There are all kinds of curves in the world, but one curve keeps coming back to me. It dwells in my body as a gesture, a wide, arcing swing of the arm that lifts the air. In yoga class I enjoy big sweeps of the arms; I never groan inwardly the way I might during challenging poses. Wikipedia says that “Intuitively, a curve may be thought of as the trace left by a moving point.”* I like this idea of implied motion and I was surprised to learn that it originated with Euclid over 2000 years ago.
So curves aren’t static. They’re traced by all sorts of things besides my arm, of course, and when I slow down enough to notice the world with care, I might find the particular curve that I like almost anywhere. A fond familiarity arises when the curve catches my eye. There must be a neuronal pathway – or more likely, many pathways – where this curve is repeatedly recognized and appreciated, a kind of mirroring of the internal and the external. When I see it my eyebrow might arch in pleasure, yet another gentle curve!
Often a camera is at hand so I make a photograph.
Curves slither through my LightRoom catalog, showing up in old images of gourds and grass or in more recent photos of buildings and Bullwhip kelp. There’s a curved wood relief I made in 1972; the photo of it reminds me that the preoccupation with curves is nothing new. I suspect it has deep roots, perhaps even mythical, or at least back to my first days on this planet when my mother’s breast was the curve of life.
I visualize the curve moving outward and upward more than inward and downward. It feels open-ended, generous. It stands alone or is tangled up with other curves and if it’s tangled, the disorder is harmonious, not fraught or tight.
A curved line suggests an indirect way to get from point A to point B. That appeals to me, too. Give me the back road, the side path! The very act of taking a route other than the straightest or most direct implies that there’s more to life than getting from A to B. And when it comes to solving problems, a roundabout route may not be the fastest one but it could turn up discoveries that shed new light on the issue. Physics tells us that gravity causes light to travel in a curve near large bodies. Did you know that there is “a flight simulator for multi-connected universes” called Curved Spaces? It’s freeware you can download that is supposed to enable inhabitants to “see their universe’s contents repeating in a crystalline pattern.”** I haven’t tried it and perhaps I’m rationalizing but it seems to me that there are many reasons to love a curve.
Here is a series of curves I’ve seen and photographed.
No, I’m not one of those super-organized people, never have been. My parents were well organized. There was my father, the disciplined, German-American chemical engineer with a steel-trap mind, and my mother, who put balanced meals on the table promptly at 6, made sure all three kids were properly cared for, and still had time to run the Parent-Teacher Association. Her advice was that I should try to form “good habits.” I thought to myself (but didn’t dare say) “What’s good about a habit?” Spontaneity has always been more my style.
That being said, there is something comforting about organization, isn’t there? If you know where things are and when things are supposed to happen, you feel more secure and you can get more done. Even observing examples of organization around us can be comforting: neatly laid-out buildings set on grids of streets, symmetrical patterns, charts. They resonate with something deep inside our brains – even mine. Perhaps in these days of pandemics, climate change fears, and political uncertainty, the predictability of order in the environment is especially valuable.
As a hypersensitive person whose sense organs never seem to dial back a notch, I get overwhelmed when there’s too much input. Don’t seat me at the restaurant table that’s halfway between two sound systems playing different tracks: I won’t be able to eat. And how did I ever get through that summer job at a noisy factory where Hai Karate aftershave and other strongly scented products were packaged? Ugh!
Sensory overload is inevitable in this world but introducing a little organization into the environment can lessen the sting. A rhythmic body movement like foot tapping, stacking loose papers so they line up neatly, arranging clothes according to color, making lists – I’ve used those and more tricks to corral an overwhelmed nervous system. No wonder I respond so strongly to patterns in nature. And architecture, a natural vehicle for introducing organization into the surroundings, can quiet frazzled nerves with its square angles, gentle arcs, and repeating patterns.
A keen appreciation for the visceral pleasure of buildings’ square-framed spaces may have begun when I was around 9 years old. A small development of new homes was going up near our house. On weekends I could wander through the just-framed structures by myself, soaking in the neat order of repeating right angles, inhaling the fragrance of freshly-sawn wood, and imagining how the finished rooms might look. Later I took great pleasure in the grid of streets that makes Manhattan so easy to navigate: north is uptown, south is downtown, east side, west side – it all makes sense. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate breaks in the grid, I did (and do!). But I relied on that grid when I lived in the city to help me organize my life.
Even humble buildings can have an attractive aura of balance and symmetry – architectural aesthetics don’t reside only in classic Greek temples or modern masterpieces. I saw this building on a country road in southeastern Georgia and photographed it head-on to emphasize the symmetry. It must be long gone now because that was around 1967.
Have you ever noticed how shadows can organize a space?
The Judd sculpture is arranged in a mathematical sequence, an imposition of order on the materials. I’ve played with positioning various grids in front of the camera lens as a way to illustrate the push-pull that I experience between ordered space and disorganized space, for example, in a flower garden:
Symmetry, order, and repeating patterns can be found everywhere, perhaps more obviously in human-made things but also in nature. The design below borrows from nature.
I’ve been extolling the virtues of observing order in our surroundings but don’t expect me to give advice about being organized – that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to set before you a visual buffet that illustrates one person’s notion of observed order. If this sparks a new thought, creates an island of pleasure in your life, or even a modicum of inspiration, I’m happy.
One of the highlights of my trip to the northern Europe last April was an all-too brief stay with my friend Ule Rolff. During the visit we strolled through the picturesque village in Munsterland where she lives, and Ule showed me an intriguing old half-timber building, originally a home but later used for housing pigs. I dove into photographing the aged building that day, just as Ule had done before me. I had no idea that while on my journey through Europe, a stop at a small village would lead to another journey, this time a creative one. After I got home Ule and I decided to collaborate on a post about the building. “Funke’s Pigsty: a Double Eye-catcher” features photos and written history and reflection in German and English.
While working on that post we noticed that some of the photos we took were very similar – we both gravitated to the peeling paint, the rough timbers, the off-center lines. We wondered what would happen if we exchanged unprocessed photos with each other, then processed the exchanged photos in our own style. Would one person’s ideas for processing be similar to the other person’s, or not?
We decided to collaborate again, and over the past few weeks we exchanged photos and used google docs to record a dialogue about the experience. Luckily for me Ule is comfortable enough with English to converse via the written word as well as in person. She told me it’s “just” a matter of letting go of her native tongue and thinking in English!
Working with someone else’s photos and writing about the process has been a unique experience. I haven’t seen Ule’s results and she has not seen mine. I’m looking forward to the big reveal, as they say. We plan to incorporate our reactions to what the other person did with our photos by meeting online after publishing, recording our dialogue, then adding that piece to the dialogue below. *
A written record of our dialogue follows. Above and below you’ll find two processed versions for each of the four of Ule’s photos that I used. The originals are at the end of the post.
L: When we first thought about working with one another’s pigsty photos, I only had a vague idea in mind. It had to do with the fact that some of our photos were quite similar, and I was thinking that if we take almost the same photograph, then what is it that we are each doing, that makes that photograph different? As I thought about it some more it seemed like any differences in processing would probably be minimal. As long as we were aiming for a straightforward representation of what we saw, if we processed each other’s photos the outcome was likely to be different in only very minor ways. So then I started to think about what you have done in some recent posts, manipulating photos and taking an image to a very different place from where it started. I admire what you’ve done, and I wanted to try something along those lines. But I know you use Photoshop and I don’t. That would be a limitation. With all this in mind, I took two of your images and “messed with them” as much as I could in Lightroom, while still yielding a result that I liked. It was a struggle at first – it’s just not what I’m used to doing.
U: As we both tried to show more documentary photos of the pigsty, you are right: they would come out quite similarly. And this kind of work flow is more a thing I also prefer doing in Lightroom.
But in this second posting, my idea was to go beyond documentary limitations, to show what isn’t to be seen at first glance in a picture. This is what I am especially interested in these days also in my other work, published or private. And this is where Photoshop comes in with its wider manipulation effects on image data. When I understood that PS is not your favorite tool to work with, I tried to mostly do what was possible with LR also, so our thoughts about processing wouldn’t go too much apart. Just when compositing photos or altering structures, I had to go further, and I’m really interested in talking about photos that are further from where they started by editing… so I hope you do not feel uneasy with what we thoughtlessly agreed upon…so I hope you do not feel uneasy with what we thoughtlessly agreed upon.
L: I like that idea – to show what isn’t seen at first glance in a picture. I’m going to think about that when I work on another photo. A LITTLE unease is a very good thing. Only when it gets extreme does it become negative, right? This pushes me into something I haven’t done before, and whether or not I continue in the same direction, what I learn will probably inform me going forward.
U: This is what I love about you (above many other things) that you are so open-minded to new experiences and new thoughts. In photography, I often find it so easy to open up to other people’s concepts by viewing their photos. And I’m always afraid of losing my own way by these impressions – in your case also, I found myself afraid you might damage your poetical and emotional approach to photography by too much technical experimenting – but then again, I’m confident of your strong character and I think you have a feeling for what does you good.
L: 🙂 Please! Too many compliments! I will say that open-mindedness is an important value to me, I strive to keep an open mind and I try to be aware enough of myself to know when I’m not being open-minded.
I understand what you mean by the danger of being influenced too much by someone’s work. That’s something we have to live with and to be aware of. Hopefully, we are influenced positively and can maintain our own individuality in the process. Don’t you think that the older we get, the less that’s a problem?
As for the emotional and poetical sensibility, that is something I struggle with. I think it’s because I’m also drawn to a more documentary scientific approach to what I see. Part of me is always happy to just make a good record of something interesting. But another part knows that to relate to other people, to communicate with and move someone, there needs to be more than that. I’m happiest when I think I’ve created something with some emotional power, and that doesn’t happen very often. Lately I’ve been in the documentary mode – traveling for three weeks certainly strengthened the desire to document and didn’t leave lots of time for emotional expression along the way. There were too many new things to see. Lately I’ve been wanting to get back to pure feeling.
U: I agree: the older I get, the more I grow aware of my cultural roots and I’m thankful for influences that happened throughout my life. Nobody lives and develops a character without personal impressions. Maybe it is a question of organic integration and consciousness, as you describe, not to lose the individual core.
What you say about your different modes I can completely see in your latest publication about Leiden, but instead of one or the other, I see you integrating emotion in documentation, which often happens in your posts. But it is always a frail balance, I feel that for my work, I always need enough time to keep to myself to escape too much distraction. And traveling always throws me completely on new paths, mostly documentary ones.
L: I haven’t thought that much about my cultural roots, but the trip to Europe prompted me to think more about that, more as a New World/Old World comparison. Maybe I AM thinking about it, just not quite in those terms. Organic integration – that sounds good! If I’m integrating emotion and documentation, that’s wonderful. My inner critic says I need to emphasize real emotion a bit more. We’ll see how that evolves. 😉
Yes, we need time to ourselves, and that’s the great thing about not having to spend 40 hours a week working for someone else. At least we don’t have that distraction now. I think traveling can be a kind of addiction, not in a medical sense of course, but thinking about my own desire to travel, I’ve been aware lately of the benefits of not traveling, of being more rooted. But now I’m straying away from the topic at hand.
U: Not really. The question also at stake here is basic conditions we need for being content with our photography. So if it is traveling addiction with you, it is kind of an allergy with me …;-)
L: And to get back to what we need to be content, we are also interested in shaking things up a little, in this project, right? Right now there is not much to be gained by restricting ourselves to trying to do the best job in accurate documentation.
U: We are not competing, but doing something together, it is no question of better or worse, but of finding out possibilities together. And I have to admit: sometimes I love taking a little shower of bad taste 😉
L: A little shower of bad taste – that’s funny…
U: Wait until you see what I have done to your photos! I sometimes like overdoing things a bit, out of joy about what is all possible in editing photos – beginner’s disease, I think.
L : Now I’m scared. And it’s interesting how, along with the delight, there is always a shadow of competition there – like, uh oh, how will my processing look compared to hers? But I think that is just something we can acknowledge, look at, and move on from. I want to pick up on your phrase “beginner’s disease.” It immediately calls to mind the famous zen phrase, “beginner’s mind.”
U: Oh, I remember having read the phrase in David Ulrich’s book on Zen Photography. It sounded a bit friendlier than I used it above.
L: 🙂 A bit!!
*Here are our thoughts after posting:
L: : I just approved your pingback (do they call it the same thing in German?) I love your photos! Thank you!!
U: Yes, it is the same word. And I love yours! They are so completely “Lynn’s”! I must view and think a minute …
L: The captions you used help to carry me into the photo, because they show what you were thinking. I want to just say “I like…” but I’m searching for better words, because that really doesn’t say anything. Still, my initial reaction was a delighted: “I like what she did with my photos!” I appreciate that you tell the viewer which filters or effects you used. I confess I don’t remember what I did – it was more a matter of “try this, try that.” But there’s value in knowing how you get to a place! The systematic way you worked is satisfying to follow, and I can learn something from it.
U: Your captions are not so technical as mine, but they show an important part of your motivation, your intention what to do with the images. For many readers, your information may be more “speaking” than the techniques. But I’m really surprised how unfamiliar your alterations made my photos to me: you have added some of your character to them, your subtlety and refined taste. There are groups in your choice I see: one are the three roof cuts which pleases me very much, it gives something abstract to the skyline which I didn’t see before. And then the cloudy, ocean like bricks, marvelous! Isn’t it funny we both finish with kind of a joke?
L: The big “L” at the end of your post made me laugh, and I think that image and the first one are very powerful. I also chuckled at “green glow” – that is almost radioactive! It truly does glow, that little piece of metal. Combining all three photos was a serious challenge (Bildausschnitt, Schlösser einmontiert in PS). If you asked me to do it, I would not have known where to start. The result may be my favorite one – it sings. There is a fairytale quality to it, it seems that a narrative or a mystery lurks just beneath the surface. I also want to comment on your organization – the flow is easy to follow. Something else I can learn from. 😉 One more thing – your Photoshop skills! Kudos! I fully “believed” the last two photos. They don’t have the artificial look one sometimes sees when different images are combined, they’re very natural.
U: Thank you for the flowers (can I say so in English? – it is a plainly translated German proverb). I willingly admit that I have been working hard on my use of PS, and it gives me a bit of contentment that you perceive the compositions as natural. What seems quite “typically Lynn” are the tender colour and reduced “clearness” in ns. 2,3,4 and 6. All the more, I laughed about your very colourful finale, it must have hurt you to do it :-))!
L: On the contrary, I really loved making that one. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t remember what I did, because I wanted to do more in that vein but when I tried to work that way again, I couldn’t figure out how I got there. My fault for not making notes! I’m glad that this collaboration gave you a chance to move ahead in the direction you’re going, and I’m curious to see what else is going to appear down the road on your blog.
U: Me too :-)) I have no answer to the question behind your “curiosity”, we will see. And if you didn’t make notes on the making of …, trying again will lead you to new, other or similar results, and give you new fun. I hope this project didn’t lead you too much astray or off your path. And as you ask where this experiment will be leading us, I ask myself which were our intentions to give this kind of collaboration a try.
L: As for being led astray, that’s a good thing, it keeps us fresh to veer off our path once in a while. And as for intentions, I was wondering about intention, i.e. what was our intention in processing the photos? We talked about that before without calling it “intention” and maybe thinking specifically in terms of intent is helpful. There is an element of fun there, certainly, but it’s more than that. We are each letting go of our work, relinquishing it to the other person’s aesthetic, and – correct me if I’m wrong – I think we both find that idea more intriguing than scary. Some people would find the idea of another person working on their photo frightening. Another part of the intent, for me anyway, is to take the opportunity to push past some boundaries that I might normally stay within. My guess is that also is true for you. And then there is always the “payoff” of stretching yourself and learning or growing in the process.
U: The thought of risk is interesting for readers, I’m sure, for me it would be anyway, but in this case, I didn’t feel a trace of it. As you say, it was almost completely and exclusively intriguing. Besides, more and more I come to think of my raw captures as material to become what I want to show by further actions, so it is not so dangerous for my inner self, if someone else is touching them. Your question of intention is a bit more compelling for me: above all, it was a thing of fun and adventure and just doing anything together that is possible over the wide distance. But more seriously thinking, there is the hope of stepping out of self set boundaries when you have the opportunity to watch what somebody else (somebody you appreciate) does with your material – and what is even more valuable: someone I can talk to about what she is doing and what I am doing. There are so many people not unable, but unwilling to use language to reflect the great things they do.
But, to sum it up, I am very happy with the process and the outcome of our experiment – even this risky spontaneous chat felt completely comfortable all the way. Thank you so much for being the sagacious and lovable being you are.
L: I’m pleased with it too. You have struck a perfect balance (for me anyway) of open flexibility and calm organization during the course of the project. And the bottom line is (Americans love to talk about the bottom line!) that frankly, I really like your work!! Thank you very much.
The original photos:
Technical note: Ule sent me PSD’s of the photos I requested, and vice versa. Then we each worked on the photos in Lightroom. I also used Color Efex Pro. We scheduled meeting times across the nine hour time difference and chatted using google docs, which we then copied and pasted into our posts.
Will the old brick and stone buildings with neatly
soon stand alone among
glittering glass giants
with perfect edges?
Then again, the glass towers have
their own edgy beauty, an orderly flow of pattern in a
city teetering on chaos, chaos even on
the best of days, days when we
thought we could forget the
planes, the van, the
Curves and edges duke it out. As I walk the sidewalks downtown
architectural transitions are split-second, from
order to confusion.
Turn a corner, it’s quiet,
and gulp down
the sensory flood.
Edges and curves,
The clean lines of Brookfield Place, a few blocks from One World Trade Center.
Brookfield Place is a six building office complex built in the 80’s (it used to be called the World Financial Center). After extensive damage on 9/11, buildings underwent renovation and restoration. The arched roofed glass building houses the Winter Garden, an airy atrium with tall palm trees, a welcome respite on winter days. The complex has abundant outdoor space for sitting and enjoying close-up views of a marina on the busy Hudson River. You can walk underground though a new passageway to the Oculus (below), the transport hub of the World Trade Center.
A limestone arch and dome inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With two million square feet of gallery space packed with two million works of art from all over the world, it is New York’s high church of culture. The building dates from 1879 and is the largest museum in the US. This view of ceiling details in the Great Hall is from a balcony on the second floor. HERE, you can peruse a well-thought out presentation of 100 works from the museum.
Fort Totten, in Queens. Construction of the coastal defense fort began in 1862 and halted after the Civil War because this type of masonry became obsolete. It was used by the Army for various purposes, including developing underwater minefields, electric powered torpedo experiments and Army administrative offices through the 1970’s, then it was transferred to the Army Reserve. Rumor had it that a mob boss who ratted was hidden here for a time. Much of the sixty acres is now a park.
Inside the Fort Totten battery. There is a small museum on the property and a long, dark underground tunnel leading to the battery, which on a sunny October weekday was almost deserted. There are beautiful views of the East River converging with Long Island Sound under the Throgs Neck Bridge.
Deep inside the ammunition magazine, which is now empty, someone carefully placed a metal folding chair under a circle of light formed by a skylight. Was this a clever reference to the ghost of La Cosa Nostra’s “Cargo Joe” Valachi, rumored to be hidden here by authorities in 1970? After all, his testimony about the Mafia brought the inner workings of the criminal organization into the light.
The exterior of the magazine is overgrown with Porcelain berry vines. New York City has a surprising number of romantically overgrown, seemingly (but not really) abandoned spots like this.
This stalwart pre-war brick apartment building on West 27th Street in Chelsea is literally a stone’s throw from the High Line. Art galleries and the popular High Line park have transformed this area from a rough and tumble, Wild West-like wholesale meat market to a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of wealthy New Yorkers. The land this building sits on is worth a lot; it may not last.
A nice late 1860’s example of New York’s cast iron architecture seen through a window at ABC Home, a large home goods store on Broadway. The Arnold Constable Building was also a retail enterprise. I like the way the window arches curve more sharply as your eyes move skywards. Manufacturing went on upstairs and retail and wholesale below. It was one of New York’s most important stores, catering to the carriage trade in the 19th and 20th centuries. Later, the store moved uptown, closing in 1975. The building is now protected as part of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, which includes the famous Flatiron Building.
A lower Manhattan scene contrasts old and new. On the left, a sliver of the Beaux-Arts style Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, now housing the National Museum of the American Indian. The “new” building is 1 Whitehall Street, in the heart of the financial district, built for offices in 1962.
Another look at architectural contrasts in the city, with One World Trade Center on the left. The older Art Deco building towards the middle is 21 West Street, an office tower built around 1930 and converted to residence rentals in 1997. Currently, a tiny 5th floor studio can be had for $2975/month. The glass tower with rounded corners is 50 West Street, a brand new 64 story residential building for Manhattan’s elite. As I write this, a 1000 sf one bed, one bath apartment on the 21st floor was rented at $5,700/mo. For three bedrooms you’re looking at over $15,000/mo. Or you can purchase a 3 BR penthouse (Fantastic Views!) for $24,540,000. Ah, life in the city…
Looking west on Ann Street, One World Trade is in the center. St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church, built in 1766, is on the left. This beautiful little church was the location of a ninth-month long, round-the-clock ministry to workers at Ground Zero after 9/11. Upcoming events include a Conversation on Achieving Racial Equity and a presentation of the Rachmaninoff Vespers, an a capella choral composition.
One World Trade soars above office buildings at Brookfield Place, a six building office complex built in the 80’s (formerly called the World Financial Center). Some buildings suffered extensive damage on 9/11. These days, the complex has abundant outdoor space for sitting and enjoying close-up views of the North Cove marina and the busy Hudson River. You can walk underground though a new passageway to the Oculus, the transport hub of the World Trade Center.
One World Trade reflected in the glass skin of Four World Trade Center, a 1.76 billion dollar project completed in 2013. Osamu Sassa of the architectural firm that designed the building said, “We like the idea of the building dematerializing.” It is essentially a parallelogram topped by a trapezoid with an especially thick glass facade making for a smooth, flat appearance, in deference to the Memorial.
A favorite view from Zucotti Park, a tiny park in lower Manhattan. This is where Occupy Wall Street was encamped back in 2011. The park was replanted after 9/11, so its Honeylocust trees are relatively young; their delicate branches are a nice foil to the glass and concrete masses surrounding the park. Here’s a photoI took during Occupy days, after work one evening.
Frank Gehry’s IAC Building in Chelsea is now ten years old. Made of reinforced concrete and glass, the building has only two vertical columns – all the others are off vertical, by as much as 25 degrees. The glass “curtain” walls, which were cold-warped (bent on site!), have two laminated panes, an airspace, and a tempered pane. Small white ceramic particles are embedded in the glass, increasing energy efficiency and reducing glare. Perhaps my favorite building in New York.
The World Trade Center’s Oculus, a transportation hub designed by Santiago Calatrava. Cost overruns were “insane” and of course, the building’s facade is controversial. I doubt there was ever much controversy about the quietly dignified office building behind it, 90 Church Street. I used to work there. We had a fascinating bird’s eye view of the excavation and construction at Ground Zero. When Obama came to lay a wreath in 2011, we watched as snipers methodically unwrapped their gear on the overhang below our windows. We had to stay in the building while he was on site – it was lunch at the desk, or eat late.
The Oculus inside.
The ammunition magazine at Fort Totten in Queens.
Broadway and John Street, downtown Manhattan. The red building is the Corbin Building, an 1889 Romanesque Revival style office building. It was restored by the Metropolitan Transit Authority as part of the huge Fulton Transit Center next door; you can enter the subway through the John Street entrance. While hand-digging the foundation for the transit center renovation, an old well and artifacts such as a clay pipe and ledger books from the 1880’s were found under the building, now a city landmark.
Looking west on Dey Street, Friday afternoon crowds move quickly down narrow sidewalks. On the right is 195 Broadway, the old AT&T/Western Union building, built in the early 1900’s with oversized columns designed by the architect who designed Rockefeller’s country home, Kykuit. Harper Collins has offices there now. Just to the left of the American flag is the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Having departed from Bainbridge Island a half hour earlier, the M/V Tacoma, a 460 foot ferry capable of carrying over 200 cars and 2000 passengers, is about to arrive in Seattle. I’m watching from the sidewalk next to the Four Seasons Hotel downtown, a few blocks from Pike Place Market.
It’s spitting rain out there. The sky is changeable today, morphing through rain and sun-break, and back to rain again. I don’t mind – it’s a nice departure from the blank, featureless grays that typify northwest winters. I’ve just been to the Seattle Art Museum and I’m headed to Pike Place for coffee at Le Panier, with a stop along the way to take in the view.
Looking at art can have the effect of making the most mundane objects around you look new. Museum and gallery walls expand to encompass the street, and everyday objects take on the guise of “art.” Recognizing patterns, color and form in new ways, you interact differently with the world. Neurologists might say this phenomenon is an opening up of neural pathways that, once activated, start to repeat themselves in grooved loops of pleasure. OK, that’s fuzzy science, but whatever the explanation, spending time with painting and sculpture can energize the way you look at the world.
No doubt many people would recognize the sculptural quality of this construction site near the waterfront, but after studying a beautiful steel and glass Christopher Wilmarthpiece at the museum, I find the industrial duct work alive with formal possibilities.
Wilmarth, a minimalist sculptor who died in 1987, bent heavy sheets of roughly finished steel and thick slabs of plate glass like you might fold a piece of cardboard, juxtaposing their contrasting properties with apparent ease. His work caught my eye at a 1970 Whitney Museum sculpture exhibit – I still have the catalog. I’d forgotten about him, so it was exciting to see his sculpture commanding the floor in a museum show about Light and Space.
Another work that stayed with me the rest of the day was a large white painting by an artist I wasn’t familiar with, Mary Corse. Her minimalist work, especially the all white painting series, doesn’t reproduce well, but it’s very intriguing to be around. Corse uses the tiny glass beads that make road signs reflective to lend a changeable quality to the light that hits and emanates from her paintings. As I walked around her paintings the surface shifted, a pleasant, meditative experience.
One painting brought to mind a Puget Sound fog, though she would reject that characterization. For her, the paintings don’t reference landscapes or anything else in the outer world. Rather, they’re perceptual tools to make us understand reality in a new way, generating “new meaning, or presence, or state of being.”
On to the market. The press of tourists is intense even in January, so we don’t dally too long. But yes, the espresso and baguette sandwich were great. Sorry you weren’t there!
One way to deal with the crowds is to go down an alley behind the buildings, across from the main market. It’s only slightly quieter, but at least I can admire the bulging brick walls and generous windows at the old buildings’ backs.
On the way home I take the camera out again when rain-slicked skies turn the street lights into compositions of intense, luscious color.
It’s been a departure for me today – no images of leaves or trees, buds or branches. A refreshing change of pace.
(I can’t help thinking about what’s left out: how would a summary of the year look just from the vantage point of sound, or touch, or taste or smell? What about a summary of my feelings? They are all entirely relevant).
This is the first picture I took in 2011. It’s simplicity belies my state of mind at the time – absolute anxiety, frantic activity. In a month we would move across the country to a place we had been to only once, where we had no friends and just a handful of acquaintances. We would have no jobs waiting for us, and no family within thousands of miles. So many unknowns! No matter the worries and preoccupations – these shadows and shapes drew me in.
A quick overnight to Philadelphia in early January allowed me to say goodbye to some wonderful friends who had maintained my sanity while my son was deployed in Afghanistan the previous year. Was this statue telling me something about my future?
It was tough to say goodbye to these good people.
Soon after getting back home, I was on a plane to Seattle to find a place to live. A generous acquaintance offered to put me up – I had a week to figure out where to live, but I had done the research and had good leads. I secured an apartment within days, so I began exploring the area before the flight back home. One evening there was a spectacular sunset – maybe it was a portent, because the next day Seattle was hit with a big snowstorm – and in this part of the world, which doesn’t see a whole lot of snow, that meant everything stopped.
It sure was gorgeous though…
But planes were grounded and I waited nervously as flights were cancelled, and cancelled again. Finally I was good to go so I navigated the icy roads to the airport, turned my car in, and learned that once again, my flight was cancelled. I secured what appeared to be the last hotel room within miles, and the next morning the de-icers were out in force.
I did manage to get home. There wasn’t much time left for goodbyes to favorite places – and people. A close friend from upstate came down and we had a great day hanging out in coffee shops and scouring a tag sale for finds (yes, a tag sale in Manhattan!) I walked the High Line in January cold and photographed my favorite Gehry building through a scrim of morning glory vines.
And I was glad for sunny days. Oh, that skyline from the ferry. I didn’t know how I would live without it.
Two days before our lease was up, we muddled through a long day of watching and negotiating as movers packed our belongings and hit us with huge extra charges. We slept one last night on a couch we left for the landlord, and then turned our keys in and painstakingly wound our way through city traffic and out to JFK with our sedated sixteen-year-old cat and all the luggage we could carry. We climbed on board the plane and before long we were crossing the Rockies!
After one night in a hotel we took possession of our new apartment. I hung my beads at the window and we waited for our furniture, our clothes, our – everything – to arrive. For about ten days we slept on an air mattress and dined on an upturned box. Our netbooks became our lifelines at the local cafe. We slowly stocked the fridge and explored our neighborhood in a rental car while waiting for our own cars to make their way across the country. Yes! – we found a Trader Joe’s and plenty of good espresso joints nearby.
Eventually our furniture arrived – hardly anything broke! Then one car, and eventually the other. The planning really paid off. One thing we could not control though, was our aging cat’s health. We found a good vet and they tried their best, but it was all too much, and we had to say goodbye to Pablo towards the end of the month. It was a terrible blow, and we were dealing with it alone, in a strange place. The vet said his ashes would be spread at an apple orchard on the road into the mountains. We were heartened by the thought of his body nourishing apples that might someday nourish us. RIP Pabs.
We set about exploring the Pacific Northwest with a vengeance – rarely going more than two hours away – there were islands and mountains, a new city, interesting small towns, miles of shoreline and acres of farms.
Whether a distant view or a close-up, it was all looking good to me. And so different!
What are those weird things on the beach?
Bull whip kelp! That’s like seaweed! They grow everything so damn big out here!
When we weren’t exploring the countryside we poked around Seattle. Yes, there’s culture and yes, there’s art.
And MOSS. Moss everywhere! Even in the cold winter months it was brilliant green, coating branches like fur.
And what a refreshing change the open space was. I discovered Duvall, a nearby town founded in 1913 (like that was a long time ago?) with a great sense of style.
I found a conservatory that I could escape to on the endless gray days, as I waited for spring.
Eventually spring did start to peek around the corner, but it took forever to warm up.
I volunteered at a botanical garden to get closer to the plants I love.
In the woods there were wildflowers I hadn’t seen in years – trilliums seemed almost commonplace. Back east they’re picked clean, at least around metropolitan New York.
I went up to see the fields of tulips and daffodils that are grown north of here. It was, of course, another gray day, but everyone promised that summer would be endlessly sunny.
I was getting tired of waiting for the sun.
So I amused myself by joining a photography group and working harder on my photography.
Overcast days can make for lovely, even light, so I tried to understand how to take better advantage of the weather.
When we had time we drove into the mountains and hiked among the old growth – the giants – and I was humbled and full of love for them.
Back in Seattle we discovered Georgetown, a photogenic neighborhood with an appealing funk quotient.
I volunteered for a court program that advocates for children. It was hard work but rewarding.
I read about a project that involves local people in making prints for the families of people killed on 9/11, and so I volunteered for that, too, and carved a block for a print.
Summer finally came, and it was simply gorgeous – dry every day for months, never hot.
Up on the mountain passes there was beautiful fog to wander through, and plentiful berries in the fields.
Wherever I live I make it a point to find scraps of land with wildflowers that become my florists. Ten minutes from home I found an abandoned railroad track with butterfly bush, California poppies, fireweed, tansy, St. Johnswort…heaven!
We explored the working docks and shipyards of Seattle. Back in New York we used to watch tugs and container ships from our window, but here we can get close up to small crew fishing boats.
In August I began this blog with a brief post about a mid-summer day when I felt glum and uninspired, but after walking through fields and recording the amazing light on seed, flower, leaf and fruit, I was renewed. It was a good beginning to the blog that has become a rewarding way to express myself and be inspired by others all over the world who are doing the same thing.
In the fall we took a day trip back to Mount Rainier. When we visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 2011, our day at Mount Rainier was one of the most powerful experiences we had. This time I felt sick all say but I didn’t let it stop me – there were plentiful wildflowers, and we saw bears!
A few weeks later we took an overnight trip to the Olympic Peninsula and caught a drizzly late afternoon chill on Hurricane Ridge. The infamous, quickly changing Pacific Northwest weather was demanding that we pay attention.
In November we returned to New York for a wedding, a week after Sandy had devastated the region. We stayed with family on Long Island who had been out of power for a week already. We tried to help untangle wires from the broken trees and huddled in front of a gas fire.
But oh, the food! And the pizza! The Pacific Northwest has great fresh food, but nowhere else, as far as we know, can you get anything like this slice, from an ordinary pizza place in Manhattan.
The wedding went off without a hitch. We had a day or so to see more family and revisit old haunts like the Rubin Museum, Battery Park and Financier Patisserie, and then suddenly the trip was over.
Back home, I talked myself into appreciating the drizzly gray days.
On Thanksgiving Day those overcast skies cast a gorgeous silvery light on the sound.
I still scream “SUN!” when it peaks out from behind the clouds, but I’m more reconciled to the weather than I was the first few months. There is so much to enjoy here, and somehow, spending a week back in New York helped me feel more like this is my home. We’re sure that the spirit of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest will engage our curiosity for a long time.
Whether expressed in something fashioned by human hands or embodied in a roadside field, I find a great respect for the land and nature here.
The other day we saw this:
a stretch of hundred-year-old brick road and
a lovely, eccentric woman
taking a walk with her miniature horse, named
We expect to enjoy many years of pleasant surprises in this corner of the country. We wish our families were closer, but we’ll try to rack up frequent flier miles for visits – New York and the east coast are great places to visit, aren’t they?
From the solidly comforting planes of an old church to the soft radial symmetry of a flower, geometry takes many forms.
from Wikipedia: Geometry (Ancient Greek: γεωμετρία; geo- “earth”, -metron “measurement”) is a branch of mathematics concerned with questions of shape, size, relative position of figures, and the properties of space.
Ailsa at wheresmybackpack.com has a weekly photography challenge called Travel Theme. This week it’s Texture. It’s been up about two days & already there are 183 links to people’s texture photos. On a short trip to Philadelphia last year I noticed these textures with pleasure:
This terrific gargoyle was on a building somewhere in the vicinity of Rittenhouse Square.
These textures are on the Church of the Holy Trinity, on Rittenhouse Square. Built around 1859, it’s a well known Romanesque Revival wonder, with the most amazing stained glass windows inside. Some historical data I found online says the exterior is “Brownstone ashlar” and “Coarse sand mortar patchwork is visible in some areas, punched and gouged for textural effect.” I love that – punched & gouged for textural effect. Just don’t do it to me.
Incidentally, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” was written by the church’s second rector, the music by its organist.
Finally, looking up at dusk towards Philly’s skyline, the light shining on nearby tree branches seems to make a scrim through which the slick dark rectangles of modern buildings shine dimly.