This morning saw a sudden change for Minneapolis, from bitter-cold and brown to nearly-temperate and blanketed in snow. Who's to argue with that?
Currently in Minneapolis, a place where my net connections are painfully poor and we needed a quick snap in square format today, for inclusion in the next edition of GPU Gems. Nothing like a 20-minute deadline and -3F weather with a -15F windchill to spur you :)
In preparation for the holidays I've been printing. It started with a few small prints, then I selected some wintery shots for printing at 12"x18", to be on the walls during the holidays and an upcoming holiday party. Then opened the cabinet to find some old prints, and.. at least five shopping trips for frames later, I'm still left with far more prints than frames, and even then more frames than wall space on which to hang them.
I hadn't been printing for a while. A sad side-effect of regularly posting photos to the web is that you lose touch with the idea of a physical picture. Having photos near one another on a wall is very different from seeing two web pages, or even photos paired on a single web page. Having a large photo in your hand, or a small one, is only superficially like having one under your mouse cursor.
As I intended to do before my last trip, I also renewed my relationship with 6x6, in the form of my old friend the Yashica-Mat. I've been using this camera since high school, it's been most everywhere and has even been home to an any colony. Still works like a champ and the negs have a depth that my DSLR just can't match. Sharpness maybe a tossup but the range of tonalities in the MF negative (or transparency, or even a scan) still can't be beaten by the digital camera not without a lot more effort anyway.
After a couple of weeks' struggle with Apache and EnSim the journal's active again (thanks Lynn for putting up with my many phone calls). By coincidence, I'd already started writing daily into a different journal a paper one. For all the value I get from my PDA, it's just plain rotten for writing. So I picked up a Moleskine notebook to carry. I can't buy into all that Hemingway and Andreé Breton marketing, but it's well-suited for what I wanted, a notebook to scribble thoughts in when they're fresh, not after hours when I have time for the blog. And thoughts that might never be in the blog while I'm at it. It's silent, instant-on, lightweight, durable. I'm almost tempted to just switch the blog over to scanned pages from it.
It's also a valid log book for shooting not a log of the state of my camera settings, which I dutifully record using GoPix. Instead, I can use it to log something more durably important the state of my self.
The long flights to and from Europe last week gave me a chance to catch up again on some of my reading. Some, at least. One of my burdens, literally at times, is a fondness for reading and the ability to read very fast so I end up carrying multiple books in my briefcase alongside the big Dell computer. Cab drivers and bellmen are always surprised when they discover my briefcase's weight (along with my suitcase, which is usually further loaded-up).
This trip saw me toting, besides the requisite city guide books, about a half-dozen recent magazine, Ekman's Emotions Revealed, Poore's Pictorial Composition and the Critical Judgement of Pictures, Berger's Ways of Seeing, and Almendros's Man with a Camera (movie camera, that is).
I'm now going into some long hours sitting around the Santa Clara courthouse, waiting for the bureaucratic mechanisms while I sit on a jury in San Jose. Ah, more reading time!
The Poore book is usually out of print these days, though it has been in regular service since its first edition in 1903 (later revisions include newer artists like John Marin). I sought it out after reading about it in a Michael Johnson interview with portraitist Patricia Dalzell in the UK Black and White magazine. Even less well-known than the book is the long-lost book series it began: Poore later added two more volumes, The Conception of Art (1913) and then much later Art Principles in Practice (1930). Both of the later books seem to have disappeared, but I managed to find copies in the old collection of the San Jose State Teachers' College (now absorbed by SJSU), where they've been resting since the 1950's.
I'm a sucker for old art-instruction books, and in many ways they are more illustrative of art history than writings specifically aimed as art history at least for me. While on my long layover in London I got a chance to briefly see a few of the lads from the streetphoto list (John, Jawed, Gary, and Sam) and the same subject came up from Sam that he enjoyed David Hockney's Secret Knowledge. I like it too, even if some of its premises are questioned or attacked. I like it because it is written from the point of view of a practitioner rather than an academic consumer.
(An aside on the Scientific American article: analysis of a van Eyck's painting doesn't tell the story of how the mental process of the painter may have changed based on exposure to optically-traced imagery. Even if it was not used directly on a particular work, the idea of what an optical image looks like can have a lasting and powerful impression on the internal, mind's eye of an artist)
In the talks I've given for NVIDIA, I've often mentioned a fact that is likewise is mentioned by Hockney the sudden appearance, a bit before 1500AD, of well-defined shadow in painting, quickly leading to full-on chiaroscuro and the Caravaggistes. Whether you agree with Hockney's optical assertions or not is immaterial on the point that at that time in history, Western painting clearly changed not just in visual styling or "look," but also, one way or another, in the execution-related mental processes of the artists and the physical tasks that lead up to setting color to canvas with paint.
Ben Lifson was at probably the one who started me on reading older art books, in his recommendation of Wolfflin’s turn-of-the-century Drawings of Albrecht Dürer and then John Ruskin's The Laws of Fesole and the Delacroix Journals. Now, the Poore.
As I read these I naturally ask myself: is my interest in these works revealing (or creating) in myself a hopelessly-regressive, conservative aethestic? Could be, though I have my doubts, if only because I read everything: from Wolfgang Tillmans vague mumbling to the self-important declarations of William Mortenson (e.g. "one must always light from the front").
I find Poore fascinating in his analysis of the art he understands, and he's able to see past it in the 1913 book he cautiously embraces Cubism and even the boisterous Futurism (of "the Futurist": "we would rather see him than hear him" heh). His view is lenient, ready, and even eager to welcome the Next Big Thing. While the Art World of today is so narcisstically involved in convincing itself that everything it does is New in a haughty, dismissive way that claims to supercede the past while at the same time longing for the past's authority, when I see through Poor'es looking-glass over the principles and methods and practices of the past I get the strong impression not of Great Revolution through the past century (as we were relentlessly taught at CalArts) but of mere fluttering changes in fashion set against a long and largely continuous history. Poore closes The Conception of Art by quoting Edmond Gosse:
Before my tale of days is told
Oh may I watch, on reverent knees,
The 'Unknown Beauty' once unfold
The magic of her mysteries!
New arts, new raptures, new desires
Will stir the new-born souls of men;
New fingers smite new-fashioned lyres
And O, may I be listening then.
Shall I reject the green and rose
Of opals with their shifting flame,
Because the classic diamond glows
With luster that is still the same?
Change is the pulse of life on earth;
The artist dies, but Art lives on.
New rhapsodies are ripe for birth
When every rhapsodist seems gone.
So to my day's extremity,
May I in patience infinite
Attend the beauty that must be
And, though it slay me, welcome it.