Monday, June 27, 2011

Natural Selection

Seven for Dinner 
(Brattleboro Retreat Petting Farm)

I promised to have photographic evidence of my weekend in Vermont, second home of my heart. I had a wonderful time there, hiking in the woods, eating fresh local food, visiting farm animals and touring waterways and quaint shop-lined streets in a lovely landscape overlooked by green mountains. But it turns out that I’m not very good at taking photographs while away on vacation, unless of course I’m spending time in my native New York, which is so well known to me that when I arrive it feels as if I never left and I can get right down to shooting. I’ve always known I’m not a good travel photographer; in a new place I am too busy absorbing everything around me to engage the kind of focus I require to recognize and frame a good composition. Nevertheless, I brought my camera to Brattleboro, and I shot one roll of film, and I admit that even the best of the group included in this post needed a little cleaning up to be presentable.  

 West River : a selective view

I’m very selective as a photographer. Even when out and about on a purposeful photo shoot, I rarely shoot more than one or two rolls. With camera in hand I am more of a hunter than a reaper. I am far more interested in waiting for and bringing home the right shot than gathering up quantities of images to be sifted through later. I am much less discriminating when I shoot digital, but compared to other photographers, I’m still very conservative.  Even so, for all the views I reject before even capturing them, there will still be many that make it onto film and then never make it any further than my image files.  Spanning the West River, a closeup of which you can see above, there is a beautiful covered bridge, the longest in Vermont. Unfortunately you will have to go there yourself to see it because my two panoramic but pedestrian shots of it will never be released to the public.

 Slow Train Coming

Every once in a while, thanks to everything aligning perfectly in the world outside and the world within, I bring home a roll of film that has a ridiculously high percentage of “keepers,”  good shots that look exactly as I first saw and felt them at point of capture, and are inarguably presentable to the world.  Among these there are sometimes a few great “divine intervention” shots that have all that and also somehow have acquired some added element I had not recognized or accounted for. It feels as if the camera itself must have read my thoughts and then taken a picture when I wasn’t looking. The image is in some ways BETTER than the scene it represents, and gives you the impression anytime you look at it, that seconds ago it was still in motion, and might resume whenever you look away. Any natural humility or modesty can justifiably be set aside as I nod and admit “wow, that’s REALLY good!”  This was not one of those times.  

 Ghost Rider

I like to think I am a good judge of my own work. I have the kind of high standards that can tell the difference between a respectable effort and a remarkable achievement. There is a fine line between feeling you can never be good enough and knowing you can do better. On one side you have the potential for crippling self-doubt, and on the other powerful self-motivation. I know a great photograph. I’ve seen plenty in museums and books that literally take my breath away. They are both entirely natural and somehow supernatural. I know exactly where my own work falls on the spectrum of photographic technique and artistry. I’m good. But there will always be those better than I am, to infuriate and inspire and instruct me, for which I am grateful.
 Sparkle and Shadow : a Study in Contrast

But when so many images fail to survive the cut of my exacting standards, the question then arises whether I should I be more inclusive and keep images that are clearly of some value, “good enough,” a kind of record of my journey as an artist, and therefore of some aesthetic or historic value? Or should I only release and share the best of the best, the ones that emerge from the shadows with undeniable sparkle? And then how can that be determined? I’ve often used images here that I would not deem worthy of display in a gallery setting, but which were the perfect image to illustrate and enlarge upon the text accompanying them.  A strong image is not always a great photograph. And among great photographs, there will always be those that reach me in undefinable ways that have nothing to do with technical expertise or aesthetic values. I wonder how many photographs my favorite artists judged inferior and left in boxes never to be shared with the world? And whether they were right to do so?

Packing Up

As my regular readers will recall, this week I am vacating the studio that has been my primary workplace for the past 4 months.  This space was the setting for some good creative doing and thinking, and I have certainly grown in the short time I was given perfect circumstances in which to do so. Now it is time to move on to other things. Fortunately the summer weather is conducive to outdoor shooting, and the corner of my livingroom I call my home office has plenty of room to sit in front of a computer and tend to the less glamorous business aspects of life as an artist as I embark on new marketing, outreach and online projects. Hopefully there will be good news to report here in upcoming weeks as the fruits of these new labors come forth. 

Thank you to all my followers, old and new, for your continued interest and kindness as I proceed on my journey; you are truly a sustaining force. And if you haven’t already, please check out my new flickr photostream, a link to which you can find at the right side of this page.  Thanks to my idiosyncratic selection process, some images appearing there will not be posted here, and vice versa.  Have a good week, all.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Second Home

Country Road

Last month I bought a combination film and photo scanner. For the price, it does a pretty good job with negatives, its technical abilities in reproduction of old photographs being just slightly better than taking new pictures of these pictures with my digital camera, my previous method. If my aim were to restore and conserve historical documents or images in the best possible condition for posterity, I’d be in big trouble. Fortunately, I am an artist, not an archivist, and my stake in the preservation of historical materials is highly personal and more concerned with authenticity of content than accuracy of presentation. Also, I tend to look upon technical flaws as happy accidents adding character to the appearance of an image, and enabling new possibilities for the meanings it might convey to the viewer.

 Country Road : A Second Life

Today I am preparing for a weekend away in the place I consider my second home, Vermont.  Followers of this space, new and old, will know that I grip my loyalty to my native New York City with the tenacity and passion of a street dog with a juicy bone.  I have been tempted by many other cities, here in the United States and overseas, and none has compelled me to let go this loyalty. I am a city girl, and the look and feel and life of cities will always quicken my pulse. But the Green Mountain state has always been there throughout my life to soothe and restore me, slow me down, and set me on the right path whenever I lose my way, and for that, Vermont will always have my heart, and make me wonder if perhaps in another life I was a country girl.

 Manhattan Slugger (Gabriella at 10)

Vermont was there for me in the 1970s when my family spent summers at the Bread Loaf School of English, a program connected to Middlebury College, where my father taught literature for many years. I can still recall the sensation of driving north in June, leaving behind the faces and places of the school year in Manhattan, watching the landscape slowly turn from shades of gray to greens so varied and deep they seemed unreal. As the landscape opened, so did my senses; as the tall buildings were replaced by even taller mountains I would find myself feeling both smaller and larger, put into perspective as a mere human dwarfed by such majesty, and yet absorbing it and being enlarged by it, as if the whole universe and all its secrets could now be understood and held in my heart and mind. Then there were weeks of running barefoot through grass, hiking on mountain trails, fishing in streams, or simply sitting on a porch after sunset in an Adirondack chair watching shadows lengthen across a lawn while the insects sang their night songs.  

 Porch  View (Gabriella at 14)

Always too soon, we were driving back south to the city in August, and the reverse would happen. Color drained away; everything appeared crowded, gray, confined, the tension returning to my body, and my eyes narrowing as my heart shrank a little inside my chest. Back to the city, back to school, goodbye joys of summer.  And after the last summer when my father stopped teaching at Bread Loaf, it took 16 years for me to visit again, this time as a student at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Those intervening years had not been happy ones, seeing me through a difficult college experience and a long confused search for whatever it was I was supposed to be and do as an adult in the working world. My frustrations with my desk job and my desire to do something closer to who I really was, an artist, a poet, led to my investigating nearby writers’ conferences, and Bread Loaf seemed the obvious choice, the only choice. It was 1993 and I was not a kid anymore. But one of the reasons I love Vermont, is that the day I set foot on the same campus I had last haunted as a kid, 16 years vanished as if they had never happened, and I knew I was home. 

 Vanishing Act

It should not have surprised me that 7 years later, the next time I found myself sitting in an office wondering what I was doing with my life, Vermont should come to the rescue again. This time, I had applied to two graduate programs in New York, studying for and doing remarkably well on the required standardized tests that meant overcoming my lifelong aversion to anything involving testing, requirements or standards.  I submitted what I thought was a pretty impressive application with a resume full of past publications, a well-written essay, recommendations from some prestigious poets, and good new work. I was convinced that not one but both schools would surely accept me, but instead, both turned me down. I was almost 40 at the time, and didn’t even consider that my age and experience might work against me, until I researched the faculty and student demographics of both these institutions and discovered that I would have not only been older than most of my classmates but quite a few of the professors and administrators as well.  I can now see why they would not have wanted someone like me, but at the time it was a shock, like hitting rapids when all you expected was smooth sailing ahead. What next?

 Troubled Waters

Vermont to the rescue. Within days of my double rejection, I was applying to the writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, and for the next two years, twice a year, I rode north and experienced that same sensation of the world getting more colorful, more open, more serene and expansive. Being engaged in a graduate program saved my life, and it could not have happened anywhere but in Vermont.  Vermont was where I learned that being a shy awkward kid was okay, because it gave me more time to appreciate the world around me as only a solitary introvert can. It was where I first learned that I could call myself a poet and work and play side by side with other poets of all ages, backgrounds and abilities and feel I was finally where I belonged. But Vermont had one more surprise in store for me. 

The Long View

In the summer of 2009, I was once again on a Vermont Transit bus, this time bound for Burlington, to visit Brian for the first time. Two years later, after relocating him down here to Boston, we often wonder why I did not move up to Vermont instead to join him! He has known many cities and still declares Vermont is the most beautiful place he has ever lived. This weekend we are going together to our favorite place for a much needed break from what have lately been some very challenging, but on the whole happy, times both personally and professionally. I know the second we cross the state border, and the billboards disappear from the side of the road (it’s the law in Vermont), and the cows begin to outnumber the people, and the air starts to smell like perfume, it will feel like home. Who knows that Vermont may not have some future surprises in store? Stay tuned. 

 Green Light

With the exception of the panorama landscape, all photos in this blog post were scanned from my old original photographs, ca. 1973 - 1993 and presented with minimal correction. I’m bringing my cameras with me this weekend, so the next photographs you see here of Vermont will be all new!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Everything Old is New Again


Welcome to my new and improved blog! In honor of my 50th post I’ve added some new features I’d like to present. First, in the right side of my homepage, I’ve taken advantage of a new Blogger gadget which allows me to spotlight my most visited posts. I am not a great believer in the concept that most popular necessarily means most valuable, but in this case, I think it’s a convenient way for new visitors to this space to get a quick sampling of what my blog is about, what about me and my blog has most resonated with people, and at the same time a way for longtime followers to be reminded of why they are still with me!

 In Good Company

Above this gadget you’ll find a window linking to my new flickr Photostream to which I have posted my best past work and will add new works as they are created. This will be a great way to see my images in one place, regardless of whether they are objects for sale or attached to specific posts or projects.  In addition to enriching the content of this space, I’m also experimenting with ways of drawing more people to it, the better to appreciate all the richness! In the interest of heightened internet recognition, I will be paying more attention to discovering and sharing links to other kindred sites and acknowledging the kindness of other bloggers linking to my site, which generosity I have already so gratefully known. Sorry, Facebook fans, I have still not decided whether or not joining FB will be a benefit or a liability! If the time comes that I determine its advantages outweigh its vast potential for distraction, you’ll be the first to know!

 Down B Street

Fear not. I have not crossed over to the dark side. We artists are often uncomfortable with the marketing and promotion side of our existence, but I have hereby embarked on a mission of demystifying and simplifying the process of holding strong your integrity as an artist of the old school while still being smart and capable about using the tools of the modern world to your advantage. If this stubborn dinosaur can figure it out, there’s hope for anyone! I am learning that surviving in a rapidly changing art world does not have to involve a change of values or identity, just a change in methods of identifying your right audience, figuring out how to connect with them, and making who you are and what you do and care about valuable and available to them. 

 Flash Forward Boston 2011

Which brings me to last week’s wonderful celebration and examination of the state of the art and business of photography, Flash Forward Boston. One week later I am still sorting through copious notes, mental and handwritten, and investigating the many links to resources mentioned in various lectures and panel discussions. This is one of those times I wish I were not so inclusive in my hunger for knowledge. There is no way I can possibly follow up on every website and personal contact of interest. I have spent the past few days feeling like a judge on a talent competition reality television show – the first cuts were easy, but now I am making the difficult choices narrowing down to the best candidates with the most potential, and sadly watching some qualified options go. I am being forced to consider where exactly I want to go on my journey as an artist, because there are so many destinations and ways to get there, and not every way will best serve my needs and goals.

 Winds of Change

Aside from many scrawled website addresses, I brought home even more valuable if less tangible leads in terms of perspective. If, in an age of streaming information and limitless reduplication and manipulation of images, the photograph no longer has currency as an object, the way a painting or sculpture might, the photographer has no choice but to create value for their work in other ways, creating a signature style and established integrity that will attract potential clients and collaborators to them, eventually setting the stage for material gain. Stephen Mayes of VII Photo ( spoke of this in his excellent lecture, and also stressed something that many of us here in the blogosphere have already discovered  - that partnering and sharing with other artists has not only ceased to be a scary thing, but quite often proves enriching for everyone involved.  Artists seem to be understanding that thinking in terms of cutthroat competition for a dwindling number of available spotlights does no one any good. There is plenty of room for everyone to develop a unique style and be successful, and sharing resources and connections, or collaborating on projects isn’t going to harm that. And much as I struggle with modern technology, the potential of all the different online social networking sites now available to put people in touch with each other for their mutual professional and creative gain is indeed a positive thing however overwhelming it can be at times.  It all comes down to what you are hoping to get out of being an artist – instant fame and fortune? Or a longterm career in which you continue to develop your style and get your work out there to be enjoyed by the public? Fame and fortune are very hard to achieve and often transitory, but there are now so many ways to have your work exhibited, in physical and online venues, and have a full distinguished life as an artist on which you can look back and know you did good work and touched other souls along the way.  Here are some other interesting sites, new to me and dedicated to presenting and promoting photography:

Wonderful Machine 

Feature Shoot

Flak Photo

Self Publish Be Happy

I Stand Alone
Knowing who you are and what you do best sounds simple as a first step, but is not always an easy one. Many people get it backwards and try to be a successful artist before they really know themselves or their work.  Sometimes the most self-aware of us go astray to provide the public with what we think they want and will pay for. But it cannot be stated often enough, what will make you desirable as an artist is what you are already doing and who you already are, because no one else can provide that -- simply because they have not had your experiences and do not have your way of processing them and turning them into art. Personally, I have always struggled with being both a poet and a photographer, and not having achieved great success in either of those media. I used to think if I could only just focus on one thing, it would benefit from the increased attention. Now I can see that these two have never really been at odds vying for my energy and time, but always belonged together and are part of what I am and do that will set me apart. Putting together words and images is the basis of this blog, and continues to be what I most enjoy doing, because it is how my creativity chooses to express itself when I am not getting in the way. I don’t know if there is a term for this sort of bi-creativity. I don’t think my images are just adornment for my words or vice versa. I am not a photojournalist or even what I would consider a photoblogger. Visual essayist?  Whatever it is, what you see in this space is not what I do on the side while being an artist, it is actually what I do AS an artist.

 Red Handed

And now for some news, which you can also find by clicking on the NEWS tab in my header.  One of my photos has been accepted for a monthlong group exhibit beginning July 1st in the Inside Out Gallery. This space, which occupies the window of the CVS store in Davis Square, is sponsored by the Somerville Arts Council.  Due to its central location in one of Somerville’s busiest squares, this show will allow many passersby to view my work, and that is the best news of all!

 Know where you belong...

And last but not least, but entirely suiting today’s theme of old things made new and a tribute to pairings of word and image – I’ve added a new selection of works to my IMAGE SHOP! These 5 x 7 images are photographic prints on glossy paper from scanned negatives mounted in 8 x 10 black mats inscribed in silver ink with quotes from my own poems. These were the first products that emerged from my beginning life a year ago as a full-time artist.  Last summer, I revisited my photo files and my poetry files and found old images and old verses all created at different times in my life but which instantly made connections and came together in wonderful ways.  A highly optimistic judgment of their marketability led to my creating a larger inventory than proved necessary and for which I now have no room to store. Save these beautiful pieces from the paper shredder! Sale price is $15 with $5 shipping anywhere.      

 Speak Softly
And now, after complaining about having too much information to absorb, I think I will end this post before I inflict the same condition on all of you good people!  Many thanks for your continued support and have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Foto Clearance Sale!

Some of you may remember that at the end of June, now less than four weeks away, I will be vacating my current studio, which is larger than some entire apartments I’ve occupied, and joining Brian in a much smaller studio down the hall at Vernon Street Studios for what will probably for me be reduced hours.  In the time we’ve had the luxury of a vast space in which to store our combined artistic materials and inventory, we’ve allowed these items to expand freely, and now must force them to shrink considerably. I’m therefore holding my first in a series of online Clearance Sales! This week I am featuring black & white images taken with my Holga camera. They are 5 x 5 inch prints made with an inkjet printer on heavyweight archival paper, mounted between two sturdy 11 x 14 inch museum quality mat boards and ready for framing. Special online sale price is $20.00, with shipping and handling $5.00 anywhere in the U.S. and international. Please go to my new IMAGE SHOP by clicking on the tab above. I will be featuring new selections of works all month long, but all items will remain available in the shop, so don’t worry if you miss them when they are first featured or want to wait and see what ELSE will be on offer before you make your choices! As always, if you have any questions or special requests, feel free to ask and I will do what I can to work together towards a happy result!

Not Alone

As always, many thanks to my followers, old and new, near and far. You keep me doing what I do, even when times are tough, and I truly appreciate it! Have a wonderful weekend.