Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pictures with Words

Yes, surprise! Again, I've got a blog post with pictures and words.

For quite a few years, my main creative outlet was calligraphy. I learned illumination techniques, too. In fact, my application letter to grad school was in the form of an illuminated manuscript. This was before the computer age, so it really was all hand lettered, and drawn. It wasn't possible to go find a nice uncial font on the net, and then copy and paste a lovely illuminated capital and border around the text. Words and art! They make living worth all the hard stuff.

I've kept a quote journal since I was a child. My grandfather drowned when I was 10. Among the things that came to our house with his tools was an old blank ledger book. My father let me have it, and it became the place I wrote down words that felt important to me. Now, it's tattered and bulging. As I got older, I'd stuff copied poems, odd pieces of paper with notes scrawled on them, and pages torn from magazines into its pages. I keep meaning to make it nice and neat, but there's something comforting about its messiness. And it continues to be a source of solace and inspiration to me.

My Old Beat-Up Journal of Words

Lately, I've been playing with putting words on some of my photographs. It's certainly not a new idea, I know. Who in my age group didn't have posters on their bedroom walls with "deep and meaningful" sayings along side those of their favorite bands? Desiderata poster, anyone? Jonathan Livingston Seagull?

Since now technology allows me to create poster type images and publish them on the web without ever having to leave my chair by the fire, I can satisfy my urge to put my two loves together - like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup; "two great tastes that taste great together!"  To quote directly from the journal above, "Life is serious, but art is fun!" (John Irving, from The Hotel New Hampshire).

(Photo by Bill Burgess)

(Photograper Unknown)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Greece of My Dreams, Part I

Dreaming of Peace
Monastery of Saint John, Patmos

In college, I took all the requisite classes for my studio art major: drawing, painting, printmaking, art history. Bowdoin is a liberal arts school, so I didn't have the breadth of exposure I might have had if I'd gone to art school. I did graduate, so I guess I'm passable at the foundations of making art. Truthfully, though, I think I liked the idea of being an artist better than the reality. I wasn't passionate about the art major. That was until the photography class I took as a lark in my second year. My love affair with photographs had begun.

Photography, as an art, is accessible yet requires creativity, knowledge, discipline, and a keen eye. I loved taking an idea, and making it come to life in the dark room. The subtleties of making images in black & white convey what I wanted to say, while creating a technically lovely print was a stimulating intellectual and creative puzzle. And then, I got excited about pushing the limits of the medium to see what would happen. For example, I did a series of photographs of deeply textured subjects, and then developed the hell out of the film to see how close I could get to an abstract image.

I felt a bit self-conscious falling in love with photography, though. It was as if, because of its accessibility, it was the ugly stepsister of the fine arts. Anybody with a camera could take a picture, right? I had the feeling that I was letting myself down somehow. That if I loved doing something so much that it didn't feel like work; I was cheating. I also had the feeling that other people thought I was taking an easy way out, too. At an elite school like Bowdoin, art in general, and photography in particular were not exactly looked upon as intellectually rigorous subjects. Once, when I told someone my other major was classical archaeology, they said to me, "Oh, so you're majoring in hobbies." *

*When I was in school, most fine art museums weren't actively collecting contemporary photography. I'm very proud that the Bowdoin Art Museum saw, relatively early on, that art photography is worthy of a place in the collections. They have had some of the most inspiring photography exhibits I've seen anywhere!

Technology has changed the way I make photographs. It's been an interesting process of relearning and experimenting, and I'm as happy and stimulated by the ways in which I can manipulate my photographs as ever I was in the dark room. It was always difficult for me to be totally happy with the color photographs I made in the years when they had to be processed by a lab. Digital photography has given me back control over what my prints will look like.

So, all these years later, two of my intellectually stimulating, creative hobbies are coming together. These photographs are Part I in the "Greece of My Dreams" series.

Oh, My Goddess
Remains of Temple of Artemis, Monastery of Saint John, Patmos

 Light From Within
Monastery of Saint John, Patmos

Three Sisters
All that's left of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Seat of Learning
Celsus Library, Ephesus

Enter the Citadel
Lion Gate, Mycenae

Clytemnestra's View

Who's Your Daddy?
Temple of Zeus, Olympia

Dryad Flowering

Apollo's Legacy

After the Battle

Alien Landscape

Land of Milk and Honey*

*The monks and nuns in the quarter-mile high Monasteries of Meteora produce their own food. Before the road was built in the 1920s, a member would be lowered to the plain below to tend their gardens, animals and bees for prescribed amounts of time.

Between Heaven and Earth

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Final Resting Place

 Overcrowding at Père Lachaise, Paris

Cemeteries. I love them. Some may think it morbid, but to me they’re like parks with historical treasures around every corner. History and Mystery! I’ve done family headstone rubbings in Québec, wandered Père Lachaise in Paris where I saw Héloïse and Abélard’s memorial, felt sympathy for the poor Colonial woman who lost all of her six children one right after the other in Rumford, stumbled upon William Blake’s gravestone while being lost in London.
I’m drawn to the bits of human story I can glean from what’s written on the stones. I applaud the individualism expressed in choices of design and image. I adore the giant gaudy mausoleums, the weeping angels, the winged death-heads, the maudlin little lambs.

Héloïse and Abélard~ Père Lachaise

 Detail of Monument~ Père Lachaise, Paris

Gravestone of William Blake~ London, UK

The earliest conscious memory I have of being fascinated with gravestones was at Mr. Conti’s. Mr. Conti was an art teacher I had as a child. (I was probably in college before I realized Conté Crayons weren’t named for him!) We went to his studio for classes, which was the bottom floor of his house. The house was built into a hill, and to get to the studio door we had to walk down a kind of narrow passage way with a gradually rising retaining wall on one side, and the house on the other. The passage floor and the retaining walls were paved with shards of Colonial slate headstones!* It was magic! I always wished Mom wouldn’t be on time to pick us up because I wanted longer to pore over the fragments of these lives so long gone.  
Further reinforcement of graveyard love was provided by my best friend, Mary Ellen’s father. On weekend afternoons, he would pile as many kids as would fit into his station wagon, and take us to the Old North Burial Ground. He had offered a silver dollar to the kid who found the first interred. We had a blast running around the place, scrutinizing stones,  jumping out and scaring each other from behind massive monuments, and over grassy tombs.  (Meanwhile, Mr. Maguire was probably enjoying a quiet read in the car, and was the hero of the neighborhood parents for giving them break from us.) Eventually, one of us found the primary planting, and some other diversion for the pack of us had to be invented.

*Before the historic preservation movement, one of the oldest cemeteries in the state was bulldozed to make room for a highway. Mr. Conti told me he went to the building site and collected as much as he could.  He also had a monkey that had the run of the studio! Clearly, he was deserving of the awe in which I held him.

Old Burying Point~ Salem, Massachusetts

Salem Witch Trials Memorial~ Rebecca Nurse

Hope Cemetery in Kennebunk is another favorite. In the back of the historic section, there was a lovely memorial circle, sunken a few steps, with stone benches and surrounded by cedars. And then there’s the monument to a young Victorian woman who died of “exhaustion” while climbing Mount Washington. (With all those corsets, can you doubt it?!) My dog and I spent many happy hours haunting the graves there - until four-legged visitors were banished, and so I felt I'd been banished, too.

Lizzie Bourne's Memorial on Mount Washington
(I don't have a picture of her monument in Kennebunk)

In an abstract way, I’ve thought about what to do with my body after the light is snuffed out - so to speak. Frankly, I’m more concerned with what happens while the light’s still burning, but it does come up in conversation. (At least, with the people I tend to hang out with.) I had a vague idea of being cremated - in the cheapest way possible – and then scattered in the natural setting of my heirs’ choosing. However, a message left on our answering machine this week turned the vague into the concrete, literally.

Out of the blue, Bill’s cousin Stanley called to offer us places in the family plot in the Arundel Cemetery in Kennebunkport. Discussions ensued. We accepted. I honestly didn’t think it mattered to me what happened to my remains, even though I’m such a fan of picking over the remnants of other peoples’ stories. But, I am astonished by how settled this decision makes me feel. I guess I’m not as immune to wanting some part of my existence to be remembered after I go to the fossil farm as I thought I was.
Now, to figure out what to put on the stone for maximum mystery and puzzlement….

Any suggestions?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Worthy Women - More Orphan Photographs

"Cordelia & Lydia Understand the Power of a Well Aimed Rake"

I call myself a Feminist. I believe in equal rights and opportunities for women everywhere. I also believe that women and men have different ways of being in the world. I don't know if that is due to biology or culture or a combination of the two. However, for women to be equal we must have our perspectives respected, and seen as valid in the world of work and relationships. We needn't strive to be more like men, but to stand up for the value of being women.

I enjoy how we women relate to each other; talk, talk, talk to figure things out. Play and laugh and relax together in companionship. Feelings running wide and deep, that's us!

These women have been captured on film at a single moment in their lives. I've never met any of them, yet I know them.

"Cinderella, You Ain't"

"Daddy's Always In My Head"

"Daddy's Always In My Head" (detail)

"I'm Just SO Excited!"

"Now Shirley, Is That Nice?"

"What Do You Mean, 'It's Creepy'?" 

"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"

"Never Can Say Goodbye"

"Myrtle & Alice Mae Horse Around As Goldie Looks On"

"I Demand To Be Taken Seriously"

"I Demand To Be Taken Seriously" (detail)

"Don't Ask"

"Don't Tell"

"I'll Just Be a Minute"

"Afternoon Delight"