The wife and I stayed overnight in Ottawa because Saturday was the wife's birthday and we wanted to have a relaxing day away from home. It was a very nice day and, once again, all was right with the world.*Byward Market district
First, there's Pittsburgh Penguins continuing success in the run-up to (hopefully) the Stanley Cup finals. Second, finding a room in Ottawa, CA for our stay after the Penguin / Senators game # 4. Third, there's the continuing escapades of the Presidunce of the United-in-Distress States of America. And fourth, the almost completed construction of our new screened-in back porch.
While all of those distractions are still in play, all but # 3 have been reined in and are under control. Thus allowing me to start seeing again.
I grew up with a very emphatic art bent. My medium was primarily pen / pencil illustration. By my high school years I was making a good deal of spare change doing Ed "Big Daddy" Roth-like illustrations - for friends and friends of friends - for use as school book covers, posters and the like. Some of my more "respectable" work was created for my high school literary magazine and the creation of workplace safety posters for a railway workers union.
It is very interesting to note that all of this art activity was conducted literally within sight of (if I walked to the top of the streeet on which I resided) the Big Yellow Box, aka: Kodak Corporate Headquarters. Strangely enough, at least to me, the idea of giving photography a whirl never once entered my mind nor was it suggested as an art pursuit. I never even visited the George Eastman House Museum which was within walking distance (albeit a mile or so) from my house.
In any event, after dropping out of school (for Architect studies) I was immediately drafted into the US Army - it was the height of the built up to the war in Vietnam. Long story short, after basic training I was, by pure dumb luck, sent to supply clerk training at the completion of which I was, again by pure dumb luck, assigned to be stationed in the Okinawa Prefecture in Japan. All of which meant no infantry, no Vietnam and my chances for coming out of military service alive were vastly improved.
Upon my arrival in Okinawa Prefecture, I was immediately stripped of my supply clerk status and became, because of my Architect studies, an Army draftsman. Consequently, I was assigned to a Headquarter company where I worked at my drafting table in an air-conditioned office.
Being in a Headquarter company also meant that I was effectively exempted from marching up and down the square and a lot of other military stuff. All of which meant that my Army life was pretty much like, with the exception of a morning formation, having a civilian 8-to-5 job. No work on weekends and lots of free time to spend off base inasmuch as we headquarter types had our off base passes permanently parked in our back pockets.
And that's where it all began. Lots of free time and in a very foreign country (Eastern culture wise), what's person to do? Well, in Japan, you buy a camera and start making pictures. Fyi, in the local market cameras were cheap. In an Army PX they were even cheaper. And as a bonus, I discovered that, in the rec center, there was a photo lab where I could process and print my film. So, starting with my very first roll of film, I was not only shooting film but processing and printing it as well.
ASIDE At about this time I returned home, got married, returned with my then wife to Okinawa Prefecture where we took up residence in an off-base Japanese-style apartment (like the ones pictured above). Needless to write, we immersed oursleves in the local culture. End of ASIDE
Fast forward a few months - and keep in mind that I had been making pictures for just a few months - I came across an announcement for a US Army world-wide photo contest. Long story short again, I entered pictures in 3 categories and, at the local level, won all 3. Moving on to the all-Japan level, I again won in all 3 categories. At the next level, all-Pacific, I won in 1 category and runner up in the other 2.
All of that describes my introduction to photography and my rather immediate success. However, the next big step in my path to a career in photography came when the headquarter command Information Office photographer was transferred out without a replacement. Being young and brash and well aware of the adage that you never get what you don't ask for, I raised my hand and said, "I'll do it." Based upon my then very recent photo contest success, they said, "OK." So, I was stripped of my draftsman status and given the status of an official US Army photographer - training? I don't need no stinkin' training.
And there you have it. Within 6-8 months of picking up a camera, I had my first "job" as a photographer. Within weeks of that my pictures and picture stories - all made with the venerable Graphflex Speed Graphic with a Kodak lens (ironically, were both were made in my hometown of Rochester) were appearing in the regional Army newspaper. A few of those photo stories were picked up by Army Times (the world-wide Army newspaper). All of that without a single hour of training or education in photography. Fyi, I eventually convinved them to get me a Nikon.
After that, the rest, as they say, is history.
benjo - the Japanese word for "toilet". A very apt word that the Japanese used to describe what the pictured tidal river became when the tide went out. At the time when I was in Okinawa Prefecture there was no sewer system as we know it. All waste drained into waterway such as the one pictured. When the tide went out, it was very odor-rific.
The most prominent of those occasions was my time spent as a final round juror - 1 of 3; myself, the director of the Kodak Photo Illustration Division and the photo editor of National Geographic Magazine - for the Kodak International Newspaper Snapshot Competition. That competition was most likely the largest such competition in the world at the time. It started at the local level where people submitted pictures to their local newspaper which was charged with selecting pictures that would move on to the next lelvel of judging. The eventual "winners" who made through the multiple layers of judging - if memory serves, approximately 300-400 pictures - ended up in the final round.
After 2 days of winnowing the mass down to 20-30 final finalists, we got down to the business of campaigning for our individual picture preferences. Needless to write, opinions and selections varied according to the biases of the jurors involved.
Up until the final round the judging process was based on points which were accumulated by the number and value (in points) of chips which individual pictures garnered. Although, there was one exception - if a juror felt strongly about a picture which was destined to be eliminated based on the chip thing, he could exercise a juror exception to have that picture advanced into the next round. All 3 of us jurors used this exception at one point or another.
Long story about juror bias short, the picture which I championed through the process using my juror exception was the eventual Grand Prize winner. When it came to picking the winner from the 5 pictures selected to be considered, it took some vigorous campaigning on my part, all based upon my personal picture biases, to move my favorite picture to Grand Prize status. Fyi, whether that picture was eventually agreeded upon as the winner because of its merits or because of my tireless campaigning for it could be, if anyone really cared, the subject for endless debate.
All of that written, One might wonder, knowing what I know, why I bother to submit pictures to juried exhibitions. Well, of late, one reason for doing so - but only to themed exhibitions - is simply because, while searching for appropriate pictures to submit (theme-wise) I have discovered bodies of work "hidden" in my picture library, bodies of work that I didn't know existed. That has been of no small benefit to me.
Another reason for doing so is what I have taken as a challenge ... to learn of a juror's bias and then creating or, in many cases, finding pictures in my picture library which might appeal to that particular bias. In a few cases, I have nailed it and there is a feeling of accomplishment when I do. A feeling not dissimilar from that which I experieinced in my advertising and editiorial picture making career. That of making a picture of client's idea regarding what they wished for a picture to "say" about their product or services.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's entry regarding my major successes of having pictures selected (and winning) for prestigious juried exhibitions and how the result of the first of those successes led directly to my carrer in picture making.
The images selected for this exhibition are poetic, evocative, and deeply interpretive. They masterfully capture some of the spirit of their subjects, rather than simply telling us what things look like ...
... in the case of the image that won the juror’s award, (a) construction of a magical vision that does not exist outside the mind of the artist.
In both of these statements, the juror's bias against pictures which are "simply telling us what things look like", is quite clear. In the first juror's statement it is also quite clear, upon viewing the selections, that "deeply interpretive" means pictures which clearly exhibit the application of effects which are intended to elicit a manufactured, in the words of the second juror, "magical vision that does not exist outside the mind of the artist."
As a counterpoint to those juror statements, consider this call for entries for an exhibition into which one of my pictures was selected:
As juror for this exhibit, what am I looking for in an image? In a word: everything. I want to see well designed photographs that have depth, strong structure, good light—and within them a spark of life ... What don’t I want to see? Images that are contrived, forced, synthetic or derivative. Images where software or hardware have made the picture.
The primary difference in the former vs the latter quotes is, iMo, rather simple. The first 2 quotes were made by juror's who could properly labeled as artists who use the medium of photography to create their interperative art expressions whereas the latter qoute was made by a photographer who uses the medium of photography to make photographs.
In a very real sense, this dichotomy is nothing more than a redux of the Pictorialists vs. Group f/64. The Pictorialists were focused on moving away from the early perception of photography as a merely mechanical means of reproducing what was pictured whereas Group f/64 wanted to promote a modernist aesthetic that was based on highly detailed images of natural forms and found objects.
Let me be perfectly clear ... I am not writing that either of these approaches to making pictures is superior or inferior to the other. What I am writing is that they are two entirely different kettles of fish.
The (let's call them) New Pictorialists are, like their earlier counterparts, dedicated to deconstructing a photographic image into an interpretive construction of something that does not exist outside of the mind of its creator. The Modernist Group f/64 practioners, much like their earlier counterparts, are dedicated to making photographs which deal in the coin of the cruel reality of what is realm.
As I have written, I am firmly rooted in the Modernist (or is it Post Modernist) Group f/64 so the chances any of my pictures being selected for an exhibition which is being jurored by a New Pictorialist are slim to none. It has happened but those times were exceptions which proved the rule.
In the immediate world, everything is to be discerned..with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is. ~ James Agee
I have hauled it out of the bag in light of my recent failures to have photos selected for a couple exhibitions in order that I might reaffirm what my commitment to making pictures is all about. But, let me start at the beginning...
Back in my Jesuit education high schools days, a great value was placed on reading. Not only were there course reading requirements - especially in English and Literature courses - but there was always a Summer reading requirement. Now that written and truth be told, I was not a reading devotee so my reading approach at that time was to get by on the absolute minimum of reading required to, if not excel, at least to do well in a course.
That written, what nearly killed my desire to read was the fact that, in my classes, very little attention was given to the literal story to be had in a given book. It seemed that a book could not be appreciated based upon the experience of a good literal read. No, it had to be appreciated from the act of deciphering the meaning of a book as interpreted from metaphor, allegory and other literary devices.
To wit, nothing was what it was, everything was merely a literary device to be discerned in order to understand the "real" meaning of a story. And the simple fact was that I didn't "get it". For me, a story was just that, a story, and my relation with a story was with the sensuous experience of the reading of it ... its form, not its content.
Inasmuch as my experience of reading a book was sensual rather than intellectual, that taken together with the fact that the intellectual experience was taught as the important value to be had in a book/story, led me to the conclusion that I was "stupid" or somehow deficient. And I mean that literally because I just couldn't relate to book/story in that interpretive manner.
My relationship with books (I have been an avid reader for over 4 decades), as with all art, is to "perceive it as it stands" with all my consciousness "shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is."
And, that M.O. is what I bring to my picture making (and my life ) inasmuch as I believe that manner of seeing and experiencing is part and parcel of what I am.
Trees. They are made manifest in a seemingly endless variety of species, shapes and sizes. Trees are affixed with an equally bewildering array of adornments capable of seasonal color mutations which delight the human eye and fuel many autumnal economies.
Trees house us, furnish our abodes, feed us, and give us crackling warmth in the cold and coolness in their rustling summer shadows. They help clean the air we all breathe. And, when clustered in forests, trees provide rich Gan ʿEḏen environments which foster and shelter many of the earth’s wildlife species and plants.
In short, trees are a precious resource to all of the planet’s living things. And, despite their wealth of benefits, I find trees at their most grand and glorious as I encounter them in their natural setting where, quite simply, they are just being trees.
Joyce Kilmer wrote that only god can make a tree. Theology aside, it is well worth noting that only humankind can kill trees more effectively than Ash Borers and their ilk.