Sunday, February 28, 2010

Daily Practice 59/365

Title: "The night Neil Young sang Long May You Run"
(click to view larger)

If I knew I was going to be stranded on a desert island and was only allowed to take one book of Abstract Expressionist images, I would undoubtedly choose the Catalogue Raisonné of Helen Frankenthaler's prints. I love the tension between drawn lines and organically derived shapes in her work, and am in awe of her technical prowess with the different printmaking media.

Tonight Neil Young sang one of his iconic songs at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. Just Neil, his harmonica and beat-up, well used acoustic guitar. It's amazing to realize the longevity of his career in music, and the many genres of music he has explored over that career. Like Frankenthaler, Young has explored a free spirit of experimentation supported by true mastery of his medium.

This photographic image is an abstraction of an abstraction, a continuation of an exploration of the dialogue between natural, organic shapes and the drawn line.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Daily Practice 58/365

Title: "Urban Narrative"
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I went for a walk today along the Ross Bay sea wall. The last time I walked along this area, I had noticed some of the wall was decaying, and there were interesting patterns of repair patches, cracks and rust. I had it in mind to come back with the 4X5 camera to make a series of images, although the walkway is extremely busy with walkers and joggers, and I wasn't sure exactly how I would set up the camera in order to make the images with all that traffic. I decided today that I would just use my little digital P&S to get a feeling for what the images might look like if I undertook a full project here.

Apparently I'm not the only one who finds these patterns of decay interesting. I find it extremely interesting that the addition someone else made of a single eye with chalk immediately sets up a narrative. Is momma watching over her brood at the far left? Are the young ones taking their first steps of independence? If you were to ask me what my interest in these sea wall panels were, I would have said that to me there were interesting "found" abstract compositions of accidental mark making, tones and layered textures. I've written before that if I can see something representational in an abstract composition, it loses its charm for me. And yet here I find the relationship between the "mother" and "brood" very compelling. The random marks made on this panel through decay have created a composition that lends itself perfectly to an imagined narrative.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Daily Practice 57/365

Title: "Specimen 2010-02-26"
(Click to see larger)

I have a slight fascination with grids. I like the way they provide a frame of reference. Even when you don't have a specific scale, as in this image, there is something about a grid that allows an estimate of size. I painted a series of abstract water colours on grids, and the grid took something abstract into the realm of maps and the surveying of places. We associate grids with scientific investigations, geometry, sports, searches, sectors...there seems to be an almost endless list of relationships to the grid.

In searching around for an idea late in the evening, I thought of the "through the viewfinder" craze that swept through sites like flickr in the past couple of years. As with most trends on sites like flickr, most of the work is derivative, not terribly inventive, and motivated by a "gosh that's so cool, I have to do it too" sentiment. On the other hand, I have seen some truly inventive, engaging ttv work. I like the idea of combining a grid with "specimens", and would like to develop this further. I'll need to work out some logistical details, but I think the resulting images could make a nice series.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Daily Practice 56/365

Title: "Failing to find hidden meanings"
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Imagination is arguably our greatest sense, more important that intelligence for setting us apart from other species. It's interesting to consider the interplay between imagination and intellect. Starting from the observation of a cafeteria plate wobbling in the air after being flung by a student, a mix of imagination and intelligence lead Richard Feynman to solve a problem in physics that he had been working on, the solution of which resulted in a Nobel Prize.

Yet letting our imagination run wild can lead to confusing twists and turns, trying to find meaning or motivations where none exists. Constructing stories from long ago, on the basis of some half-forgotten relic. Those flowers, kept in a box until they crumbled to the touch - what dark secrets were hidden there?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Daily Practice 55/365

Title: "Ode to the Snapshot"
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Like all art forms, photography should come from a place of personal meaning and significance to the artist. Yet I believe it is also true that not every photograph I make needs to have a specific meaning or significance to the viewer, as long as it has meaning for me. And I also realized that there can be personal satisfaction in taking a simple snapshot to commemorate something of personal significance. Not every image has to fulfill some higher artistic purpose.

I was thinking about this idea this morning. Truth be told, I had a better opportunity to make this image a bit earlier in the morning. The sky was overcast, and the light really made the blossoming tree "pop" against the background. By the time I finished breakfast and picked up a camera, that ideal moment had past, and I almost didn't make this image. I felt the moment had past and all that I would achieve would be a fairly run of the mill, nice but mundane image.

But I asked myself why I had been drawn to make the image in the first place. And I realized it had less to do with ideal light and more to do with the significance of the scene. It's mid February, and all the flowering trees are in bloom here, easily two months early. In the early 80s, my wife and I were doing a postdoc in Illinois and looking for permanent positions. I had interviewed at a variety of places, and had a few job offers. One of the calls with a job offer came in mid February from the place I'm currently employed. It was one of the coldest winters Illinois had seen in many years, following the snowiest winter the year before. The department chair said he was calling to let me know that the cherry trees were in full bloom up in Canada, somehow implying without directly saying that this happened every year. As it turned out, we accepted his job offer and moved back to Canada to an area generally agreed to be one of the most pleasant places to live in this country. And then we waited, winter after winter, without seeing cherry blossoms in February. Now our winters are fairly mild, we only get snow once or twice that sticks around for perhaps a week or so. Otherwise it's grey and rainy here. So we were perfectly happy, but felt sure that we'd been "punked" about the February blossoms. Until 9 years later, when the trees definitely were in bloom in February. And once every nine years since - my wife and I always remark about it.

So this simple snapshot has personal meaning to me. And I wanted to take it to commemorate the fact that my sister-in-law is going to be leaving the cold, cold winters of Ontario to join us here come May. And I will not only tell her the trees blossomed in February, but I'll show her the snapshot as evidence. Because it might be nine years before she experiences it for herself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Daily Practice 54/365

Title: "The certainties of life"
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Death, taxes and laundry.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Daily Practice 53/365

Title: "Copper Vessels"
(Click on image to see larger)

I made these decorative small copper bowls in a workshop a number of years ago. I remember taking the workshop with a couple of fellow printmaking friends, and we really got into the possibilities of etching unique patterns on the surface of the copper after it had been shaped. A week-long workshop can be a stimulating environment with the right mix of people - it's interesting to see the varied approaches other artists take to a project, so there is a sense of learning far more than you would learn in a one on one instructional situation. I had the same experience in riding lessons - I preferred group lessons because I found I would always learn as much or more from watching other people do an exercise as I would riding the exercise myself.

I like the way the copper catches light and intensifies it. In deciding to make this image with a slit lens, I wanted to see the interplay between the darker, "drawn" tones that define the rims of the bowls, and the distortion of the reflected light. I find it interesting to see how the lines that define the bowls are actually more distinct in the smaller version of the image than they are in the larger version. The curved lines that intersect remind me of my interest in Richard Serra's sculptures, and there's an intriguing dialogue happening between those curves and the repeating pattern of vertical lines of reflected light that pass from the middle up towards the top right hand corner. The changing tones of those lines make me think of Monet's foggy bridge painting all over again.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Daily Practice 52/365

Title: "Refraction through a Veil of Tears"
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Ruth Bernhard would stress to her students the importance of light, encouraging them to study its qualities and effects on subjects. One of her workshop directions to students was to make an image within 10 feet of their bed. A friend of mine recently took this idea and did a "10X10X10" project: she made a single image within 10 feet of her bed for 10 straight days. The images had a strong cohesiveness and many took advantage of specific qualities of light within that rather small radius. A former assistant to Ruth Berhnard recalled a field trip to Point Lobos, where Ruth marked out a 20 foot square area and investigated it intensely with her eyes and camera. At the end of the day she left with some fine images and many samples of shells and rocks that she had collected. Imagine how satisfied an experience she would have had compared to the many who roam far and wide around an area like Point Lobos, spending more time flitting from place to place than actually seeing, observing and making images.

This morning I was facing the prospect of a fairly busy day, wondering when I might have time to do my daily practice. While contemplating this situation, I noticed that the early morning sun was making this unusual refraction pattern on the wall of the shower. Thinking about Bernhard's ideas of the quality of light, and looking within a short radius of where one finds oneself, I grabbed the camera to make this image.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Daily Practice 51/365

Title: "Whispers of sadness and longing"
(Click on image to see larger)

I took a short break today to walk around the campus. It was the Saturday of reading break, so there were not many people around. It was a rare opportunity to enjoy the peacefulness, to really see and respond to the light. My eye was drawn to the shadows of various trees on the side of this building, and I was taken by the different qualities of light on the wood facade and the metal vent cover. And at the same time, the blurry shadows on the wall were whispering insistently in my ear.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Daily Practice 50/365

Title: "Unraveling the mysteries"

I started reading Ruth Bernhard's biography last night at the final chapter, which is actually a compilation of her approaches to teaching photography and reminiscences from former students and colleagues. One of the students remarked that Ruth had impressed upon her that being a photographer requires practice, which is something that resonates with me. Ruth also encouraged students to "make" photographs by connecting deeply with their chosen subjects, feeling the history and meaning of the subject. Ruth didn't abide by the idea of "shooting" or "taking" photographs, I think because it implies a less thoughtful, connected approach to the process. One can only wonder how she would react to "Nice capture!", the most prevalent comment people use on flickr.

Intuition or instinct is another important component in making photographs according to Ruth. I find myself drawn to the shapes, lines, tones and textures of natural things, like the driftwood above and the rock formations and striations I find along the shore here. I can intellectualize how those characteristics are important in my compositional decisions, but I simply accept the insistent desire I have to use these objects as subjects. Some things are simply meant to be. Words cannot express what I feel looking at an image like this one, which is the whole reason for making it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Daily Practice 49/365

Title: "The Astral Body of Emily Carr"

I seem to be drawn to the idea of indirect reference. First there was the photograph of photographic prints. Then there was the reflection of the swim suit and towel in the bathroom mirror. Today I was struck by the way nature prevails, it stamps itself on everything humans build, even if it is only a shadow. I was very conscious of this idea today as I took a walk around with the camera. There is something about making an image that is not one but two steps removed from the subject of the image that bears further exploration.

Emily Carr is an iconic figure in Western Canadian art, and particularly a key figure in the art history of Victoria, BC. She is particularly well known for her abstract paintings of forlorn Douglas fir trees set against swirling skies, and the rich dark interiors of the rain forest. The shadows in this image are cast by the very same trees that Carr painted, and in these shadows there is a sense of what Carr saw in her subject. Emily Carr struck up a friendship with the Group of Seven, in particular Lawren Harris. Harris was a theosophist and he attempted to interest Carr in theosophy but she eventually tired of the idea. One of the original founders of Theosophy equated the astral world with the world of ghosts, but later theosophists saw the astral body as the vehicle of feelings and emotions, an expression of the dream world "self". The softening, organic abstractions that Carr made of the west coast rain forests are full of her feelings and emotions about those sites.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Daily Practice 48/365

Title: "Chasing sleep away"

Two good rules for daily practice - don't forget to look up, and don't forget to look down. There are times when dramatic cloud formations are quite compelling. But I like the somewhat indeterminate nature of this cloud, the changing light level going across the frame. We often think of wind and sun chasing clouds away, but here I have a sense of the clouds chasing away the darkness.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Daily Practice 47/365

Title: "After the still life at the end of the day"

Oh, I felt overwhelmed by work today - I spent all day writing a rebuttal letter to the editor of a journal regarding a decision on a manuscript. The weather was nice and I had planned to take a walk after lunch with a camera as a bit of a break, but that opportunity did not materialize in the end. We've also been watching the Olympics, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it's great to see Canadian athletes (and athletes from around the world) do their best and some of the stories behind the athletes' journeys are quite heartwarming. But on the other hand, the network coverage with it's unrealistic hype and constant focus on talking heads over-analyzing and over-promising medals on behalf of athletes is becoming completely overwhelming.

Fortunately I took the opportunity upon coming home, before Olympics coverage, to set up a simple still life for my daily practice. The strongest image was this one taken at the end, after the still life proper had been photographed. I find it interesting that the composition here is the horizontal opposite of the previous day's composition, with the main subject hard on the left hand side of the frame. Both compositional decisions were deliberate, and both work explicitly for their subject matters. I also like the attention I paid to the edges - in painting, this would mean having a variation at each edge, and thinking about having the subject extend beyond the frame, not simply contained within the painting itself. I believe those compositional decisions are equally important in making a photograph. I see two benefits. The first is quite prosaic - this is not a vase, it is a photograph of a vase and thus showing that the frame of the photograph does not contain the entire vase is honest to the nature of the medium. The second benefit is the way this framing encourages us to continue the outline and shape of the vase off the "page", extending it with our minds. Congratulations everyone - you've just drawn a vase in your mind, by engaging with this photograph!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Daily Practice 46/365

Title: "Still life with bathing suit and towel"

As the day wound down, I could feel myself getting anxious about completing my daily practice. We were watching the Olympic pairs figure skating competition on tv and I went to answer nature's call while the German pair were doing their routine. I have nothing against the Germans, but let's just say that so far it had not been an inspiring night of skating. Even as I entered the shrine (which I think of our renovated bathroom as), my darling wife called out "he fell"...yes, so far not such a great night for figure skating, or image making.

Then I noticed this reflection in the mirror. I first tried a mirror self portrait, which is a stretch for me because I really, really dislike (hate) having my picture taken - even by me. Let's just say that it was a warm-up for taking the picture I really wanted to take, which was the one you see above. I'm fascinated by this image because the composition really only works by virtue of it being reversed in the mirror. I'm also fascinated by the idea of being one step removed from the subject - instead of taking a picture of the bathing suit and towel directly, its a picture of their reflection in the mirror. Hmm...that's what I had tried to achieve doing the self portrait. So perhaps I could have titled this "Self portrait (bathing suit and towel)".

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Daily Practice 45/365

Title: "Number Nine"

Titling work is a curious thing. For the longest time, I avoided titling because I could only think of the most obvious, trite titles for work. Then when I was making rain forest images with a low tech camera, I started matching the finished images to lines of other people's poetry. That is, the images were not made with the poems in mind, yet there always seemed to be a line of poetry that resonated with each completed image. From that point onwards, I've been able to tap into some intuitive sense that guides me to a title. Some titles have been imagined narratives, others are misfiring fragments of memory. The first title I came up with for this image just did not sit well: it was ponderous and a tad precocious. And then my brain misfired (I mean, how else to explain the source of this title?). The title references a famous musical work, and one might imagine a melody being carried across the frame of this image. Curious how the mind works when it is unencumbered.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Daily Practice 44/365

Title: "Cradle of Creativity"

Yesterday I was watching a TED Prize talk by Sir Ken Robinson about schools and creativity. Robinson shared an anecdote about three young boys playing the kings in a nativity play. They came on stage in the wrong order, the first proclaiming to Joseph "I come bearing a gift of gold", the second (out of sequence) proclaiming "I come bearing a gift of myrrh" and then the third arrived to proclaim "I come bearing a gift Frank sent". He used the story to illustrate the point that children are not afraid to be wrong, and innately will use their imagination and creativity to smooth over mistakes. That is, until years in the school system strips them of their creativity and makes them fear being wrong.

In another TED talk Jaimie Oliver showed a clip of his visit to a kindergarten class to see if the kids knew their fresh vegetables. While it was distressing to see that six year olds could not correctly name a tomato, potato, etc, it was heartening to see them eagerly raising theirs hands, more than willing to take a chance and give an answer. If I pose a question to the 200 students in my university science class, I always have to wait through a minute or two of silence, then plead for anyone to take a guess before a timid, quiet voice will offer a hesitant suggestion (which is almost always perfectly correct). After 14 years of school, my students have lost their initial eagerness to be called upon to give an answer, and choose to sit silently because they are fearful of appearing to be wrong. I find myself trying to reacquaint them with their creativity, trying to convince them that being wrong is just a mile marker on the way to being right. Great science can only be done if scientists think big and are willing to fail big.

It's impossible to make good art without having any number of spectacular failures. There are no shortcuts, no cookie-cutter formulas or recipes that can guarantee success after success. Instead there has to be a willingness to fail, to learn from mistakes, to build a skill set through consistent practice. That is for me the purpose of my daily practice. I can say quite readily that I had a number of ideas that I tried out today, and all failed to live up to my hopes and expectations. Yet at the same time, I had taken this unremarkable image at a place in the park where it is apparent people move small rocks around in a field, assembling then disassembling then reassembling small sculptures. It is a playground for creativity, where something is left behind to be discovered by the next person who is free to use the simple materials to give their own creativity some exercise.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Daily Practice 43/365

Title: "Surge of the Sea Remembered"

This might seem like a cop out, an easy way out of fulfilling my image a day commitment. It might strike one as a lame thing done because too much time was spent watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. But one would be wrong about that.

I actually thought of making this kind of image on the drive home from work. I've made a number of images recently of other art work, using sculptures and drawings as subjects for photographs. Today I was thinking of how I'm often interested in images of flickr contacts that have a photographic print as their subject. The image is not a scan of a traditional print, but a seemingly quick snapshot of a print. I find myself intrigued by the fact the presentation removes me a bit further from the image, yet it sharpens my interest because I see the image in the context of it being an object. It reminds me of the fact that while watching the typical tv show I'm often more interested in the art used by the set decorators, wishing I could see it for longer, or in a close-up, finding it more compelling than the actual tv program itself. There's something about the restricted nature of the relationship I have with those image-bearing objects, the incompleteness of it, that I would like to understand better.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Daily Practice 42/365

Title: "Under the Frozen Sky"

A friend sent me a link to a gallery show in Berkeley of photographs taken with iPhones. The gallery people see iPhone photography as a clear bastion of the "amateur" photographer. Submission for the show was by a website, and the requirements were clearly stated: the photos submitted had to be taken with an iPhone, they could be manipulated using software *on the phone*, but could not be manipulated in any way using Photoshop or other computer-based programs. And this got me to thinking about placing limits on how art is produced.

There are certainly benefits if an artist devises a project with specific parameters in mid. For instance, I decide I want to do a series of drawings. If I place no limits on myself, I can almost guarantee no drawings will be made. How do I start? Will I use pencil, charcoal, pastels, watercolours, on canvas, paper - what kind, what size? A lack of specific parameters tends to diminish the start of the creative process in my experience. Of course, parameters can become even more specific - I will do a series of 10 drawings on aluminum, using a scribe and a ruler, consisting of 60 lines of varying lengths, changing the direction of each subsequent line after the previous one has been drawn. Such specific parameters can be an interesting way to side-step a creative block, or they can be an avenue to an entirely new way of creating.

In photography, there are those who place a specific limitation of visualizing and making the "final image" directly in the camera. Those taking this "straight out of the camera (SOOC)" approach are combining a love for technical expertise with a desire to apply careful compositional skills. While I admire people with that focus, I am somewhat leery when it becomes a creed, or intolerance of those who take a different approach to their photography. There's no moral high-ground to be claimed here, what's important is each individual finding a path that meets their needs and allows them to create the images they feel compelled to make. I find it interesting that the SOOC crowd trace their roots back to Ansel Adams and the f/64 group. Everything about the image is pre-visualized, carefully composed on the ground glass, lens is stopped down for maximum sharpness, exposure of the film is matched to development time to provide a rich tonal range. While all of this is true of Adams' process, the SOOC advocates forget that Adams also said that while the negative is the score, the print is the performance. Adams used a range of darkroom printing skills and techniques to realize the image he had previsualized. It was not all on the negative, it had to be coaxed out with a virtuoso performance in the darkroom.

Tonight I watched Werner Herzog's movie "Encounters at the End of the Earth", a documentary about the people who live and work on Antartica. Some beautiful underwater footage beneath the ice inspired me to take some images of a wax sculpture I have hanging in my studio. My goal was to produce an image that connected to those I had seen in Herzog's film.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Daily Practice 41/365

Title: "Two Pears Rampant on a Field of Blue"

There are times when I have an idea, but have to search for an alternative way to achieve it. Today when I came home from work, there was a delivery of firewood dumped in a pile in the driveway. Since rain is always in the forecast here during the winter, I wanted to move it and stack it under cover. Good exercise after a day sitting in my office helping students with last minute questions before their exam, but tiring.

After dinner, I was thinking of ideas for my daily practice. I wanted to explore a simple still life with a solarized image, and thought of using Fuji ASA3000 instant film with my holgaroid camera. The negative or "goop" side of the instant film tends to solarize as it dries, and can give some truly awesome effects. The only problem was a need to dig out the holga, find the instant back, the close up lens - it seemed a bit too much of an activation energy barrier to do all that after shifting the firewood. Then I realized that I could achieve my objective by using the Hipstamatic function on my iPhone in conjunction with a solarization action in Lightroom. Everything was close at hand, no energy barrier to overcome, and I tried out different lens/film combinations in Hipstamatic along with the various actions in Lightroom. Fun learning experience, and the result is an image where the pears seem to be levitating.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Evidence of Deconstruction

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I was at one of my favourite haunts this afternoon, searching for images amongst the rocks and driftwood. My attention was drawn by some scavenging activity from the gulls and ravens along the low tide line. They were picking the bones of the dismembered carcass of a sea mammal. The glistening, gristly bones were displayed on a background of dark, wet rock like museum exhibits. The process of taking photos of these bones seemed like a forensic documentation of a violent crime.

Daily Practice 40/365

Title: "Stories from a place he never knew existed"

I am constantly fascinated by the lines etched into the coastal rock around here. I think of how these lines were made according to some physical rules resulting from unimagined past conditions, resulting in these beautiful patterns. And how an artist who was to etch a stone or plate would have great difficulty achieving such beauty in an unstudied, unconscious manner. The slight depressions holding tidal water add much needed mass to balance the delicate etched lines. I feel there is an implied narrative, difficult to discern, held within these patterns.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Daily Practice 39/365

Title: "Dinner Prep Still Life - Onion and Cauliflower"

I wondered whether I would make an image today because I initially had no impetus to continue with the project. This made me think of things I've read recently in several books about the brain, including "The Brain that Changes Itself" and "Brain Rules". It turns out that the difficulties in making changes in lifestyle, behaviours or habits has little to do with a lack of willpower, it has much more to do with the awesome power of the brain. Every action we take is supported by specific networks of neurons in the brain. The more we repeat an action, the stronger the connection between the specific neurons, and the more of an ingrained habit it becomes. Reducing our participation in a specific activity will weaken the connections that support that activity. Although this might seem a bit discouraging, I actually found this information to be quite encouraging. Because it is also true that we can change behaviours, or take up new activities, it just requires a consistent repetition of the desired behaviour or activity to start building a strong neuronal pathway in support of that activity. The beauty of our brains is their plasticity, their ability to constantly undergo "renovations" in their wiring. The book "The Brain that Changes Itself" has some amazing examples of this plasticity and how it can be harnessed.

So I have always had it in mind that if I make a commitment to take photographs on a daily basis, that I will build up a strong neuronal circuit to the point where it will become a habit - a good habit in this case. I think it's taking longer than I expected because I don't repeat the activity at a specific time of day - it has been all over the map so far, and that's fine. I just think it already would be on a more solid brain basis (like watching tv after dinner) if I was making photos at the same time each day. So it will take a little longer, but that's ok. Finally today, while I was putting together dinner, I had the thought to take out my phone and make some images during the prep. And voila - another day's commitment fulfilled.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Daily Practice 38/365

Title: "He worshiped at the alpha, the omega, and the delta"

Channeling Leonard Cohen a bit there. I spent the morning in the darkroom printing, and I briefly wondered whether posting a print from the session could be today's contribution. There are times when I feel pulled between darkroom work and taking new images. Never mind the other ideas I have floating around demanding attention - I have a nice series of images that I want to make photopolymer etchings with, these grainy diffuse images I've been making lately have me jazzed about doing some drawing, and then there's straight silver printing, lith printing, and alt methods like cyanotype and kallitype that are needing some attention.

This is my "poor man's" figure study - using bananas. One part of me would love to work with a model on some proper figure studies. That's the theoretical part of me. The overwhelming part of me can't envision working with a model - I would just be a huge bundle of nerves. After all, I'm a guy who gets nervous just having to phone someone. One thing I will say about this image as I look at it now, is that it reminds me of the lovely distorted nudes of Bill Brandt.  Something to keep in mind as a way to use this image as a departure point for a little series.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Daily Practice 37/365

Title: "Nocturne in Black and Gold"

In an interview in Modern Painters, Susan Rothenberg said that a painting should have the figure, the ground and the third thing. I find myself drawn to abstract images because they are paradoxically all about the third thing, the "in between", without necessarily having the figure and/or the ground as formal elements. I tend to categorize those who are drawn to abstract art by their approach to it. Some treat it like an intellectual puzzle, and come to a satisfactory resolution when they can identify some element that can be related to a realistic subject ("oh, I see an owl's face"). I must admit to not being such a person - if ever I see something akin to a realistic element in an abstract work, I can no longer stand to look at the image. It's somehow ruined for me. I am one of those people who respond to abstract images in a "gut" or emotional way. I certainly like to explore how the construction of the image evokes such a strong response, but I don't require some resolution from that exploration to be satisfied.

Looking at today's image made me think of two painters who pioneered the move from representation to abstraction: Monet and Whistler. One of my favourite paintings in the National Gallery of Canada is Waterloo Bridge by Monet. He painted a view of the bridge on a foggy dawn, which in essence required a certain softening and abstraction of the subject. Whistler started a move towards abstraction with his "nocturne" paintings. While these still had realistic subjects, they were successful more because they emphasized shape and tone and a certain darkness. Some of the images I'm getting with the home-made slit lens seem to walk the line between photograph and charcoal drawing, which I find quite exciting.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Daily Practice 36/365

Title: "Last vestiges of a broken memory"

A lot of experimenting and playing around with a minimal still life set up...and not even a mere whiff of success. To be in the experimenting game, one either has to be an eternal optimist, or a default pessimist. Either will enable one to deal with the disappointment when things just don't come together. The eternal optimist will be happy with the thought that tomorrow will bring success. The default pessimist is secure in knowing that things turned out exactly as expected. To survive in the experimenting game, a person really needs to switch back and forth between those two extremes. I always tell my graduate students that one has to work hard in science when the experiments aren't working out, and then work even harder on the rare occasions when they do work out. This daily practice of taking photos is a way to work hard, even for a short time each day, and setting problems, working through them, and learning new things along the way.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Daily Practice 35/365

Title: "Unspoken dance to unheard music"

I'm completely fascinated by pattern formation in nature. It requires a delicately timed chemical dance, a precise titration of protein concentrations in specific locations in an embryo. It is a sophisticated mechanism of drawing that is rooted in primeval times. The lines, shapes and tones that result are strongly compelling, presented in a compositional context that would be difficult for an artist to achieve consciously.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Daily Practice 34/365

Title: "Articulation"

I love playing around with cameras and subjects, just to see what might transpire. Snowed under with work at the moment, there's little time to get out during the day to make some images. Tonight I was pondering what to pursue, half-remembered I had some sand dollars tucked away somewhere, and in the magic bag found this skull fragment. I took my camera, played around with different lo-fi lens options that included a dollar store magnifying glass and eventually came up with some selective focus close-ups. I like the sweep of the subject across the frame, the one clear focal point defined by the blurred tones of the supporting skull structure, defined by inky negative space.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Daily Practice 33/365

Title: "He felt burdened by a mass of contradictions"

I like the idea that this image is somewhere in between what the subject actually is, and what can be imagined. It could be an endoscopic image, an x-ray of an indeterminate mass, a high magnification of the gaping maw of some insect. And yet it is none of those things. But it could be.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Daily Practice 32/365

Title: "Rain, parking lot, semi-circular motion"

There are days that just seem to defeat you. You get up, drag off to work, get stuck in and before you know it, it's dark and raining. I had one of those days today. After dinner, there was a need to get groceries for lunch and dinner the next day and although I'd given some thought to working in the studio with a still life or sculptural subject, domestic needs were paramount. After packing the groceries in the car, I had a sudden inspiration as I put the cart away. I believe that because of the commitment to make images each day, it's becoming easier to overcome the activation barrier at any given moment and take advantage of an unexpected idea. A willingness to experiment and perhaps fail is also important.