Categories
Art Travel

Vacation in the Time of Corona; Actually Ten Years Earlier

Ten years ago I took a vacation to a National Geographic Photography class in DC. I had a great time. I realize as I’m cooped up now that I stopped taking pictures soon after this post from 2009. What a great time to start taking them again. I’m going to go out tomorrow and renew my love of taking pictures and see if I can capture some of what we are now seeing on our daily travels … short as they might be. Here is the post from April 2019…

I haven’t taken vacation in close to three years. It’s clear I have trouble relaxing. I decide in this Obama mania of Change, Change, Change that I will take five days off. What to do? What to do? I receive my National Geographic Expeditions catalog in the mail and decide to sign up for the DC four day photo-journalism expedition.

First, I can add simple numbers. It’s not four days. It starts Thursday night at 5:30 PM and ends Sunday at noon. That’s two and a half days. Duh. Ok, rise above accuracy in logistics and get with the program.

I tell my friend Paula about the trip, and she decides to join me. I love Paula because she always reads everything associated with anything she does, and I know she will have the whole thing figured out by the time we get there.

One Month Before My Vacation Expedition

“You have to get a Mac and download Lightroom.” Paula is on the phone after having received her kit in the mail that I received weeks earlier and haven’t read.

“Huh? It’s a photography class.”

“Yes it is, and you need Lightroom which costs three hundred dollars, and you should be on a Mac.”

I always follow Paula’s directions and order one Mac laptop, one major screen, one cordless mouse and keypad. I buy Lightroom and add $5,000 to the $2,000 cost of the trip. Well, I needed to move to Mac anyway; everyone who is really creative uses a Mac and after the class that will include me.

One Week Before the Class

I put my camera in the car and take it with me to be ready for a few practice shots on the days before the trip begins. You never know when the next Katrina can hit when you are driving to and from work the week before your first photo journalism class. My camera is stolen from the back seat of my car two days before we are heading to Washington.

I go to the camera store and buy a new camera and lens that will serve as my “sure I know what I’m doing” calling card. $1,500. We are up to $8,000 for the trip. I’m realizing that perhaps there is a reason I never take vacation.

I’m ready to go. Bags packed. Check. New camera. Check. Batteries charged and ready to go. Check. DC here I come. On the way to meet Paula at the train station I make a mental note that I could be sent to Africa shortly after being discovered in DC as the best photo journalist discovered in a two and a half day class that so far costs $8,000.

Night One — Dinner with the Group

We head down to registration, drinks and dinner right on time and start to meet the group. No one talks about photography much, but instead get acquainted with where we are all from and what we do outside this trip. I look for those with indented shoulders thinking the professional photographers are worn from carrying bags, etc around the globe in their amazing assignments. Not too many are admitting they are photographers professionally. I start to relax.

We eat and then see a presentation by our PPL (Professional Photographer Leader), Mark Thiessen. He presents his work on fires and as he speaks I look around a bit wondering if anyone has the same thoughts as I do about how pyromaniacs love fires and perhaps the fact that for six years he pursued his fire story should be a tip off to the feds. That, of course, makes me wonder if we are going to shoot any FBI stuff and so the evening went.

Day Two: Really Day One After Night One

Everyone is stoked. We head over to National Geographic Offices. (Who knew they have three buildings and call Alexander Graham Bell their founder? Turns out that Bell left them a ton of telephone stock, and so they have plenty of real estate to call their own. I wonder what I will leave them when I win the Pulitzer for a shot I take after learning everything I need to know in the next four days, or two and a half depending on whether you are the payee or the payor.)

After breakfast we head up to the editing classroom we will be using. They tell us in the elevator that we are assigned seats. I say out loud, “Please let me be in the back row. Please let me be in the back row.” Everyone laughs but I know two things. You have to say what you want in life, and being in the back row means you can see what everyone else is doing on their laptops and know whether you should check out or not. We arrive, and no surprise to me I’m in the back row with some fabulous people.

backrowalley2-150x150Kate on my right and Martha on my left. Jack sits next to Kate, and they happen to have the same last name. We later dub our back row, Back Room Alley, and we know that we are the finest in the land for sure and support each other better than my Playtex bra in 1993 when I went through menopause and my breasts fell to my knees.

The morning is a presentation by Todd James, one of the editors at National Geographic. I’m sure he’s a very very nice man to have as a father. That said, his presentation was more a review of his favorite National Geographic stories over the past years (not sure but could be quite a few years).

He offered the following elements of editing:

Know your subject. Research Up; edit down. That was interesting. I’m not a strong researcher, but it makes sense. Learn about where you are going before going and then you will know the shot.

Find Meaningful Surprises. Are you kidding me? That’s like saying, “Make a lot of money,” or “Eat well and you will be thin.” How to find meaningful surprises would have been nice. Some examples of meaningful surprises would have been nice and how it wasn’t dumb luck (or was) would have been nice.

See what others miss. He’s kidding right? Todd, again, how does one see what others miss? How do you even know if others missed it?

Photograph what you feel. I have spent thirteen years in therapy trying to figure out what I feel. By the time I figure out what I feel darkness has set in and the shot is lost. But I know what he means. I do. I know that I need to shoot people not places because I feel people. M on my left who aspires to be a photographer and is one already shows me a shot on day two where there is a line of WWII vets lined up at the memorial, and I start to cry as she remarks, “You know they won’t be around much longer.”

Use photography as a language to tell your story. I like that one. I try it on, “I speak English and photography.” Yes, that’s it for sure. I realize it was worth the morning just for that. And, there were some shots over the weekend that did just that. One in particular was a line from the military at Arlington taken by John I think (will try and get it to upload). The soldier on one side is barking out an order and his mouth is in a perfect O that reminds me of the carolers that I put out at Christmas. I know he means that order big time, and I can hear the picture. I can hear it.

So, I’m glad that Todd, the picture editor who still prefers film rather than digital, spoke to us. I learned a lot and also I know I want to subscribe again to National Geographic.

We have lunch and head off to our first assignment. We are split into two groups; one goes to Dupont Circle and the other, including Back Row Alley, heads to Adams Morgan neighborhood. We are told to capture the culture of the neighborhood. The only thing I remember about Dupont Circle is in the movie An American President, when she keeps getting stuck in Dupont Circle, and I never heard of Adams Morgan. We are told that they are culturally diverse and that’s it. Now, I am a learner, and we were just told that we should research up and edit down, so I know this is not going to go well but I decide it’s all in the attitude. I put on my Geo hat (that’s what all the cool people at National Geographic call the company, and since I’m a photo away from my African assignment, I’m sure it’s ok to join them), hop in a cab with Y whose bag weighed more than I do and head out. I leave her at destination Adams Morgan Neighborhood so I can hear my feelings and stand on a corner for awhile waiting for my feelings to hit me. “Shoot what you feel. I speak Photographer. Editing down from researching up (liar!).” That goes on for quite awhile and I am starting to panic.

merserc_day1_-11-300x225I see it. Four thug young boys walking down the street. They turn the corner away from me. I’m desperate. I call after them “Hey tough boys, walk toward me. You can kill me when you get here.” I swear to God. Desperation does something to a person. They turn. I start clicking. And, it worked. One of the four kept walking the other way, but the other three turn and start walking toward me with a mixture of tough and fun on their faces. I love them and will pay for their college education. Now we are up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for this vacation depending on whether or not they choose Ivy institutions.

I spent some time talking to them. It was great. Promised I’d send the shot which I will do shortly.

We arrive back for the editing process and everyone is shaky – wanting like Sally Fields to really have their shots be liked. It was all very touchy feely during the review process and no real input from the professionals on what should have been done or what makes a good picture etc. I realize that two hours to edit (really meaning pick out four pictures to show the class) borders on a new level of narcissism. We in back room alley finish up in a half an hour and chat amongst ourselves as others painfully look at each of their shots over and over and over again to figure out which one pops. Truth is I only have one worth showing – my boys in the hood – but I feel good about it. Quality over quantity if you ask me.

Kate starts doing some work on her laptop, and I see she is in pharmaceuticals. I tell her I’m all about the drugs, and she doesn’t offer anything under the table. Martha and I talk about her sherpa husband and the class.

We see each other’s images, and the next day’s assignment presented. We are to go to the Lincoln Memorial at dawn, shoot in the new light and then get shots of tourists and meet back for “editing” after lunch.

A group of us walk to a nearby place for dinner and decide to meet in the lobby at six to head over to the Memorial. I take to heart the research first editing remarks and Google Lincoln Memorial at dawn images and see that the light appears to come from the left hand side. I tell everyone that the next morning. Turns out it doesn’t come from the left, but no one suggests that I was sending them astray on purpose.

shapeimage_1My shots of the memorial are not memorable. Martha, however, nails it with a shot of the Memorial with a man mopping the area. Kate and I compliment her shot, and we all marvel at Kate’s shots too. I have asked her to send me some to show.

I am grateful for the morning and my encounter with Reginald in the park. Paula and I go into the park near National Geo after the Lincoln Memorial, and Reggie is sitting on a bench. I know he’s not all ‘there’ but there was something about his face. I sit down next to him and realize that part of being a photographer is that you are not really you. You can do things like sit next to a schizophrenic on a bench and feel like you have something to say to him.

I hand him my large lens as I’m switching to something smaller, and he and I become friends. Reggie is trying to stay in the real world and in his mind is a great basketball player. He demonstrates his techniques which if I’d read the directions on how to work my camera I could have shot with repeat shutter controls, but of course I haven’t and so I am stuck with Reggie in one still.

p10102352-225x300I give Reggie twenty dollars. I tell him he earned it for helping me with my lenses He was so happy that he gave me a hug and a kiss. I won’t forget him.

When we got back to the editing room, our leader Mark gave a lecture on elements of good picture taking. It strikes me that having it at the END of the expedition was sort of strange, but whatever. he also shows us pictures from his personal collection. They are awesome. Kate notes that the Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns are all about the candles in them. The birthday cake picture is also all about the fire. She is so smart that Kate, and I tell her so, but she still doesn’t offer me any free drug samples.

We have our wrap up dinner and the helpers put together a video presentation (they are sending it to us and I’ll upload it when they do). I realize that we all learned a lot. I took my first vaca in years, and I realized that it’s about getting out of the house, away from technology. I intend to do it more often.

Paula and I skip the last morning tour of Mark’s lab; I doubt we will be using it in the future. We have a nice leisurely breakfast and talk about our favorite shots from the group. Great wrap. Great weekend with my friend. I will research applying for Pulitzers when I get hope. Research up. Edit down.

Categories
Art

National Geographic: Ms Christine Goes To Washington

Ten years ago I took a vacation to a National Geographic Photography class in DC. I had a great time. I realize as I’m cooped up now that I stopped taking pictures soon after this post from 2009. What a great time to start taking them again. I’m going to go out tomorrow and renew my love of taking pictures and see if I can capture some of what we are now seeing on our daily travels … short as they might be. Here is the post from April 2019… 

I haven’t taken vacation in close to three years. It’s clear I have trouble relaxing. I decide in this Obama mania of Change, Change, Change that I will take five days off. What to do? What to do? I receive my National Geographic Expeditions catalog in the mail and decide to sign up for the DC four day photo-journalism expedition.

First, I can add simple numbers. It’s not four days. It starts Thursday night at 5:30 PM and ends Sunday at noon. That’s two and a half days. Duh. Ok, rise above accuracy in logistics and get with the program.

I tell my friend Paula about the trip, and she decides to join me. I love Paula because she always reads everything associated with anything she does, and I know she will have the whole thing figured out by the time we get there.

One Month Before My Vacation Expedition

“You have to get a Mac and download Lightroom.” Paula is on the phone after having received her kit in the mail that I received weeks earlier and haven’t read.

“Huh? It’s a photography class.”

“Yes it is, and you need Lightroom which costs three hundred dollars, and you should be on a Mac.”

I always follow Paula’s directions and order one Mac laptop, one major screen, one cordless mouse and keypad. I buy Lightroom and add $5,000 to the $2,000 cost of the trip. Well, I needed to move to Mac anyway; everyone who is really creative uses a Mac and after the class that will include me.

One Week Before the Class

I put my camera in the car and take it with me to be ready for a few practice shots on the days before the trip begins. You never know when the next Katrina can hit when you are driving to and from work the week before your first photo journalism class. My camera is stolen from the back seat of my car two days before we are heading to Washington.

I go to the camera store and buy a new camera and lens that will serve as my “sure I know what I’m doing” calling card. $1,500. We are up to $8,000 for the trip. I’m realizing that perhaps there is a reason I never take vacation.

I’m ready to go. Bags packed. Check. New camera. Check. Batteries charged and ready to go. Check. DC here I come. On the way to meet Paula at the train station I make a mental note that I could be sent to Africa shortly after being discovered in DC as the best photo journalist discovered in a two and a half day class that so far costs $8,000.

Night One — Dinner with the Group

We head down to registration, drinks and dinner right on time and start to meet the group. No one talks about photography much, but instead get acquainted with where we are all from and what we do outside this trip. I look for those with indented shoulders thinking the professional photographers are worn from carrying bags, etc around the globe in their amazing assignments. Not too many are admitting they are photographers professionally. I start to relax.

We eat and then see a presentation by our PPL (Professional Photographer Leader), Mark Thiessen. He presents his work on fires and as he speaks I look around a bit wondering if anyone has the same thoughts as I do about how pyromaniacs love fires and perhaps the fact that for six years he pursued his fire story should be a tip off to the feds. That, of course, makes me wonder if we are going to shoot any FBI stuff and so the evening went.

Day Two: Really Day One After Night One

Everyone is stoked. We head over to National Geographic Offices. (Who knew they have three buildings and call Alexander Graham Bell their founder? Turns out that Bell left them a ton of telephone stock, and so they have plenty of real estate to call their own. I wonder what I will leave them when I win the Pulitzer for a shot I take after learning everything I need to know in the next four days, or two and a half depending on whether you are the payee or the payor.)

After breakfast we head up to the editing classroom we will be using. They tell us in the elevator that we are assigned seats. I say out loud, “Please let me be in the back row. Please let me be in the back row.” Everyone laughs but I know two things. You have to say what you want in life, and being in the back row means you can see what everyone else is doing on their laptops and know whether you should check out or not. We arrive, and no surprise to me I’m in the back row with some fabulous people.

backrowalley2-150x150Jack on the left, Martha, Kate and Paula who visited our row often.

Kate on my right and Martha on my left. Jack sits next to Kate, and they happen to have the same last name. We later dub our back row, Back Room Alley, and we know that we are the finest in the land for sure and support each other better than my Playtex bra in 1993 when I went through menopause and my breasts fell to my knees.

The morning is a presentation by Todd James, one of the editors at National Geographic. I’m sure he’s a very very nice man to have as a father. That said, his presentation was more a review of his favorite National Geographic stories over the past years (not sure but could be quite a few years).

He offered the following elements of editing:

Know your subject. Research Up; edit down. That was interesting. I’m not a strong researcher, but it makes sense. Learn about where you are going before going and then you will know the shot.

Find Meaningful Surprises. Are you kidding me? That’s like saying, “Make a lot of money,” or “Eat well and you will be thin.” How to find meaningful surprises would have been nice. Some examples of meaningful surprises would have been nice and how it wasn’t dumb luck (or was) would have been nice.

See what others miss. He’s kidding right? Todd, again, how does one see what others miss? How do you even know if others missed it?

Photograph what you feel. I have spent thirteen years in therapy trying to figure out what I feel. By the time I figure out what I feel darkness has set in and the shot is lost. But I know what he means. I do. I know that I need to shoot people not places because I feel people. M on my left who aspires to be a photographer and is one already shows me a shot on day two where there is a line of WWII vets lined up at the memorial, and I start to cry as she remarks, “You know they won’t be around much longer.”

Use photography as a language to tell your story. I like that one. I try it on, “I speak English and photography.” Yes, that’s it for sure. I realize it was worth the morning just for that. And, there were some shots over the weekend that did just that. One in particular was a line from the military at Arlington taken by John I think (will try and get it to upload). The soldier on one side is barking out an order and his mouth is in a perfect O that reminds me of the carolers that I put out at Christmas. I know he means that order big time, and I can hear the picture. I can hear it.

So, I’m glad that Todd, the picture editor who still prefers film rather than digital, spoke to us. I learned a lot and also I know I want to subscribe again to National Geographic.

We have lunch and head off to our first assignment. We are split into two groups; one goes to Dupont Circle and the other, including Back Row Alley, heads to Adams Morgan neighborhood. We are told to capture the culture of the neighborhood. The only thing I remember about Dupont Circle is in the movie An American President, when she keeps getting stuck in Dupont Circle, and I never heard of Adams Morgan. We are told that they are culturally diverse and that’s it. Now, I am a learner, and we were just told that we should research up and edit down, so I know this is not going to go well but I decide it’s all in the attitude. I put on my Geo hat (that’s what all the cool people at National Geographic call the company, and since I’m a photo away from my African assignment, I’m sure it’s ok to join them), hop in a cab with Y whose bag weighed more than I do and head out. I leave her at destination Adams Morgan Neighborhood so I can hear my feelings and stand on a corner for awhile waiting for my feelings to hit me. “Shoot what you feel. I speak Photographer. Editing down from researching up (liar!).” That goes on for quite awhile and I am starting to panic.

merserc_day1_-11-300x225

I see it. Four thug young boys walking down the street. They turn the corner away from me. I’m desperate. I call after them “Hey tough boys, walk toward me. You can kill me when you get here.” I swear to God. Desperation does something to a person. They turn. I start clicking. And, it worked. One of the four kept walking the other way, but the other three turn and start walking toward me with a mixture of tough and fun on their faces. I love them and will pay for their college education. Now we are up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for this vacation depending on whether or not they choose Ivy institutions.

I spent some time talking to them. It was great. Promised I’d send the shot which I will do shortly.

We arrive back for the editing process and everyone is shaky – wanting like Sally Fields to really have their shots be liked. It was all very touchy feely during the review process and no real input from the professionals on what should have been done or what makes a good picture etc. I realize that two hours to edit (really meaning pick out four pictures to show the class) borders on a new level of narcissism. We in back room alley finish up in a half an hour and chat amongst ourselves as others painfully look at each of their shots over and over and over again to figure out which one pops. Truth is I only have one worth showing – my boys in the hood –  but I feel good about it. Quality over quantity if you ask me.

Kate starts doing some work on her laptop, and I see she is in pharmaceuticals. I tell her I’m all about the drugs, and she doesn’t offer anything under the table. Martha and I talk about her sherpa husband and the class.

We see each other’s images, and the next day’s assignment presented. We are to go to the Lincoln Memorial at dawn, shoot in the new light and then get shots of tourists and meet back for “editing” after lunch.

A group of us walk to a nearby place for dinner and decide to meet in the lobby at six to head over to the Memorial. I take to heart the research first editing remarks and Google Lincoln Memorial at dawn images and see that the light appears to come from the left hand side. I tell everyone that the next morning. Turns out it doesn’t come from the left, but no one suggests that I was sending them astray on purpose.

shapeimage_1My shots of the memorial are not memorable. Martha, however, nails it with a shot of the Memorial with a man mopping the area. Kate and I compliment her shot, and we all marvel at Kate’s shots too. I have asked her to send me some to show.

I am grateful for the morning and my encounter with Reginald in the park. Paula and I go into the park near National Geo after the Lincoln Memorial, and Reggie is sitting on a bench. I know he’s not all ‘there’ but there was something about his face. I sit down next to him and realize that part of being a photographer is that you are not really you. You can do things like sit next to a schizophrenic on a bench and feel like you have something to say to him.

I hand him my large lens as I’m switching to something smaller, and he and I become friends. Reggie is trying to stay in the real world and in his mind is a great basketball player. He demonstrates his techniques which if I’d read the directions on how to work my camera I could have shot with repeat shutter controls, but of course I haven’t and so I am stuck with Reggie in one still.

p10102352-225x300I give Reggie twenty dollars. I tell him he earned it for helping me with my lenses He was so happy that he gave me a hug and a kiss. I won’t forget him.

When we got back to the editing room, our leader Mark gave a lecture on elements of good picture taking. It strikes me that having it at the END of the expedition was sort of strange, but whatever. he also shows us pictures from his personal collection. They are awesome. Kate notes that the Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns are all about the candles in them. The birthday cake picture is also all about the fire. She is so smart that Kate, and I tell her so, but she still doesn’t offer me any free drug samples.

We have our wrap up dinner and the helpers put together a video presentation (they are sending it to us and I’ll upload it when they do). I realize that we all learned a lot. I took my first vaca in years, and I realized that it’s about getting out of the house, away from technology. I intend to do it more often.

Paula and I skip the last morning tour of Mark’s lab; I doubt we will be using it in the future. We have a nice leisurely breakfast and talk about our favorite shots from the group. Great wrap. Great weekend with my friend. I will research applying for Pulitzers when I get hope. Research up. Edit down.

Categories
Art Books Personal Essays Relationships

It’s Norman’s Fault.

imgres-2I have been pondering who is to blame for the misconception of the “normal” American Family that we all struggle to overcome when our own families don’t quite measure up. Okay, forget the “don’t quite measure up.” Let’s call a spade a spade: Our families look nothing like the Leave it to Beaver, or even Modern Family models that we all love to turn on each week. There is no sign of the real sadness, anger, and stress of being part of an American family, and this makes us feel isolated in our inability to get it right. And, then there is the environment they live in lacking in the unmade beds or dishes in the sink that beg to be found out if anyone were to drop by your house on a given day. Maybe that’s why no one drops by anymore. And please do not get me started about the way Facebook enables us to re-write our daily lives into smiling faces and fabulous news that hide the real ebb and flow emotions of our own reality.

Anyway, I’ve figured it out. It’s Norman’s fault. Yep, Norman Rockwell, who happens to have the same birthday as me. He set up this ridiculous measuring stick that has no basis in reality. His artistic masterpiece covers for The Saturday Evening Post of happy, happy, happy Thanksgiving dinners and American life portraits were clearly set nowhere near my family’s Thanksgiving dinners, to which I was assigned to bring cranberry sauce in a can because no one liked me. Or Christmas when I was little, when my mother once gave me of a picture of myself as a gift. I immediately realized it was a photo of my sister, not me, which confirmed that no one ever took pictures of me when I was little because I wasn’t cute. (I’m cuter now. Actually, I was cuter in my twenties and thirties than I am now, but who wasn’t?) Anyway, the point is that Norman set us up to believe that someone, somewhere in America, was living the way his 322 Saturday Evening Review covers depicted, and he knew he was lying.

Norman was married three times and suffered from depression throughout most of his adult life. His repressed sexuality (he painted lots of men and boys), fear of women, and a fascination with manhood seem to stand out as his personal struggle, according to his biographer, Deborah Soloman, who worked on his biography, American Mirror: The Life of Norman Rockwell, for ten years. Of his 322 covers, only three depict a traditional family of parents and children. Who knew?

Soloman’s look at Rockwell has drawn a lot of criticism from those who prefer to let his paintings’ depiction of life be seen as his life’s reality, which was clearly not the case. His life was filled with the dark side that never saw the light of day in his paintings. His shrink, for example, spoke of suicidal moments and repressed everything. One of this models jumped out a window after he dropped him with nary a word, as was the painter’s habit. When Deborah Soloman spoke in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a woman in the audience stood up and said, “You’ve taken all the optimism out of Rockwell’s work.” Well, girlfriend, wake up and smell the paint brush. His work wasn’t portraits after all, but rather something I’m going to dub American Surrealism Under the Guise of Portraits. It sets everyone up for failure by encouraging them to reach for something that doesn’t exist. It’s like You’ve Got Mail, or Pretty Woman, two movies that depict love in such an unrealistic way that many women never find men who measure up. More American Surrealism. Hey, I’m just the messenger. And, I’m a reluctant messenger. I love Rockwell’s work and Pretty Woman and You’ve Got Mail are two films I watch at least once a year.

So, don’t get me wrong here. I write this not to complain about any lack of fabulousness in life; I love my life, past, present, and hopefully my future. But it’s important to recognize that there are ups and downs and imperfections and shades of gray in everything, and to accept this and realize that no one’s life is perfect makes those parts of our daily life so much easier to bear. If Norman had painted the kid getting his first haircut crying, instead of with that silly look of happy surprise, he might have given us a better mirror of our own lives. Couldn’t one face in the Thanksgiving Feast have been sullen? Just one out of the eleven in the picture? Come on, give a girl a break here. Make me feel at home.

So Norman, I forgive you. And after reading about your life a bit, I will say that it must have been hard to be held to a standard you knew didn’t exist, but which you somehow must have thought could exist. Or should exist. Maybe if you had tried just a little bit harder, it would have existed.

Categories
Art Movies & TV

Tim’s Vermeer Movie Review

music-lessonI’m not blessed with a natural sense of curiosity, so the question of how Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer painted his extraordinary masterpieces has never kept me up at night. Tim’s Vermeer made me realize I should be kept up at night by the mysteries of the past. I love this movie. I love that I paid close attention through it all. I love Tim Jenison’s biting humor. I love the mystery surrounding his theory. I love that even back then, there were people doing things behind the scenes to make the ordinary extraordinary. And I love that we will never know if it’s true.

Let me bring in my friend Heidi Sullivan to explain the meat and potatoes. Heidi and I made our yearly trek this year to the Hamptons together for the Hamptons Film Festival. She is an award-winning documentarian, and much, much, much smarter than I am. She also picks the movies we see because she is a deep-sea diver who spends time diving into things, while I am a water skier, flying over things on the surface level. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Anyway, in the interest of making sure you get the whole thing, I asked her to write the paragraph explaining Tim’s theory on Vermeer’s painting process. Here is it. After you read it, you will be glad I asked her. She is nothing if not articulate when it comes to complex issues. She went to Harvard. Just sayin’.

“Unlike those of his contemporaries, none of Vermeer’s sketchbooks have ever been found, nor have X-rays of Vermeer paintings revealed any pencil marks underneath the paint. Intrigued by this fact, Jenison reasoned that Vermeer must have used a camera obscura, the 17th-century equivalent of a camera, to obtain his hyper-realist look (as the film points out, camera obscura literally means darkroom). To test out his theory, and limiting himself to objects and pigments that would have existed in Vermeer’s day, Jenison positioned a mirror on a stick, placing the mirror at an angle to reflect the image to be painted onto his tablet. To match the color of the reflected image exactly, Jenison continually kept his eye on the edge of the mirror. Looking between the mirror and the reflected image he was painting, if the color he was using was too dark or too light, the edge of the mirror was visible to his eye. But once he mixed his colors to match exactly, the edge of the mirror seemed to disappear – his eye and the mirror functioning as a sort of photo-sensor. It was an incredibly painstaking paint-by-numbers process, but one that yielded uncanny results.”

Amazing right? But more amazing is Tim’s exploration of this question. His journey to see if he could replicate  is told with honesty, humor, and intelligence. Perhaps best of all, it approaches an extremely difficult topic with a sense of comic perspective. No one is curing cancer. He was responding to his own internal boredom with a project he admits he would have abandoned had not the cameras been rolling. There were 2,500 hours of film to edit. A feat in itself.

There is a moment on film that I couldn’t leave behind. Tim’s daughter spends her week home from college posing for the painting. She has to be perfectly still. A contraption is strapped to her head that makes it look like she has just broken her neck and is in traction. She has a Diet Coke on the table, and the moment when she reaches for it and takes a drink is priceless. Coke should use it in a commercial. And, Tim’s comment that she couldn’t wait to return to school was priceless.

I have to mention Penn Jillette, who was the ‘Director’ of this movie. But he really wasn’t. He was the famous person whose backing allowed it to be made. Or so it seemed. I’m not a fan anyway, so having him associated with the film would have been a reason not to go, rather than a reason to pay attention.

I like stick-to-itiveness in a person. I do. I can’t wait to see a Vermeer and at the Met the next time I am in New York City. I like to be smarter than I was a few hours ago. I like to know things. For those reasons alone, go see the Tim’s Vermeer. Become smarter. Ask yourself if Vermeer could secretly have been a paint-by-numbers kind of guy, hiding it because he knew it was a form of cheating? If the answer is yes, what else is possible?

Categories
Art Music

Lady Gaga

It’s hard for a fifty-eight year old woman (that would be me) to sing the praises of a woman who renamed herself Lady Gaga and wraps herself in raw meat to go onstage and talk about being authentic. Before I got to know her music, I had a hard time considering the wearing of red meat on your body to be authentic. But I thought it might be a generational thing. I, like so many of my peers, thought of the Gaga as a 2011 remake of Madonna, who was more show than talent. I was wrong.

Lady Gaga was Stephanie someone-or-other, and she grew up in New York City at the same time as my fabulous daughter, Sarah. She went to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, the very name of which tells you that they didn’t celebrate her desire to wear only a few token pieces of clothing on any given day and otherwise go around pretty much naked. But her parents always told her she was fab just the way she was. And good for them, because she is. I can’t help wondering: if I had told Sarah it was ok to go to school in her underpants, would she have forgone law school in order to get onstage at Madison Square Garden and sing about following your dreams? Sorry Sarah, if I inhibited your sense of self. You do the best you can, and when you know better, you do better (thank you Maya Angelou).

My first inkling of Ga Ga’s brilliance and talent came via 60 Minutes. She was smart, articulate, and sincere (although who really knows; one of my colleagues once worked with Jeffrey Dahmer and he thought he was a nice guy). Most of all, her music was amazing. I didn’t realize she could sing. Her music is her own, and her lyrics actually speak to me.

 

My mama told me when I was young

We are all born superstars

She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir

There’s nothin’ wrong with lovin’ who you are
She said, ’cause He made you perfect, babe
So hold your head up, girl and you’ll go far
Listen to me when I say

I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way, born this way.

She puts it to fabulous music, and while her performance attire is outrageous, I now find myself looking forward to seeing what she is going to wear next. It is a total package.

I see kids crying during her performances, not because they are worshiping her, but because she is telling them they are ok the way they are in that moment. I wish that Paul Simon had told me I was ok the way I was instead of telling me that he would be my Bridge Over Troubled Water, or to go look for America. I don’t really mean that, Simon was my Bridge Over Troubled Water when I cried my seventeen-year-old self to sleep to that song over and over again over Bob Reid, whom I had rejected for some silly reason that made no sense to me immediately after I did it. But I never felt like he knew me, or was supposed to know me personally.

I don’t know if Lady Ga Ga is an anomoly, or if today’s social media platforms allow performers (she says she is a performance artist) to speak more personally to their fans. But whatever it is, take a look at her, peers of mine. It is well worth the trip.

Categories
Art Health

“Inspiration. She doesn’t come to the lazy.”

I watched a YouTube video of the artist, David Hockney over the weekend. He was answering questions people sent in on Twitter. “Do you find the current fiscal and moral crisis an inspiration to your work or a distraction?” He sat back, smiled a Cheshire Cat smile and said, “Ah, inspiration. She never visits the lazy.” First, I want to thank him for considering inspiration’s origin my gender, especially because he happens to be gay. But second, and perhaps more importantly, it made me pause.

Sometimes my pauses can be mistaken for laziness. I can pause all afternoon, and if it happens to be in front of Turner Home Movie’s thirty-thousandth showing of Pretty Woman, all the better. I’m a short distance runner. I go at high speed and then crash for whatever time, and then start up at high speed again. I struggle with the term lazy, as it’s something I really have always considered as an adjective that does in fact describe me.

“You are crazy,” friends will comment when I mention my lazy self. “You make me feel like I don’t do anything.” But I know they don’t know the me that sits in front of the TV, or ponders stupid things like valet in LA and where they park the cars. Or, why I am missing trees so terribly much when I never stopped to look at them when I lived back East.

In computer terminology, lazy evaluation is the technique of delaying a computation until the result is required. So in Christine’s world I’m a lazy evaluator. I will delay a decision or action until the result is required. I will not write my blog much before the 6 a.m. deadline so it gets fed daily to you amazingly discerning readers who follow it. I will not decide on which apartment to rent in LA until the day before heading back to NY to get my packing done because I don’t need to decide before then. It’s not lazy; it’s result oriented.

Ok, that works for the actions I actually take; however what about the ones that I haven’t taken? What about the inspiration that does not come to me because I’m too lazy to go out and experience that which I have not experienced so it can inspire me? So, as usual, I make a plan. I will go to the beach in Venice, which I haven’t visited yet, and walk and walk in an unlazy-like manner and the inspiration will come to me in a flash. I will be the happy person that exudes delight in what is yet to come like my new hero (sorry Obama), David Hockney.

So, I head to the beach where I start walking. There are tons of people there; it’s very hot here in LA in October, and so I have to walk around them and not just wander so the inspiration can find me. Not only that, but I forgot my sunglasses and sunscreen (sunscreen in October should be outlawed) and I’m hot and getting an uninspired headache as I have to concentrate hard to not step on some unsuspecting person sitting on the beach not realizing they are sucking up my inspiration space. Surely the inspiration can’t find me because I’m weaving around the beach like my dog Luke does when he’s following a scent.

I head for home. I look at the boxes in the house that have not yet been unpacked, and I know in my heart of hearts that unpacking them will not inspire me one bit. And not unpacking them is surely the definition of lazy as the verb Hockney meant it to be. Needless to say, once again, I’m a failure with the best of intentions. I still like Hockney’s work, and I recognize that he’s on to something, but the truth is, I will not benefit from it on this day, this weekend, or this month.

Thank God Van Gogh isn’t on YouTube. Can you imagine what I’d have to do to find a connection to him?