Monday, September 28, 2015

One sheet of paper

I have been interested and posting in a Facebook group, Minimalist Photography lately.  The most recent challenge was food for some creative work today.  The challenge was to photograph one sheet of plain paper, keeping it simple.  How to do that and keep the subject of paper without gimmicks or artifice, in the Miksang way was my own added twist.  Here are some of the results.  Let me know what you think of them.

Friday, January 2, 2015

What makes a compelling photograph?

 Recently I have been pondering what makes a compelling photograph.  Perhaps it is because I have been rummaging through the more than 10,000 images on my hard drive for a select few to submit to shows, realizing that while occasionally a few may resonate with me, so many fall short.
Or maybe it is because of the many more images I see regularly by my digital photography students or on contemplative photography forums that this has arisen. As a final exam exercise, I randomly selected images from my files and had my students rank, edit and make a slideshow of them.   I included a wide variety of both "good" and "bad" images for them to consider.  I found their selections to be quite enlightening.  In some cases, students rejected what I considered my "best" and chose to rank highly images that I found pedantic, even boring.  Taste truly is subjective, but perhaps there are some key factors to consider, particularly in a time period when we are overly exposed to digital photos.

This top image stopped me in my tracks after a compelling day of mahamudra meditation (a practice of looking at the mind and sense perceptions with inquisitiveness about the direct experience.)  It is called "Emptiness/Luminosity", which are terms used to describe the fleeting yet vivid experience of the mind in the moment.  This image is compelling to me because it relates directly to my state of mind and remains as a postcard of that experience.  But does it translate to others?  This is always the open question for the artist.

 This image was one I included in the final exam exercise and the student rejected it as uninteresting, perhaps because the original was a much more neutral gray.  I find it compelling because it places man as a small entity encased in concrete with a vibrant foreground of nature.  Yet not much is happening beyond the contrast of organic and linear order.  The compelling aspect is in the contrast.  Does the image need to have a narrative?  And who supplies it?  The artist or the viewer?

Perhaps an image needs a punchline or maybe two, like this image.  To make a statement on society, or just make us laugh.  Evoking an emotion or mood can cause us to connect with an image like the quiet, abandoned feel of the image below.  I continue to consider my work in this light, with no solid answers, just more questions.  Duchamp said “What art is in reality is this missing link, not the links which exist. It’s not what you see that is art, art is the gap.” That gap happens between the work and the viewer and artist. What makes an image compelling to you?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Confronting the Impact of Profiling with Art

Frat Brother - 1994 by Rebekah Younger
acrylic and mirror on plywood
Do you feel threatened by this image?  If so, why? This weekend I was showing my work as part of Bath Artwalk's Open Studios.  Part of my display was placing my painted cutout figures in the hallway to draw attention to the entrance to my exhibit.  As I stated in my last post, these images are about how we judge people because of their appearance.  In the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict this past week, racial profiling is making headlines, though it has been something I have been aware of my whole life, having been raised in the African American community as a white person.  These figures I painted nearly 20 years ago, but their message is as important today.  Each figure has a faceless person, with a mirror where the face should be to remind the viewer that they are both witnessing their own judgements and projections of other, as well as, asking them to put themselves in the other person's shoes. The back side of the figure is my interpretation of their spiritual body or soul.

"Frat Brother" provided me with a teaching moment today, when a neighboring artist came by and asked me to remove the figures from the hall because they were creating "negative energy."  With further conversation the woman said she didn't want her guests to feel intimidated and that the figure made her feel like she would be attacked. She claimed that she didn't notice that it was a black male figure, but how could she not?  I explained the meaning behind the work and that it was my intention to show them in this location through the weekend. She was clearly unsettled, not even aware of her programmed prejudice, a clear example of not so subtle racism. Time to confront the bias, the ignorance and the pain and suffering it causes. The figures stayed in the hall for the rest of the weekend.  I only wish that more people had the opportunity to encounter them and in turn themselves.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Painted Figure - Inner & Outer

What does it mean to be human?  To live both the inner and outer life?  The spiritual and secular?  Through my paintings and drawings I explore this subject.  "Soul Painter" (above) is a life size cutout in plywood, painted with acrylic.  One side expresses how we define ourselves by our clothing, our consumerism, putting on an identity like paper dolls.  As observers, we make judgements about others based on their attire. The face is replaced with a mirror to remind us that though we make assumptions based on appearances, ultimately what we think of others is a reflection of ourselves and unrelated to the actual person.  The reverse side of the figure depicts an expression of the soul or spiritual body, a more universal expression.  Both may be true, relative and absolute.  But who are we really?

This piece is part of a group of works being shown in Brunswick next weekend at Greenhut Studios at the Fort Andross Mill for Friday Art Walk, July 12, 5-8 pm.  You can see more of my explorations into the nature of the human experience, both individual and social that have been created over the last 25 years at the show, along with bronze sculpture by Marji Greenhut and poured glass by Angela Antolewicz & Ryan Helean. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Contemplating Water

Aryaloka Buddhist Center, Newmarket, NH

The Earth, Water, Fire Exhibit of my contemplative photography is on display at Aryaloka Buddhist Center from Oct. 5 - Nov. 14, 2012.   I will be speaking about my work at the center on Nov. 11 at 6 pm.  This post is part of a series of musings on the elements as I have expressed them in my art.

Ripple - 2007

The element water has always been a fascination of mine, possibly because I am a Scorpio, which astrologically is a fixed water sign. In the Buddhist mandala of elements, I identify with the clarity of the Vajra family, which is connected with water.   People often comment about my clarity of expression and I am known to get angry and self-righteous when I get too solid in my opinions.  Both are qualities of this family.

Fall Reflection - 2012
Yet water offers a wealth of other qualities.  It is the most adaptable of elements taking the shape of whatever contains it.  It can be as solid as ice or ethereal as mist, capable of great destruction in minutes as a tsunami or slow penetration as drops cutting through stone over eons.  Water cleanses and binds together solids, while keeping them flexible. Water as saliva makes taste possible.  Our body mass is 80% water, as blood and other bodily fluids.  Water energy is what facilitates communication as we speak of the flow of ideas, commerce or emotions. 

Snow,Drop,Mist - 2011
I have been fascinated with documenting the many faces of water as a photographer and videographer.  With so many moods, I find myself mesmerized by its ever changing nature.  We live near a creek and less than a half hour from the ocean, which gives me plenty of opportunity to explore natural bodies of water visually.  My husband loves to go canoeing and I will often bring my camera on our excursions.  "Loon" is an example of a single take video created from the canoe.  Guy smoothly paddled while I shot the footage.  A fellow grad student, Brian deAngelo composed the soundtrack.

The exhibit at Aryaloka shows just a small sample of the hundreds of images I have taken of water over the years.  You can see more at: 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Contemplating earth

Yellow Triangle - c. 2006
 I awoke this morning musing on the elemental qualities of earth. To skillfully work with this world a clear understanding of the elements and how they work helps. 
So it is not surprising that so many contemplatives have spent time observing and reflecting on the qualities of earth, water, fire, wind and space.  Indeed cultures as diverse as Chinese, Celtic, Native American and more have some system of understanding life based on these elements. 
In a world where we are less in touch with our place in nature and move at a fast pace with no time to ponder these things, it is possible to lose touch with this wisdom.

I have been studying the Tibetan Buddhist system of the Five Elements.  In that system, the elements are a mandala working on three levels of existence, the coarse or physical level; the subtle or emotional/mental/non-physical level; and the secret or awakened wisdom level.

Earth is the most solid of these forces.  Indeed it is what provides ground, solidity and structure to everything. We speak of "feeling grounded", of someone as being "down to earth" or having an earthy nature when they manifest some solidity and a sense of genuine presence.  

Life & Death - c. 2012
 There is also a quality of abundance and generosity in the bounty of earth.  Everything comes from the earth, and returns to it as in "dust to dust." Chogyam Trungpa in his book, True Perception, describes earth as like a rotten log, falling apart that has become a haven for creatures and from it sprouts new trees and mushrooms. A sense of richness and fecundity are evoked in this image of the cycle of life & death.

In our bodies, the earth quality is our bones and muscles, socially it is organizational structures.  Without these structures we could not be functional either personally or as a society. Indeed it is the structures that define the functionality of the form.  Unchanneled wind/action or water/emotion or fire/passion can be ineffective, or worse, destructive without the support and structure of earth.  Resting on earth and trusting its stability allows us to build and create what is needed from the bounty it provides. When earth is out of balance, greed or rigidity can manifest.

Ultimately the awakened quality of earth is a sense of equanimity, that everything can be borne, as the earth supports everything on its surface without discrimination.

A Delicate Balance - c. 2012

These qualities are what emerge in the images I have prepared for the upcoming exhibit, Earth, Water, Fire at Aryaloka Buddhist Center, Oct. 5-Nov. 14. 

How do you see the element of earth manifesting in the world around you?  I'd love to read your comments.

My next post will be on the element of Water.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Upcoming Earth, Water and Fire Exhibit

October 5 - November 14, 2012

I will be exhibiting a series of photographic prints on paper and canvas, centered around the theme of earth, water and fire. Most of these were taken as part of my graduate work in 2006-2007.  My masters portfolio centered on contemplative arts practices, and more specifically photography as a tool for contemplative looking.

Earth, Fire, Water - photo montage

My art is grounded in a practice of looking, an active engagement with the phenomenal world; to look at a leaf, light on a lake or litter on a city street… to look at life; all this is part of my contemplative art practice. To look, really look, I don’t mean just glance, for “to really see takes time,” as Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “like to have a friend takes time.” It requires slowing down, opening up a non-judgmental space where genuine contact can be made. It is as Robert Irwin’s biography title states, “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees.” It is seeing with all the senses, a process of synchronizing mind and body.

Clouds on Water - c. 2006

 My photography is integrated into the larger context of years of meditative practice as a Shambhala Buddhist.  The teachings on art and meditation of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Shambhala Buddhism; a poet and interdisciplinary artist in his own right, are at the core of my practice as an artist and teacher.  His book of collected teachings on art & meditation, True Perception have been influential in my approach to this work.
These images are part of a larger inquiry into the nature of the Five Great Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Space), as part of my study of Vajrayana Buddhist philosophy. The entire manifested universe is composed of these elements.  They form a mandala of energetic qualities that manifest on the coarse, subtle and secret levels in all aspects of life; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  Understanding their nature we can more skillfully work with the world as it is.

I will follow this post with more on the elements in the coming days.  

For more information on Robert Irwin, I highly recommend his biography