Here’s wishing everyone a very happy, safe and peaceful holiday!
Winter–in the eleventh month
Snow falls thick and fast.
A thousand mountains, one color.
Men of the world passing this way are few.
Dense grass conceals the door.
All night in silence, a few woodchips burn slowly
As I read the poems of the ancients.
–Ryokan (Japan, 1758-1831)
Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit.
I’ve recently started up again with some explorations in digital pinhole photography. How this works is: you take a digital SLR, take off the lens and replace it with a modified body cap that serves as the ‘pinhole.’ (I don’t recall where I purchased the pinhole cap, but if you Google ‘digital pinhole – Nikon‘ you’ll probably find it quickly). Your camera needs to be sophisticated enough to have all manual settings — and most importantly, the ability to manually hold the shutter open — it’s called ‘bulb’ on my Nikon.
Shooting pinhole is a very different experience, and I imagine it is closer to what the earliest photographers experienced. It requires patience and a great deal of practice.
One difficulty is that I can’t really get a good view through the viewfinder of what the shot is going to be. It takes some practice to aim the camera body in the right direction. Since the shutter needs to be open for a good 5, 10, 15, 20 seconds or more, one needs to be really immobile (a tripod or monopod helps).
Digital pinhole also suffers from the problem of dust on the sensor: something that wouldn’t normally happen with film pinhole technology, since each frame of film is virgin. The digital ‘film’, i.e., the sensor, is hardly a virgin, as it gets used over and over again, and my Nikon is pretty filthy at this point. Photoshop is a huge help at this juncture!
Shooting this way is a [potentially] meditative experience. In a recent outing, I came up with a number of really interesting shots that I can then liberally work with in Lightroom and Photoshop — it really brings photography closer to painting — and for me, provides fascinating subject matter for oil paintings I want to realize. (See Lifeworld series). So this pinhole outing is a form of visual research.
Below are a series of abstract detail shots that were all created from the full image shown above.
Which of these should I use for a painting?
This week’s featured painting is an odd one I created way back in 2009. “Osage chiasm” (that’s chiasm not chasm) is 20″H by 16″W, and is acrylic on canvas. The piece is essentially a stylized portrait of one of my favorite trees: a very old Osage orange that lives on the Nethermead in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. This painting has been in my living room for the past several years, and I look at it every day. The photo doesn’t quite do it justice: the colors are weird and don’t reproduce well. In the real life the blues of the sky are considerably more vivid.
We’re in the deep-freeze here in New York, just in time for winter, which officially starts next week. The poetry of Ryōkan (Japan, 18th century) calls for my attention:
“Returning to my hermitage after a journey
to distant mountain villages;
Along the fence, the last chrysanthemums linger”
–translated by John Stevens
For today: something from February, 2015.
Getting into the holiday spirit…
So I’ve been working on refining the “motto” of sorts I wrote about last week: “Create what you would like to see in the world, and then make it public.”
I’ve now whittled it down to:
“Actualize the truth you want to see in the world.”
The making it public part should go without saying.
I’m been thinking a lot about truth, with either a big or little “T”, and what the artist has to do with it. I could have stated “Create the truth you want to see in the world,” but maybe this too strongly implies that anyone can create their own truth. Not so. Truth is a funny thing.
In a recent Facebook discussion, I wrote:
My take on it is, in brief, as follows: Knowledge (and truth) is a social construction — and socially constructed not only within human society but also between human societies and the wider environment. Our technologies are isolating and separating us from each other and from the natural environment. Therefore knowledge and truth are fracturing, with different groups and even different individuals seeing reality in radically different ways, and without any kind of grounding feedback from nature. The remedy? Art certainly, but exactly how, I’m not sure — but it has do with communication and real sharing, and lately I’ve been thinking it has to do with creating, visualizing the positive I want to see in the world and sharing that vision with others.
In short, individuals don’t create truth, communities or societies create truth. This is conventional truth, but truth nonetheless. And it comes about through communication, through dialog.
So yes, creation is involved in truth, but “actualize” seems such a richer word.
By actualize I mean make actual, make real in the here and now, something that wouldn’t be without [human] action.
What about absolute truth (Truth with a big T)? Well, even more, the artist actualizes it, rather than creating it. But perhaps it’s the case, as at least one ancient philosopher suggested: The absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth.
As an artist, I could very well have written “Actualize beauty.” But while there is always something “true” about beauty, the truth is not always [conventionally] beautiful, or pleasing: there are inconvenient truths, unpleasant truths, there is truth speaking to power, and speaking against the possibly baseless truths held dear by other communities or individuals (I mean truths constructed without communication and dialog with one’s selves, one’s neighbors, one’s environment). The truth is: there is injustice in the world, the truth is: we fall well short of our ideals. These truths also the artist must actualize. It’s not all beauty and light, as I might have implied in my Facebook post.
So there you have it. Actualize the truth you want to see in the world.
And do that by seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling life — and speaking. Singing, even.
This week’s featured painting is “Reach” — a triptych I created in 2012. This painting and some other square format paintings I created then were precursors to my Lifeworld series, and should almost be considered honorary members of the series.