30 September, 2020

Orange Haze

A gentle giant rumbled in the sky
In older times, when weather was a friend
With eyes shut tight, I'd feel the wind drift by
But patterns, large and small, began to bend

I grew up in the midwest, and it's a place that leaves an impression on you. Winters were cold. Summers were warm. Fall was the browns, oranges, and ochres of falling leaves and pine needles. And springs were the green and the crisp, bright sunlight that promised the start of the next cycle.

It rarely just rained. More typically, there was rain with a deep, rolling, distant reverberation of thunder, at times interspersed with a sharper, but still amicable sound of nearer thunderclaps. It wasn't a crack, so much as the sound of tearing a giant piece of paper, as the vibrations continue to echo through the material itself.

Those were the days when "go inside when it's lightning outside" was something that adults said, and that you did because you were told; not because you actually understood what could happen.

Sometimes, during the perfect thunderstorm, the gentle, humid breeze would feel so wonderful amidst the chorus of pitter-patters emanating from the raindrops landing all around you…

31 August, 2020

[Doc Diaries] Photographing Art: Texture

One of my favorite challenges in photography is finding ways to represent experiences, and sentiments, that aren't just visual. Like, "how do I convey the scent of a field of grass, moments after a long-awaited rain?" Or the sound of the whistling wind, whipping through a barren midnight city street during a winter snow storm? The tart taste of a tantalizing, freshly-plucked tangerine? Or maybe it's a feeling, like the wistful sorrow of celebrating love, even as you let it go.

But you can break it down further, can't you? What about touch? You could show the dull glow of a piece of glass that looks friendly enough, but will bite you with a searing heat if you get too close. The shivering cold stillness of watching the sun set over an ocean beach, having forgotten to wear a jacket but too transfixed to do anything about it now. Or what about the smooth, polished texture of a rapidly-shrinking cube of ice, swirling and bobbing in a cup of tea?

Texture's an interesting one… Of course the key to representing any of these feelings is to reference something the viewer already knows, right? To show something so innately familiar that the feeling, or the sentiment, emerges anew from the viewer's own thoughts and feelings and memories.

But texture is interesting. It is, in many ways, the most visual of the non-visual senses. As humans, the idea of seeing a surface or a material and making inferences about how it might feel is second-nature. This one looks pointy. That one looks slippery. Better not fall over there or you'll scrape a knee… The connection from vision to a sense of texture is surprisingly direct.

31 July, 2020

Wherefore art thou, bilge pump salesman?

What is art?

Sometimes, that question leads you on a deeply philosophical journey about things like historical and contemporary context. There's often some commentary about producing work that appeals to the masses, versus doing art for its own sake, and allowing (or helping) the right audience to find it. You'll also typically find some hand-wringing about skill versus luck, and artistic intent versus pure chance.

To be clear, I've had those conversations. I've dived head-first into those philosophical journeys (sometimes even on this blog, like this or this or this). And the constant tensions between popularity and individuality, and between intent and chance, are tensions that I feel every single day.

But sometimes, you sit down, and are greeted by your presenter for the evening, Joshua J. Ladgrove. Sometimes the presenter gets things moving by squeezing some toothpaste onto a banana, eating that banana with the peel on, and then chugging some Listerine, and that's when you know you're in for a wild-ass ride.

Sometimes, you only recognize art in hindsight.

30 June, 2020

[Doc Diaries] The Truth and Beauty of Diversity

I mentioned last time that Singapore's "gleaming architecture, wondrous glass-covered skyscrapers, and spotless streets" felt as if they were devoid of humanity. When I got to downtown Melbourne, I again found myself surrounded by towers of metal and glass. But… this time it was different. This time, I could admire the dazzling architecture without feeling like I was losing my grip on reality. I could look up, but still feel my feet on the ground.

I'm still not entirely sure why, but I think it has a lot to do with space, and I think it has a lot to do with utility. Let me try to explain what I saw, and what I felt.

A bunch of the architecture in Singapore was exquisitely designed, but it felt so special as to seem otherworldly. Out-of-place. It felt like a mystical wonderland that you would visit, but that didn't seem to have as much connection with where and how people actually lived. You would look around, and you would see works of art that placed form before function, even though they did still function.

When I looked towards the sky in the Melbourne central business district (CBD; basically, "downtown"), the trappings of everyday life remained in view. And they fit into the place. The angles of the street lamp fixtures matched the angular design of the buildings. The towering heights of the skyscrapers were echoed in the way that the netting of a play area also reached towards the sky. It felt like design was… an everyday thing. Like the difference between a beautiful sculpture and a nicely sculpted fork. They might both be works of art, but you observe one from afar, and you use the other one every single day.