My eyes are aging

My eyes are aging – it happens to us all – but not gracefully. In 2014, while cycling in Germany, something a bit drastic happened inside my left eye. It quite literally, or at least physically, changed the way I see the world. And not for the better.

Here’s what happened, how I felt at the time, and what I now know, and how I feel about that, too.

First – a coincidence. I love coincidences. In the morning of the day – June 20 – I first noticed that my left eye had a problem. There was a huge floater spanning the entire height of my visual field. I have always had floaters, but this was something else! I was pretty worried, but didn’t think I needed to do anything until we were back home. Now for the coincidence. Have a look at this picture:

See that little blob top-centre? That’s actually a bit of crud that got into my camera and settled onto the sensor. It happend with cameras with interchangable lenses. But it looks like a small version of the floater that had appeared that morning. Wierd, eh?

So anyway – back home in Ontario, I went to see my optometrist right away, and they sent me to a local opthalmologist. That doctor took me to the local hospital for some immediate laser surgery to weld tears in my retina. Seems that back in Germany. One of the roots of the vitreous humour – the goo inside the eye – had ripped through the retuna and torn it.

Not done yet…. After that (i.e. same night), I had to go to St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and get a lot more eye-welding done. Like over 100 laser shots, I think.

Ouch!

Since them there have been no straight lines in my left eye’s vision – everything is a bit jagged and crooked. And a bit blurry, and the huge floater is still there, with lots of little friends. Oh – and double vision, too, can’t forget that… The blurriness and double vision come and goes, though. And the right eye is just fine, and I am very right-eye dominant, so that’s good.

So if we’re talking and you see me start to close my left eye a bit, I’m not nodding off (usually) – I just see more clearly that way sometimes, when my left eye is being bad.

Recently I went to see another opthalmologist for a follow-up examination, and learned some interesting things. First, some scans of my right eye’s retina:

You can see the dent that is the central part of the retina – the most sensitive part – and the network of veins around it. That’s how it should look.

So here’s the left eye:

You can see how the central part has no dent – it has a thick layer over it, in white in the images, hence the blurring etc. Seems that was caused by cells leaking through from behind the retina when the root tore through – they colonized the front of the retina and grew there.

Anyway, it turns out that I could have that surgically removed, and that might even take out the big floater! Huh! What do you think?

The Fallen

Catalog of The Project Examining the Fall

February, 2125

Preface

We do not know the population of the Earth. We do not know the breadth of the empty lands or whether other areas thrive.

We are 2,537.

Protected by lakes and frequent rains that keep our forests from burning, we are safe and often comfortable. We are able to endure the storms and other unpredictable weather. Like children, we have known no other lives, yet we are often reduced to tears of loss and loneliness.

That is the purpose of our project – to examine what we know of what we have lost, what was taken from us long before our births. How do we know what we know? What are the puzzle pieces and how do they go together? And why, after all this time, do we all care so very much?

We are gleaners. Shuffling through the scraps and waste of those who fell, we find things. And here, even though all the roads were long ago dug up, wanderers find us. Almost all stay. Almost all carry some paper, some fragment or scrap, burned, torn, soiled and somehow holy, blessed by mere survival.

We have books from before the first fall, many from the time of the slide. We have scraps of writing – magazines, newspapers, even personal notes and images – that survived, somehow, even through the collapses and the burnings. Most of what we have are just scraps.

When the Project began several years ago, we had one central question: What happened? How is it that we are living in the remains of a civilization that fell to this, our current state of living close to the land, close to the bone, far from others? We hoped that we could sort through our collected books, papers, pictures and scraps, develop explanations and interpretations, and then figure out what happened, what caused the fall.

As we worked, as we learned more and more, as we came to prove that the clear signs of global climate change had been ignored until it was far too late, we saw that it no longer matters just what happened – our climate is different from before, our civilization is different from before, this world is just our world.

We shared our scraps, and talked and debated their meaning, and our central question became this: Can we forgive? If we cannot forgive those who brought about our current fallen state, will we ever be able to learn to live our lives in circumstances as they are?

The Works

Beauty, it seems, has often been paired with temptation and destruction.

In Copper Sky, you see soaring towers carrying wires across the sky, transporting electricity to light up their lives, while clouds loom, both beautiful and threatening. Now, perhaps more than then, we are in awe of the power of storms, both for their beauty and their power.

Too Cheap To Meter and Base Load show us how the night sky glowed then, with wasted electrical light. The texts displayed with them tell of the hubris, the folly, of those who truly believed, even after it was known that the climate was changing, that they could live like that, forever.

Base Load is also accompanied by a fragment from the time of the Slide, when rumour became news, and any sort of study, scientific or social, was nearly lost.

In Melt My Ice Cream, a rant against the ruination of the Earth is made of ideas that were “in the air” early in this century. It was recovered by researchers mining data from a web archive server found at facilities in Los Alamos in what was the state of New Mexico. The date of its writing, about 2015, was, according to our research, about the time it became too late to do anything, as the threshold to runaway climate change was passed. Was the anger found in this rant a portent of the violence that was to come?

And what are we to make of the small sculpture depicting a hooded prisoner, apparently representing Nature, attached to electrical power lines?

Conclusion

We print on paper we make, with machines we have salvaged and kept working. Paper fades, and our future is still uncertain. We have made copies etched in glass. If you are reading a glass copy, mourn our passing, and celebrate your survival.

The Archivists of The Project

2124

Serenity

I often talk that art should challenge, make you think. Edginess has always been important in art, and some of my work certainly is. But serenity is important, too.

In Kalashnikov’s Dream, I use his own words of regret, combined with images of child soldiers.

A photo collage of Mikhail Kalashnikov & child soldiers with an AK47
Kalashnikovs Dream

If I could but lift this jewelled veil and set thee free again – what more can I say about this blue heron, found dead after the remnants of Superstorm Sandy blew through Newmarket? The only manipulation here was to deepen the red colour of the leaf that seems poised to pierce the bird’s breast. (The use of direct flash at night was an homage to Weegee.)

Photo of a Blue Heron, found dead after the remnants of Superstorm Sandy passed through Newmarket
If I could but lift this jewelled veil and set thee free again

But a lot of my work is also serene, such as my florals.

In this image, Floating Dock, a dock seems to float on clouds, as well as on the lake.

A dock seems to float on clouds, as well as on the lake.
Floating Dock

Simple foods is just that – a simple composition of bowls with flour and hummous and a couple of pita chips.

Photo of bowls with flour and hummous
Simple Foods

In Thanksgiving, I reflect on how much I have to be thankful for. It was taken on Thanksgiving, and I love the Autumn.

Photo of a yellow Muskoka chair with autumn leaves
Thanksgiving

The Wedding Tent is a deceptively simple composition. I had to position myself so the lighting on the tent was right, then wait for the little clouds to move where the tent’s peak would be in front of them, seeming to hold them.

Photo of the peak of a large white tent with blue sky and clouds
The Wedding Tent

So – edginess is important, but I also understand that art should be enjoyable. Serene images can be part of that enjoyment.

Modern landscapes

Photo of trees seen from a speeding car

I have been investigating how we see landscape now. In the past, in Canada and in North America, landscape imagery has had a heroic aspect. Landscape paintings, mainly by the early Group of Seven, have formed our concepts of who and where we are. In reality, very few of us have been to the places shown, and nowadays we see landscape, if at all, whizzing past our car windows.

It’s not just that I used a low shutter speed here, about 1/6s. I had to use a wide-angle lens with a neutral-density filter, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get that low a shutter speed.

To me, a photographic artist tries to show things not normally seen, or to show the mundane things we overlook. With the Modern Landscape series, I’m trying to do both: show you the landscapes you drive past, but make you realize that they are worth looking at.

New square work

I’ve been working pretty hard getting ready for the 2017 NGA Studio Tour. Matting and framing, mainly; learning how to use the new grids I bought. Printing greeting cards. Finding old work and re-framing some of it – I swap frames a lot (doesn’t everyone?)

So – why am I making new work? It’s so time-consuming, even for a photographer. I get it that painters, stained-glass artists, jewellers etc have even more reason to try to avoid new work, but still – it’s work. And while I’m asking myself this, why am I blogging?

Thing is, I had a couple of 20×20 square frames that had work I don’t want to show this year, so I thought I could sub in some new stuff. I usually shoot full-frame, so not much of my work is open to radical re-formatting to a new aspect ratio.

So – meet “Afternoon Lily” – Peggy tells me it’s a Montego Bay.

Photo fo a Montego Bay lily blossom
Afternoon Lily

Printed, it has a luminosity that doesn’t really come across on the screen, which is pretty unusual. It works in square format because that allows the blossom to burst out of the frame.

And meet “Pitcher Plant” too. It’s a Sarracenia purpurea. I took the photo up near Parry Sound. Again, it works square because it pops out of the frame.

Photo of a Sarracenia purpurea pitcher plant
Pitcher Plant

When I showed Rachel “Afternoon Lily” and we talked about the square format, constraints, coming out of the frame, etc, she said: “It’s like the world, isn’t it?”

I can’t add much to that.

Moving panorama shots

Photo made with panorama from a moving car while passing a truck

In photography, showing motion and time is usually done by controlling the shutter speed to blur motion or freeze it, or by creating a series of photographs. I have done all of these, but new technology brings new techniques, and recently I have been shooting from moving cars and trains, using the camera’s panorama settings. The motion is too fast for the camera’s processor, so I get the slicing you see here. This gives a time-sliced, jittery view of the passing world: a sequence of suspended motions.

PATH to Emptiness

Photographer’s notes

This series was taken early on a Sunday morning in Toronto’s underground PATH. As I was walking around in the deserted commercial space, I began to see it as a metaphor for the emptiness of our consumer lifestyle.

In all frames, note the hard linear wall surfaces, and the grid of the floor tiles. Nearly every image also holds some commercial signage.

I shot with a high ISO as I had no tripod; the resulting graininess enhances the images. Nothing in any of these images (except The Black Gate) was arranged – it’s all shown as it was. As well, all the images were shot full-frame.

Frame 1: The final rainbows

The bright daylight from beyond the door leaves a spectrum on the floor, echoing the rainbow motif on the wall. The rest lies in shadows.

Frame 2: The beacon

The bright light shines from between the escalators and the stairs. Reflections from the black and clear surfaces continue the scene to the right and through the stairs and escalators. The blue glow is also seen at the end of the series.

Frame 3: The Messengers

The wide angle view emphasizes the isolation of the Messengers near the corner. Their lively colours contrast with the bland setting. They looked like they were waiting to escort me somewhere.

Frame 4: The Black Gate

I had to work at not getting my reflection in the black surface, though I also tried in other images to have my reflection sitting, ghostlike, on the bench.
The image has been reversed to make it look as if the Moneysworth & Best and other stores are behind The Gate. This necessitated re-reversing the logos on the recycling/garbage bin. The low point of view emphasizes the leading lines in the floor, ceiling and lights, and the obstacle between you and The Gate.

Frame 5: The descent

The structure of the lighting is reversed from normal: the near scene is darker than the distance. The lights over the stairs work with the opening to the descending walkway to form a maw, drawing you down the slippery path toward the light.

Frame 6: The holding pen

The black, angled framing emphasizes the glow from the lights, especially the distant blue glow. The chrome chair legs form spiky barriers, but there are clear pathways. And one chair stands ready. Who is it for?

Frame 7: The Empty Throne

Three tables, three chairs, reminiscent of Cerberus. That cold blue glow.

Shows:

This series was first shown together at The Aurora Cultural Centre in 2012. The descent and The Empty Throne were in The Uxbridge Juried Exhibition in 2012, with The descent winning Best Photography.

Scanograms – a new medium?

There are things I miss about traditional “wet darkroom” photography – the magic of watching an image appear in the developer; the photogram, where objects are scattered on photographic paper, which is then exposed and developed; even the anticipation during the time, often days or weeks, between the exposure and the print. Scanograms use a technique I have invented to create the digital equivalent of the photogram. I open the flat-bed scanner and start a scan. I then “paint” with some object – in this case a tulip – over the moving scanning bar. I don’t get to see the result until the scan finishes, so I also get back some of the anticipatory delay that I have missed.

If you look closely, you will see bands of red, green and blue around some of the scanogram’s features. These are a result of the way the scanner works – sequentially scanning in the digital primaries – combined with the flower’s motion.

The only processing I do on the result is to (laboriously) take out the inevitable dust spots. I also crop it a little bit to make its proportions better for standard frames.

Gone live!

So here it is at last – Aug 31, and I just set up the linking so pixsilver.com shows my new site. I will add more galleries, change up the images from time to time, continue writing, and get guests to write.

It’s still a work in progress, but so is my art. And so am I…

Please leave comments to let me know what you think.

Dave

Photographing graffiti

Photographing graffiti has a long history in photography. It brings the usually anonymous wall markings to a broader consciousness, serving as “an equivalent of oral history – retrieving scraps of ordinary lives”. (Max Kozloff, in The Restless Decade – John Guttmann’s Photographs of the Thirties) These days, not all graffiti artists are completely anonymous – we’ve come a long way from Kilroy to Banksy! There are fans who could tell who made the stencil graffiti seen in my image of the laughing grenade, and probably the sprayed tag partly layered with it. Same with the digits in 10.

So – what am I doing here? Why take a picture of someone else’s art? Some will see it as appropriation – I’m not part of the graffiti culture, and understand very little of it. I prefer to think of it as sampling, more common now in music than in visual art. That’s why I framed it as I did – having the grenade and the tag both bursting out of the frame, showing only the top of the 10. I’ve made the images my own, and suggest the uncontrolled nature of the originals.