Tuesday, January 31
This is one photo from a series I did this past weekend for another fun Utata project. Except that it wasn't just fun ... It was also an education to me. The assignment was to produce a photo or several either in the style of a photographer we admire, or inspired by a particular photograph of theirs ... even to the point of "recreating" the photo in our own way.
It would be pretentious to claim or even think that I am in a league with photographers Dorothea Lange and Emmet Gowin They use(d) film -- I use digital. They were/are professionals -- I am a rank amateur and I know my photos lack the maturity and artistic merit theirs have. They developed their images in the darkroom -- I imported mine into Photoshop for post-processing. In spite of that, I like my results.
Through this project, I learned that I love portrait photography. Not commissioned wedding photos, senior pictures or baby shots, but the kind that come from my intuition and creative well.
For this project I had the pleasure of working with a young friend and neighbor who kindly agreed to spend her entire Sunday afternoon posing for me and being "bossed" around ("Take off your earrings, put your hand here, tilt you chin to the left ...:") She is an amazing, beautiful, patient model and I can't wait to have the time to do this again with her ... and her younger brother.
Here is the set with the complete series of Homage photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/montanaraven/sets/72057594056119169/
With incredible speed, so-called "progress" is filling in the wetlands in and around my town. These places are valuable not only because they provide habitat for many species of birds, aquatic animals, insects and some small mammals, but they are also a water filter and natural storage for runoff and flood waters. But I will personally miss this wetland even more for the beauty and music that will no longer be, when it is gone.
To most observers, seeing this marsh from their cars at 35 mph, it may seem like nothing more than a brown and weedy place. But if you get out of the car and venture down into the marsh, you will find that you are inside a natural concert-hall, one that rivals any in a large cosmopolitan area.
The beauty and voice of this place is the kind that draws you in deeper, makes you want to look closer, crouch down in the midst of the crunch-and-suck, calls you to really listen with your soul.
The musicians tune their instruments. An unseen conductor comes onstage, takes a bow. You close your eyes ... hear the wind rattling reeds all around you, hear the creak and rustle of winter willows and ancient cottonwoods. Your heart starts to beat to the rhythm and punctuating call of blackbirds. Tiny perching birds flit amongst the cattails and brush like high-pitched flute and string sections
... there is a pause, that space of silence that readies the audience for the next moment, that allows the musicians to focus on their opening note. Traffic noise recedes. There is a cough from somewhere in the marsh. You take a deep breath of crisp clean air ... and the symphony begins.
I will miss the music.
I'll type up the poem later today. Just wanted to post something of what I've been up to lately. Really busy is what ...
That's Baggins who kindly poses for me whenever he doesn't know it.
here's what I wrote with the sketches:
cat flows from shadow to a spot
of sun in the center of a floor.
he shapes his outline
to fit the warm place.
tail curves where sunbeam falls and
he watches dust dancing in
tail flicks, twitches, he looks,
decides it belongs to him and
goes back to his bath.
tongue bath, sun
bath, dust bath.
round, then round again
tracing the shape of sleep on
then curls up neatly as if
there were nothing better to do
Wednesday, January 25
Is it an oxymoron? "Playful Grave?" Not when the toys decorate the grave of a child.
We are most nearly ourselves when we achieve the seriousness of a child at play.
-- paraphrased from Heraclitus
These are just a few of the decorations near a simple grave. No headstone. No stone at all. Just a little sign with the child's name and age (3) and these poignant ornaments and toys. The sun was almost down for the night though this small grave held the last beam of the day, shining on the whirling pinwheel.
I took these photos lying down on the damp grass looking up at the wind and the fading blue ... seeing through sparkling colors and spinning wings what a very young child would see.
All around me, there are scattered small things ... treasures you might find in a toddler's pocket at the end of a day: tinsel, ribbons, little pebbles and marbles, a handful of snail shells, bright bows, beads, wire and string. The grave is covered with playthings and memories, with toys that sparkle and catch the light, red plastic gladiolas and a whirligig. torn kites, wind-chimes, two birdhouses. These objects hold a family's memory of happy times and the tragedy of their loss.
Sunday, January 22
Here's my downloadable calendar for February -- hopefully early enough for anyone who wants to print it and use if for planning next month. Please feel free to use this calendar. If you use it on another website, please include attribution by a link back to my blog.
Saturday, January 21
Last night, just moments before the sun went behind the ridge, I stopped along Prickly Pear Creek just a little south of East Helena. There, the creek runs between two ridges and has been used and abused for years, by locals who toss beer cans and garbage in the gulch,and by hunters who discard elk and deer carcasses after taking what meat and trophy parts they want to keep.
I had driven by this creek numerous times, though I hadn't stopped until now. I had Sam with me and we both wanted to get out someplace new. So, this is where we ended up. I had to keep Sam on a leash for this walk - if I hadn't, he would have availed himself of the opportunity to douse with that special fragrance loved by dogs -- "Eau de Carcasse." There were at least 30 carcasses along the stretch of water we walked. Eeeuwww!
I had my camera with me, of course. The light was fading fast and I knew I had to hurry to catch it before nightfall. As I looked around for something that appealed to me -- a scene or detail I might want to shoot, I thought about what many people have told me when they see my photographs of Montana -- that I must live in Paradise, that Montana is so beautiful, pristine, that they want to visit here, to see what (I) see.
Yet here I was, scanning this trashed-out, dumping place for some little detail to photograph. It was worse than a garbage dump. This creek with its sad parking spots, its lovers' lane, its game carcasses strewn in the bushes ... this damaged wetland was a stark testimonial of how little we humans care for the earth.
In anger, I almost turned right around to leave. But something in the water caught my eye. A beaver dam, breached in the middle, icy willow branches bravely stacked against the winter, against the beavers' predators. The little dam was something I needed to see last night - it was a glimmer of optimism, of hope, in this trashed out riverbottom.
I sat for a few minutes, just feet from the large ribcage of an elk. I scolded Sam for being too interested in the bones. He put his head on his paws and watched me shoot -- quickly -- as the light changed and the water shape-shifted.
I wanted to redeem my species somehow, to reach back in time, find the memory of who this little dancing creek had once been, before the cement plant started polluting the waters, before people started using the valley as an unofficial dump and drinking place ... I wanted to catch the narrow slice of sky reflected in Prickly Pear Creek. I wanted to remember, with my mind's eye and my camera, the way graceful branches danced with the current.
I tossed a stone just upstream of the beaver dam. I clicked and clicked the camera shutter until I could see only the beauty of water, of evening, of a beaver's industry and natural design ...
This is how to see the place where you belong.
This is how to love
the places you spend your days and nights.
Look under the surface
love the beauty you find there
no matter where you are.
Friday, January 20
This Cool Shot is a Utata column written by Irina Souiki. I'm so jacked that she featured my artwork this week. The article started a bit of a brew-ha in a Utata Flickr group discussion. [grinning]
... really just the usual friendly conversation masquerading as a debate. I love to stir things up -- but this time, it wasn't me that did the stirring.
I have never been a Barbie person; the closest thing I ever owned was a Jill Doll in the 50s/early 60s. Barbie was too thin and deformed (those feet!) Jill had a little more meat on her bones, and her feet were proportionately normal. Jill wasn't top-heavy. Translate that: Triple-C boobs on Barbie ... probably A or B on Jill ...)
I was tempted to ask for a Barbie when my best friend in 4th grade got a Ken doll with a convertible sportscar ... she also had Barbie, complete with closet and a traveling trunk full of fabulous clothes. Maybe I did ask for Barbie and I have my parents to thank that I never actually had one, because they refused to cave in. But then I figured since I wasn't into fashion, or boobs, it was okay. Besides, my Jill seduced her Ken away from his Barbie (I suppose it was an affair, but I'm really not sure if her Ken was actually married to her Barbie. Or not. In any case, I had no guilt feelings about the Jill/Ken affair.)
My Jill and my best friend's Ken regularly made out under the Bridal Veil Spirea bush growing next to our basement door. The bush formed a perfect little cave where they could hang out on summer days with blankets and snacks and of course, me and my friend, Tess.
Eventually, troll dolls moved into the neighborhood and Jill, Barbie and Ken were forgotten in favor of these short, chubby creatures with silly facial expressions.
We built an entire troll-village in the branches of our front yard oak tree. By that time I had realized I was not a seamstress and I did not want to grow up to be like Jill, much less like Barbie (and I did not want a Ken-like boyfriend, either, thank you very much!) Besides, troll dolls' outfits were immesurably easier to "sew" than Jill's high couture (to make troll-clothes, I just had to cut out little rectangles with scissors and poke a couple of armholes. If I wanted to get fancy, I sewed or glued-on some snaps. ) I wrote about what soured me on sewing in this blog post.
Okay, now I get to the point of this post -- what inspired me to think about Barbie and Jill and that little hideaway under the spirea bush? Pam at Blue Between shared this link to Margaux Lange's wonderful, humorous jewelry made from Barbie doll parts. When I saw these brooches, I thought, "Now, there's something I would wear - just to make a statement. Hmph." These are so cool! I agree with Pam that the jewelry is a little disturbing, but that's never stopped me from doing/wearing something that can start conversations.
On her Barbie-jewelry site, Margaux Lange writes in her bio,
Whether you love her or hate her, there are few who feel neutral about the plastic princess. I am fascinated with who she is as a cultural icon, her distinguidhed celebrity status, and the enormous impact she has had on our society. Specifically, I am intrigued with her influence in defining gender roles of women in contemporary American culture.
Monday, January 16
This time of day is almost always a little sad for me. Everything seems to hold on to the light just before evenfall. Just before the sun sinks for the night. I walk through the garden touching the husks of sunflowers, brittle lilac branches and places where my footprints have solidified into ice. The rasping shudders of dry oat grass mix with a chickadee's call. I look for the tiny black-masked bird - there it is - sheltering in the dense blue branches of our spruce tree; The colors are fading fast in the dying light. I want to catch and hold on to this gold forever.
But I know to let it go...
Sunday, January 15
Here's my calendar for the month of January... a bit late. I promise I'll get February's calendar up within the week so you can actually download it in time to make use of it. This photo I shot on New Year's Day when Tim, Sam and I spent the afternoon on the Boulder River about 30 miles from Helena.
If you'd like to download this month's calendar, please feel free. Just click on it, then when you get to the larger image, just right click. Enjoy!
Saturday, January 14
Catherine and the rest of the gang at Utata outdid themselves putting up this beautifully designed website with all of our nocturnal photo submissions. Please go take a look if you're at all interested in artsy photography. It's amazing - the breadth and diversity of styles from all sorts of photographers: amateurs to seasoned pros.
Here is one of the photos I submitted. It looks alot better on the Utata website:
That's the Grandstreet Theater Front facade. The blue and yellow blur in the center is the window Tim built with Barry Hood. The swirly gold lights are the holiday light bulbs that line the details of the old building.
Here's my whole set of night photos.
This sketchbook page is part of my process on one of my favorite Flickr projects. It's called the Co Curators' Resource. The idea is to "curate" someone's photostream on Flickr with the goal of articulating their style or a common theme or thread of artistic vision with a smaller collection of photos you choose as if you were curating an exhibit of their work in a gallery or museum.
In doing this curation project with Irina Souiki I am learning tons, not only about her photos and her artistry, but about my own growth as an artist and photographer as well. It is helping me to think more clearly about what I am trying to accomplish with my photography and other artwork.
If you want to see more of these sketches or find out more about this project and read why I'm sketching to curate someone's photos ... you can click here to see the whole set of sketches. Each sketch has a description of the project and a link to the Co Curators Resource page where there are discussions and explanations of what we're all doing. Enjoy!
Wednesday, January 11
This beautiful horse comes running over to the fence everytime Sam and I walk by on our way around Spring Meadow Lake. I usually remember to bring her an apple or some almonds for a treat. This evening she has a mane and tail full of cockle-burrs. In my opinion, those are nature's most successful hitch-hiker seeds. anyway, it made her look forlorn. She loves to be scratched just about anywhere. The center photo is of her shaggy winter coat. Nice and warm.
For a look at some other white horses, check out these sites: a screensaver - beautiful white horses looking like they're charging in for dinner. This horse on Flickr and if you want to see some amazing photographs taken as stills during filming of a movie, check out these beautiful draft horses here and here (then go look at the rest of her photos if you have time - it will be worth it!)
And finally, this isn't a white horse, but she/he's surrounded by white snow and I have enjoyed this photo for months as my screensaver ... thanks to Christine, who I have gotten to know a little through our association on flickr. She has a whole set of photos of Dandy, her horse, here.
Tuesday, January 10
According to Flickr, these are the most interesting photos in my entire collection of over 2000 photos, as of October 2006. It changes daily, as there are literally millions of photos being uploaded there by people all over the world -- and they only highlight the "top 500 most interesting photos" for each day. For instance, on January 6th, this photo was interesting. Now it's not. Ce la Vie!
What's interesting to me is that the photos that make it onto the interestingness page for the day don't often line up with my own personal favorites. The Flickr interestingness feature is a strange algorithm -- and as fd says (he's the guy who wrote the program,) "taking it too seriously is bad for your mental health." Still, for whatever it's worth, here are my most interesting pics - click on the poster to see it larger ... (later I'll post the ones I like best)
If you'd like to see the individual photos larger, click on the links below. They start at upper left and go across and are in order of date with the top photos being my latest:
1. Woodland Icon with Cross, 2. Colors of the Season Glass Quilt, 3. Wire We Doing This?, 4. Waiting for me to "Sign" that it's time to go ..., 5. A falcon, a storm or an unfinished song?, 6. Vision, 7. Scrolls on a Sunny Day, 8. Gaze, 9. Pond, starting to ice over, 10. Early Morning Frost Field, 11. Meditation on Autumn Garden, 12. Earth's October Garment, 13. Mane of Gold, 14. Meditation on Autumn Raspberries, 15. One Small Angel, 16. Birthday Ode to Feet & FlipFlops, 17. Plan B, 18. Collector's Edition Stamps: The Family Collection, 19. "I Am Much Too Old for This!", 20. Dependency, 21. Movement Poem, 22. Wise Ones, 23. Summer Soft, 24. Writer's Block, 25. Viewpoint for the Fading of the Day, 26. Red Faced and Lovin' It, 27. Colorful Spheres, 28. Soft Evening, 29. Grass Jungle: We are 3 companions, 30. Theater Window, 31. The Dream of a Small Angel, 32. Curtain, 33. Lady Holding Her Bouquet, 34. Rain, 35. Sushi instructions, 36. Green Pleats, 37. Ravens are one way of seeing blackbirds, 38. Zion Mist, 39. Wind Embodied by Beauty, 40. That afternoon, he led the way through a veil, 41. Fire in Montana -- Sumac leaf, 42. A Tender Moment: Gabe and Grandma
Sunday, January 8
On January 1st, we kept a tradition Tim and I have been keeping since we married: we spent the day making a pilgrimage for good luck and healing in the coming year. We made offerings sitting near a fire in the back garden (in the snow) then drove down to the Boulder River about a half hour from home, to spend the afternoon and leave our prayers and offerings.
Sam accompanied us, of course. He had waited near the fire, as usual, for us to get going. He always knows when we're preparing for a pilgrimage (which for him, means a hike) and gets excited to leave .
The Boulder River today was icy, dark, swift. We stayed back from the banks a bit not wanting to chance falling through the blue ice. The day was warm and we could see where the ice shelf that lined the river had fallen, leaving a raw crack, like a wound. The center of this river runs free most of the year because it is fed by several hotsprings in the valley. This is a sacred spot to the tribes who frequented the Boulder Valley every winter. We have come here many times to pray so it feels like one of my homes in Montana.
Saturday, January 7
Reach for the Realm of Light
I've been painting and drawing this willow for at least 15 years. It has several companion willows along the borrow-pit on a dirt road near my home. Although they are the type that would normally become large, venerable trees, these particular willows don't get much bigger than this. They are routinely abused by the county roads department - their trunks hacked off without thought for beauty, empathy or esthetics ... yet every summer, they come back more unkempt, each year denser and wilder. I love them just as they are -- even more, I love them because of the way they are. They are indomitable and I take that as inspiration for my own life.
So, at times I've deeply identified with the willows along this lonesome road. At first I noticed them because they had a wild air about them and I felt we could understand each other - me and the willows. That was in the middle of winter. I painted their colors with multiple layers of pastels, working fast in the cold, but not wanting to leave out a single nuance of their vibrant character. The colors of their branches were enlivened by the cold, and contrasted with white snow all around.
The branches drew tangled lines against the paper sky seemingly without rhythm or sense. To me that first time, this one looked like a girl just waking up next to her lover ...
Someday in the near future, these friends of mine will be pulled out altogether -- a large subdivision (i.e. ugly suburban sprawl) is planned for this very meadow I've loved so well. I will be sad when that day comes.
Until then, I go back again and again to record these simple lives ... to record the fanciful or dark or poignant or confused emotions they invoke in me. And to document their existence before they cease being.
When I get a chance, I'll repost this photo and written piece with a couple of my sketches from years ago. Just for context and comparison.
Thursday, January 5
Ghost Roots should be viewed large to fully appreciate the subtle details. (to see this or the other recent images at a larger size, just click on the photo) This is an in-progress work...
Ghost Roots, knotted like a wooden Celtic knot
Wednesday, January 4
Tuesday, January 3
More playing around with photoshop. I'm trying to learn what all the different layer masks, blends and filters are capable of. Simple stuff, but fun. To me, this looks, again like a woven piece - it has that fiber texture. Below is the permutation just before the mandala above. One less layer.
Monday, January 2
Retrievr, a different way to search for photos on flickr -- based on a sketch you draw.
Retrievr is a little clunky, but then my mouse is acting clunkiy: I can't quite make it do what I want it to, so I don't entirely blame retrievr, but the results are a bit on the random side. I'm sure it will be improved as more people use it and give feedback. Anyway, this is a fun way to explore random flickr images -- a little less randomly. You sketch in shapes, lines, different colors ... and Retrievr searches flickr photos for those shapes, etc. Sometimes the results don't make alot of sense, but it's kindof a creative exercise to find connections between what you drew and the photos that come up for that sketch.
Here's one result from several of my atempts:
Retrievr was written up at Research Buzz ... (click the link to read more of that article)
I would agree with the writer than you can get some pretty weird results -- and it's not all that useful if you're actually use it to search for something specific, such as Christmas trees, surfers or fences .... but if you have a little time and want some inspiration, and are willing to be random about it ... it gives some cool results.
Here is another search result using the sketch below, left: