Monday, July 2, 2012

beauty, the world seemed to say

Maybe it is in summer that a city's contradictions are the most apparent.  Gaston Bachelard has said of winter: "Indeed, everything comes alive when contradictions accumulate."  The warm nest of our house is in severe contrast to the white drifts and frost in the middle of winter.  But in summer, other contradictions emerge, are heightened, even if they are at the same time easier to ignore.  We are so immersed in living summer, so brief, to its fullest, that it's possible to blink and move on, forgetting the contradictions that we swim in, walk through.

I've mentioned my interest in the work of Fred Herzog.  On Saturday I attempted to take a few 'street' photographs.  We were downtown to pick up a few things at the Italian Centre, and continued down the street.  My first attempts weren't exactly stellar.  I lack a boldness.  And it's true, one must be quick. I saw a lot of great shots - but they passed me by.

"Take street pictures because it hones your instincts for speed and for quick composition. But above all what you bring in your mind to the scene is what makes your picture. If you don’t read, if you don’t have discussions with enlightened friends, you do not get there. There is a saying about seeing: Only a few people can see but most people don’t even look. And that says a lot to me. You can only see if you have something in your mind to bring to the picture. The camera is just the least important adjunct to your ideas. Your observations are important because they’re you. The camera is just a gadget you can carry on in your hand or around your neck or on a tripod."

Now this is a quotation that I need some time to absorb.  We've often had this conversation before, Rob and I, concerning still life, concerning painting.  That if you don't read, steep yourself in the thing you're doing as an artist, know the entire history of it - for him still life in particular, but all of art - contemporary, historical - then 'you do not get there.'  You have to have something in your mind to bring to the picture. Bears repeating.  Somehow it's this process, which brings a weight to the image.  That kind of magic. 

“What we agree with leaves us inactive, but contradiction makes us productive.”

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I considered leaving this post, at just my 'street' photographs.  My attempt.  But the same day, that evening, we had dinner with friends.  We had been invited to an intimate gathering in the suburbs.  And maybe in the suburbs, the backyard is where we lavish our attention, where our summer nests are an intense reflection of our best selves. This place where we invite our friends, arrange things as incredible offerings, fiercely soak in the gorgeous shards of summer we are given.  

"Beauty, the world seemed to say."  {V. Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway}

These summer evenings in suburban backyards can be a work of art unto themselves:  

We spent some time talking about what beauty was that evening, our glasses full of cold white wine.  We talked about what is ugly in this city - so much is ugly.  There are so many contradictions.  Though certainly this is true for every city.  I have to admit, I'm not the person to seek out ugliness (I'm a sap that way), but rather to try and see the beauty in where we dwell, the beauty in our contradictions, in how we inhabit and transform and move from space to space.


  1. I enjoyed your musings Shawna, and the photography. I particularly liked the wine glass image.Top notch. :))

  2. I love that we are looking at the same thing and yet your eye captures it in such a magical way. I can't believe how gorgeous the glasses, the flowers, the table looked just by you bringing yourself to the image. Perfect way to cap that lovely evening. Thanks for this, Shawna.

  3. This is so lovely Shawna! With your writings and photographs, it feels as if summer is already fulfilled. (slap my wrist!.. that might be tempting jack frost) Gorgeous. Thank you.


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