Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sex, Politics, and Religion

My mother died back in January 1997, just six months after my daughters and I had moved to Shaw Island. My relationship with my mother had been pretty awkward for many years, so processing her death was difficult and I found myself spending many hours walking the beaches trying to sift through the storm of emotions.

It was around that time that I picked up a copy of Julia Cameron's classic, The Artist's Way, and was advised to take myself on an Art Date. Shaw is a very small island, only about 6 miles long with about 150 year round residents, a school, a library, a museum and a general store. Where was I supposed to find an Art Date?

Eventually I decided to buy myself a camera -- a little point and shoot -- and my art dates became a daily process of wandering around the island, taking pictures of whatever caught my eye. During that period I became fascinated by the patterns I found in driftwood and stone, and eventually I accumulated over a thousand photographs like the ones displayed here: closeup shots of the universal themes that emerged on close examination of natural formations.

It was when I took them in to be developed that the print shop guys (I had to go to Anacortes to get prints in those days, an hour and a half ferry ride from Shaw) began suggesting I show my work in galleries. Eventually I took a selection of driftwood and stone pictures to a gallery in Friday Harbor (one of the other islands in the San Juans) and they accepted them enthusiastically, thus initiating my career as a professional photographer.

But ultimately, of course, these pictures just opened the door into the gallery: these sorts of photographs rarely sold. It was always the more identifiable shots -- a beach with mountains in the distance, a sailboat silhouetted against a setting sun, light streaming onto a bench in the woods -- that people wanted to buy. And though I now, again, live only a short walk from a beach littered with driftwood, I confess I haven't photographed a piece of driftwood in years.

So I was taken completely by surprise a couple of years ago when I learned that the famous monk, Thomas Merton, had also spent a lot of time photographing stone and wood patterns like these -- you can find some of them online here. Eventually I managed to find two books of his photography, and though I can't say I loved all the work, I was certainly struck by the resemblance to some of my own pieces. So I guess that even though I wasn't meditating back in those days, there was a meditative quality to the work I was doing.

Now that the Unexpected Dog show is down (I brought home the unsold pieces yesterday) it's time for me to begin imagining what I might print up for the November Women Behind the Lens show at my gallery. It's a wonderful opportunity to explore the creative edges of my work, so I'm already beginning to test out new possibilities, ways of mixing art and language and photography. But part of me wonders if it might not also be time to resurrect some of those old driftwood photographs... oh, but wait: I'm not supposed to show anything having to do with sex, politics, or religion. Does that mean that these three would be unacceptable?



Anonymous said...

Hahaha! You really got me! As soon as I read the words "sex, politics, or religion" I had to scroll up and see. Oh my, do you think that the fact that I watched the movie "Sex in the City" last night made me more susceptible to suggestion? :-D

And about Merton's photography, I'm able to see the meditative quality to his photographs, as I see that same quality in yours, but I have to say that I don't see the artistic quality in the same measure. Merton's work reminds me of what I was doing as an angst-filled teen pretending to be edgy (Sorry, Tom) and not too much different from my own son's angst-filled dramatic barn wood in shadow with dead branches kinda thing. It leaves me feeling more lonely and lost than peace-filled and zen-nie. (Great, now I'm going to hell for dis-ing a monk's work.)

I much prefer your quietly beautiful, peacefully meditative style. There always seems to be a lingering joy in your work that sets it apart from the rest. said...

Wow. High praise coming from one of my favorite bloggers! Thanks!

...and I'm glad you saw the potential of the images!

altar ego said...

You know what they say about beauty being in the eye and all that. I love these images. They make me stop and consider how the rock/stone was formed or "marred" by some external force. And perhaps true of all art, they are a bit rorschach-ish; they become what the viewer sees unless there is input from another voice or viewpoint. It will be interesting to see what you ultimately decide to show to reflect the woman behind the lens! said...

How cool -- I hadn't looked at it that way; that it isn't just that the show features the works of women photographers, but rather that each piece conveys something about the woman behind the lens. Hmm. All the more challenging, then, to keep out sex, politics and religion!

Kimberly Mason said...

Hahaha! Sex, politics and religion! Isn't God there in all three?