Saturday, February 14

Tough Art!

This sits in Istanbul's Hagia Sophia. Well actually it sits atop a marble jar brought, along with its twin, to Istanbul in the 15th century by Murad III. It probably sat outside for more than half a century before that in the ancient Roman city of Pergamon on the Western tip of Greece.

It's a jaw-dropper... A huge thing, some six or seven feet tall: an urn carved from a solid block of marble that was used in lustration ceremonies.

"Say what?"

Yeah, I had to look that up. Seems they filled these things with oil to create magic circles around infants during naming ceremonies. The belief was that evil was banned from the circle while goodness flowed in. A lot like baptismal ceremonies. You could get a big guy into this thing, with room to move around. Well, not that there was any need to cram a man into it, I'm just saying.

Now it sits in the Hagia Sophia where it's been indoors for another 500 years or so, protected from the weather... First in the Sultan's great mosque, and now that it's been converted into a museum, it's part of the collection of ancient Muslim and early Christian artifacts which the Turkish people maintain for all of us.

Recently Tom Dills asked some questions about the permanency of art, or at least our photographs. He mused about photographer and editor Bruce Jenson's essays on the topic. Bruce has often wondered about the eventual fate of this stuff we do... Well, the stuff that he does and by extension, what we do. Simply put, both Bruce and Tom wonder what happens to the photographs and art we've created when we die.

Which led me to wonder about the Lustration Urns of Pergamon. Did the designers/carvers of these things expect that a millennium or so after they stopped chiseling away stone that people would still wonder at their beauty? Or was the respect their work generated in its spiritual usage sufficient psychic reward. I guess that someone gave them some sort of direct economic payment for their efforts. And I also guess that, like artists always, the sheckles they got felt like too few.

Do you think it's the scale of these urns or their marble, that guaranteed them some sort of lifespan longer than their creator's? If they'd built them out of pixels, I wonder if they'd survive the winds of technology much less fashion, caprice, war, weather, and the tantrums of human taste. Understand, our photographic art is stored in the least permanent form ever imagined. Recently I tossed dozens of 78 RPM classical records of my father's that were created in the 1920s. I have no way of accessing their contents. I'll soon follow them to the trash with dozens of audio recording tapes which need reel-to-reel playback machines. And a lot of Super 8 and VHS family movies will follow them. Do you imagine that your carefully preserved images residing on virtual clouds somewhere will be any more accessible than the stuff you may now have on 8 Trac Tapes, cassettes,or even on CDs and DVDs?

Emily Dickinson had the advantage of "recording" her thoughts on paper, so that they were easily accessed so she could be "discovered" after her death. Imagine if she'd dropped them onto floppy discs?

Forget the "quality" of the work, what's "permanent" art demand? Not merely high levels of imagination and creativity, but some impermeable strata that can withstand time's vandals. Oh, and it probably should be big... like this lustration urn... Huge enough... to get noticed, right?

Thursday, February 12

The Best Might Accomplish Nothing

 Recently someone asked about a journalism degree. And I replied that journalism is an activity, accomplishment is what it documents. The activity’s incidental… Secondary… Unessential. But in other circumstances, the activity is necessary… inseparable… ONE with the accomplishment.

In this case here, I’m the photojournalist… This guy is a master glass blower at Ireland’s legendary Waterford Crystal. Which means he’s among the world’s best, perhaps one of history’s best, at accomplishing with his mastery of process. Something a journalist cannot do.


Not only won’t journalists admit this: Most don’t know it.

Monday, February 9

So Much Blarney


See that road sign there on the left of this image? It points to Blarney Castle. This little town square is almost in the shadow of the old ruin. Well, maybe not a ruin. The place isn't habitable but it's sure well preserved given the hoards that come to kiss its stone. There were more Americans, Canadians,  and Australians walking these streets as I meandered about  than Irish. Tourism's a MAJOR industry on the island.

Regardless of the stuff we come to see, Blarney's a great example of what's just beyond the snapshot frames of the 17th century stuff. It's where townsfolk come to shop in 21st century wagons. I like that. This could be Lancaster's town square, or the centers of Blue Ball, Paradise, or Intercourse. Well, maybe not. In fact, our squares are gridlocked with Amish horse carts. Hmmmm.... 

Odd I travel to the olde sod to scratch my ancient Irish roots and find towns that are more modern than my own. There's some kind of lesson there, right? 

Monday, February 2

Wooden Indian • Wooden Future

For over a century he's stood in front of the original Rhinebeck Smokeshop. So I took his picture. It felt mandatory. So did the shop window's wooden frame. Okay, so there we have it. Form, shape, texture and... and.... Meaning?  Now there's the rub. I notice that images demand to be made. 
Have noticed as you review your day's catch that there are dozens of inexplicable things that drew your attention but you've no memory of what lured your lens? Some will sport a magical palette but no subject. Others have strong form, strict framing and yet... no concept... no story arc... no meaning quivering to be released.

I envision every image that I work through to an end... Envision them as prints. Ideas or feelings to be hung and lived with. Stories to be expanded each time my eye returns to them. Of course there's no room for all of those framed feelings and narratives. So, what to do with them? A book perhaps? Or just slid into folders that gather digital dust inside of cavernous HDs. Is it miser's pleasure we get from running our fingers over the value, pulling out this or that to enjoy? I mean is it like the miser who gets kicks as handfuls of gems drop from his fists under a single light in a darkened vault-room?

When Degas finished a watercolor, what then? Did he care about anything that carried the punctuation ... 'finished'? What about Whistler? Or Hopper? For some years I did daily TV commentaries. We recorded a week's worth all at once. I never watched them when they aired. Why? Because that guy up there on the screen could affect my life. By the time of airing, there was no further opportunity to edit, change, or fix the product. 

Viewer mail pointed out any errors... So in a lot of ways I was trained to release my creation into the wild, and go off on another hunt. The process became the challenge, even more than the result at the moment of broadcast.

 I wonder if I'll revisit the indian up there? And if I do, have I already sucked all of the surprises and meaning out of the thing? My friend Cedric Canard tosses his images away. I'm guessing he's not got a cigar box full of prints? Neither do I anymore. Not since I left my wet darkroom, never to return. Instead the box exists on a cloud where it's filled with wriggling binary strings. 

Tuesday, January 13

Christmas Colored - Happy 2014


Once upon a time... it was December 12th and A Longwood Christmas 2014 was underway when Rita and I joined Marty and Gib Armstrong for the 45 minute ride down to Kennet Square in Chester County. Some of you don’t know about these 1,077 acres of gardens, woodlands and meadows where the Dupont Family (Yes, that duPont family) created what might be the world’s premier botanical gardens in Brandywine Creek Valley. 

A disclaimer: While I’ll glue some images together with a narrative in this post, it’s a hard fact that discussing the mystery of flowers is more difficult than describing the shape of mist. I find that the stuff of Longwood Gardens goes through my mind directly to my feelings without ever passing through words. 

 Maybe three or four times a year we try to visit Longwood Gardens. Their Christmas display is a magical explosion of color that’s a magnet to a fine art photographer’s lens. Floral inspiration comes from plagiarizing what nature’s created. So  in a effort to  find my voice this year, I decided not to just take photographic dictation from the flowers. But still, for those who either missed it this time, or for you folks way far away from here, all around the world… well I’ve attempted to let the show communicate the idea of Christmas Colored. Make sense?

REMEMBER SPRING?


Within their glass bubble, the curators of Longwood have stuffed a dense luxury of star dust… Their trails contradict the wintry outside ice to trigger feelings of seasons past or coming. They do it with polychrome sparks along trails leading off into humid tropics, arid desert, and among lushly weird exotica from every continent and most islands. 


DETAILING


So this Christmas, instead of trying to document their enormous show I hunted just for the accessories which set off the elusive feeling of Christmas ColoredYou know: examine trees instead of forrest? Like this tiny glass bird nestled maybe ten or twelve feet up there among vines hugging a strange tree? Is that breadfruit? And does this shiny little guy evoke a fragment of lost holidays you captured somewhere a long time back?




The photographer Brooks Jensen’s written, “Picturing flowers is too easy, like clubbing baby seals.” But capturing their conclusions… now that’s a challenge. So that’s what I hunted in those four and half acres of heated greenhouses joined together by lush corridors of plants and meandering brooks burbling with ebony water. On a near bank I found a Scotch pine hung with lights and snowballs while on the far bank a giant palm was back-lit with orange-golden spots. Do photographs lie? Is there such a thing as non-fiction in any media? What images do is reflect the photographer’s life-view. The more interesting question is whether there is a gap between their creator’s narrative and reality. 

A sign announced that there are over 5,500 plants in the 20 indoor Longwood gardens cut with half a mile of trails. They’ve begun a forty-year expansion overseen by the Dutch landscape architecture and urban planning firm, West 8. And already the efforts have won international awards… Including one for this…


WASTING AWAY


There was a cheery docent at the main entrance. “Down there’s an award winner," she pointed us to a corridor that led to this row of doorways. Want to guess what’s behind them? These are toilets! Uh-huh. They look like mausoleum doors, don’t you think? And for what is that a metaphor? But who knows what Dutch WCs look like? Um, wait a minute, I was in Holland recently. Didn’t see anything like this though. Hmmm… Maybe I spent too much time wandering their notorious Red Light District?

ON TO THE MANSION


In 1906 Pierre du Pont, the industrialist, bought this property as his private estate and today his mansion which is also part of the Longwood Gardens Foundation sits about a hundred yards from the sprawling crystal greenhouse. Also open to the public, that home’s built around a two story atrium where this graceful wreath whispers its early 20th century message of holiday elegance. Have you ever noticed that simplicity is elegance and vice-versa.


Has it occurred to you how short, “now” has become? We seem to have no time for it. Now seems to be what’s keeping us from something. Now’s an impediment. The du Pont mansion’s interior details  speak of a time before 24/7 news cycles, streaming video, audio, and games. Everyone at the du Pont dinner table shared the same culture-space. There were no virtual guests competing for attention from hand-helds. Its interior details lent themselves to the muted color-capturing-nostalgia of watercolors. 

Upon du Pont’s death in 1954 he left much of his estate to support the Longwood Foundation which manages the gardens that  are open to the public seven days a week. And more importantly he left us the opportunity to look at the luxury of his day.We can look at what maybe never was… And I guess that’s what nostalgia is, huh? A look at what never happened, but should have? 

Still, it’s moving, particularly at Christmas, to imagine living when families ate together each evening. And more importantly knew enough about one another to share and communicate in their “now” which has become the “when” or “then” of the nostalgia that perhaps happened: Once upon a time...


HERE'S THE 12/12/14 GROUP SHOT

Above: That friendly docent who pointed us to the prize-winning bathrooms saw my camera and volunteered to picture us in front of the grand hall where this all starts and ends. It takes about 90 minutes to walk the trails and visit the nearby du Pont mansion. That’s Gib and Marty to the left of Rita and me. Do we look hungry? The Armstrongs drove us back to Frank Fox’s Aussie And The Fox restaurant in downtown Lancaster. Which is where we discovered that, yep… We were famished.

Oh… a last capture. Among the Longwood Collection is a group of Bonsai miniature plants. In the display’s center is this pomegranate girl. “Ewww,” a woman muttered next to me. “I thought my baby was big! Now that…  THAT’s what I call labor !!”









Tuesday, December 16

Uganda: Wobble

Odd, straddle the equator... Y'know... one boot on each side and... Well... The spinning world makes Y'wobble.


Actually this is a street fashion image. It's my exclusive Bwana Ted look. Hey... what part of "exclusive" y'don't unnerstand? Eh?

Sunday, December 7

Uganda:OMG!


Beside the bus driver I sat in a single seat surrounded by windows from roof to floor:  A glassy bubble. We’d stopped when a sinewy hand snap onto the arm of the outside rearview mirror. 

“Huh?” I muttered turning to the driver who stared behind me. Whipping  around… “OH MY GOD!” I screamed at this… millimeters of glass away. 

Clicking off my Canon 7D’s auto I focused the 17-85mm lens all the way down… tried to get those eyes vice-tight… not much depth of field so close. Hammered the trigger once as the driver crammed down the gas. 

Post done in PS4. What I didn’t capture was this guy’s strength. Later my driver said that creature could tear the window away. In flashbacks, it’s not the glass that I feared he’d tear off. 

Y’know?

Sunday, November 16

Uganda: Gasp!

I'm told that hippos can't swim. They sunburn so the huge beasts spend the day largely submerged in water where they walk along, even when it gets deep. Apparently they can hold their breath for long periods eventually popping up from below to take a huge gasp of air... like this.


Y'think the color's a tad dramatic? Okay, here...



Saturday, November 15

Look! Caravaggio's Dog

So, friends at Radiant Vista  flung a challenge, "Imagine an image through the lens of Caravaggio's chiaroscuro light." Well why imagine? The last time I was in Rome I passed Caravaggio's doorway and... well sort of channeled one of his forgotten works...

And here, everybody... as you can plainly see... this here long lost Caravaggio's got chiaroscuro all over it. Huh? Huh?




"Authentic?" You ask? Well look... down there on the lower right. Uh-huh, there's the master's unmistakable signature. So it must be authentic. Right? Of course right!

Want more detail? Duh, well yeah... so here... look at the way chiaroscuro's slathered all over the canvas. Making it clear that, well, there ain't no way to... let sleeping dogs lie.




Friday, October 24

Uganda: Highway Takeaway


In the 14th century
“To advertise”…
Meant to reflect or think- 
Upon something.

Now there’s reality
And advertising’s
Representation
Of it.

But on a Sunday morning along the road to Mbarrara, Uganda, this advertising once again made me think upon the tradition versus modernism of this couple as a Highway Takeaway….

Last August 19th, my Canon 7D was a time machine as I cranked the 17-85mm zoom wide to imagine this moment coated in the ancient palette of Kodachrome II slide film - the brand that ruled  from the 1940s through the 60s.

Anyone remember how it rendered stark, narrow-range color, through a grainy veil? Yeah… So, after tweaking the dynamic range in PS4 I poured K-II all over this image with Alien Skin’s magical Exposure 6 to return to the faded-memory hues of the early part of the last century - the place where Uganda’s hopes seem stuck.

Or wait… maybe that is a time before chrome at all?





Thursday, October 9

Uganda: Sleeping Baby

Silent Dog, Still Leaves



Along this path 
Men and beasts
Come and go
Like shadows among
Whispering things that
Lurk in the night.

"Be on your guard against a silent dog and still leaves." - Latin proverb

I flew then bussed a total of 8,000 miles to find this path by Lake Mburo in Uganda. Moments later, safe in an Arcadia cottage as the light died, a hippo growled from that hole in the darkness.

Alone, my Canon 7D captured this moment hand-held at an ISO of 1250 - f5 at around 7:45 in the evening (sun sets at the equator at about 6:30pm) through my 17-85 Canon at 35mm.Lightly post processed in PS4. The moment was mystical, even the monkeys whispered. 

Monday, October 6

Uganda: Safari - Uno

Remorse ain't guilt, y'know what I mean? Read Ugandan history and your head hurts. It's an angry geyser of horror. Recently international authorities report torture and extrajudicial killings remain a pervasive Ugandan problem. Its people are breeding themselves out of space. Yesterday they reported an extremely virulent strain of ebola's struck down a hospital worker in Kampala, the largest city (where we spent four nights). And here we were, eleven european faces visiting a four star lodge high over Lake George in the Queen Elizabeth Game Park on Safari on a plain in the southwestern mountains.



The place isn't shabby… 


They have a menu of safaris, we chose one from the lion column and checked a box next to a water trip. See there in the bottom pano above… Right below the lip in the center behind the curvy railing? Down there are the docks where we boarded the African Queen to ply Lake George for a cruise to the right along the far bank. But more on that later. Safaris are done in the early morning and late evening when the nocturnal animals are still awake or awakening. We went lion-ing in the AM, hence the blue shift in the guy up above. Does my squirming conscience peek through these words? 

BTW, safari sounds so… so… 19th century romantic, eh? An adventure into the jungle and bush. Hiking miles with bearers lugging supplies dangling from bamboo poles. Pitching tents. Lying awake, guns in hand, eyes darting through the darkness to spot what rustling or growling so nearby. Well, that ain't it kid. 

Nope, we bundle into Land Rovers, drive off road with the heaters on against the chill, windows up against the spitting rain, and a tracker with a directional radio aims us toward beasts with transmitters dangling from their collars. Very Eight Flags or Disneyland. And that's what Bwana Ted did. Every one of these pix was captured through the car's rain spattered window. So much for buying the best optical lenses available, eh?


Hey, if they can pretend that safaris are great adventures, why can't I pretend that my pictures are…. well in this here hall? Huh? Huh? 

So soon I'm going to post some pix. A handful. You all  know that we can capture thousands of images in a day. I did. Who can manage all of that? Who cares to see all of them? Who wants to watch granddad's slide show from his summer vacation? Yawn. Sooooo…. I shall pluck out maybe a baker's half dozen or so of lions lying, and elephants menacing, and … 

But before I do that, let me show you the one animal that truly terrified me… These guys tried to climb inside with us. Worked to yank open windows. With dagger teeth and razor claws these omnivorous seventy pound acrobats are methodical killers. And they hunt in troops. More than snakes, panthers, or apes, it was baboons that made me glad we weren't huddled into skimpy tents, in the night, clutching guns…













Saturday, September 27

Uganda: A Hole In The Storm Of Heartbreak?


Ida Amin's demagoguery warped the sentiment of Ugandans into their will. Tyrant's snatch power by  turning hope against fact. It's their promises of romantic hope that pummels reality with ferocious storms. 

Pedaling exhaustingly above those clouds, do Ugandans wonder now, is the tempest impending or receding? Is this a hole or an end in their storm of heartbreak?

Uganda is as close to Eden as a place might get. High up above the equator, it's climate's fixed in the range we call delightful. Uganda's green, lush, and fertile: Croesus' rich in precious minerals. Everything will grow there but prosperity. It's people have created a place between promise and performance. Perhaps when nature yields without resistance, there are fewer muscles of will to separate reason from madness?

*GEEK STUFF* The image was captured high into Uganda's south-western mountains with my Canon 7D through its EFS 17-85mm (f4-5.6). PP in PS4. The wispy/cloudy texture screens and brushes are mine. I cross processed it in part with AlienSkin's Exposure 4 and my own palette imaginings. And the details were selectively enhanced with Topaz Adjust 5.

Friday, September 26

Uganda: To The High Plain


Uganda sits atop a plateau and it's nestled within a rim of mountain ranges that feed its giant lakes and create it's potential to feed all of Africa from rich, dark, deep, moist soil. Climb the western range toward the Congo and there's a high veld… a plain dappled with grasses and tree clusters. Fifty years ago it teemed with marquee animal life. Idi Amin slaughtered much of it. 

Since his exile in the late 70s the country's worked to bring them back in protected national parks. On our fifth day in-country we climbed through the clouds to the south-eastern Queen Elizabeth park, the nation's largest. 

And along the way children gestured at our white faces.

I captured these boys and truck with my Canon 7D through its Canon EFS 17-85mm (f4-5.6). PP in PS4 painting in localized glows and textures created with multiple layers of Alien Skin's Bokeh2, and then cross processed part of the image in Alien Skin's Exposure 4.I added the gritty grain to emphasize the glowing pieces of cloud.  I finished it with a hint of vignetting and then the borders, text, and signature. 

Don't the cloudy mists paint a mysterious patina over the mountain road?