I find myself labeling people all the time and the fact that I do it doesn't prevent me from getting irritated at myself. But we are human and that's what we do. People who study humans tell us we do it as a throwback to a time when we had to attach labels to establish each other's bona fides, a time when a label was less a critique and more a way of establishing our own safety. So if you describe me as a writer say, or a photographer a few millennia ago you might have been describing me as a member of a hostile tribe or as a mammoth's lunch. If you meet me at a party and the usual first question is what do you do? I reply I dispatch police. I tell officers where to go. Ha ha. I don't say I am an artist. Nor do I say I am a dog walker. Though I am in fact both those things.
In fact it has taken me a very long time to come to accept that photography is my art. My friends, including several of you, got me while I was down and told me as much and no excuses were acceptable. I was even more crippled then than I am now and simply said okay and thank you to the many who insisted. Like so many things in the past four months it looked for a while there that me writing a blog or taking pictures was going to end rather abruptly in a hospital mortuary. That my life didn't end is a miracle for which I am still grateful, as you will know if you read yesterday's essay. Taking up from that thread I am making a public declaration today, the second day of 2019: I am an artist. (I am also a dispatcher as I have no intention of earning money with my camera and I am a while away from getting my pensions).
I love digital photography, and I have said this before. It is inexpensive, totally forgiving and completely under the control of the person wielding the camera even if the pictures are taken in color. Monochrome photography used to be handled in dark rooms by amateurs across the planet handling nasty smelly chemicals and stumbling into furniture while clutching pieces of wet parchment, all of which cost time and money. Nowadays once you have the camera and batteries, which could be as simple as a quality phone camera which I use quite a lot still, or a more complex "regular" camera you have everything you need. Any pictures I take on my Lumix FZ300 camera I download easily and swiftly to my phone where I edit the pictures using the iPhone native photography edit functions or those offered by the Google cloud where I ultimately store my pictures (for twenty whole dollars a year...). I don't bother with sophisticated editing tools or complex photo storage sites. I enjoy using my camera filters and I do sometimes use an app to clean up wires or stray objects but what you see in my pictures is pretty much what was there when I opened the shutter. And frequently I use the automatic features of the big camera because I am walking rapidly behind my dog and as much as he likes to stop for me often things are just too hectic. Mine is not the photography of the leisured classes. I do not use a tripod; often I rely on rapid shutter movement to give my pictures crispness.
I have a friend who is an artist her name is Mandy. We communicate pretty much daily by text and she sends me stuff she does and she blows my mind. Compared to Mandy the artist I am a plodding westerner where she dives head first into Asian music, all flutes and pauses, or watercolors in those delicate shades and hues or crisp wood cuts limned in black ink. Once she sent me a video she found, ten minutes of a man pouring tea and meditating. Yup, tea and meditation and I struggled with it and my western tendency to boredom. She doesn't get bored, nor does she question the art she loves or her role in life as an artist. Life is an experiment for her and she revels in it, trying out archery or knife throwing, or making sound essays with a microphone in a cemetery. I like linear stuff, stories with beginnings middles and ends, music with melody, pictures with colors that tell stories and this artist Mandy, twenty years younger than me redirects my mind to accept and try to understand art and cultures from a completely different perspective. Han Shan and his Cold Mountain Poems is the latest mind twist this unselfconcious artist has pushed me into:
Every day I am grateful for her willingness to test me and put up with my plodding cart horse appreciation of what she is trying to teach me. I in turn am trying to test her sense of humor as I drop puns on her. She outclasses me all the time! Cheers to you Mandy.
The other artist in my life is of course Webb Chiles a man who has made a living from his art and who is recognized around the world as the author of books, articles and memes, the latter accidentally as when he started sailing, using the wind as his artistic medium, memes on smart phones didn't exist. Webb and I correspond almost daily when he isn't out sailing at the edge of human experience and he's another of these people in my life I wish had been here decades ago. Webb reads voraciously and turns me on to books and movies, he loves sports and ignores politics and we never seem to run out of subjects to muse upon. He has built my confidence in myself as an artist and for that I am grateful but I have to confess I do not look forward to the next legs of his sixth circumnavigation as he cannot write while at sea.
It is the requirement that Art absorbs yourself, your soul, your privacy that makes being an artist a pain in the ass even if you are not counting on your art to make you a living. Especially in this modern era of everyone being exposed by social media and smart phones it is necessary to be authentic and public to to root out the soul that troubles an artist. Complacency and secrecy do not an artist make, there has to be an irritant in your life, a drive to discover something within your own nature that forces you to create. If you think you want to be an artist it's not enough, you have to be driven from within by something that may not be apparent even to you. I have known people the polar opposite of my friend the artist described above by me. Where she creates and explores unconsciously because she is driven to, others who say they want to be artists live balanced lives in privacy that makes no art. A Facebook page can be art in my opinion but only f you have the courage and the drive to expose yourself on it.
And that pushes me to ask myself why I write this page or post my pictures here and on Instagram and the answer is because I have to do it. When I was lying in the road dying after my scooter accident I did what no one has ever done, according to the medical staff who saw my pictures: I took a self portrait and documented the business of being transported to the emergency room. Why? Because photography is my art. And out in the courtyard I looked to the sky:
I was very conscious of how much I missed my camera in the hospital. We weren't allowed obviously to photograph other patients so I had to use my phone to satisfy the itch and I tried to turn the tools of rehab and physical therapy into suitable subjects for the lense:
It was then that I got the encouragement to view my efforts as Art and I recognized in myself the need, not the desire to create pictures. I used to lie awake at night when the hospital was silent and flat on my back I would create my essays on my phone app -Blog Touch Pro- and as physically hard as it was nothing would deter me from posting another story about life in rehab.
One would-be artist asked me once if I would still post on my blog if no one read it, which struck me as an odd question as I don't monitor how may people read it as it is. I suppose if no one read it I might notice because you lot do comment and I met one reader in the loo at the Tropic Cinema rather memorably a couple of weeks ago, but I would still post pictures and words. That would-be artist will have to wait a long time to get going with her art if she needs recognition before she decides to stat creating.
So here I am. Is it Art? I'm still not sure but it's what I love to do, what I need to do; walk the dog take pictures and record the places where I am. I'm glad you like to look at them too but if you drop off don't worry, I've been doing this daily just about since June 2007 and will continue to do so until that trauma finally does for me.
Happy New Year. From the Artist. (self labelled).