City and Ocean

Interesting how we try to tame everything.
The ocean, with its wildness pushes against everything we hold as “our own” with total disregard. She doesn’t care about our feelings or our inadequacies. She will eat you up and spit you out. Sometimes, she won’t spit you out.
When we were kids, we would rent “surfrider” inflatables and let her throw us at the beach. We’d walk out the door by nine and by 10:30 we’d be slammin’ the sand. For a couple of bucks, you’d get a bus ride, a soda, a piece of pizza and several hours of end-over-end near-death misses. It was a good thing for mom to get all that energy out of the house for most of the day.
That’s the ocean I like. The one with dolphins that hit the surf, or tiger sharks that’ll “take your leg off”. The one that reminds us what it means to be alive….to live with mortal uncertainty. We tested her, and after a few times in the “washing machine” we decided it’s time to head home….stronger, browner, every orifice full of sand.
Yet for some reason, this is what I think of to paint? A safe quiet harbor?
Who is the one who has been tamed?

20×16 Oils on canvas board

I have only ventured onto the open ocean a few times in my lifetime. Even a couple of days of five foot swells will give you a respect for the sailor that braves a liquid life.

Compulsion

It’s like playing a musical instrument.
Holding it firmly, like deadly weapon
An extension of the arms

Connected to the brain
Connected to the heart
Connected to the eye

Reality melts away
Like it was never there
Reality is now foolishness
Logic dies quickly, quietly

The eye looks at all conditions
Color over there
Greater values to be had
Two miles away

Extreme contrast
At the forefront
Thought walks away
Let’s instinct in the door

Mind assembles
Heart assists
And speak to hands

Hands obey in the frenzied moment
Before it all changes

I have been practicing this obscene bastardized form of photography for about twelve years and it won’t leave me alone. It is not considered valid by most traditionalists and is discounted as “Photoshop” (veiled insult). This piece is a manipulation (contains a second photo layer) so in that sense it is “Photoshop”. The base photograph is (10) exposures onto one frame.
My critics’ jabs would carry weight if I saw how easy it would be for them to make a similar image using the same techniques. Even if that were so, I would still refuse to allow any voice to interrupt the creative processes that have now become compulsion.


“Shenandoah”

Arguably one of the most beautiful melancholic true American pieces of music you will ever hear. It belongs to the U.S. and has been sung around the world….and as such, belongs to all people. Like many of us U.S. Americans, this song is a blending of many cultures and stories. There is the story of first nation man Shenandoah who aided the new republic in defeating the British. Though he was true and valiant, he saw his people and lands ultimately diminish. It is said he stood 6’5″ and was a great war chief. The story in the original version alludes to a seven year courtship a trader held for Shenandoah’s daughter. He brought the chief a canoe full of gifts, but was rejected. Later, he brought liquor, and thus, when the chief was under the influence, he stole her away. Shenandoah’s life existed far away from the Missouri River. So how did this river become a part of the song?
Well, this song was a well used shanty sang by sailors who worked the boats from the Missouri, down through the Mississippi, and eventually onto the ocean faring ships….which made it a global song. Apparently, this is where the marriage of the river, the native princess and the men came together.  The story of a man’s love and his willingness to risk his life for that love was just too much not to sing about. It was a man’s song about a man, his desire and unfulfilled love. The river and its unrelenting power gives a beautiful metaphor for leaving, adventure and the power of love.There are many versions. The original likely carried a medium upbeat tempo. The meanings behind all of the versions take on a certain abstract interpretation that transcends any one simple story. But no matter the version, the tune stays constant, and sends the listener to distant places. Like a great river, this song is a confluence of stories that by themselves are wonderful, but together make for something words cannot describe. It is a song for the world.

Flowers Near Water

Untrained
Defines the perceptive analysis.
Unschooled
Becomes the label of preference.

And so much has become
This lazy polarization
Of labels
Marginalization

There is power 
In marginalizing
Whether intentionally bigoted
Or by way of “righteous vengeance”

Neither
Have a good “place”
There is only darkness
When hatred 
Is the motive

“Flowers Near Water” has lived with me for some five years or so. It hasn’t always looked this way. It started as an 1/8″ plywood board that I gesso coated….then dried. 
Oils were brushed on…then removed, then reapplied. At some point, I may have used a palette knife or two.
The smell of oils is intoxicating, suffocating. I let it dry for a week or two and worked on it some more. Applying, removing, drying. This went on for months.
I made a frame for it. Hung it. But always felt it needed more. On some occasions while I was painting another piece….if my colors were right, I would add more touches to my friend “Flowers Near Water”.
Recently, I noticed that some of the white paint had too much drying agent and is turning yellow. I will return to this piece to freshen it up….to do my best to make it whole. 
Or I could just throw it away.

 

If Not For Joy, Then What?

For some twelve years, I have been making photographs at Mission Trails Regional Park. Photographic technique building has been a labor of love. Learning to push the camera to its limit has been a quest of mine the entire time. Many pieces have been left behind as failures…ultimately just learning-blocks to overcome. 


More importantly, the time spent on the trails has given me time to reflect, observe nature, and connect to the air that moves over us. There is a physical/spiritual connection made when we stop to see life happen, even in its most basic, banal activities. 

The wren will scold you on the trail if he thinks you are a threat. A song sparrow will sing to his mate to win her over, even though she has already had chicks by him the previous season.  Hummingbirds love to eat gnats, and are very territorial…even when it comes to humans!

When the sun sinks behind the mountains, most wildlife is hunkered down, while some are just getting started (to hunt). It is nature. It is real.

One evening, I stood on a floating footbridge making impressions. The sun was gone and the afterglow started. The reds and lavender began to pop and I started interpreting the colors and shapes as they changed and morphed. Suddenly out of my periphery vision a man came into view to my right. I was startled somewhat. 
It was another photographer. Maybe ten years older than me. He set up his tripod  and started working a on stable ground. I continued working from the floating bridge. He was practicing standard static photography.

In contrast, I stood on the bridge moving my camera in long, multiple exposures. It was apparent that we do not see the world the same way. When I see light, I want to hold it. I want to move it, and smear it around the frame. It dissolves and dances, It becomes something else altogether.

When I do that, light and color become suggestions. Anomalies can take the viewer wherever their mind wants to take them. If I put a frame in with hard edges, like birds, or mountains, it adds story to the composition. The final piece is a  big colorful expressive arrangement made to crack open heads and minds.

I showed the other photographer what I was making. He was not impressed. “So you do a lot of editing” was his reply. I said, “Sometimes, mostly contrasts. Other times I’ll make the piece a complete manipulation if the work calls for it. It’s up to the composition to lead me.” I think I just confused him with that statement, or  he just thought I was full of it. (Internally I was thinking, “Am I defending my work ethic to this guy I don’t even know?”)

Our photography worlds are not the same. Most photographers work by a specific philosophy with ethical guidelines to be “honest” about their work. I’m good with that, and ultimately the beauty we replicate serves the same purpose.

Sometimes I make photographs, sometimes I make manipulations. Rarely, do I care about realism….and that is what brings me the joy of photography.


And if this is not for the joy of it, then why bother?

Standing

We all stand for some things
We all stand for something

If we look hard enough
Long enough
With sincerity

We will find

Something to stand for
Some things to stand for

Yet all is worthless
If we are not standing together