Thursday, February 19, 2009

learning to read

if you stay away from sex (and dating) for long enough, you become a virgin all over again! (believe me, i know, unfortunately, what i'm talking about.) and the same goes for many other skills.

the back-story: seven years ago i got tired of writing. i figured i could see everything like cassandra and no matter how much i wrote about it, no matter how much energy i poured into the ears of an unenlightened populace, nothing would happen. zero. in fact, i began to believe people didn't read any more, only look at pictures like the illiterate in the middle ages. oh, of course, i'm still not sure this isn't true, even as dozens of new books appear at barnes and noble, where i drink my chai with a shot of expresso, every day. 

cold-turkey, that's the only way i can quit an addiction, no ability for half measures. so i bought a laptop and digital camera. millions of pictures and seven years later, i suddenly couldn't look at another book on photography, couldn't lift up a camera, or print out a picture. like the time i became an alcoholic, drunk on khalua and cream every night, fantasizing about a certain woman, one nail knocked out another. my back spasmed. lying on the living room couch, i had too much reality to reach for a bottle.

it's not exactly like that, but you catch my drift. i'd overworked the right brain. i could tell cause as soon as i started browsing novels/poetry/memoirs i could actually feel my left brain getting some exercise. hmm, it had been dormant, for a long time. 

this is not to say abandoning words was a bad idea. language seems to make us all critical of each other. my theory is it depends totally on opposites: light vs. dark, day vs. night, long vs. short. we're caught in the net of terrible dualisms, unable to resolve anything, and it's so frustrating we lower/raise ourselves above everyone else to lose/keep our self-respect, a yo-yo in the hand of a child god.

it doesn't hurt to be silent for awhile. like a poem, a picture can stop time, which is what we most often need. the future is like an avalanche coming at us, and we thrash our arms/minds trying to avoid the inevitable. a photograph of the moment can show us what is actually happening: stillness. we realize the nature of the arrow which keeps halving its distance from us and thus can't plunge into our hearts.

see, mixing metaphors. i've forgotten everything. i go back to what i have written, amazed. where did all these words come from? and, can i really read again? (much less, you know, the other...)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

amateur vs. professional

by now i thought i'd be a rich and famous playwright. for that i'd gamble the whole shebang (a life). unfortunately, as my brother said, i wanted the money without the attention. as my friend jeff shore once opined, "you want everybody talking about you, but you don't want to be there." and my own personal myth is hiding in the center.

yes, in san francisco college days i'd ride the buses, pretending to be invisible and observing people, listening to conversations. that mode of living never quite died. now i do it to take photos in public places. invisibility is an art. many great picture-takers have practiced it. and as my friend marilyn moore observed, "you are always sketching."

ah, dang blast, couldn't i have made a living at it? oh, i suppose i do. what else is a fire lookout but a voice coming from the top of a mountain, heard, not seen? that is definitely hiding in the center, the round mandala fire-finder with the pin-hole in the middle where i sit all day, that is proof enough.

and i've had a chance to be various kinds of a pro. in 1969 i received a scholarship to stanford, one of two directing grad students. unfortunately, i spent a wild and free winter in new york theater the winter before and by fall i couldn't go into the staid academy. was i just protecting myself from corruption? or did it have more to do with loving the art, the theater? after all, doesn't amateur mean lover of?

and i could have worked in a bookstore or library. i did work a bit in the first and i hated how books became a mere comodity, so many bricks to be sold, indistinguishable from each other. libraries have always been a haven and i moved to where i live over 25 years ago for the local university version. had i had to spend all day in one, i doubt my love of the sun would have permitted it.

that said, this doesn't make me anti-commercial. these days i enjoy reading accounts of pro-photographers of all kinds. my god, it seems such drudgery, not glamorous at all. work, work, work. and the five years it takes to get a musical up and running, forget it. i'll stick with community theater. my heart already seems to belong to it.

professionals do take the best photographs, however. probably from necessity and oodles of practice. they must communicate, whereas the amateur can get by doing the art for him or herself. communication is the key. a playwrighting teacher in new york once told us the secret with this illustration. a city girl visited a farm. in the middle of the night she was called out to witness a calf being born. it seemed such a miracle she ran and ran until she found someone to tell about it.

as amateurs, perhaps we can remain too pure. and it's odd that the work professional photographers call 'personal' is far inferior to their commercial work. maybe it's like classical musicians trying to play jazz. they simply can't loosen up enough.

okay, speaking of loose, here are some dance photos taken last week. they'll never reach the classic stage, i suppose, since most of the best-ever dance photos taken under controlled conditions. i end up trying to snatch sparks from the process.