24 February 2011

On Sally Mann

“…it’s always been my philosophy to try to make art out of the everyday and ordinary…it never occurred to me to leave home to make art.” 

- Sally Mann

I'm not sure what I would give to spend some time with renown photographer, Sally Mann. I'm sure you know how some people want something and claim they'd trade a first-born child or right arm in exchange for their object of desire. My first born is a man now, so he's in charge of his own life. I kinda still need my right arm seeing as how I'm right-handed. I'd rather not give it up in trade just yet. However, if the opportunity were to present itself for me to go spend a month on Sally Mann's ranch home in Virginia, I'm quite sure I'd be willing to take a loss in the trade in order to do it.

There are several photographers whom I can readily identify with. I've mentioned Edward Weston and Harry Callahan as being some favorites of mine because of their work with photographing nudes of their spouses. They've each produced some of the most iconic images of not only this genre of photography but in also in art, period. Both of these figures have been originators of inspiration that hooked me into the concept of the nude. As I've evolved, however, I've come to realize that the nude is only part of my call to action. A passion, though it may be, it's really the pursuit of life that excites me. Recording the art of life from birth to death and everything in between is my true vice. Nobody patrons that cause better than Sally Man for me. I'm actually having a hard time articulating and organizing my thoughts in writing this so bare with me. I may jump around a bit.

Why do I like her? First, she doesn't give a damn. When some notion strikes her, she's all in. Controversialities, be damned. This woman is going to do what she wants to do, despite popular opinion and she doesn't cater to the current trends. Everybody knows about her "Immediate Family" collection of work, whereby she uses her own children as subjects who are often nude in the series. The outcry was huge, but it was, nonetheless, an excellent body of work that put her on the map. This is when I became aware of her. It was her work titled, "What Remains" and the HBO documentary that followed that really made me take a look at what this woman was doing. I studied articles, interview, and documentaries on this work not only in appreciation for her as an artist, but also on this artist's impact on myself.

Model, Melanie

Next, I think I enjoy her choice and use of the old school methods and processes capture and development of an image. She uses an old 8x10 view camera like you might have seen used in the 1800's. She also chooses the collodion wet plate process to make her negatives. This isn't a film based negative, but rather glass, coated with collodion and dipped in a silver nitrate solution. You expose the plate while its still wet and the image is imprinted on the glass. This is definitely not the easy way and slow does not even describe this process comparative to digital. I'm shooting about 100 images an hour. She might do two. So you know every shot is deliberate and precise. She's the military equivalent of the sniper.

She also shoots nudes of her spouse. After 40 years of marriage, she still gets to do this. Her husband Larry is probably somewhere close to 62 or 63 years old with Muscular Dystrophy. He's not complaining about being too old. You can hear him talk about the muscle loss in his legs. You hear her discuss how he appears much more frail now. Yet this guy is completely sold out to his wife. He understands how important her art is and he takes willfully becomes her subject. I've got mad respect for the both of them.

Another reason is that I think she's a beautiful woman. Granted she's a photog, but she's also my ideal type of woman to photograph. I wouldn't say there is anything glamorous about the woman. She's just got this earthy quality that I like in a model. I'm not sure whether there is an unwritten taboo about asking a photographer to model, so I don't think I'd ever ask. She can ask me to shoot her, but I'd never ask her to model. I may have broken that rule once or twice, but I'd not make an exception in her case. I could probably spend the rest of the next day blogging about this woman. In my haste, I forgot to even mention what has spurred me on thusly. NPR did an 8 minute segment on her regarding her work with her husband, Larry, "Sally Man: The Flesh and the Spirit". Click the link for the NPR segment, "From Lens to Photo: Sally Mann Captures Her Love". This is a remarkable woman.

Yeah, I'd kill to be able to spend a month with her. Now, would I really kill somebody to do this as a trade....well, I can't say until she asks.

10 February 2011

The Decline of the Written Word

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." ~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

"The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium." ~Norbet Platt

"Ink and paper are sometimes passionate lovers, oftentimes brother and sister, and occasionally mortal enemies."  ~Terri Guillemets

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."  ~Mark Twain

Model, Melissa
NPR had an episode today on its Here and Now program entitled, "Sifting Through Love Letters Of The Past". I thought they made some interesting observations. It aired on the heels of another segment."Postal Service Plans Thousands of Closures", where they discussed the US Postal Service's need to reinvent itself and thus both issues were connected. The Love Letters segment was of particular interest because it dealt with the seeming loss of the Written Word. This interesting discussion brought to the forefront of my mind the truth of how lovers now communicate. One of the reasons the Postal Service is losing business is because we now have the internet and email to communicate electronically. We have America Online, YahooMail, GoogleMail, HotMail, etc. A plethora of venues to open as many email accounts as we choose to keep track of. We no longer require the hand written note that where the time to reach the recipient is measured in days, not minutes, which has given the rise to the moniker...Snail Mail.

We can reach anyone anywhere instantly, as if email was not quick enough. We can now text a message to someone else who has a cell phone. On the computer we can INSTANT message someone to text in real time. In fact, presently we can use Skype to actually talk and video conference a person if we don't feel like typing. With a microphone and a video cam, we can see and hear each other in real time with barely any hesitation in the connection speed. The Postal Service has been impacted from many of the free or low cost instant services. Personally, I rarely ever need a stamp. UPS, FEDex, and DHL have steadily eaten into USPS market share to deliver the products we order online. Technology has advanced at an alarming rate and many of us take it for granted. We expect the instant contact. Many cell phones can also allow video while you talk much the same way we once saw only on Star Trek or Dick Tracy.

So what has been the impact on these tech advancements? What have we lost? Well, for once, we've lost a means of expressing passion. I HEART U in a text message doesn't quite do it the same way a hand written note  expressing the same sentiments might. We have also lost a portion of memorabilia. I still have in a box ALL the handwritten letters I sent to my wife while deployed overseas. That was my means of staying connected. I wrote in volumes, trust me. In this same box, I also have to my knowledge all the handwritten love letters I wrote my wife when we were teen-agers first falling in love. Some are written on Braum's Ice Cream napkins from where we both worked, met, and fell in love. I took the liberty of scotch-tapping them to plain notebook paper and putting them into a binder with the rest of the letters. I wrote poetry and poured out my feelings for her in page after page of romantic script. Our relationship was one of scandal in that she was of a particular religious faith that prohibited our relationship to the extent of risking her relationship with her own family. She chose me at the expense of all else. Her parents disowned her and she was forbidden contact with her other 7 other siblings of which she was oldest. Her church turned its back on her as did all of her friends. I am almost certain that my two grown up kids would not exist today had it not been for those letters.

Now granted, I don't believe the human population has been subjected to any sort of risk of reduction in numbers because love letters as we know them have potentially reduced. Hormones, Hollywood, and porn will still see to that. But I do think there is a quality of life that is no longer with us when the written word has been truncated and replaced with OMG and LOL. Handwriting used to be a learned skill...a craftsmanship that was held to high regard. Calligraphy used to be a recognized art form. The one who possessed the skill of penmanship and eloquent prose melted hearts in a way that cannot be compared to the cold verbage in an email. It was personal. It meant something. Since listening to these two broadcasts, I've retrieved the letters from my former marriage that lasted some 17 years. They are memorabilia and keepsakes now that is so much more meaningful that your Inbox file history on GMail. Change is inevitable. There are great benefits to technology and scientific advancements. Mankind moves forward with time, but it does not do so without sacrifice...the merit of which is not presently fully understood.

Enjoy these shots of Melissa from a while back.

05 February 2011

The King's Speech

Peanuts 1951 Comic Strip 16
"Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." 
- Ansel Adams

Every now and again, it is a refreshing thing to sit and watch a good story-telling absent the mindless violence, sordid sex, and profane-laden vocabulary. Well, two out of three ain't bad. Such was the case when I got to watch "The King's Speech" earlier this week. I didn't know how well I'd receive the tale, but every now and then a recommendation for its worth found its way to me. The latest came from a elderly couple that I met while ordering a bagel and coffee in a Dunkin Donuts. The man was a retired baker. I do not know if his Mrs held a profession in her time, but she was very high on this movie and made the fact known.

As I said, I did not know what to expect from this showing, but it honestly spoke to my heart in that it revolved around my own mother's profession. I called her up to admit my amazement at the ability of someone to make an Oscar-worthy movie about Speech Therapy. Mama worked as a speech therapist early in her career, but it evolved into teaching children with learning disabilities and capped her career as director of the Headstart program where I grew up. Many people fail to ascertain the area of my upbringing and are surprised when I tell them I hail from Texas. I've been told I don't sound Texas and on several occasion, that I don't even sound Black. Most of that talk is from grounds of ignorance, as they don't truly mean that I don't sound Black as much as they really mean, I don't sound uneducated. The fact of the matter is that growing up as the eldest child of a speech therapist will most times leave you absent of any tell-tale accent of your homage. Oh, I'll grant you that over the years, I've picked up a little tone and inflection in my voice. I don't speak quietly. Ten years in the Army barking orders to infantry ground pounders will do that for you.

I loved my time served though. My hand surgery has left me thinking back to those days quite often now and the memories seem much more clearer and vivid. I made a special effort to try to let go, sell off much of my gear, and let my Army days be behind me. They've come flooding back and I tell you I am in awe at some of the things my friends and I had to endure. I was having lunch with Felix today talking to him of this matter. I miss blowing things up. I miss holding a rapid fire weapon in my hands and watching tracer rounds streak through the air at a rate of 1 every fifth round because otherwise you heat up the barrel too much. (I've had to crack heads catching one of my joes linking a belt of all tracers.) I miss sitting back to back with my RTO in the middle of an LP/OP while the men in the perimeter try to stay awake in their two-man positions with dummy cords strung back to me from each of them. The North Koreans pump Korean opera through loud-speakers stories tall and almost a click away to lull you to sleep as well as mask the sound of their own movements. I do miss it.

Peace from a position of strength. It is this dichotomy that tug at me for the moment. I miss the weaponry of my days in the Army, yet I can appreciate a good movie absent all of it. And it ended with one of my favorites - Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, 2nd Movement (A Major Op 92. Allegretto)