Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Little Johnny

No birth date. No date of death.

everything else is details....

except for Peter Reagan and a few others who knew him, all of whom are now long dead and forgotten.

Monday, April 28, 2008

ceiling in black and white

Does this photo engender more unease or tranquility?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

artwork on our refrigerator door

aren't my children talented!

okay, so i collect magnets, especially when i travel (i confess). it's a low-brow activity in support of middle-brow museum gift shops designed to subsidize high-art. so in buying these magnets i'm practically a modern Medici!!!

i want to point out a particular painting here (or magnet of a painting), but i feel very (what is the manly word for "vulnerable"? "exposed"? no, very bad choice)....very....confessional in doing so. It's St. Ceclia by Guido Reni. Unfortunately in this picture she is partially decapitated. she is at the top and middle of the photo. she’s the pale woman with a turban thingy on her head. she's holding a violin in her hand.

Such a gorgeous painting! The triangular composition (hand to elbow to head back to hand); the gorgeous red and white set against the black background; the impossible lighting; the upward gaze seeking (receiving?) inspiration. Plus I'm a sucker for the pale skin, I must admit. All right. So I know virtually nothing about the meaning of the painting. She's the patron saint of musicians, and that's good enough for me. I love this painting for its beauty, not for its story.

So one thing I'm looking for in my photography is to capture this kind of moment. No, I’m not thirsting for Reni's genius. Photography aint' painting--especially my point-and-click brand of photography. But what I wouldn't give just once to capture (or create or manipulate) an image with this kind of beauty.

Friday, April 25, 2008

NOT an eyeball

So it turns out that parents influence their kids whether they want to or not. My wife called me early this morning from work. This is how I remember the call; I’ll retell the story if I get the details wrong. She wanted to let me know of a photo collage created by my oldest daughter that was on display at her school. The purpose of the collage was autobiographical--to create a pictorial representation of her personality and interests as selected from magazine photographs. So far, so good. But here’s the thing. Figuring prominently in my daughter’s collage was this:

A photo of a weird eyeball looking through glass. (Not the one above; one from a magazine. This photo, after all, is NOT of an eyeball. It just looks like one. )

So I asked my wife whether her healthy and normal traits could possibly compensate in our children for my exceptionally eyeball-centric inclinations. To which she replied:

Not a chance.

I’m sorry. I really am.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


i feel like i've posted this before, but i don't want to go through my blog to find out.

think of this photo as an image taken from a movie with a music score. what (kind of) music does this image call for?

Monday, April 21, 2008

pinecones and flower

so here's the kind of photographic eye i have: i didn't even notice the flower when i took this shot. pitiful.

inspired by claude

hey, if i didn't shamelessly steal from the genius of others, i wouldn't have a blog at all.

monkey no. 1

prefers the company of adults, this one. we have this exchange about three times a day.

"what do you mean by that? could you repeat that?"

"actually i was talking to your mother."

"oh. but what DO you mean by that?"

the other girls like to talk talk talk. this one likes to "discuss" stuff.


my blog. in general i do not "chronicle" my life with my blog photos. nor do i show my friends and family for the sake of showing them off. usually i have a composition in mind (or see a composition i want to capture) and then i use the people i'm with as "subjects" for the shot. but i guess i'm getting soft. this and the next few pictures depart from that. please forgive me; i promise more brooding pictures in the future. those come easy for me.

monkey no. 2

she's all about the heart, this one. little miss sensitive. in the best sense of the word. can't console this one through reason. just have to be patient and stay there by her side. then in time she consoles herself.

monkey no. 3

last but, trust me, never least. oh, she's sees to that. every day. 24/7. if she weren't so charming, i'm telling you.....

three monkeys

stump and stone

one of those pictures that i like that i doubt will have much appeal to others. i think there's something terribly lonely and sad about this picture.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Happy about something...

A rare "in the moment" photo for me. Ahhhhh.....Harvey, we love you.

Truck on I-70 in MO heading west

I've just got to say that as a father of three young children how much I appreciate this gentleman for providing me and all parents with the opportunity to introduce the issue of abortion to their young children in such a thoughtful and sensitive way. Displays of deep and inspiring love of this nature are always the most persuasive kind of argument, I've always said.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

lamp on the Kansas City Plaza

Kansas City Plaza, pt. 2,

sculpture outside KCMO Public Library, 5:10 a.m.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 5:00 a.m.

Achingly beautiful and heartbreakingly lonely.

Reflections of Times Square

word of warning: don't mess with Episcopalians

I was reminded by one of these guys no less than three times that this was an Episcopalian Cathedral.

Which I took as self-evident because it was empty.

Decapitated Head of Evil Angel and Harvey’s Head

Harvey is on the right.


Saw this grafitti on a door (obviously) just outside of Chinatown. I was struck by its beauty and took this shot. It's lovely, I think. Just beautiful.

awww....poor atlas.

Look, damn it!

Philosophers sometimes understand themselves as that group of people who through reason alone peer behind the transitory world of appearances to understand things as they really are. Apparently, the ordinary poor slobs who compose the vast majority of humanity live in the world of the cave--the world of appearances—and go about their lives altogether oblivious to the deeper reality that holds up or transcends what they perceive. Through thought alone, philosophers appertain reality as it is rather than as the illusory world of appearances that ordinary folks blithely experience.

Or so they would have us believe.

But I doubt it. My sense is that people naturally and automatically look past appearances to mentally organize and construct their perceptions into meaningful concepts—into “reality.” They do so without the benefit of philosophy. They do so without trying. In fact, they can’t help but do it.

Any toddler can identify a dog as a dog. But asking the toddler to pull back from the concept of doggyness that she is implicitly relying upon to actually describe the difference in appearance that distinguish various breeds of dogs and that distinguish dogs from, say, cats is to ask something of the child that is well beyond its capacity. It seems we understand what a dog is first, and then only later (maybe) can we note what we perceive about that dog that helps us make that determination. Obviously appearances are critically important for us to recognize a dog as a dog, but it’s remarkable how much variation of appearances allow us to still recognize a dog as a dog. Dogs have legs, true, but most of us can still recognize a two-legged dog as a dog. When I was a boy I was traumatized by seeing a decapitated dog with its head on one side of a railroad track and the body on the other side of the rail. Looking back now at that horrible discovery, I note that when I was looking only at the body I knew the dog was a dog. And looking only at its poor severed head, I knew the dog was a dog. I had never seen a headless or bodiless dog before, but I still recognized it as a dog.

What’s interesting is that by ignoring appearances and going directly to what the thing is (the goal of philosophy) we run the risk of distorting the thing itself. Consider how a child draws a piano. She’ll use one color—black—and basically draw a blocky outline of a piano and then fill in the spaces with a uniform blackness. But then if one looks at a piano as one would find it in a concert hall, one does not see just blackness. One sees odd sheens of light and bizarre and ever changing reflections. True, the piano’s blackness can be seen, but for as much as we see the blackness in the piano we think of it as black simply because we block out what we actually see and allow our concept of the piano to guide our mental constructions.

In so doing we distort the reality of the thing we think we understand. God doesn’t do that. At least most of the time he doesn’t. Psalm 147 says that God names all the stars. Now that’s understanding each thing in an individual way. Persons can’t do that. It takes considerable education in astronomy for a person to understand how differences within stars make a crucial difference for how they behave. That God names each of the stars reveals his staggeringly powerful mind, but making distinctions based upon appearances is even hard for him. For example, in Leviticus Chapter 11, we are told of God’s rules concerning the eating of unclean birds:

"And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray, And the vulture, and the kite after his kind; Every raven after his kind; And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind, And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl, And the swan, and the pelican, and the eagle, And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat."

Okay, so everyone goofs from time to time.

In contrast to philosophy, which discounts the world of appearances, art—especially contemporary art—invites the viewer to attend carefully to what the viewer is seeing. It invites the viewer to not move hastily to a general glib understanding of the thing, but to attend to the particulars of the thing. In interpreting a piece of art (here I’m thinking of paintings in particular) the first thing the interpreter should do is stop, pause, and simply look. She should note what she is seeing and not jump immediately to its “deeper” meaning for what it signifies. What drives so many people “batty” (sorry) about contemporary art is that sometimes (but not always) it does not ask the viewer to look beyond itself for the purpose of telling a story or conveying an idea or making a statement beyond the art world itself. Sometimes (but not always) the artist attempts to prompt the viewer to simply look at the art itself, to appreciate form independently of function. To appreciate it as a composition. Therefore at least to some degree an important goal of the contemporary artist is to simply bring people down back into the cave because, damn it, there’s interesting things going on down there.

Appearances are worth attending to because our senses are worth attending to. We are embodied, and we should have less shame about our perceptions than what philosophy would have us feel. And in fact distinctions of appearance between things matter. Without noting those distinctions, we cannot fully appreciate the mind-boggling variety and diversity of creation itself.

The photo. One thing I love about going to a large city like Chicago or NYC is the remarkable degree of visual replication one sees. Not exactly replication because that would be boring. But visual echoes. Building after building towering over us. And with so much reflective glass one looks into a building and sees what’s behind oneself. We can see the same building by looking in four different directions. It’s fabulous and exhilarating. And yet without the benefit of engaging in platonic dialectic we immediately and effortlessly train our eye to look past these reflections, these images, to see the “real” thing we’re looking at, the building I can touch with my hand. Like painting, photography requires that the photographer be mindful of images and appearances—in effect, to visually convert the three-dimensional world that our mind constructs to the two-dimensional world that we see. Both this photo and the photo below were made by pointing the camera into a window. The “mask” and other objects are inside the building that I’m facing; Harvey and the cars and images of buildings and the sky are “behind” me and captured by the reflection in the window.

No one who was there when I took the picture would mistake Harvey for being on the other side of the window. In fact, most of the time Harvey’s image in the window would be effectually “invisible” to us; we would screen that image out. The mind constructs “reality” fairly effortlessly. Where we need training is not in the realm of philosophy but in the realm of looking.

Harvey reflected in NYC glass

between the pews

St. Bartholomew Cathedral, NYC. it bothers me that this photo is leaning slightly toward the right. actually i find taking a properly vertical photo a real challenge. here i put the camero on the ground and hoped for the best.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

too many prayers to satisfy

and if you don't believe that then look around.

inside the church


This is one of the more "painterly" photos I've taken. It comes as close as anything I've done to capturing the chiaroscuro effect I aim at so often and that moves me so deeply. I took it in a cathedral in NYC. Sadly, I can't remember its name with certainty. St. Bartholomew Cathedral, I believe. See below to see the room in which I took the picture.

here's the room

in which I took the picture in the previous post. It's not an interesting picture in itself. I show it here to demonstrate how I try to make choices in photography. The room had a lot of photographic possibilities--it was perfectly solemn and even a little spooky--but I decided in the end that I wanted to focus on the angel alone. I blocked the lamp with the angel to create a halo effect, or at least the sense of self-illumination. I like the result. I also took a shot or two of the chair and the angel to reveal the loneliness of the place, but I couldn't quite pull off what I was intending.




fire escape

Maundy Thursday

Celebrated with a friend by sitting in a warm and lovely Catholic Church in the dark evening, watching the blessed faithful pray on their knees, and quietly reflecting in peace and without irony upon the fundamental goodness of life.

Then we continued our exercise in gratitude, again without irony, by grabbing a couple of cold ones at a local pub with thoughtful and witty friends. A blessed evening indeed.

posed shadow

John--a gentleman (sometimes) and a scholar (always).

evening light through the front door

evening bach