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Artist Statement

MOCA GA talk, May 12, 2010

Around two years ago when I was at a wine tasting in Tiger, GA I saw Bob Hatcher who asked me what I was up to. I told him I was about to have a show in La Grange called “All About Trees”. He said “come with me, I’d like to show you the allee of trees I have just planted on our property around a pond.” I saw the lotus pond and asked if I could come back and photograph. Once I got back there I was like a dog with a bone. I wouldn’t let go. The Chinese ancients tell us “Perseverance brings good fortune.” These black and white prints found their way into the tree show by being called “want to be trees” and they were a hit.

The tree theme came about because I had shot so many trees through out my years as a photographer. The first thing I do every morning is walk my dogs on my mile long trail in the woods along a creek. When I was invited to have the show “All about Trees” I went on some road trips to take more pictures, while I was still shooting black and white film.   I have since switched to a digital camera.  I have continued to shoot at Hatcher’s Pond even after this show opened. In fact I took an out of town friend there on a rainy day. Each time I approach the pond I worry that there is nothing there anymore, but that day in the rain the raindrops on the water were spectacular.  However, when I was reviewing the pictures in my camera it went blank.  My friend said, “Rice.”  We stopped and bought rice and put the camera in a baggie.  In 24 hours it came black to life. Good to know!

While I was still photographing in Hatcher’s pond I went to the Galopogas Islands and merged the sky, trees, and water into one image. These photos have similar elements that occur in the Hatcher pond photographs., I even titled that body of work, “Earth, Sky, and Water without even making the connection. I was exploring color and light relationships in the Galapagos Islands at the same time I continued looking at Hatcher’s Pond in color.

Very recently I discovered that I don’t have to travel halfway around the world to be inspired! I have lived in the same house for 50 years and have walked past a spot across the road countless times, but never saw the potential to make meaningful photos there. I was so excited when I realized that I had made these tree reflections in water so much like Hatcher’s Pond. A week or so after shooting that photograph across the road, I was visiting in Mexico where I shot a friends wedding and then went on a road trip near by and made these recent images. With this work, the merger of foreground, middle ground, and background coming into one continuous space, along with the optical movement around and through the picture plane, continues an approach that I see somehow related to my other work, expressed fully in the Hatcher’s Pond exhibition.

The way my eye has been developing I see things differently now. As a general rule, I shoot intuitively and analyze connections later. I have always believed that if you don’t live on the edge you are taking up too much space.

At Hatcher’s Pond I realized I was standing on the edge and seeing things I hadn’t seen before and started coming back as often as I could, to see the pond during different seasons, times of day, weather and light conditions.  When the first winter season came I got really excited by the many possibilities and started to see more and more patterns and feel the meditative pull.  I tried to keep my mind and eye open to things I didn’t recognize and allow the camera and lens to show me things I hadn’t seen.  I let go of my preconceptions of nature and the rhythms started to flow.   Being stuck with what you know often keeps you from seeing what you don’t know.  One must use intuition with no premeditation in order for the spontaneity of chance to take over, which is the keystone of my best work.  The landscape of the dead lotus plants opened up chance sightings and invited new discoveries every time I redirected my camera.  I was distracted from the original purpose of the plants and the pond and was simply focused on the abstract images that were being revealed to me.

During my second winter I went when it was 17 degrees.  It was bone cold, the water was frozen and so was I but I was determined not to think about that and to make new images.  One afternoon Maggie and Bob Hatcher came down to chat with me and I continued shooting as the light was going fast.  When I looked at the proofs later with artist John Dean, my printer, he said he noticed that I had lost my concentration between this frame and the last frame I took while talking to them.  That made me realize that when I was concentrating I was in a complete meditative state, probably in the same state of mind that the artist Don Cooper is in when he is making his “pindu” circles and gets lost in the process.

In 1940 Mark Rothko stopped painting recognizable images because he wanted to create a new language that did not refer either to myth or reality. He saw memory, history and geometry as obstacles. He started using watercolors hoping the shimmering pulsating color would project and recede in space creating abstract fields of color for the viewer’s contemplation.

I hope that the transparency of my images of the lotus stalks and pods reflecting in the water with earth and sky will give you the viewer an emotional jolt.  It’s like plumbing the depths, looking for worlds beneath the surface, as the camera shows what the naked eye doesn’t always see.  By printing these images in a very large-scale they take on a calligraphic style of graffiti somewhat reminiscent of American artist Cy Twombly’s large paintings where he was blurring the line between abstract and representational imagery.

I have been photographing all over the world for 40 years and doing unconventional work that began with training from my esteemed teacher Minor White.  I spent many years making exciting and unique images using all kinds of magical techniques in the darkroom.  At some point I realized that it was more difficult and more fun to find actual images that sparked my imagination.  In Hatcher’s Pond the reflections of the stalks and pods sometimes looking like dancing figures and other times like musical scores is the culmination of all of my photographic desires in one of the richest and most exciting places.  I think it takes a long time to let go of what you know and allow yourself to probe the unknown until you come up with a whole new vocabulary and new ways of seeing things, something I learned through my residency at the Hambidge center.

Rothko talked about always wanting to go one step further, so he virtually made the same vertical painting over and over again hoping the light or color fields would be just different enough to make the next one his best. That’s the same impulse that keeps me returning to Hatcher’s Pond. Every time I go there I am experimenting with what nature has left behind.  Each photograph represents a connection to the whole scene with the layers between earth, sky and water. I am not attempting to represent reality.  The creation of these photographs is both meditative and ritualistic as I move around with my camera trying to get in closer and closer to the abstract forms that I find so amazing.

By the end of his life Monet had hardly touched the surface of continuous discovery and I feel that I have just scratched the surface of this little piece of nature that has been so giving to me.  I get excited every time I go to the pond and I never dreamt that this work would lead to the opportunity of an exhibition at the Museum Of Contemporary Art of Georgia.  The vision was to just show linear images, very large and with lots of breathing space in between each one. According to Jeffery Fraenkel, in his new book “Furthermore,” he says, “the essence of photography remains inexplicable and retains an almost voodoo-like element of magic.”


Birches, by Robert Frost.
This has been one of my favorite poems of all time. I even memorized it as a child. It has to do with my continued connection with nature and how this inspires my imagination.  

“Birches” by Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-coloured
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground,
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm,
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.