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Posts Tagged ‘perspective’

The kale was purchased from the farmers market yesterday. It is a big green bouquet sitting in a silver bowl of water next to the window in the kitchen. The wide frilled leaves are draped over my basil and a few other herbs. It’s temporary shade since we’ll soon eat it up. But until the cooking commences, sunlight shines through the larger leaves.

From across the room I could make out the pale tracery of the stem. It was that illumination that drew me across the room. That was what I intended to photograph, the stems and the various branching. But when I got close my eyes were drawn to something different.

The interior darknesses like shadows in a dense forest. The curling of the leaves. The subtle variation in the colors of green. The leaves reflected in the water like dark clouds in a white sky or fir trees reflected in a still pond.

It was an unexpected moment of observation and exploration of perspective. All to be found in a few leaves of kale. 😉

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I continually learn through photography that when beautiful things fall apart – like my bouquet of tulips – that’s when you sometimes find an even greater beauty.

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When do we see ourselves? How do we see ourselves? How is our sense of self shaped by the images of others?  This past year, I spent a lot of time researching U.S. history, mostly pre-Civil War into the early twentieth century.  One of the things that I re-discovered for myself was an evolution in the illustration and other visual representation of African Americans that reflected the sentiments of a rapidly evolving nation.  A nation that had loosely reknit after a Civil War, thirty-years later still in rancorous debate about the “Negro Problem”, and now having to deal with waves of mostly non-English speaking European immigrants making their way to a promised land. Culture clashes took place at every level of society. And those tensions were reflected in the arts and how “others” were represented.

I chanced upon an 1898 issue of the magazine, The Art Amateur: Devoted to Art in the Household, a popular type of magazine at the time.  The article that caught my attention, by E. Day McPherson, focused on Drawings of the Negro Character, an actual tutorial for how to capture the character of your artistic subject.  When reading the text I tried to keep in mind the context of the time. For example … “Character might be defined as the result of emotional habit, and certainly the lines expressive of character are those which show what emotions the person is most frequently subject to and in what degree he is accustomed to repress or hide them.  The negro is much more accustomed to give his emotions free play than white people, and they more than the yellow and the red races. To the Japanese we seem as “funny” as the negro seems to us …”

But my focus was not the words but the artist’s work.  Most publications from that time, outside of publications produced by African Americans, were already presenting stereotypical images of African Americans, if any images were being shown at all.  I was struck by Dee Beebe’s portraits of young African Americans, possibly in Galveston, Texas, in the casual clothing of their day.  I don’t know if she captured their character but she captured their beauty for me.

I couldn’t find out much about the artist. She was born in 1870 into a prominent family in Galveston, Texas. Her artistic skills were clear at an early age.  As one writer noted in 1896:

At the Art Academy of Cincinnati, she studied with Frank Duveneck.  In New York, she studied with William Merrit Chase and Kenyon Cox, and later with Theodore Wendel in Gloucester, MA.  Throughout her life she was a teacher while continuing to produce oil and watercolor paintings as well as etchings. The last reference to an exhibit that I could find was 1922.  She exhibited at the Ainslie Galleries in New York, seventy-five watercolors, “including bits of Holland and Switzerland, views of New England, the Arizona desert and around San Francisco and studies of flowers in localities as diversified as Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Switzerland and Holland.” She died in 1946.

It would be intriguing to see more of the work of this artist. I found a few landscapes online.  The 1898 article says that at one period while back home in Texas she “devoted much time to the portrayal of negro types.” Perhaps those other images, if they still exist I might not like so much, but I am glad she created these images and that they were shared with the public in that popular magazine.

Sources

The Art Amateur: Devoted to Art in Household, Volume 39-40, 1898

Prominent Women of Texas (1896), p. 82

Magazine of Art, 1922

 

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At night, in the winter times, ice forms on the interior of the windows where I live, depending on location of the window, thickness of the glass and so on. By morning, between the household heat cycling on and the heat of the rising sun, the ice melts quickly and forms these interesting patterns. I have learned to grab my camera and walk briskly from window to window knowing I have only a few moments to “see” something before the waters dissipate.  This morning in one room …

I saw the silhouette of water drops on the sheer white curtain.

And then I pulled aside the curtain to see the drops themselves and also saw the reflection of the curtain in the glass.  In the hallway there was a tree …

at least that’s how I thought of it because the pattern reminded me of this tree I’d seen recently in Harvard Square.

And in the kitchen …

quite the landscape there had formed on the glass.

But now the temperatures have risen and all this beauty is now gone, at least until tomorrow.

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or I may move into a modern home where the glass will be quite clear without an imperfection to be found. But until then what pleasure to pause and peer out, as I did this sunny day, and never truly know what will be seen.

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Lin A. Nulman is an Adjunct Professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College.  Her poetry has appeared in Black Water Review, Tanka Splendor, and the anthology Regrets Only: Contemporary Poets on the Theme of Regret, among others. Lin puts her heart and soul into teaching and while I’ve yet to take a formal class, I have felt a student. In her own unique ways, she has challenged me to both appreciate and expand upon the work that I do as writer and photographer. It’s with pleasure I share Lin’s words and images about her grandmother, a great influence in her life.

photo by Lin A. Nulman

“Oh, you see one tree, you’ve seen them all,” a woman once said to my grandmother, who had just remarked on a tree she found beautiful. Gram repeated the comment throughout my childhood as “the saddest thing I ever heard anyone say.” I think so, too, and I’m thankful for the gift of knowing why.

We took walks when I was a little girl, and even not so little, in our neighborhoods and on the beach. Often Gram would stop to look at something commonplace, such as weeds in a patch by the side of the road. Isn’t it amazing, she would say, how Nature creates so many shapes of leaves in just this one place?

photo by Lin A. Nulman

photo by Lin A. Nulman

Eventually I reached the age of impatience with what grown-ups noticed that wasn’t rare blue beach glass or a good climbing tree. But even when I felt impatient, I knew I could see what she was talking about. I don’t know if Gram believed in God, certainly not in a kindly God, but she did deeply believe in Nature, wonderful and endlessly giving. If you looked at it that way. And I do, and I have to, despite all the other ways my eyes still need to open. Her view was one of my starting places, creatively and spiritually.

photo by Lin A. Nulman

Recently a latent love for bohemian style has sprouted in me, thanks in part to author and blogger Justina Blakeney. I stay up too late turning pages of her new book and feeling out of breath. Justina defines bohemian style as the product of “a creative life and an active engagement in the search for alternative ideals of beauty…Our worldly collections are as eclectic as we are…Decorating is about feeling free, having fun, rejecting traditional notions about what goes with what…and getting a little bit wild.” [I’m quoting from her introduction to The New Bohemians: Cool & Collected Homes. UNputdownable.]

photo by Lin A. Nulman

photo by Lin A. Nulman

Even my 1906 copy of Putnam’s Handbook of Etiquette warns New York High Society about the habits of “Bohemia”, over there in Greenwich Village, beyond “the borders of wise convention”, definitely over the edge and unacceptably wild.

photo by Lin A. Nulman

photo by Lin A. Nulman

Her book was in my mind recently on a walk through the Fens, one jewel in the Emerald Necklace of green spaces that loops through Boston. It has a wide area of community gardens, where dozens of people fulfill their own visions with flowers, trees, bushes, berries, vegetables, bamboo, grasses, and leafy plants. It is a wonderful place to open my grandmother’s eyes, to see the shades and shapes Nature creates in just one corner of a park, sometimes helped along by a little human artistry: a painted gate, a statue, a purple disco ball. On this walk, my looking as I was taught to look revealed Nature, to my joy, as The First and Ultimate Bohemian. Everything goes with everything, so feel free and always be a little bit wild.

photo by Lin A. Nulman

photo by Lin A. Nulman

I challenged myself to photograph the gardens in December, without most of the flowers to help, and still found colors and forms running madly, beautifully together, eye-catching contrasts of silhouette, especially as I lost the light, and small places full of texture and depth. Thanks, Gram.

photo by Lin A. Nulman

photo by Lin A. Nulman

Please look for my blog, The Creative Part-Timer, in early 2016.

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