Pinhole research – December chill

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.

My old Nikon D-60 equipped with a pinhole body cap I found somewhere on the Internet. The cap is just an ordinary body cap with a hole drilled in it, covered with some film with a tiny transparent spot in the middle.

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!

Prospect Park, December 2016. Digital pinhole photograph, liberally cleaned up and tweaked in Photoshop and Lightroom. A fun, ‘painterly’ process, but entirely digital.

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.

Pinhole zoom-crop experiment number 1.
Pinhole zoom-crop experiment #2
Pinhole zoom-crop experiment #3
Pinhole zoom-crop experiment #4.

Which of these should I use for a painting?

Painting of the week: “Osage chiasm”

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.

“Osage chiasm” acrylic on canvas, 20×16″, 2009.

Winter approaches …

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

“Midwinter,” reduction woodcut, 2011.

 

Actualizing truth

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.

“December Rose,” digital photograph, 2016

Featured painting of the week

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.

“Reach” (triptych), oil on canvas, 20″ x approx 60″. 2012
“Reach” detail, 2012.
“Reach” detail, 2012.
“Reach” detail, 2012.

For the time-being …

Because you think your time or your being is not truth, you believe that the sixteen-foot golden body is not you. However, your attempts to escape from being the sixteen-foot golden body are nothing but bits and pieces of the time-being.

— “Uji,” Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253)

Digital pinhole photograph, 2011

How to start?

Starting is always the hardest part.

A good place to start is by decluttering, cleaning up my workspace.  Nothing stops the creative process more for me than clutter.  That could be physical clutter or mental clutter. The two seem closely related.  Also why not freshen up the blog format! Nice, fresh template!

Then, what to do? I was impressed by a piece of advice I read online today while at the office, found while looking for information on the book The Miracle Morning.

I can’t remember where exactly I found this:

“Create what you would like to see in the world, and then make it public.”

The author was mainly thinking about how to make money, but I was intrigued about it in a different way.  What would I like to see in the world, and how could I, as an artist, create that, or at least contribute to it?  Certainly not another gadget, app or infernal machine to distract and mislead people.  Instead, peace, love and understanding come to mind.

So I think my contribution for today will be the Karaniya Metta Sutta, words attributed to the Buddha.  This is what I hope for the world:

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,
Not proud or demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

“One Bright Pearl” watercolor on paper, 2008.

Featured painting of the week: The House is Burning

This week’s featured work is a painting — actually a diptych (two paintings that form one work) titled “The House is Burning.”

"The House is Burning", mixed media on canvas, 30"x44", 2012.
“The House is Burning”, mixed media on canvas, 30″x44″, 2012.

The provocative title should make one think immediately of global warming – climate change.  That’s certainly appropriate, but there’s even more to the story.  Now seems like a good time feature this painting, since it appears that the house is not going to stop burning anytime soon.

So– The direct inspiration for this title is the famous “Parable of the Burning House” that appears in the Lotus Sutra — one of the most important religious texts of Mahayana Buddhism.  Here is an excerpt (lightly abridged) from the parable (Burton Watson translation):

“Suppose that in a certain town in a certain country there was a very rich man. He was far along in years and his wealth was beyond measure. He had many fields, houses and menservants. His own house was big and rambling, but it had only one gate.  A great many people … lived in the house.  The halls and rooms were old and decaying, the walls crumbling, the pillars rotten at their base, and the beams and rafters crooked and aslant.

“At that time a fire suddenly broke out on all sides, spreading through the rooms of the house. The sons of the rich man, ten, twenty, perhaps thirty, were inside the house. When the rich man saw the huge flames leaping up on every side, he was greatly alarmed and fearful and thought to himself, I can escape to safety through the flaming gate, but my sons are inside the burning house enjoying themselves and playing games, unaware, unknowing, without alarm or fear. The fire is closing in on them, suffering and pain threaten them, yet their minds have no sense of loathing or peril and they do not think of trying to escape!

“This rich man thought to himself, I have strength in my body and arms. I can wrap them in a robe or place them on a bench and carry them out of the house. And then again he thought, This house has only one gate, and moreover it is narrow and small. My sons are very young, they have no understanding, and they love their games, being so engrossed in them that they are likely to be burned in the fire. I must explain to them why I am fearful and alarmed. The house is already in flames and I must get them out quickly and not let them be burned up in the fire!

“Having thought in this way, he followed his plan and called to all his sons, saying, ‘You must come out at once!’ But though the father was moved by pity and gave good words of instruction, the sons were absorbed in their games and unwilling to heed him. They had no alarm, no fright, and in the end no mind to leave the house. Moreover they did not understand what the fire was, what the house was, what danger was. They merely raced about this way and that in play and looked at their father without heeding him.

“At that time the rich man had this thought: The house is already in flames from this huge fire. If I and my sons do not get out at once, we are certain to be burned. I must now invent some expedient means that will make it possible for the children to escape harm. …

I’ll stop there and not get into how the father managed to get his children out of the house. The parable is a powerful one. To me, it aptly describes the present human condition.

Yes, indeed, the house is burning. Will we notice? Will we get out?