Good News, Bad News, & Approaches to Teaching a Workshop…

03 May

San Diego – i just got back from the Landscape Class field trip to Yosemite; something I always look forward to and enjoy very much.  I especially enjoy it because i am essentially out of touch for a few day and can just concentrate on photography.  I have several shots I’m working on and I will post a few of them here when I get them edited.  So, anyway, I return to civilization, always a trauma for me, to hear of two deaths: one a good thing in my opinion and the other a bad one.

The good news was that Osama Bin Laden was finally dead.  I confess I had been in error; i was convinced he was dead for some time since this most egocentric jihadist had been completely off of video exhortations for a number of years.  But there he was, cold as a mackerel filled with Seal Team lead — a most fitting end, though with far too little suffering for my tastes. Dropping him from a 100 story building would have been far more fitting in my opinion.  Hopefully the message sent is that we will be relentless in tracking down the crazed savages that attack us and our people.  But I already see that is a message lost on some of our own people!  Good grief.

Combined with the danger from Khadaffi remaining in power and bent on revenge, this probably makes for some serious short term danger for us and our citizens and holdings abroad.  But the message is important.  and if the apologist in chief will follow up any revenge attacks in like manner, rather than publicly apologizing for any offense given by offing this murderer, it could, in the end, make things safer when it becomes obvious the price of attacking an American is too great.  In this we should follow the Romans’ approach: mess with a citizen and your country is toast.

My quick sojourns in that part of the world years ago left me with a total change in attitude about others just wanting what we want, i.e. to get along, raise our kids, etc. was patently untrue.  They want us dead and off the planet.  i also learned that their mindset vis-a-vis respect is totally different than ours.  In our minds respect and fear are totally different points of view.  But in theirs, respect is only due those things you fear.  if you do not fear it then it is subordinate to you and ought to fear you.

From the time Bin Laden watched us fail to respond to attacks and then run from Mogadishu and pronounced to his listeners that it was clear America was a paper tiger, a straw dog who would run as soon as it got its nose bloodied, that faction lost its fear and with it its respect, and the serious attacks on us got underway in earnest.  THe chatter on the Arab street is a melange ranging from disbelief, or that he died naturally from his health problems and we are simply taking credit for it, to calls for revenge and reminders it is still legal for them to “cut our necks.” That such attacks will come is the next best thing to certain.  And how we respond will determine whether we have finally begun to tamp this ignorant savagery back into its cave or will facilitate it for another generation of moronic thugs seeking cover for their asocial behavior in the cloak of religious mandate.

The bad news was to hear of the death of my High School friend, Dean King.  Many classmates thought we were  brothers though we were not at all related.  But we both went by our middle names (David and Dean) and our first names contained exactly the same letters.  We were both artists, were into music and writing.  But he was far more practical and became a Chiropractor while I became a photographer.  Back in the day he often used his training to fix my back when I hurt it, as Cyrano said, “…playing with the big boys…” and I enjoyed jamming in with him or standing in awe of the violins, banjos, mandolins, and guitars he made.

There are two utterly crappy things about getting old and one of them is the increasing frequency with which you are slapped in the face by mortality and more and more family, friends, and acquaintances get picked up by the cosmic bus and taken to some other plane.  Options are closed off, things unsaid are forever lost and now meaningless.  Future plans are pointless and frustrating in their unfullfillment.

I had not seen Dean since i came to California but some friendships do not need to be stroked continually and ours was one of them.  I will miss the opportunity to hear his soft accent or hear his playing.  Maybe now he has joined a more heavenly orchestra.  I do hope that is true.

But his sudden death reminded me once again: if you truly love someone, tell them.  But first search for my post titled “Whatever It Is… It Ain’t love” (use the search box at the top of the column to the right) and if what you are feeling, despite the cavalier use of the term it ain’t real love, please don’t use the word. The term “love” deserves better than to be used as a lever to manipulate emotions.  But tell them that you care about them, respect them, whatever is the case and don’t wait because that cosmic bus has no horn to warn you it’s coming.

Lastly… While in Yosemite with my class I had an occasion to overhear the instructor for another workshop getting his students set up for a shot.  He basically defined the shot for them and told them how to take it even showing the correct crops for other views, and even told them whether or not they needed to worry about depth of field or motion issues.  He also went on about several digital issues.  His conclusions were generally OK even though sometimes his rationale displayed a lack of understanding that analog and digital record values differently.  oh well…

The point is that it made me think about how I do not do that for my students — and why.  In classes before our trips we talk at length about different visions for a scene, how Adams might have seen it one way while White saw it another and Weston saw it yet a third way.  But in the end I want the students to develop THEIR vision and not be constrained to mine, so we cover concepts and approaches in class before the trips into the field. However once in the field i want them to start exploring their own visions and aesthetic concepts.

But unfortunately my approach imposes on THEM a large dose of effort and creativity.  I will, once in a while, have a student that wants to be spoon fed the answers such as where to stand or when is the light right or even which is the best viewpoint.  But I always tell them i know only the answer for myself and not for them.  Art is not a science where there is a single best view, it is, well, an art, where we all have our own viewpoints and our own visions to try to render.  My influences for landscapes came not from Adams or Weston, but from the 19th century painters Bierstadt and Moran. i approach my photos like paintings in which my captured file is more like an underpainting than anything else, then spend time developing the image into a portrayal of what I FELT at the scene and am not terrible concerned about just what I saw.

I know that makes me sometimes harder to deal with for a student but I have no interest in them being limited to learning only to copy my work and be constrained by that.  I want them to learn to go off and explore the possibilities for themselves, find their own way.  Then if there are questions to be dealt as to how best to use the technology and equipment to achieve THEIR vision I am more than happy to help.

Otherwise, get a map and photo guidebook and have at it, taking the same pictures as the last bazillion visitors.  But give up on ever making a powerful, personal, emotionally-laden shot such as those of Adams, Weston, Baer, et al.  Those come from the artists soul far more than just from their eyes.

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Posted by on May 3, 2011 in Uncategorized


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