Paint brushes waiting to be called upon to make art.
No. They aren’t mine. You know better. I was walking a couple of the dogs when we came upon our neighbor who does paint. She likes to say hello to the dogs so we know each other a little bit. Her studio is located in a screened-off section of her porch. When I asked her about summer’s heat and humidity, she said she didn’t mind. It helped her to feel. To feel more connected to her work.
I asked her if I could photograph her studio. And, maybe her. She declined on a portrait saying she looked like a mess. I tried to counter that with you look like a working painter. She’s smarter than that. But, I did make pictures of stuff in her studio.
This is one that I like best.
My post production is kin to something that many photographers have forgotten about. Painting with light. It’s always been around. After all, the word photography is Greek for either painting with light, or, writing with light, depending on who is doing the translating.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it really burst onto the photo world, in part because a photographer-inventor created a machine that controlled how the light fell on a scene.
It looked like a giant vacuum, with a large hose attached to one side. You pointed it and controlled where the light travelled. There were additional tools that you could attach to the hose to create different light shapes. Just like a vacuum and the tools that came with it.
Like all things trendy, it fell out of favor after a few years of everybody doing it. What was art became technique. Sort of like those star field pictures that are so popular today.
I haven’t thought of that machine in years. I’m going to have Google around to see if I can find an existing example.
I’ve been walking around this kind of scene. Passing it by. For some reason, I stopped. I made a picture. This picture. I guess something caught my eye.
I know what you are thinking. This is an autumn picture.
I promise. It’s not.
I made it yesterday. On a very short dog walk,
Short? Yes. It seems that the dog who sees stuff isn’t liking the heat. So, she cuts her walks short. After all, she’s an old girl. She’ll be eleven years old in July. On the Fourth of July to be exact. I see the signs. Her muzzle is turning white. She’s buff in color. That’s fading a little bit. When the weather turns wet, I see her arthritis kicking in a little.
She takes care of us. We take care of her. She’s the boss of the other dogs. That’s funny to watch. She herds them by walking in circles around them until they move to the place that she thinks that they should be.
The heat? She’s getting groomed as I write. She’s has a long relationship with her groomer. She’s getting a short summer cut. That should help a lot. When she’s done, she’ll have a short skirt, her legs will be fairly full, but her back and head will be very short. If you are doing this at home, remember that you can’t cut the dog’s hair too short. He or she will get sunburned.
The picture. Yes. It really is a spring picture. Around this place, leaves are always falling. Often, in fall-like colors. That’s due to the various species of trees that grow in what was a swamp.
If you ever saw the movie, “JFK,” there is a meeting in which one prosecutor says that the trees in front of the famed Texas Book Depository didn’t lose their leaves in November because they were Texas Live Oaks. They lose their leaves in April and May. That’s true.
As an aside, if you ever find yourself in Dallas, do yourself a favor. Go to the grassy knoll. Take the book depository tour. I did that years ago with a group of international staff. Nobody left the sixth floor with dry eyes. I don’t know what kind of president John Kennedy could have been if he hadn’t been killed because he was just getting started. But, he stands for something bigger than that. Optimism. Hope. Dreams. All was lost on that November day.
See those little white dots? They are little flowers blown off of a bush. That’s what I set out to photograph. Rather than work tightly, I used what amounts to about a 28mm lens. It wasn’t until I started framing the picture in the LCD that I realized what I had.
I captured a late spring or early summer picture in blue. In my swimming pool. Nature was just floating around. I only made a couple of pictures. This one, another slightly tighter horizontal picture. And, a couple of vertical pictures which didn’t work at all.
The image took almost no post production. Mostly, I just tuned it up a bit.
How you see the picture is up to you. We all make meaning of art in different ways, based on our own personal experiences.
I wonder about the future. The future of photography.
I was scrolling through my Facebook feed looking at the pictures other photographers posted. Before I get into this, please know that I don’t take the so-called wisdom of the crowd all that seriously.
What I found was interesting. The truly unique and challenging pictures had almost no likes. The derivative, technically current popular ways of working had many, many likes. This is partly due to the Instagram effect and young photographers trying to gain popularity so that the become influencers. That may have mattered once to image users and buyers, but that ship has sailed. They know that the waters were very shallow.
If anything, Instagram and Facebook have hurt photography. If you follow the crowd and play for likes and reposts, you’ll never break out. You’ll never really find your own style. You’ll just be copying some other photographer, who copied some other photographer and… you get it. Out of that comes a new photo philosophy. “Fake it until you make it.”
Copy other photographers work until you learn enough technique to start trying to make your own pictures. I don’t know when or how that came to be. It’s the worst possible thing to do. I was taught about 150 years ago to photograph my world as I saw it. Sure. Some of my early work wasn’t all that great, but it taught me to think for myself.
Certainly, some photographers influenced me. They still do, today. But, I didn’t copy them. I learned a lot from how they thought. I learned a lot from how they worked. But, I never set out to make a particular picture like one of them did.
Although many artists write very elaborate vision statements when they show their art, I’m not one of them. I think a lot of what we do comes to us by accident. It isn’t planned out. We don’t write outlines of what we are going to do. At least not in the raw creation phase.
We see something. We hear something. We might even smell something that turns on that lightbulb in our minds. Then we pursue that idea. The hard part is having the discipline to see it through. It’s easy to self edit and decide the idea wasn’t a good one without knowing the middle and end. You just pivot. That’s the current word for changing in mid stream.
In some cases, that’s right. In most, not so much.
I always say that once you start something you should keep going until the end appears naturally. You never know what you have until you get to the conclusion.
A good case in point was yesterday’s post. I resurrected my picture from my Storyteller archives that are stored here, on WordPress. I worked through the pictures, one by one. I came to understand just how productive I’ve been since I started Storyteller almost eight years ago. Understanding is an understatement. More like shocked.
It also explained why I feel burnt out. I don’t think that I am, not after seeing all that work. It’s just that I’ve photographed everything I wanted to in New Orleans at least four or five times. Some subjects, like second lines, I’ve photographed at least 250 times. Sure, the people, neighborhoods and suits change, but the pictures themselves don’t.
I walk or drive by these common trash sites almost every day. I never thought twice about them, until I did. I liked what I finally saw. It was there all along. I just finally opened my eyes. Cleared my brain. I made one picture. Then two. On a different day. Now, I’m looking. I still haven’t come upon a consistent artistic approach. Maybe I never will. Maybe each picture speaks for itself. Or, maybe I find a suitable color palette. We’ll see.
Daylight again, following me to bed
I think about a hundred years ago, how my fathers bled
I think I see a valley, covered with bones in blue
All the brave soldiers that cannot get older been askin’ after
Hear the past a callin’, from Armegeddon’s side
When everyone’s talkin’ and no one is listenin’, how can we
Do we find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down
Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down
(Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground)
Written by Stephen Stills/Wixen Music
Preformed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Battered and broken. We persisted. The Lower 9th Ward. New Orleans.
Memorial Sunday. In New Orleans, today is the day we memorialize our war dead. The guys who gave their fullest. The guys who never made it home. This is their day.
We have a ceremony. Their graves are covered with little American flags. There are speeches. We ring the bell. We pay them the highest honors that we can.
These spring flowers are for them.
I may go. I may not.
It’s a little hard.
If I go, and I go to the Money Waster’s second line, I’ll be hopping and bopping. It’s hot out there. I’ll need lots of water to stay hydrated. I’ll need to eat something somewhere along the line. Some kind of New Orleans food.
It’ll all be great fun.
Or, I could lounge by the pool. Take a dip. Work on my tan. Burn some meat on the grill. The American way.
I could photograph what needs photographing. And, do the lounging thing later in the day. That would work.
I’ve long said that when I die, just throw my body in a dumpster somewhere. People can grieve or celebrate my passing, but I won’t care where you leave me.
There’s a lot of tongue in cheek in that paragraph, but seriously. Physical remains don’t really matter.
That said, I was driving by a location that is a common trash depository. I took a look inside, and the mattress and chair is what I found. What a scene. What a picture,
I did what I do. I made the picture. The purer, more documentary version, is very strong. But, these days I’m messing with photographs as a base to a more painterly-like piece.
My photojournalist friends will gasp at this. I don’t care. I haven’t been a pure photojournalist since 1990. These days, I’m closer than ever to getting outside myself and into the image. They say that all art is autobiographical.
What does this picture say about me.? In this time? In this place?
I’m thinking quite a lot.
We are living through a period in history when it seems goodness is retreating. Democracy is fighting to live on. Leaders have become autocratic. And, others think they have the right to determine what goes on in other human being’s bodies. The planet is suffering. The climate is changing. Plastic seems to be ruling the earth. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
Dark. Dark. Dark.
History shows us that when darkness is at its highest point, artists become more creative. We feel less inclined to go back to our old standbys. We tend to explore more. We tend to take more chances. Our work might not be beautiful. Instead, it makes a point.
This picture is about how we got here. Our disposable society. I went in and took a close look. The chair didn’t have a whole lot of wear on it. One arm rest was torn and patched with duck tape. I know an upholstering place that could fix that like new for about fifty dollars. The mattress? It was fine. It still had a sheet on it. Surely, it could be saved. At least, the sheet could be.
The picture. I went through a lot of changes on this one. Me, as well as the picture. It started out as a pretty good documentary piece. I kept working and working. I made a lot of false starts.
I had the image in my head. Getting there was a different issue. I finally did.
For instance, the dumpsters — the two dark frames on either side of the picture — are black. By removing as much color as possible, they revealed themselves to have a red undercoating. Likely, that’s how they came from the factory. When they reached the garbage collection company they were painted black and branding was added. I layered another picture over that. It was about nature. Nature retreating.
Plastic. It way worse than we thought. We make a big deal out of plastic water bottles. We make a big deal out of single use plastic straws.
I decided to save a month’s worth of plastic trash, with a little help from my friends. Today is March 25th. Six days to go. Two large paper grocery bags of plastic. Filled to the top. Admittedly, we ran out of some long lasting items like condiments. They added to the monthly total. But, what we found scared the hell out of me. And, that takes some doing.
Almost everything we buy has a plastic component to it.
Prescription bottles, prescribed and over the counter. All condiment bottles like mustard and catsup. Even vinegar bottles are made of plastic. Every possible kind of food wrapper. We normally buy different kind of lettuce in bags. We stopped. Doesn’t matter. Even a plain old head of ice burg lettuce is wrapped in plastic. Every fresh veggie or fruit that is carried out of the store is wrapped in plastic. Just a bag, but still. Meat. Sure the bottom of the package is made out of styrofoam, but the whole thing is wrapped in plastic. Frozen veggies? Plastic. Spices come packaged in plastic bottles. Buy a takeout sandwich? It is wrapped in plastic and shoved into a plastic bag. The only fast food place that doesn’t do that is Five Guys. Everything comes in paper. How many hamburgers can I eat in a week?
I could go on. And, on. And, on.
Instead, I’ll leave you with this.
Nature’s ultimate protective package is a banana. It comes with its own wrapper. The skin. You’d think that would be enough. Nope. We saw bananas wrapped in plastic. Oh no. Not the bunch. Each individual banana. Then, that was wrapped in plastic as a bunch. What are these people thinking?
There are some solutions. For fresh veggies and fruits you can buy mesh bags. The best are made of hemp. You can buy them in many health food stores or online. You can have a butcher cut and wrap meat in paper. You can buy bulk spices, and store them in your own containers. But, you have to be able to use them before they start tasting like colored saw dust.
So many things are hard to replace. Prescription bottles, for instance. Reusable glass bottles would be great. I suspect most people won’t remember to return them. We used to have glass milk bottles. When we had milkmen. My parents used to buy seltzer the same way. A delivery guy would come by and collect the empties which he replaced with refilled bottles. We drink seltzer today. We buy it at the grocery store. It comes in cans or bottles. Plastic bottles.
We can grow some staples. Tomatoes grow like mad down here. We’ll have 500-600 this year. Our basil plant is now a bush about to grow into a tree. We’d have strawberries too. But, the little jerks who call themselves dogs, smell them as they are ripening. When they are ripe, one bite and they are gone. They try to act like they aren’t guilty. Hard to do with red juice dropping down their chins.
In any case, shopping in store that uses paper, buying your own bags and containers, growing stuff and such, is going to get expensive. You don’t need to buy a lot, but you shop more… using your car. It never ends.
After I made the blue watercolor-like picture, I kept going. And, going.
I came out here. With this picture. I added a couple of things. More color. All kinds of color. That’s easy to spot. What isn’t so easy to see are the leaves. I added more of them to the background. They fill the space. They change the intent. The picture moved from minimalistic to something more full throated. More full bodied.
Even though the base picture is the same as yesterday’s image, it’s different.
I could try to go further. I’m not sure what that will reveal. We’ll see.
I’ve said in the past that I wished that I could paint. Before you tell me that I should try, I have. I have paints. Brushes. Paper. I’ve taken classes. Workshops. One on one learning. I have good hand — eye — coordination. For whatever reason, I can’t paint.
My failure is simple. Like newbie photographers who want to learn to take pictures with “the ten tips that will make you a great photographer,” I want it now.
I want to reach the level of my photographic work.
I forget how many years and how much time I’ve spent being a photographer. They talk about the 10,000 meaningful hours that you put into a thing to get really good at it. For me, that’s just getting started. So too, with most of my brother and sister photographers.
Find your voice. You can get good at a thing from a technical standpoint. You can make pictures that can compete with anybody else’s from a technical and compositional standpoint.
That’s not enough.
There is the emotional and spiritual something that makes your pictures stand out from all the rest.
That’s not limited to photography, although that’s what I talk about.
Think about music. Think about guitarists. Think Eric Clapton and Joe Bonamassa. With all due respect to Bonamassa fans, he can’t hold a candle to Clapton. I’ve watched them play on the same stage. On “Further on up the Road.” Bonamassa is fine. He plays good lead guitar. He plays good fills. He is a technically excellent guitar player. Eric Clapton puts his heart and soul into his work. It shows. He plays lead. He plays fills. He inspires me in a way that Bonamassa can’t. Maybe it’s me. I’ve been a Clapton fan for 50 years. I barely know Bonamassa work. There’s a reason for that.
Back to my work. This work.
This is my attempt at making a painting, when I don’t have the technical skills. It’s my watercolor. The work is done on the computer. There are probably ten versions of it in my archive. This is the one I like best. It’s simple. It strikes my minimalistic chord. I tried other colors. Blue works best. It feels natural. There are trees added to the original image. They wrap themselves around the main tree. I could hang this picture on my walls. I like it just that much.
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