Archive for April, 2012

A Short and Illustrated Thought #9

Posted in Sherwood Forest on April 28, 2012 by smpiv

Don’t tell me,

I didn’t ask.

How far is the Moon?

How deep is the sea?

 

Why did the Titanic sink?

What did Judge Crater think?

Don’t tell me,

I didn’t ask.

 

I don’t want to know,

Some things are best left unsaid.

Dan Cooper?

Amelia Mary Earhart?

 

This I know,

 

The sun comes up,

The moon pulled down.

The leaves will fall,

A tree left bare to winter air.

The seasons’ whisper never loud.

 

How deep is the sea?

How far is the Moon?

I only ask in passing,

But please don’t tell,

 

I really don’t need to know.

A Short and Illustrated Thought #8

Posted in Disco Ball, Maryland, Photography, Saturday Night Dances, Sherwood Forest, The Clubhouse, The Romanos on April 23, 2012 by smpiv

The Romanos set the eternal beat,

For our adolescent, itchy feat.

 

We stood, not too tall,

Our backs against the wall,

 

Parachutes above our heads,

Our eyes fighting thoughts of bed,

 

A disco ball stood sentry,

“Color My World” our port of entry,

 

We talked far too loud,

Our nascent thoughts, not out loud,

 

Chicago’s syrupy beat,

Hastened our leaded feat,

 

Our one and only chance,

“May I have this dance?”

 

Holding one another close,

A simple thing we wanted most,

 

The music cuts and dies,

We barely lift out eyes,

 

Boys to boys, girls to girls,

Our limited social whirl,

 

Curfew like a drum-beat,

Move us home on hastened feat.

 

An eternal beat.

A Collection of Short and Illustrated Thoughts #1

Posted in Photography, Self Portrait, Sherwood Forest, Uncategorized on April 22, 2012 by smpiv

I used to play tennis,

I was a fierce competitor and

Winning was everything.

I threw tantrums, I threw racquets and

Sometimes I cheated,

But I won.

I am civilized now,

But my game is way off.

Spooky and I used to collect golfballs in the woods

And sell them for pocket change.

I never played golf,

So I never lost any balls,

But I did lose Spooky.

He was hit by a train.

There are always paths in the woods.

I rarely used them.

There were more interesting ways to go.

I’m older now and I don’t wander off the beaten path much

Anymore.

I dread the day I don’t wander at all.

Nature was no foe, nor was it an ally.

It was something to be conquered and

What better way to leave a mark of conquest than

To etch your name on a tree?

The tree is still there,

Many of the conquerors are gone.

I always hiked in the woods.

There was always a bridge to cross,

A disfigured tree to examine,

A beehive to rouse.

I don’t wander the woods as much,

But I will never rouse another beehive.

This is what Mr. Dooley saw

When he took his grandchildren for a walk.

Mr. Dooley died yesterday of an embolism.

I never knew what an embolism was.

What will his grandchildren see?

My grandmother bought the house,

My mother grew up there,

I grew up there.

My grandmother died,

We sold the house and

The erosion continues.

The History of the Portrait Part I or The Exquisite Lie

Posted in August Sander, Chuck Close, Cindy Sherman, Diane Arbus, Larry Clark, Mongolian Ping Pong, Photography on April 15, 2012 by smpiv

The movie “Mongolian Ping Pong” begins with a Mongolian couple having their portraits taken with a backdrop of the Forbidden City with Mao’s portrait prominently displayed.  The couple is wearing pseudo-western clothing for their picture.

“1, 2, 3 click.  OK now the whole family,” says the photographer in Mongolian.

The husband quickly shucks his suit coat and dons his traditional garb.  His son joins the group with his goat; the grandmother joins the group and sits stoically center stage with serious coke bottle glasses.  The daughter joins the group with a portrait of their dead grandfather.  Mao remains looking over their shoulders.

“1, 2, 3 click,” says the photographer.

“OK, now me and my wife with the USA background,” intones the father and husband.

This entire sequence transpires in front of the backdrop.  After the family portrait the mother and wife moves beyond the backdrop to reveal the Mongolian steppe and its infinite horizon.

Where am I going with this? 

Well, as I watched this all unfold I thought back to my time as a baby photographer and the back and forth I would have with the customer. 

“Which background would you like?  The beach; the mountains; green, blue, what? Sitting, standing, the poser for the baby?”

That was the beginning of the intricate and complicated lie that surrounds and infuses a portrait.

At their simplest level portraits are records of the sitters’ appearance on a certain day and time.  Anyone who has visited an antique store has seen boxes of pictures taken years before of “instant relatives”.  Very few, if any of these pictures have the names of the sitters on the back.  Those that do are just as mysterious, because name or not we have no idea who they are.

But they took the time on that particular day and time to sit for a portrait that would reveal them to family and friends.  The sitter is then sucked into times undercurrent and anonymity for eternity in their corporeal state, but with the photograph a stare and gaze that looks far forward into the future.

Susan Sontag, Walter Benjamin and countless other photographic pundits have written concerning the power of the photograph at the picture plane, beyond the picture plan, and behind the picture plane.  And they would further postulate on the ability of an image to tell an exquisite lie.

Where am I going with this?

At our basest level we are all social liars.

We dress a certain way; we live in certain places; we do certain things all to project a certain image of who we think we are.  When we freeze this lie in a portrait we hope and fear that all our certainties are there in that two dimensional image.

August Sander photographed his fellow Germans before WWI and through WWII in an effort to capture all the types he felt made up German society.  The results of this effort are some truly beautiful portraits of people in any number of professions and walks of life.  Besides some portraits of well known artists, political figures and actors his sitters are anonymous.  Histories cleansing brush has removed their identities and painted them with a beauty that was never intended.

 

“Junger Soldat” (Young Soldier) is a perfect example of the exquisite lie.

This portrait, taken sometime in 1945, shows a fresh faced, well fed young man in a uniform that doesn’t look to far removed from the box.  Behind him is a bucolic farm scene.  His expression shows no fear of the possibilities his uniform offers him.  His placid expression shows no realization of the hell Germany was spiraling into as the German army collapsed into disarray before their final surrender on May 7th.

Did he survive?  Did he find himself behind Soviet lines or did he have the good fortune to surrender to an American or British unit?  We don’t know and to a certain extent it doesn’t matter for he chose to portray himself at this moment with an exquisite lie, leaving us to dig for the exquisite truth.  Or is it the other way around?

It is interesting to note that August Sander had a profound influence on Diane Arbus, who is sometimes more celebrated for committing suicide than for her work.  Her portrait work, like Sander, is a wonderful collection of the human condition.  Whereas Sander is relatively invisible in his imagery, Arbus, through several well studied biographies, is so infused into her work that it makes every move she made suspect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fine line between the subject and interpreter was beginning to blur.  Above is a self-portrait of Diane Arbus taken in 1945.  The same year as our well fed German soldier.

This blurring would be further realized by Cindy Sherman, Larry Clark, Chuck Close and others who would manipulate, not from the front of the picture plane but from behind.  It would be more of an Oz-like approach.

Does this make the images any less successful?  Not at all, just a different way to approach a subject and not letting the camera do all the work.

Where am I going with this?  Well at this point, I’m tired and I’m not sure, so I will wrap it up with my own exquisite lie.

This is my favorite portrait of my son and an exquisite lie.

So what is the exquisite truth?

It’s as formal as our fresh faced German soldier.  He appears to be in a uniform of sorts.  His gaze is firm and smile comfortable.  He projects a confidence that defies his nine years.

What it doesn’t say—without my input— was that he was dressed as closely to an eighteenth century youth as we could get him, in his mother’s blouse, a Wal-mart hat, and suspenders that will never be worn again.  He begrudgingly allowed me to photograph him in our backyard to commemorate the moment as only a parent would. 

But, for some reason, despite all the other issues that surrounded the moment, this portrait transcends the sitter, the photographer and the moment as most successful portraits do.

And that’s the truth.

A Short and Illustrated Thought #7

Posted in Brown Gates, Main Pier, Sherwood Forest, Smothers on April 14, 2012 by smpiv

I know the way

I’ve been this way many times

Baby feet, childish feet, a young man’s feet.

I know the way

Lightning bugs

Novas all

Light my way

Thanks to all, after all, I know the way

The wind rustles the leaves, which rustle the dark.

The dark rushes past as I run

It’s okay, I know the way.

One day I will come home on adult feet,

I don’t know when or for how long.

Smothers will let me through those Old Brown Gates,

Because God knows I know the way.

A Short and Illustrated Thought #6

Posted in Uncategorized on April 10, 2012 by smpiv

I didn’t win  the  lottery,

I know I never will.

My yacht is a dinghy,

My plane is a kite.

My riches are my family,

I need for nothing else.

I am a rich man.

A Short and Illustrated Thought #5

Posted in Uncategorized on April 10, 2012 by smpiv

I don’t remember what I thought about going off to school.

Can’t remember what I wore.

I was scared of my own shadow–that I remember.  My goal was invisibilty.

Yet I did my best to reveal myself Casper-like.  Unknown to but a few.

Min was unsure of Kindergarten.  His mom did her best to allay any of those fears.  Didn’t work.

But he didn’t hide. He can’t.

His beauty and empathy reveal him at every turn.

He’s meant to be noticed.