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Sunday, November 27, 2011

AfterImage Series

Post 11

One day in late spring, about 20 minutes before I was due to arrive at a friend's, I was walking our dog Tenby on the bikepath in Northampton. Ruts along either edge of the path were filled with fuzzy milkweed seeds, blown there on the wind. If whiteness could precipitate out of fog and crystalize, like salt from seawater, it would look like milkweed: fuzzy, pale, opaque, and soft.

I raced back to the house with the dog, left her home, grabbed my camera and the pebbles I'd already printed, and ran back to the bikepath. I wanted to see what they'd look like against the milkweed. I had no time for canyon clocks or world sundials or any kind of grand thoughts. I just lined up the pebbles and shot. It was the first time I'd done any kind of "installation"--a grand word in this case--with the Canyon shadow beach pebbles. Luckily, only one guy stopped me and wanted to know what I was doing. I just said I had some really cool pebbles and wanted to see what they looked like in milkweed, and he wandered away...

Here's what I got:

And then I started playing with the images...

Still a lot of work to do...

Monday, November 21, 2011

After Image Series

Post 10

While I worked on printing my Canyon shadow photos on Atlantic beach pebbles, I wondered what the heck I was going to do with them. I'd thought about the space and time considerations that inspired them, but not what I would do with them aesthetically.

While I was at the Canyon I considered using them as a decorative border in a larger work. Here's a rough sketch...

But then I thought that the inclusion of larger, more representational images would dissipate their impact. I didn't want the shadow pebbles to be just decorative trim. So I scratched that idea.

Then I thought about using them as 3-dimensional brushstrokes that together would create a larger image, as these post-it sketches show. The first one depicts the split-twig figurine I mentioned in Post 7; the second, a Native American pot I bought--I included a photo of the actual pot because I think it's beautiful. (I made these sketches while on the phone with a tech rep in New Delhi, who was trying to help me install a new printer that came without a software CD. He and I spent so much time on the phone together that when we finally hung up all his co-workers got on the line to say good-bye as well, and I knew his grandmother's recipe for dal.)

I had a happy week during which I thought these post-its cracked the issue, but then I decided they were hokey. Also, I'd have to make a ton of printed pebbles...

And then I began thinking about boomerangs and clocks. 

I remembered the false After Image I'd had plastered on my retina back at the Canyon--whether from altitude sickness, exhaustion, or eye strain--and realized I could conjure its boomerang shape and suggestive, Native American-like geometric designs with the printed pebbles. These images could be emblematic of my whole Canyon experience. 

Here's a sketch I made of what an After Image design might look like a dusk, taken against a backdrop of marsh grass (I was anticipating an upcoming vacation in Maine, where I intended to photo the petrograph pebbles along the coast), and a photo from the actual installation.

I'd written down the time of day I'd taken every shadow picture. So I began to think I could also arrange the pebbles in a row to create clocks: essentially  sundials in straight lines. I imagined one as a Canyon Clock of particular shadows I'd come to know well and considered emblematic of different times of day: morning, noon, and night. In these images time, symbolized by shadows, would tick forward but location--the Grand Canyon--would remain the constant. (Sorry, no sketches for that...)

Another might be a World Clock, of shadows taken at the Canyon at different times of day, which I could use to stand in for different locations around the world: in this sundial time would remain still but locations would imaginatively roam the globe. To create this series I found shadows I'd shot at 9:30 am, 1:30 pm, 3:30 pm, and 4:30 pm, representing, sequentially, the same moment at the Grand Canyon; La Paz, Bolivia; Tasiilaq, Greenland, and Cardiff, Wales. I thought I might write a one-page story to correspond to each pebble in the clock...

Here's how it turned out...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

AfterImage Series

Post 9

I left the Grand Canyon on 15 February 2011. I was sad to leave, but it was time to go home to Massachusetts and shovel snow.

Visually and metaphorically, the Canyon's shadows came with me, in my mind and my mind's eye. I loved the way they slashed through the rock and made it disappear, except at noon, when they vanished themselves. They seemed to have powers of instant erosion, replacing what was hard and solid and sure with what was suggested and mysterious and unknown. The shadows became emblems to me of the imagination, and the creative process itself.

Gail, a friend I met on a hike in Wales, told me about Carl Jung's thoughts on shadows. Jung, she said (while hiking through an abandoned slate mine) believed that everyone carries a shadow, a part of the self that is rarely expressed; the more the shadow edges into a person's conscious life, the better. The darker the shadow, the deeper the repression. And that, as we've learned, is the stuff of all kinds of problems...

I've been thinking about this. What would be hidden in the Canyon's shadow? What does the earth have pressed into its subconscious? I could do worse with my time than keep thinking about this.

But these are more recent thoughts.  When I returned home from the Canyon in February what hit me was the scale of my everyday, East Coast life. Shadows here are attached to trees and people; they're not repositories of wonder. The horizon is near, and I'm within an hour of three state lines. We live not on, but in, a small scale, not a large one.

This reminded me of the idea I'd had of using beach pebbles as the surface on which to print my shadow photos. Transmute the great to small. Bring the Canyon and its immensities into the zone of my own tiny life. And bring it back to its roots in the sea; because without primeval seas, there would be no Canyon rock.

And when you think about it, coming back to the shadows themselves, we tend to think of shadows as being linked to the past--the days and memories and ghosts that stretch behind us in darkness. And yet, it occurred to me, shadows are actually projections of the self into the future. Light first strikes whatever object casts a shadow, before it strikes what the shadow is cast upon, below or next to it. 

So our minds place shadows in the past, but our bodies cast them into the future. Once and future touchstones of what was, is, and can be. I can't imagine a better emblem for the erosive magnificence of the Grand Canyon.

So in March I gathered up a host of beach pebbles that Marguerite and I had collected along the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada, in 2008. Here are some of them before they were printed:

And here's where they come from:

I printed them throughout the spring.