True Refuge – a photography project

I hope everyone is enjoying the lovely fall weather we’ve been having.

Last week I had a chance to spend some quality time at Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills, and time to spend engaged in contemplation and photography, taking in the beautiful grounds there.

A collection of twelve photographs expressing the impermanence of life resulted.

I include in this post a few samples. See the complete set here.

Many of the images I captured will provide great starting points for future artworks. There’s much work to be done!

So you should view all of the fleeting worlds:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud;
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

Diamond Sutra, translated by Mu Soeng

Dark Spring: photos from the NYC lockdown, Spring 2020

Today I’m experimenting with Adobe Spark and putting together some photos previously only shared to Instagram (maybe Twitter).

Dark Spring: A Photo Essay

This photo essay narrates, loosely, the pandemic lockdown New York City suffered through from March to May, 2020. Despite the distressing circumstances, it was fun exploring nighttime street photography. And, the subway is always a favorite subject of mine!

All of the photos were taken with the Fujifilm x100f — a great little camera!

Winter …

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)

Winter bamboo, Mt. Tremper, New York, 2015

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?

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

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

One last look back at winter …

Winter is decidedly on its way out in these parts, but I couldn’t resist giving it one last parting glance this afternoon as I reviewed some photos I shot near Ivoryton, Connecticut in late February.

I’ve been a photographer from an early age, at least since my grandmother passed along to me my grandfather’s old Leica, if not before.  I use photography as a research and compositional tool. Much of the inspiration for my paintings comes, directly or indirectly, from photographs I’ve taken of beautiful places.

I’ve just uploaded to my flickr account (and also Behance) a selection of 20 photos that capture the beauty of that winter day. Enjoy!

A snowy morning in the woods
A snowy morning in the woods

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