a worm's eye view of autumn
What we see depends on where we stand, sit, crawl or fly to see it. Think of a crawling baby's eye view of your house. It would be filled with chair and table legs, dust bunnies under sofas and beds, the grain of wood floors or texture of carpets and rugs. And how do you think you would seem to that child? If she or he could talk you'd probably learn more about the look and smell of your shoes than you'd want to know! So when I decided it was time to take my first photo of autumn, I tried to come up with a different point of view, one that I had not seen before. We're used to seeing flaming maple leaves framed against brilliant blue skies, twirling in midair or lying at our feet. But by placing my camera on the ground and using my remote shutter release, I was able to see this backlit leaf at eye-level, much as a worm might see it.
I'd like to share a comment that Kal Khogali (http://www.pbase.com/shangheye
) posted on one of my recent photos. He wrote: "Art is about perspective, so it becomes infinite in my opinion. The same ordinary subject, but a different view. The more extraordinary that view the more artistic, and as such it begs the question what we believe is extraordinary. We all have to agree on some things being extraordinary, and it is the remainder (and by far the majority) that becomes the fodder of critics and fans."
I'd guess this man didn't know or care about the sunset that was painting the sky with radiant colors over his shoulder; he was that focused on his fishing. And I can't talk. All I cared about that lovely display of nature's wonders was how it could be used to advantage in my photos. After all, I'd dragged my friend down to the riverfront after dinner last night because I'd caught a glimpse of the sky on our way to a play at Windsor, Ontario's Capitol Theatre. My friend was waiting patiently at my side, so I didn't want to take any more time than was necessary, time I might have used simply to drink in the beauty I was seeing.
We move through life missing most of it. Isn't that true? As photographers perhaps we SEE more than most, but maybe our absorption with the visual keeps us from being as emotionally engaged as one who simply appreciates the world around them without trying to capture or compose it. A camera can be a window, yes, but it can also be a door, a closed door. It's hard to relate with a camera pressed to your eye.
Thankfully, when we got to the theatre and sat down to see Les Miserables, my camera was safely in its bag with no more photos to take...at least that night. I say "thankfully" because I wouldn't have wanted to keep myself from seeing AND feeling every single minute of this exceptional production put on by Theatre Intrigue of Windsor (http://www.theatreintrigue.ca
). They were performing the "school edition" because the actors, who came from Ontario, Michigan and Ohio, were students aged 11-18. If you'd heard that, you might have said as Pat and I did before the show started, "Well, it's a long play. We'll probably leave after the first act." That was before we'd seen and heard the first five minutes. Except for maybe two uncertain singing voices, this was as good a production of Les Mis as anyone could want. We not only stayed to the last minute of the last scene, but were moved to tears more than once. If you live anywhere near Windsor, Ontario, do yourself a favor and get over to the Capitol Theatre this weekend or next. I can pretty much guarantee you won't be sorry.
a well-worn shoe
I think we all have at least one pair of shoes that looks like this: somewhat shabby, perhaps with holes in the sole, most of the tread worn down. But we love them. They fit us like a second skin. When we're wearing them our feet feel happy and content. Often our Significant Others try to get us to throw them out, but we don't. Somehow we CAN'T. It would be like throwing out an old friend just because their hair has thinned out, their bellies sag, their clothes are sometimes stained. No, you stand by your old friends--and your old shoes--because they have stood by you in good times and bad.
I took this photo at school yesterday. Actually, this is just one of many photos I took of the kids' shoes. They thought I was a little bit nuts. "Why are you taking pictures of our shoes?', they asked. "Because that's what artists do--try to come up with subject matter that others might not notice. And if it's of something ordinary, that's all the better."
What do you think?
Remember how it felt to be called on?
If you were like me, you'd get so flustered you'd forget what you were going to say. Or maybe all you wanted was the teacher's attention and you hadn't had anything to say in the first place. Remember how it felt when teacher nodded at your answer and said, "That's right, Patsy!"? The warm glow that soaked into your skin like maple syrup over hot pancakes? I see it play out on the kids' faces today: either the dropped eyes of getting it wrong, or the sickly smile of forgetting what you were going to say, or the sparkling eyes and proud grin of getting it right. Volunteering in a classroom--especially in a K-5 school--brings back all the pain and joy and confusion and lightbulbs-going-off and frustration and silliness and embarrassment of childhood. Any unhealed issues rise up and hit you between the eyes. And, if you're lucky, sweet memories do the same. Such a vulnerable time of life. It's amazing we survive it.
My husband Ed and John Snyder have been making music together for almost 60 years, Ed on the piano and John on the harmonica. Ed and John were both Psi U's at Michigan State University back in the late 40s and early 50s, and Ed even lived with John's family in East Lansing after John had graduated. John was a groomsman in our wedding 41 years ago, and we doubled out with him and his now-deceased wife Betty on their first date. Even though John has lived in the Washington, DC area for 50 years, and Ed and I have been in the Detroit area all of our married life, we've remained best friends. So when John planned a trip to Michigan to celebrate his 60th high school reunion, he naturally included an overnight visit with us. And it's been great! Not only do we make music together--I add voice to the mix--but we share our artistic passions as well, John with his videos, and me with my photos. There's nothing like old friends to warm your heart.
peace & harmony
That's what Ray and Charles said their hand signs stood for as I took their picture on Sunday afternoon. It was the day after Ray's enraged encounters with the folks manning the Arlington Midwest installation in Detroit's Grand Circus Park (see yesterday's entry). I guess I could have titled this, "What a difference a day makes." Ray was grinning from ear to ear and giving me hugs & kisses whenever I scooted over to sit with him and his buddies on Sunday. When my husband Ed turned up unexpectedly after having biked eight miles to come downtown to see me, I took him over to meet Ray, Charles, Sarge, Jeff and Linda. They couldn't have been more gracious. Linda kept assuring Ed that he need never worry about my safety down there. "Nothing will ever happen to Patricia," she said, "We'll make sure of that!" Now, whether Ray's change of heart was due to his having expressed and hopefully healed some of his grief and remorse over what he'd seen and done in Iraq is not for me to say. Maybe the booze just hadn't taken hold yet. All I know is that it felt on Sunday like I was seeing the true Ray, the man who loves his mom--whose name is also Patricia--his firstborn son who is in the U.S. Navy stationed in the Gulf, his daughter-in-law who's expecting a baby and with whom he'd talked the other night, the pal whom his buddies obviously care deeply about. I'd like to think Saturday's tears had washed away some of his guilt. I'd like to believe that Arlington Midwest paid back some of the human cost of war, at least for Ray.
Again, to see my "Arlington Midwest: the human cost of war" photo gallery, CLICK HERE
an Iraq war vet's anger turns to grief
Arlington Midwest was more than a symbolic reminder of the human cost of war: it was a place where that cost could be openly expressed. Ray was an example. Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit is home to many of our city's homeless. And all too many of these folks are veterans of America's many wars, especially Vietnam and, most recently, Iraq. So when this travelling installation of over 4200 mock wooden tombstones and poles with the names of both U.S. troops and civilians killed in Iraq came to their park, there were strong reactions. Dan Lombardo, Detroit's organizer for this event, and the volunteers he had enlisted to stay with the installation 24 hours a day from Thursday through Tuesday morning, were often in the line of fire. When I got there on Saturday afternoon, they'd already had to call the police once because of Ray's rage and threats. But the police had never shown up. So when Ray, an Iraq war veteran, again got in Dan's and then in Cindy's faces with his yelled objections to the Arabic music that was part of the CD that accompanied the exhibit, we all understood but were uneasy about where this might go. After Ray had ranted for a long ten minutes, I found myself scooting up and taking his hand. He stopped yelling for a moment and looked down at me. I said, "My name's Patricia. Can you tell me your name?" I can hardly describe what happened next. Within a minute or two I'd opened my arms, and Ray had put his head on my shoulder and started to weep. It was then that we saw the wrenching grief and remorse that his anger was trying to hide, especially from himself. "I trained these boys. I should have protected them!" He then told us of a 19 year-old man in his unit who had died in his arms after his legs had been blown off by a roadside bomb. We never know, do we?
I've put up a gallery of my photos from Arlington Midwest. CLICK HERE
to see it.
the human cost of war
I took this photo on Saturday at "Arlington Midwest" in Grand Circus Park, downtown Detroit. The name Arlington Midwest is based on Arlington Cemetery in Virginia where America's military combat veterans are buried. This traveling installation is made up of 4234 mock wooden tombstones planted in the ground, each with the name, age, hometown, date and place of death of the U.S. men and women who have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanstan. Unfortunately, these numbers grow every day that U.S. troops remain in these wartorn countries. There is also a section of tombstones for those returning Iraqi vets who have committed suicide, at least those we know about. This man and his son were looking at the tombstones of these suicide victims--the uncounted casualties of war--when I took their picture. Arlington Midwest is not just about American deaths; it is also about the hundreds of thousands--at least 650,000--Iraqi men, women and children who have lost their lives in the American war on and occupation of their country. There are poles planted in a circle around the fountain in the center of this urban park. On each pole is a typed list of all the names and ages of the Iraqi victims of war who are known to have died. One is asked to walk around and around this circle in meditation on the hundreds of thousands of victims whose names we do not know. Arlington West is not a political statement: it is a reminder of the human cost of war. I will return today to complete the photos for a gallery I want to post about this heartbreaking installation.
waking to the last day of summer
I'm sorry but I'm not ready for summer to end. Yes, fall is beautiful with its crisp sunlit days and flaming colors, but. There's always the BUT of winter waiting in the wings, especially here in the northern states of the U.S. And I know, winter's lovely too with its stark blacks and whites, its pared-down essence, the very essence I said I wanted in yesterday's entry. But. Winter makes it hard to me to get around in my scooter, especially if there's lots of ice and snow. Winter means short dark days. Winter means making dates or appointments that always end with the phrase, "Weather permitting." Winter means hungering for the color green. Winter means wearing layers and layers of clothes. OK, you get the picture.
But today I will go outside in shirtsleeves, scoot on accessible streets and sidewalks, be surrounded by the color green, feel the sun kiss my bare arms, and take photos to my heart's content. Today is still summer.
finding the essence
I have explored many creative paths over the past three decades, including painting, pen and ink drawings, performance art, semi-abstract raku clay sculptures, mixed media, poetry, personal essay, storytelling, singing, dance, art as social commentary, and creative collaborations with other artists. And now photography has gone to the top of my list. There are many reasons why this artistic medium suits me at this stage of life. One that I cannot ignore, is that I can still do it with my less-than-able hands while seated in my mobility scooter. But beyond the physical, photography appeals to my inner need to see life as it is, and to hold up a mirror so others can see it too. I'm talking less about the descriptive and more about the essence of things. I want to look INTO life not AT it. A few months ago I pursued that goal by combining images in imaginative ways using Adobe Photoshop, but lately it has meant sharing my photos unaltered except for editing. The more simple and direct, the better. Within the past week, black and white with strong contrast between light and shadow has captured my photographer's eye. "Simplify, simplify" seems to be my mantra, artistically and philosophically. "Less is more" is another way to say it. But doesn't that make sense for a woman who is in her 66th year on this planet? Life is so incredibly rich that my task as a mature human being is to pare away all that is unnecessary and concentrate on the essence, nothing more.
Pinwheels for Peace
Today was my first day back at school and our assignment couldn't have been more perfect. September 21 is the International Day of Peace and our inspired and inspiring art teacher, Ms. Susan Briggs, celebrated it by asking the students to make "Pinwheels for Peace," a project started in 2005 by two high school art teachers in Florida. On September 21, 2006, they estimate a million pinwheels were planted in 2,500+ locations! You can go to their website at http://www.pinwheelsforpeace.com
to read all about it and to participate yourself.
This is the seventh year I've volunteered in Susan's art classes at a K-5 school in East Dearborn, Michigan. I've learned so much from her and from the students, most of whom are first or second generation immigrants from the Middle East. I started volunteering there in October 2001. It was my wish to do some small thing to counterbalance the terrible anti-Arab anti-Muslim attitudes and actions that were sweeping across America after the attacks on September 11th. My role there is loosely defined: usually I simply sit at the children's tables--a different one each week to keep it fair--and work on whatever art project they're working on. Today it was the Pinwheels for Peace.
Since I don't have parental permission to post photos of the children online, whenever I do take photos of them, I have to be sure they can't be identified. That's why this Grade 5 girl is holding her pinwheel in front of her face, and it's why the PBase gallery I've posted of the kids making art is focused on their hands. That gallery--"Young hands make art"--can be seen if you CLICK HERE
My volunteer day this year is Thursday so don't be surprised if every Thursday afternoon (Detroit time) my photo-a-day has something to do with school.
still inspired by Edward Hopper
Even though I'm back home, even though it's been three days since I saw the Edward Hopper exhibit in Washington, DC, I can't stop seeing everything in light and shadow. Even Ibrahim's Lebanese stuffed turtle and my Oaxacan wooden porcupine reminded me of Hopper, especially when the afternoon sun touched them with its glistening fingers. Somehow I hope that Edward Hopper never leaves me. May his sensitivity to light inform my eyes from now on.