Posts Tagged ‘preconceptions

15
Oct
10

“…the man who has seen Prague might tell us something.” Dr. Johnson

What can I tell you about Prague?  My strongest impression: Prague is a powerful juxtaposition of new and old. After elbowing through a crowd of tourists navigating narrow lanes, you can discover restaurants in ancient vaulted spaces proclaiming “Slow Food Prague Approved”. You can see the Old Jewish Cemetery (with 12,000 tombstones succumbing to gravity and erosion) or new works by inspiring artists in galleries on every block. You can watch a new beginning take place on the steps of a centuries old castle……or turn the corner and have a meal and a beer at the oldest medieval pub in Prague while you put up your latest blog post (they have wifi). Tour St. Vitus’ Cathedral and discover a distinctly Czech color palette and style in new stained glass that coexists with an artisan’s window from the 14th century.

Though I have seen Prague, I feel like there is so much more to see.  It is, in this way, very much like London, Paris, Florence, or Rome…..it is nearly unknowable.  The pace of the change feels like it could be faster than the cities I’ve mentioned. Prague has long been a center of learning and expression in art, literature, science and music….but the desire to “catch up” since the fall of the Iron Curtain is manifested in the street scene and in the vibrancy of a very young population.

I think that it will soon be very difficult to find vestiges of mid-20th century Prague. Sophisticated architecture, fashion, cuisine, and a heavily centered tourist economy will erase what is left from this time. But the best parts will certainly remain.  See Prague and you will see the height of Baroque (and earlier) European culture displayed in the churches, in the music, and the glorious decorated architecture. See Prague and you will see a populace alive with possibility while preserving its storied intellectual and social awareness. See Prague and you will see heart-rending evidence of loss and the annihilation of a population that gave so much to the life blood of a great city.

See Prague.

13
Oct
10

the journey continues: Terezin

A caveat: I am not a scholar….I am not a philosopher…..I hesitate to write about this subject as so many have come before me and written profoundly and with tremendous compassion and knowledge.  I offer my thoughts as a simple commentary from a caring human that happens to use a camera to add to the dialogue.

Terezin (or Theriesenstadt as it is more widely known) was a jolt. Having a cup of tea in what turned out to be one of the workshops for the inhabitants of the ghetto was simply surreal. The waiter, the furniture, the strange green gray paint on the wall, cobwebbed windows and the slightly dirty table cloth created an atmosphere of such oppression. It felt like all life had been drained from this town and in its place was poured inertia and darkness.  I was unprepared for the fact that people LIVE in this town. I kept looking around for the “site” and then realized I was standing IN the site. This helped to explain the feeling that I was walking in a gray airless space.

After walking the perimeter I left the town and went to the Small Fortress.  The town of Terezin was built originally as a fortified garrison town.  To the north lies the small fortress…what became a center of torture and death for Czech political prisoners and resistance figures, locals accused of aiding prisoners, and people from Terezin who had defied some rule or conspired in some way to make life a little better.  Again, the juxtaposition of horror (the cells of the fortress) existing within 30 feet of lovely homes and lawns (the lodging for the commandant and adjutants) filled me with revulsion and anger.

I walked through the fortress…..learned that it is a place of deep sadness for Czechs as so many of their heroes died here…..and learned about the citizens who risked their lives and often lost them to help a prisoner. Smuggling a letter or trying to get a bit of food for a prisoner was punishable by death, after having been tortured. The Small Fortress at Terezin is a blessedly silent monument to martyrdom, to true heroism, and to the values that compelled citizens to try to help, even in the smallest ways.

I went back to the town to visit the Ghetto Museum.  This is a large building that borders a small park, with big leafy trees that line the sidewalk. It is housed in what was a boy’s dormitory.  More than 10,500 children passed through Terezin from 1940 to 1945.  Less than 300 survived. Walking the halls of the museum and looking at all the children’s drawings ~ of holidays, of seasons, of family and of home ~ was heartbreaking. And then beneath the incredibly precious works of art the artist’s name, birth date, and date and place of his or her death is inscribed. What can anyone say when faced with this much loss? Humanity’s loss? Photographs were forbidden and I certainly didn’t want to disrespect the memory of the children and their heart’s work…..but I did make a photo of a small part of a wall….just one of many….that was inscribed with the youngest victim’s names. I made it in a way that I hope invokes the feeling of their departure, but also their journey to a better place…..surrounding us all in the air we breath and the molecules that pass through us in each moment. They are us and we are them.

14
Feb
10

glow….and Happy Valentine’s Day

As I type this I am struck by how awkward the word glow looks.  Yet the quality or attribute of glowing in a photograph is anything but awkward.  I’m talking about subtlety…not a plug-in or technique.  I’m not anti-plug-ins, the truth is I have very little knowledge of or experience with them.  But I’m talking about recognizing something in the light and tone of shapes and moments that translate into glowing photographs. This morning, I had a wonderful breakfast with my son in a favorite spot here in Seattle.  As is my habit, I photographed the setting.  A fleeting glance at the display told me that I might have a nicely glowing photograph.  It’s not a prize winner, but it is a sweet reminder of a glowing moment, and a reminder too, of many other happy moments in this spot.  And when I started to gather a few photos for this blog post I was struck by the happy memories that each called forth.  A coincidence?  No.  I feel very strongly that when we are in a glowing mood…the energy attracts the same.  We see how we feel.  It’s just another variation of my belief that we photograph as we are.

I’ll be back this week with some ‘serious’ photographs…but for now, Happy Valentine’s Day.  Wishing you lots of glow for your day, your life, and your photographs.

07
Feb
10

serendipity: aka photographer’s luck

“We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.” Kahlil Gibran

Last weekend I went to Healdsburg to photograph a client.  Because this was the first time I was photographing a person for a job I had more than the usual nervousness.  As the insecurity and senseless internal dialogue was brewing I knew I had to do something to get out of that energy if I was going to create successful photographs.  For me, a successful photograph includes many elements, but the foremost is the satisfaction of the client.  Readers of this blog will know that I am familiar with the location and have photographed horses at Barbier Farms many times.  I am always a little anxious about seeing things new in a setting that is somewhat limited and thoroughly known.  So I slowed my breathing and switched the internal dialogue from the static channel to the compassionate, grateful channel.  I met the client with a smile, listened to her desires for the photographs, suggested a few settings and started to work.

I know that everything I am saying is simple, perhaps even simplistic.  But it is too easy to forget and get caught up in thinking about what comes next or what if this or what if that….rather than just being still and taking in all the information that is being sent.  My client and friend, Candida, was giving me her thoughts about the movements that she wanted photographed….the light was changing rapidly….the dogs were playing…activity in the barn was picking up as it was feeding time…..other clients were coming to the barn for lessons….and through all of this, remembering to smile kept me centered and calm.  Soon there was a flow to the shoot akin to the gentle pace of deep water moving.  It was undisturbed and developed a quiet energy as we progressed.  By this time the light was getting  a little higher and stronger than I wanted and I let some doubt creep in….just as I silenced that thought and asked Candida to move to another area,  I caught the reflected light off the horse’s mane onto my friend’s face.  We were able to play with that for quite a few minutes and I enjoyed a bit of photographer’s luck.

The shoot was a tremendous gift for me as it brought more fullness to my resolve to create calm and expanded awareness in the midst of a great deal of activity.  Further, I think that my ability to project that created ease for my client, and certainly for the horses as they are so aware of all that is happening on the physical, emotional, and etheric levels.  I am looking forward to the next challenge of this kind and seeing what gift is in store, what serendipity arises.  It’s all around us.  We just have to remember to find and to feel our smile.

17
Nov
09

knowing your subject too well?

In my last post I mentioned that in order to photograph your subject well you must know it deeply.  But knowing my subject too well became a challenge.  Upon my return from Europe in the summer of 2006 I was deeply frustrated photographically.  I had spent the previous four months photographing in France, Italy, England, and Holland, and then had a magical trip on a yacht up through the Southeast Passage in Alaska.  The visual feast of having something new and exciting to see for virtually every second of every day had dulled my senses to the familiar.   I turned back to my books for inspiration and a new subject.  This statement, from Ernst Haas, changed my thinking in an instant:  “I am not interested in shooting new things, I am interested to see things new.”  

I am not overstating it to say this sentence changed my life.  I went out that evening  to see things new; things (my home town) that I had such familiarity with that I could tell you when a certain flower or shrub would bloom in a particular back yard, or when a building was last painted, and didn’t it need painting again?  There is value in knowing something so well, I suppose it’s the meaning in the phrase “my home town”.  Shepherdstown had been my home for 44 years at this point….and with the arrival of Ian and Jessica, my family had called Shepherdstown “home” for six generations.  I never could have predicted that I would move, or move all the way across the country to Seattle…but that summer, my last summer in Shepherdstown, taught me that I can photograph wherever I am….an exotic locale or from my elevator each morning….and see things new.

10
Nov
09

“If you want to be a better photographer….

….be a more interesting person”.   This quote is from Jay Maisel’s interview with Chris Orwig.  Here’s the link:  http://www.chrisorwig.com/flipside/2009/11/08/jay-maisel-interview/

I’ve had the pleasure of assisting Jay on a couple of occasions while he was teaching in Seattle.  The conversation that took place during the class was the best part of those weeks because of remarks like the one quoted.  It’s a marvelous affirmation of “We photograph as we are”.   Though there are few people as interesting as Jay Maisel, we can always try.  Here are a few things that have made my life more layered in the last couple of months.  Has it made me a more engaging or interesting person?  I hope so.  What I do know is that I’ve expanded my view of the world and the human condition through my inquiry.    It gives me an opportunity to think about what I want to do photographically and how that will impact my world and The World, if at all.  It’s just another layer of awareness. 

Books: Non fiction

The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz…the amazing endurance of the human body and spiritThe Long Walk

We Die Alone, David Howarth….endurance of the human spirit and community effortWe Die Alone

Fiction

People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks (one of my favorite authors)…a sacred book travels through history on a circuitous path7cd962f6b3f7dd2c

Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski….it’s rare to find a book with this depth of emotion and beauty of phrasing.dd9095cc1a5f8ee2 

For the rest of the list, including films, please click on “Favorite Photography Books” in the bar above, then click subpages: books, film.

I’ll add some more in a couple of days.  My next post will explore a literary background to photography.  Here’s a hint:

This photo was made while driving through the South on the way to the NANPA event in Destin, Florida.Thinking of Evans

22
Oct
09

Early lesson

Alain Briot, noted Southwest photographer and founder of www.beautiful-landscape.com said to me “sometimes you can make a beautiful image in this bright sunlight”.  We had been walking all over Chaco Culture National Park, in JULY, and we stopped by this doorway.  It’s not in one of the big ruins (Casa Rinconada or Pueblo Bonita) it’s an outlier, perhaps Wijiji.  The point is this:  drop your preconceptions.  Learn to see like your camera sees….and experiment.  Magic happens.

Native American culture has played a large part in my fantasy life since I was a young child.  Wearing moccasins to school in West Virginia was a little odd, but I just wanted to BE what I thought an Indian was.  For a long while my exploration was limited to reading and combing through photography books (Edward Curtis for Native Americans).  Beginning in 2004, coinciding with the first serious pursuit of photography, I went to explore the Southwest.  It turned out to be a marvelous affirmation of following your heart.  Combine bad timing (leaving a landscape business in high season), really hot weather (105 degrees in the shade), and throw in a total leap of faith to contact Alain about private study, and BINGO:  New Life Path.Portal




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