What’s New? A belief in a search for Beauty…?

After reading a bit on GalleryHopper and looking a bit at this review – among other things….This quote:

“The birds are always marvelously dressed, progress is a word stripped of its meaning, and a cow that nourishes the world will always go two miles an hour.” – Joseph Fernand Henri Léger

attributed to Fernand Leger, it sticks with me. I read it in the context of “Making Art New” by Robert Adams – in his book collection of essays – “Beauty in Photography”…

Léger observed that “If pictorial expression has changed, it is because modern life has necessitated it,” adding that “the thing that is imagined is less fixed, the object exposes itself less than it did formerly. When one crosses a landscape by automobile or express train, it becomes fragmented; it loses its descriptive value but gains in synthetic value. The view through the door of the railroad car or the automobile windshield, in combination with the speed, has altered the habitual look of things. A modern man registers a hundred times more sensory impressions than an eighteenth-century artist.” – Jodi Hauptmann – catalogue essay –

Above as qouted from a review / comment a by Carter B. Horsley in “The City Review”.

Imagine what today might look like to someone like Leger in this hyper-world of ours. Add planes, cell phones, the Internet…. and soon you could imagine a jittery and brief encounter – pseudo real in global time – a position of being both local and global – personal and non-personal… take a breath.

Think about the habitual look of things. What things might we see in common anymore? A sunset ? A moonrise ? The cool breeze and a raindrop.

I wonder about all this in the context of “What’s New?”… in photography – perhaps nothing is able to really be “new” or “groundbreaking” in the sense that to me, it seems it is useless to measure the worth of a new photograph or a photographer’s work by the distance it may try to establish from what has been done already. To question of what might be “groundbreaking” is to miss the point in my opinion. To be searching for what is “fresh” is along the same lines. Life is fresh.

So “What’s New?” is today – what is right now. Good pictures of that content alone, I believe, can become what we care about seeing tomorrow or the next – and that is something that is impossible in a way to predict or construct. It just happens – and by chance becomes noticed.

Perhaps thought it is already all around us – beauty that is – and it’s up to us figure out how to tease that experience – or recognize it – or just feel it a little bit – in of our daily lives.

Early Sunday Morning – A model for something more…


Hopper, Edward
Early Sunday Morning
1930
Oil on canvas35 x 60 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

I’ve always been drawn to the work of Edward Hopper. Something about the beauty of a quiet calm moment and the pause that I feel when looking over the work.

There is an interesting passage in “Beauty in Photography” the collection of essays by Robert Adams, published by Aperture. From the essay “Truth and Landscape”, where Adams is describing how making photographs has to be a personal matter, somehow the photographer has to be in the picture…

“…what we hope for from the artist is help in discovering the significance of a place. In this sense we would in most respects choose thirty minutes with Edward Hopper’s painting Sunday Morning to thirty minutes on the street with what was his subject; with Hopper’s vision we see more…there seem to be moments of revelation…there is a sense of comprehension.”

Adams goes on a bit before this into the three elements landscapes should offer: geography, autobiography and metaphor – the intensity of which these three are present raises the artistic act of what we all “work to keep intact – an affection for life.”

There is something in the painting “Early Sunday Morning” that resonates with me. Perhaps it is the title of the painting that sets up the framework for entering the quiet moment he chose to portray. I imagine being there alone in the first warmth of the sun, separated by the empty space of the street and before the activity of the day sweeps us up into the constant motion of the day to come – you have the chance to just see the quiet poetry of the storefront. The rhythms of windows, doors, curtains… awaiting the activity to follow, a haircut, a drink – a place to eat. If, as Adams writes, Art asserts that nothing is banal, then a work such as this is definitely a model for something more enduring in our everyday existence and it is worth searching for these moments in photography.

Turning Back – Robert Adams


Southwest from the South Jetty at the Mouth of the Columbia River, Oregon – Robert Adams

In looking through and absorbing the images made by Robert Adams in the book “Turning Back” – I can’t help but feel a sense of loss. In my own exploration of this new region – as an “outsider”, I am amazed at the varied landscapes that I have had the chance to glimpse so far out here in the Northwest. The edges of things in the landscape are so dramatic.

“Turning Back” – What a great title to a selection of photos that portray our influences upon this region. The relationships that we form with the landscape are of particular interest to me – how we picture them – what we value – how we inhabit – what we use – natural law – life cycles are so readily visible. So many of the landscapes invite a moment of quiet contemplation and of inevitability. I am tuned in to a feeling of both awe and disgust – of hope and despair about this.


Robert Adams, Sitka Spruce, Cape Blanco State Park, Curry County, Oregon, 1999–2003.

But, the Largest Sitka Spruce in the USA: 6 miles east of Seaside, Oregon; 2 miles east of Hy. 101 – there is a park sign, a road, a nice board walk and a memorial plaque I’m sure just waiting to be seen….


Robert Adams – Clear Cutting – Oregon

As I’m learning about the region – and on a recent trip back from Seaside, I was thinking about the history of the Lewis and Clark explorations – the notion of “Turning Back” must have been a difficult. To be credited with establishing the ability of American commerce to pioneer it’s way to the west edge of the territory – is a heavy credit…