August 2009 Archives

Aperture priority

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Weird stuff has been going on lately. Three people hung themselves in Fair Haven this week, including a schoolmate I've known for decades. My brother has attended five wakes. Our cat Oreo was the distressing kind of sick that required surgery (I think he's in the clear). I keep talking with friends who are dealing with family, friends, and pets who are old, sick, or dying, and it's just... heavy.

So we're going to talk about photography, in the tangential sense. (This blog has been light on cat photos lately anyway.)

In July, a friend was asking me how to get that "cool, artistic effect" where the subject of a photograph is in crisp focus, but the background recedes into blur. I explained all about the relationship between aperture size and ISO, how to adjust one's exposure to minimize the depth of field, and so on. He took to it pretty quickly, and while we were walking in one of my very favorite places in the world, he took what has become one of my favorite pictures of me:

I think that in addition to being a beautiful photograph, it actually looks like me, to me, in the sense of showing some of who I am. This was quite perceptive of my friend, since usually I am all sphere-faced and squint-eyed with a giant awkward grimace smile when I know someone is taking my picture.

I was glad to spend that time indulging his new photo enthusiasm, since it renewed my own, and I've been playing around a lot more with getting a nice exposure instead of just pointing my camera at things. I'm also working on getting colors as I actually see them, in nature and in their specific light conditions, instead of shrugging "ehn, I'll Photoshop that later" when I can see color shifts on the preview screen.

This is making me more mindful of color across the board, paying attention and contemplating the specific wavelengths of light and their associated energies. I'm sure it's not a coincidence that I'm learning Colorimetry at work, considering color and fading at a molecular/photon level (I have a lot more to say about that, sometime soon). It's such fascinating stuff, and as an added bonus, it makes me intensely inspired to paint, as science is wont to do.

Though I would list my main interests as "art, science, music, and literature," most of the photos I take are of pets, flowers, food, and knitting. Occasionally I extend beyond flowers to nature scenes and landscape, but my shooting style is largely close-range with domestic themes. I almost always have a camera (or two) with me, so I would like to shoot more of my daily life, my time in the city, and the parts of existence that aren't so immediately and obviously photogenic.

But wait, did you say you wanted several gratuitous, nearly-identical photos of Smokey?! Well then, I am all too happy to oblige!

My God, do I love this cat.

Incidentally, I've added a bunch of photos to my Garden set on Flickr. I hope to have much more to show soon.

The very best kind of paddling

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This weekend I got a kayak and it is pretty much the best thing ever.

Tentatively named the Little Frog, this boat is so nicely designed I'm beside myself. It's light and small enough that I can easily carry it to and from my dad's truck (which it turns out, I also love driving). It's really stable yet maneuvers nicely, so it's great for a beginner but seems like it will continue to rock as I get better. It is a perfect little boat.

I made sure to flip it over, fill it with water, and sit down in gooey black river mud immediately, but in addition to providing endless amusement for my family, I got to try out the drain plugs (smart) and learn the proper way one enters a kayak.

(It's not like this:)

I was happy to learn, though, that kayaking is both easy and fun! And it lets me go anywhere I want on the river, check out birds, fish, and all these beautiful nature things - it's something I've dreamed about doing since I was a little girl, and it's everything I hoped it would be and more!

The weather was sort of touch and go this weekend, but Monday was a gorgeous sunny day. I decided to go for an ambitious paddle down the Navesink, putting in at the Rumson ramp (pink dot below) and going up to an osprey nest in Red Bank (next to green can buoy #21 - approximately at the turquoise dot).

I fought the wind and the tide all the way along the Middletown shore, so it took a little more than 2.5 hours down and around 45 min to get back along the Fair Haven and Rumson shore, totaling 7 miles for my first time kayaking. I'm not even going to pretend I'm not really chuffed.

More to the point, it was exquisitely beautiful. At one point a sailboat and I were the only boats on the entire river, and I was amazed at the stillness. I rested my paddle in my lap to watch a school of bait fish jump all over the surface of the silvery water, birds flying overhead, the wind blowing trees lazily like dancing. I laid back, using my life jacket as a pillow, to look at the sun shining behind a puffy white cloud, and I thought "God, what a wonderful thing, to be alive today!" It really was a gift.

I am also sore in places I didn't know existed, and I can tell this is a fantastic work-out. I met another kayaker at the ramp and she was talking about all these local paddling groups and social things I should do - perhaps when I am in better shape. I have a feeling this is going to become a really rewarding new obsession.

Gone Crabbin'

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Saturday morning, my father and I got up early and went crabbing on the Navesink.

It was so incredibly beautiful out on the water, and it goes without saying it was lots of fun shoveling crabs.

The Latin name of the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, means "beautiful swimmer," and after seeing them in the water, I can see how accurate that is. It was fascinating to hear all about their behaviors as my dad told stories about crabbing in his childhood.

We caught 32 Jimmys (the big male crabs), which we turned into some delicious crab bisque and crab cakes on Sunday.

More than anything, it was great spending the day with my dad.

I put a bunch of pictures from the water up on Flickr in a set called Gone Crabbin'. You can also view aslideshow.

After eating another batch of crab cakes for dinner tonight, we agreed that we will most definitely need to go crabbing again soon!

The Power of Doing

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When I was in Los Angeles, my friend/labmate Daria and I were watching bad TV in our hotel beds, giggling, eating candy, talking about boys (referring to sex and all related sexytime activities as "the doings"), and generally being silly girls.

I'm sure you've noticed how commercials seem ten times louder than television programs these days, and despite frequently expressed theories that it's so advertisers make sure you hear their messages, my mother (who works in this stuff) assured me that it's actually to do with balancing levels (you turn the volume up for the subtlety of dialogue and the nuanced levels of programs with higher production values, whereas commercials are all at one consistent level so it comes out much louder).

The romantic comedy we were watching went to commercial break, so it was with great comedic effect that a Home Depot commercial suddenly boomed "BEHOLD THE POWER OF DOING." Daria and I both looked at each other stunned, verified that we really heard what we thought we did, and fell into conniptions of laughter and repetition of this phrase whenever anyone said "do," "doing," or any variation thereof for the rest of the trip.

Death has a weird way of setting things in relief, forcing you to look more acutely at your own behavior patterns and habits, and ask the question that an ex frequently asked of me, "Is this really what I want to spend the rest of my life doing?!"

Lots of things seem alright when they're only for the time being. It feels more or less innocuous to put off cleaning out a closet (or my boxes in the attic and basement), to take a little extra time on a long-procrastinated project, to make time with someone who doesn't love you, or to let opportunities pass by with the rationalization that this time it just wasn't meant to be. Any habit seems harmless if you tell yourself you can quit any time, and any situation seems tolerable if you believe it's only temporary. Eventually though, days and weeks become months and years, and you realize it's been a decade that you've mistreated yourself, then 20 years, then a lifetime.

I don't want to keep making excuses for myself while time slips by. I'm keenly aware of my faults and weaknesses, and I'm truly excellent at recognizing and articulating their impact on my life. I can pinpoint every repercussion of every damaging little habit I have, and I can still see the things I've done to people, years later, in their eyes. I tell myself it's alright, I was just flaky/young/acting on fear etc. so I can live with myself, but I don't want to spend my time grimacing at the consequences of my inadequacies and what they've done to other people. As a person, I know I must use my strengths instead and let those be the defining forces that direct my interactions with other people and my own experience.

My aunt was, as far as I could see, pretty profoundly unhappy her whole life, and I don't know that she ever found peace while she was alive. I've been struggling like hell with this because she and I have been unhappy in uncomfortably similar ways. I've let myself slip into depths of pretty low stuff because I figured any day now, I could get out of it, stop the behaviors that get me there, control my anxiety (somehow), and through sheer will, "pull myself together." Mostly I've been right, in that when I really need to, I can set my issues aside and get things done. But that doesn't make it okay to spend so much of my life stressed and unhappy when I have the capacity to change that.

Another disarmingly educational experience this week was watching a friend have his heart broken by someone who did what I've done a half dozen times, citing her "issues" as the reason why she just couldn't treat him right. When I've said things like that, I didn't think the other person (or people) involved even cared enough to know why I was freaking out and withdrawing, but it never once occurred to me how awful that must have made them feel. Seeing my friend's side of things (where fortunately there was a very happy ending), and then forcing myself to have some open and honest conversations with people in my own life, I've seen just how destructive and unkind it can be. I've been effortlessly, thoughtlessly treating people horribly, saying it doesn't matter because no one cares what I do or where I go or how long I let silence stretch between us. This week I've seen that this really couldn't be further from the truth, and I owe it to people to communicate better and be more present in their lives.

In light of all these realizations, it's tempting to have myself a nice thinky think, make a bunch of resolutions, and fall back into the same patterns as before. Or beat myself up for a while and hit a point of apathy when that becomes exhausting, but never really come to the point where I fix things.

I don't want to think or write or muse about this. I want to do. I want to go to the NYPL and look at the books I've been meaning to look at for God knows how long, finish my research, and write my thesis. I want to finish the paintings and sweaters and poems and projects and gifts I've abandoned when I worried they wouldn't come out well. I want to sail my boat and quit caring if I make mistakes (there are no mistakes, really). I want to do all the things I think and talk about doing, say what I feel, and get started living my life already.

I hope that in days and weeks to come, you see a lot more doing around here.

By way of Georgia

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Things still don't make sense to me, but I don't want to talk about it right now, so let's talk about art, specifically Georgia O'Keeffe. (I know, right? You'll see.)

I have always found O'Keeffe's life and work endlessly fascinating. As a person, she had a lot of fantastic ideas and thoughts, I admired equally her technical skill and feisty spirit, and in general, she's been an inspiration to me in every way as a woman artist.

One of my formative experiences as a little girl was seeing an exhibition called One Hundred Flowers at a museum in Hawaii (I wanted to say the Bishop, but I don't think that's accurate). The back-story was that in 1938, O'Keeffe had been invited to Hawaii by an ad agency to paint two pictures of pineapples for the Dole plantation. As she was there as a worker, she wanted to stay with the fieldworkers, but the Dole people refused what would have been an affront to the class distinctions they maintained. O'Keeffe was furious, and in protest left the plantation to work in Maui, sending them paintings of anything in Hawaii except a pineapple. She eventually fulfilled her contract by painting from a pineapple plant sent to her studio in New York, and no one ended up happy with the arrangement. This experience, however, gave rise to what I considered a pretty fantastic collection of flower pictures (though many critics enjoy trashing these) and a lot of great work that incorporated botanical shapes and rhythms.

For years, those paintings were the pinnacle of art for me, and I still find them uniquely beautiful. I had a poster of her Oriental poppy that hung over my desk, and there was another of Jimson weeds in my mom's room, which I stared at every morning while ironing clothes and getting ready for school. I thought long and hard about why I enjoyed them so much, and I eventually came to the sense of elegance. By this, I mean the scientific definition: "gracefully concise and simple; admirably succinct."

She used paint in such an exact and controlled way, yet achieved an image of unparalleled beauty and delicacy. The Italian term for it might be sprezzatura. The precision, specificity, and effortlessness she brought were a perfect foil for the untrammeled wildness of nature. She found order in chaotic and frenzied systems and deconstructed the universe into spectacular geometries, units of light and energy, archetypal shapes, and vast infinities brought down to a tangible, human scale of scope and experience. To me, that was positively electrifying.

As I became a painter and thought more about life and the universe, I kept coming back to O'Keeffe's work with different eyes. Throughout undergrad, I was frequently dismissed as being little more than an O'Keeffe imitator, and I recognize that it's impossible to escape that obvious visual parallel with what I do. I think it's good to see her influence, and I took it as a compliment that people could recognize what I was going for. Her work has never been in the realm of tote bags and T-shirts for me, even though I owned my fair share of notecards, journals, and the aforementioned museum posters. She was bigger than being the Most Famous Woman Artist or that lady who paints vaginas. She dealt with so many ideas and themes in science and spirituality, evident throughout her writing and sketches, and in a way I think the extent to which she eventually became accepted by the public actually undermined the real depth and innovation of her work.

When I applied for the art history degree, I was planning to write my thesis on Georgia O'Keeffe. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to write about, but I felt I had some fundamental understanding of the way she thought and painted because I'd spent so many years processing similar ideas in similar ways. Looking back at her historically, I saw even more connections with painters and photographers around her, and in my first semester at Pratt I did a project in an Art Criticism class tracing threads through the Stieglitz circle to what was happening currently in painting (this was in 2005).

Among the ideas in this paper (which was all over the place), I wrote at length about Arthur Dove and American Modernism. Something was happening in American painting in the 1920s and 30s that I consider some of the most interesting in all of art history, but it gets largely ignored as either a lame appropriation of European Modernism, or just some silly decorative stuff that got made before Jackson Pollock came along and became the Messiah of American art.

I proposed a correction to this narrative, bringing in concepts from math, science, psychology and nature, as well as the use of materials, scale, figure/ground relationships, geometry, even color, which would place these paintings in the forefront of relevance regarding present-day society. This is to say, we shouldn't have ignored this stuff because it's a lot of what we need again, and we can learn a lot from what's been done with it already.

I was in no way surprised that most fellow students kind of shrugged off my presentation, since this was par for the course with the MFA program (my professors laughed out loud when I listed Dove and O'Keeffe among my influences instead of, say, Eric Fischl or Matthew Barney). My professor found it fascinating though. He suggested I use it as my application essay to the art history program (which I did), and he said he really hoped they read it, since he knew some professors who could use that perspective in their classes. I was not surprised to read my admission review after I was accepted and see that the reviewer described my paper as being about "Alfred Stieglitz, 1920s," indicating that they most definitely didn't read past the introductory paragraph.

Yesterday I read a NY Times review of what looked to be a great show in Massachusetts calledDove/O'Keeffe: Circles of Influence (and now you see why I'm talking about this perhaps?). Roberta Smith (whom I endlessly adore, I have to say) delved into the comparisons between Dove and O'Keeffe and came to the same conclusion that I often, begrudgingly, do as well: "When all is balanced, Dove emerges as the weightier painter. The best artists aren't necessarily those with the big-name recognition."

I'm so bummed that I didn't know about this show sooner, since there are a lot of pieces, especially drawings and watercolors, that I haven't seen in person before. (Am still considering the logistics though). I love thinking about these ideas, since they are so personally relevant to me and feel so currently important when compared with, say, patronage in the Italian Renaissance.

I don't necessarily regret the topic I chose for my art history thesis. The typical process for these projects is kind of synthetic: you start by reading everything that's been written on a given artist or topic, then you generate a thesis built on those ideas and hope to find something in the art that supports what you're saying. I have known other art history majors who never saw the paintings they wrote about in person, or who later admitted that they didn't really believe what they said but were able to support and document it well, so they went with it. My process has been the reverse, which has made it equal parts excitingly rewarding and agonizingly frustrating. I started with the paintings themselves, in a room in a museum in Venice, and I noticed a detail that jumped out at me. Once I'd seen it, I couldn't think about anything else, and it started to become an obsession. My research process has been tumultuous because I am digging through piles and piles of seemingly unrelated things, trying to find someone who supports my instinct that what I saw was put there on purpose and means what I think it does.

It's a good project, and it's interesting (sometimes), but I'm ready to throw all my notes out the window and set books on fire, so I should probably wrap it up. In this respect, I'm glad I didn't write on O'Keeffe or the ideas which most influence me as a painter, because I'd never want to get sick of them or consider them drudgery.

I have always been this way. I supplement my education with my own study. Sometimes it's Stephen Hawking, sometimes it's poetry, often it's philosophy or neuroscience, then I go back to art history or literature or ecology. Anything but what I'm "supposed" to be reading at the time. When a friend of mine came to visit, he made fun of the books co-mingling on my bedside stand, and I admitted that the only reasonable conclusion is that I'm a gigantic nerd with attention issues. But damn if it doesn't make for some awesome things to think about while I paint.


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On Tuesday, my mother and I were talking about one of my father's sisters who had been unhappy and unwell for some time. The next morning we got a call that she had died. It's... complicated. And weird, and unsettling, and I'm not really sure what to think or feel about it.

Without getting into too many personal details, I'm truly sad for her, and for my father's family. I've been mourning her life for as long as I've known her.

I guess what I can say is that I hope somehow she has found some peace, and I will pray for my family and her soul.

City sun sets over me

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Way too familiar, I've done this too many times before.


(PJ Harvey w/ Thom Yorke "This Mess We're In")

Catch-up, part the first

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You probably know I'm full of crap when I say I'm going to catch up on things completely, so I think it's alright to fudge this a little. OMG look, bullet points!

  • I have a lot of pictures to share, but I can't edit them yet because...
  • My computer died again, and after reformatting for the third time this month, I decided to buy a new laptop, which I will talk about at great length when it arrives.
  • I also got a small point and shoot digital camera so as not to endanger my SLR by carrying it around bars, to and from work every day etc. I am still learning how to use it, and I spent a lot of time accusing someone of erasing the card when I made a silly error.
  • My very dear friend Terry came to visit last weekend and he was my date for a high school friend's wedding. Words cannot describe how great it was to see him, to go sailing, to talk late at night in person... I will talk more about that soon.
  • I finished a work project that I'd been procrastinating for a really unreasonably long time. I had to face the things I didn't understand and learn a lot to do it, and I'm really happy to have turned it in. There are a lot of exciting things going on with work, and I'm inspired to do better and more across the board because I want to be up for the challenge.
  • Somehow I came to a conclusion about my career that surprised the hell out of me. It's going to involve more schooling (like, another degree or two), but I finally feel right about it. I'm going to finish these degrees and start working before I do anything else though.
  • I've gotten to a point with sailing where my dad thinks I'm ready to take my Kermit out by myself (with him following in a small boat just in case) and really like, do it. My whole life I've had this dream of sailing a little boat around the river by myself, and I am so close to this I can taste it. I get chills when I think about that exhilarating freedom, just me and the elements and a vibrantly colored sail.
  • I will have to wait to do that, though, as my parents are currently on vacation in Tortola. I'm really excited for them - they're going to be fishing, sailing, snorkeling, beaching, tropical-drinking, visiting with friends etc. They called this afternoon when there was a raging thunderstorm here and said it was gorgeous and sunny and absolutely beautiful there. I'm happy that I am here to watch the house and pets so that they can do that.
  • Dogs are really high maintenance. As is Oreo, who has suddenly started peeing on things that smell like me (WTF man?). I'm definitely a cat person. Or maybe just a Smokey person.
  • We celebrated my mom's birthday this weekend and I made some tasty food. As usual I took pictures of food. My brother yelled at me and sent me an angry text under the table saying "Can't we ever go through one meal without the f***ing camera?" Yikes.
  • I spent a good deal of time researching a kayak. I really really want to buy one, but my brother convinced me to rent one first, make sure I like it, and maybe continue renting for the rest of the summer then ask for a kayak for Christmas. It bothers me when I can't disregard sound logic because I really wanted to buy a kayak today. I do look forward to kayaking soon though - it will be an excellent upper-body and core muscle workout, much cheaper than a gym membership, and will let me spend that much more time out on the water. My family has a bit of an insane relationship to boats, in that they see nothing wrong with owning more than they can count (upwards of 13, we know that). This has finally rubbed off on me, and I'm starting a little fleet of my own. It was really just a matter of time.
  • I'm trying to be a better person. I made a bunch of decisions related to interpersonal things, family etc. that I hope will put me in this direction. I don't really feel good about them yet, but I expect that being a better person is its own reward. We'll see.
  • More soon, for real. So many photos your browser will explode. Etc.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from August 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

July 2009 is the previous archive.

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