Friday, October 29, 2010


Interior View 1

This being New England, where the natives like to say “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes,” over the past weeks we have had all seasons represented, from a windy chill that speaks of winter, to warm rainy grayness more suited to April or May than October, to perfect cool autumn crispness and high sun that illuminates all the fiery color in the trees. And days ago it was briefly hot and humid enough to be midsummer! But regardless of the misleading and erratic conditions, this time of year always makes me turn inwards. It is a time for curtains to be drawn, and homes to feel like cosy retreats and not merely rest stops between the places we really need or want to be. I love all seasons, but I was winter born and have always liked dim lighting and quiet comfortable surroundings, as if there were always a soft deep snowfall outside, providing the perfect excuse to hunker down and enjoy being safe, warm and dry indoors.

 Interior View 2

My last post brought up some interesting issues (and comments!) way beyond the “where did all the coolness go?” topic I had attempted to explore. I don’t claim to have all, or even any of the answers in these posts, and it does seem I end up with more questions – but I like questions, and apparently so do you good people out there! This week I’m still thinking about the world within, not just in terms of trusting and following and manifesting the inner guiding truth of who you really are, cool or not, in your professional or personal life, but also in terms of that sector of the population known (branded?) as introverts. We are social beings, yes, and crave the practical and emotional benefits of maintaining connections with our fellow humans, but some of us don’t come to it as naturally as others, it seems, and far from being sustained or revitalized by social interactions are actually depleted and displaced by them.

 Automat (Edward Hopper) 

This is another one of those learning curves I’m happy to report having accomplished in recent years, so happy I no longer complain that it took so long! It’s no fun to feel there is something wrong with you because your mind and heart just don’t work the way everyone else’s does, or at least the way everyone tells you they ought. People used to terrify me. Literal physical fear, as if they were brandishing weapons. I grew up in a very loving, supportive and relatively peaceful household and yet I walked through life shaken, fragile and on the verge of shattering if someone so much as approached and greeted me. I had a rich interior life, adventurous and passionate, and could even be a bit of a performer and comedian – with my immediate family. But with strangers, or in other words, everybody not me or the three blood relatives I had lived with since birth, I was mute, cheerless and seething with anxiety.

      Room in Brooklyn (Edward Hopper) 

                                                I can’t be bothered to catch the ring                               
                                                of the lemon-yellow window shade                             
                                                and play with the level. This staggered view                     
                                                of blank-faced buildings will have to do.                      

                                                Let the tablecloth mind its own folds and fall.               
                                                The pale vase has had its fill of artificial flowers,                
                                                the fitted corners of the wine-dark quilt                        
                                                rest uneasily as innocence thrown over guilt.

                                                But the secondhand rocking chair 
                                                and I sit in our square of sun 
                                                no one cares how gently warm or slow to inch away 
                                                or why I finally cut my hair today.

The rest of the story will probably be familiar to some of you. I learned to use my sense of humor as a social defense, earning me positive responses from the people I was afraid of, and pre-empting any harm they might do me by getting there first with my own self-deprecating comments. In my school years and beyond, little by little, I got better at being with people, but I still didn’t like it, or them. Once the fog of fear cleared, I could see that these intimidating creatures were flawed and weak and quite often miserable. I had replaced fear with disgust, but being social was still exhausting, like suiting up every day in full armor and carrying that weight around. And whenever I was alone again, the relief felt like removing that restrictive weight, and resuming the full free fresh movements of my true self again, the way your neck feels in summer right after a short haircut.

  something breaks the surface…..

So, long story short, here I am, misfit, outcast, rebel, introvert and loner still. But now I like it this way. What was once a negative thing, measuring myself by what I was NOT, has become a positive thing, taking pride in what I AM. Now I have a purpose, in the creative works that my aversion to society allowed me to develop, and with this good result, my quarrel with society has been set aside. I have the boldness of many years and survived ordeals behind me and no longer need any armor out in the world. I still prefer the interior view, content to spend entire days speaking to no one. And yet ironically it is now that I find myself in one of the most social periods of my life!  I have a few good friends I trust and respect, in whose company I do not feel as if I must carry on an exhausting performance of Gabriella, and in whose wake I do not immediately feel deflated and disoriented and in need of hours up in my own head to feel myself again. I have a partner whose presence does not pull me out of myself to perform a thousand accommodations, leaving me hungry for solitude, but rather exists alongside me and blends with me so harmoniously, I feel the same whether he is nearby or not.  And I have this new group of blogfriends, likeminded souls, fellow introverts, and yet some of the most socially selfless, gracious and giving persons I have ever met.  Wow.  Lucky girl.

 with apologies to the cover photographer, Maren Wieczorek

This week’s reading spotlight is the latest creative gem from Brazilian literary lion and brilliant painter, Caio Fern. You can find his blog here. I warn you it is not for the faint of mind.  He is as generous as he is talented, and while I have never met him face to face, his passion and intelligence pulse from the screen in all his words and images.  So, thanks to Caio, for being Caio.

Having all these new excellent faraway friends means getting lots of good mail from all over. Caio’s book arrived last week, as did a package from Patti of Missouri Bend Studio. Patti and I are collaborating on two boxes which we will be sending back and forth to each other, adding things inside and out. There are no rules or deadlines. We have enough of that in our many other endeavors! Patti and I met on Blogger and soon discovered we had many interesting things in common, not the least of which was a love of books, an instinct to collect and organize and repurpose things in a wide variety of materials, and an obvious affinity for Joseph Cornell. I urge you to check out her site. Haven’t had as much time as I’d like to give my full attention to the blue box pictured above, but my brain is humming with possibilities, and that is one of the greatest gifts I can imagine, so thanks to Patti for that.

 Flight by Fiona Dempster

Fiona is an amazing calligraphic and book artist based in Australia.See her amazing works here. I met her through Patti, and once arrived at her blog stumbled on a giveaway.  I never win anything but I won this beautiful print pictured above, which arrived in the mail this week. The photo does not do it justice – made on a wisp of handmade paper, a mere feather itself, by a process of laying the feather and string on the plate, then making a second print with them removed, it possesses a sense of substance fixed in detail, along with a strange transience and fragility. Oddly, for weeks I’ve been watching feathers blow along the corridors of the converted factory in which Brian has his studio. There are pigeons roosting somewhere outside the building or within its walls, heard but rarely seen, except for these phantom feathers that find their way indoors after windy weather. Thanks to Fiona for picking my name out of the bowl and sending me an image of flight, and continued inspiration from her corner of the world, which now does not seem so very far away!

Best wishes to all, and to all a good flight!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Love the World Within

dare to be different

Recently in another corner of blogland, I nearly came to virtual blows with someone I only know by their posting name and thumbnail photo. She was making a very valid point about how consciously avoiding stereotypes can be just as bad as blindly embracing them, as both were sides of the same ill-fated coin of doing something not because you want to, but because you feel you should or shouldn’t according to someone else’s standards.  The example she used was a desire to take up knitting and drinking tea, which she refused to do simply because she didn’t want to fall into a stereotype. I fired back that busting stereotypes was fun, and that I am probably one of very few women who enjoy tea and fiber arts, and are also tattooed head to toe. Her reply was that, alas, that was just the sort of stereotype she was trying to avoid!

Later, when the steam (not from tea either) faded from the inside of all the windows in my apartment, and the vein in my forehead stopped throbbing, and I had crafted a very restrained and philosophical response about none of us being as original or weird as we believe, therefore the whole notion of stereotypes and their avoidance or embrace being a waste of time contemplating much less living your life by…I got to thinking about originality, and edginess, and coolness and where exactly I fell on the spectrum that runs from dull and ordinary to awesome and unique.

portrait of the artist as a young invisibility, ca 1975

Back in school, I was about as uncool as it gets. I wasn’t even uncool in an interesting or unique way, the monstrous klutz, the misfit they make movies about, the nerd that goes on to run a company and make millions. I was smart, shy and invisible with all except my closest friends, of whom there were few.  But inside me, I was a rock star, I was a tragic figure worthy of novels, I was an artist, a poet, a dreamer, a being larger than life and destined to become so universally adored one day, all the people who ignored me would regret not noticing my greatness when they had the chance. A failure to match all the coolness I had within to what the world outside could recognize and appreciate was a source of misery for more years than I care to admit.

  portrait of the older artist wishing she were more invisible

Well, the happy ending of this story is there is none.  I’m still not cool. I have no personal style that others might want to imitate. My popularity rating has not changed in all these decades. A few years ago I attended an office Halloween party wearing nothing different from my usual unremarkable all-black attire except for the addition of a feathered carnival mask. I was unanimously voted The Most Unrecognizable. Later, when my mask was off, several people told me they really didn’t know who I was anyway and had to ask other people my name in order to vote for me. Let the irony of that one sink in a moment, and then get this: it was one of the proudest moments of my life.  Because it turns out now that the pursuit of popularity is no longer on my list of things to do, I would like nothing better than to be completely unrecognizable!

 Do I contradict myself? 
Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes -
Walt Whitman

Yes, I hear you, why am I inked from head to toe if I am trying not to be noticed? My reply is the quote above.  My tattoos, whose various histories and meanings will likely be subject of another post here are intensely personal.  The image above is one of the few G-rated  photos in which most of my pieces are visible. They remain something I do for me, first and foremost.  So, it still surprises me when people point and ask about them, as if they were inquiring about my choice of underwear.  You’d think they would drive people away, make me an unapproachable badass. No such luck. I am apparently so approachable and accessible, old ladies walk up to me to ask what they mean and how much time money and pain went into their acquisition.  Tough construction workers stop in the middle of their dirty catcalls to say “wow, that’s beautiful work, who’s your artist?”  Every time the weather gets warm and my clothing less concealing I face interrogations from strangers and acquaintances alike, the latter of whom are ever astonished that on the surface of my very bland and uncool self there could be such a display of counterculture color. These reactions used to horrify me, and now they make me laugh.  Just as I no longer need to be universally sought after for inclusion in the in-crowd, I don’t need to be considered a badass outcast in the outside world because of who I seem to be on the outside.

  I have no idea what the audience makes of me - Keef
I’ve come to love the world within, where I always was and always will be a decadent yet charming rockstar. I don’t need to be edgy. I can dress more like Richard Simmons than Keith Richards and I won’t be any more or less cool than I ever was or will be. And here’s the best part of all – turns out, there is no such thing as this ideal I was always striving for. The popular kids all ended badly shortly after moving from school to stressful jobs, suburbia, divorce, midlife crisis and overpriced therapy sessions in which they talk about how insecure they always were in school, and disbelieving of all the attention and praise they received while inside they were a frightened mess. The edgy kids all ended up in rehab or on the streets because they were also insecure and disbelieving and just because they could look awesome in ripped jeans and a black t-shirt and drink Jack Daniels until dawn apparently didn’t mean they were headed for greatness any more than I was. They never even found a world within to love; they were too busy getting confusing and scary feedback for and from the world outside.

 My Cool Mom, ca 1968
So what is cool? Where is cool? Who is cool? It certainly isn’t this latest version of me, sitting here in an oversized Portland Maine sweatshirt, track pants and flipflops, sipping scotch and soda while I type on a laptop, with balls of yarn and bags full of buttons nearby, more concerned with launching a business that will keep me from a desk job than whether I can pull off a form-fitting outfit made entirely of safety pins and vinyl. I still want to have a unique and memorable style. I want people to see me and immediately understand the depth of my soul, the darkness of my fire, instead of mistaking me for my mother. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. My Mom used to wear patterned stockings and thigh high boots, sheath dresses patterned after Mondrian and drink martinis at house parties full of intellectuals who smoked pipes and wore tweed jackets!  Pretty cool in her day.  Of course, she never believed it.

I think what I’ve finally figured out is that cool is in the eye of the beholder. We are none of us as unique as we believe, but we are also none of us as pathetic as we believe. I am always surprised to hear people respond to my bellyaching about not being cool with “oh, but you ARE!! I wish I were more like you!” to which I respond by looking behind me to see who they are really talking to.  Maybe the grass is always greener, and the cool is always cooler, on the other side.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I am an MP3 Player

Octet for Strings, Bryant Park

I never learned to play a musical instrument, and yet I can say without hesitation that music has been just as much, if not more of, an influence in my creative life than literature or the visual and plastic arts. There was always music in my home, recorded and live, as daily background but also as a special event to look forward to and dress up for (when did people stop caring enough to wear nice clothes to the opera?), and I was lucky to grow up with an indirect awareness of, or a conscious participation in some pretty interesting periods for popular music, not to mention technological advances in how it is preserved and delivered…but mostly music taught me what life is about at its best and worst, giving me sensations and expectations way beyond the everyday that made me restless, often unsatisfied, sometimes miserable, but kept me questing for bigger and better things.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 The Rockwall, circa 1978

For who I have become and how, blame the Rolling Stones. Blame Jim, Jimi and Janis. Blame crooners, bluesmen, jazzmen, rockers, folk singers, punks, funks, metalheads, pop stars, and especially blame those first of the mad misfit freaks and rebels to guide my wounded, seeking soul , Beethoven, Vivaldi, Sibelius, Shostakovich and Monteverdi. Did they make me this way, or did the way I am draw me to them? This I will never know, but so many of my memories and associations are tied to music, which came first no longer matters, it’s all one.

Manhattan Alleyway

While contemplating this post, I was flooded with these memories. How to fit into one brief personal essay everything that music means to me? Not only do certain songs help identify dates on the calendar of my life for me by what I was hearing on the radio, but they also identify the states of mind or experiences for which they served as soundtrack . When I walked by the Manhattan alleyway pictured above a few years ago, I immediately thought of the Brighton alleyway featured in a scene in the movie adaptation of the Who’s Quadrophenia, but more than that, I lived the scene, I started quoting dialogue from the movie under my breath, and feel how it felt watching it for the first time in a theater in November 1979 as a teenager,  and every one of the dozens of times after that I’ve seen it since, or the hundreds of times I’ve played the album.  Within seconds of this multi-memory flashback, I was so fully transported back in time, I almost expected to catch a much younger version of myself, awkward and angry, mirrored in a shop window.

Brighton  Alleyway

That’s what music is about for me – transport, transcendence, transformation. One amazing piece played a million times for a million people has the ability to speak to me and touch me directly, intimately, as if no one had ever heard it before, as if I had never heard it before, and yet, it knows me, deeply and passionately.  When I went Googling for an image of the real alley filmed for that movie , I was actually surprised to find so many hits, as if I were the only one who could have such a connection to this scene! Turns out, it’s famous.  Fans actually go to Brighton to visit, photograph and autograph this alleyway like a shrine. One guy even filmed himself in the role of Jimmy recreating every detail down to the spinning camera angles coordinated with the music in those few moments of film!  For this guy too, I suspect, the Who’s music has the power to be around him and inside him at the same time, moving him body and soul. He just had the nerve to film himself feeling what I’ve kept in my head all these years! 

It isn’t just about rock n roll, the percussion that seem to come from my own heartbeat and makes it impossible not to get up and dance, the hot guitar riffs that lick my nerves like flickering fire, the wailing sax and huffing harmonica that make me want to stand in the rain with steam rising off me and howl at the moon.  Blood on the Tracks.  Muddy Waters.  Blank Generation by Richard Hell.  Music that will always understand what I have in me in a way no human being can. In the mid 90s, I had the honor of attending a performance of Mahler’s Fifth at Carnegie Hall, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Sir Georg Solti. I had never heard the piece before. I was only just letting go of the mindset that much as I enjoyed it, classical music could never touch me like my good old rock n roll.  I think I stopped breathing the second Solti raised his baton and it was at least three days before I started breathing again. Just thinking of it makes my head swim to this day, because the music was so big it literally made me dizzy.  After that, cassettes of classical music started to pile up next to my rock collection.

On so many occasions, music has saved my life.  Bach’s Double Concerto.  Barber’s Adagio.  Borodin’s Nocturne. To know that there was such truth and beauty in existence, even at times my own life seemed false and ugly, made a rejection of life impossible. I remember walking along Central Park one afternoon many years ago, lost in dark thoughts, feeling quite dead inside and detached from everything around me as if I were sleepwalking.  I approached a sidewalk vendor with tables full of cassette tapes in boxes and two small portable speakers from which, slow and quiet, yet cutting through the noise of a busy city street, emerged a sound unlike any I had heard before.  It was Albinoni’s Adagio and it perfectly echoed my movement and my mood. I stood there glued to the spot for the entire piece,  9 or 10 minutes long. As I write this, I can feel that same sense of simultaneous paralysis and utter liberation. I can feel the gray hexagonal cobblestones under my feet, smell the strange blend of urban and natural smells from the traffic of 5th Avenue on one side and the park on the other, and how isolated I felt, yet how welcome, as this mournful music walked me away from darkness and into something bright and beautiful. To know that one human spirit was capable of creating this thing and delivering it across centuries to another human spirit just at the moment they were needing  to receive it, made humanity not such a bad thing.  I bought the tape that day, and as long as there are cassette players, that’s the version I will always play, and I will always be standing in that spot on the cobblestones when I hear it.

The Conquest of Technology

I recently acquired an MP3 player. When away from my home musical system, which consists of a radio/tape/disc player the size of a toaster, a long extension cord for my headphones and a lot of old cassette tapes and CDs, I had been using a Discman in public that made people laugh at the old fart playing  music on what looked like a wired frisbee.  I admit, it’s cool to have dozens of my favorite albums carried in my pocket and ready to be heard anytime anywhere, but in general the whole idea of a portable sound system is a bit redundant to me and seems only really useful to block out outside noise. There is already a vast musical library burned into my brain made up of the thousands of albums that have become part of me over the years, to the point where certain conversations provoke just the right song quote, and certain situations trigger the mental playing of entire albums.  I sometimes forget what I was intending to do by the time I get to the other end of the apartment, but I can still recite all the lyrics to “American Pie” and recently played both Tommy and Exile on Main Street in their entirety in my head during the second half of a marathon which required a little good old fashioned rock fuel to get my fighting spirit back in those last hard miles. Dr Jimmy and Mr. Jim propelled me across the finish line and I didn’t know whether to cry, hug, or kick someone!

 Blue Guitar

Not that everyone has to serve a dual or triple muse, but I think it can only enrich the creative spirit if you can feel creativity in different ways through all your senses.  After all, past centuries not only valued but required a working knowledge of some aspect of all the arts to be considered a well-rounded individual, something we’ve lost in modern times with so much specialization.  I think it’s interesting that many of the artists I’ve met here on Blogger have a strong connection with music, either because they play, or are lifelong fans, or include the occasional music video or audio clip in their blogs that fits perfectly with, and enhances their other content.  As deeply connected as I feel to music just listening to it, I cannot even imagine the pleasure of holding an instrument and making it sing.  I think it’s enough that when I listen to my favorite music, I feel as if I am an instrument, held, and singing.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Guess the Artist : A Closer Look

Progress has been slow, but here’s the latest photo of the mystery scarf. We already know that the painter inspiring this piece is female, not American, and late 20th/early 21st century, in other words currently active.  For your new clue you’ll have to wait until the end of this post!

I had hoped to be further along with the mystery scarf this week, but I’m happy to have been distracted finishing a new Rothko-inspired scarf to fill out my inventory after selling two of my scarves at last Sunday’s market! That kind of busy is always welcome! I also finished two new pairs of wrist warmers to bring with me tomorrow. Hopefully the cold weather will once again put buyers in the mood to acquire warm accessories!


I’ve been crocheting up to 6 hours a day but so far my hands are not complaining. In fact, with so many years of borderline repetitive stress injuries from desk jobs involving way too much keyboard use, I have always found that the action of crocheting is very natural for me and actually eases the tension that usually gathers in my neck and back, and drifts down through my arms, not to mention calming my mind and spirit! In spite of the intense concentration required to pull a loop through another loop and keep them exactly the same size row after row for hours, I find it very relaxing and comforting, a good kind of rhythmic repetition, like the rocking of a ship, or the underlying time signature of a musical piece. It also feels good to have something soft and warm contained inside my hands, that, when done, will ironically be outside my hands!

I recently commented to someone in the blogosphere that I wondered if there had ever been any scientific studies of the effects of handiwork in the human body – I know they’ve tested brain waves and heart rates during all kinds of activities, from athletics to trance states. I would imagine that during a long session of working on a scarf, my pulse probably slows down and my brain waves flatten as if I were in deep meditation…with a purring cat in my lap!

Like meditation, I can create this crocheting comfort zone almost anywhere and in any position – from sitting straight up to lying down, and it is one of the few things I do, other than sleep, shower or swim, without wearing my glasses. Not being able to see beyond the work in hand also adds to the blurry edges and quiet interiority of the work. I hear “you’re going to ruin your eyes” a lot when I enter this state of non-seeing and no longer require bright lighting to do it!

I knew a waiter once who taught me the professional trick of carrying a tray or other full receptacle without spilling it. Most people make the mistake of fixing their gaze on the item they are trying not to spill as they walk as if to steady it with their eyes; if you just walk naturally, with your eyes ahead of you in the middle distance, and your mind focused on balancing yourself and not the object, both you and the sloshing bowl of soup or hot coffee will arrive at their destination, as one, and intact.

I guess this lesson of non-seeing can be applied to almost anything we attempt to control in our lives, great and small, heavy and light. The less we apply our conscious will to an enterprise, and just flow into it, the better results we will get. I think we all have the ability to use our inner vision, that, like any faculty, it exists to be trained and developed, and will weaken and fail for lack of use.  So, when you attempt to guess the artist, I would advise you to look inside and feel the answer, rather than try to apply your wits to solving the puzzle.  The work of the painter in question is very much about the world of inner feelings and visions! And that is this week’s clue. Good luck!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Confessions of a Recovering Luddite

Luddite  1. any of the textile workers opposed to mechanization who rioted and organized machine-breaking between 1811 and 1816 2. any opponent of industrial change or innovation.

If you are like me, and I know there are some of you out there, the ones who are still lingering over my typewriter photo as if it were porn, you not only remember but also miss the days of communications and entertainment devices that weighed a ton and required muscle and stamina of body and mind to master, old favorites such as the rotary phone, analog recordings on vinyl platters played and stored in large cabinets,  the manual typewriter and the film camera, before these substantial creatures acquired qualifying adjectives and were just telephone, typewriter, record player and camera…it also means you held on as long as you could before embracing all the new technologies out there, which now outgrow themselves so fast, even the most savvy among us tend to arrive at the cutting edge just in time to be directed to the even sharper sexier one up ahead.

Thanks to my many desk jobs in offices concerned with information technologies (what used to be called LIBRARIES), I’ve had to make friends and peace with software and servers and all kinds of data storage and manipulation.  But much to the consternation of my managers and co-workers, I have always refused to employ any shortcut type of programming, preferring to do everything as manually and humanly as possible, turning off or ignoring anything automatic I would rather do myself. And yes, I get the know-thine-enemy irony of learning technology in order to disable it! In the early days of ATMs, I wrote a letter to the New York Times to fellow curmudgeon Russell Baker in which I quipped that I would only learn how to use one so I could withdraw all my funds and stuff them under the mattress where money belongs!  

Irony again – couldn’t find my original 25 year old newspaper clipping, and didn’t trust the possibly members-only protected link, so I had to use my digital camera to take a photo of the archived version of this 1985 letter on the Times website!!

Nowadays, in my enlightened state, I may allow Google to inform me that (obscure city) is in (sounds like it’s made up country), and Lord knows I owe the company of you fine folks to the magic of the Internet but I will still never let a computer do my math or correct my grammar or be my memory bank. After almost 20 years of schooling, I had better be able to do complicated sums, spell and remember trivia! I do write my blog postings on my laptop, but only because it’s easier to then transfer them to Blogger. The first ideas still get recorded the old fashioned way, with pen and paper, essentials I always have with me whenever I venture forth, just in case something in my head needs to be written down or forever lost. I’m certainly not going to text it to myself!

this poem is a way of keeping warm while waiting

Which brings me to my new digital camera.  As long as there are still photo labs on planet Earth processing film, I will use my old Pentax ZX-M, (replacement for the K-1000 that was retired when it began chewing up film 5 years ago) to take pictures I know I will not see again until they come back from the shop. I like being pleasantly surprised. At recent SoWa markets, the image above has received a lot of compliments and questions.  It was one of many I took at the Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge on a visit a few years ago.  It was the kind of day so vexing to a photographer when the sun plays in and out of the clouds, but having to wait for the right lighting forced me to spend more time with this particular area by the water and those weird root outcroppings, to find not just a good shot, of which there were many to be had, but THE shot. No do-overs, no fixing it later to look like what I really had in my mind’s eye. Perhaps this feeling of having limited opportunity to earn the shot with vigilance, flexibility, luck and good reflexes has become such a part of my creative process I will never adjust to a shoot-now-tweak-later mentality.

Petite P

But within hours of my getting acquainted with the irresistible abomination known as the digital SLR, I was in love with it. My new Pentax K-X (yes, I admit to brand loyalty) did everything but make breakfast for me. I could even take naked pictures of myself without sending the wrong message to the guy at the photo shop who develops my film! The possibilities of image manipulation were endless…the first shot I took was the result of aiming my camera at the cat just to see how the thing worked.  I immediately understood it was way smarter than I am, and I had better approach it with more respect.  At the press of a special processing button an uninspired capture became a French Impressionist pastel drawing! What else could this thing do to make me look better than I really am?

Then I realized I could not only mess with digital shots at point of capture and after download, but also revive and refine old shots scanned from film negatives to CD, but in my former ignorance simply set aside as the unsalvageable majority out of a roll of 24. All the elements that made these shots candidates for rejection could suddenly be corrected.  I liked this idea of giving the dismissed and discarded a second chance, taking the bad results of good intentions and suddenly making them live up to their potential, or become something completely different altogether! Still, I felt uneasy, as if I were going against everything I believed in as a photographer.  But if I could accept revision as part of writing a poem, why not when processing an image? If I had trashed every poem that didn’t come out fully-formed and perfect the moment pen touched paper, I’d have a very small opus indeed. Couldn’t digital captures be seen as a kind of preliminary note-taking or first draft leading to the final image?

 future loss, assured and beautiful and hard

It was a rainy day, the color of solitude, I wasn’t sure how such muted tones would translate to black and white film, which responds so well to high contrast lighting conditions. I almost left my camera at home the day I visited the amusement park at Coney Island in NYC, at the height of the ongoing controversy about its fate. The place seemed closed, but I was able to slip through an open gate and walk around the deserted fairways and among the idle rides, and take some amazing shots of this landmark. I had recently discovered that the property had been sold and the new owner had made plans to tear everything down and build a new spiffy oceanside resort in its place, prompting a difficult choice for area residents between economic revitalization and historic preservation, not to mention keeping sentimentality to acceptable levels.  As far as I know, the latest news is of the city intervening and a compromise achieved  – the old rides like the Wonder Wheel and Cyclone will remain under historic landmark protection, parts of the amusement park will be restored, and the area around it rebuilt with new businesses and housing.

 the air tasted of tears

But on that day, the grayness suited the mood of uncertainty and the threat of future loss, and the urgency of possibly being on property not exactly open to the public further enhanced my sense of getting these images right the first time, the only time, maybe for the last time. Myself, and my old Pentax, in my hometown on a gray day threatening rain, in a hurry to get back on the train for the long subway ride back to Manhattan…all of that went into the split second of taking the picture above. I was there as a witness, not a creator. All of that is burned into the negative, and only that can be used to create the image above.

 Call me old fashioned