The Story – Arches

Our first morning JP (John Paul Caponigro) instructed us to find the story. He told us we should go so far as to write it down. Of course I cringed inside. Writing goes deep, it requires engagement of muscles that I seldom use.

But I did it.

After that first round of shooting, while I was waiting for the last couple people to finish I wrote the following:


the Story

nouns – actors

verbs – actions

- qualifiers

- acted upon

The Literal Story

The Virtual Story



The process of accumulation and erosion

Building up then tearing down

Slow, constant change

The beauty of ruined structures

I felt majesty – someone used the term temple and that felt right

The awesome majesty you feel as you approach these structures is what the builders of the cathedrals attempted to capture.

They captured some of that feeling – but these structures eclipse those.

Sounds of scuffling feet, tripod clinks and the chitter of the swallows in the cliffs, swirling around above as they chase one another.

The innocent love of creating

I’ve been struggling since I decided to re-start my visual exploration. It is the same struggle I felt when I started in college, the same one that made me quit 15 years ago. I come from a working class family. We work for a living. Everything has a purpose and that purpose is focused on making a living. It’s a cycle that I can’t seem to break free of.

I fell in love with photography as a Boy Scout working on my Photography merit badge. I still remember standing in that darkroom and watching an image appear on the blank sheet of paper. It was magic – a magic that I could do. And that sense of wonder never went away. I lived for the moment when I put the exposed paper into the developer and watched an image appear. Every one of the thousands of times I did that I loved it. I miss that moment now, but there are other moments that the digital world provides that are almost as powerful.

I love exploring and finding that hidden image. Just walking around, camera in hand, looking, seeking and eventually finding. Or that image that I grabbed as I was walking by. I wasn’t really looking, but I had a camera in my hand I saw something significant, I grabbed it and moved on. Seldom do I realized at that moment that what I caught was great, but later, when I’m going through my shots and I see it – wow, I love that moment.

I love the moment of my life that I can capture and hang on a wall. Not just the picture – but the memory of that moment. It is there forever. The smells, the sounds, my feelings. I remember that moment more clearly than any other moment in my life.

And I hope my work has some of the same impact on others. I can’t speak for them, but I hope it does. I’ve won a few awards and enough comments that I believe it does.

But I keep getting caught up in the why. The how will I make a living at this. I need to pay for it – I need it to have a purpose that relates to the material needs of  life. Yeah, I read the quotes of how art lifts and inspires. How it is what pulls us up out of our earth-bound realm and allows us to see greater possibilities. And I believe them. But I have a hard time maintaining that for the long term.

It’s like when I’m involved in something spiritual, when my mind and heart are touched by that greater realm and I’m filled with that peace and joy and hope. Then I walk into my door, eager to share it. Then reality smacks me in the face. My kids are yelling, the dog is barking, I fall over something left on the floor and it’s gone. And there’s just a big hole where a moment before there was an all encompassing light and I feel worse for the loss.

I keep losing the true why to the noise of the earthly material why. At heart I’m overtly practical and art isn’t practical. It rises above practical and I find myself trying to make it practical. And every time I fall into that pit I don’t like it anymore.

Here are a couple of quotes from photographer Paul Caponigro, son of John Paul Caponigro. I’ve been spending a lot of time on John Paul Caponigro’s site because I’m impressed by his grasp of art, his approach to it, his peace with it. Something I seek but am having a hard time finding. These quotes talk about maintaining that innocence, about ‘Not Doing’ so you can step away from the process and be free to create. It really hit home with what I’ve been struggling with.

The full conversation was first published in the May/June, 1995 issue of View Camera magazine:

Castaneda and Don Juan have a perfectly wonderful dialog together on the business of ‘not doing’ as opposed to ‘doing.’ Don Juan tells Castaneda that he must learn to ‘not do.’ Castaneda says, how do I not do? Life is doing. Yes, that’s precisely the problem. Everything that you do is based on something you already know. It has already been handed to you. Everybody is doing according to a formula and that’s what keeps it all in place. This is all too obvious. Not doing means that you’re aware that that process exists and you step away from it in order to see clearly. The ability to be free, from that process, even though you are a part of it, enables you to ‘see.’ Then it’s not difficult at all. Then the essence becomes available.

Photography attracted me before I ever knew that it was a part of a structured world. I saw a camera which my grandmother wielded. I thought it was fascinating. I didn’t know about famous artists and museums and magazines. I innocently met that process. And I excitedly engaged it to the best of my ability. Later, because my excitement was so strong, I realized that this could be a medium through which I could work. Then I had to meet the whole world of photography; manufacturers, materials, hype, galleries, dealers, critics, etc. Somehow I did not lose sight of that initial innocence. I realized that unless I could stay free, unidentified, unless I could keep my personality from going crazy with the adulation or the lack of it I was not going to maintain that innocence. I realized that the innocence was the important state that called forth the inspiration into the process.

Huntington Witherill – I loved this

John Paul Caponigro posted these videos on his site. I watched them and loved them. Beautiful work and inspiring words.

Here’s some key quotes I pulled as I watched them:

Photographs are ‘stylized interpretations of reality’. Every photograph ‘is a lie’.

He is ‘constantly looking and very occasionally actually seeing’.

Weston called that ‘The Flame of Recognition.’

Part 1:

Part 2:

Check out Huntington Witherill’s web site for more great stuff.

Art is poetry when…

Pulled from Permission to Suck,  an exploration on creativity.

Art is poetry when “poetry” is an emotionally rewarded aesthetic banter with our senses. Reduce craft to a one button push, the poetry now includes a lackluster effort to engage – similar to a street passing of two indifferent relations. There is no strength in laziness.

Genius lies in understanding that art involves the consumer’s world view, the context in which it is consumed, the collaborative nature of the work and the commitment of the artist. With his erased de Kooning, Rauschenberg proves that great art works don’t necessarily involve the tools of great skill. Our democratized digital renaissance proves similar; great tools don’t necessarily produce works of great art.

A phrase worth some consideration

From David duChemin on his blog at:

He discusses the question we often ask before we commit to an endeavor: ‘Am I good enough?

To often we forget to ask: ‘Do I love it enough?

It takes both. Maybe more of the second than the first.

He closes with the following:

Whatever the next step for you is, take it boldly. These are not times for the timid;
there’s no reward in tiptoeing through life only to make it safely to death.

Wow, in half a sentence he states what I’ve been trying to incorporate into my sense of being, into my way of living – to step up and LIVE life, not just exist.  To do – not just observe.

24 hours a day – every day


As I re-initiate this journey I need to revitalize my focus. I need to start watching, seeking for those images that deserve to be captured, ideas that will inspire me. My first effort was to build a portable art packet. Pencils, pens, paper – everything I need to draw and write. Always with me, easy to get to. Problem is that I’m not comfortable with those mediums, so it doesn’t come naturally. I’m not comfortable enough with the method to easily capture the idea or image. The effort to capture gets in the way of the act.

A couple of weeks ago I started carrying my little camera around. It made a tiny rectangular bulge in my front left pocket – but I never pulled it out. It was available, easy to use, but not obvious.

Last week I started carrying my big camera with me. It’s in the way, kind of a hassle to haul around. I’m always conscious of it and I’m comfortable with it. It feels good in my hand – like it is supposed to be there. My hand forms around it, strokes it, knows it. It is easy to use, I understand it. I don’t have to think about using it. So when I see an image that I like it is a natural act to pull it out, swing it up and capture the shot.

And the result is I find myself watching, searching and finding. My awareness to the world around me is coming back. I’m seeing the shapes and colors around me that I’ve been walking by and ignoring. I’m searching my mind for ways to use images, ways to tell stories about what I’m seeing around me.

I enjoy the feeling again.

I read the following quote from ‘The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer’ by Jackson J. Benson that explores this idea. I don’t see this trait as specific to writers – I believe it applies to all creative types:

‘How does an author write a serious novel? Does he come up with some characters and a plot idea and start writing, using the stock phrases he has accumulated and throwing in a little description here and there? Does the felicitous sentence come by accident, do those small perceptions that so truly bring us into life come to him at the typewriter carried by the muse, and are those insights into the human condition at heart of his work evolved out of the sudden inspiration provided by an approaching deadline and the need to pay the gas bill? Not if the writer is Steinbeck and not, I suspect, for any other author of similar stature.’

‘It is rather simply a matter of living as a novelist twenty-four hours a day, every day, whether you happen to be writing a novel or not. Everything, EVERYTHING, is material, from your thoughts about your wife, your dreams and nightmares, to how your neighbor talks when he is embarrassed and how a friend looks at you when he wants something and what the local grocer does when he puts on his apron or makes change for a customer. Everything. Most of us could neither stand the burden or bear the exposure of privacy.’

‘The life of a novelist should probably really be a history of the constant gathering of bits and pieces of observation and insight, and the personal suffering and human concern which generates the pattern for the pieces and the need to express that pattern. For a novel such as East of Eden or The Winter of Our Discontent the novelist lives a preparation of years, accumulating hundreds, even thousands of small items. To describe the process from the outside is nearly impossible – even from the inside, as in the notebooks left by Henry James, it cannot be more than suggested.’

The creative muse is an always on effort. You aren’t creating art twenty four-hours a day – but you need to be an artist twenty-four hours a day.