Category: photography

perception: part one

per·cep·tion
pərˈsepSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: perception; plural noun: perceptions
  • the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
    • the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.
    • a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
    • intuitive understanding and insight.
    • PSYCHOLOGY/ZOOLOGY
      the neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.

 

(For the purposes of this blog post, I am concentrating on the second part of this definition, the mental impressions we have of ourselves and the world around us.)

I have been pondering this term perception for quite some time. It crept into my brain during the elections, most specifically to explain the outcome. I began to realize that it didn’t matter what Hillary Clinton did or did not do, the perception that she did something wrong (or even illegal) was strong enough to stop people from voting for her.

Perception is much different than reality or truth. Perception is based on all sorts of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with our backgrounds, our experiences, our morals, our wishes and our desires. It is not quantifiable, nor is it something that can be predicted on an individual level.

There are many ways that perception has been wandering around my thoughts lately. I had actually planned several other posts about it, but I think they will have to wait. This morning there was an image on facebook that hit me squarely in the gut.

The image was of a lion lying dead among the rocks.

Considering how many images flash before my eyes as I scroll through facebook, it is fair to ask, why did this one catch my eye? I don’t have a pet lion, I don’t go to the zoo often enough to get to know the lions personally. I can’t say I have even seen this lion.

Here’s the thing. Tullamore was a part of a (now) rare group of lions. Most of the time we see lions living in the savannah, moving through the grass, showing up around waterholes and hunting the plentiful game. The lions of the west coast of Namibia are desert lions. They live in some of the harshest conditions, little water, little vegetation and little game. They have lived in this area for a very long time and once were pretty plentiful. Then came man. And cows. And other livestock.

In an area that is short on game, it makes sense that a herd of cows would be seen as a gift to a predator. It would also make sense that the owners of the cows would take great offense at having their livelihood eaten by a big cat. Here is where the perception thing comes in.

I am a rich American. I take a trip to Africa, stay in a lodge in the middle of a dessert for three days. I hear about these animals and I see the beauty of them. That is, after all, why I am there. I am a woman from the east coast of the US where there are no predators and I get to stand in front of a cheetah, or a rhinoceros, or to get close enough to practically touch an elephant and it seems like a dream. In the safety of my vehicle or standing beside the tracker with his gun, I am allowed the luxury of “being with” the animals, seeing them walk, run, play and hunt. I come home to watch countless videos of animals in the wild or Planet Earth or read books about how many species are going extinct. I view, from afar, the devastation of man around the world. And I judge. And I grieve. My perception of the death of a lion is based on my need to pet the fox when I was three (my mother nixed that idea quickly). My heartache comes from knowing that “Tullamore” was the last of a group of five male lions in the area (they were called the Five Musketeers). His four compadres were shot or poisoned over the last few years by farmers. I grieve because I met the guy who has has been studying these proud animals, a man who spends much of his life in isolation, and loves it. Unless someone kills an animal.

So what would be my perception if I were a Namibian farmer who does not see any monetary gain and many deficits with the lion population? What if I wanted to send my children to a good school, or build new fences, or dig a new well and a lion started to eat my profits? What if I am of a generation that grew up killing predators without judgement, in fact was rewarded with a pat on the back from my fellow farmers? How would I perceive lions then?

I don’t know. That is the thing about perception. You can’t always tell how you would react if you were in someone else’s shoes. I can only hope to feel compassion for this person. It is tough, it is a stretch for me, at least until I stop feeling so very angry and sad. Until I stop feeling. But right now, my perception of the person who poisoned this lion is that they are not a good person. I don’t know them, I will never meet them, but at this moment I hate them.

I will end by showing three photos. The first two are of cubs in the sand dunes. The last is of Dr. “Flip” Stander monitoring the lions. Despite the setbacks of the last couple of years, he continues to work with the growing population of lions, as well as finding ways of connecting with the surrounding human population. Looking at these pictures makes me smile. Life includes death, even if it doesn’t feel good. But for now, I want to concentrate on the living…

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inspiration

“Where do you get your inspiration from?”

I was asked this question this past week. It is a question I hear pretty often. My answer is usually “What doesn’t inspire me?” A bit snide perhaps. But honest.

The person who asked the question was a teenager and in some ways I feel like I dropped the ball on the answer. There was a lot going on, I had a group from one of the local high schools visiting the sculpture gardens and studio. We were on our way from one place to another and he quietly asked the question while the others were occupied with the kangaroo. It has been a while since I led a group of teens and I had forgotten how shy and quiet they can be with new experiences. If I had it to do over again, I would have talked about it differently. I might have brought the question up later when we were all gathered, and answered it seriously and at length. Because I think that it is the crux of being an artist.

Here’s what I would have answered:

“I am inspired by everything I take in sensorily. Patterns, rhythms, smells, colors, animals, plants, tastes, weather, books, music, textures, life experiences, feelings, sports, politics, psychology, philosophy, religions, interactions, how things work, how things don’t work, theater, film, dreams…okay, you get the picture. I hope. The fact is that when you are an artist, not a day goes by where nothing happens. Every day, something registers in my brain, either consciously or sub-consciously. Some artists like to take photos of these moments, others like to sketch. Journaling is a very effective way of processing these daily vignettes. I like to simply experience them. Because I know that at some point the experience will come out in my artwork. It could be days, weeks or months later. I might not even be aware of it until after it has appeared. But there will be that moment when I think ‘Oh, I know what this piece is about now.’ So my advice to you is to always look, listen, smell, hear and touch, write, draw, photograph…but most of all…live.”



DON’T FORGET!!! 

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Getting pieces ready for “Rust Redux” at Buickster Hall this week.

The exhibit at the new gallery in Taneytown, MD starts this week.  I will be exhibiting there along with an amazing photographer, Alyssha Eve Csük. You are invited to join us on this Thursday (the 20th) from 5 to 7 for an opening reception. (Address: 107 E. Baltimore St., Taneytown, MD) I am super excited about it, the guys have been bending over backwards to get the space finished and to accommodate us for this show. It promises to be a wild event! For more info, click here or go to Buickster Gallery on Facebook.



I was able to spend an entire day in the studio today, something that has not happened for a while. Spent some time just playing…and in one day I finished this study with masonry nails. I really like the shadows!

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Have a wonderful Easter/Passover/whatever and I hope to see you on Thursday!

rocks…or maybe bread.

Yesterday I spent six hours doing three different installations of the paper-cast rocks that I have been making for the past four months (see previous post). The idea was to take something that I have been working on in my studio and find a venue to place it in so that I could see a) what the reaction was and b) how the objects changed when placed within the context of a public space. There was just so much information that I could ascertain stuck in my studio so I ventured forth to the Horowitz Center at the Howard County Community College in Columbia, MD. (Thanks to Becky Bafford and Janelle Broderick for giving me the opportunity to do this.)

I arrived at the college at around 10 a.m. and started emptying the box of rocks soon after. I really had no idea what I was going to make but I immediately had some very interested people checking the whole thing out. It was quickly apparent that the best moments of the day were going to when I put a “rock” into someone’s hand. The surprise was immediate, their eyes telling them that this object should be heavy and their hand telling them that it was lighter than air. Sometime during the day I started to ask people “Which do you believe, your eyes or your hand?”

I had several wonderful conversations and met some really interesting people. The place I had chosen was one of the major throughways from the parking garage to the rest of the college. Howard Community College has an incredibly diverse student population and I was talking to people of all ethnic backgrounds. I was also intrigued by the amount of older students as well. I was not the oldest person in the building by any means.

Here are pix of the three installations that I worked on during the day.

I learned a lot during this process. Most of it was fascinating to me only, but I will share a few things that really intrigued me.

  1. This was less about an installation than about a performance art piece. The finished product was great but my interactions with the public were more important to me as an artist. Especially when I was able to start a deeper, more philosophical conversation.
  2. It is very difficult to create and record at the same time. In the future, I will look into finding someone to visually record the experience. (It also helps to have someone to go get lunch and give me time to eat it.)
  3. This experience was very different than a gallery show or a craft show. It was not about me only, but about my interactions with the surrounding environment. Because I was not looking to sell the piece, I was able to concentrate on talking to people in a more relaxed way.
  4. Some people didn’t see rocks they saw shells or even bread. This last one threw me a bit as I didn’t see that at all. But I went with it anyway. One man’s rock is another’s bread roll. Of course it meant I better understood the gentleman who thought the last installation reminded him of Hansel and Gretel. Mmmmmm…food for thought???
  5. Daylight, time of day, placement of objects is of the utmost importance. I was located in a very well,travelled corridor, although enough out of the way that no one tried to walk on them. The light changed drastically throughout the day which then changed the success of taking pictures. I need to take this into consideration.
  6. It’s better to do this when I am in good gardening shape. I hurt today.

I am sure there will be more of these experiences, I just have to figure out when and where. But with so much else going on, I don’t know when that will be.


Update on the Great Blue Heron…I was featured on the front page of the local rag…there is something to be said for social media…

Click here to read the article and watch the video…

quandary

The current political issues (dare I say crisis?) has put me in a quandary. I am not a naturally rebellious person. I don’t go looking for a cause to fight and I don’t often feel that my views are the only correct ones. I shun proselytizing and I usually honor all sides of an argument. Very rarely would I ever tell someone that they are wrong if they don’t feel or think the way I do. I am not one to join a group. And I am definitely one for keeping my opinions close to the vest…both political ones and religious ones. My goal is to not be judged by my beliefs and not to judge others for theirs.

However.

This is all being put to the test with the rise of the latest president.

Lately my days and nights have been spent having debates in my head, trying to see all sides of the issue and, quite frankly, I am exhausted. It’s time to stand my ground as to how I feel and, if necessary, fight for my beliefs. Believe me, I don’t want to do this. It is easier to agree with everyone around me, even if they don’t agree with each other. But enough is enough.

Here’s what I believe.

The president has an undiagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I’ve known it for a long time but it really blew me away when Trump needed to find a way to say that the numbers attending his inauguration were not only greater than Obama’s but the greatest EVER. How insecure do you have to be to become president and still want to have the MOST people at your inauguration. To the point where he asked for different pictures that show more people. It is this personality disorder that is causing him to declare voter fraud, even though he has already won the election and is actually president. In a way, I feel sorry for him (if I separate the man from the whole situation)…it must be pure hell to have such low self-esteem and high insecurity. No matter what he does or how many people love him, deep down he will NEVER feel like he is good enough.

That being said…it is not my job to fix him. Or to love him. Or to love anything he does. Because everything he does is not based on any political or moral ideals. They are simply based on his need for power and acceptance. Being president isn’t enough, he needs to stop the press from saying bad things about him and the park service from showing bad pictures and…

(I found the following post very helpful when writing this. https://medium.com/@nziehl/coping-with-chaos-in-the-white-house-697fa2ca3ddf#.jx4tq56du)

As for the people who voted for him and continue to support him…well, I really have no idea why. They have their reasons I am sure. I often think about what it would be like if he were the way he is but pushing a liberal agenda. Would I be more inclined to excuse his behavior and his narcissism? I don’t know. Perhaps. But the fact is, he isn’t. He is pushing an agenda that is so polar opposite to everything I believe in that I can’t separate the disorder from the agenda.

My mother-in-law once called me a bleeding heart liberal. She did not consider it a compliment. I thought it was. I believe in treating people with respect, no matter their religion, sexual preference, monetary situation, political ideals, etc. I believe that the government (or someone’s religion) has absolutely no right to tell me what I can and can’t do with my body. I believe that all women should have access to free reproductive care. (Although the notion of free is worth another blog post). I believe that no man has the right to touch my body unless I say it is okay. I believe that “community” is defined not only as local or state but as federal. I believe that this country is an ever-evolving entity and that it is against the ideals of the founders to block entry to newcomers based on fear and paranoia. I believe that walls are ridiculous, that nature abhors them and that the only thing they are good at is to show how paranoid someone is. I believe that the earth is in crisis and humans are the main reason for it. I believe that religious freedom is the essence of our country. It means no one will be persecuted for their beliefs. I believe that freedom of speech is under attack and even though I don’t always agree with what everyone has to say, they have the right to say it.

All of this is currently being challenged by one person. And I am pissed. And feeling a little helpless. But I know I am not alone.

Okay, now it is time to finish up. How this all fits in with being an artist is another issue that has been running around in my head…but that will be for another post.

When my head starts swimming too much with thoughts and debates and challenges, I go to my regular stress reliever…the iPhone and a cat…when in doubt, find a pile of sweaters and take a nap.

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Mother would be appalled

My mother has been dead for almost six years now. For some reason, the latest political upheaval (a very mild term for what is going on) has been making me think of her. She was a women who was very fond of the understatement, and was loathe to use strong words of emotion. “I am not angry, I’m upset” she said to me once when we were discussing a particularly difficult family situation. More than once during my childhood she told me “Don’t use the word hate, use the word detest or loathe.” And, of course, the all encompassing phrase would pop up every so often, “If you can’t find anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

In honor of her, I won’t talk about our president at all. Period. End of sentence.

Except to say that I loathe and detest him.


On another note, I have made the commitment, after having such a great time in Namibia, to sign up for one photographic outing a month. To this end, I spent Saturday In Annapolis on a photo Safari. The focus was on taking abstract photographs. It was a rainy cold day, but I really learned a lot from the leader. (It was a group of one so I got a lot of extra attention…) I am still not great at getting exactly what I want but I am definitely getting better. If you are in the DC metro area and are interested in photography, check out these safaris. https://washingtonphotosafari.com

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Namibia

I returned from Namibia less than a month ago and I can honestly say I’ve never had a better trip. The country is trying to grow environmental tourism in such a way that everyone benefits. Their goal is to create a win/win for people AND animals, especially predators. It is a long term goal, one that will take a generation to really grow strong, but already there have been some positive stories. Not to mention the fact that the infrastructure construction is booming.

The good news (for me) is that the experience was amazing. There are still large swathes of the country that are uninhabited, mostly because they are uninhabitable. The sand sea of Namib is an immense section of land that has been evolving (and dying) for millions of years.Water is more than scarce, it is practically nonexistent. And yet some lifeforms do exist. The recent drought (how can you have a drought in such a dry country?) have made it even harder for them to survive.

Because of this, my experience in Namibia was much different than many visitors to Africa. There were no plains, there were no huge herds of anything. There was an enormous amount of sand. Each time I encountered an animal it was magical and exciting. (Except for Oryx, there are lots of them. No wonder they are the national animal.)

Here are some things I learned on the trip.

  1. Elephants do actually listen to humans. I found this out when an adolescent elephant began leaning on our vehicle while we were standing looking out the top of it. Instead of turning the truck on and scaring it away, the driver just said calmly “No, don’t do it”. The elephant stopped leaning, thought about it one more time, then walked away.
  2. Watching seals is not fun when there are newborns around. The newborns are not protected and often die by being squashed, especially if the seals get spooked and exit quickly to the water.
  3. I know exactly how big and heavy the horns are forester kudu. I also know how tall kudus are compared to me.
  4. I am a better photographer than I give myself credit for. That being said, there is still room for improvement. (Auto focus does not always know what it is you are trying to focus on. I will not show you the thousand blurry pictures that I took.) I thought I would be out of my league on a photography tour but it was actually extremely helpful and I learned a lot.
  5. There are few actual “wild” places in Africa. Even in the bush, animals are often collared in order to monitor them. Sometimes I felt like I was in what I call a “natural zoo”. In other words, the predators and other animals run free…until they get to the fence. The fact that there are miles in between fences does not take away from the fact that they can’t go wherever they want. The good news is that they are protected from local farmers who have a desire to kill any predator that might take away their livelihood. The bad news is that it creates an unnatural ecosystem that constantly has to be monitored. One place had so many lions that they were regularly catching giraffes. However, if it weren’t for these places, I would never have had the amazing experiences that I had.
  6. Even seasoned trackers get excited when they actually find the animal they are tracking. I will never forget when I heard our tracker say “I got them!” in an excited tone when he found the rhinos.
  7. White rhinos are less persnickety and mean than black rhinos.
  8. Rhino horns are made from the same materials as our fingernails. If you know of anyone taking Chinese herbs that contain rhino horns, shoot them. No, wait, I mean explain to them that by taking those herbs, they are killing off an entire species.

Of course there is tons more stuff I learned but I see your eyes glazing over. So I will move on to the visual part of today’s lecture. Enjoy looking through this group of photos! (If you are viewing this on the WordPress Reader, visit the actual blog site in order to see the slide show. It’s definitely worth it.)

Just pictures

I am off to Africa tomorrow and I thought I would write one last blog post. Well, actually I won’t write much because I thought I would give you guys a break from the intensity of life. So I am just posting some pictures that I have taken over the past couple of weeks.

I spent a great day wandering around scrapyards with the photographer Alyssha Csuk. She specializes in abstract photography, and has a passion for rust. These pix came from that experience.

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This was the morning sun coming into the studio.

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And here is the latest on the river of rocks project…

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And you can’t have a truly successful stress-free post without a picture of Ginger and Lucy waiting for their Sunday pancakes…

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I’m off to Africa tomorrow evening…stay tuned for lots of photos of my trip!!!