Exhibit 52.017 (Dr. Hammer's Museum of Curiosities): Photograph Entitled "La Cola del Diablo"
(click image to view larger)
One day I came across this artifact in an album of old photographs of religious relics. Although my Spanish was rusty, I understood the title of the photograph to be "The Devil's Tail", probably a local name for a very potent pepper. I was curious about how this photograph came to be in the album, and asked Dr. Hammer to explain. He looked at me with his deep sad eyes, and disabused me of my idea that this was a photograph of a mere pepper. He assured me that a respected scholar at the Vatican had authenticated the photograph as being that of the actual tail of the Devil. He explained that every 5 years, the Devil molts his tail, the old one once discarded shriveling up as it dried out. His Vatican source claimed that the molting process was quite painful, which put the Devil in a devil of a mood so to say, which in effect caused the furnaces of hell to be turned even higher. While it seemed a completely implausible tale, I found myself smiling as I left the museum that afternoon.
I'm enjoying the basically uncontrollable nature of this type of image making, and the completely abstract nature of the resulting image. I've printed a few as 8X10s and they have a wonderful luminous glow (as do the smaller, original instant prints). I'm excited to see where this experimentation will lead.
I have a favourite place with wizened old trees that I like to visit from time to time. I took a walk along the path this morning, looking for something a little bit out of the ordinary, when I happened to look straight up. I find this natural form to be breath-taking, its presentation like a sculpture, the golden hues of the branches perfectly complemented by the blue sky. Somehow this form lies between drawing and sculpture, a three-dimensional drawing off the page.
I must thank the kitties, Momo and Appa, for making this image possible. The sun light is reflecting on a wall in the basement that didn't exist until a few weeks ago. In preparation for my sister-in-law's cats arrival, we had Rochelle build a wall in the basement to close off the garage area as a "powder room" for the kitties. I was working in the studio this morning and noticed this ethereal plasma-like flow of light over the wall. It would make a good prop for a seance.
I've been saving up some colour films for home development, and earlier in the week processed six of them. These images are from a walk I took in a local park, through an abandoned cement facility that has been reclaimed by the rain forest, eventually ending up at the sea. It was a cool, foggy day and I had a Lubitel 2 with me for the journey. Here are some of the images (clicking on an image will show it in a larger size):
I wanted to follow up on my experiment from a couple of days ago of using a pinhole camera to "draw" with the sun. I had a couple of exposures of Fuji 100c 4X5 instant film in the holder, so I decided to use that with my 4X5 pinhole camera. A little trial and error resulted in this image, which gives me some indications of how to take this idea further.
One of the things I hadn't anticipated was the much wider angle of view of my 4X5 pinhole camera vs. the home-hacked polaroid pinhole camera I used for this image. I had made fairly small movements with that camera and covered the smaller format instant film easily. My first couple of experiments with the 4X5 using a similar range of motion resulted in very small effects, as shown in the two images below:
(click image to view larger)
(click image to view larger)
I think there may be some possibilities with these smaller "drawings" as well, especially once I expand my horizons and get out of the back yard with this idea.
To get the top image, I was actually moving from one side of the yard to the other, and putting the camera high above my head, and down to my ankles. Since images are inverted on the film, I can tell that down to the ankles is so far that the sun "moves" off what is the top of the image. I can also tell that I'm not tall enough to extend the camera high enough to cover to the bottom of the image. And I need a larger back yard (or a nice stretch of beach) to get complete coverage from side to side.
Today I spent a little time following the coast, setting up my 4X5 field camera and using the particular rhythm of using it to slow down a little. Back in the spring I made a couple of images of the coast using infrared film, using it to darken the sea and bring out the brightness of the clouds. I followed up on those experiments today, and have a couple of satisfying images of coast/water/sky. But I also took this image of the rocks and kelp below, completely experimental since rocks do not reflect much infrared light, so it was not at all clear if an image would result. I like the way the infrared has shifted the reality to something quite mythical and mysterious.
There's something about gardens, and gardening, that feeds our souls. I'm not much of a gardener, although yesterday I did some of what I euphemistically refer to as "yard work" - generally I mow the front and back lawns. I had some time yesterday to tackle our raised vegetable beds, where quite a few lettuces had grown into multistory towers. I "weeded" those, and considered the chard. I'm not a chard eater, and I have little idea about when chard might be "past its prime". I decided to wait until my more knowledgeable darling returned, who proclaimed the chard to be quite fine as it was. So today...a little tribute to The Chard.
There are times when the heaviness of the sky seems to compress the sea; times when it appears to be a struggle over the balance of power. Both sea and sky have powerful effects on how we perceive any particular moment in time. Dramatic days of heavy skies, strong winds and surging seas never fail to be exhilarating.
Clouds are a wonderful metaphor for the impermanence of thoughts. Clouds arise, they coalesce, they tear apart; they suddenly appear and then drift away. The sky is no more defined by clouds than we are defined by our thoughts. Lying beneath our thoughts are the intangible properties that make us who we are; we are rarely sure what those properties are. Beneath, above and around the clouds is the sky, which is has a strong pull on our beings, in an way that can only be hinted at with words, that belies the definitions of what sky is put forward by science.
There are cats in our house for the first time in 10 years. My wife's sister has moved out to our little island paradise, and is staying with us while she hunts for her own magical cabin. Her daughter's cats (Momo andAppa) arrived about 3 weeks ago - the most uncat-like cats I've ever met. They are extremely sociable and tolerant, like to fetch like a dog, like to have their bellies rubbed like a dog, and are herd-bound like horses can be. One or the other is endlessly following me, not letting me out of their sights. Today the house was empty (except for les chats), and as I entered the door Appa bore down on me like a rocket-launched missile, meowing most vociferously - it almost sounded like a horse neighing long and high, anxious to hear from herd-mates. Once home, I was not to be left alone - I think Appa was projecting her loneliness on me, trying to assure me that I was no longer alone (fat chance). Here she is, by turns soaking in the sun, asking to have her belly rubbed, and meowing for attention.
The story unfolded with the changing light. He was tired of being treated like a dish rag; she vowed she wouldn't let him treat her as if she was something only fit to wipe up the floor with. Unfortunately there was no resolution as their voices faded into the dusk.
I like these indirect expressions of modern architecture written in reflected light. They are more vibrant than the buildings are, opening up the imagination beyond the strict dictates of architectural form.
Title: "Exhibit 81.203 from Dr. Hammer's Museum of Curiosities"
(click image to view larger)
As I made my way around the museum, photographing the exhibits, I had a chance to observe Dr. Hammer at his work. I would often find him poring over an exhibit with a powerful magnifying glass, making notations about the smallest detail, treating each piece with a loving devotion. He intimated that he was taking such meticulous notes as research for a comprehensive catalog of the museum, for which my photographs would be crucial. It was that knowledge that made me increasingly devoted to the work as the months passed.
Title: "Exhibit 79.103 from Dr. Hammer's Museum of Curiosities"
(click image to view larger)
As I engaged in the photographing of the curiosities, I often found myself puzzled by the objects. Hammer had made no systematic attempt to date or attribute them, preferring to accept the mystery of not knowing what the objects were, who had made them or why. But my highly organized mind found this frustrating, and I often pressed him for more details. Take this object, I would say - do the spirals represent sun beams, or the flames of a fire, or was the civilization advanced enough to associate helical structures with life? Hammer would always smile enigmatically and artfully deflect my questions by drawing my attention to an even more outrageously bizarre object in the collection.
Title: "Exhibit 84.012 from Dr. Hammer's Museum of Curiosities"
(click image to view larger)
Dr. Hammer had a peculiar obsession to collect as many mysterious, unknown artifacts as possible for his museum. The museum was housed in an 18th century timber building in the little town of Orbitz near the Austrian border. At first the townspeople would visit the museum but they soon lost interest when they realized that there was nothing valuable at the museum, nor were there local artifacts that recorded their town's history. When I was touring the region in 1987, I came upon the museum and being curious about these curiosities, I paid the 50 pfennig entrance fee and walked into the most enchanting place I'd seen on my trip. There was something hauntingly beautiful about the objects Hammer had collected, which he presented in an eccentric way. Noting my interest, Dr. Hammer asked if I would assist in documenting the collection with my camera. As I was at a loose end, I agreed and rented a room above the town bakery, spending the last few months of summer and the fall going to the museum each day to photograph the treasures.
I dream of travels, adventures. I look at the landscape and imagine it's been transported from somewhere more exotic, the breeze slightly warmer on my face. I imagine myself in a small village on a sea that's been forgotten, a lazy walk down to the water before breakfast. Facing a day full of endless possibilities.
I've just begun reading a book titled "Switch", about making changes when changing is hard. One of the interesting things I've learned so far is that the analytical part of a person's decision making process is hampered when there are too many choices. Examples given in the book include a marketing comparison that was done on jams - when 6 different jams were offered for free testing, more consumers purchased one or more jams than a group of consumers offered 24 different jams to test. Another stunning example was a hypothetical case presented to doctors: a person with an arthritic hip has been referred for whom none of the pain drugs available have been effective. The doctor learns from the pharmacy that there is still one drug that hasn't been tried - does the doctor recommend trying the drug, or schedule a painful hip replacement? The vast majority of doctors choose to try the one untried drug first. What happens when doctors are presented with the same scenario, except that the pharmacy reports there are two drugs that haven't been tried? Against all expectations, the vast majority of doctors recommend surgery instead of trying either of the drugs!
This information explains why I have no trouble following my daily practice, but I often never get out with a camera for a more extensive session on the weekend. For the daily practice, I have only once choice - must make an image each day. But for a more extended session, I have too many choices - what subject matter, which of my many cameras to use, which film to use, etc etc. A clear, direct plan for these weekends is needed to overcome this decision paralysis. I think "Switch" is going to have a very positive influence on my art making.
I'm usually out on my bike at about 6:15 am, a little activity I started about 3-4 weeks ago as a way to ensure I actually did some physical activity most days. Even in that short a time, I'm already seeing changes in the quality of light as the days shorten. It will be interesting to document those changes as part of my daily practice, to learn how to make effective images with different qualities of light. A morning like this, with the cloud cover starting to clear on the horizon can still take my breath away. Although this image will be viewed by others as quite the cliché, for me it has a personal meaning because it connects to this day and the continuing effect that living in a coastal region has on me. I make these images because I enjoy the process and need to access it on a daily basis; I like what the doing of it communicates to me about myself, what the images say to me.
I must admit that most days I do not spend a great deal of time on my daily practice, which was not something that I had anticipated. I think my expectation had been that I would spend time giving some due consideration to the images I would make as part of this practice, and I've occasionally felt as if I've been giving it short shrift, or in some way cheating, because I often am spending only 10 minutes or so. But slowly I've come to realize that I'm benefiting considerably from doing the practice, even if the time spent is relatively short on many days.
The primary benefit is that I'm more in tune with my daily surroundings and even on days when I don't "feel" like keeping this practice up I do still see something that I want to make an image of. And now there's really no activation energy barrier to following through on that impulse - it's just a given that I will go ahead and make an image. Even if it just involves taking out my cell phone to use as a camera - before starting the practice I can recall several instances where I wanted to make an image but was cursing the fact I didn't have a camera with me (completely forgetting about the cell phone camera). I feel my eye is sharper and I'm making images that teach me things about composition, colour, and post-processing to arrive at a final image that embodies what I saw when I took the photo.
Yesterday the sky was apparently filled with smoke from forest fires, leading to that eerie orange ball of sun in the early morning sky. A couple of fellow photographers were commenting by e-mail yesterday on this phenomenon and how they intended to get up early this morning to make some images, having lost the chance yesterday. Alas, this morning the sky was cloudy and free of smoke, and there was nothing particularly remarkable about the sun. In the past, I would have been among these fine people, lamenting a missed opportunity. Yet as a result of the daily practice, I made a couple of images with my cell phone yesterday morning while out for my early bike ride. They aren't prize winning photos, but they represent the transition I've made from being a "gotta do that" photographer to one who has made the best of an opportunity under the circumstances.
The title of this blog is taken from Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series of books. Bertie is a wee precocious boy who's not allowed to be a child. His mother has grand plans for him, and has organized "The Bertie Project" to educate him well beyond his years. This blog is meant to be my own personal "Bertie Project" - a way to lead a more enriched life.