Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ralph Gibson for a mere $2.00?

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Ralph Gibson is one of my favorite photographers. I honestly do not know much about him... and I cannot claim to have seen the majority of his work - I simply like what I have seen of his photos.

My favorite Gibson photo would have to be “Bastienne”, the photo which graces the cover of his 1995 book “Infanta” - a collection of his nudes, primarily focusing on abstract portions of the body. “Bastienne” shows only the right eye (looking down) and top of the cheek of the model - positioned in the upper right corner of the frame... leaving most of the image filled with the deep black background. It’s an extremely simple composition... and, to me - a very beautiful one indeed.

Most of Gibson’s work remains unfamiliar to me. I’ve seen bits here and there in books and on the internet. I’ve gazed at one or two in museums. Yet despite having seen so little of his work - I consider him to be one of my favorite photographers... simply based on the fact that what I have seen of his work has amazed me. Simple compositions... abstract... high contrast - sometimes showing lots of grain. Simple. Beautiful.

So imagine my amazement when - at an agricultural fair here in my own Connecticut - I wandered in to a used books tent, raising money for the agricultural society which hosts the fair - to find, sitting prominently atop a pile of books in a section marked “Coffee Table Books” at the tent’s entrance - a copy of Gibson’s “L’Histoire De France”! The price? A mere $2.00! (Yes... an out-of-print art book with a cover price of $49.95 - for a mere $2.00!)

Fearing that someone else might notice this treasure and make a run for it, I grabbed the book as quickly as I could... as my mouth hung open.

Of course... the possibility is high that I was the only person in the entire fair that gave a damn about that book! Most of the books being sold were romance novels... war histories... cookbooks... gardening books... and children’s books. Most of the customers were either fair attendees tossing books around with BBQ-sauce-sticky fingers - or were fair participants, with manure-coated shoes. It might sound as if I’m stereotyping a bit (perhaps I am) - but for some reason I just don’t think that the Gibson book would have been their cup of tea!

Still... I snatched the book and clung to it!

(And I’ve been devouring it ever since!)

This book is special because it was the first he published of color photographs (usually he focuses on black & white exclusively). There’s a certain ‘softness’ to his images... and his “reductivist” style continues to amaze me. Gibson shoots using Leica M cameras exclusively... and almost always using a fixed 50mm lens (a lens which many photographers today seem to have either ‘forgotten’ or have chosen to abandon).

On his web site, Gibson says that his images reveal “how it feels for me to be looking at something”... and continues to say “I may shoot something as humble as the corner of a box, but it’s really about photography, the process of seeing, and conveying my personal feelings. How you feel determines how you perceive reality - therefore the only thing that’s real is how you feel. That may sound solipsistic, but I succeed as an artist only when I communicate my individual consciousness.”

A philosophy I completely agree with...

No wonder I like his images so much!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Falling into my Harvest

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I'm scared shitless.

Strapped "securely" in my seat... third row from the end of the train. We start to move forward with a rather awkward jerk... and begin the slow climb up to the 220 foot high dropping point.

To our left... the Connecticut River...

To our right... acres upon acres of people waiting in lines... drinking ICEEs... applying sunblock... spinning around in circles... screaming on rides.

Almost a minute after leaving the station we reach the top of the hill... and this is when I realize that sitting in the back of that second-to-last car was a bad idea...

a really, REALLY bad idea.

We make our way over - and I can't see the track at all! Unlike the people in the first few cars... I have no idea what lies ahead until we're already well into it. A 71-degree drop... at over 75mph...

and just like that I'm having one of those "OH SHIT!" moments!

Yes... this is my very first time on any sort of a "mega-coaster". Up until now the biggest coaster I've ever been on is "Space Mountain" in Disney World. My fear of heights has kept me off all others I've been presented with over the years.

But today is about conquering fears... right?

It isn't the highest roller-coaster in the world... nor is it the fastest. (At 456-feet high with a top speed of 128mph, both of those records are held by "Kingda Ka" at Great Adventure in New Jersey) Yet "Superman: Ride of Steel" at Six Flags New England has been consistently rated one of the "Top Five Steel Coasters in the World" since it opened in 2000. It has been rated No. 1 in the world most of those years... including 2007 (the 2008 results aren't out yet). Why? Mainly due to the "air time"... those moments of negative-Gs that send your stomach up towards your throat - which coaster fanatics crave. It might not be the highest... fastest... or longest coaster in the world - but "Superman: Ride of Steel" is generally viewed as being "the most exciting".

(NOTE: There are other parks with "Superman" roller-coasters... in fact almost every Six Flags has one - but most of them are "Superman: Ultimate Flight" or "Superman: Krypton Coaster" - and those are entirely different from "Superman: Ride of Steel" - which can ONLY be found at Six Flags New England).

No... I didn't scream.

No... I didn't close my eyes.

No... I didn't let go of the lap bar.

Yes - I swore that I was going to fly out of the car and land, very hard - upon the ground... each and every time we crested a hill and hit one of those air-time moments...

and YES - I smiled the ENTIRE time!


A year ago I wouldn't have even been able to look at that ride without getting a vertigo moment of nausea... forcing me to turn around.

Yet here I was... enjoying every last second of the over 2-minute-long ride!

What changed?

Everything!

Every last thing!

And in that moment... I knew - that the Seed I had planted back in Spring had grown to a ripe and very sweet fruit indeed!

Change had arrived. Perhaps it had done so gradually... and unnoticed - yet now - at 77mph... with the long hair of the girl sitting in front of me whipping my face every now and then - I realized once and for all that change had, indeed - arrived.

My Harvest is a truly bountiful one indeed!

(And now one more thing gets crossed off of my Bucket List!)

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Sometimes...

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Sometimes you just have to write...

but you don't know what to say.

It's not that you don't have anything to say...

it's just that your mind gets a bit fuzzy...

and the words get lost...

and tangents come and go...

and come again...

and before you know it you're just sitting there...

staring at a blank piece of paper...

or a glowing screen...

completely lost...

knowing that you "should"...

but feeling as if you "can't"...

or... at least... that you just don't know "how".

(It can be a very scary place to be!)

So you look for things to help bring the words out to the surface.

For some it's wine.

For some it's cocaine.

For some it's sex.

For some it's locking themselves in a room with nothing but their memories.

For some it's a plate of apple pie and vanilla ice cream at a diner at 3am.

For some it's a white plaster bust of Shakespeare.

For some it's the explosion of color in a Kandinsky... or a Pollock... or a Basquiat... or... of course... a van Gogh.

Or... the black-meets-white-meets-gray beauty of a Mapplethorpe photograph.

For some it's Hemingway's words... (O Me! O Life!)

For some it's walking the streets of the city.

For some it's the sound of Miles Davis' muted trumpet in "Recollections"...

or the power of Dawn Upshaw performing Górecki's Symphony No. 3.

(And for some it's a combination of "all"... or "none" - of the above)

And sometimes it works... beautifully.

They come alive...

and in a fury of creation - the words flow like notes from Coltrane's sax...

quickly and beautifully...

falling.

Yet sometimes it doesn't work...

and they're left staring at the blank page...

the glowing screen...

even more lost than before...

until they give up... and walk away...

frightened...

and mourning for what could have been.


Sometimes you just have to write...

but you don't know what to say...

so you grab yourself a cup of coffee...

sit down... here...

and before you know it... you've said something...

and are about to click "Preview & Post" on another blog entry.

(And having released that... you suddenly feel "free"... to breathe)

* * *

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Declaring my existence...

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I used to own an old Smith Corona electric typewriter... about 18 years ago.

Blue... gray... white... and black...

Heavy as hell.

(It had a metal plate bolted to the body saying "PROTOTYPE - NOT FOR SALE".)

My mom bought it for me at a tag sale. It must have already been 10 or 15 years old at the time.

To me it was some sort of an electric wonder!

I remember heaving that thing onto my desk... lifting the cover... uncoiling the plug... stretching it out to reach the socket... having to decide what to unplug - My Mac 128? My stereo? My desk lamp? What?

(I chose the lamp)

Flipping the large switch on the side of the beat-up body... an electric buzz sent motors spinning and whirling - bringing the machine very noisily alive.

It warmed up... and settled into rhythm. A regular hum of a heartbeat... with the occasional metallic cling and clatter to keep things interesting.

I adjusted margins... wound in that first sheet of blank paper... snapped back the bar... checked to make sure that the ribbon was usable...

and sat...

staring at that blank page...

and the keys...

and the possibilities which lay there before me.

I reached out... set myself into position... ("Business" class was a requirement in Florida schools... so proper typing technique was already second-nature to me)... and waited for something to come.

Nothing did.

Just the hum of that Smith Corona... the ringing in my ears... and a moment of dumb blankness.

I looked out the window...
saw a vast blue sky filled with puffy white clouds...
saw the edge of the pine and palm forest...
saw manicured lawns...
saw heat waves rising off the pavement of our little cul-de-sac...
saw middle-aged neighbors playing basketball...
saw the girl I loved practicing dance moves in her front lawn...
heard my dog start scratching himself on the floor of my room...
and turned back towards that blank page...

... and typed my name... in lowercase letters only...

vincent james pia

that's it. Nothing else.


I had just formally "declared" myself...

Declared my existence...

Declared my intent...

Declared all of my hopes, dreams, desires...

... and possibilities...

in that one little electric line of lowercase letters: "vincent james pia"

and that was that.


I pulled the page from the roll... with that rapid clicking sound that happens in such moments.

I put it on the desk beside the typewriter - carefully and reverently.

I reached along the side of the machine... and pulled the lever switch to "OFF"...

causing motors to wind down... into silence.

Leaving it plugged in... I put the cover back on... securing it with the chrome latch beneath the blue vinyl handle along the front edge.


My work done - I was both content and proud of myself.

Stood up... pushed in the chair... and walked away.

(Damn! I miss that old Smith Corona!)

* * *

Friday, August 1, 2008

Moving Past Heroes (at the speed of insomnia)

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James Douglas Morrison died in a bathtub in Paris on July 03, 1971.

(He was 27 years old)


Kurt Donald Cobain died in Seattle on April 05, 1994.

(He was 27 years old)


James Marshall Hendrix died in London on September 18, 1970...

(He was 27 years old)


Janis Lyn Joplin died in L.A. on October 04, 1970...

(She was 27 years old)


Robert Leroy Johnson died in Mississippi on August 16, 1938...

(Some say he was poisoned...

Others say the Devil himself sent Hellhounds for Johnson... to collect his debt...

Either way... he was 27 years old)



Jean-Michel Basquiat died in New York City on August 12, 1988...

(He was 27 years old)


Brandon Bruce Lee died on the film set for "The Crow" on March 31, 1993...

(He was 28 years old)


Percy Bysshe Shelley died in Italy on July 08, 1822...

(He was 29 years old)


Keith Haring died in New York City on February 16, 1990...

(He was 31 years old)


(And the list goes on... but I think that's enough of it for now.)


What's the point?

No... I'm not going to try to point out any sort of eerie coincidences that link their deaths.

No... I'm not going to get hung up on the whole Morrison-Hendrix-Joplin-Cobain-Johnson-Basquiat "Forever 27 Club" crap.

No... I'm not going to talk about things like "murder conspiracies" or "family curses".

So... what IS my point?

Nine people.

Nine people who have... at various times in my life - had a tremendous impact on me - through their words... their lyrics... their music... their art... or, simply - the "visual impact of their being".

Nine people who have been "personal heroes" at times.

Nine people I've based aspects of my Self on, at times.

Nine people who have helped to carry me through certain journeys which I needed to be carried through.

Nine people who continue to have an impact on my life in some way. (Hell... my own son is named after one of them!)

But what's the point?

Nine people who never made it to the point that I'm at today.

Nine people who never made it to "32". Only one even reached "31"... and died 3/4 of the way past that year of his life.

Nine people...

And here I am... a little more than two months shy of "32"... And I've officially outlived them all.

And what is the point in that?

I don't know... really. It was simply a thought that kept me awake all night last night. A thought which I find both "tremendously comforting" and "tremendously depressing" at the same time.

And perhaps THAT is the point.

Perhaps not.

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