Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Daily Practice 181/365

Title: "Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb"
(click image to view larger)
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from Mount Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.
Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon;
your mouth is lovely.
Your temples behind your veil
are like the halves of a pomegranate. 

Song of Songs, New Intermational Version

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Daily Practice 180/365

Title: "Glorious Decay"
(click image to view larger)
Around the house, when my darling wife declares that a vase of flowers is ready for its "portrait", she means they are gracefully starting to decline. I find that stately slide into decrepitude appealing because of the change in shape, the accentuation of textures. These fine specimens were actually outside in the garden, the rhododendron blossoms long past their riotous colour, subsuming into themselves. Delicious!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Daily Practice 179/365

Title: "Spectral Delusions"
(click image to view larger)
A friend and I were discussing some aspects of Julia Cameron's book "The Artist's Way". Among other things, Cameron insists that one write three pages every day. My first reaction was that this was rather prescriptive and overbearing, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I was reminding myself of the Malcom Gladwell book "Outliers", in which he proposes that those who are the elite in their chosen field of endeavour had over the years practiced a particular skill or skill set for 10,000 hours. Although this seems like an arbitrary number, I think the point is made that a deep abiding passion for something leads to a strong commitment that in turn leads to a very significant investment of time acquiring, practicing and honing skills.
This idea is something I know from personal experience, but often forget. I took up horseback riding later in life, mainly as an activity to do with my lovely wife, because truth be told, I had no natural talent for the sport. But none the less, I fell in love with riding and ended up working very consistently and hard on becoming a better rider. And I did manage to acquire a pretty solid skill set in spite of the lack of natural talent. When I was a graduate student, my supervisor always had me write the first draft of our papers after which we would sit down and go through the draft deciding on where it needed work. That time spent constantly writing and rewriting provided me with the skills to sit down and write out my entire Ph.D. thesis long hand in a first and final draft over a three week period. When I tell current graduate students who typically take 6-12 months to write their thesis, they shake their heads in disbelief. Yet I struggle now to write papers and grants because I go long spells without practicing the craft. The days of writing up a daily lab journal, and putting together notes for lectures have been superseded by powerpoint presentations and I lack the necessary practice to keep the writing skill well oiled and immediately available.
Reflecting on these ideas and experiences makes me realize that my "daily practice" is not something to do for a year, it's something to keep doing beyond that artificial limitation. I have already gained considerable improvements in seeing, and making images and in thinking about what is driving the process.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Daily Practice 178/365

Title: "Secrets between the shadow and the soul"
(click image to view larger)
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I do not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Pablo Neruda

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Daily Practice 177/365

Title: "Watermelon dreams"
(click image to view large)
She had been dreaming of those flip flops all spring. Every time Mom dragged us to the bargain basement of Woolworths, my sister would stand in front of the rack of flip flops, gazing at them and sighing deeply. She tried every little trick she knew - at times petulant, pleading, ingratiating, or mutely staring at them. And Mom resisted for the longest time, reminding her that she had a perfectly good pair of flip flops, that had been purchased to replace the pair of flip flops she'd lost, which had been purchased to replace the pair before that....well, you get the idea. Finally, after a week of particularly noteworthy good behavior, homework done every night before tv time, helping dry the dishes without being asked, she got her reward. And boy, was she over the moon about finally owning those flip flops.

Watermelon was absolutely her most favourite of all summer time desserts - she would have climbed right into a watermelon I figure, if she could have. As it was, she delighted in eating pieces almost as big as her head, disappearing into the succulent pinkish red fruit, coming up for air every now and then with the juice running down her chin and arms. The flip flops were just icing on the cake for her, and to everyone's surprise she kept track of them like they were the most precious thing in the world. And I suppose to her they were. She wore them everywhere, except to Sunday school - but only because Mom was strict about our Sunday go to church outfits.
At the end of the summer, we went off to the beach for our family vacation. Dad worked hard, and all he ever wanted to do for a vacation was to drive out to one place, and park his butt on the sand for two weeks. Some of my friends' families had cottages, or rented cottages, but Dad liked to save a little money and camp at one of the provincial parks. "Have us a little adventure" he'd say. My sister and I loved it, at least when we were younger, but Mom always got a little tense leaving the comfort of home behind. We'd pitch a big ol' canvas tent that got hot and very close in the summer sun, but retained a little heat that kept us warm when the nights cooled off. Mom would sit on a lawn chair at the beach, reading her book under a big sun hat, and occasionally wading into the lake for a "wee dip" in the water. My sister and I would run into the waves time after time until we fell exhausted in the sand. And Dad would go for a swim to cool off, and then sit and roast in his chair, just gazing out at the water. He and my sister turned dark brown from the sun, but Mom and I always had to look out or we'd get beet red. I remember one summer having a burn so bad I could barely walk back to the tent at the end of the day. At night, my sister lay down in her sleeping bag, those watermelon flip flops laid out like fetishes beside her.

The last day of the vacation, as I helped my parents take down the tent and load up the car, my sister took one final walk down to the beach to collect shells and stones to take home as souvenirs. Pretty soon her hands and pockets were full, the sweat was dripping down her face and she decided to cool off in the water. Not having a free hand to carry those magic flip flops, she left them on the beach intending to put them back on when she got out of the water. But while she was still wading, my Dad honked the car horn impatiently, wanting to get on the road and my sister ran out of the lake and hopped in the car dripping sweat and lake. We were about an hour from the beach when Mom asked her where the flip flops were. I think she mourned the loss for maybe fifteen minutes, then was soon giggling over a game of "I spy". I sometimes pictured those flip flops waiting patiently on the promenade at the beach, missing her more than she was missing them.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Daily Practice 176/365

Title: "Union and Separation"
(click image to view larger)
According to the Maori creation myth, Rangi and Papa are the primordial parents, the sky father and earth mother who lie locked in a tight embrace. Their male children live in the cramped darkness between them. The children eventually discuss what it would be like to live in the light, and decide to push Rangi and Papa apart, suggesting that Rangi be a stranger to them in the sky and Papa remain below to nurture them. In spite of the efforts of three of the children, Rongo (the god of cultivated food), Tangaroa (the god of the sea) and Haumia-tiketike (the god of wold food), Rangi and Papa remain close together in their loving embrace. After many attempts Tāne, god of forests and birds, forces his parents apart. Instead of standing upright and pushing with his hands as his brothers have done, he lies on his back and pushes with his strong legs. Stretching every sinew Tāne pushes and pushes until, with cries of grief and surprise, Ranginui and Papatuanuku were pried apart.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Daily Practice 175/365

Title: "The day trickster stole the sun from grandfather"
(click image to view larger)
Long ago no divisions existed between humans, animals and spirits. All things of the earth, sky, and, water were connected and all beings could pass freely between them. The Raven was a trickster full of supernatural power. He stole the sun from his grandfather Nasshahkeeyalhl and made the moon and stars from it. The Raven created lakes, rivers and filled the lands with trees. He divided night and day, then pulled the tides into a rhythm. He filled the streams with fresh water, scattered the eggs of salmon and trout, and placed animals in the forests. The first human was hiding in a giant clamshell and Raven released them onto the beaches and gave humans fire. Raven disappeared and took with him the power of the spirit world to communicate and connect with humans. 

Haida creation myth

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Daily Practice 174/365

Title: "The girl with kaleidoscope eyes"
(click image to view larger)
Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
Towering over your head.
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
And she's gone.

John Lennon/Paul McCartney

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Daily Practice 173/365

Title: "In the quiet slipstream"
(click on image to view larger)
Silver wings of morning
Shining in the gray day
While the ice is forming
On a lonely runway
I'm home again to you babe
You know it makes me wonder
Sitting in the quiet slipstream
In the thunder

Neil Young

Monday, June 21, 2010

Daily Practice 172/365

Title: "Your cheeks as beautiful as jewels, your throat encircled with beads"
(click to view larger)
When the King lay down beside me,
My perfume gave forth its sweetness,
All night my beloved sleeps between my breasts,
A cluster of myrrh,
A spray of henna blossoms,
from the vineyards of Ein Gedi.

Song of Songs, translation by Rabi Shefa Gold

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Daily Practice 171/365

Title: "Lips like lilies, sweet and wet with dew"
(click to view larger)
My love has gone to walk
Within his garden––
To feed his sheep and there
To gather flowers.

Song of Songs, translated by Marcia Falk

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cloud Sequence

Daily Practice 170/365

Title: "At the outer edge of the universe"
(click to view larger - recommended)
As overwhelming as it can sometimes be to think of something as immense as the universe, it does provide a nice counter-balance to the more prevalent me-me-me thinking. When we look at the sky, we see only the most infinitesimal fraction of the universe, yet on some days the view looks like a little tableau of what it must be like in very deep space. The universe is currently expanding, the rate of expansion is accelerating at a speed it is difficult for us to comprehend. Our little lives here on earth that seem stable and slow paced are an illusion in the grand scheme of things.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Daily Practice 169/365

Title: "Displaced, truncated oval reflection"
(click to view larger)
It was late afternoon, and I was talking to a friend all the while noticing some beautiful shadows on the brick walk. They looked interesting as a subject for today's image, but by the time our far-ranging and very interesting conversation was at an end, the shadows had moved on. And then I saw this wonderfully vivid reflection of a glass table top against the fence. As one door closes.....another opens as they say, although the key is to be receptive to the new opportunities. I love the quality of the reflected light and the interrupted oval shape, even though the table top is round. So while this is a "straight, unmanipulated" image that fulfills the creed of some photographers that an image should show the "truth", none the less, the reflection itself is a distortion of the subject viewed indirectly.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Daily Practice 168/365

Title: "Hummingbird breaths"
(click to view larger - recommended)
I sit on the studio porch in the morning, reading, eating a little breakfast, enjoying the freshness of our cool spring. Now that the hanging baskets with fuchsia are up at each end of the overhanging roof, the hummingbird visits, wings beating furiously as he hovers and samples the nectar. But first he flies over in front of me, hovers for a few seconds in greeting, before sharing a peaceful breakfast routine with me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Daily Practice 167/365

Title: "Delicate tokens of forgiveness"
(click to view larger)
Today's daily practice was decidedly different. I was mowing the lawn when the lush greens and delicate flowers of this plant caught my eye. I immediately recognized this image as the one I would make for my daily practice. So most of the time was spent contemplating this small plant, ignoring the distractions of the many other, more dominant flowering plants in the garden. A solid commitment to making this one image. Is it an outstanding image of major impact? Of course not, but it commemorates and celebrates that lush green foliage against the dark earth, with the sincere offerings incumbent in the flowers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Daily Practice 166/365

Title: "Love has abandoned this fearful, tearful heart"
(click to view larger)
I have no idea how this image inspired a title that could just as easily work for a country song. But perhaps it's the fact that there's no artifice in the image - it's a straight-on study of line and tone as found in nature. Much like most country music is a straight-on discourse of the ups and downs of life. Many years ago when I first arrived in this idyllic little town, I was invited to join someone at a meeting of the local camera club. I should probably explain that our town is known for its gardens, and for it's attraction to the "nearly dead" (i.e. people in retirement). I vividly recall how one of the nice little old lady members was showing a fairly mundane flower macro  image, explaining how she had carefully used a tissue to remove some raindrops that would have ruined her perfect composition. It was at that point that I started wondering if there was a seedy side of town (not so much then, but readily found now) where I could make some shocking, gritty images as an antidote to this saccharine view of photography. And just for the record, there were plenty of nice little old men who had a similar religion when it came to making photographs.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Daily Practice 165/365

Title: "A single tear glistened on the crying rock"
(click to view larger)
I'm re-reading a book titled "poemcrazy" by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. In it, she writes about a reading she did at a university, where "I talked about my poems being messages from me to myself". I think this really speaks to the crux of what art-making is all about. I really consider my photographs to be messages that have a personal meaning for me. Without that deep connection, the work would seem contrived and soulless. Art is internal, it comes from within, comes from knowing something about oneself, and a willingness to learn even more.
Elsewhere, Wooldridge wrote "Sometimes we think poems need to be about important, dramatic moments. The events of our lives seem mundane. Often the small occasions in the front or backyard are the most magical. We just need to notice and then create a way to experience and enjoy this ordinary magic." To my mind, this is part of what a daily art practice is all about - raising our awareness of those small occasions, coming to see the beauty or intensity or emotion of the mundane events. I've written before about Jennifer Bartlett's year in France, where confronted by a rather mundane garden, she set herself a project to make images of that garden in as many different ways possible. In the book "The Accidental Masterpiece", Michael Kimmelman writes about Pierre Bonnard - the happenstance of his meeting his future wife Marthe in the street one day. Out of that single moment came a marriage to a woman who became reclusive and chronically ill, requiring considerable attention from Bonnard. And yet Bonnard went on to make the most compelling images from what was a very circumscribed life, precious messages to himself about that life of devotion to Marthe's care.

Today the tide was well out, and the wind was gusting strongly from the west. The sea was surging, the sun shining in a beautiful sky. Yet along the exposed shore, I came across this little quiet moment that seemed more compelling to me than all the big drama of sea, sky and wind.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A walk in the woods

A series of images encountered during my walk in the woods yesterday. Click on any image to see it bigger.

Daily Practice 164/365

Title: "Variable/Identical"
(click to view larger)
I'm fascinated by the tug between identical and variability in the patterns of nature. The shapes of leaves and flowers form in response to biochemical signals timed with great precision. Unlike the patterns that form in our own thoughts and lives, which often serve no useful purpose and are often counter-productive, the patterns that form in nature are specific in form and purpose.
I observed these plants on a walk this morning, while returning books to the library. I've been collecting images of plant patterns for the past little while, with the intention of making some cyanotype prints. These prints are made using sunlight and simple chemicals, the image emerging by washing the print with water. Images of nature, made with the power of nature.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Daily Practice 163/365

Title: "His thoughts drifted to reflections of the sky"
(click to view larger)
early walk, deep green peace, a splash of red berry, all leading to the calming pool where coalescing reflections bring perspective to ruminations. then the long, long climb, breathing deep, heart pounding, legs burning the trail opening to the sky.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Daily Practice 162/365

Title: "The dawn of hope in a time of despair"
(click to view larger)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Daily Practice 161/365

Title: "Graveyard of Modern Totems"
(click to view larger)
I was reading a discussion about cliche images on a toy camera photography forum. The original poster was asking what cliches to avoid as he embarked on making images with his toy camera. There were several very thoughtful comments, one respondent advising him to look at lots of work by others.

While good advice, I think a few important points about looking at other work were missing. I personally think that one only gets a benefit from looking at other work with a critical/analytical eye. It's not enough to "know what you like" - it's very important to understand why an image works well. Learning this from other work informs your own work, and trains your eye to important elements like composition, tones, textures. As your eye gets trained in this way, it becomes important to apply that same critical/analytical look at your own work - so you can understand why some of your images work, and others don't. Look at your images from 6 months ago - do you still connect to them, and if so why? If some of your older images no longer seem so compelling, analyze why. This type of consideration of your work and that of other artists will provide numerous benefits.

I think the other missing piece of information about looking at the work of other artists is having a balance. Looking at "lots of work" must be balanced by making your own work and finding your own voice. If you place too much emphasis on looking at other work, you run the risk of becoming derivative, of making mediocre versions of work that others have made (or equally bad, making excellent "homage" pieces that have nothing of your own sensibilities incorporated). If some other artist's work appeals to you, think of ways you can take the process in a different direction, working on a theme or project to which you personally connect.

Today's image came about as I was walking around campus during my lunch break. I noticed the dramatic sky, and came upon the playing fields. The tight clustering of the fields means there is an accumulation of lighting standards. They are tightly grouped as if in conversation, but unlike the totems that appeared a couple of days ago, these modern versions have no story to tell, no myths to share.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Daily Practice 160/365

Title: "Alien blossom-eating fish and space ship"
(click to view larger) was quite an amazing sight!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Daily Practice 159/365

Title: "The intersection of myths"
(click to view larger)
Standing below these monoliths, readily connecting to the past, to stories and myths of creation born of a mysticism that one wants so desperately to believe.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Daily Practice 158/365

Title: "Total Eclipse"
(click to view larger)
"Purposeful drift" was an oxymoron Lynda Gammon used in discussing an artist's process in her keynote address at the graduation ceremony yesterday. Drift implies aimlessness, which would be the exact opposite of purpose. In her own practice, Lynda mentioned that she goes to the studio every day (purpose), even if she has no idea what she will work on. Once there, she may do something mundane like sweeping the studio floor (drift) allowing herself to be open to the accidental. I think of this as a great description of my daily practice - I have the intention (purpose) of making images each day, but many times how the image making occurs is really the result of drift. Being open to the momentary possibilities becomes easier through practice.

Today I arrived home in the early afternoon and was reading a book out back when I noticed the shadow cast by a table. I made a few images, not sure of how I might work with them, and continuing a drifting process, I evaluated different treatments until I found myself returning to this final image. I like the very stylized look of it, it could just as easily be an etching as a photograph, the graphic treatment working extremely well with the subject. I've made a few images of shadow patterns now, and I intend to look at them side by side to draw new purpose to use in making more in the future.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Daily Practice 157/365

Title: "End....beginning"
(click to view larger)
I was invited as a former board member to attend the graduation ceremony at a local art school. As I was sitting waiting for things to get under way, I found this simple composition that I felt symbolized the event I was attending. Those who had occupied these chairs were finished their formal education, and were leaving to embark on independent careers.

The keynote speaker was Lynda Gammon, a visual arts professor from the local university, who told the graduates that teaching art was a funny business. It was possible to give students context by showing them work that had been done by other artists, and it was possible to teach them technical skills of drawing, painting etc. But because the question of "what is art" was constantly changing and evolving, it was impossible to teach them that. In fact, she said, those graduating today would be the ones to define what art is in the coming years.

This message resonated with me for several reasons. For one thing, I teach science at the same university and while I can teach my students the fundamentals of the discipline (giving them context) and teach them some general skills in setting research questions and solving them, I cannot predict where science will be in 5 or 10 years. The other reason Lynda's message resonated with me was that it encapsulates the excitement that drive my own art making - I can't predict what art I will be making in the future, so I am on a never-ending adventure. That's exciting!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Daily Practice 156/365

Title: "The slow descent"
(cllck to view larger)
At the end of a perfect day with the right mix of slothfulness and industry, night slowly arrives on the heels of the last vestiges of light. The clouds are witness to all that has passed before, delighting in the secrets they hold.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Daily Practice 155/365

Title: "In the circle of enlightenment"
(click to view larger)
Quiet contemplation, no words, no thoughts. Just being and not being.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Daily Practice 154/365

Title: "In tight formation"
(click to view larger)
I was drawn to the shapes and textures of these buds, which come through in the tones and textures of this image.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Daily Practice 153/365

Title: "Portent"
(click to view larger)
There is nothing like black and white to transmit drama. Today the weather was quite variable, changing from rain to sun to rain again, the clouds at this time of the afternoon on their way to bring drama to parts east. Shortly after I made this image, the wind began gusting and we lost power for 3 hours. Just as the clouds had predicted.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Daily Practice 152/365

Title: "Night Moves II"
(click to view larger)
Taken on the way to the meditation/yoga studio out back. A fair representation of what it is I try to understand, make sense of through meditation - that whirlwind of thoughts, the mind constantly in motion. Taking time to slow things down, to realize that thoughts and thinking are not the same as being.