Category Archives: Philosophy

ART FOR A BETTER FUTURE

Yesterday, June 8, was world Oceans Day.

Seals napping, Sonoma Coast

Seals, Sonoma Coast, California. Photograph © Jane Alynn.

Wave crashing at Somoa Dunes, Arcata, California

Wave, Somoa Dunes, Arcata, California. Photograph © Jane Alynn.

World Oceans Day “is a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future. This year’s theme is ‘Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet,’ and individuals and organizations across the planet are taking action for prevention of plastic pollution in our ocean.”

Immediately, brilliant northwest artist and friend Karen Hackenberg of Port Townsend, Washington, comes to mind. She paints gorgeous seascapes in which she juxtaposes man-made detritus she finds washed up on the beach.

She describes it best in her Artist Statement:

In my ongoing painting series, Watershed,
I take a light-hearted yet subversive approach to the serious subject of ocean degradation, presenting a tongue-in-cheek taxonomy of our new post-consumer creatures of the sea. Influenced by the ideas of Pop artists Claes Oldenburg, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol, and the high-contrast light of Edward Hopper, I meticulously paint seascapes in oil and gouache, lovingly crafting beautiful images of conventionally ugly beach cast-offs, and aiming to create provocative visual juxtapositions of form and idea.

The Watershed paintings are inspired by the incongruity of the man-made detritus found washed up on the otherwise pristine shores near my Discovery Bay WA studio; the plastic shards and PETE water bottles, plastic bags, the mismatched running shoes, the foggy plastic water bottles, the throw-away lighters, the frayed lengths of nylon rope, the spent shotgun shells, to name but a few. I collect this local flotsam as it bobs in on the waves from far and near, and with my ear to the sand for a close view, I pose and photograph it on the beach where it strands. The resulting seascape compositions depict the beach trash as monolithic, thereby providing a visual metaphor for the overwhelming magnitude of the issue of marine debris.

 

Along with global pollution, over-consumption of fish have resulted in drastically dwindling populations of species.

Fishing boat, Fort Bragg, California

Fishing Boat, Fort Bragg, California. Photograph © Jane Alynn.

Jeweler and painter Kathleen Faulkner of Skagit Valley is another artist I greatly admire. She, too, is doing beautiful work that engages with the issues of our time. And, of course, there are so many others.

In my own photographic work, the landscape dominates, and though it may not always be explicit, the changing landscape is a beneath-the-surface theme. A new project just underway, inspired by W. S. Merwin’s poem “For a Coming Extinction,” responds to the earth’s advancing desertification due to global warming.

World Oceans Day give us a chance to ponder what personal action we might take on behalf of this disastrous consequence.

Though many argue that the function of art isn’t to take on the responsibility of altering opinions, art does awaken sensibilities. For that alone, art matters. It makes the world a better place.

Artists are important to society. I believe we should be weighing in on the times in which we live.

Ghost Tree, Salton Sea. Photograph © Jane Alynn.
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2016 IS A LEAP YEAR, SO WHAT LEAPS WILL YOU MAKE?

For most people, the beginning of a new year feels like the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. It is a dawn full of promise, inspiration, and renewed exuberance. Hope glows in each New Year’s resolution.

But I am not one of those people. New Year’s resolutions remind me too much of rules, those conventions that dominate rather than guide. Rigidly followed, like adhering to the rule of thirds in every image, too often results in failure. Ask anyone who has made New Year’s resolutions, and they will probably mutter something about only one small chocolate square or walking instead of running.

Writing down intentions, though, is a practice I can get behind. Framing your intentions, or goals, helps you to be crystal clear on what you want and then focuses your creative energy to achieve them. It may seem like magic, but in this very powerful act you are creating your own outcomes.

For me, making art does not require much motivation. It is a practice I love; I need no prod to get to the studio. So, I have no written intention to create. That would be like prompting me to breathe. But I do have areas in which I want to grow as an artist.

So, I thought that over the next week or so I would share what leaps I intend to make in my growth as an artist.

What leaps do you intend to make?

Also posted in Fine Art Photography, Photographs Tagged , , , , |

Giving Thanks

On the Church Steps, Lourmarin, France

On the Church Steps, Lourmarin, France. Photo © Jane Alynn

Today, I want to share an image for which I am especially thankful.

I took this photograph several years ago when I was lucky enough to spend several weeks in Paris and also in the Provençal countryside. For that opportunity alone gratitude was in the front of my mind.

While I am always grateful for photographs I make when everything comes together—the right light, a captivating moment, the relevant compositional elements—so that what I am seeing and feeling gets communicated, sometimes an image that is less than exceptional can have a large impact and can change me.

This photograph was one of those. What made it so important was:

1. I was in France, a country that filled me with wonder and love, and I was changed by being there.

2. I had never before focused my lens on people and in doing so realized a long-buried ambition to capture moments of humanity. This has added a whole new dimension to my work that pleases me.

What photographs have you taken that changed you or that impacted you in some way?

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Roll with the Punches

Carpe Diem, Port Townsend, WA

Carpe Diem, Port Townsend, WA. Photograph © Jane Alynn.

I just spent several days in Port Townsend. The main reason for my visit was to make images. In particular, I wanted to photograph Fort Worden’s extensive system of large, abandoned bunkers, creating new work to add to my What Remains portfolio.

As I stood among those fascinating structures, awed by their complexity, aware of their dark history, I set up my tripod and camera, loaded my film, and turned the crank. Instead of stopping at the first frame, the crank advance kept turning. Oh, no! I thought. My camera is broken! Indeed, after several tries, it was clear my camera’s advancing mechanism was not working properly. Shortly after that I took a hard fall and my camera and I went tumbling. It took me about five seconds to call it a day.

But life is like that. It requires flexibility. By accepting this and adapting to the circumstances as they are instead of what we want them to be, we open ourselves to new possibilities. So, I decided to roll with the punches and see what I could do with my digital camera. I was too bruised and achy to do anything more at Fort Worden, but the accessibility of the boat yard offered me exactly what I needed.

Carpe diem is usually understood to mean “seize the day”; its more literal translation is “enjoy the moment.” And I did.

Also posted in Creative Process, Fine Art Photography, Mindfulness, Photographs, Stories, Travel Tagged , , , , , , , |

Observation

Barred Window, Northern State Hospital, Sedro-Woolley, WA

Window, Northern State Hospital, Sedro-Woolley. Photo © 2015 Jane Alynn.


 
Recently, when I was wandering around the old Northern State Hospital farm for a project I have been working on, this wall with a barred window on one of the dilapidated buildings caught my eye.

At first glance the surfaces attracted me. The textures of long-growing lichens, of cracked and peeling paint, its many layers exposed by years of neglect.

Then I saw the puzzle of geometric shapes: the rectangular window, a frame within a frame, perfectly centered in the middle of what remained of a square structure; and the space divided into triangles by the diagonal bar, which together formed another rectangle.

But that slash of metal! The diagonal line, even as it contributed to the symmetry of the composition, furnished the needed contrast, subverting the visual balance with a sense of drama. Slicing across the front of the window, its meaning was clear and commanding: entry was forbidden!

Observations like that make connections with something more inward.

As I stood there, looking at the cracked and peeling layers of paint, the barred window, I envisioned the layers of mystery that surrounded the hard lives of the mentally ill patients who once lived there.

It is this process—the same process, really—as writing a poem, that makes seeing and then photographing so vital for me.

Also posted in Creative Process, Fine Art Photography, Mindfulness, Photographs, Poetic Vision, Poetry Tagged , , , , , |

Emptiness

Sears Ghostbox in Burlington

Sears Ghostbox, Burlington, WA. Photograph © Jane Alynn


 

Not too long ago, Sears, one of the anchor stores in the Cascade Mall, in Burlington, closed its doors. Dark and vacant, it was a hulking monument to our shopping culture. I was captivated by its emptiness, its raw, brutal, concrete architecture.

Here was another “ghostbox” (as they have come to be called) with its grim façade and a shadow of its stripped signage, lingering like a scar.

For some time I have been drawn to empty spaces such as abandoned buildings, deserted shopping malls, abandoned parks and playgrounds, places that have been built for our activities but are devoid of people. I find these strangely surrealistic and am endlessly fascinated by them.

So, I headed down to the mall one afternoon. As I stood there in the empty parking lot, photographing, a feeling swept through me, which I could not name.

But today, out of the blue, someone sent me the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and voila! There was the word for it:

kenopsia: n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.

Of course. When we think about emptiness we soon see that it is not really empty. Emptiness holds immense tension (potential) in the absence. It is a seedbed of infinite selection, a succession of possibilities.

Likewise, negative space is not a void. It helps to define the boundaries of positive space, brings balance to a composition and, I might add, energizes the entire image.

Emptiness as a state of being enables me to see with new eyes.

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On Labor Day, Some Things to Remember

Labor Strikers in Seattle
Photographs open doors into the past, but they also allow a look into the future. — Sally Mann

A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away. ― Eudora Welty

Kodak sells film, but they don’t advertise film; they advertise memories. ― Theodore Levitt


It is Labor Day.

And personally, I want to remember what this day is really about.

It is not about:

  • The end of summer.
  • A three-day weekend with Monday off.
  • Back-to-school savings, a retail bonanza.
  • The last day to wear white.

No. Labor Day did not begin with picnics, parades, parties, and spending. It began in the streets with labor strikes and bloody riots. Labor Day was established to honor American men and women who did the hard work and heavy lifting that built the world’s biggest, most productive, and once prosperous economy. It lifted not just the individual worker, but what workers accomplished together through activism and organizing, the fight of the union movement.

When it comes to remembering, photographs rule! In our noodled brains, vision trumps all other senses. We are incredible at remembering pictures.

So, thank goodness for the social documentary photographers who never let us forget. By showing living or working conditions of underprivileged or disadvantaged people, their images can move people toward political and social change.

Enter Sam Reiss.

I did not know about his work until now. He has been called ”labor’s photographer,” making images that shaped American labor. “From 1947 to 1975, he photographed labor union membership meetings, marches, strikes, demonstrations, picnics, banquets and other events. He climbed scaffolds, picked his way through abandoned tenements, and followed local union chiefs and national and international leaders (such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and U Thant), going wherever the concerns of labor took him.” I bow deeply.

That reminds me. Beside my television is a CD of another social documentary photographer, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, whose work I have been eager to get to know. I cannot wait to see it!

I will report back soon.

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The Wonder of It

Joshua Tree, California

Joshua Tree. Photo © Jane Alynn

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. ~ Henry Miller

Visiting new places offers so many opportunities to see our world, the landscape we inhabit. I have come here to expand into the space. I have come to listen to the silence, to feel how still it is, to behold the forms of the boulders. Five minutes in the blazing sun will remind you how dry it is.

Also posted in Photographs, Travel

Experimentation

Skagit Dawn

Skagit Dawn. Photograph © 2015 Jane Alynn

The true method of knowledge is experiment. ~ William Blake

Recently, I acquired an Angénieux lens, a vintage French-made lens that is legendary for its optical quality and speed for low light conditions. I bought it to use for street photography, a burgeoning interest of mine. I couldn’t wait to play with it. Though ultimately, I didn’t like the vignetting (it was made for 16 mm cinematography and didn’t fit the sensor), everything about this lens turned me into a beginner.

When we’ve been doing something for a long time it’s easy to forget how it was when we were beginners. As a beginner everything is new. There are no preordained scripts, no established conventions, no expected outcomes. It’s all play—play for play’s sake. There is no purpose but for the pure joy of exploring.

Watch the way children play with everything they can get their hands on.

Learning and growth are impossible without play. By persistently experimenting—doodling, tinkering with different materials, changing up tried-and-true methods, exploring new viewpoints, stretching the expressive potential of our tools, testing their limits and resistances—we become more flexible and imaginative. Play is the taproot of creativity. It transforms our way of looking at the world.

“In play we manifest fresh, interactive ways of relating to people, animals, things, images, and ourselves,” writes Stephen Nachmanovitch in his book, Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts, a book that has guided me for decades in my own creative practice.

I realize, though, that play isn’t always easy for us grown-ups. There are no rules. Play is messy. There’s comfort in habits, conformity, and professionalism. And play is often seen as useless, silly, extravagant, and uneconomical instead of the free evolutionary activity that it is.

So, I say, let’s play!

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Out of Focus

Sanctuary

Sanctuary, from the series Homage to Trees, 2012. Photograph @ Jane Alynn.

An artist is always trying to get away from conventional standards and explore something unknown—something that may commonly be regarded as ugly or a failure. ~ Kazuaki Tanahashi

When I worked in an office, I always hung my photographs on the walls. My co-workers enjoyed them, and I was happy to share them. They inspired me as well.

On one occasion, a man came into the office to meet with someone. He was early for his appointment, so while he waited he looked hard at all of my photographs. He didn’t know they were my images, of course. After several minutes he shook his head and said, “These would be pretty good…. But that poor person needs to learn how to focus.”

I just smiled and thought of Kaz. All the years since studying the Zen art of one-stroke brush painting with him, I’ve realized my soft-edged zone plate images, which I use to explore the unknown, the beauty and mystery of the world we live in, are the most immediate response to his brushwork and his teaching.

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