Details make patterns. Choices make habits. Imagining makes art. Believing makes seeing.
It’s been a while since I went out to wander and photograph just for the sake of wandering and photographing. It felt good: stretching my legs, stretching my imagination and shaking off this long strange summer. This was the weekend at Open House Chicago 2016.
Sandstone held to a bell tower with metal band-aids and hair nets. The bell tower survived the Great Fire in 1871, and still wears the blackened crown to prove it. Saint James Episcopal Cathedral.
Six red galeros, hats of dead bishops, streaming from the ceiling of Holy Name Cathedral. Hanging high behind the crucifix carved from one large piece of balsam wood, they wait for the day they collapse to dust and nothingness and return to the ground.
Ornate chandeliers are turned down low to let the stained glass windows tell their bible stories in the 2nd floor chapel of Saint James Chapel at Archbishop Quigley Center.
Ivy climbs and clings to the detail on the Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue, in the morning shadow of the Hancock. And in this church, at long last we get to go upstairs to the balcony…and there’s a pipe organ, gentle at first and then lighting up the guests with a loud pounce.
The 5th place was an art house in an old mansion. Giant windows, rimmed in dark wood. Pocket doors and white marble fireplaces in every room. Studios for rent and live models seven days a week. An open studio on the 3rd floor smelled of oil paint as I rounded the final set of stairs up. The old floors were for dancing when this was a home and this level housed a ballroom. Now the wood floors showed wear from drops of paint as artists made their art. At this moment, they were sans model, but they worked as if she were still there. An imaginary model. Cross breezes fluffed papers from the transom windows along the floor where the band used to sit.
The Monroe Building, with Rookwood tiles, and tiles, and tiles, and a working mail chute for the 14-story building. This building and the one across the street, on the north side of Monroe at Michigan stand like sentinels, equal sized gate posts, greeting traffic entering Chicago on what used to be the main thoroughfare.
The chapel in the sky at the Chicago Temple. The highest place of worship above street level. Twenty two floors via elevator, then A through E floors via a cozy elevator, then 31 steps up to this tiny little Sky Chapel. Stained glass windows line the room and limit views of the sky and the surrounding city. The wood is ash, preserved forever from the Emerald Ash Borers that have killed so many trees in the Midwest.
I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from “the career” to focus on my photography…this week a series of short workshops, seminars and presentations by Filter Photography Festival and next week an intensive workshop with National Geographic photographer, Sam Abell, in Santa Fe.
At the mid-point of Filter’s 4 days, here are the things sticking in my head:
1) Filter is about ART. Photography as ART. It’s eye-opening to see the constructed projects that may begin with photos (the artists’ or someone elses’) but certainly doesn’t end with the photograph. For some, there’s washing out bits with bleach, or putting the photo onto plastic and warping it, or cutting precise little holes in exact spots to add meaning. It’s also photography with WORDS. The metaphors explained. Artist Statements to bring the viewer along…how did the idea happen? what’s the process? what does it mean? what to see? what thoughts should ride along with the photo when you view it?
2) The PRINTs. LARGE prints. On RICH papers like bamboo, kozo or deckled rag. Portfolios brought in boxes and displayed on tables. Eric Joseph from Freestyle pointed out that when we were in the darkroom years ago, “the paper mattered.” It was an important decision in the darkroom. We had our favorites for their warmth or texture, or cool smoothness….Ilford, Oriental… But somehow with digital printing, paper was forgotten. He was at Filter to remind us, to show us…to let us feel and see the differences…(and yeah, to sell us papers). It worked. I’m convinced.
3) Kelli Connell’s 23 questions for portraiture. A technique to question yourself…quickly and periodically…to see themes and threads through which you view the world, and photograph from. Wow. More on this later.
4) Debbie Fleming Caffery’s sweet and sassy southern voice. I can hear it still. Her workshop was to be on sustaining long term projects, but instead turned out to be more of a portfolio review. I showed up with glossy and puny Walgreens prints expecting to use them only to give an idea of my work…my project that needs sustaining…and articulation. I felt like I was a day late and a dollar short. Regardless, I learned a lot from listening to the dialogue of the others…the Artists. For example, making selections to tie themes or colors or moods together. The self-published books, and again the papers and the printing processes. The possible sources for more knowledge, more photos, more words (or videos) to add to projects. And the outlets…ideas for my big question of “What do I DO with the projects?”
The overwhelming response…that I’m hearing across Filter Photo Festival: GET YOUR WORK OUT THERE. Enter contests, print large and show in festival portfolio reviews, be active in social media, blog, and JUST DO IT. Make your own exhibits. Be tenacious. Make connections. And keep on shooting…keep on creating.
Heading out for Day 3. But first, a dawn walk with Charlie on this gorgeous Fall morning. Let the day begin.
I’ve had Cuba on my mind a lot lately. Such a beautiful, colorful, extraordinary place. I spent some time today walking through my photos. Here are a few that spoke to me this afternoon… I was in a mood to edit them in black and white…what do you think?
Packing for a trip to Cuba is a careful endeavor. There are the gifts to take, and the necessities, and the cameras and lenses, and of course, the clothes. But there’s a weight restriction of 66 lbs total…no more than 22 lbs carry-on. I’ve spent the last couple of days piling up the things to go, weighing, reweighing and then making hard choices of what stays and what goes.
In my bag:
A bag of Snickers and a bag of M&Ms (intended as gifts, but a constant temptation…)
Box of Tylenol (gift)
2 boxes of Band-Aids (gift)
10 tealights (gift)
10 bars of little soaps (gift)
10 Hot Wheels (gift)
20 Little Pet Shop figures (gift, they are the cutest little things!)
10 peanut snack bars (para me, between meals)
1 pack of shortbread cookies (para me)
3 pills for diarrhea (just in case…)
ATM and credit card (for Mexico…U.S. issued cards won’t work in Cuba)
105mm f 2.8
24-70mm f 2.8
Holga + 7 rolls of film
Sony Cybershot for video
10 memory cards
2 extra Nikon batteries
A mile of chargers and cords
Hopefully the right adaptors
Blackberry and charger for Mexico (our cellphones won’t work in Cuba)
2 pairs of jeans
2 pairs of travel pants
1 pair of linen pants
Finn comfort clogs
10 tops (combination of long/short sleeve)
rain jacket (pockets are stuffed to reduce the carry-on bag weight)
undergarments + socks
shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothbrush/paste/floss, deodorant
Trip insurance paperwork
Medical insurance paperwork
Moon handbook to Cuba
The carry-on camera bag alone weighs 25 lbs, not the 22 requested (so I’ll be stuffing some things in my pockets The big bag is at 38 lbs. 66 total is the limit.
Oh…and it’s 12 degrees in Chicago.
Pre-Cuba // Meeting the group in Cancun, Mexico: December 9, 2010
The American flight landed early yesterday…just after skimming low over the most beautiful seafoam-turquoise-ink colored waters you can imagine.
Immigration–baggage claim (mine was one of the first out!)–customs and out into the throngs of people touting time-shares, rides, tours…They’ll do just about anything to stop you. “We must check your voucher here please”, “Here we are, waiting for you!”, “Ride to the hotel?”, “Welcome to Mexico. Let me help you”, “Do you know where you are staying?”…blah, blah, blah.
You walk–quickly, confidently, and with a smile, past the obstacles–a bit like a video game, going around them when they step directly in front of you. Once past the hurdles, the doors automatically open–there’s a mariachi band in black playing the Frito Bandito song, a bar, and another herd of drivers holding signs with everyone’s name. And it’s warm, humid, a smell of that air that can only be hot climates near the sea.
Reid from Santa Fe Photo Workshops was waiting by the Marriott Shuttle spot–guarding someone’s luggage and greeting us. He dolled out my $230 pesos with instructions to take the airport shuttle from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2 and get my Cuban Tourist Visa from a lady in white next to the Air Cubana counter there. That was the “normal” terminal–not full of tourists. Starbucks, regular lines of regular people doing regular airport things.
The lady at the counter spoke to me in Spanish–but I understood she was asking if I had pesos–I replied “Si, pesos.” She had on wedge heels–how long would she stand there today I wondered? She was filling out visa forms pulled from her purse–and sitting alongside her rubbermaid of peppers for lunch. Visa done. Easy peazy.
Met Angelina and Larry back at the shuttle area and we piled in for the short drive to the hotel. Checked in (room 449 for me, $149/night) and met back in the lobby for quesadillas and margaritas. Conversation about “our photography”–what do you shoot, what do you do with photography, what camera did you bring? Lenses? And the same concerns about weight and bag limitations.
Back to the room for a bit of a nap and some reorganizing of stuff. Down to the lobby again around 7 to meet the folks returning from Cuba… talked to a couple of ladies and Dinah & Barry; heard about rice and beans, exchanged $40 U.S. for $40 C.U.C. They were still in awe. We watched their photo slideshow of their week–stunning. The light, the faces, the eyes, the decay… One lady described it as very European, but not–it’s decayed, dirty, neglected. 3rd world. She said she couldn’t even describe the feeling she had on the first day–the depth of culture shock. I can’t wait! Shaking with anticipation.
Talked to Nancy–someone I met in 2008 at Nevada Wier’s workshop in Santa Fe. We think we’re roommates on this journey–and made a pact to get up early, stay up late, and go to the Tropicana
So now, it’s 8:15a–I slept good, I’ve made my second pot of coffee in my room, had breakfast downstairs, had a shower, and have repacked yet again…moving chocolates to my carry-on for snacks and for gifts, loading up my pockets so that the raincoat weighs about 10lbs–relieving the carry-on. Crowded House’s “Always Take the Weather” came on the iPod shuffle–good advice! I’ve called home…and sit ready. I can feel my heart beating in my skin. CUBA!
We will meet downstairs at 9a for an orientation. And head out to the airport at 10:30 to deal with check-in and the cultural visas (that came in last night). Flight is at 2:35p.
POSTSCRIPT // 2017:
As I am moving old TravelPod entries over to my blog almost 7 years later, I came across this first trip to Cuba, and the entries that abruptly stop before I even get on the plane. Of course, now I know. Now, after 7 trips to beautiful Cuba, I know how shocking those first days are. Now I know that packing is indeed a careful endeavor. You’d better pack anything you might need, because you are not likely to find it there if you’ve forgotten it. “It’s not like I’m packing for Cuba,” has become a standard “don’t worry” statement when I pack now for all other trips. I also know now that these flights TO Cuba are the heaviest flights ever. Seriously, it’s a wonder that the planes can leave the ground. Coming back, without all the gifts, the bags are less than a third full, but the memory cards are bursting.