Art stuff, blog

Scary piece

In thinking about my friend, Patty, going through chemo, and ready to face the sickness associated with it, I found myself gathering image parts from the web, cutting things out, and modifying them. I needed to work with images I had not made, but with parts of pictures I found that could become part of it. An anon reprint of a witch photo, a flower, some handmade paper, some background and writing of mine: I added these and made up the whole.

As a photographer, I feel funny about using found images but ironically, I do not feel funny about isolating a subject and taking a photo. It reminds me of when Lucho and I were in the pampa of Chinchero and he was painting a tree. The man from the hut nearby came out and demanded Lucho pay him, as that was his tree.

I suppose it is because the image is made of parts I did not create that it is disconcerting to me but then every photograph or painting is made of something out there that one did not make. A creation is an interpretation with a new meaning, not a rip off. I think of Robert Heineken’s magazine page work and how he created something with a meaning and aesthetic entirely new, made from a piece of paper with images on both sides, NOT his images.

I sound like my own apologist. Anyway, I love taking bits and pieces and turning them into something else. I suppose all collage artists work that way.

In any case I am adding the photo which even scares me.

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Notre Dame is Burning Down

As I type. My thoughts this last week have revolved around the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Order to Entropy. Today on CNN I watch a 12th Century structure, a magnificent world icon of architecture, burn, crumble, and plummet to the streets below. It is painful for the French, but shocking to this viewer (who has never been to Paris), as a metaphor for the fruitless efforts of humanity to withstand inevitable destruction and decay, be it sooner by fire or later, when the Earth itself gets fried to a crisp.

My existential crisis is coming to grips with that. I seem to have gained some perspective, given what I have learned about the nature of matter and the universe. The arrow of time moves in that direction. Here today, gone tomorrow. By no means is that statement cavalier. I am simply adjusting to the newness of my lessons. Humans make wondrous things, creation being something that sets us aside from other living things on our planet. We achieve marvels in art and architecture, music, literature, and science. Partially we create from a conscious need for self-expression, or from an unconscious urge, or perhaps another for a attempted glimpse at an eternal life. How many more reasons may there be? Unknown. I wish to make my mark, but am very uncertain of any success. It does not diminish my drive that I have no personal gain, other than a sense of satisfaction that I have done something I think communicates itself to another.

Notre Dame is far more than the sum of her parts, even of what were her parts. The impact of awe upon her visitors may have been transitory in the scheme of things but it was there. In six billion years, no. But, for a time, the deep impression of marvel upon millions was enormous and real. Why humans create is absurd and beautiful. Perhaps even more beautiful because they are impermanent.

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blog, sex, Sexy stories

Sexy Stories from Lima: #2

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I apologize for the delay. The Trump/Clinton debate so upset my humor and constitution that I needed to avoid all social media, really social anything, for a minimum of 24 hours. On with the stories.

A friend of my cousin, a young married woman in her 30’s, Señora X, let us say, purchased a cell phone for her 5 year old daughter so she could communicate with her from work and such, putting her daughter’s nanny in charge of the device.

Day before yesterday, Señora X borrowed the phone for a minute to look up a number she had forgotten and found a series of pornographic images of the nursemaid, taken in Señora X’s own bed as well as in her own underwear, spread eagle to tantalize the anonymous recipient/s. Outraged, she immediately began a search for a new nursemaid but, as is rather typical of Limeñans, has not fired her until she has found a convenient replacement.

Curiously, yesterday, at a well attended luncheon in their home, Señora X’s husband passed around the same cell phone so all their guests could ogle the infamous photos, the maid (unaware, of course) being a server.

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Here, There

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Lately there has been a good deal of death among my friends. (And, by friends, I mean the people that I am really connected with on social media as well. I have come to care very deeply about their lives.)  I am of an age where perhaps that is not unusual; but, it has caused me to consider mortality and the afterlife and what I suspect is true. To say “believe” is too strong, like the faith of rabid evangelicals, closed to other possibilities.  Yet, I am open to the strong inclination I have to suspect that those we lose are still around us.

I do not think that an absurd idea. In considering all the things we cannot see and still rely on, from radio waves, the spectrum of gamma and infrared rays, the miracles of telephone, television, wifi, etc. that we accept so casually, why would we conclude that the energy a person possesses, their soul, if you will, just evanesces to nothingness?

I sat alone with my mother when she took her last breath; unconsciously, I had started to breathe in tandem with her, until she stopped. I waited and heard the unforgettable rattle, rat-tat-tat, rise from her chest. I still felt her presence but, after about 15 minutes, her body was just a shell. She was not in it anymore.

She and those I have loved and lost are around me, even my sweet little pets. I have stories to tell you, readers, but I do not want to share those here. I can call upon them to sit with me, help me, guide my way. What some call coincidence is a sign to watch, something that reveals itself that we may not recognize immediately.

As a message to my friends numb with the pain of lost loves, take heart. The nature of the relationship has just morphed, like water changes from vapor to ice, the same and different.

 

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My Shady Bent

I have always been attracted to stories about the Mob. We have a farm in Southern Illinois and, down there for summers as a kid,  I heard first hand accounts about men like “Black Charley,” the Birger and Shelton gangs, and Old Shawneetown’s Helen Holbrook. Friends pointed out the roadhouses used for bootlegging, prostitution, and notoriously poor behaviors. These tales were the stuff of local fascination. Even respectable townspeople discussed them, awe mixed with a hint of local pride.

I live near Chicago Heights, a south suburb of Chicago with extensive Mob connections. Big Al’s aunt lived in “Da Heights,”(as it is known here) and Al Capone was no stranger to the town in the 20’s and 30’s. The head of the local Teamsters told me about the soup kitchen Mr. Capone set up during the Depression and he showed me the house where Big Al would throw nickels from the balcony to the kids gathered below. He was one of those kids catching coin. Regardless of murders and mayhem, illegal activities, and wicked deeds, Big Al holds a fond place in my heart. Like New Yorkers’ soft spot for Gotti, many Chicagoans enjoy the notoriety Big Al brought, and brings, to our town.

In my high school, a Catholic school in Da Heights, many of my peers were Mob kids. The President of our Senior Class was a kid who wore starched shirts, black trousers, and a silk tie to school, in an age of madras and Beatle haircuts. He even wore a diamond pinkie ring. In high school. He  is now living out west, and doing well I hear, under the auspices of the Witness Protection Program. Another kid’s dad was a local lawyer for the Mob, found shot execution style in the trunk of his Lincoln.

Lately my allure for the Mob has surfaced because I am binge watching Lilyhammer, a Netflix series about an American mobster in Norway, played brilliantly by Steven Van Zandt.  My husband does not hold with my attraction at all. He grimaces slightly when I show him my extensive brick collection from dismantled locales in Illinois where legendary Mob misdeeds occurred.

Easily influenced, I think I need to temper my enthusiasm, somewhat.  Last night in bed, after I had watched a couple of episodes of Lilyhammer on my iPad, my husband came in to update me on the current winter storm warnings.

Hub: Hon, Skilling just said we may get up to 12 inches of the white stuff tomorrow.

Me: Fuck me. (Accent is on “me.” Mob version of “Dang.”)

 

 

 

 

 

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shame on me

I really enjoy playing games on my computer, sometimes.  Gin rummy, Solitaire, Canasta, and Dominoes are my favorites. On the website where I play, one wins badges and gets tokens for accomplishing challenges. There are sound effects that accompany the games, like the shuffling of cards, and bugles blaring to celebrate a win. The graphics are very well done, colorful, cartoony but not overdone. One can choose an avatar to represent oneself that is humanlike, selecting facial expressions, skin color, eyes, hair (color, style, and length), weight, etc. There are avatars with disabilities and avatars in uniform. One can buy clothes and pets and different destinations for it to go with the tokens you win. I make mine look like a younger, slimmer me with cute dogs.

According to the site, there are over a million and a half subscribed players from around the world. It costs roughly 35.00 dollars a year and I have been a subscribed player since 1999. It is rather horrific to think of the number of hours I have spent playing games throughout the years.

As I said, I enjoy playing games on my computer, but only sometimes. During the years I have played, I have learned a bit about myself, not all pleasant. It takes me back to the times, I must have been about 10, when I dumped all the pieces on the RISK board, letting them fly hither and yon, when my brother was about to take over the world. Now I can only play with robots. I used to play with people, strangers, also members of the site, but that was awful. The competition was fierce and oftentimes people would berate and insult me if I won. It was too upsetting to interact with real humans.

So my time with robots has taught me how competitive and petty I can be. I have had to face that I do not like to lose, even to a robot, if indeed it is a robot and not some very underpaid illegal. My computer screen gets full of spittle from the spray of razzing when I win. If I lose, the robot is lucky; if I win, I claim skill.

It is dreadful to face one’s shortcomings, especially when one has no intention or desire to change. I am a bad loser and a bad winner. And, I am glad I stay away from other competitive ventures where I would only disgrace myself.

 

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eye strain, lately

I was embarrassed in Grad School to admit that I didn’t really like looking at much photography, the area of concentration for my MFA.  Many of my peers and professors, though, had to know about everybody, see as much as they could, like in the early 70’s when one had to know the names and albums of even the most obscure bands to keep up, to be hip. I kept up with some photographers whose work I liked but I really just wanted to concentrate on making my own work.

When I started teaching photo, I did have to study trends, examine historical and contemporary work, and be able to speak cogently about it to students. The last few years were exhausting, because of the massive quantity of digital work online. There were times I found something I really liked, smart work or work with heart and genuine conviction. But most of the time I was indifferent to what I saw.

I feel the same now, of photography, fiction, and music. There are occasional pieces that stir me but not many. I am even more selective in what I care to look at, now that I have left teaching. The volume of mediocre images is mind boggling. Most of it is blah: emotionless, diffident, nonpartisan. Does it matter to me that some win critical acclaim despite their shallowness? No. Almost every day I receive emails from galleries and online magazines showing work that has no meaning for me at all. I look away, like I do from anything on television (besides the Weather Channel), because it bores me to death.

Am I a cultural snob? Maybe. If I read the first paragraph of a book and the words do not hit me like hail, I drop it on the hard wood floor, thumping it, allowing the pages to fold over awkwardly, punishing it for wasting my time. Music doesn’t get much better treatment, a few bars and off it goes. Photographic works gets less than one second. Say something or don’t bother me.

I am about to start a new project tomorrow and I am very nervous, feeling I need to screw up the courage to start. I have not shot in the US in a long time. How will I relate to my fellow Americans, when I am so isolated here, so unconnected to my own culture? We shall see. I cannot put it off any longer. I must get to work. It would be unhealthy to do otherwise.

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Art stuff, blog

Into the void

Making art, whatever the medium, if done from deep need, reminds me of a young bird taking wing for the first time. The difference is that the bird gains confidence and surety with each flight, until it is as much part of its routine as eating bugs, seeds, or worms. For artists, that surety never really arrives. It is a blind leap each time. Equanimity and composure are illusive; self doubt more often dogs the maker. Satisfaction comes in the doing, with success or failure a mere epilogue, as fickle as wind. 

I have been thinking about Edward Curtis these days, having just finished a very good biography about the resolute pursuit of his dream. His intensity and drive were undiminished by financial or familial pressures. He had a vision and worked to exhaustion to achieve what he could before the inevitable eradication of the cultures he admired, respected, and sought to preserve on glass. Time was his greatest enemy. He could see from year to year the choking and dying of an era, a people, sacred traditions. 

Are artists hardwired to pursue their work, despite the consequences? From what I see and know, I would say yes. It is not a vocation one can walk away from without a great sense of loss. People sometimes ask me, “Are you still taking photographs?” not understanding that making my images is as elemental to my life as breathing. I have tried to imagine how I could continue to make photographs if I were blinded or bed-ridden, though I am not someone who makes pictures every day. Far from it. But, I think about it every day and wait for the spirit to move me to act. When I was younger I had to shoot constantly. Now I need to bide my time and sprint to the finish, like a runner of short races. 

There is rarely glory, often disappointment and frustration, hardly the reward for such self sacrifice. Such it is, though. We do what we do because we cannot do otherwise. 

Gratefully I say thank you, Edward Curtis, for leaving us the stories and images of what is long gone. 

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The Times, oy.

2.4.2014

It’s has only been a couple of days since the Super Bowl, a stupid spectacle in my eyes, and the Super Bowl commercials, which are somewhat less irritating. This year I saw the Bud Light one with a retriever puppy and the Budweiser Clydesdales that reduced me to tears. Blubbering after a 6o second spot that promotes the drinking of beer is the height of lunacy but I succumbed.

What was far more annoying was when I heard about the Bob Dylan commercial for Chrysler. I didn’t watch it live, but my husband came into the bedroom after the game and told me about it. He was mildly surprised but I almost gagged.

Bob Dylan, the scrawny anti-hero of my youth. This was the guy whom I have looked up to as the King of Cool, rough around the edges, scornful, and cynical. At the last concert when I saw him live, he refused to even look at the audience but kept his back to us the whole time. Arrogant but at least in keeping with his disdain for convention and his jaundiced view of humanity.

I said, “Chrysler?”

“Yeah,” said hubby, “and it lasted almost two minutes. Weird.”

Then yesterday I watched it. Well, I watched half of it. I could not watch more than one minute. His grizzled grey hair was dyed brown and his accent, very fake cowboy. I tried to believe that he was singing for Detroit, the underdog city. I wanted to believe that he was donating all the money from the commercial to rebuilding a city that deserved to survive, but not because of General Motors, or Dodge, or Ford.

I was just fooling myself. When he started singing about the greatness of America, I wanted to yell, “Hey, what’s wrong with you, you dick? Did somebody tie you up, drug you, threaten you, and force you to get a dye job? What happened to the rebel who knew that this rhetoric about America The Great is bullshit?”

He just sold out. Like Dennis Freaking Miller. One day, a frothing radical, the next a Fox show host.  He became like his own lyrics. He serves somebody, but somebody that smells like a goddamn Republican.

“You may call me Terry, you may call me Jimmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say.

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

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The Times They Are A-Changin’. They certainly are. Fucking A.

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A Truth and The Truth

A fellow photographer and blogger, Lewis Bush, on http://www.disphotic.lewisbush.com, posted a fine article yesterday about truth in photojournalism. One point of his is that no photograph can be trusted as to the message/meaning ascribed to it, for multiple reasons that he describes very well, the least being the manipulations of the image by the photographer him/herself.

Beyond the photojournalistic image, though, I think there is NO photograph that can reveal the truth; it can only reveal a point of view. There is a difference between A Truth and THE Truth. There are photographic images that hint at something that might have existed for that fraction of time. Beyond that, the rest must be left to the viewer to believe or not to believe. Is how we read it based on our biases? Think of other factors that filter the message.

Even snapshots succumb to the need for close scrutiny. We may think them less contrived. And, yet, remember the false smiles, the cheesy kisses, the demands of the photographer on the subject, for example, to simulate a happy occasion.

I like to look at images and see what I think they say.  Sometimes there are gestures that reveal something unintended by the person taking the photograph or by the subject in the picture. We see only one angle and conclude something, which might not be true at all. The photographer may have chosen it because of the message intended. This image is one example of how a photograph can be read or misread.

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I see a grandmother with her hand on her grandson’s neck. They are dressed for a formal occasion, a Communion, a Bar Mitzvah, perhaps a wedding. Her corsage says wedding but I cannot be sure. The background suggests there is a hired photographer with backdrop, props, and lights taking the picture. I assume it is Grandma because both she and the boy have reddish hair, there is that age difference, and there seems to be a close relationship between them. Grandma’s red fingernails draw attention to her quasi-grip on the young boy’s neck. That is the funny part of the image for me, her hand like a ventriloquist’s, holding his dummy.

This is likely an outtake that survived. Had her fingers not been right there, we could have read this quite differently. Perhaps the one chosen from the contact sheets by the family had her hand behind the boy.  But this one made the list of Awkward Family Photos.

Here is another one I like in that same list.

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The members of the family seem prepared with props, wigs, or expressions for the photographer, with one exception, the little girl with her fingers in her mouth. She is caught unready or unsure of what is even happening. Again, the sister or mother’s gesture pressing her two fingers on to the little girl’s shoulder seem to say, “Don’t Move.” The little girl looks a bit nervous, sucking on two fingers, and the balloon just looks sad. To me, to me.

Final thought for the day. Does it matter that we recognize the subjectivity of the photograph? Well, apparently, it does. There is something so convincing about “seeing it with one’s own eyes” that even the most savvy viewer can be seduced by the illusion that it is real or true.

Advertising photography, intended to sell a product, creates a fantasy for us. We may know that, intellectually, but the sales push driven by imagery still works its magic. My current favorite is the Ralph Lauren fashion ad played before and after Downton Abbey, models parading turn-of-the-century-inspired gowns in front of an Abbey-like building. We become the perfect audience prepped for the pitch.

Whatever the image, trust not, at least not completely.

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