Georgia O'Keeffe, on making the unknown known.

I feel that a real living form is the result of the individual’s effort to create the living thing out of the adventure of his spirit into the unknown—where it has experienced something—felt something—it has not understood—and from that experience comes the desire to make the unknown—known.

By unknown—I mean the thing that means so much to the person that wants to put it down—clarify something he feels but does not clearly understand—sometimes he partially knows why—sometimes he doesn’t—sometimes it is all working in the dark—but a working that must be done—

Making the unknown—known—in terms of one’s medium is all-absorbing—if you stop to think of the form—as form you are lost—The artist’s form must be inevitable—You mustn’t even think you won’t succeed—Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant—there is no such thing.

Making your unknown known is the important thing—and keeping the unknown always beyond you—catching crystallizing your simpler clearer version of life—only to see it turn stale compared to what you vaguely feel ahead—that you must always keep working to grasp—the form must take care of its self if you can keep your vision clear.

Georgia O’Keeffe (painter) writing to Sherwood Anderson (writer).  

Source: Brain Pickings.

There was something about this small article, by Maria Popova, that made me want to note these words and keep them to read again and again.  I loved the first paragraph most particularly.

I enjoy reading what artists write to each other, seeming to want to think on an important thing that so many wouldn't find important or interesting.  Sometimes these things seem like the real stuff of life, as opposed to the forms we fill out and the lives that we Must live in that 'real' world people talk of.

Soon I will be heading off on another adventure, in a small village somewhere between Naples and Rome.  There is a house and some dogs that I've been invited to visit, while breathing some good country air, with a view that I suspect I might want to photograph every day.

There is a book that wants to be written, or two.  There are the photography workshops to announce, the ones I've planned for 2015.  There is a bar where I'm hoping the espresso is perfect and where my beloved crema brioches are possible.  Where there's a delightful red wine waiting for me.

Another adventure in Italy, in that land where everything is possible and sometimes, just sometimes, you find giantic lightbulbs out in the carrugi.

Forget Special, by David duChemin - Photographer

Name an artist or inventor, anyone that affected social change on the most massive scale. Who were they before they became, say, Gandhi? Pasteur? Picasso? If they had waited to make a name for themselves, doing the very things by which they made a name for themselves, were deemed special, they’d have never done a thing. Gandhi didn’t know he was Gandhi until he became, you know, GANDHI. He just did his thing. And even then I’m pretty sure he didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Who others thought he was and who he knew himself to be were probably always different. And I guarantee you it was not easy. Have you read his biography?

David duChemin, photographer.

I have been selecting photographs for the exhibition at the end of this month and so, it goes without saying, David duChemin's article, Forget Special, was incredibly timely.

The risk is more than we can imagine ... And until they get the answer they think they need to hear, they remain paralyzed, their art undone, their business unstarted. Waiting to be special, first.


That Creative Place ...

I used to ride horses when I was a teenager.  Quite often they were slightly insane horses that the owners had tired of.  There was Mickey who used to paw the ground when we crossed streams ... indicating she was about to roll and you could only stay on if you imagined you could stop her.  There was Nutmeg who made a vet turn away in horror when he health-checked her for her owner. 

I was that horse-mad kid for a while.  The vet had spotted multiple 'issues' with that big, slightly crazy, ungainly chestnut called Nutmeg.  And then there was her paddock-mate, Cinnamon, the ex-racehorse who occasionally raced off with whoever was riding him.  He was a geriatric.

I survived. 

But there were days, few and far between but enough to keep me going, of sublime happiness.  When, just occasionally, everything would come together. The sky would be blue, the air warm, and the horse would be having a best-behaviour kind of day.  Those days were the days where being out with the horse was like floating along on my own private cloud of joy.

Writing is like that for me.  Just sometimes it all comes together.

Photography I can do anywhere.  I enter that state of non-thinking ... that creative space, easily and work almost unconsciously, losing my self in the process.  But writing, that's something else entirely.

Writing, for me, comes from another place.  It's a space more consciously created.  I feed it like I might feed a fire.  Building the flame from a spark up into, if I'm fortunate, a roaring fire.  And I'm finally learning that sustaining that space or that mood, is the trickiest thing.

I'm almost bullet-proof as a photographer and yet I am as fragile as a butterfly when I write.  I had spent two hours building that creative space yesterday.  I have a photography exhibition opening on 31 October and the theme is complex.  I want to get it right.  Dreaming it into being involves writing.  Writing involves building the fire.

I was horrified to realise how fragile I was yesterday.  How fragile the creation of that space is.  At the same time I was glad to finally understand the different creative spaces I inhabit when I move between the two things I love doing best.

I knew I couldn't interview someone and photograph them at the same time but I didn't know why.  I think both disciplines ask for a similar depth but they're different.  With photography I'm simply searching for the soul, or for a small glimpse of the true core of a person.  I want to capture something of who they really are ... to show them their own personal beauty.

When I interview someone it's completely different.  I am listening, intently, consciously.  I can't lose myself in that photographer space where I don't really exist, where it's all about slipping under the surface of the person I'm photographing. I have to be present with an interview.  Later, when I'm writing it up ... perhaps then there's that slippage into the soul.  Or, more nicely put, into the shoes of that person.

I was a writer first.  I thought that was what I would be in my spare time, after I found a sensible job that paid ... but I never ever learned to protect the space.  Photography allows me to move in and out of the creative space with ease.  Well ... coming home after a photography shoot is sometimes slightly fraught, as I am empty and exhausted by all I've given but ... I can flick in and out of photography without building a fire slowly.

I love that I will be 50 soon.  I love that I'm finally getting curious about who I am and what I do.  And I love that I have the opportunity to put together this photography exhibition and explore complicated things while knowing I need to keep the line through it simple and clear.  I love that I have to find the poem within the story... the few images that capture multiple layers.

But most of all, I love that yesterday, I finally understood that I need to create and protect the space where I write.  That I begin with a spark and build a fire. 

Mmmhmmm, only took me 49 years to learn this simple thing ...

Listening to Van Morrison's Into the Mystic today.  Working now ...

On Expecting Better of Myself ...

One of the things I'm struggling to come to terms with at the moment is that if I can't 'lose' myself in my photography, my photography suffers.

I already knew I couldn't interview someone and capture their portrait at the same time.  I knew couldn't tell the story in both ways, simultaneously, but oh how I've fought 'knowing' this.

The Belgian bloke asked me last night, 'Does a painter teach painting and paint at the same time?'

Well of course not but ...

I always expect better of myself.  But always.

I read something yesterday where a woman is complaining about her boss: she doesn't give me enough praise, barely lets me take a day off,  will not give me a pay raise. She goes on and on about how we must invest profits back in the company.

Then she talked of her employee: often doesn’t show up to work, comes and goes and she pleases, treats her job as a hobby.

Artist & CEO of Ann Rea, Inc.  Founder of Artists Who Thrive.

Of course, the woman was self-employed and talking of herself.  It's an interesting article and well worth a read if you're trying to create your own business.

And it's true.  I rarely take time off and yet I fit a million other things in around the work that must be done. 

Justine Musk wrote something I love on this particular subject: 

I have come to believe that perfectionism is a kind of evil, that it’s poisoning my gender and holding us back, as individuals and as a group. I wish more women knew in their core that they have a right to be who they are without trying to please or worrying about what other people think.

Perfectionism is the endless chasing of external validation, and it steers you away from your inner guidance system, your soul-voice. It makes you think that the small things are just as important as the big things, or that everything is a big thing, and this just isn’t true.

You can choose your priorities according to what truly gives you meaning, and you can let the other things slide. You don’t have to do everything.

Men know this. Men go for the touchdown. Women head in that direction, but then start obsessing over the state of the grass – and blaming themselves for every little weed, every little bald patch.

I wish more women knew to trust themselves more – to be themselves on purpose – to allow themselves to express their own power, creativity and greatness instead of trying to keep everything so controlled. Life will not be controlled.

Justine Musk, from The Self-Love Series.

And so you see how it is today.  I'm pulling out everything I know on the subject while trying to put together a life where I concentrate on the things that are important.  I understand that it's quite possibly okay that I'm willing to work all the time but some praise to myself wouldn't go astray.  Prioritising 'distractions' might be a plan too.

Let's see how it unfolds.

Reading & Writing My Way Back ...

Sometimes I get so caught up in issues close to my heart that I lose my own way.

And really, I know that at any given time, in any given century, there are 'bad things going on'.  I would be naive to imagine otherwise.  And I do understand that I know very little of the facts of those 'things'.  I know I need to understand that an absolute 'truth' doesn't really exist.  No situation is black & white.

Perhaps the best is to seek a series of narratives from different sources, accepting that truth is in there somewhere ... in different ways for every soul involved.

I had to find a way back from the sadness that set in after spending days reading of things so bad and so sad that they slipped in under my skin ... like tics perhaps, quietly poisoning my peace of mind and stealing my sense of beauty.

I found my way back tonight.  I've been lost in other, rather beautiful, worlds for an hour or more, since discovering Jodi's blog - Practising Simplicity.

She 'introduced' me to Katie and Reuben's - House of Humble.  And they led me over to Inked in Colour by Sash.

And finally, I felt like wandering across this after-midnight-silent room, to pick up my beautiful shawl, having this sense of finding my way back to myself some.  The Russian tailor made the changes I asked him to make to the shawl and it's quickly becoming this beautiful thing that makes me smile whenever I wear it.

Martin Luther King said that, 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.'

I believe this, so strongly, but I also see that I need balance.  When I speak out there's a sense of standing some place alone.  I want the world's eyes to turn to this topic that seems so important to me but in pursuing that desire to share, to speak out, hurts me. 

I grew up watching The Diary of Anne Frank on television.  It was screened, at very least, annually.  And we studied her story ... more than once, in school.

For a long time, years really, watching that movie I would to hope that someone would speak up for those people trapped in that holocaust.  But no one seemed able to so effectively.  The excuse used later was, we didn't know.  And so it is that periodically I am compelled to share information that asks people to 'see' and to 'know'.  To help bring about change. To stop really bad stuff happening.

But the slope is slippery and the deeper I go the further I am from that place, that creative space, where I prefer to be.  I love being a photographer, observing and capturing without interfering too much.  I love writing ... telling stories the way I imagine them.  And I believe, so strongly, in justice for all even as I understand it's impossible.

Periodically I step into the ring and challenge peoples desire to turn away, not to see, not to know. 

And afterwards, after the sharing, I have to find a way back to way I prefer life to be.  The women I discovered tonight pulled me back onto those paths that involve flowers and fruit trees, beautifully captured, along with so many stories. 

It's good to be back from that other, much sadder, much harder place for a while.

I'm Back ...

There's no headache this morning!  It feels so unbelievably good.  I found this area in my neck at 5am ... because it was stiff and sore, so I rubbed and stretched it for a while and voila ... I woke with no pain.

Meanwhile everything continues to happen here.  My huge ring-binder folder, the one I use for my book-writing course, is full of assignments and we're only halfway through.  It's been beyond excellent having to work out things like defining your book's genre, imagining how it will look - ideally.  Hardcover or soft, photographs, text, binding-style, after learning about different options for bindings.

Creating a vision board, a mind map, a set of core values for the book and the process.  Listening to published author interviews, learning all that Christine Mason Miller knows from her publishing successes.  Writing a synopsis and so much more.

It's intense and although we only work with Christine for 6 weeks, the material remains available to us for 6 months.  This course is all about fitting a book in around real life and all the distractions that most people live with ... which is so realistic for a creature like me.

Last night I began trying to select books for the journey next week.  I love reading at night in Genova.  I'm still not an electronic book reader-type, although the Belgian bloke is working on me.  My camera gear makes me a little sad about the extra weight I can't really carry in books but read I must. 

I have Kay Cooke's 2 poetry books on my desk, and 2 of Ren Powell's too.  I'm thinking they would be a great study while I'm out wandering.  Gert found me another Claire Messud book, secondhand, and I picked up Christos Tsiolkas's book, Dead Europe while in France but I think that one might be a little bit darker than I expect.  Let's see it.

There's all that but then I adore La Feltrinelli's in Genova.  It's one of my favourite bookshops out here in the world.  The English selection isn't huge but it's good.  Really good.  Last time I didn't allow myself to go in.  This time, we'll see ...

Anyway, enough of that.  I'm behind with my photo-editing.  I was lucky enough to wander over to Brussels last weekend, to photograph my lovely colour therapist friend, Marcia's, beautiful family.  I need to get on to that now that my head has stopped aching.

They are a truly, madly, deeply exquisite family and I so love photographing them.  It took most of the day but it wasn't just about photography, there was also a delicious cooked lunch after the picnic captured below.

On Portraiture ...

I love the work of portrait photography ...

My idea is that portrait photography is an attempt to put someone so at ease with who you are that they give you something of who they really are.

I think everybody is capable of being photographed in a way that is beautiful. 

It's about letting the real self bubble up to the surface.  It can take time but it's more than worth it in the end.


A Fabulous Book by Andrew Simonet, Founder and Director at Artists U

Taking power as an artist means going from beggar to partner. Artists who are strong partners thrive. They find resources, connections, and audiences. They don’t wait for opportunities; they create opportunities.  Everyone we deal with is a partner (not a parent). Funders, presenters, museums, record labels, and critics are all partners. When we step up as responsive, responsible partners, we can go anywhere.

Simonet, extracted from his book, Making Your Life as an Artist - a guide to building a balanced, sustainable artistic life.

Every artist should read this. 

Really.  It's that important.

As Val wrote when I posted the link on Facebook, Good resource and point of view with concrete actions to take. They need to give this to students in school. 

Val Oliver, an Originator/Creator/Writer/Director/Producer.

Making art will never be an entirely reasonable, rational pursuit. Excess, immersion, wildness, and obsessiveness can all fuel our work. But that doesn’t have to be the way we deal with all aspects of our lives.

Protect the wildness of your art practice. Keep the radical parts radical by cutting out the chaos. 

Sustainable means your life can work over the long term. A lot of artists’ lives are built for 23-year-old single, frenetic, healthy, childless workaholics. That doesn’t last. Our lives change and our needs change.

Sustaining is radical.

(Starving is not.)

In These Days ...

These days find me consumed by a writing course that I'm doing ...

Consumed.  In a way that I haven't been since those rare occasions when school or uni were teaching me things that I was passionate about. 

Writing was my first love, closely followed by photography, way back in my childhood.  But it was writing that took most of my attention when I lived in New Zealand.  Then I flew, I was teacher for while, I wandered some, and I mostly misplaced my writing ... in one sense. 

In another way, blog-writing arrived and I started out on a different kind of writing.  One that I probably didn't really consider as 'writing' ... it occurs to me now, as I realise I have never stopped writing.  I only stopped writing that novel.  I only packed away my manuscript of interviews with climbers.  I only stopped the book-orientated writing.

But anyway, I am writing again.  I have book I want to finish soon.  It's complicated.  I almost made it simple but that would be silly.  I like complications ... why would I write a simple book. 

All that to say, if you're thinking you have a book in you, if you want to explore the whole process ... from the idea to the publishing (including all the tiny details along the way), then I highly recommend you take Christine Mason Miller's course, The Conscious Booksmith.

It's consuming, and fun, and satisfying, and exciting ... it contains all the elements of a damn fine adventure actually.

Oh!  And adventures.  I'm off road-tripping to France next week.  My Belgian bloke has surprised me with a small pilgrimage, in honour of one of my favourite New Zealand authors.  Really surprised and delighted me.

In July, I'm road-tripping, with Helen, to Italy.  Oh the adventures we have planned.  I shall be blogging that road-trip.

August is Norway and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to spending time with Ren.

For now ... it's all about waiting for this special couple's little girl to arrive in the world. And there a ballet performance and a poetry reading planned for tomorrow.  Dank u wel, to the lovely Ruth, who organises some of my best adventures here.




The Arts, Kurt Vonnegut

The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country.

This song, by Ingrid Michaelson, seemed the right kind of sound for the sunshiney, whimsical afternoon this day became ...

Christine Mason Miller - The Conscious Booksmith.

I'm teaching this course because I need it.

Christine Mason Miller,  talking of her e-course, The Conscious Booksmith.

I've signed up to do another workshop in the months ahead.  Like the marketing workshop, this one is absolutely vital for me to move forward into a world I know nothing about. 

And so when a woman I have been 'following' online for years, a woman whose work I love, and whose way of putting herself out into the world fills me with respect, offers a workshop on how to make my book real while fitting it into the flow of my own chaotic life ... then obviously I'm going to sign up.

It helps that it is affordable otherwise I might have been left at the window looking in like a kid longing to join but unable to.  But that's something else about Christine.  Her self-confessed mission is about 'Creating spaces, gatherings, businesses, communities, brands and containers that inspire healing, transformation, and stepping more fully into the truth of the world's relentless need for our unique voice in the world.'

In the months ahead, as I step into the flow with my photography workshops, I will also be hard at work on this book I've been dreaming about for years.  And while it has changed from 'all about me and that city I love' to being 'all about that city', it's an idea that has never disappeared.  Only altered and bloomed into something much more than I expected.  And I love what it is set on becoming.

If you are creating any kind of book, take a look at Christine's introduction to her course ...

The Conscious Booksmith: A Mindful Approach to Creating Your Book // with Christine Mason Miller from Animyst on Vimeo.


I Do Not Want ...

I do not want to travel to distant places to give talks about art I made half a century ago. Minimalism does not need to hear from me. I do not want to travel to distant places to give talks about art I made yesterday. Contemporary art is making enough noise without me. I do not want to be filmed in my studio pretending to be working. I do not want to participate in staged conversations about art—either mine or others past or present–which are labored and disguised performances. I do not want to be interviewed by curators, critics, art directors, theorists, aestheticians, professors, collectors, gallerists, culture mavens, journalists or art historians about my influences, favorite artists, despised artists, past artists, current artists, future artists.  A long time ago I got in the habit, never since broken, of writing down things instead of speaking. It is possible that I was led into art making because talking and being in the presence of another person were not requirements. I do not want to be asked my reasons for not having worked in just one style, or reasons for any of the art that got made (the reason being that there are no reasons in art). I do not want to answer questions about why I used plywood, felt, steam, dirt, grease, lead, wax, money, trees, photographs, electroencephalograms, hot and cold, lawyers, explosions, nudity, sound, language, or drew with my eyes closed. I do not want to tell anecdotes about my past, or stories about the people I have been close to. I refuse to speak of my dead. The people to whom I owe so much either knew it or never will because it is too late now. I do not want to document my turning points, high points, low points, good points, bad points, lucky breaks, bad breaks, breaking points, dead ends, breakthroughs or breakdowns. I do not want to talk about my methods, processes, near misses, flukes, mistakes, disappointments, setbacks, disasters, obsessions, lucky accidents, unlucky accidents, scars, insecurities, disabilities, phobias, fixations, or insomnias over posters I should never have made. I do not want my portrait taken. Everybody uses everybody else for their own purposes, and I am happy to be just material for somebody else so long as I can exercise my right to remain silent, immobile, possibly armed, and at a distance of several miles.

Robert Morris, Artist

This amused me so much that I had to share.  Morris was replying to Robert Knafo's request a studio interview and he is very clear on precisely why he won't give an interview.  

You can read more on the story over on the Slow Muse blog.


I Had Mail ...

Sebastian Junger's documentary about Tim Heatherington arrived in the post today ... Which Way Is The Front Line from Here?  It joins my collection of dvds and books about war photographers and journalists, mountaineers too.  People who fascinate, or who have fascinated, me.

Director Sebastian Junger gracefully weaves together footage of Hetherington at work and moving interviews with his family, friends, and colleagues to capture his compatriot and friend’s unique perspective, compassion, and intense curiosity about the human spirit.   The Sundance Institute.

Also in the package, randomly selected from my Amazon wishlist by Gert as a surprise, was Bright Star.  Jane Campion directed this one and it looks rather marvelous, an antidote to that time spent studying Keats work in dusty old university rooms back in New Zealand.

And the final delight came in the form of Dani Shapiro's book, Still Writing - The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life.  This one appeared on my radar via Terri Windling's blog, Myth & Moor.  She wrote a series of posts about this book over days ...

It's another deliciously warm April day here in Antwerp, we're up over 20 celsius and my clothes-line is heavy with laundry drying.  Winter seems to have been so much less painful this time, perhaps to make up for the one before ... the one which traumatised everyone here. 

And now, to work.