in and create, practice, learn, grow, make something, dammit, anything, something worthless maybe but something tangible, something that propels me forward.

And at one point during the documentary I had the thought that, maybe, it was easier in that era to be focused and deliberate and caring about what you were creating as a photographer.  You had to be.  In the pre-digital age, every click of the shutter cost something.  Film was an expense, and developing an image took time and energy and supplies.  You had to take time to ensure your image was the right image – the image you wanted.  Whereas I can snap off round after round of images without a care in the world.  I am not constrained.  I can afford to be careless.  Except if I’m careless I never learn to craft the image.  I’m just letting good images emerge through happenstance.  That doesn’t make me an artist.  That doesn’t make me a photographer.  Soccer moms with iPhones can make an image just as easily as I can, and with the same success rate.  (And I’m not intentionally belittling myself – I do think that I have an eye for what makes a scene special, and I do think I have important things to say in words and images.)  That my instrument is a DSLR and that my processing is done on a computer instead of inside a darkroom neither means that I have it easier nor that analog photographers were/are intrinsically more creative.  The margins we butt up against are different; we are expanding in different ways… which is the essence of creativity anyway.

But I do not take the time to do it the right way.  So art does not get done at all.

Some viewers – maybe most viewers – might watch The Woodmans and come away feeling sad about the tragic ending or depressed about the talent squandered by Francesca’s choice to cut her own life short.  It is a tragedy.  But there is a brightness that shines through her story – just as her powerful artistic vision shines through what some might call small, melancholy photographs.  That’s what I took from the film tonight.  The need to dedicate time and energy to the things I am passionate about.

So, there.  Check out the film or some of Francesca’s work.  It’s art.  It’s worth it.

My Winter Apocalypse Has A First Name...

… it’s Leon, apparently.  (Naming winter storms is not a thing.  Please stop doing that.)

As a citizen of Birmingham, my Snowmageddon story is rather benign.  There were people who spent the night in their cars, wrecked, stalled or ran out of fuel.  There were sick and elderly people who went missing.  A precious few people lost their lives.  I left work around 11 AM and didn’t make it home until 3:45 PM – normally this is a 20-minute drive.

At first I was marveling and cursing at the gridlock.  Yes, there was plenty of snow on the ground when I pulled out of the parking lot, but I wasn’t sliding around or anything (and I don’t drive a car that you would call equipped for navigating slushy, slick and icy roadways).  It still seems that a lot of the early problems could have been avoided if drivers had just slowed down and driven cautiously.  As more and more cars churned up the snow on the more well-traveled surfaces, though, turning it first to an icy sludge and then a thick film of solid ice, the roadways – especially the hills (lots of people don’t know… Birmingham is hilly) – became nearly impossible for ordinary passenger cars to manage.  If not for the help of two gentlemen who came to my aid at the 21st Ave / Red Mtn Expressway on-ramp, I wouldn’t have made it up and over and into downtown.

Once I got to my neighborhood, the gentle foothills beyond the train tracks at 6th Ave were as far as I could go.  I got halfway up the last block to my house and promptly slid back down to the bottom – ultimately drifting backwards against the curb in front of a neighbor’s home.  I was somehow able to inch the front of the car to the side, secure it, and walk the remaining block and a half.

That’s a relatively happy tale, full of annoyances but far from the terror of being stranded, cold and hungry, separated from loved ones.  I know friends and coworkers who have been stuck in their offices; family members who are living out of hotel rooms unable to make it the final few miles to their homes.  As I write this – over 24 hours since the ordeal began – the roads are still treacherous.

I’m going to link to some commentary here – most of which will tell the story better than I can, and from a better perspective.  The one thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that – and I’m not the only one who is saying this – in the entire 4-plus hour commute past people stuck, walking, bewildered and unsure of what to do… I did not see any sign of the police, fire department, emergency management or highway personnel.  None.  The helping was being done by churches, businesses, and ordinary citizens.  We deserve better than we got from city/county officials.  I have yet to see or hear a good explanation for that.

Some of the more startling images.

Why the South Fell Apart in the Snow (Gizmodo)

Birmingham weather guru James Spann’s post-event evaluation.

The latest from AL.com.

Much applause for everyone helping, working to restore order, braving the elements for your fellow human beings.

Week In Review: Jan 20-26, 2014

Portfolio Additions

 
 

Tallapoosa County 1.1 | ISO 100, 1/160, f/6.3, 24mm | Nikon D800, AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED | Cemetery on AL 63, Tallapoosa Co., AL USA | Dec 27, 2013 14:45 | © DRS 2014, (cc) by-nc-nd

Tallapoosa County 1.2 | ISO 100, 1/160, f/6.3, 24mm | Nikon D800, AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED | Cemetery on AL 63, Tallapoosa Co., AL USA | Dec 27, 2013 14:45 | © DRS 2014, (cc) by-nc-nd

Los Angeles 1.1 | ISO 100, 1/250, f/1.4, 85mm | Nikon D800, AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF | Westwood Village Memorial Park, Los Angeles, CA USA | Jan 5, 2014 15:44 | © DRS 2014, (cc) by-nc-nd

Los Angeles 1.2 | ISO 100, 1/320, f/1.4, 85mm | Nikon D800, AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF | Westwood Village Memorial Park, Los Angeles, CA USA | Jan 5, 2014 15:46 | © DRS 2014, (cc) by-nc-nd

Leslie in West Hollywood | ISO 1600, 1/40, f/1.4, 24mm | Nikon D800, AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED | Roscoe’s Chicken n’ Waffles, Los Angeles, CA USA | Jan 4, 2014 20:25 | © DRS 2014, (cc) by-nc-nd

.     .     .

One of my goals this year is to produce four photography series – projects with a central theme/look instead of just a random hodgepodge of images; ones that include or imply a narrative I find important, powerful or thought-provoking.  The four cemetery photos above are part of the first of these projects: a series I’ve given the working title Elysian Fields after the ancient Greek mythological afterworld, Elysium, reserved for gods and heros.  The Elysium concept was adopted by subsequent cultures, including the Romans who were apparently the first civilization to practice decorating their cemeteries as we do today:

Since the soul of the deceased was thought to need provisions for various wants in post mortem existence, the ground about the tomb was often laid out as a garden, where the spirit might wander and enjoy itself in its own bit of the Elysian Fields. This custom, of course, survives to-day in the decoration of tombs with flowers, although now we think of the flowers merely as decorations fitting to our sense of piety and our memory of the dead.

~ John L. Heller, from “Burial Customs of the Romans”

Of course, there is also the juxtaposition of this ancient ‘garden preparation’ ritual with the plastic flowers and trite, boilerplate phraseology that dominates today’s burial plots.  My happenstance photographs from graveyards always turned out well – but now this will be a deliberate act of searching out and finding interesting, beautiful, haunting, provocative images from the cemeteries I find on weekend sojourns and over the course of the year’s travels.  Apologies in advance, coworkers.  “Well, it’s time to knock off for the evening.  What do you want to do?”  “Oh, I think I’ll go wander around in a graveyard for a bit.”  Plus – anyone who knows me knows I have… problems, let’s say, facing the idea of death.  Some might call them panic attacks.  Whatever.  This little adventure will either help me deal with that or end up with me curled up in a ball somewhere refusing to go outside.

I also edited and posted a new portrait of Leslie – this time a wide-angle shot from the interior of the fantastically unhealthy-wonderful Roscoe’s House of Chicken n’ Waffles in West Hollywood.  This one’s all about the color for me, though the b/w conversions I attempted turned out very well.  The bokeh is terrific and buttery smooth, and the red cast over everything make it really stand out among my more middling Leslie-headshot pics.  And those glasses!  Librarian fetish: engaged.

In Other News

I took about two weeks of PTO around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays + the trip to California for Leslie to see her alma mater’s football team compete for the national title.  When I returned to work I had a backlog of control tests, follow-ups and other accumulated year-end duties that I had to contend with along with my new projects.  This week I’m finally caught up, signed off and done with everything – current and otherwise.  It feels great… to the point that I’m actually looking forward to going in on Monday with a refreshingly clean slate.  On Tuesday I commandeered a large, unused whiteboard too, so that I can keep a visual representation right in front of me of the projects and tasks at hand.  Better than the scattering of post-it notes I was using up to that pont.  Organization, baby.  I feed off of it.

After a plague of head colds swept through our house over the last two weeks, we’ll be starting this new week illness-free.  All this makes next week as good a time as any to start getting a fitness and diet program running consistently… something I’ve let little everyday stresses keep me from setting up.  After the Iron Bowl debacle, I sort of let myself go.  Time to work off those holiday pounds and prepare for warmer 2014 months – which may include a trip to Mexico to celebrate my best friend getting hitched.  Looking good naked (or semi-naked I suppose, prudes) has always been a decent motivator for me.  The stumbling block is finding time.  I work 8am-6pm Monday through Thursday, with a half-day on Friday.  Friday will be a good day for hitting the gym, but ideally I would find another two days in there to get cardio work in.

Been trying to find a use for the generous monetary Christmas gifts I received from family.  A nice situation to be in, to be sure, but I’m having a hard time identifying things that I actually need.  I finally ordered a Fitbit Force wristband to track some of my health goals, but I’m still on the lookout for additional purchases.  Shut up and take my money!!!

And that’s what’s going on.  Ta-ta for now.

Cellar Door. Cellar Door. Other Beautiful Things.

Michael Robbins wrote a great piece a couple of weeks ago in the Chicage Tribune about the beauty of “perfectly strung-together words.”  Apparently “in the field of phonaesthetics, which exists, the phrase ‘cellar door’ is sometimes regarded as the most beautiful-sounding phrase in the English language, though no one can say by whom, exactly.”  I’ve found myself mentally repeating that phrase ever since.  Cellar door, cellar door.  It is a pretty pair of words, isnt’ it?

Victoria Will has been photographing the Sundance Film Festival for the past four years, capturing scenes, moments and portraits of celebrities.  This year she invited some of attendees to have their portraits taken via the wet-plate tintype technique used in the latter half of the 19th Century.  That photographers are still discovering, learning about and utilizing these antique photo processes delights me to no end.  I hope these get seen by a lot of people.  You’ll forgive me if this one is my favorite:

A couple of quick links to powerful photo pojects:

Steve Rosenfield‘s portraits highlight his subjects’ secret insecurities.  The What I Be project is an important reminder of our shared humanity – we all have dark struggles and should treat everyone we encounter every day with love and respect.

Here are even more depressing – but hauntingly beautiful – portraits by Michal Chelbin: his Sailboats and Swans series focuses on young inmates in Russian and Ukrainian prisons.

On the lighter side of things – here is a penguin colony as filmed by a bird.  (Backround: documentary filmmakers disguise a camera as a penguin egg, falcon flies away with the egg – filming the colony from the air, falcon drops egg in front of hungry buzzards, buzzards try to eat egg, buzzards instead end up pushing egg cam down a hill and right back into the middle of the penguin colony.)

Quotations Year 2: The Quotationing

Oh, I know what you need today.  You need some random thoughts from great literary, artistic and scientific minds.  The words of the illuminated and the inspired.  I need them too.  Enjoy.

 

I would burrow into stone. Into iron.
Into the rain to find someone important

there in the dark.

~Jack Gilbert, from “Threshing the Fire”

As bone hugs the ache home, so
I’m vexed to love you, your body

the shape of returns

~Li-Young Lee, from “The City in Which I Love You”

as if I had never walked
except with you, my heart,
as if I could not walk
except with you,
as if I could not sing
except when you sing.

~Pablo Neruda, from “Epithalamium”

So long as the words keep coming nothing will have changed, there are the old words out again. Utter, there’s nothing else, utter, void yourself of them, here as always, nothing else. But they are failing, true, that’s the change, they are failing, that’s bad, bad. Or it’s the dread of coming to the last, of having said all, your all, before the end, no, for that will be the end, the end of all, not certain.

~Samuel Beckett, from Texts For Nothing

I wonder what would happen if
I treated everyone like I was in love
with them, whether I like them or not
and whether they respond or not and no matter
what they say or do to me and even if I see
things in them which are ugly twisted petty
cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept
all that and turn my attention to some small
weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on
that until it shines like a beam of light
like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust
it to burn away all the waste which is not
never was my business to meddle with.

~Derek Tasker, “I Wonder”

We are not transparent to ourselves. We have intuitions, suspicions, hunches, vague musings, and strangely mixed emotions, all of which resist simple definition. We have moods, but we don’t really know them. Then, from time to time, we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognized clearly before. Alexander Pope identified a central function of poetry as taking thoughts we experience half-formed and giving them clear expression: “what was often thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” In other words, a fugitive and elusive part of our own thinking, our own experience, is taken up, edited, and returned to us better than it was before, so that we feel, at last, that we know ourselves more clearly.

~Alain de Botton, from Art As Therapy

You think you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them that are equal to them or that can restore them to your mind. And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in this presence.
But you have a life too that you remember. It stays with you. You have lived a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present, and your memories of it, remember now, are of a different life in a different world and time. When you remember the past, you are not remembering it as it was. You are remembering it as it is. It is a vision or a dream, present with you in the present, alive with you in the only time you are alive.

~Wendell Berry

All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do –
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.

~Robert Louis Stevenson, from The Land of Nod

What an astonishing thing a book is.  It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles.  But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years.  Across the millenia, the author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.  Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs.  Books break the shackles of time.  A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

~Carl Sagan

Your iPhone pocket-called me the other day.
You were walking.
I could hear your legs moving.
I was in your pants, after all, with the phone.
Swip swip. Swip swip. Swip swip.
Very rhythmic. Soothing. I listened in for a while. I was hoping for a scrap of inappropriate conversation.
I like to overhear things that hurt me.
I got nothing.
Just legs.
You were just going somewhere.

~Elizabeth Trundle

Portfolio Additions: Jan 14-18, 2014

  

Getting The Shot | ISO 100, 1/60 sec & f/1.4, 24mm | Nikon D800, AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED | Griffith Park Observatory, Los Angeles, CA USA | Jan 4, 2014 5:15pm | © DRS 2014, (cc) by-nc-nd

Tobogg’n (Color) | ISO 1600, 1/40 sec & f/1.4, 24mm | Nikon D800, AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED | Cypress Point, Lake Martin, AL USA | Dec 28, 2013 10:55pm | © DRS 2014, (cc) by-nc-nd

Rose Bowl | ISO 100, 1/320 sec & f/9.0, 300mm | Nikon D800, Sigma APO 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro | Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, CA USA | Jan 6, 2014 2:02pm | © DRS 2014, (cc) by-nc-nd

.     .     .

Here is a new feature for 2014: instead of posting every single photograph that I upload to my portfolio in a separate post, I’m going to start posting a summary at the week’s end with some additional commentary on the week’s photos.  This will hopefully 1) add some context to the pictures and 2) make room for some non-photographic topics here without losing them in the deluge of images.  As with everything else, we’ll see how it goes.  

The photo in the middle is basically me testing out the new 24mm lens, but it’s a cute picture – very expressive and nonstandard (especially for Leslie, sans fixed hair and makeup).  Even though the background sort of melts away behind her (the new glass passes the shallow focus test), the colors are still a little distracting.  I added a black & white version yesterday that I think I like better.  Again, trying to get away from skin-smoothing techniques and other falsehoods and focus on real beauty and real humanity.  If I haven’t said it before: thanks, Leslie, for being my guinea pig and subject of most of my little artistic experiments.  

Leslie also appears in Getting The Shot – that’s her taking a phone picture of the Hollywood sign from Griffith Observatory.  So many of these situations are unplanned.  We did not intend to be up there as the sun was setting, but there we were.  I got another pic that was from behind her instead of to the side, where you could see some of the landscape’s colors in her iPhone display.  It was a cool picture too, but this one felt more ethereal to me.  

And the Rose Bowl: the reason for the trip in the first place.  First off, they wouldn’t let me inside the stadium with my camera – the Sigma zoom apparently fell into the media/press category.  So there are no photos this time from inside the stadium itself.  The camera was checked at the gate and picked up without incident after the game, and I really didn’t miss out on too much.  How many different ways are there to capture such an iconic, American landmark anyway that haven’t been done to death?  So this is my sole Rose Bowl pic of the trip.  Rose + Bowl.  A word on the Sigma – this is a damn good 3rd party lens that is fairly inexpensive.  It works perfectly for what it is, and I’ve been reading camera tech news and reviews that suggest that Sigma is continuing to produce quality glass that rivals the camera manufacturer competition (Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.) and dominates the 3rd party market.  Well done, three cheers and all that.  

Appendix A:  Similar to the Tobogg’n photo, I retouched and converted last week’s Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard to black & white as well.  I think it works better this way.  The shot was in a dark room and was not as tack sharp as I normally would like.  The b/w treatment masks some of the more blatant technical errors and makes for a more pleasing and moody photograph.  Hate to part ways with that rich red leather, though.  Cool spot.  25 Degrees in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd.  Open all night.  Amazing shakes and hamburgers.  And, of course, people watching.