Sky Puddles: “What does it mean to photograph with passion?”
Once upon a May morning, I was photo walking along the Coast Fork of the Willamette where it flows around to create the boundary of Mt. Pisgah Arboretum here in Eugene, Oregon. I was surrounded by the lush fairyland of waist high blue larkspur and camas folded into the rich green grass starred with buttercups and wild Nootka roses.
I was clicking away taking standard shots I’d taken every spring for decades.
I felt a little depressed by what seemed to be impossible—to see all this with new eyes.
I sat down on a bench by the river and asked myself,
“What does it mean to photograph with passion?”
I didn’t exactly know the answer, but I let the question seep into me. Then I got up and started to really look through the viewfinder for something that satisfied some richness I’d been longing for.
I put my camera in the “pop art” setting that I’d heard others scorn. That bumped the colors of the flowers up into the stratosphere. Then I stopped down the exposure until backgrounds blurred to interlocked circles of green or blurred to paintbrush swatches of barn door red and sky blue.
When I could, I positioned flowers against dark shadows, so they would glow with jewel tone intensity on the velvety black backdrop.
At the pond, the lily flowers were radiant little suns about to open against maroon lily pads floating on dark water.
Suddenly, within an hour of asking the question, I had a method, an approach I could take to deepen my vision of a passionate world.
It was Laura Valenti, my photography instructor for “Light Atlas,” who told me, “Sandy, face it: at heart you’re a landscape photographer.”
So how to bring something new, that “what else” factor to the everyday landscapes of my little snow globe of a world?
I was out yesterday with that question, and as is my habit, I made a little nature video like a journal entry for the day—these grew out of the Gratitude Walks in another of Laura’s classes. This one is “Secret Places, Country Lanes.”
For today, I select this image as the one that seems most to suggest worlds within worlds.
Our 89-year-old Mickey/Mom swore when she moved into this independent living apartment eight years ago that we would only take her out “feet first.” Over the last few years of a hip replacement and then open heart surgery, she felt so terrible that she was sure she was going to cash in her chips.
However, the doctors say she’s in great shape for the shape she’s in, so her granddaughter Tristan Lockard said, “Why don’t we be roommates, share the rent, share the love, and put our money where our mouths are in terms of a multi-generational household (Tristan has two teens)?”
Tristan found a big, three-level house up on Cougar Mountain in Bellevue, WA with a view down over Lake Sammamish. Mom has her own ground floor suite of two rooms and a bath which can be closed off to be private or opened up directly into the warm kitchen and spacious living room. What’s not to like?
So on September 18 and 19, her extended family swooped down on her Beaverton apartment and moved her out lock, stock, and sewing table.
Nothing in this family happens without ceremony, and there were two–both are in the video.
LOOKING AT THE WHALE RIDER MASK
Aug. 19, 2015
At the Nuyambalees Cultural Centre at Cape Mudge on Quadra Island, British Columbia, Canada
(NOTE: Because it is extremely important to differentiate my viewpoints from those of my sources, I have bolded my first person attributions.)
I have visited Nuyambalees many times over the last double decade because their Sacred Potlatch Collection is available no where else in the world, on or off line. The objects are on loan from private Kwakwaka’wakw families, and all the regalia are pretty much subject to actual family need. If a ceremony needs something in the museum, ceremony has priority over public display.
Because the objects are privately owned, no photographs are allowed, no online representations are posted, and there is, of course, no catalog of the collection. Jodi Simkin, the Executive Director explained to me that the owners feel that to photograph is to take a ceremonial object out of its context; it is to attempt to appropriate the image for a personal agenda rather than the intent of the artist.
Sketching is allowed; I feel that is because drawing shows a spiritual commitment on the part of the viewer to look deeply into the soul of the object.
The road to Nuyambalees is simply a pilgrimage that must be made, an essential quest for anyone studying the lifeways and art of the Kwakwaka’wakw.
I am here at the Cultural Centre today to view some recently “almost repatriated” objects from the Canadian Museum of History. “Almost” means these totem poles and other objects are actually owned by the Cape Mudge families, but they were confiscated by the Canadian government in 1929. They are “legally” on loan from the Canadian Museum of History, which means that Nuyambalees had to cover the $30,000 price of shipping.
As often happens, I viewed the new displays and then wandered off deeper into the museum. The way I like to interview a museum is to first browse and read signage and then to find myself looking deeply at one object.
I read about it, look at it, then I sketch it and write about it, trying to think about what I see.
Today, I ended up in front of The Whale Rider Mask. Carved of cedar, it is a compelling black arc of whale body lined with sixteen individual, squared off teeth. The high-rising fin slices through the air of the museum as if it were the Salish Sea. In the center of the mask is Whale Rider, a blue-green man with patterns of red and blue dots. This mask would have been worn on the dancer’s head and been integrated into the pattern of dances, songs, masks, and stories at a potlatch ceremony. The design is clean and elegant with no wasted moves. Its very simplicity tells me it is the work of a master carver.
Owned by John Dick, The Whale Rider Mask is one of a kind; no other mask similar to it has ever been located.
This particular mask was one of seven artifacts repatriated from the National Museum of the American Indian, items that had been confiscated by Indian Agent W. M. Halliday from Alert Bay in 1911 under the then legal auspices of the Canadian government. Those devastating but now obsolete laws systematically worked to dismember the economic powerhouse of the potlatch system by outlawing potlaches and confiscating the fantastically beautiful and priceless ceremonial objects and regalia. Less legally, Indian Agent Halliday turned around and sold the objects on the open market to collectors such as George G. Heye who purchased 35 items for $291; he paid $5.00 for The Whale Rider Mask. George Heye began the National Museum of the American Indian on the foundation of hundreds of objects and boxes of human remains he “collected.”
As part of the signage for each item, the Nuyambalees curators have chosen to include the original price paid by a collector. I wondered about this, but it seems to me that the whole act of confiscation and re-sale is so morally outrageous that there are hardly words to articulate that outrage. I read the posting of the obscene price as a kind of historical brand, a scarlet letter burned again and again on the conscienceless hide of the government, its agents, and the so-called “art” and “artifact” collectors.
The Whale Rider Mask itself, like any great work of art, holds its own in time and space. As a ceremonial object, it had a life and intent of its own. Now, those glory days are pretty much irretrievably gone, and it lives inside the grave solemnity of the Nuyambalees Cultural Centre. But as an art object that anyone with an aesthetic bone in their body could love, it glows with an inner life all its own.
Fine in design, perfect in execution, The Whale Rider Mask soars alone through the dim museum light, worth any journey to arrive at this place and to see it with your own eyes.
This video is The Killer Whale Story told in the Liq’wala language. It was originally recorded in the book Assu of Cape Mudge: Recollections of a Coastal Indian Chief by Harry Assu and Joy Inglis. Further credits are listed or told in the video itself.
In this Daily Create, we were challenged to make a video about the inanimate aspects of the world around us. Mine turned into a somewhat moody or intimate introspective view of my study.
As always, these little videos are made on the fly; they are really more personal journal entry than presentation project. Like a journal entry, they are made in the fire and passion of the moment and then forgotten.
I had forgotten this one until I found it in my You Tube channel with its privacy setting still on.
Part of me said it was too long and wanted to edit it immediately; but then I fell into the mood of the song being sung by Siri Vik, my favorite local chanteuse (she teaches at Lane CC with me as a vocal coach), and
I thought it was a kind of dream I was having.
The Daily Create for Saturday, Jan. 3, 2013 was as you see with the additional instructions to write it as a poem. What a great prompt!
How the Story Goes
My name is Red
for all the usual reasons – the hair,
the character flaw of anger, a preference
since childhood for scarlet hoodies.
I am a comparative mythologist – I know,
I know, people call me the Fairy Tale Sleuth,
but the media – what can you do?
I’m really just a text wrangler,
a recorder of oral histories. I listen
at the pregnant belly button of the world,
omphalos of all story. I am
the squirrel Ratatosk running
on Yggdrasil, the eternal green ash tree
whose branches spread over the nine worlds.
I listen to Nidhug, wily vampire dragon
of the roots, and I carry his unlikely tales
to the eagle flying from the leafy
top of the world. I see all restless heroes
setting forth from little cabins squatted
too contented in the woods. I hear
the subtle Calls to Adventure
that whistle them down the wind.
And I have been known to help the hapless hero,
but there are other helpers, too, the King of the Ants,
Jesus or the angels in disguise, the tired,
the poor – Samaritan blood spills eternal.
I watch, I listen, I see those children
cross blind into the Zone of Heightened Power
and begin that terrible Road of Trials
from which no god can save them –
not even gray-eyed Athena could save
Odysseus from his tragic voyage home.
I thrust my hands in my jacket pockets,
pull the red hood up over my flaming hair,
and turn away.
I know how it goes, and knowing
maybe makes it harder to watch, easier
to turn away.
Crucifixion. Dismemberment. We laugh
when Coyote, trapped in the Great Mother Tree,
has to take himself apart to escape
that suffocating womb, pushing
his body parts, even his balls out through
the woodpecker’s hole,
all needing to be reassembled
on the Other Side. That’s tough.
It’s always tough. But that’s just
how the story always goes.
I’m up here in my Ivory Tower
trying to play it cool, but I still
get angry at the dimwitted Fool
stumbling along the rocky road to love,
or power, or enlightenment.
I feel every story like bearing a first born child,
and every fairy tale or ancient myth
is that dreadful push to leave
the Mother Tree behind, to reconcile
with the Sky Father, find a name
that is our own, one that rings true
to our toes. We seek the Elixir of Life
and Mastery of Two Worlds.
Let’s face it. We’re all lost in the woods
stalked by the top predator of the soul.
My name is Red.
And I know how the story goes.