Archive for the Corcoran School of Art Category

The History of Photography Part Four or The Blue Jacket with the Red Stripe.

Posted in Architecture, Corcoran School of Art, Madrid, Photography, Spain, The Prado, Uncategorized on March 13, 2012 by smpiv

The funny thing about blogging is that I’ve written far more blogs in my head in anticipation of writing a blog than I have actually written.

I’ve started many and they sit in my blog file awaiting an inspiration that will finish them or that finishes them off.

Many I’ve started thinking I’m onto something interesting only to have them die a paragraph to five hundred words later.  Some of my best—to my way of thinking—just come out as fingers hit keys.  Some I’ve posted despite knowing there are some rough patches and transitions within them, but the overall nugget is good.

The same thing happens when I take pictures.

I’ve been at photography, now, a long time and I still, rarely, know when I’ve gotten a good shot.  Quite often I’ll make the discovery during the editing process.  For that reason I have saved every digital capture I’ve made—over 100,000 at this point.

Like any photographer worth their salt, my best shots are surrounded by cast offs.  The wonder of a truly

A great image within anyone’s pantheon is a rare and wonderful thing.

And it’s even rarer when a number of shots come out in the same shoot.

I am now going to put my neck out there and look over a few shots I took over the period of a week while Lisa, Min and I were in Madrid a few years ago.  Nearly all are of Min—baby-bore I know—but what I think separates these shots is that they are of a child who is seeing himself for the first time and his world around him.  For that reason they transcend the family snapshot and, obviously, you are welcome to disagree.

The first shot is not one of them, but a grab shot of a person I didn’t recognize as my little boy–the one who talked endlessly to his stuffed rabbit Bun Bun–but a seasoned traveler, not a six year old boy.  A six year old boy who would come in and out of focus over the following week.

Madrid is a city full of graffiti.  And It seemed that unlike many cities that make efforts to clean graffiti it is a city that lets it be.  I’m not sure if this an appreciation for and hopes of fostering another Jean-Michel Basquiat or not, but it was everywhere.

There is something compelling about Min’s slightly blurred figure, his eyes looking past and somewhat startled look that juxtaposes nicely with FEAR.  It has long transcended the moment, because I have long forgotten where we were in the city, but I come back to this shot time and again.

It set the tone for what would come later in the trip and began the thread of a little boy who was widening his world view.

Our hotel was close by this building that was half of a set, the other out of frame leaning in on the other side of the street.  The both of them evidence of the horrors that architects can create with too much leeway.

Min could care less, but within this stare, this giving to a pesky photographer father is as much questioning in that fraction of a second that I could look forward too later.

This is a shot that I like more and more.  Again, the distant stare with the upturned hands and questioning eyes.  Mother is close by, but separated nicely by distance and the knife edge of the building in the background.

Min as a youngster was wise beyond his years and, although, my guess is that he’s thinking about something to do with Thomas the Tank Engine it’s with an intensity that serves him well.

This is a square that I was certain I had visited with my Mother and Brother years before when I was the same age as Min is in this picture.  Come to find out we never went to Madrid.

Again the confident pose of a boy who is certain of himself and baring that that his father would take care of him.

I love the layering in this shot—the ill defined man in the blue t, the man to the right glancing back and the pack of three women.  Min sits on top of it all with the same uncertain look he had in FEAR.  He is amongst these people, but not quite ready to join in.

Earlier as we set out for the Prado we arrived at the top of the escalator from the subway.  I looked around to get my bearings when Min chirped in.

“Dad, hold it.  Let me get my compass out and I’ll find out which way to go.”

I didn’t mind because I truthfully didn’t quite know where I was, so any input would be nice.

He looked intently at the compass that didn’t even work and confidently said, “It’s this way.”

What the hell, couldn’t be any worse than my plan and damned if we didn’t walk straight to the museum.

In this shot he is again intent on his bearings, holding his hand steady to be sure of his readings.

He’s always had that steadiness.

Without doubt, this is one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken.

Min impatiently spreads his fingers being grasped by his mother.  Lisa’s look is one of absolute love and adoration for this child we have been given the honored task of rearing.

I look at this shot and see everything that I was taught in the Foundations program at the Corcoran so many years before.  The dark to light diagonal, the tension in the hands, the triangulation of the composition—two chairs, the couple in the tiles and Lisa and Min in the foreground.

Both Lisa and Min pack clothes and toys away for Min’s children and I often wonder if the blue jacket with the red stripe we see in just about every picture here is one of the pieces of clothing that has been packed away.  Maybe I should ask.

But, I suppose it doesn’t really matter because I have enshrined it in these images of a resolute six year old that was making his way out of his insular world and into the bigger one.  Fortunately he still has a ways to go but I was there for one of his first forays beyond himself.

God, I wish it would all slow down.


The History of Creativity Part I or Men in Black

Posted in Architecture, Art, Capitol, Corcoran School of Art, House Post Office, Longworth Building, Photography, VCU on November 16, 2011 by smpiv


I’ve written this one in my head any number of times.  I’ve written it in my head going south on the NJTP.  I’ve
written it in my head going north through Scranton.  I stopped writing it in my head when I realized I was on 87 vs. 287 and had to be sure I didn’t miss the Cross Bronx.

I thought that I would throw a lot of art history at it and go through some long winded dissertation on the state of art over the last two hundred years, but……

Am I creative?

Well I don’t know, but I think I’ll tell what it means to be creative to me-my own little story.

I build things.  Always have.  I disappear into my creations, I mean way gone.  Models, forts, rubber band guns, rebuilding my bike–anything with my hands.

I’m a perfectionist.  So much so that if it isn’t right–just right–I’ll destroy it.

In a nutshell I am both a creator and a destroyer.  I’ve always had that; it just took time to make it work for me.

I would love to say that I was repressed, that others held me back from my passion, that no one recognized my
genius, but until I was twenty three years old, there was nothing to repress, held back or recognized.  I was your
average, aimless young man.

Most Likely to _________?  I was most likely to do what?  I was so ill defined I didn’t have a clue what I would like to do.  Like most people, I had a long list of things I didn’t want to do, but no real handle on what I could do.

It wasn’t until I was twenty three that I made a move that was of my own volition and desire.

Family, friends and strangers had long said I had an artistic bent and, in truth, through my humility I thought  they might just be right, but I didn’t know what to do with it.

My work history following graduating from college was sketchy at best.  Through the lens of a poor economy and no discernable talent I went from one minor job to another.  A short—eight days—stint in the military would have given me a good foothold into the working world.  However it was there that I made my first Big-boy decision—a career in the Navy Supply Corps was not what I wanted to do with my life.  I dis-enrolled (DE’d in military parlance).

A brief career as a baby photographer (six months) was a first step toward my future—a horrid experience on the whole, but I had a knack for the photographic aspect of the job.

And then one of those odd jobs that leveraged it all—the House Post Office, pitching and delivering mail.  Such a mindless position that I had more than ample time to think about things.  What to watch on TV, what to have for dinner that night, oh and what to do with the rest of my life.

I was living the single DC life in Silver Spring, Maryland, just where East West Highway makes a hoop-di-doo to
avoid going through DC.  It was a short walk to the Metro that took me to the House Post Office in the Longworth Building and then, later, to the Crypt in the Capitol Building.

I don’t remember the particulars, but I do remember my friend David Barnes convincing me to put together a
portfolio of my photographs, drawings and doodles and apply to the Corcoran School of Art.  He was one of those people who told me I had a talent, maybe not a gift, but at least a talent.  He was big into penny-stocks, so he was used to betting on long-shots, but it was enough to motivate me.

And damn if they didn’t accept my application.  I was thrilled for a day or two, and then horrified that perhaps they didn’t look closely enough at my work and had made some egregious error.

I was convinced before I got there that I would be surrounded by young da Vincis, Picassos, et al.  At twenty three I was the old man in the program and probably more nervous than I would have been had I been seventeen.  As it turned out I had more talent in my pinky than most of these darkly dressed pretenders.

As an aside, our culture has this misconception that if you are antisocial, quirky, gay or can’t match your socks
that you must have a creative disposition; that you must need an outlet; that your “problem” can’t be discerned by inkblots, but by creating them.  For this reason I wasn’t surrounded by the aforementioned artists, but by a motley collection of antisocial, quirky, gay, and non-sock-matching people with varying levels of talent.

Just for clarity, except for the gay part, I was a high functioning antisocial, quirky, and non-sock-matching member of the group.  I blame my inability to match socks on my color blindness.

My point is that creativity has no recognizable look.

But there I was, a pig-in-shit.  The Foundations program was one of my more lucent periods.  It was a
moment in my life when my skipping stone touched down.  Everything was fresh and new.  Everything I had imagined I could do with a blank piece of paper, a blank canvas, a piece of clay was all put before me.  It was a door unlocked.

I had entered the program with all intention to continue with photography, but as one new media after another
presented itself I wasn’t so sure.

My walks from the Corcoran to the crypt in the Capitol Building usually included a stop at the East Wing, the Hirshhorn, the Renwick, the Air and Space, the Museum of American Art and the Portrait Gallery—obviously depending on the day, but to that point and since had never spent so much time in art galleries and museums.  Their creative collections are immense and they were washing over me.  It was daunting and inspiring.

While I was at the Corcoran, and later at VCU, I never called myself an artist, but when asked I said I went to art school.  Most of my friends referred to themselves as artists right off the bat.  I had no such pretension.  In a lot of ways I still don’t.

So what does it mean to be creative? I still don’t know. I am now an architect—come to by a very roundabout route, but one that has taken every creative instinct that I’ve had and put it to use.  I think what I’ve done is best summed up by the notion of the creative instinct.

Like any animal that works on instinct I have very little to explain the whys, whats, and wherefores.  So sadly I can’t tell what creativity is or where it comes from.  For me twenty-three was the year I woke up, took my life into my own hands, for better or for worse and walked down my own creative path.   And it is fortunate that I have creative outlets for I could very easily live in my own head at a greater distance than I already am.

So there you have it.  Probably an unsat answer, but at least what it means to be creative to me.