Driving home from Rhode Island. Sun is only a light glow behind the hills far off on the western horizon. Wilco plays on the radio. Kids play their Nintendo DSs in the backseat. Large cups of Dunkin Donuts coffee are sipped in the front seat. We roll along.
I look down... and see my red Chucks turned black in the glow of the green light bars illuminating the footwells from under the dash.
Grab my camera and point it down... focus... snap... catch.
Sitting in the auditorium of East Providence High School for my daughter's dance competition. Look up and see the awesome intersection of the ceiling meeting the stage wall meeting the auditorium wall. The way the light hit it was simply amazing to me.
Reach down... unzip the bag... slip out the camera... silently aim-zoom-focus-snap-smile.
Put camera away... and continue watching the show.
So far my daughter has won a High Gold for her solo...
It was suggested to me that I include - as part of this whole "365 Project" thing - a monthly self portrait. Apparently it's a pretty common component in 365s done by other photographers.
So here's the first one for me. The weather had me stuck inside today... so I decided to seize the opportunity and try to get some painting in. I've had a HUGE canvas waiting on my easel for a while... and figured today was as good a day as any to finally attack it. I put on the soundtrack to AVATAR... cranked it up pretty loud... and started my paint-flinging session.
Then it hit me that this was the perfect opportunity to get in the first self portrait photo. I set up the tripod... mounted the camera... aimed... focused... and set the timer. The music was loud - so there was no way that I could hear the countdown alarm on the camera. I had no idea when the shutter would fire. I just went over to the canvas and started painting again... and after a while went to see what the camera "caught".
Needed a bit of "creative release" today. Decided to have a bit of fun with an otherwise crappy image. Took a quick snap of a bottle of Pepsi "Throwback" in my fridge. Nothing exciting. Boosted saturation... contrast... highlights... and exposure. Cropped down to only a sliver. Tilted image, slightly. Voila! There it is!
I remember countless Sundays spent at my grandparent's house... family dinners together with big glass 1.5 liter bottles of Pepsi on the table. I remember the heavy-ness of them to a little kid trying to poor them without spilling a drop on the tablecloth. I remember the fizz... and the bubbles jumping. I remember the bright red, white and blue painted logo. I remember how good Pepsi tasted when they still used real sugar, instead of corn syrup.
So, for me, this new Pepsi "Throwback" with real sugar becomes a Pepsi "Flashback". I sip... think back... and smile.
An empty sort of day. Not feeling too well. Took a sanity day... stayed home... painted for about 8 or 9 hours straight. Went to the diner for a very late dinner... and snapped a few shots of the empty stools at the counter... the only thing to really catch my eye today.
Feeling sort of down... sort of low. Need sleep... need rejuvenation.
Feeling very un-me today. Needed to escape... so I grabbed my camera and snuck out the back door at work. It had been raining hard since before dawn... but the skies apparently needed a break too, and all became still. I wandered around behind the shopping center... snapping photos of reflections in puddles... a flag a half-mast... a torn mattress tossed by a dumpster... and the barbed wire capping the fence... keeping me from going forward.
With camera raised to my eye, I hear a voice calling my name... a co-worker, come to call me back in to answer a question. Escape over... forced back in... left with the final picture... the barbed-wire and razor-wire coils. How fitting! Yet... how beautiful!
Head a little "blurry" from drinking way too many Sam Adams...
Still had to get in some shots though. Took a few of this-and-that around the house... and didn't like them. Saw my laptop sitting on the coffee table... saw the Colts desktop... smiled... zoomed... focused... snapped.
Perhaps not the most "creative" image... but that's OK. I'm still in AFC Championship Heaven!
The Colts are going to the Super Bowl! Life is good!
Technically this image is "off". The hot-spots on the chest are too dominating... yet to me they hint at a certain "inner glow" - and regardless of any technical details, I'm really happy with this one!
I once had an art teacher who refused to let us clean our paint palettes. He'd show us photos of palettes belonging to famous artists - most notably that of Picasso. They were monstrous things... covered in years worth of paint... layer upon layer... piling up into towers of muddy colors. He insisted that we had to do the same.
He also insisted that "fine art" was dead... and that any of us with notions of doing anything other than becoming commercial artists were... well... crazy!
(I hated that teacher!)
This whole palette rule of his went against everything I had ever been taught before entering his class. Previous teachers always insisted that we had clean palettes... usually of pure white material, such as a white enamel butcher's tray - so that the colors we'd see on our palette would be as close to their true color as possible... and not muddied by anything underneath.
Now I look at one of my "untouched" palettes from long ago... and see nothing but memories of colors past... remnants of long-lost paintings... and emotional paint-flingings.
Tomorrow I will scrape it all away and sand it smooth - simply as an act of creative spiritual cleansing...
But for now, I look upon the thick paint layer... I capture the essence of it all with my camera... think back upon the memories... and smile.
Frustrating day. Not happy with any of the images I've snapped. Decided there were two routes to go: 1) I could keep snapping photos until something felt "right", and "worked" for me... or 2) I could take one of the "to be tossed" images from the day... and have some fun with it until it worked.
I decided to go with #2... and tried playing around with several of the images.
One last go. I had taken some shots of a pile of tinsel garland from our recently undecorated holiday tree... and figured I'd play around with the saturation and color boost. And that's all this image is... a shot of the tinsel garland... with the saturation and color boost pushed to the max - but no other adjustments made.
Does it work? Perhaps. Am I happy with it as an image? No... not exactly. But it was fun to play around with it for a while... experimenting with the color.... and having a relaxing moment of creative play at the close of a rather frustrating day!
Another strange day. Another "off" day. Still, I managed to get some shots.
This is a close-up of my R.R.P. Co - "Cow Jumping Over the Moon" cookie jar. It is a very popular jar amongst collectors... and one that is often faked and marked "McCoy". This one, however, is an original - dating from around 1940... and belonged to my Aunt.
The colors are actually kind of pale - yet bright. I shot this image without a flash... with only the kitchen light shining upon it... and liked the "eeriness" of what it did to the colors.
The Moon... smiling, as the Cow leaps over it's head... and the Dish & Spoon run at it's base... while the Cat plays the fiddle.
The Moon... smiling a sinister smile... constantly watching me as I sit at my kitchen table.
The Moon... reminding me, always - of my Aunt... who sparked my interest in collecting things... and finding beauty in things of the past.
Strange day today. Not feeling quite like my self. Just sort of "off". Creative drive on empty... I realized I hadn't snapped a single photo today. So I decided to grab the first thing to catch my eye... and see what would happen.
This is my Tibetan Skull Mala. Fifty-five hand-carved yak bone beads (54 beads... plus the "Guru Bead"). It's rather large... and quite heavy - weighing a little more than half a pound. I don't tend to use this mala, because it's actually kind of awkward... yet I find it absolutely beautiful.
And there it is... the first thing that caught my eye. Now it's time for bed!
This afternoon I wrote a blog entitled "Why photography?".
This evening, having no photos from the day that I was happy with enough to post... and taking that blog into consideration, only one subject seemed right... my first "real" camera.
My grandfather (my father's father) was a photographer. When, at age 16, I decided that I wanted to get into photography as a serious artistic interest, I turned to my grandfather for advice on choosing a camera. He asked me what I wanted to shoot... then told me to "come down to the house next weekend and we'll discuss it".
I arrived at my grandparents house the following weekend, only to find the dining room table absolutely covered in cameras and camera equipment... and my grandfather practically glowing! A 35mm camera body... and at least a dozen lenses... plus flashes... motor drives... light meters... and other accessories - and we discussed the details and nuances of each and every one.
My grandfather seemed more "alive" that night than I had ever seen him in my entire life. We talked for hours - and not just about photography... but also about music (he had been a musician, playing a variety of instruments from flute to sax to, I believe - trombone) - as well as "deeper" subjects, like marriage.
We had a wonderful day together... and I thought that that was that. I had a wealth of information about cameras... and basically learned that if I was going to buy a 35mm SLR camera, it HAD to be a Canon - or it simply wasn't worth buying! I figured that I now had enough information to go out and buy what I needed... probably a used Canon AE-1 or something like that.
Then my grandfather shocked me... and told me that what I saw on the table was now mine. A Canon "New" F-1 body with an AE Finder... a dozen Canon FD lenses, each with filters, hoods and cases... Canon Speedlite flashes... Canon Power-winder/Motor-drive... and all of the accessories. This wasn't a simple 35mm camera... this was Canon's absolute top model professional manual 35mm camera... their last manual 35mm camera before switching over to the EOS system of Auto-focus. It was absolutely beautiful to me!
I was shocked!
Enough "Thank You!"s could never be uttered! I swore to put the camera to good use... and it wasn't long before I had blown through ten rolls of Kodak T-MAX B&W film. My first "real" photographs.
The black metal rings which capped the cartridges from those first ten rolls were placed on a ball-link chain... and became my "Creativity Mojo". I've worn them on my belt almost every day of my life since then.
And the camera? Obviously I still have it... and while it's no longer my primary camera (having switched to a digital SLR several years ago) - I do still use it from time-to-time. The camera is almost 25 years old... and still works absolutely perfectly!
Since receiving the F-1 almost 20 years ago... I've used a half-dozen other cameras... and every single one of them has been a Canon. While I plan to purchase a Leica within the year... and a Hasselblad after that - Canon is just part of my life... and I can't imagine ever being without one. I certainly won't ever get rid of that F-1!
So... this is "the camera that started it all" for me. After all these years I still find it to be absolutely beautiful!
As an artist, photography is just one part of what I do. I love to paint... I love to create mixed-media collages... I sketch... I write... I make music... I enjoy just about anything that lets me create. Photography is just one outlet I turn to for creative expression. It just happens to be the one I tend to turn to most often. I had never really questioned that before. I never had a reason to!
Then one night last month I found myself in Bryant Park in Manhattan, taking photos of folks braving the cold and snow to skate on the rink which seems to "appear" every winter. I was snapping away, when suddenly a man skated towards me, saying "Excuse me... but do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"Sure!", I replied.
"Why photography?", he asked. To which I could only manage to get out the word... "Huh?".
He quickly responded with "Why 'photography'... as opposed to something else? What does it do for you?"... then went on to say how he had worked with several photographers over the years, and just wanted to know why someone would choose the medium... and what it does for them as an artist.
"Good question!", I said... in an attempt to buy time as I formulated a better response.
"I mean... What do YOU do with your photographs?", he asked.
"Not much", I replied. "I have a web site I post some on... and a blog... and some I use in competitions with a camera club I belong to. But most of them I don't really 'do anything' with. They're just for me."
"Do you sell them?" he asked.
"No. That's not really what I want to do with them", I replied.
"So why photography?" he asked again. "What do you get out of it?"
I found myself in the middle of a very awkward feeling... the feeling of having to ask myself that very question - "Why photography" - as if I had never truly asked it of myself before. I wasn't nearly as concerned with providing a response for him... as I was with finding the response for myself.
My mind wandered... and a dozen or so of my favorite images flashed before my eyes. I thought of the image of the incredibly thin student standing in front of a newsstand, glaring at the fashion magazines. I thought of the image of an old woman gliding down Madison Ave on in-line skates while carrying a pink Disney Princesses umbrella. I thought of the day last May when I happened upon some newlyweds in Tompkins Square Park, and managed to catch the joy in the bride's face as she and her groom had their first dance as "husband & wife".
... And it hit me...
"I like capturing those little moments of day-to-day life that no one else sees... or, at least... that most tend to miss. There's beauty in those moments... beauty we seem to overlook or take for granted", I said.
Right at that moment a child skated by, being held up by her mother and father. I turned and snapped a few shots...
A young couple... obviously out on a date... nervously made their way around, each relying on the other to keep from hitting the ice...
A young man, trying to show off in front of the ladies - came rushing around a corner, only to fall on his rear while showboating...
Real moments... each of them absolutely beautiful!
I love the feeling I get when I raise my camera to my eye... look through the viewfinder... and see something within a frame that no one else is seeing at that exact moment. I love "finding" the image... and capturing it.
Whether it's a "moment" like those I've described... or the abstract corner of an object I'm photographing as some sort of a still-life - I like taking something that is "real"... something that is "common" - and showing people that there is, in fact, beauty there. That's part of why I almost never alter my images beyond basic darkroom-esque adjustments to brightness, saturation, contrast and the like. No "Photoshopping" or digital image manipulation. Nothing that couldn't be done in a darkroom. Just the straight image... pure and real.
I also love the challenge of it! One of my favorite artists, the painter and photographer Chuck Close, had this to say about photography...
"The thing that interests me about photography and why it's different from all other media, is that it's the only medium in which there is even the possibility of an accidental masterpiece. You cannot make an accidental masterpiece if you're a painter or a sculptor. It's just not going to happen. Something will be wrong.
This is simultaneously photography's great advantage and its Achilles' heel: it is the easiest medium in which to be competent. Anybody can be a marginally capable photographer, but it takes a lot of work to learn to become even a competent painter. Now, having said that, I think while photography is the easiest medium in which to be competent, it is probably the hardest one in which to develop an idiosyncratic personal vision. It's the hardest medium in which to separate yourself from all those other people who are doing reasonably good stuff and to find a personal voice, your own vision, and to make something that is truly, memorably yours and not someone else's. A recognized signature style of photography is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve.
It always amazes me that just when I think that there's nothing left to do in photography and that all permutations and possibilities have been exhausted, someone comes along and puts the medium to a new use, and makes it his or her own, yanks it out of this kind of amateur status, and makes it as profound and moving and as formally interesting as any other medium. It's like pushing something heavy uphill. Photography's not an easy medium. It is, finally, perhaps the hardest of them all."
This challenge adds another element to the question's answer for me. Why "photography"? It challenges me... perhaps more than any other medium... to show who I truly am... to myself.
I love Iron Maiden. They are my single-favorite band of all-time.... and if I could only listen to one band for the rest of my life - it would them. The two best concerts I've ever been to were the two "Iron Maiden - Somewhere Back In Time Tour" shows I went to in 2008.
Iron Maiden's music has helped me in more ways than I can count. I passed a high school history test, thanks to the lyrics to "Alexander the Great". I've worked myself through countless migraines by putting on headphones and focussing on Nicko McBrain's drumming on the "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" album. When I had a heart attack, the song "Heaven Can Wait" became my anthem. I listen to Iron Maiden every single day... they're simply part of my life!
So imagine the pride when - on our way home one night - both kids sat in the back seat of our car, singing along to "Run to the Hills"!
And imagine the pure joy and happiness I felt when, on Christmas morning - I opened the gift my children bought for me... and found an original issue of Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" album on vinyl!
Today I broke out the turntable... and played the LP for the first time. What a beautiful thing! The hum of the spin... the crackle when the needle first touches down... Eddie's head spinning round-and-round at the record's center... as those first notes of "Invaders" fills the room!
I felt the need to get out of the house today in search of some images. We get in the car, and Holly turns to me and asks "Where to?"... and the only thing I could come up with was "someplace dilapidated".
We started off at the "Fine Arts Theater" in Brookfield... not far from our home. The movie theater has been closed for almost 15 years... maybe longer. (The last film I remember seeing there was "Immortal Beloved" - and that was back in '94!) I got a few interesting shots of the remnants of bird nests in light fixtures... but that was about it. Nothing really caught me.
Next we made our way into Newtown... and came across the old "Circle Dot Cafe"... an old hot dog stand/diner... closed at least a decade or more ago - and sort of "frozen in time". I snapped a dozen or so shots... interesting - but not too exciting for me.
It was cold... and the sun was sinking. Running out of options, we made our way to Fairfield Hills State Hospital & Asylum. Now THIS was what I was looking for!
For those not familiar with Fairfield Hills... it was a psychiatric hospital and asylum, built in the 1930s and closed in the 1996. It was one of the largest - at one time housing over 4,000 patients! The hospital was used as location for the film "Sleepers" with Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon and Dustin Hoffman. It was also the scene of an episode of MTV's "Fear" - where they referred to it as "St. Agnes Hospital" to hide the real location.
But I digress...
My son and I exited the car, and made our way toward Shelton House, while Holly stayed behind to enjoy the warmth of the car.
Shelton House is one of the largest buildings at Fairfield Hills - and my favorite by-far. It was built in 1933, and was primarily a residential and treatment building for hospital patients. Some people say it's one of the most "haunted" of the buildings there.
Brandon and I started snapping photos: The main entrance... the stairs leading up to the door... the amazing sun-rooms at the ends of the building. I felt drawn to the windows... the broken panes of glass... the rusted hinges and locks... the rotting woodwork.
I snapped away - as did Brandon. We peeked inside... seeing empty rooms... dust-covered fans... open doors... ceiling tiles long-since-dropped upon the floor. I found a broken window and stuck my camera through it to snap a few pictures. It was right at THAT moment that it happened: One of the heavy, open metal windows on the second floor SLAMMED shut! Brandon and I looked up toward the window... then he looked at me and I looked at him... and we RAN back toward the car!
We told Holly what happened... and she laughed at us. I just looked at her and said "Start heading home!".
Time and time again I hear people comment on how they don't understand modern abstract art. This is often the case when it comes to the work of one of my favorite artists... Jackson Pollock. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've heard people standing in front of one of his paintings saying something like "It just looks like he spilled his paint to me"... or "I just don't get it"... or the ever-popular "My kid could do that".
I look at a Pollock and see a moment of intense emotion being frozen in time.
But what does any of this have to do with today's image? Well... It never ceases to amaze me how a simple "zoom-in" can reveal a sense of Jackson Pollock-like abstraction. If I were to have used a wide-angle to shoot the scene, you'd see a snow-covered bush in my front yard... a man driving a plow truck, clearing the road... and some kids waiting for the school bus, just a little down the way. But instead I chose to zoom in as much as I could... creating a photographic "drip painting" of sorts.
Looking at it now... I kind of wonder what it would have been like if Jackson Pollock had painted with a "wide-angle lens". What would the scene be if we were able to "zoom-out" from one of his paintings? Would the overall scene be as interesting?
I guess we'll never know... yet I can't help but imagine how "boring" it would become to me!
A strange day today. A long day. Still, I somehow managed to squeeze in 49 shots... all of them during the course of my time at work. Close-up shots of dusty garlic bulbs and roots... candid shots of co-workers... shots of produce... shots of little round chocolates in "Earth" wrappers. None of them quite "did it for me" though.
Then I noticed several bags of cobalt glass bottles we just got in. The light reflecting on them sort of mesmerized me... so I snagged them and started playing around with them. I took about a dozen shots of them... and this was the final one... the one that, for some reason - "said something" to me.
Once again... stillness... emptiness... calm.
Once again... "blue".
So yeah... I guess I really AM entering some sort of "Blue Period". Could it be the mass amount of Picasso paintings I was forced to endure at the Guggenheim last Saturday? I don't know. I truly hope not! I freakin' HATE Picasso!
Blue Bottles... empty... waiting to be filled with "whatever".
I was walking back home after putting my son on the school bus this morning... and was marveling at the beauty of the Sun shimmering on the snow... when I noticed this icicle clinging to the side of our house. The Sunlight shining through it made it look like an entire universe was trapped within it's center! It made me feel both "giant" and "incredibly small" at the same time.
I snapped about a dozen photos of it... and a dozen more of patterns in the snow, before retreating to the warmth of home.
I chose this image to post, mainly because I like the abstract form of it... and it has a certain sense of "calm" and "stillness" that I think I need today (I'm not feeling too well).
Combine this image with yesterday's, and it would appear that I'm entering some sort of "Blue Period". Will that be confirmed tomorrow? We'll just have to wait and see!
It's cold outside. Cold... and quiet. The sort of quiet that only comes during Winter. The sort of quiet that allows you to hear EVERYTHING... only to find that there's nothing to hear... externally. The sort of quiet that forces you to look inward... to your own heartbeat.
January. The month of the "Cold Moon". A time to reflect on the past and think upon the future. Soon it will be planting time... time for the disruption that comes before growth... growth that ultimately leads to the Harvest - the Harvest of the Self. Yet we're not quite there yet!
We stand in this still quiet moment that is Winter... left to ponder the possibilities... to look within as we attempt to choose which Seed we will (need to) plant, come Spring.
This moment is the calm before the storm!
* * *
This shot was taken in my daughter's bedroom at her grandmother's house late this afternoon. Taken through the curtains on her front window - no alterations were made to the image other than a boost to saturation to bring about more of the blue.
Jan 03, 2010 - Looking through the haze, wondering what the future will bring.
What does this year have in store for me? What lessons will it bring? What opportunities does it hold?
Regardless... I can't help but feel optimistic about the coming year. Just the symbolism of hanging the new calendar and looking at page-after-page of "empty canvas"... I find it all very rejuvenating!
Was this a "real" reading I did for myself? No... this image was a simple still-life I threw together tonight. The deck (one of several dozen from my collection) is a reproduction of the 15th-Century "Pierpont Morgan Visconti Sforza" Tarocchi deck. It (along with the "Cary-Yale Visconti Tarocchi") is generally considered to be one of the oldest known Tarot decks in existence.
So... what does the future hold for me? I don't know. There is no such thing as the future... and no such thing as the past. There's only "eternal now".
Jan 02, 2010 - The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC
Holly and I went to the Guggenheim today to see the Kandinsky retrospective.
The Guggenheim is my least-favorite of the NYC museums. It's a beautiful building (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright... it took him 15 years to design, and was his last major work) - however, it's an absolutely lousy layout for a museum... resulting in traffic-jams of people... poorly-lit artwork... and mass-amounts of frustration! Add to that the fact that the museum displays far too many Picasso paintings... and tucks their only van Gogh in an almost unnoticeable corner - and, well... yeah... The Guggenheim is my least-favorite NYC museum!
Still - the Kandinsky paintings were exceptional!
Following our visit to the Guggenheim, we visited the Whitney Museum of American Art to catch the "Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction" exhibit - which was phenomenal! Who knew a vagina could be painted so many different ways!?!
Lunch and two pints of Guinness at the Life Café with Matt Dillon... followed by a desperate search for a bottle of "Pacifique Absinthe Verte Superieure" - which we finally found at the amazing Astor Wines & Spirits (my new favorite liquor store!).
We ended the evening back in Danbury, watching our friend Justin's band "Six7" play at City Ale House - while drinking another four or six pints of Guinness... and gazing at the wonderful bartender, Jennifer.
All-in-all... a pretty amazing day!
Life is good!
* * *
This shot is a telephoto close-up of the exterior of the famous "spiral" portion of the building - shot just in front of the museum, on the Fifth Ave side. I wanted something abstract... rather than the usual touristy full-on shots. No adjustments were made to the image, other than converting it to B&W and boosting the contrast a bit.