CURVES

Here’s an idea to consider: there may be a recurring motif in your photography and/or your artwork that you haven’t discovered. Maybe a particular shape, line, gesture, tone or quality shows up, again and again. Maybe it’s even echoed in your body, in the way you move.  I’ve noticed that I return to a certain shape over and over again. It’s a curve, a curl, a rounding of line. Almost a circle but not quite, it’s more like an open sweep. Here it is, in photographs I made of grasses in the water and bursting fireweed seed pods.

 

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Word derivation tells us the word curve arose in late Middle English, from Latin curvare ‘to bend,’ and curvus ‘bent.’  Bending has interesting associations: bending the will, supplicating, the bend in the road….but a curve is a little different. Still, I can see the association between bending and curving clearly here:

 

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Here are the curves I’m drawn to again, this time in water. I think curves express water’s essence; formless on its own, water finds curves when other forces or elements act on it.

 

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This recurring curve lives inside my body and mind (which of course aren’t separate, though we insist on separating them). I picture it beginning tentatively, then building: a swoop, a swirl of the arm, maybe a twirl of the body….then I see a spiral floating expansively in the air. The curving gesture may be small and compact, perhaps repeating like arcs made by knitting needles, or the tight twists of a vine, sprung upon it’s own stem.

 

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On a straight path you’ll find me deviating in small, curved side shoots, ever mindful of what is appearing on the periphery. Another way the curve inhabits me.

 

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The curves in a twining house plant I had caught my eye, so I painted the leaf and stem, then photographed the plant and drawing curving together. A pine cone’s perfection of curved stem and spiraling sphere – such elegant curves – prompted me to make an ink drawing years ago, when I studied botanical drawing. Especially if I draw, the curve keeps appearing, rolling up to the surface of consciousness through the interstices of my neurons, neurons that curve in a tangled, unknowable dance.

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The curve I gravitate towards is something I see in the built environment, too. Of course, I’m not the only one responding with joy to curves, as you can see in the Richard Serra sculpture below.

 

 

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The curve has been with me for a long time, and it comes and goes, or maybe my awareness is what ebbs and flows.

 

 

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There’s something comforting about the idea of a motif recurring in my work, something to hang one’s hat on and organize around, perhaps. Not a bad thing is these complicated times.

 

Notes on the photos:

The first is of grasses and reeds in the Sammamish River, not far from home, January 2016.

The fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) seed pods were photographed in a local park in August, 2016.

The Checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris) was photographed at the Center for Urban Horticulture, April, 2014.

The swirling water photograph was taken at a fountain in Bremerton, Washington, in 2012.

The wave photo was taken at Youngs Creek, outside of Sultan, Washington, September, 2014, at f22, 1/3 second.

The vining stem of a Manroot plant (Marah fabaceus) was photographed in Duvall, Washington, May 2014.

The curving path is at Wright Park in Tacoma, Washington. Photographed last November.

The watercolor and ink drawing were made in the 1990’s.

The curved roof is at the Chinese Scholar’s Garden at the Staten Island Botanical Garden, New York City, photographed in 2011.

The Richard Serra sculpture is at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s made of weathering steel and is titled “Band.”  It’s huge (12 feet high), and some consider it to be Serra’s magnum opus. In an interesting review, writer Guy Zimmerman said, “Standing in the Eastern gallery with Band you have the feeling that there is no valid reason to be anywhere else.”  I concur. My take on the sculpture can be seen here.  Photographed in 2016.

The curly, dried grass was photographed at Umtanum Creek, near Ellensberg, Washington, June, 2014.

The carp were photographed last year at Wright Conservatory, Tacoma, Washington.

The beached log was photographed at beautiful Rialto Beach, Washington, on a misty October afternoon in 2013. More photographs from that day are here.

 


89 comments

  1. Have you notice a recurring theme in the reactions to your posts?
    It’s “Wonderful.” Photos, drawings, and your essay are a wonderful treat.
    That fireweed in the 2nd shot could be the work of a silversmith, and reminded me of a Rochester-based artist you probably know, Albert Paley (at RIT for many years). He’s a fantastic sculptor and metalsmith, who started out working in jewelry, but has done monumental gates, which are, needless to say, full of sinuous curves. The carp photo is terrific, too, an instant side trip to Japan.
    So much of the manmade habitat we spend our lives in, is straight lines and right angles, but I’ve read that humans are hardwired to feel happier around curves and round shapes. I know you can find fans for the most menacing brutalist chunks of concrete, and sometimes I’ll admit they’re striking, but more often, it’s oppressive and depressing to walk around in the shadows with these things hulking over you. You can actually feel the relief when you encounter something with curves, arches, and domes, and it feels like a small victory if a vine has twined over some boring stretch of raw concrete or tedious brick. Now that I think about it, when I’m traveling, I’ve always made detours, (departed from the straight-and-narrow) to see interesting buildings – it’s often something that would fit your motif, usually turn-of-the-last century neighborhoods with Art Nouveau, or more modern stuff by people like Frank Gehry, etc.
    And of course, everything I write is full of digressions and mental wanderings, so I appreciated your mention of neurons as part of this motif! 🙂

    • We’re both digressors, so I enjoy your wandering here. I forgot to add my photos of Gehry buildings – some of my favorite architecture. Thanks for that reminder. As for the fireweed’s metallic look, that was emphasized intentionally…and I don’t know that artist, and will check him out soon. Speaking of being around more curves, are you familiar with the book, A Pattern Language?
      I enjoyed your description of the torture of Brutalist buildings…very apt! I think I’d have trouble relaxing in Russia, outside of St. Petersburg. Even our nation’s capitol tires me for that reason. Nice hearing from you, Robert!

      • I’ve been looking at these again. In the photo of the Serra sculpture, you were using a long exposure, and a girl was dancing around it? It’s a very cool shot. And I meant to say, I liked the highlighted squiggles on the 5th shot, Young’s Creek, which looks like that “light painting” that people do with a long exposure and moving a handheld light. The shot before with the white patterns on water in a sculpture has a such clean edges, like a calligraphy stencil or overlay. Anyway, a very successful album.

      • Yes, more or less – I just checked, it was a 20mm prime lens at f5, 1/8 sec. I have another photo of a man staring at a Serra in NYC, standing between two big walls…no curves, but it’s fun….wouldn’t it be great to just do a series of people interacting with his sculptures?
        The squiggles on the wave were entirely unintentional, though I was pleased when I saw them! I’m not sure how I’d do that again, I think it was very dependent o the filtered fall sunlight that day. In any case, that was f22, 1/3 sec, with a zoom lens. Thank you
        Here are more Serra’s, in Seattle:
        https://bluebrightly.com/2013/02/05/olympic-sculpture-park-seattle/

  2. You have such a talent for finding motifs, Lynn. I like the idea that we’re drawn to particular patterns, consciously or subconsciously, and seek them out in life. I particularly love that roof, and I’m kicking myself for still not making my way out there. Lovely pictures all around, and perhaps you’ll share more drawings someday!

    • Wouldn’t it be fun to see a scientist research that attraction to particular patterns? Yes, get over to Staten Island, it won’t kill you. 😉 If there’s any way you can get a car for the day, all the better, but do it in any case. I wish there were more drawings…I mean there are, but not many! Got to get back to it. Good hearing from you, Lynn. 🙂

    • That was so unusual, the swirling foam on the fountain pool’s surface. I’m glad I photographed it. And I’m glad you enjoyed this little sojourn, Jane. Have a good week!

  3. “This recurring curve lives
    inside my body and mind….
    a swoop, a swirl of the arm,
    ….a twirl of the body….a spiral
    floating expansively in the air
    ….curving gesture….repeating
    like arcs….the twists of a vine,
    sprung upon it’s own stem.”

    The essence of Tai Chi Chuan.

    “The curve I gravitate towards….”

    I almost giggled when I read this
    because….
    ….gravity is a kind of a curve
    in
    space and in time, is it knot?

    Or do I verge from
    parabolic to hyperbolic….?

    “Whoever is soft and yielding
    is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken.
    The soft and supple will prevail.”

    peace–

    • Ah, Johnny, thank you for twirling with me…yes, like Tai Chi, which yes, I did for years, back in the 70’s, it figures, doesn’t it? 😉 As for gravity being a curve in spacetime, I will have to loosen some knots, or nots, to get at that one. Stick to the parabola! Thank you again, for enriching my day.

  4. I think your pine cone might have been interpreted as a frost-covered acorn. I certainly can see that. I enjoyed the first photo, which reminded me of drying Queen Anne’s lace, and the two watery images particularly. The Serra sculpture felt to me somewhat out of place in this series. Responding to a photo of a sculpture hardly is the same as experiencing the sculpture in place. Still, I suspect I wouldn’t linger long with that particular curve.

    I had to smile at my first association with your title and introduction. The concept of incurvatus in se — humanity curved in upon itself — goes back to Augustine. In 2015, The New Yorker magazine offered a humorous and thought-provoking portrayal of one of the most common modern examples of the condition on its cover. A whole society bent over its devices certainly presents a different kind of curve.

  5. Your idea searching for recurring patterns or motives in your archive and reorganizing some examole pictures under this aspect is fine, when you want to stay thougtfully creative in a period of reviewing reflection.
    Combined with your remarkable thoughts on what you’ve found, it gives inspiration to try the same with my own archive.
    In fact, I’ve already been doing so for some weeks by reorganizing my poems under a topic in common and bind them to books.
    Doing such practical work I feel as a kind of curve or deviation from all that digital, technical, theoretical activities like photographing, processing, even writing.
    Your curves are unbelievably beautiful, filled with life and motion and development. A kind of your work’s essence, the answer to the recurring question what it is that makes your photography so touching, so especially appealing.

    • Ule, your comments are always so nourishing, thank you. I understand what you mean by the different energy a person uses when organizing work for a book – it’s a really good thing to do once in a while. It helps you step back and think about your work differently. With your poetic mind, you immediately thought of it as a curve – it’s nice to see you take the association and run with it. I’m wishing I could read German right now, so I could see what your’e doing 😉 Danke again, for your insights and kind words.

  6. Oh such a brilliant observation and I love the way you have illustrated it too with your stunning images. Fascinating. I think I gravitate to lines, angles and order but I am intrigued and am going to look at my images and designs now. Thanks for such an interesting post.

  7. This is an interesting post, Lynn, the like of which I’ve not seen before – fascinating to see many occurrences of curves in your work. Makes me wonder if I have such a recurring theme in what I do. Of the images, I especially like the 4th one (the pebbles underwater) and that epic fallen tree trunk at the end. A 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • When I think of your work, one thing that comes to mind is a certain kind of light, a strongly contrasted, almost chiaroscuro look. I’m not describing it well, maybe you can! I’m happy you enjoyed this…. 🙂 back at you!

  8. Beautiful! The flow of your words was like a thread being sewn through one side and then the other of each image, tying them together in a weaving set of soft curves. 🙂 (I accidently wrote ‘typing’ instead of ‘tying’ and then corrected it. I realized I like it both ways.) Enjoy your day, and I hope its curves are subtle ones.

    • You’re too much. I actually considered adding that Three Graces statue at the Met that I posted last year, but I figured I didn’t want to repeat myself so soon, Sadly, I don’t have a lot of nudes in my files… :- )

  9. It seems like nature is full of curves, especially when you get up close and personal with its patterns – right in your wheelhouse. I’m not sure what theme could be found in my work, I suppose it depends on what I was looking for. Lovely set, as always.

    • Patterns are another theme for me, for sure….and I thank you for your comment, Dave! (Maybe you’re drawn to a certain kind of viewpoint, or strong contrasts…or just like you said, whatever you may be looking for).

  10. Analysing one’s own work is an interesting exercise, particularly after a lapse in time when the critical faculties can be more objective.. It can almost become a photographer’s graphology. I find i am regularly drawn to similar subjects and patterns. I wonder whether an outsider would come to similar conclusions?

    • A photographer’s graphology – I love that notion, Louis. It’s no surprise that you’d know your own predilections very well. I think with your work, most people would pick up on themes that you’d agree with, but there’s always room for individual difference, and most likely someone would see something you hadn’t thought of, or vice versa. That’s what I’m thinking! 😉

  11. A very beautiful perspective. . I did not think about the curves in this way, but now I am agree with your ideas about the curves. Perhaps the curve is a universal thing. .. may be straight line doesn’t exist because even this space-time is curved. Its really a great idea. . Thank you for this post. .. may be I would also like to write something on curves in near future. . Thanks for this post. 🙂

    • I’m sure curves are universal, and I suppose straight lines are probably always ultimately less than perfectly straight, but they certainly have their value! Curved space-time is something I could have added, if I were way more well versed in physics. Oh well! 😉 I’d love to see what you would do with it, the curving trajectories of your travels, your life….maybe some more abstract ideas mixed with concrete ones….

  12. You’ve taken one of the more beautiful concepts of nature and combined them with words and a series of photos that takes art & emotion to another level. There is a very strong aspect of ‘flowing with nature’ with the curves you’ve seen that reflect on our human nature as well: flexible and flowing along paths we are meant to be traveling. Wonderful work, Lynn – and once again, simply stunning photographs.

    • It’s nice to see you! As always, you zero in on a poetic interpretation of bigger themes in life, and it comes so naturally to you. 🙂 Thanks so much for the kind words, Randall, and I hope all is well, wherever you are.

  13. Beautiful images. I especially enjoy the last one, the log on the beach and the ocean. I followed the link to your post on Rialto Beach, amazing series of images. Love the mood.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you followed the link – that day I worried about the low light, but you’re right, it created a mood that was so strong, and now, if I go back I will hope for that again. And you know what will probably happen – it would be bright, glaring sun! 😉

  14. I thought I’d commented on this post, but realise now I hadn’t! I’ve always been drawn to curves, too, and your photos of your choice of curves are beautiful. For me, circles are the shape that I’d always found in my artwork – long before I began colouring photos – but I don’t know that I’ve noticed a recurring visual theme in anything now. In life, I’ve always been interested in transformation, how someone starts off as one thing and becomes another, so maybe that’s a part of it – going in a circle, returning to the beginning but differently.

    • I’m not surprised, I think many of us are drawn to curving shapes. Being on the planet and making art for a good amount of time, you do start to notice these things, like you did. The transformation theme certainly fits what your’e doing now to a “T.” And you do it so beautifully. 🙂

  15. Oh my! Each of these photographs is resplendent at capturing your chosen word. Something about the intimacy between the real house plant and your drawing of it speak to me. I felt it caught that essence of human WITH nature so well. Although not a photographer nor an artist, you’ve inspired me to consider whether a concept or theme runs through my being.

    • What a nice comment to read – I think there is an intimacy in that photo, and I certainly was feeling that at the time. I like your observation that it shows the human-nature connection. I need to think about that more. Thank you so much for being here! The curve that I feel drawn to is embodied too, so if I dance spontaneously, it will be there. Maybe that’s a gateway to thinking about overarching themes. And of course, it might be as much a rhythm or current or quality of light as a shape or line quality.

  16. it’s very late, though i did not want to go to sleep without a stop at your door to peer thru the windows and see what’s happening! of course i hit the ‘pause’ button when i reached the watercolor and ink drawing! very very nice!

      • hey.. i’m taking a break right now, and it appears that the crisis might have passed… there’s a lot of ‘energy’ work going on from others from afar, and lots of prayers, collective, here and from afar as well.. and the last report was that the doctors think/hope that the pancreas has miraculously healed… tests will be tomorrow… your dear kind heart and concern is greatly embraced, and i promise, i am doing well.. the only side effect so far was for the first time in probably 15 years i had a buildup of static electricity, noticed it and went outside and spent time with mother earth.. returned with all systems restored.. for sure i picked up those scattered energies, the grief, and maybe even the energies from that moto accident.

        i think tonight i’ll be able to acknowledge and reply to all of the comments on my site, but for now wanted to thank you here.. feel free to delete this one!

  17. Beautiful pictures of all these different kind of curves and very interesting thoughts (I will have to think about it! :-).The first photos in black and white are so lovely too. I think the curves are very well known to us. As you described it, they are around us and even in us. Thats absolutely true. I like curves very much. Yes, the organic thing in it, the nature in everything maybe….Your drawings are magical!! I like the mixture of the leaves – drawn and photographed – very much! Is it a watercolour? Gorgeous and a fantastic idea. Well done!!!!

      • I admire watercolour! I just did a class (coincidently short time ago 😉 but it was very experimental. It was good, but not what I wanted. I just wanted to learn the basics! I did it 24 years ago, but it never was really mine. Unfortunately! It would be great to see more of your watercolours. Your ink draw of the cone is marvellous!!

      • Right, it would be good to learn some basic techniques about handling watercolor before experimenting! It can get out of control pretty fast! 🙂
        It’s a challenging medium. I always enjoyed the transparency of it, and the breath of life you see in a good watercolor. I have done very few watercolors though, so not much to show! I did mostly black and white work in the botanical illustration classes – it was a two year certificate course at New York Botanical Garden. It was so much fun, you would love it, I think! . Here’s the web page:
        http://adulted.nybg.org:8080/cart65/jsp/index.jsp?categoryId=10094

  18. Spent not nearly enough time meandering through your brilliance this morning . . . I just love everything you do, blue ❤

  19. Pingback: Spring Awakening: A Visit To Snug Harbor In New York City | MAD HATTERS NYC

  20. As a new photographer, I especially enjoyed reading your post – thanks to the link back from Justin and Lynn over at Mad Hatters NYC! I am curious, why do you think you personally are drawn to curves? I think it’s a fascinating concept!


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