"What would you think if I sang out of tune," asked Ringo back in the day. He wondered if his audience would "stand up and walk out on him"? Behind his query is the riddle whose solve continues to elude so many of us who set out to express ourselves creatively. Adoration and perfection... hindrances which drain much of the magic from the beauty we might express. How might we make them less mighty?
My experience has been that there's a powerful creative reset at hand in the ongoing act of reconnecting to those motivations for taking our voice to the microphone, the pastels to the textured surface... our eye to the viewfinder. I do so periodically by unplugging and drilling down, truthfully on WHY it is that I make these images. WHY it is that I take a pen to the page to set these pictures to poetic verse? It's an exercise rich in return and an opportunity to both recall and re-order my purposes. In getting quiet with this question of WHY, my list generally resembles something like this...
If approached (care)freely, a list as this should build (and order) itself fairly effortlessly. Such an account will be (and should be) unique, for each of us. However, motivations such as my Number 5, will to some degree likely be a given for all. It's a reality not to be excluded, but rather dimmed. Despite our best attempts, forever there simmers some concern for how others may react and receive our imperfect artistic expression. The question becomes, how much weight do we allow it to seize? Regular visits to such probes present golden opportunities for reclaiming our motivation and shifting back to truth as the driving factor in our creative process.
When I downgrade the "riddle" to the bottom of my list, I cut off a bit of the clench the applause factor holds on the work that I make. In a gesture of pause to consider the hierarchy of my purposes, well before the click of my shutter, often a quiet recalibration happens. Of course ongoing practice is essential in order to build some muscle memory around this recall. And, despite my efforts, many days I find my list going straight out the window as I lunge forward in a fog of outside influences. But some days... some days I remember, and when I do my "verses" are just a bit truer.
Back to the Ringo question... Lucky for us, he sang out his tune, and of course, we know how that plot unfolded!
In the midst of the world's chaos and our collective interior tumult, "good morning", a customary pleasantry, remains in wide release along my daily walks in the rising sun. Especially in these past several months, as I both receive and return the greeting, it triggers for me an internal inquiry... Is it so? If not, don't I have some say to, at the very least, make it so?
"Wherever your mind finds satisfaction...
there is your meditation."
On the days when I am able to get fully present with the concept of "good morning", I make my way to my camera. These courtships, without fail, upgrade the tenor of not only my mornings, but often my afternoons and evenings as well. Among the dividends they pay me personally are breathing lessons. "Wherever your mind finds satisfaction... there is your meditation," writes Lorin Roche on page 260 of his wonderful collection, The Radiance Sutras. His observation removes the formula factor, allowing the practice of meditation to become more free range. Meditation can be a swift elevation to everyone's hours, and its construct looks different for each of us. Getting creative for some moments is the shape it takes for me.
The other teaching I find this "good morning" embodiment imparts is the essential reminder of how much I still do not know. “The best thing for being sad… is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails," wrote the author T.H. White. Out communing with the natural world is where I take my teachings. "Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.” Wonder + Breathing = A little CHEER.
To the countless sidewalk strangers whose paths I cross on my morning walks, I say "thank you" for helping to make "good morning" my mantra during these times especially. It cues me to go out and find my smile... and recall that plenty, is enough.
Field Trip... hearing the term, I at once go back to my grade school days when once or twice a year, just prior to being released from class, a certain form would be distributed amongst me and my classmates. It indicated that a field trip was in the works. The paperwork being distributed required the permission of an adult to grant us that rare reprieve from the routine of schoolwork, recess, schoolwork, lunch, schoolwork, homework... and then tomorrow all over again.
"Immediate sources count for a lot."
Beyond breaking up the monotony and a dose of freedom, what do field trips offer? Back then, and still now they extend the chance to bust out beyond the confines of ritual in order to wonder, to use outdoor voices for more than some allotted 20 minutes and to shorten the distance between you and your object of study. The intention is that we return from these field visits refreshed and curious with a mind that has been stretched in some new ways. Frank Stella, in the above quote, sums up well the power of up close encounters with our objects of study.
I remain a big fan of field trips and indulge in them as much as possible. I find that the attraction or actual distance from home matters little. My purpose with these adventures is to detach myself from the classroom that is my studio where I clutch to the delusion that I have some supreme command over knowledge. These step aways, for me, remind me of the vastness that I do not know and nudge me to salute the questions - mostly through the lens of my camera.
This past weekend found me enjoying such a field visit at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens overlooking Biscayne Bay in Miami. With its timeless Mediterranean-style architecture, and collections dating from the early 20th-century all the way back to Pompeii, Vizcaya’s Main House was the jewel of a fledgling Miami when it was built between 1914 and 1922. Its surrounding 10 acres offer visitors spectacular "Italianate" gardens. Stepping through the property's magnificent entry gates you at once feel as thought you have been magically transported to Florence.
Upon arriving at my destinations, be it a quiet garden or a grand plaza, I try to resist the reflex to fire my lens in all directions and instead use the soundscape and the contours of these settings to wander and slowly connect with the spirit of the place. In doing so, the shutter is depressed far less frequently (and that takes much practice and patience), but mostly the yield is well worth it.
Returning to class from those grade school field trips, often we would be required to produce a report in order to establish some evidence of our learning. Despite all of its splendor, the quiet story that unfolded for me at Vizcaya was this timeless European air, smack in the middle of Miami of all places. The images captured here with my Velvet 56 Lensbaby document a bit of my learning experience.
I find the Velvet family of lenses, hands down, to be THE perfect field trip companions - especially in weathered settings such as Vizcaya. With a dreamlike quality, they rather effortlessly capture the faded pastels, well-worn cobblestone and pulsing romance of some bygone chapter. I photographed much of my recent book breath taking the language of pause, wandering the streets of Paris, Brussels and Florence with this family of lenses in tow.
Here's to field trips, and to their evidence of a mind stretched, with ever more to learn...
Lensbaby is a manufacturer of special effects camera lenses and accessories - for cameras of ALL shapes and sizes. The company’s mission is to support photographers in discovering “more wonder”. Amen! Each field trip with my Lensbabies finds me truly seeing in a new way and enjoying many happy accidents... like the photographs contained here. You can learn more about the Lensbaby product line through their website. I'm pleased to share with you this discount code should you find a product there that strikes your fancy: WCurrie
I can read some music, but I have absolutely NO idea how to play a violin. Yet this instrument is a longtime friend. Through two decades, it has journeyed with me from one house (or studio) to the next. The violin was purchased years ago at a not so snazzy music center where my daughter had been taking guitar lessons. The centre was really a retail store with a few small practice rooms tucked in the back. There was no waiting room, so parents were left to pause for 30 minutes in the clutter of the “show room” amidst a soundtrack of competing scales straining out from the students. One afternoon, from the plastic and packaging and jumble of the shop’s two or three aisles, this treasure leaped at me… an emblem of quiet, of analog. The manager offered me a deep discount, disclosing that its body had a defect and was no longer playable. Worked out perfect, as I had little intention of making music with it.
"What I wanted from this fiddle with the hollow wooden body was just its elegant whiff and gesture..."
I make my music, with a camera. The sound is different from strings being plucked, or stroked with a bow. But, it’s how I go out and try to make my joyful noise. What I wanted from this fiddle with the hollow wooden body was just its elegant whiff and gesture… a reminder of the note in us all. Endlessly, it has delivered, continuing to avoid the edits I make to my tapering stash of allies. Still here, beside me it shines, repurposed, as I write and make my pictures… in yet another zip code.
This essay is currently featured in the Fall 2020 issue of Still Point Arts Quarterly. The theme of this issue is "The Secret Life of Objects". You can (freely) enjoy the full issue through this link.
"Poetry forever grants us leaps and blurs."
Often I begin my Sunday mornings with the Poem feature in the New York Times Magazine section. The poems are (mostly) wonderful, but it is the murmuring that precedes the weekly selection - compliments of the feature's curator, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye. Generally she keeps it brief, but always leaves the reader with something quotable. In the introduction to a recent installment to the poem My Father Disappears Into Flowers (by, Jan Beatty), she offered this, "Poetry forever grants us leaps and blurs."
I took Ms. Shihab Nye's reflection with me this week up along the seaside in New Hampshire... making some poems with my camera. "Leaps and blurs," a splendid reminder to soften the grip!