3x5s

“Didn’t have a camera by my side this time,
Hopin’ I would see the world through both my eyes,
Maybe I will tell you all about it
When I’m in the mood to lose my way with words.”
(John Mayer)

I’ll have to beg your forgiveness for beginning this piece with song lyrics, but it is among my favorites songs, and every time I hear it, it takes me down the same path.

A few years ago, I officially retired from IT and decided that I’d pursue photography as a profession rather than the hobby it had been. While I have enjoyed the work most of the time, I now find myself having learned an unexpected lesson. The business of photography sucked the joy out of the art of photography, for me. I wanted to capture a story in every frame. That is not what happened. It became rote. It made me very depressed. Most inquiries wanted cheap, quick, painless and Photoshop. I wanted to create. More and more of my friends are leaving the “business,” as well, for the same reason. In an effort to love the art again, I cut jobs down to only a few a month. It has been a relief.

I have had several heart-to-hearts about this with a friend. He is my creative conscience, and he gives my fears no quarter. Stop taking your gear, he said. Just use your phone. See things. And this weekend, on a trip to Minnesota, I did as he said. The process was, at first, frustrating as hell. I know my gear, intimately. I know the buttons and dials. I can control depth of field, and ambient light, and compression. With my phone, I could only control composition and focal point. It was a bit like someone had cut off my hand. I forged on, nonetheless. And I did, in fact, see small things I might have missed. As usual, my friend was right about what it takes to get out of my head space.

All of these images were shot using my iPhone. It is proof of two things: (1) seeing requires your eyes first, (2) the camera is only the tool.

I’m slowly getting my mojo back, and for that I have to thank my friend. I don’t enjoy looking inward, because that’s where the heavy lifting is. But I’ll do it every time for the payoff. It’s priceless.

More on these images individually, in later posts. Some warrant their own.

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Pinus Contora 

Ouch, I thought, a splinter?  As my hands caressed the weather-worn, greying plank, turning it, examining it for weaknesses that might eventually compromise the finished piece, a tiny prick made me drop it as though it had opened a vein.

It was, after all, a good excuse to walk away.

I had sat down expressly to transform it. I had had some idea of what I wanted, but no inspiration. I saw red: not in the angry, metaphorical way, but the color red filling my imagination, bursting, a clouded Holi festival in every shade from rose to sanguis. It is in that space where all the joy and wonder of a creative moment, all of the air that fills my lungs spreads to my waiting hands, only to explode from my chest in a rush of despair.

“Why” begins to interrupt. Do I have a voice? Is it worthwhile? Who will want to see this? 

The answer is an apparition.

It is often said of artists that narcissism is the first requirement. Thumbing through even the thinnest of art history books, one finds edgy, erratic, often abstruse behavior among the great masters. Art, it seems, requires a dance on the tightwire that hangs between sanity and genius.

Having grown up in a household where art had no value, I now find myself opening every creative vein I can just to find the one that flows freely. So far, none have. I push, every day, learning the tools and techniques. With each new medium I touch, with each surface I alter, I understand better and better the act of love that art truly is. Even as I write these words, I am utterly gripped by creating a melody within them that will compel you to keep reading. These are experiences I did not have at a time when painting a pig blue or a tree purple was the process in which one idea might fluidly transform into another. Occasionally, I color outside the lines, and I don’t feel the need to correct it and then, as I let go, more and more, I begin to love what I am touching and changing. It comes down to that one nebulous moment when I give myself permission to do whatever I want without needing a reason why. It is the moment when the wildfire clears the way for the new seeds.

To the many whom I’ve heard say, “I have no talent for art,” I say, expressing yourself doesn’t require “talent” in the traditional sense. It requires that you somehow package what you feel in a way that makes you happy. A year ago, I said I couldn’t draw, but I’ve changed that. I’m learning about the many mediums and tools. I’m immersing myself, and therein lies the danger.

Just as when I began to write publicly, I now study, rather than just view art. I find myself hyperfocused, deconstructing method, material, meaning. I become so lost in the detail, that I must navigate both the joy of understanding and the defeat of accepting that I will never create something so exquisite that it moves mankind century after century. And that is the moment I burn.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who is a successful artist. He spoke candidly about having an artist’s statement and an idea of the theme in his work. I realized that, fundamentally, art is a commitment to visually communicate something for which the artist has no words. Ultimately, I am compelled by an unusual tendency to assign color to emotions. I reach my roots into that fleeting moment, and that is when I grow.

Over and over, I’ll burn when I despair over how much time was lost to fear, but in between, in fleeting moments, new roots grip the ground as from my hands, something lovely comes.

 

Year of a Hundred Things – “Thing” #82 – “Pinterest”

I remember a couple of years ago when I was begging my friends to “invite” me to Pinterest. I’d like to reach back through time and slap myself for my haste in submitting myself to that level of torture.

Oh, it’s a bittersweet form of torture, without doubt. For hours, I can get lost in the sheer brilliance of the millions of creative minds that contribute to the hoards of content. I stare in wonder and my heart breaks a little thinking I’ll never be that good. It drives me absolutely insane.

Why do I keep going back for more???

Well, inspiration, I guess. I see something, many times something really simple, that inspires me to create something else. It seems to me that all art has to be somewhat derivative. Not fully imitated, but inspired by something the artist found appealing.

So, as much as I am inundated, and often overwhelmed with Pinterest, I am always hopeful that the spark hits my eye and my creativity is satisfied for just one more day.

I know I am not alone in this. I know that it is to a well-membered sorority that I belong.

Hello, I am Lisa and it’s been ten minutes since my last pin. Yes. I feel my shame.

A Moment of Appreciation

I am new to blogging. Very new, as in 6 months new. I didn’t read a book on how to become a successful blogger because when I began, I wasn’t interested in monetizing the product. The purpose was to finally succumb to a driving desire to write. Encouraged by a couple of friends, I finally stripped bare and leapt off the cliff, arms aloft, screaming bloody murder the whole way down. But the water is warm and inviting. Turns out it’s crowded, too. An element I hadn’t expected but find welcoming and delightful. I’m sure I’ll hit some cold springs now and then, but I love it so far.

I want to take a moment to recognize two bloggers who have given a little of their time to help me. The first is LindaGHill for helping me through my email issue, and the second is Dark Night Chronicles for the prompt and then the resulting reblog of my piece Sheets.

Until this past weekend, I didn’t realize how much we need other bloggers, not only for validation but for that camaraderie that is so vital to the creative mind. Thank you both, genuinely, for leading me to the nooks and crannies in this little pond. I will repay in kind.

XOXO

SLITS

Spinning in the Sun

Through my eyelids I see the riot of gold that warms my face, my outstretched arms, the palms of my hands as they break the crisp March air. Not quite warm enough to be called Spring, but I’m sleeveless nonetheless.

two, three, four

I feel it, then, the wave that says it’s time to stop twirling, spinning, abandoning gravity for as long as I can. Finally crumpling, letting go of my reverie, landing softly in the tall grass, waiting for the world to stop, too.

This is the madness of creativity.

Screw you.

Yes, that’s right. Screw all of you whose talent was celebrated and encouraged, and yet, squandered: all of you who have a complete brilliance, a view of the world so lucid that it pours forth in words and phrases that drag the reader willingly behind, struggling but longing to keep pace. I’m not well known for disingenuous, overly-complimentary missives, so people, take ’em when you can get ’em. Read on, there’s more…

From the moment I learned to read, I have consumed words in every manner of ways at every available moment of the day. Yes, even at stoplights. I cannot get enough. Each MOMENT I spend reading is peace for me. TIME is a rare commodity: one we can never recover. So, if I decide that I’m going to spend my TIME reading your work, it is a compliment of the highest order. No, I don’t like everything I read, but I recognize when it is written well, and I respect it. Out of that respect, I will keep reading, because those of us who lay bare our hearts as artists deserve to have at least a few moments when our work makes its way into someone’s consciousness. And perhaps, during those few moments, it makes an indelible impression.

If you refuse to recognize that often, we are so mired down by our own demons that we cannot see the beauty that we are, then you are cheating yourself of the moments that carry us through the chaos we call creativity. We cannot always see how someone else might recognize, hell, even love the images we conjure, but it happens.

So, keep writing. Someone IS paying attention.

Year of a Hundred Things – “Thing” #99 – Collaborations

Mardi Gras Weekend
Mardi Gras Weekend banner.

Once a year, my beloved friend Shannon and I bury our heads in the charity sand and don’t come up for air for six weeks while we plan…
cajole…
design…
redesign…
panic…
breathe…
panic again…
until finally, we fall into a heap at some bar after the last runner has left the field, and our annual fund raising event is done.[1]

Frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I LOVE collaborations. I love the feeling I get when creative energy is thick and there is happening. The world can be an incredibly shitty place, sometimes, but when people come together for something positive, it washes away the emotional sludge we all feel when we’re bombarded by the evil humans can perpetrate on each other.

Today, we finished billboard and t-shirt designs, and started the heavy campaigning we do each year in the name of charity. We collaborated. We laughed. We cried. And through it all, we built something beautiful.

I am fortunate to have a few people in my life who understand the power of collaborating and who genuinely enjoy the process. We understand it. We thrive on it. Without them, I have a genuinely difficult time feeling inspired, so I am truly grateful for them.

Maybe it’s because I’m empathic. I don’t know. Whatever it is, I feel like I’m bathing in creativity when I’m around them. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a groupie when it comes to highly creative people. Everyone has their rockstars. My creative collaborators are mine and I’ve always been that way.

[1] If you’d like to know more about our event and the foundation we support, please visit mardigrasweekend.org.

Retrospective

The last year has been a wild, wonderful storm of new things for me. I relish every minute, even the most painful. It all taught me something.

Earlier today, in one of the professional groups I belong to on Facebook (Craig Lamere, a talent so huge, it’s almost criminal) a challenge came down to post our best work of 2014. As usual, a blog entry was born the moment I realized which image I should use.

It is the final year in my 40s, but it has been the year that taught me the most. I have accepted and embraced things about myself that have freed me to be who I wish I was when I had the freedom to do it all. A lot of people say that, but can’t pinpoint exactly what that means. I can.

Tomorrow, I’ll be introducing “The Year of a Hundred Things” in this blog forum. I am going to examine things that are important to me, hoping it will resonate and inspire others to do the same. But today, I want to focus on the one thing that changed for me in 2014 that represents years of searching.

I grew up in a household that did not put value on creativity. That’s not an indictment; they just didn’t learn its value from their parents, so they placed no value on it themselves. I have lived my life within the confines of that barrier, not knowing HOW to break past it. Well, this year, I did. A few people influenced that epiphany, some of whom will recognize their reflection in this piece, and some who won’t, which makes me sad for them because they don’t know what they mean to me. One I believe is lost forever, and there is nothing to be done.

And now that I have broken past it, I want to take a moment to recognize one of the moments that brought it to my attention. In February of this year, my dear friends said goodbye to their father: a man who garnered respect and admiration because of the example he set. He also had a voice that shook the walls of every sanctuary in which he sang. It was a difficult time for his children and grandchildren, but their faith made them a shining example of what saying goodbye should look like. Their collective grace was inspiring.

As my friends began the arduous process of planning his final rest, I had the privilege of occupying the tiniest member of the family. She is among my favorite muses. I had decided earlier in the year that I was going to make the leap into a level of creativity I had theretofore denied myself. And that day, with my tiny muse more than willing to be photographed as long my camera’s battery would last, I made what I believe is the most iconic image of my career, so far.

As “Let it Go” rang out in my studio, my tiny muse danced around in her lovely blue dress and I focused as fast as I could. I shot hundreds of frames that day, but the ones I loved most came between the first and the last notes of her favorite song. I gave her every age-appropriate prop I had and I watched through my viewfinder as her imagination flourished. It was magic, and it reached into my chest and wrapped its tiny hand around my heart. I was exhausted when I finally set my camera on the table, but I was thrilled at what I’d achieved. I just let it go. It seems so prosaic, but in reality, it was the perfect storm.

The Muse

As I look back on this past year, the years I wasted searching for my passions become far less important than those ahead of me, giving me the chance to further push the envelope in both in my writing and my photography.

Happy New Year to all my friends and readers. May the new year bring you to yourself, and may you find joy there.

The Muse Finally Still
The Muse Finally Still

You can view my work on Facebook by searching “Imagomodo” (www.facebook.com/imagomodo). My website is http://www.imagomodo.com, but it is woefully outdated (and currently number 1 on the New Year’s resolutions list).

Talent and Execution, Sisters

So, after phrenetically trying to absorb the enormous talent surrounding me a few Saturday’s ago (at the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival), I spent a great deal of time thinking about one particular conversation, which ended with my new friend saying, “You know, that would make a great blog subject.” And so here I am, after massaging the idea a bit in my head…

I’ve watched my sister for all of her ^%{^*] years (What? I’m smart enough to not give that away.) and since the moment I became aware of it, I’ve been amazed and awed by her unparalleled talent for socializing. Diaphanous, tinkling laughter breaks into an electric smile. Conversations peppered with smart, evocative remarks designed to engage without criticism or insult. It is truly an art form when used so masterfully. Let me be clear; there is no sarcasm here. Invaluable is the ability to successfully maneuver a crowd of very different people and remain so positively memorable that people who were strangers moments before become first fans, and then friends.

While I fancy myself a creative person, and have been accused occasionally of having some talent, it pales in comparison to an ability  to maneuver the world as my sister can. I’m socially clumsy most of the time. I have a hard time relaxing and simply enjoying the moment. I cannot relate to everyone and often get anxious trying to find a reasonable balance. I find myself absorbing whatever energy there is in the room, rather than having the talent to change it.

So, I truly appreciate the talent of social grace. And it IS a talent. Sure, it too can be improved with practice, but few achieve the art form that I’ve watched in my sister. She can find herself in any group of people, in any venue, and navigate the personalities as though they were characters in a book she’s written. It isn’t her only talent; she is many things. But this one thing deserves special recognition because it is rarely recognized.

I celebrate her for who she is. I couldn’t be any more proud of her and her accomplishments. The fact that she’s my little sister is just a bonus. The fact that she is my friend makes me hope that I did something to deserve her.

Talent and Execution, Part I

“All you have is your fire,
And the place you need to reach.
Don’t you ever tame your demons,
But always keep ’em on a leash.”
Arsonist’s Lullaby, Hozier

I know a lot of hugely talented people. And in all honesty, some of them intimidate the hell out of me. I try to maintain some level of objectivity as I witness the genius unfold in their work. I try to remember that art is inherently derivative. Even that which is considered innovative is born of some wildly explosive idea that has been expressed in generally accepted media: paint, photographs, stories, films, performance. It’s all, down to canvas on which it is applied, an executed idea. And that is where the rubber meets the road (if you’ll pardon the overused adage).

Without execution, creative ideas die on the vine.

The great irony is that people who are highly creative tend to be brooding, self-critical, and often depressed. There are a number of studies that prove it. In an article for the Stanford Journal of Neuroscience, Adrienne Sussman writes:

“Thus far, we have seen that manic depressive disorder and schizophrenia are both significantly more prevalent in artists than in the rest of the population, that neurologically they share similarities with the biology of creative thinking – in short, that these altered mental states could indeed contribute to creativity and artistic production. Knowing that this connection is scientifically supported, how are we to ethically treat these illnesses?”

Two experiences this past week, on the opposite end of this spectrum, really solidified a quandary in my mind. Why are some hugely talented people commensurately successful, and others miserably struggling?

The first experience was painfully watching a friend decompensate publicly on Facebook. There were a number of factors involved in the meltdown, but it created for me a mix of emotions. The first was helplessness that my friend was in pain. After that, several emotions passed through me, but the final and most powerful was anger. I was ANGRY that someone so full of talent had so functionally disabled himself. I considered his history of depression, then I considered my own, and then I considered the commensurate level of talent. There is brilliant and dysfunctional, and then there is pretty damn good and excellent at coping. There is a lot of variation in between. Which brings me to the second experience…

I shot a film festival for my sister and some friends, this past weekend. I was actually in a sea of creative people as writers, directors, actors and producers milled around waiting to have their picture taken in front of the TBUFF (Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival) step-and-repeat. Among them was someone that is part of a family so talented that it should be criminal (I kid. I covet their genes.) But their obvious creative talent (name one, they’ve got them all) isn’t the most impressive part. No, that lies in their amazing execution of that talent. I think about this often when I can’t get my hands around an image I want to create or a story I want to write because I’m still learning how to execute what I see and hear in my head. It is that demon: one whose neck I can reach, but cannot quite grasp. Saturday night, I was downright phrenetic as I tried to absorb the energy surrounding me.  I got a creative buzz so voluptuous that when I finally got home at 2am, I couldn’t sleep.

If my new acquaintance happens to be reading this, then I hope he accepts my apology for trying to monopolize his attention. But hey, it was entirely his fault for exuding that effusive energy on which we “creatives” thrive.