February 1, 2018

31 Degrees, Sunny, Light Westerly Breeze

It’s a beautiful morning this morning. Sunny and mild. It doesn’t feel springlike today. It’s a little too cold for that, but it’s a treat to have sunshine at this time of year.


Today I put the wide angle zoom lens on the camera. I’m not carrying any spare lenses. I want to keep things light. The wide angle forces a completely different kind of photography. I can take wide, almost panoramic shots of the woods and trails, but it’s useless for details and closeups. So that’s what I shot today. It’s nice that the lens has forced me to consider other kinds of views. I think I got some nice shots. They certainly capture the character of the morning. I doubt they amount to anything of high quality or originality, but one of the things about this project is that it’s intended to be documentary in nature. The question is what was today like? What caught my eye today? Not what shot, what idea, is good enough to be shown and sold in a gallery. Except that I realize that the gallery is my internal measure of success. I care more about making powerful and perhaps lasting images than about documenting my days.


I noticed that I said lasting in the last paragraph. I don’t think I mean truly lasting. I have absolutely no expectation that my photographs or paintings will live on beyond me. It’s not a motivation for me. What I think I meant was more like timeless. I do want to make images that embody a feeling of timelessness and invite reflection on big themes.

I’ve been struggling a bit with this new project. I’ve had feelings of panic, being overwhelmed, and even real disappointment. Last night I set up my blog and posted the first couple of days of writing. It’s obviously way too much and it looks way too personal to me to be of interest to anyone else. I felt more than a little embarrassed but I left the posts up nonetheless. It’s what I set out to do and I felt good about the writing when I did it so I should stand by it, at least for now. Exposing yourself is always uncomfortable I suppose, but once again it’s something artists must do. Not that my writing is art. I’m thinking of my visual art, not the writing. I’ll try to be more concise and a little less personal in the future and see what I think farther down the road.


The feelings of panic and overwhelm come from the change that this project represents. I’ve known that I tend to have a one track mind for a long time, but this project is illustrating it very clearly to me. I tend to focus intensely on one thing at a time and to dive in deeply. It’s both my strength and perhaps a curse for me. It means I learn a lot about what I get interested in. It means I live intensely. But it has also meant that I have spent a lot of time and energy on some things that I then wind up walking away from when I get burned out or feel that I have exhausted them.


I generally don’t feel much regret about these abandonments. I usually just feel that it’s time to move on and there’s little I can do about it but move. I think what I feel more is a concern that people will judge me for the changes. I feel like people should find the thing they love and do it all their lives. My father did that. He loved architecture and little else until the day he died. I’m just not cut from that cloth. I see things that interest me, I dive in, do a lot with it and, usually about five years in, I want to move on. So it’s not like I jump from one thing to another every few weeks or months. I truly dig deep and often accomplish something worthwhile, at least to me. But then I move on to the next thing.

The reason for the feelings of panic I think is that over the months since I retired, I have been concentrating on studying jazz guitar. Fairly intensively of course. I’ve been spending two or three hours a day at it and thinking about it more than that. Interestingly, play the guitar (and making art) is one of the few things that I have returned to over and over in my life. There’s something that I love about it, and yet something that drives me away periodically.


I know what I love and what I don’t. I love guitars themselves. They are beautiful things. And I love the feel of playing; the physicality of fingers on strings, massaging notes into expressiveness. And I love the music. I think I respond to the resolution of a beautiful chord or melody in exactly the way that I respond to a beautiful painting or photograph. It’s just a pure aesthetic response.

What I don’t love is the amount of repetition and practicing it takes to play well. What I mean by “well” is really well. I want to play spontaneously, to invent spontaneously and make beautiful music seemingly without effort. I’m not talking about strumming a few chords. This level of accomplishment does not come easily. I think most guitarists who play that well have played obsessively for most of their lives. I don’t seem to have that kind of single mindedness. One thing at a time and fairly obsessive, but not obsessive enough to play all day every day without the strain driving me away.


Anyway, the panicky feelings I’ve had I think is because I feel myself losing the guitar as I spend time writing and photographing and editing photographs. I used to spend the mornings on guitar. Now I spend it writing. I try to pick the guitar up in the afternoon, but my passion and focus is not there. I play for a bit then drift away. To be fair, I think I was struggling a bit with the progress I was making in one particular area of playing before I started this project, but I’m not sure that it wasn’t because I was already thinking about it.

This morning as I was walking it occurred to me that maybe doing this is more important than playing the guitar. I do enjoy the guitar, sometimes a lot, but no one hears me play other than my wife and I wonder what it accomplishes sometimes. But I would be sad to lose it. So I’ll try to keep both, at least for now. But it feels like something has to give. Maybe it should be the every day nature of my project and/or the writing or amount of writing I do.


Anyway, if by some miracle anyone has read all of the above, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about the nuances of my relationship with the guitar. I just wish I could retain it at some pleasurable level, continue to make some progress, while also doing some photography. So far, that’s not been easy. We shall see what the result is.

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