An ordinary person's thoughts on the complexities of art & life ...

An ordinary person's thoughts on the complexities of life ... or just ramblings from the mind of a working Mum with far too little time to think!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Source of Inspiration

I am often asked about the source of my inspiration, particularly with my photography. I recently saw the film 'Invictus', the true story of how Nelson Mandela, the then President of South Africa, used the universal language of sport to unite his racially divided country in the wake of apartheid. The film so eloquently portrays how Mandela's wisdom and persistence with reconciliation kept his country from descending into racial warfare after the end of apartheid in the early 1990's.
I grew up in South Africa during the reign of apartheid, and though I left the country long before Nelson Mandela was released from his 27 year political imprisonment in isolation and hard labour, I knew even then that South Africa had two precious commodities  - gold and Nelson Mandela. In 1990 on the day he was finally released, I watched excitedly with the world as he emerged from that prison and walked his first steps into freedom. I could not believe that his dignity, his principles, his belief, his spirit and his humanity was still intact and that he could be so forgiving of his captors. When asked what he missed most while in prison, he replied that it was hearing the sounds of laughing children.
When I look out over the magnificent Pacific ocean, so close to my home, and lift my camera to try to capture something of it's awe-inspiring beauty, or peer into the secret world of flowers with my macro lens, I often think of Nelson Mandela and how deprived he must have felt to have spent so much of his life imprisoned within the four walls of that tiny concrete cell. Freedom for him came at an astronomical price.
In his autobiography, 'Long Walk to Freedom', Mandela declared, "I was not born with a hunger to be free. I was born free. Free in every way that I could know.  Free to run in the fields near my mother's hut, free to swim in the clear stream that ran through my village, free to roast mealies under the stars ... It was only when I learnt that my boyhood freedom was an illusion ... that I began to hunger for it."
I still have a portrait of the great man in my office. It reminds me that changing the world can start with a single person and it inspires me to try. If you need some inspiration in your life, go and see the film 'Invictus' or borrow a copy of 'Long Walk to Freedom'. It will inspire you to greater things!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How to be an Artist

I found this bit of wisdom today. Someone sent it to me. Apparently it is written on a sign at a gallery somewhere in the world. I had to pass it on as it is such great advice for all of us!

~ How to be an Artist ~

Stay loose. Learn to watch snails. Plant impossible gardens. Invite someone dangerous to tea. Make little signs that say Yes! and post them all over your house. Make friends with freedom and uncertainty. Look forward to dreams. Cry during movies. Swing as high as you can on a swingset, by moonlight. Refuse to "be responsible". Do it for love. Take lots of naps. Give money away. Do it now. The money will follow. Believe in magic. Laugh a lot. Celebrate every gorgeous moment. Take moonbaths. Have wild imaginings, transformative dreams, and perfect calm. Draw on the walls. Read everyday. Imagine yourself magical. Giggle with children. Listen to old people. Open up. Dive in. Be free. Drive away fear. Play with everything. Entertain your inner child. You are innocent. Build a fort with blankets. Get wet. Hug trees. Write love letters. Believe.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

When in Rome ....

"A man who has not been to Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see." ~ Samuel Johnson.
Visiting Rome was one of the most memorable experiences of my life with my camera! Having just had 7 magical days in Venice, I thought I had experienced the best of Italy. How wrong I was! Rome was mind-blowing. From just stepping out of my taxi the evening I arrived onto the ancient cobblestone streets and heading off for a walk around the vicinity of my apartment, I was hooked. Two blocks and around a corner ... and suddenly out of the light evening drizzle materialised the Pantheon, its ancient marble columns framing the welcoming light inside, the coloured umbrellas of milling tourists bringing a whimsical look to this ancient architectural wonder.

The next morning, after a leisurely expresso in an unassuming sidewalk cafe, possibly one of the best I have ever had, we decided to walk from our apartment in Piazza Navona to the Colosseum, taking in the sights of Rome from the top of the Vittorio Emanuele 11 Monument on the way. It was a glorious day for taking photographs and I must have taken hundreds that day. Everywhere I turned was another intricate stone column, breathtaking cathedral or historically significant fountain or statue.

And that is how it continued for the next few days. I was overawed at my first sighting of the Colosseum, possibly the most impressive building, and definitely the most identifiable landmark of the Roman Empire.  Standing inside this imposing structure, it was hard to believe that it is just the skeleton of what was once the greatest arena in the ancient world.  

Vatican City was equally impressive. From the baroque Saint Peter's Basilica with its precious sites containing some of the world's most famous artworks to the Vatican Palaces and Museums housing collections of art unsurpassed anywhere in the world, I was totally overwhelmed. Reviewing my many photographs after my return, I could still smell and feel those old cobblestone streets and see the light illuminating the intricate colours and patterns of the stained glass prevalent in all the magnificent cathedrals. I wanted to keep the experience alive, at least until I could get back again, and I wanted to share the splendour of Rome through my eyes with my children, so I put together "Eight Days in Italy - A photographic journey through Venice, Milan and Rome".

So much beauty, so much history, so much wisdom, so much soul! As Fanny Burney so eloquently puts it, "Travelling is the ruin of all happiness! There is no looking at a building after seeing Italy!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Baltic city of Tallinn in focus

I visited Tallin, the capital city and 'jewel' of Estonia - the smallest of the Baltic countries - last January just after a cold spell had been through the country. When we arrived, the freezing weather had warmed up to a  pleasant 4 degrees with light feathery snow, a perfect magical night. Looking out over the towers and spires of the medieval city from my hotel window, I was transported back to my childhood. The scene in front of me was the fairyland of my imagination all those years ago.
Tallinn is an incredibly beautiful city and a veritable paradise for photographers. It's architecture will take your breath away! The cobbled streets and completely preserved 14th century buildings exist amongst atmospheric cafes, restaurants and clubs, galleries, historic churches, scenic ruins and five star hotels. After 4 days spent exploring this amazing city with my camera, I had a hard time escaping it's undeniable allure and boarding the ferry to Helsinki!

Monday, February 15, 2010

On photographing people

There was a noted French Photographer, Robert Doisneau (1912-1994), who made masterpieces out of capturing the 'ordinary gestures of ordinary people in ordinary situations'. His work could be playful and almost comical, excruciatingly personal, electrifying, joyful and comforting - sometimes all at the same time. He felt that there was always something happening to someone around him in everyday life that was worth photographing. He said of his work, "I never noticed time passing, I was too taken up with the spectacle afforded by my contemporaries, that gratuitous, never-ending show for which no ticket is needed, and when the occasion arose, I offered them, in passing, the ephemeral solace of an image."

Like Doisneau, I believe the best portraits of people are achieved when they are not aware of the camera, when they are involved in a conversation, an activity, or deep in thought and in surroundings which are completely part of their normal lives, bathed in natural light. Yet so often we persist with the formal portrait photographs, hoping to immortalise ourselves or our children in that one moment of time in a studio, and all too often the resulting portraits are soulless and staged. 
From experience, I have learned that the best time to take portraits are the days when simply looking through the lens of my camera feels like I am doing what I love most and somehow the images from that day are exactly what I want them to be.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Impressionist-inspired Photography

Monet's Garden

Everyone always asks what genre of photography I enjoy most. Without a doubt, it's the more creative side of art photography - abstract but still based on real subjects - what I refer to as impressionist-inspired photography. I am a photography purist and cannot bring myself to get acquainted with Photoshop or any other digital editing program, other than to adjust contrast and exposure a little after the image has been taken. The challenge for me is to see the interplay of light, colour and texture in life and then capture it with my camera. For my impressionist-inspired works I usually use a shallow depth of field and get in close with a macro lens. This gives a wonderful soft edge to the overlapping colours and textures, almost like they are dissolving into one another. Getting the light just right through the lens is crucial in giving me the captured image that I see in my mind.
Claude Monet dissolved familiar forms into shifting veils of blue, green, rose and violet to produce his most famous paintings. He loved the fog that often veiled the city of London where he spent many years, and said: "Without the fog London wouldn't be a beautiful city. It's the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth."
Like Monet and other impressionist era painters, I love the fugitive effects of changing light and atmospheres. The challenge of getting it perfect by eye is what inspires me to be a better photographer.

Agapanthus Ballet

Friday, February 12, 2010

The allure of black and white photography

Black and white photography is currently enjoying a welcome revival as more and more digital photographers are discovering the magic and allure, and indeed the timelessness, of black and white images.
Without the distraction of colour, capturing the light perfectly plays an even more crucial role and is the difference between beautiful eye-catching photographs and dark, dull and washed out images.
Black and white photographs look amazing displayed large on the walls of homes and businesses. It is an extremely effective way to bring a space to life and goes well with most decor styles, especially the modern, sophisticated trend of the moment.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Art in the Kitchen

I seldom see wall art displayed in kitchens, yet it is the easiest and most effective way to bring life to that space where we spend such a large part of our lives. I have always had art in the kitchen. I purchased six silver square framed photographic prints of macro aspects of Australian landscapes by Australian Photographer Ken Duncan quite a few years ago to hang in my stainless steel and marble kitchen. They looked fantastic!
Two years ago, my husband pulled them down, removed the photographs and laid the frames out on the kitchen bench, instructing me to put my own photographs into the frames! He wanted more colour in the kitchen and seeing as I was an art photographer selling art into everyone else's homes, he felt strongly that we should have some of my art in our home.
I could not decide what images to use so decided that vibrant, happy colour was what was paramount and selected six eclectic and very different images. It's amazing how these six photographs changed the whole mood of my kitchen. And I have spent the last two years filling orders from friends and clients who visit my home for the same six images for their kitchens!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The ability of my children to cut through the padding and find the essence of something constantly amazes me. It seems as we move through life, we get so side-tracked by all the information and experience we collect along the way, that we lose that ability.
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Our brains on music

I read a fascinating book on the beautiful mystery that is music and the brain. It is a book recommended by the New York Times, "This is your brain on music - the science of a human obsession" by the Neuroscientist, Dr Daniel Levitin ~ truly a mind-opening read!

Why humans love music and can express so much through music has always baffled scientists. Some argue that music is nothing more than an accident of evolution. Others believe there is a direct correlation between exposure to music and increased performance of the brain. One such theory that I read about recently, but cannot remember the source, is that the right music can move the body into alpha waves which puts the two hemispheres of the brain into sync. Research shows that listening to music co-ordinates more disparate parts of the brain than almost anything else - and playing music, even more. Many people now believe that music training improves the memory of young children and that early exposure to music and art definitely enhances development of their young brains.
So, does music, and art, have a measurable impact on our brains? Can music help to develop our brains as well as have a calming, almost regenerative affect when we are stressed and anxious? Should we expose our babies to all genres of music right from conception?
Fantasia, the Disney movie, illustrates how inanimate objects come to life to music. It's a cartoon that so many of us have loved and continue to love, but researchers are now seriously looking at the use of music therapy to animate the brains of those who suffer from autism, anxiety, depression and a host of other conditions.
The author of this book is a performing jazz musician as well as a neuroscientist and his book echoes the marriage of science and art in his life. I have a young daughter who has always had music in her head. She sang before she could speak and moved to any rhythm she could hear. She begged to learn to play the piano and when she first heard the voice-like sounds of a cello at the age of 6, she knew it was what she wanted to play. When she puts the bow on the strings, it is almost as though she turns a switch which transports her feelings and emotions to the cello. She cannot envisage a life without music ~ and when I watch her play, I can believe that music really does animate our brains.

On Fine Art Photography

What is fine art photography?
Is it about about experimentation and taking risks with images?
About being open to anything and everything?
Is it about creating works that make people think?
To present the ordinary in an extraordinary way?

Or is it merely a Photographer's selfish indulgence ~ as Wikipedia so eloquently states; "Fine art photography refers to photographs that are created to fulfill the creative vision of the artist"?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Launch of the Endeavour

Early yesterday morning, 8 February, NASA's space shuttle, the Endeavour was launched successfully into space after a delay of 24 hours due to bad weather conditions from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral. Since the Columbia shuttle tragedy in 2003, I breathe a huge sigh of relief at the news of each safe launch and landing.
I have always been fascinated by space and our human efforts to understand what is out there. I visited the Kennedy Space Centre for the first time a few years ago and stood out in the icy wind coming off the Atlantic Ocean and imagined what it would be like to witness the spectacular power of a lift-off. Last September, I visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington DC and the Steven Udvar-Hazy Centre in Virginia. There, I photographed the centrepiece of the Space Hangar, the magnificent space shuttle Enterprise, the symbol of mankind's goal to explore strange new worlds and go where no-one has gone before.

Savour the moment

Rushing out the door yesterday morning, something caught my eye. I glanced back and saw our 10 week old Burmese kitten sitting on top of the grand piano waving his little arm at me as if beckoning me over. I thought to myself, "Wow, what a great portrait - the light in his eyes is just perfect!" and turned back to get out the door. Something made me stop and I dumped everything I was carrying and ran to my office to get my camera. When I got back the kitten was posing patiently, waiting for me to take the portrait. I snapped the shot - only one - and rushed out the door. Later, anxious to see if I managed to capture that moment, I downloaded it onto my computer. Perfect! A real lesson for me to take the time to smell the flowers! I am always so busy rushing around from one thing to another that I never stop to savour the moment. And it is those very fleeting moments of beauty that are impossible to recapture.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reality unveiled or distorted?

The idea of abstraction has changed the way we view the world through the medium of art. Abstract art is defined as art that has no reference to any figurative reality. In practice though, abstraction must surely start with an aspect of reality. Pablo Picasso famously said in 1935, "There is no abstract art: you must always start with something."
In general, it seems that artists see abstraction as a way of depicting the underlying essence of a subject, leading to the idea of abstract expressionism where the life energy and emotion of the artist is depicted in their art.
Abstract art has always polarised people. We either love it and see great meaning in the shapes, colours and textures, or we find it meaningless and chaotic. It is however, impossible to view abstract art and see the world in the same way as before.

Art to brighten your day

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Is Photography an art?

I had an interesting discussion recently with a colleague on the legitimacy of photography as an art. His opinion was that photography is merely a record of an object or person at a specific moment in time and that people buy and display photographs to remember that particular significant moment.
It does seem that way with the accessibility of the digital point-and-shoot cameras. Photography has become a way of life, practiced by the masses - almost a social rite. Every meaningful moment is now memorialised by a photograph and some day soon, every man, woman and child will own a digital camera. Taking photographs give people a perceived ownership of a past that is transient, a kind of security about who they are in relation to the enormity of time.
I believe that photography can be an art. Fine Art Photographers are animated by a passion to communicate what they see as the essence of the subject they are photographing. Dingy, graffiti-filled alleyways and industrial landscapes are as beautiful through the Fine Art Photographer's lens, as an inspiring oceanscape or pastoral scene.
To me, the lure of photography as art is that photographs offer a view of the artist's relationship with the real world and his/her uniquely original interpretation of that relationship. And as a photograph is a capture of a real moment in time, it can also be a transformation of that moment with added clarity. Art Photography, as with all other forms of artistic expression, must move one on a visceral level or it remains just a record of a moment in time.
As John Ruskin, the 19th century Art Critic, so eloquently put it, "Fine Art is that in which the hand, the head and the heart of man go together."

Chance Encounter

Met a Spanish gentleman today who makes a habit of greeting everyone he comes across with great gusto and is amused by the reactions of most people to his obvious invitation of friendship. He believes it takes very little to greet people rather than just to nod or pass them by. It is something which so many people, including myself, often forget to do.
I really like his outlook on life ~ very positive, very sure of who he is and what the purpose of his life is. He handed out many pearls of wisdom in my short encounter with him this morning, making me think quite differently about things!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mangrove Shadows

Smetana - symphonic dances

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Interesting Client order

I have an interesting art request. A Psychologist is revamping her practice and has ordered five very large framed fine art prints in very odd sizes to fit the walls in the room and tone in with her new black and white marble floors. She roamed my gallery and has chosen some of my favourite images from Venice and Rome, taken on my travels through Europe with a small, lightweight Nikon camera. Enlarging these particular images to the odd sizes required has been quite challenging, however with the help of my very knowledgeable Printer/Framer, Mark de Calmer, we have produced a very exciting result.

The first of these images is a statue of a marble angel taken in very low light inside the magnificent Pantheon in Rome. It is one of my favourite images - I stood and stared at this angel for ages when I first saw the statue bathed in a very soft wash of light. I wanted to capture the innocence and beauty that the soft end-of-day light reflected onto the statue. I only had my lightweight Nikon camera, no tripod and did not want to use any flash. And, there were so many people there! As soon as there was a break in the crowd, I grabbed the opportunity, focused and stopped breathing while my camera seemed to take forever to take the shot. I only had the time for one shot - and luckily it worked!

The second image is a black & white shot of a beautiful old church, the Chiesa della Pieta, along the Grand Canal in Venice. It was love at the first glimpse of this elegant building, especially when a local Venetian spotted my interest and told me that composer and violinist Antonio Vivaldi used to visit this church regularly.

The third image is a view of the Trevi fountain in Rome, the stone newly cleaned and with sparkling, clear blue water - again a favourite spot of mine.

The last image takes us to Queensland in Australia and is an abstract shot of mangroves and their reflections.

The allure of light

How do you adequately describe the way the light catches a subject at a particular moment in time? I could speak about shape, texture, line, form, colour and composition but in the end they are merely words. Art should be allowed to speak for itself! Perhaps that's why I love those magnificent coffee table photobooks - full of images which leave the words to my imagination.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

To collect photographs is to collect the world

"To collect photographs is to collect the world." I have just been reading Susan Sontag's book, ON PHOTOGRAPHY - a fascinating read. She says, "Movies and television light up walls, flicker, and go out; but with still photographs the image is also an object, light-weight.... easy to accumulate, store."