We have finally learned not to name the animals who commit mass murder by gun. They want attention and fame. We deprive them of it. Maybe we should take the same approach with the animal who is randomly shooting down everything good about our country. Never mention him by name or quote him. Simply acknowledge and deal with the death and destruction he is causing. Then vote.
Monthly Archives: July 2019
Two from Maine and one each from Wisconsin and Montana. All taken last summer.
Photos like this are scattered through my archives. I have long intended to make a place for them on my website. I’m pretty sure the yearly visits to it are in the single digits, though, so I never seem to bother. “Abstract” photography comes most naturally to me of all the types. I’m not sure why it is so poorly represented in my portfolio.
Windows And Walls
I recently executed a major overhaul of my guest house apartment, including purging the space of unnecessary furniture and a lot of art supplies which I am unlikely to use. Behind a stack of frames that I have had since I closed my photo gallery in 2013, I found four large 30×40 prints from my 2007 trip to India, each nicely mounted on 1/2″ foam core. They now adorn my walls. This is currently my favorite. I took it in Old Delhi, seated on the curb, with my camera at street level angled up to be as unobtrusive as possible. I love this image. It feels like a window on my wall, looking straight into India and down this Delhi street. Nobody is paying attention to me, the photographer, so I am not part of the image. So much of what urban India feels like is on display here, but that is not what I am posting about.
When I lived in Phoenix in the early ’90s, I participated in an yearly outdoor show called the Celebration Of Fine Art. A juried group of artists paid for a booth for 2 months under a large circus style tent in north Scottsdale. Then the public paid admission to get in and see us at work in the studios we set up in out booths. The operators of the show also took 18% of all sales. Needless to say, they made heaps of cash. Many artists did very well, also. I more or less broke even, but it was a great experience, and I did it again the next year when they took the Celebration to the Del Mar racetrack in California. I got lots of advice from the more successful artists at the Celebration. One piece that I have carried with me because it is such an interesting psychological take on selling art is this: if someone expresses interest in your work, encourage them to take it home and live with it for a while at no charge. Then they can either buy it or bring it back. The idea is that when they hang it on their wall, it is like they are installing a window, and if they take it down again, the wall will jump out and smack them in the face, making the room feel smaller. It’s true. Art, even two dimensional abstract art, makes a space feel larger because of the illusion of perspective it creates. But, and this is important, an actual window is much more effective at expanding one’s view of and connection with the world outside one’s room, if only because a photograph or painting is static and unchanging, whereas the view through an actual window is dynamic and alive. This is not to say that one shouldn’t have art, just that one should also have windows.
Now I know I’ve been a bit obsessed with my departure from Facebook recently, but I think about it a lot. I’ll get over it eventually, but right now, I think I am experiencing something akin to what happens when that potential buyer takes the painting off the wall and suddenly their world feels smaller and less interesting, even though it really isn’t. I think this experience is what keeps billions of people plugged into this one second-rate app. I shouldn’t compare Facebook to fine art. It’s more like the kind of generic crap they hang in cheap motels, cranked out by the thousands in low paid sweatshops in asia. But there is still that feeling of loss when you leave it. Building real windows is a lot harder than hanging a velvet Elvis in your wall, but don’t all worthwhile things take a bit more work?
So go ahead, keep that velvet Elvis if you must, but open up the window too. You’ll probably see me out there in the real world.
Coming Out From Under
Cicadas. I have a colony that lives inside my head thanks to a lifetime of exposure to power tools and loud music without the benefit of hearing protection. There is no such thing as complete silence in my world any more. I’m so used to it that I hardly notice.
Lore states that they hibernate underground for 17 years and then come out to breed. Actually, there are cicadas which emerge anywhere between yearly and 17 years. Also, they don’t hibernate, they munch on tree roots.
I’m going to go with the myth here. I would love to hibernate for 17 years, then emerge and see what had changed, over and over, leapfrogging through time into the future. This whole limited span on Earth is frustrating.
It’s been two months now since I emerged from the black hole that is Facebook. Most of the people I know are still buried there, munching on their roots, feeding on old connections. It’s different up here in the light. I’m no less busy, I still have an active social life. I still have an online presence, and I’d like to think it’s more substantial. It is disconcerting how many friends I have heard nothing from, even if they were friends long before Facebook. I guess those roots are so delicious and easy to get to that it’s too much trouble to tunnel out into the real world. Two buttons on the phone to send a message. One blue, the other orange. Both function in nearly identical ways, but people are so conditioned to push the blue one that if you aren’t connected to it, you might as well not exist.
As I said, I’d love to hibernate periodically so as to see the future happen. That fantasy presumes no loss of time while out of touch. Facebook is like hibernation that sucks up all your time and social energy, feeding you tailored triggers so you never surface at all. Your life is consumed rather than extended. I won’t be going back under.
“I want to create something that would not have existed without me.”
When I first saw this quote, I nodded my head in agreement. Then I saw the accompanying image. The notion of creation and creativity when it comes to photography is something I have struggled with since I picked up a camera. When I paint on canvas or draw on paper, I am indeed “creating something which would not have existed without me.” When I photograph the light coming through the clouds over mountains and a stream, however, I am merely noticing, selecting, and recording what was already there. Even in post-production, I am not so much creating as enhancing. A staged photo with models or a still life could be considered creative, as it was contrived by placing the model or objects and controlling the light. I’m not altogether sure that the image presented here is any more creative than the photograph of water running over rocks that the artist derides in his quote.
“If all your life means to you is water running over rocks, then photograph it, but I want to create something that would not have existed without me.”
— Minor White, photographer
Featured image: Grand Tetons, 1959, Minor White
Slow Motion Violent Upheaval
One of the great things about the desert southwestern United States is its relatively young age geologically speaking. The east coast is all smooth and timeworn, but here the past is right in your face. Those diagonal ridges on the right of this photo? They were horizontal once, until massive geologic forces either forced one side up or collapsed under the other, or both. The process likely took millions of years, but I’m not a geologist. Maybe it happened overnight in some cataclysmic event.
Aside from being beautiful and creating dramatic canyons for rivers to flow through, geologic activity such as this also exposes otherwise buried veins of precious metals. Humans like precious metals, and we LOVE our copper. The whole information age is dependent upon it, phones, computers, servers, smart devices of all sorts, it is hard to think of any sector of modern life which doesn’t rely on copper.
If you turn 180 degrees from this view, you will see a 300 foot smokestack from the smelter attached to a giant pit mine, which turned a landscape like this into a hole in the ground, swallowing the town of Ray, Arizona in the process.
Abstractly, pit mines are beautiful geometric structures. They are also a testament to the power and ingenuity of the human mind. To anyone who loves the natural desert southwest, they are brutal wounds inflicted upon the landscape for short term gain. We often use our copper filled phones and computers to rail against them and to try to prevent the opening of more of these scars. The irony is inescapable.
In the 1990’s, I worked building cell phone towers during the first major boom and buildout. People loved having their little Star Trek communicator devices, but they hated the infrastructure necessary to make them work. Eventually, companies learned to disguise some of their towers as trees, cactus, church steeples, and the like, but the old fashioned towers are still there. We just don’t notice them any more than we do the omnipresent power lines. I remember one job we were doing that involved lowering the antennas on an existing tower. That is what you do when demand goes up. You make more cell sites with lower antennae and a shorter reach. There was a guy in the neighborhood who hated this tower and was fighting everything about it. We snuck in there on the Saturday preceding his hearing to do the work. 20 minutes after we climbed up the tower, he came screaming up in his BMW, jumped out, and pulled out his cell phone to call and complain. Again, the irony is inescapable.
Old pit mines can be reclaimed, so long as we are willing to pay more for everything that contains copper. Cell phone towers could all be made relatively invisible, so long as we are willing to pay more for the service. We could force countries like China to pay a living wage to their workers, so long as we are willing to pay more for everything we import from them. We, especially Americans, don’t want to give up the benefits we enjoy at the expense of the environment and the people of the developing world.
The thing is, we don’t have to. The United States military spends more than the next ten countries combined. If we repurposed 25% of that, we would still outspend all of the countries who are even remotely our competitors combined, and we could rebuild our infrastructure, provide our people with free college and health care, combat climate change, and probably end world hunger. The irony is that all the people and corporations who make money off of the military could make just as much off of these things.
It just takes a little vision. There are young people entering government now who have that vision. Take them seriously. They are the future if we are to have one at all.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Working for a living, and not having internet in the home are my excuses. The truth is, on most of the last 10 days or so, I have been in a cafe and online. It’s just that the only writing I did was on my novel, and I did precious little of that. If I’m lucky, I’ll reach the halfway mark of the rewrite this month. Now that I have reached the realization that there will probably be a couple of months of edits before resubmission to the publisher, I am looking at next spring for that.
Mt. Lemmon, in the Catalinas, just north of Tucson has the southernmost ski area in the United States. Some years it doesn’t even open for lack of snow. Pictured above is one of the lifts. I think it’s the “baby” lift for kids and amateurs.
I looked up the mountain so I could post its accurate elevation. I usually just say 10,000′. Wikipedia has two elevations right on the first page, 9151′ and 9179′. On the right side of the Google search page is a box which also has two elevations, 9157′ and 9159′. I guess I’ll stick to almost 10,000′. Suffice to say, driving from downtown Tucson to the top of the mountain takes about an hour and a half, and feels like driving to Canada, 20 degrees cooler and pine trees everywhere. I was supposed to go camping up there last weekend, but work got in the way. I drove up on Sunday morning and spent a little time with the leftovers of the group which had camped. Then I drove to the summit, planning to take a short hike on the loop trail up there. I had forgotten it was the weekend. Usually I go up on a weekday. Tucson is pushing towards a population of a million slowly roasting humans, and on the weekends, those who are able drive the hour and a half to Canada equivalent. Not only was the parking lot full at the trailhead, but the lower parking lot was as well, and both sides of the road in between. I could have parked a half a mile away and walked up to the trailhead, but then I would have been hanging out with all the people brought by those cars. So I went to the restaurant at the ski area, had breakfast, and took this photo. I have the next few days off, so I’ll try to get up there and take some photos midweek.
Back to skiing (what other word has two consecutive “i’s” ? My Scrabble brain says radii and genii, but I’m looking for something in everyday parlance. Anyone?) I went to a somewhat exclusive high school in Vermont, thanks to a legacy scholarship and the frugality of my parents. The proximity of numerous snow covered peaks with handy cable driven chairs to ferry people up to the top, combined with the inflated income level of most of my fellow students led to a lot of skiing. At the time, a budget downhill ensemble of skis, boots, and poles ran about $250. The same thing if you chose cross country instead was $40. No brainer for me. It didn’t hurt that John Caldwell, my math teacher, was also an Olympic cross country ski coach. His son, one of my classmates, was the first American to win a silver medal in the sport. The more snow there was, the less homework Johnny gave us. Putney School also sported some of the best cross country trails in the north east, immaculately groomed. A 10K loop through the woods was a regular activity for me. I miss that as much as anything from those days. If I had stayed and continued with those 10K treks, I’d be in a lot better shape than I am now. XC skiing is rivaled only by swimming as a total body workout.
There were yearly trips to Stowe, Vermont to ski. Most students went to the slopes and rode the little chairs up to the top so they could race down, over and over. I and a few others went to Trapp Family Lodge (yes, Sound Of Music) for cross country on trails almost as good as we had at the school. One year, I decided I was going to ride the chair to the top and ski down on my cross country skis. I was well aware that I would literally kill myself on most of the trails, but there was a long one called the Toll Road, which wasn’t as steep, and I figured if I stayed off to the side and snowplowed a LOT, I could manage it. So, to the bemused looks of the lift operators and other skiers, I sat my skinny teenage ass on one of the lift chairs and rode up. About 3/4 of the way to the top, I realized what a mistake I had made. It was freezing rain, and the entire top of the mountain was a sheet of ice. This would be manageable on downhill skis with nice sharp edges, but I was sporting 2″ wide wooden planks with the wrong wax on them. I just barely managed to stay upright when I got off the lift, long enough to sheepishly cajole the operator into letting me ride it back down again.
Life has been a long series of grand plans gone wrong. My father is famous for listening to my latest and responding with “I will monitor all events.” The thing is, every grand plan put me on a path, and every one of those paths took me somewhere new. I may not have skiied down that mountain, but I did get to the top of it. I still have grand plans, even in my 61st year. Why not? That’s how you find the interesting paths and the spectacular views. I will say that the nature of my grand schemes has changed. These days they are less about achievement and advancement, and more about exploration for its own sake. That means I can’t go wrong. As the late, great George Harrison said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” See you on the road.