Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Ghost In The Gallery ~

My recent trip to Chicago was memorable in so many ways, not least of which was my pilgrimage to the Art Institute. It's one of the world's truly great art museums. I regularly haunt museums and art galleries; this one is Mecca, and this was my hajj. And I'm hardly exaggerating, for in any museum like this (though there aren't many), I make sure to seek out one of the great influences of my career and my art: the great portrait painter John Singer Sargent. If my trip to Chicago had been only an afternoon to see the few paintings of his on display, I would still have been a happy camper.

Let me back up a little bit, say about 40 years or so. I was a young student just learning my craft, earnestly training in the art of studio portrait photography. The city I was apprenticing in was also where my dad had his art gallery, so along with my technical studies I fell under the sway of some incredible portrait painters. They made in watercolor, oils, and even pastels the kinds of portraits that influence me to this day. And something even more: they introduced me to the world of art and artists that influenced them. This was powerful stuff to a small-town kid. To understand the power of light and shadow, sure, study Rembrandt, Caravaggio, the masters. But to understand the modern sensibilities of a portrait -- perceptive, intimate -- you study Sargent.

Photography is my life and my craft; it has its own trajectory that I follow like a bullet on a beam of light. I'm still trying to get good at it. Although I wander around these days taking pictures of darn near everything I see, the portrait is still my passion of choice. And if you're serious about what you do, you draw on the inspirations that have shaped your direction, that have moved throughout time until they hit your eye. John Singer Sargent is that for me, but there are many, many others: painters and poets, sculptors, singers, playwrights and storytellers -- and photographers. We pick up where they left off.

And they're hanging out at the museum.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Plato's Travelogues, Part IV ~

Travel, if we are to believe Twain, is "... fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness..." and this doesn't even take into account the Red Line on the Chicago "L".  Or any number of other public conveyances that are just sure to test your resolve in this manner.  But photography is all about adventure; we need to seek out those places yet unseen to fix our gaze and capture our imagination. The little annoyances come along for the ride.

I've just returned from a week in the Windy City, which, as luck would have it, was more of a rainy one. But this little annoyance is hardly a deterrent; in fact, the urban landscape in gray and rainy conditions is the answer to a photographer's prayers, if we were so inclined to implore the almighty. I'm all about mood and atmosphere; the sunshine be damned. But as he giveth, he taketh away, oh yeth; for my Cubs game was rained out as payment for my presumption. This, I imagine, is how the world works.

But let's finish up Twain's observation of travel's benefits: "...Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." Indeed. I was raised with but the loosest of connections, and have thus been a wanderer all my life. Airport security lines, crowded public transportation, and rained-out ballgames is the price of admission; minor annoyances all. My feet are in motion, and my camera is charged and ready.

And brother, Chicago is beautiful in the rain.