Transcendence

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by MurrayMinchin, Apr 15, 2006.

  1. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

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    When I went to art school for the first time, I had never lived in a big city before and was feeling completely removed from any contact with wilderness. After three months there I went to an exhibition of paintings by Emily Carr, who starting around 1910 traveled the coast of BC painting its forests, beaches, mountains, Native villages, and totem poles. After months of city living surrounded by concrete, seeing her paintings struck me deeply. One painting however, The Red Cedar, held me in wonderment. I stood before it and fell into its rhythms...the rest of the paintings faded away...the talking of the people around me faded away...the people and their movements around me faded away...all I was aware of for what felt like fifteen minutes was, the painting.

    I've been back to see The Red Cedar since then but saw, by comparison, only its surface.

    The second experience was about six months after getting my 4x5 field camera gear. I was young and single, recently unemployed, not looking for work, and was completely devoted to studying the photographers I respected, the new demands on craftmanship with large format, and to hiking and photographing as much as I could.

    One day in the fall I was hiking the Coho Flats trail with my gear...it was one of those spectacularly amazing fall days when the light is perfect, the fall foilage was bright and unblemished by any brown or dried leaves, and the air was crisp. As I walked deeper into the forest I gradually started to become more and more aware of finer and finer details. Before long I had given up any attempts to photograph and completely let myself succumb to whatever it was I was going to experience...I began to see all light reflected from all surfaces...I saw all movement...I saw all colours. When I reached the river I was exhausted, and slept for about a half an hour.

    Both were a gift.

    I do find it odd though, (as sure as I am photography is the means of expression most suited to me), that a photograph hasn't transported me in this way. I've been to Carmel and seen prints by the masters held in drawers in the back of galleries, and while mighty impressed, I didn't get swept away. With my own work the closest I've gotten is after days of contrast and dodging & burning experiments, and fine tuning of sharp and unsharp masks, finally, upon seeing the print when the lights come on the hair on my arms stood up...but that was one just print out of many. Which makes one ask, why continue working to advance when the dramatic rewards are so few?

    What were your transcendent experiences?

    Murray
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 15, 2006
  2. Troy Hamon

    Troy Hamon Member

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    Murray, I know what you mean...I've had similar experiences though I'm a bit worn out an not going to try to dredge one up in full narrative...

    But I will say that I have this experience on a somewhat regular basis with my own work now. I concentrate my photography on things that are meaningful to me, and I find that the process of reducing the world to two dimensions and black and white makes it even more interesting to me. Not always, I grant you. That's how I decide what to print. If it doesn't evoke that feeling it never gets enlarged. This isn't intended to be a statement about my work being great or anything else, just that I photograph for myself and I do find a visceral connection to my subjects. That hasn't always been true and I used to have trouble figuring out why I had a fine shot of a flower but not truly stunning...well it's because I don't really care about flowers...so when I feel differently I'll start thinking about photographing them again.

    I especially love the times when I feel that there is something magical while I am making an image, and I know without question that it will be one I choose to print. Those prints are especially meaningful to me. I have one like that of a set of winter tires underneath a rough-hewn wooden staircase...can't explain why but I can just get lost looking at it, and that's how I felt when I made the photograph...so much for being brief...actually just realized that the photo I'm referring to is my avatar...
     
  3. GraemeMitchell

    GraemeMitchell Member

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    You should read Gaddis' "The Recognitions." It's a big novel, but an essential read for anyone interested in art. There is a passage where he talks about having that pure moment of recognition when you encounter a piece of art. Pg 91-92 in my Penguin edition.

    He goes on to say, a person may only have 7 moments like this in their life (he's being a bit tongue and cheek I'd say, but still making a point)
     
  4. Uncle Bill

    Uncle Bill Subscriber

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    I find when I am out taking pictures, I enter an almost meditative state where its just me and the subject matter. My usual subject matter is street photography and I find when I am out there, all my other concerns melt away.

    Bill
     
  5. Poco

    Poco Member

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    For a couple years I was doing a whole lot of low light shooting that required very long exposures, both at night and in abandoned interiors that were dimly lit. I developed a very strong anthropomorphic feeling toward those scenes and places that only bargained their beauty in return for my patience. Every scene would reveal it's secrets, but only if I payed the dues. There were times when this feeling of dealing with a sentient being was unbelievably overpowering, when I knew I'd spent more time and care examining a structure than anyone else since, perhaps, it's designer, and I came away with the sense of the image on my film being the grateful payment for my attention.

    These days I do less of that long exposure stuff but I still get a similar feeling when photographing dead animals. Yesterday I was walking in a remote area when I came across a deer dump -- dead deer wrapped in plastic, shot off-season. This morning I'll go back with camera and when I'm done it'll be a tough moment when I turn my back and walk away. Even if it's only a dead bird or raccoon, there's always a twinge there.
     
  6. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    Murray I had a similar experience the first time I viewed Turners' The Fighting Temeraire at the National Gallery. I got lost in the painting and the period it captured of the end of the old and the beginning of the (new) Industrial Age. What Turner saw and what he painted were two very different things. The way he gave the Temeraire back her old glory as she was towed to be broken up moved me quite deeply. I think it affected me to this day, such that I always look at the old and decayed about me, see how they once were and try to capture that in my photographs..
     
  7. eddym

    eddym Member

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    Murray, I have had this kind of experience a few -very few- times.

    I had a similar experience to your "Red Cedar" when I saw Manuel Alvarez Bravo's "Portrait of the Eternal" http://masters-of-photography.com/A/alvarez_bravo/alvarez_bravo_eternal_full.html
    in the MOMA a few years ago. The entire retrospective exhibition was excellent, but when I came to this photo I was absolutely transfixed. I stood and stared at it for at least 15 minutes before I could move on. I saw the rest of the show, then returned to this photo and stared for another 15 minutes or so. Then we left the exhibition to view the rest of the museum. We were about to leave when I stopped and told my wife, "I have to see it one more time!" and I returned to the Alvarez Bravo exhibit for one last look at this photo. It still takes my breath away every time I see it, even if it is only on a computer screen.

    Another experience was while shooting. My specialty is dance and theater photography, and I see a lot of good ballet and modern dance. Once I went to a small performance of modern dance by my friend Paulette. When I arrived, she introduced me to Arleen, a petite young woman who was going to sing that night during one of the numbers. Fine, how do you do, nice to meet you, etc.
    When the number came up, Paulette was dancing while Arleen stood in the background. The music was an aria from "Aires Brasileñas" by Hector Villalobos. I shot Paulette for a minute, but then I was overcome with the music. I actually lowered my camera -something I had never, ever done during a performance- and looked around to see where this heavenly sound was coming from. I assumed it must be a recording, but I had seen no sound equipment. Then it hit me: it was coming from Arleen, the tiny young woman I had met before the show!! The sound was so powerful, so overwhelming, that I could not believe it could come from her small body. I was moved to tears, and it was very difficult to resume shooting. After the performance I had to find Arleen; but I could not find words to express how powerful was the experience she had given me.

    --Eddy
     
  8. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

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  9. MattKing

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    Murray:

    I too love the Emily Carr paintings. Even the reproductions (at least the well done reproductions).

    When you first saw The Red Cedar, I assume you were at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Were you living near where you are now, before you came to Vancouver for school? Was it at least partially a reminder of home?

    I've always wanted to visit your area - I know that you say that the town isn't much, but the surroundings must be wonderful. The closest I've been is Prince George to the East, and the north end of Vancouver Island to the South.

    Keep well, and good luck finding more transcendence!

    Matt
     
  10. BWKate

    BWKate Member

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    Great thread Murray!

    I found reading this very moving. To have as many of those moments in life is to be very fortunate. I can recall being in the Ufizzi in Florence and seeing a self portrait by an old master (either a Rembrandt or a Rubens) that was so beautiful that by the time I finished really looking at it there were tears streaming down my face and I got a lot of strange looks by other museum goers.
    I agree about Emily Carr's work. I have a special fondness for it. My son's class had a field trip to her house in Victoria. It was very interesting being in the house that she was born and lived in.
    Which art school did you go to?

    Kate
     
  11. BWKate

    BWKate Member

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    eddym,

    I have a friend who lives in Vancouver that owns a vintage photo of "Portrait of the Eternal" and it is indeed a beautiful and transcendent image. When my friend received it in the post (he bought it from a gallery in London that was selling Bravo's work) it had a small crease in it. So he washed it in his archival print washer to swell the emulsion and get the crease out. It worked except all the spotting had been washed out so my friend had to spot an original Bravo print! Luckily my friend is an amazing printer and spotter and he said it was an honour to spot that print.

    Kate
     
  12. eddym

    eddym Member

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    Oh my god, I would love to have a print of that photo! But I could not display it; I would have to keep it in my dehumidified darkroom (along with all my own negatives and prints) to protect it from the high temperatures and humidity here in Puerto Rico. But of course, I would be happy to have it available for viewing at my leisure. I have never forgotten how that photo captivated me that day!

    --Eddy
     
  13. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

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    Hi Matt. Yes, I basically grew up in Kitimat and would play in the bush all the time. My parents started to let me hike overnight by myself (even in the winter) when I was about 11 years old...there's nothing like being by yourself in the bush or in the mountains for days to really actually start seeing your surroundings. The painting brought me back.

    You should take a drive from Prince George to Prince Rupert, as the drive along the Skeena River is amazing. It's awfully big (mostly uninhabited and undeveloped where it's too tough to log) country though and I've only scratched the surface of it :smile:

    The first one was Emilly Carr College of Art. The problem was, it was the year they started moving to the Granville Island campus and all the first year students were isolated in the second floor of an old Swift Premium meat processing building in Gastown. We had no contact with the other students at all. Walking to school in the morning you had to avoid the city workers hosing the puke and blood off the sidewalks before the tourists showed up.

    The second school for fine arts was Langara...I was MUCH happier there.

    Murray
     
  14. BWKate

    BWKate Member

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    Hi Murray,

    You went to the old campus. Okay it all makes sense now. I went to Emily Carr in the newer building on Granville Island and graduated in '91. The darkrooms were amazing when I went there. You could stay every night until 3 a.m. which of course I did. I had a bunch of coworkers from the Broadway Lens & Shutter who went to Langara and really liked it. Jeff Devine and Gord Mott to be exact.
    Now Emily Carr College of Art is called Emily Carr Institute and they also have the building across the street from the main campus. It has grown alot since I went there. I saw the art in Florence during a continuing studies "Florence Program" they do every spring. I won a scholarship to attend the florence program in 1990 along with 4 other Emily Carr students. I had never been to Europe so I was quite taken with the culture when I got to experience it first hand.

    Kate
     
  15. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

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    Hi Kate,

    I agree, the Granville Island campus is a thing of beauty. When I visit Vancouver I always stop in there just to absorb the energy...there's no other place like a fine arts school is there?

    I was totally unlucky in enrolling when I did. Things worked out in the end though :smile:

    Murray
     
  16. BWKate

    BWKate Member

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    Hi Murray,

    I really loved my time there as far as being totally absorbed by whatever project you were working on. I had some great friends and we had tons of fun, staying up all night when I put my grad piece together as an installation. I didn't always agree with the current trends of "conceptual photography" and I did work that I liked and didn't care if I wasn't an art star. So many of my classmates were such tortured souls and I didn't have a big life issue that I could do work about. I figured that why couldn't work be deep and also beautiful. That was the only issue I had about art school. Despite that I did enjoy my time.

    Kate
     
  17. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Somehow, art school sounds like more fun then the Physics and Math Departments at UBC, and the Law Faculty at UVic :sad:

    Matt
     
  18. MurrayMinchin

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    Hi Matt,

    When I went to Langara for the first year fine arts program, we had classes in drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, design (composition), art history, and english literature, an academic requirement.

    With the fine arts classes we had weekly projects, and if I remember correctly each of the classes had five major projects to be completed by semesters end. None of them were due until the last day of the semester.

    Talk about pressure! Everybody found all kinds of excuses to avoid doing their projects, the most common being, "I just don't feel inspired right now". Well, at semesters end the tension was palpable!

    The thing is, there was no way of going to the library and researching your ass out of the predicament you had placed yourself in. There was no easy solution. You can't fake inspiration, and artistic expression demands clarity of vision. There may be no worse feeling for an artist to be slapping down lines, clay, or pigment in an attempt to just finish it - original inspiration be damned!

    There was an older fella there (LOL...he was about the age I am right now) who had been in the Navy, who said he had never felt that kind of pressure before. People ran away and left the program unannounced. It was carnage.

    Oops...bit of a rant there...don't want folks thinking art school is just babbling and finger painting :smile:

    Murray

    P.S. Artists dislike lawyers...until we need one!
     
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  19. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

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    Bravo

    BWKATE-I have the same Bravo print hanging up on my wall in my bedroom. Only difference is that it was printed by his wife. She overprinted it just a tad but I'm still proud to own it!! One of the alltime great photographs!!
    Best, Peter
     
  20. BWKate

    BWKate Member

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    Peter,

    That's great! Hope it didn't cost too much! Well, I guess that doesn't matter when you love an image and get to enjoy it.

    Murray,

    Your story about the carnage of art on demand so reminds me of school! It's hard to just churn out really inspired work on a deadline isn't it?
     
  21. eddym

    eddym Member

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    You and Peter are making me sick with jealousy... :sad:

    --Eddy
     
  22. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Murray - I wasn't trying to say that art school sounded like less work, or less pressure - I was just observing that it sounded like the work and the pressure might have been more fun!

    Actually, law school wasn't bad. There were a number of incredibly interesting, intelligent and creative people (including at least one other lover of photography) in my class, and just being around people like that is inspirational.

    All the best,
    Matt

    P.S. - Lawyers like artists, they just don't like that they don't think like lawyers. :tongue:
    P.P.S. - Lawyers really like posties, but we complain about the mail anyways. :D
     
  23. MurrayMinchin

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    Hi again Matt,

    Sorry if I incorrectly read between the lines...must have been the wine..?

    Murray
     
  24. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    If dramatic rewards were easy or predictable their value would be considerably diminished.

    However, if the path you are following does not seem to be leading toward your desired results, you have some choices:
    • Continue forward in the dark, staying your course.
    • Choose or create another path.
    • Become more aware and interested in your current path's actual destination.
    • Realize that the journey is the actual reward.
    Be also aware that if you have a specific goal in mind, you may be losing track simply because instead of exploring what your pictures may contain, you are instead trying to verify experiences and picture possibilities that you already know.
     
  25. MurrayMinchin

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    Hi bjorke,

    I'll take 100% of both c and d, but 50% of b...you just never know if you'll stumble upon a clearer path :smile:

    I don't know if I could ever have one of these transcendent experiences with photography. In Carmel, I can't remember which gallery, I was shown some prints in drawers and was blown away by a Wynn Bullock print of a dark, wet, weathered log and its root system on a sandy beach. Sorry - can't remember the title.

    If any photograph was going to do it I think it would've been that one, but it raised so many technical questions...was the negative given + development? What paper - developer - toner? Were swings and tilts used to accentuate the roots? How long did it take him to set his camera in that singular spot to have all the compositional elements so balanced? Am I capable of such beautiful compositional control?...that I stayed at the blown away level.

    With my own work it probably will never happen, because I know their dark little secrets...such as what the scene photographed was really like, and that the print value III darkly threatening storm cloud actually fell on the negative at zone VII...so I find each time I look at them I'm continually questioning the choices made.

    I'm in total agreement with you, in that the path of an artist is never following wagon ruts in the dark. But what a fine balance it is to have the neccessary commitment to refine your craft, yet not become blinded to new, clearer means of expression.

    Art...what a life!

    Murray
     
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