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 wasn’t sure I was ready to leave Venice. But, we’d bought the train tickets (€77 for 2) from a machine in the train station a few days earlier and we would have to leave eventually…and rain was coming again to Venice.
So on a gray Sunday morning, we hauled our suitcases down to the Grand Canal and boarded a water bus to the train station. We’d packed a lunch from a grocery store (sandwiches and chips) and two wine-filled water bottles. The train was punctual and at 12:43 p.m., Venice was “finito.”
It was 2 hours and 40 minutes to Florence. Over the Tuscan landscape filled with green fields, villas, and the tall skinny cyprus trees. We listened to our iPods, seated across from each other and watched Tuscan fly by sipping our wine and smiling. We were caught up in the daydreams of Venice and of our “next” trip to Italy where we’d like to drive this Tuscan land. There were also lots of tunnels and sudden ear-pops between Bologna and Firenze, which seemed to heighten our anticipation and get us out of the melancholiness.
Florence was teeming with cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, bikes…it was crazy after the Venice quiet. We maneuvered carefully to our hotel, over cobblestone streets and dodging traffic. Our Hotel Perseo is on the same street as the Duomo…and only a few blocks away. Our 5th floor is their 4° piano–and our room 407 looked west to the sunset and the bells of Santa Maria Maggiore. Breakfast and “happy hours” were served in a persimmon orange room on the lobby floor 3. The owners were kind enough to make reservations for us at both the Accademia and the Uffizi.
We spent our days in Florence eating, drinking, shopping, and seeing the art.
First things first–we climbed the 463 steep steps of stone and some spirals to the top of the Duomo. It’s a double-shelled dome and in some places it was hard to even walk straight up. But from up there you can see red roofs for miles…. Beautiful views. And to get closer to the frescoes on the inside of the dome was incredible. Bryan could even reach the frescoes. From below, the frescoed drawings seemed small–but up close, Bryan’s hand was about the same size as a toe of a man tumbling into the jaws of Hell’s devil. Huge.
We found the Chiesa di S.Lorenzo leather market–where we fed a sad, gimpy pigeon (and a few hundred of his friends), and bought €5 cashmere scarves and postcards. I ended up buying a leather bag too–shoulder bag with both short and long straps–in the softest cappuccino-colored leather. Later, we found Antica Sosta–a quiet place for wine that served bruschetta with some mighty-fine, sweet, olive oil for apertivi hour. Cin! Cin! During our 4 nights in Florence, twice we ate at an old restaurant–tucked into the back streets of old Florence, near Dante’s home. Bottle of wine, and pasta until we nearly popped. Excellent atmosphere.
One day started with a visit to Accademia to see David. How do you describe a statue 17 feet tall that was so finely carved by a 29-year-old Michelangelo more than 500 years ago? David stands today in a beautifully-lit, domed room in Accademia, but he was outside in a piazza for almost 400 years. No photographs are allowed of the actual David–making the postcards a must-buy. We took binoculars to look closely at his smooth face–one side innocent boyish calm, the other side tense and angry. An “understudy” David stands outside where the original used to stand.
Another day began with a trip to the Uffizi. A favorite of mine was the gilded icon panels–fantastic colors of layered-on gold leaf atop reds and yellows. And that tell-tale cracking from the egg coatings. There were a number of works telling the story of the Annunciation–where Mary is told she will give birth to the son of god. In one, by Simone Martini, she holds a forgotten book in her left hand and shrinks away from the angel in her chair. We also saw The Birth of Venus and Primavera by Botticelli…both in low light rooms to save the colors. There was a map room in the Uffizi–cool and dark with harlequin, argyle-diamond windows of green, yellow, rose, and clear glass, and 11 globes as the only furnishings. There was almost too much too see. It is beautiful and each piece deserves an hour to fully absorb the colors, the faces, the gestures, the meaning–and to appreciate its age!
We spent time in the old art shops too–seemingly as ancient as the pieces hanging in the museums. Zecchi was my favorite–old, small, dusty–and a handsome, colorful array of egg tempera pigment powders in jars behind the counter. Old books with colorful pages for artist renderings, fat paintbrushes, palette knives of wood…I spent over an hour in there looking at all the stuff and watching artists come and go. I also enjoyed the Il Papiro store–featuring the handmade traditional marbled paper and the new experiments with gouache watercolor-like papers. I also got fascinated with the inks with names like Turkish Blue and Violetta…Tiny bottles with ornate little labels and tops sealed with matching wax. They even wrapped the inks in matching tissue paper, and placed a sticker on everything. With that tiny bag of carefully wrapped purchases, I felt quite special walking around Florence!
We also had laundry to do in Florence. One day we found a “Wash and Dry” and spent €3.50 a load to wash and €3.50 to dry jeans, socks, and undies. After only 4 days, our time was up.
Just as we were getting into Florence’s groove, it was time to go to Rome.