Thursday, May 19, 2011

Where to now and how?

Reflections in a Train

The only bad thing about traveling by train is that it gives you, oh so temporarily, the kind of certainty of direction and destination too often lacking in your daily life. Even though my return trip from New York City ten days ago involved a one hour delay due to a mechanical failure and necessary transfer to a second train, I was never in doubt that in the capable hands of Amtrak, I would get where I was going along an established route in familiar and reliable circumstances.   Don’t let the black and white photo above fool you. That is not water but wine in my glass, and the endless generosity of my car attendant probably made the inconvenience of a delay a little easier to accept!

view from a laptop

                      view from a cellphone

Because I felt I needed a little break from filtering everything through the professional and creative urgencies of recent months, I did not bring any cameras on my trip. Fortunately, nowadays, cameras are built into just about everything, and I found myself using both the camera eye in my laptop lid, and finally learning how to use the camera feature in my cellphone to capture some interesting images. I was impressed by the low resolution effects one can achieve with the former, and the surprisingly high resolution effects of the latter. So much for spending several hundred dollars on a good digital SLR!

 Hot Spot
Last Sunday I attended the artists reception for the show at the Nave Gallery featuring all toy camera photography. It was a lovely event and I was finally able to see my work hanging in the company of some fine examples of what many believe to be a new trend and others know to be a means of capturing images that never quite vanished since the appearance of these cameras decades ago. Most of the artists were working with Diana or Holga cameras with typical blurry or grainy results. I had a conversation with one of the artists about how images corrected and perfected according to programmed standards in a digital camera or computer do not actually reflect what is seen by the human eye, or the unique conditions present at the moment of capture. This, we agreed, was what photography meant to us, isolating that moment and preserving it honestly, even if that means a partial, indirect or indistinct view. Try this at home:  doesn’t something in motion that is not in your direct line of sight appear blurry? Are you capable of focusing on something two feet away and twenty feet away at the same time?  Doesn’t bright light create a halo of glare around its source? Don’t objects in shadow lack sharp detail and ideal color?

 by Miroslav Tichy

One of my favorite photographers is Miroslav Tichy, whom I discovered at a magnificent exhibit a few years ago at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan. Tichy was an eccentric Czech who haunted the streets of his native Kyjov with cameras he built himself from common materials. The results were far from perfect from a technical point of view, but perfectly capture the unguarded human and urban truths he encountered on his walks. Whole societies have materialized who pay tribute to this man and his unique perspective and aesthetics by creating images in his style.  When I see a Tichy photograph, I know I am seeing something that may lack accuracy in terms of factual detail, but is absolutely true to the inner identity of the moment or the subject he has captured. I am seeing not so much through his eyes, as through his soul. Tichy died last month at the age of 84.

 Tichy's camera
What begins as a genuine desire for a new approach to an artform all too often becomes distracted and degraded by those who follow trends to be part of something current and fashionable. For every artist who uses the distortions of toy or handmade cameras as a means of releasing some deeper truth about the way we see and interpret the world to ourselves and others, there are hundreds who simply want to be part of something cool and popular. There are even those who now manipulate images taken with digital cameras to make them resemble the toy camera style! One of the best things about working with such basic and often unpredictable tools is the release of control and the resulting possibilities when human and camera become one. My experience with Holga photography was one of surrender and trust. With few exceptions, the images that came back to me on film were not only what I saw when I released the shutter, but what I felt as well. To deprive yourself of that magic by simulating it through post-processing is a choice others are free to make if it suits their particular needs and aims as photographers. I can only say that my needs and aims are not theirs.

Tichy taking aim
Readers of this space will know that in the past several months of pursuing my photography as more of a profession and less of a private passion, I have struggled with many issues regarding the state of this art, which is also a science, and is now more and more becoming a matter of advanced information technology. I’ve taken refuge in shooting with film in black and white as a means of protecting myself from what to me feels like a trend away from what photography should be, further from art and closer to computer science. Still, I question the purity of my theories and practices when I am still letting others develop and scan my film and I then commit these images to life inside an electronic file. On the one hand, I would like to go backwards, and do everything myself, to live and work like Tichy. On the other hand, I would like to move forwards, and master these technologies that vex and frustrate me whenever I need to send my work out into the modern world for review. We shall not even speak of the fact that I don’t have adequate resources of time, energy and money for either of this directions, much less attempting both simultaneously! 

 At the End of theTunnel
Where to now and how?


  1. Great reflection Gabriella. Just keep on following your needs and the way you want to show them. As an artist there is never a wrong way unless you consider it wrong for your own creation. Keep on working, there are tons of projects waiting to be done. ;)

  2. Thank you so much Luis! It is so true - rather than try to decide and impose the right way to proceed, I need to feel it from the heart and move from there and that will be the right way for me. It is always a matter of what comes up along the journey - but these discoveries cannot be made if one is standing still uncertain where to go!

  3. Whatever comes from your heart will be the right

  4. Well, I see you and Luis are in agreement, my dear Monika! With two such wonderful advisors, how can I go wrong?

  5. Una serie de fotografías asombrosas, tienes!
    Saludos australes!

  6. Not only do I echo that whatever comes from your heart is the right way, I add that judging by what we have seen it is also a beautiful and often very moving way.

  7. Olga, saludos a usted también, y muchas gracias por tu amable comentario!

  8. EC - Well, I guess I'm outnumbered! You good people just won't let me wallow in self-doubt, will you? Not to mention my annoyingly restored faith in humanity...

    Many thanks, my dear friend, for your continued kindness!

  9. Wonderful reflections, a welcoming thought and time for me to reflect too... thanks !

  10. Thanks Wong! I hope your reflections lead you to the right way for you too! Have a great weekend.

  11. I think Gabriella it would be very nice if you made a book or somthings else mit all your train shots, it would be intresting or?

    ps: Thicky M. is simply great my god!

  12. Dear Gabriella, evolution can't be stopped and while time passes more and different techniques and materials are within our reach.
    In a world were 'time is money' and trends and fashions come and go at high speed it's not easy for an artist to stay true to himself and work from the heart; although in my opinion that's the only way to make really good work.

    I don't have to make my paper or paint myself anymore, painters make use of photographie and other techniques nowadays. I can learn about the old and new ways even try them out, but yes ,lack of time and money get in the way. But there is that deep urge to create so I have to do it by the means that are in my reach. Being an artist is not really a choice one makes it is rooted deep inside. And as you wrote in one of your previous posts one has to focus but also keep the greater vieuw.

    Keep on making your touching, beautiful photos,time will show you where to and how, hugs and X

  13. Laura! I actually do have plans for a book and also a calendar of black and white photos to appear in the fall in time for holiday gift giving season! I like the idea of only train

    I am very happy you liked Tichy - it is always good to be able to show another artist's work here that my readers may not have known before! You have done this too for your readers, and I know it was always a wonderful discovery! Have a good weekend, my dear.

  14. Renilde, you are right, one must make use of the materials available, there really is no way to be entirely "pure" in the process, unless you have the ability and resources to isolate yourself away from civilization! Perhaps this is the true challenge of any artist at any time in history, to stay true to their own aesthetic and personal values but somehow also incorporate whatever modern life imposes upon them. It is possibly a lifelong struggle and quest for balance, but as you say, we have no choice, do we? We must create, one way or another. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment - it was also created straight from the heart, like everything you do! Enjoy the weekend, my friend.

  15. Hi G/TT - it always takes me a while to respond - I read once, go away, digest, come back and read again. There's a lot going on in this one - and no doubt a lot going on in your head and heart about how to move forward with integrity and passion, and still be part of the professional photography world circa 2011.
    I must thank you for introducing me to Tichy - I love him and his work - what outrageous cameras!
    I think somehow we spend time checking out the world and what it seems to say - this that the other; and then come back and listen to ourselves and know we are who are and we do what we do. Go well F

  16. TT-Fiona and I find that train, plane and car journeys often give us time to just stop, be cut off from so many things we could be doing and reflect a little - and we are often amazed by what bubbles to the surface and how it turns out to be important and right. I hope your reflections give you the confidence to continue the journey - still discovering but showing your talent - the way you capture and portray images are are the how - but portraying images is your what. Go well. B

  17. Skizo - many thanks for visiting!

  18. Fiona - I do appreciate your taking extra time to reflect before commenting, it provides a vote of confidence, not to mention a thoughtful and helpful comment, and I thank you!

    Isn't Tichy great? I'm always happy to share news of this unique artist. Perhaps one day he will be more widely known!

  19. Thank you Barry for your words. It is true that something about the disconnection from daily routines and concerns, and that lovely unqualified forward motion, makes traveling a time for self-examination and discovery. We will see what the results of my recent trip prove to be! Enjoy your week.

  20. Good Morning Gabriella,
    I truly enjoyed this post, especially after just visiting Harry Kent's blog. I hope you have the opportunity to read his latest post as it parallels much of what you have expressed here, particularly with respect to the purposeful release of control.
    You are both gifted writers and creative forces of nature to be reckoned with.

  21. Thanks Gary, for mentioning me in the same sentence as Harry! I visited his blog today and I do see the connections with some of the issues and themes he's wrestling with at the moment. I like your phrase "purposeful release of control!" It is just that simple, and difficult at the same time! Enjoy your week.

  22. I adore the train shots!! I agree that it would make a great book. I traveled by train a little last Summer and loved it. Btw.....I was happy to know that that was wine in your glass!! : )))

  23. Hey Manon, nice to hear from another rail fan! I'm pondering a couple of ideas for books at the moment - we shall see what comes of it! I might just have to do some more traveling first - purely for professional reasons! Have a great weekend, you.

  24. How wonderful to read a celebration of Tichy! When i stumbled across his soulful photos and the amazing steam-punk instruments he made them with, i literally jumped up and down in chair. HERE was creative spirit! Here was a lone albatross soaring out over unknown expanses. Here was Lewis & Clark sending messages back to the folks by their firesides. His images were like souls retrieved by an Orpheus. But his camera’s, his cameras - wonderful sculptures, triumphs of the human spirit, instruments of the impossible.

    So i was sad to read your news that had died but somehow feel he was a ripe plum ready to drop. He went, juicy with life.

  25. Harry, I'm so glad you feel about Tichy as I do! He was not widely known or exhibited in his lifetime - in fact, I believe the exhibit I saw a few years ago was the result of one very determined curator's efforts to hunt Tichy down in his modest hovel and force him to gather his works and tools and turn them over for display before they ended up lost forever. The exhibit also included a short documentary film about the man which included some live interview. It was sad to learn of his death, for here was a true original living according to his standards and no one else's! But you are right, such a full life, and such a legacy, one must rejoice not mourn.

  26. Gabriella,
    these photos B&W are so beautiful!a
    nd fit so well in the subject! ...

    I understand very well, all these sensations
    that you described, I think they are born
    so, and later in life, everything will be confirmed ...
    Since childhood, I described to my mother
    I was feeling a 'sense of wrong' ...
    was something heavy inside my chest, which had suddenly, I could not explain and has always bothered me a lot.

    I was surprised and more connected to you,
    and all these afflictions, pre-occupations and fears .... that are so familiar to me.
    I think it is good, your psychological preparation for what will come.
    It is our shield!
    after all, nothing matters - just us,
    that forge our own lives!
    and how difficult it is,
    oh my god!

    courage, discerning and attention on everything,
    just what we need!
    baci baci baci

  27. Denise, I am always happy to read a comment from you! I know when I write about my innermost thoughts and feelings you will understand. We are two of a kind! Isn't it strange - just to be alive and make a good life is sometimes the hardest thing to do! But it is the best most joyful work also, when it is done with an open mind and heart, and friends such as you for company. Hugs and kisses to you, my dear!

  28. Gabriella,
    although I suspected that I had done something changed yesterday ..
    this comment was the post 'present tense' ...
    the comment and the post 'Where to now and how' simply disappeared!

    well, as in a conversation, I ran over the issues; deep down, are interlock ...
    and you understood me very well ...

    hugs and hugs... :D

  29. Denise, I completely understand! I love your visits and comments wherever and whenever! I'm sorry you lost the other comment. Blogger has been playing games with all of us lately it seems! All the best to you, my dear friend.