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?
Last edited by MurrayMinchin; 04-15-2006 at 02:26 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Note to self: Turn your negatives into positives.
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...
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)
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.
"Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once and a while, you might just miss it."
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.
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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..
Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh.
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/...rnal_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.
Here's a link to Emily Carr's, The Red Cedar;
Note to self: Turn your negatives into positives.
Originally Posted by MurrayMinchin
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!
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?