So I’ve been feverishly working on my show for several weeks and I wanted to tell you about it. (The show by the way, is this coming Saturday, from 5 - 7, at the Spring Street Gallery on Block Island.)
I went through my pictures for the year. I picked out a little over a hundred pictures, and then I studied them every which way. I culled through the pictures and then culled them again, favoring the ones I liked the most and the ones I hoped others would like. I also imposed upon the good graces of family and friends to give me their opinions. I kept casting around for a concept… a story to tell that would make the selection of pictures make sense. That was tricky because I liked so many pictures from so many different places.
I finally got down to a few dozen pictures. I printed some small ones to see how the colors on the screen would work out on actual paper. I made adjustments. Then, I started to think about sizes. I liked some when they were nice and small… only six inches square, and some got bigger and bigger and until I had a few that were almost four feet tall.
I printed them and then there were the inevitable reprints. I was framing one large picture, leaning over a 19” by 29” image, and a drop of my sweat fell on the picture. Another one was entirely about a large span of perfect calm water, glowing through the fog. After I printed it, I found a few tiny dots from sensor dust. There was another long picture, with rocks going back into the distance. It posed a classic photography problem because a camera “sees” in a narrower “dynamic range”, or span from light to dark, than a person sees. So the bright water and the dark rocks stood in more contrast to each other than was actually so on that day. I lightened the rocks to be closer to what I remembered. Then, I thought they were too light and so I went back and reprinted the original file. But then they were too dark and I went back and lightened some of the rocks. Then I changed my mind and went back to the one I printed the first time.
Now it was time to give them names. Sometimes an excellent name pops into my head, and sometimes not so much. Edie named the first picture in this blog, “The Sun Drawing Water” because that’s what her father used to say when rays of sun came through the clouds, presumably sipping water from the ocean. I named the one with all the stones “Long Walk” because that’s when my 85-year old mother got a much longer outing than we planned on the tippy shores of Nova Scotia. At other times, I fell back as usual onto the simplest, most functional names. It’s like when I was a kid and the six of us children could not agree on a name for our cat. So we finally named her “Cat”. So I have names like that: “Egret 1, 2, and 3”. And “Blue Heron 1 and 2”.
There were also moments of synchronicity. For example, I’m doing a new thing this year because of my friends Karen and Robin, called “encaustic wax”. You prepare a wooden base and then glue on a picture using special stuff and then you paint it with bees wax mixed with resin and then you take a heat gun and you melt some of it off. I asked my friend Larry to make the wooden bases for me. I went to see him in Moosup, bringing the intended pictures, so there would not be any mistake. We took an hour one morning and measured very carefully together.
Now, Larry’s work is perfect. I’ve never known him to measure anything incorrectly. But he made the wooden bases and I went and picked them up in Moosup and I could see that they were too tall. I decided to save them for another time. Then I thought of a pair of pictures I had worked on. I was attached to them because they were from the morning of the anniversary of my father’s death but they were an odd size and I had put them aside. I didn’t want to do them. I argued with myself. I had enough pictures. I had never done anything that big in wax. I didn’t have the time and isn’t that why I drive myself so crazy anyway, trying to do too much in too many directions? Wasn’t it better to simplify? That would be my new motto…to simplify, especially when I’m living like a nomad in the summer… That was the secret… the key to everything…to live an orderly, serene, intentional life. But I couldn’t get those pictures out of my head. I finally said, “Oh fine. If the pictures are the right size I’ll do it.” And they were. They were 23 ¾ inches wide and 43 ¾ inches tall. When things slot in like that, who am I to object? So I’m not making any promises but I’m going to work on them.
Pretty soon, I’ll see the final pictures, all matted and framed or covered in wax and done. As my niece Elisabeth (who helped me, by the way, with matting) would say, “Done and done.” That’s when I will feel lucky and grateful.
Because everyone has his or her own way of seeing and choosing what to see. And not it's just people who do so. In my whole year of pictures, there were Wilson and Molly, and birds and turtles and deer and insects and many other creatures and they were all out there seeing exactly what they needed to see, in exactly the way they needed to see it, for their own particular purpose. Every landscape, every crashing wave, every still, calm pond, every span of stones sweeping into the distance, was holding a world of creatures, alive and breathing and watching. And there I was with my little camera in one particular spot and I got to see it in my way also.
It is something to review your life as represented in a year of pictures. And then to choose and choose, progressively narrowing down to the ones that seem most beautiful or significant. And then to have them in front of you, and then to put them up on a wall.
You feel exposed at first when people come into the Gallery and start looking, but sometimes you get to know a person in the connection that is made around a picture, and you know her in a way that is beyond the ways that people often get to know each other. And because people are normally kind and because you get stronger, you become willing to take more risks in your pictures and more willing to stand up and let yourself show what matters to you and in that way, you get to be more of who you are.
Our house is still rented, and will be until the day after the opening for the show. With moving around so much and with my congenitally short attention span, there is major coordination going on all the time just to know where my toothbrush might be. (It is missing at the moment.) That means I’m tired. That means that putting a show together, with mats and frames and papers and printing and all the associated stuff, not to mention the food for the show, not to mention figuring out what I’m going to wear when I’ve worn the same thing every day for three months, is going to be interesting. But things are moving along. It will all get done. It’s getting done now.
I hope when you read this you don’t get overtaken with all the complications. I mean, they are there. I just have to get through them. And if I didn’t have this pressure, this show to put on, I would never have pushed it the way I am pushing, I would never have begun to find out what is possible. In the end it’s wonderful. It’s my life, affirmed in all these pictures, lived and seen and remembered and shared.
Now I’m standing back and looking at all my pictures for the show, which are arrayed because of boundless generosity and kindness, along the walls of a bedroom at our friends’ Paula and Greg’s (and Ricki and Alex and Max's) house. There are the ones you've seen in this blog and then if the encaustic goes well, 17 more.
Why did I pick these particular pictures? I was always looking for light… light on or through the water… special light breaking through the fog… the last light of the day or the first light of morning. I am struck by how much is always happening everywhere… light dancing, wind blowing, waves crashing, plants growing or going to seed, birds flying. The pictures remind me of what was happening on the day of each picture, of what those places mean. They reflect what I hope is close to the heart or spirit of these places, at least to my eyes.
So that will be the name of my show, The Heart of a Place. That’s whether it’s Block Island or Moosup or Nova Scotia or anywhere, there is always a heart to be found by paying close attention.
PS. For those of you who are photographers, I want to tell you about some colleagues who have also become friends through the years. I go to the folks at Pro Digital Gear in Salem, CT. for my cameras and lenses and papers and printers and inks. They are the people who cheerfully helped me when I spilled a can of soda on my camera or when I have to do a repair on my giant printer myself rather than bringing someone over from the mainland. I also went there just last week because I have another big project and they were very generous with their time and expertise. John Fast, one of their experts, is having a photography show this coming Friday. Here is info about his show at the Artist's Cooperative Gallery of Westerly, RI. And here is Pro Digital Gear's website. Best prices anywhere. These folks are professional and good to every single person who calls them on the phone.
And also Stu-Art Supplies. They cut my mats and provide me with the parts to do all my framing. They have beautiful, thick, museum quality materials and Nielsen frames. If there is the slightest question or problem they help immediately, even if I am stammering my way through an order on the phone, calling at the last minute. getting dyslexically confused between mat outside sizes and inside sizes and frame heights and widths and so on. They are wonderful people also. Here is their site. And here is their blog.