Pixetera

Photography and art making as play.

Tag: personal

Wednesday, August 31, 2022: In Memoriam

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Today marks the 30th anniversary of my father’s death at the age of 86. One week, he was working in his office, the next week, on life support due to a debilitating stroke. Given his poor prognosis and stated wishes, my mother, sister, and I agreed on letting go of the machinery that was keeping him alive.

This image is of him as a young boy combined with handwritten notes I had prepared for his eulogy. I found both in a box that I haven’t opened in years, along with the golden braids he probably wore in this photo that remain perfectly preserved.

I cannot look at this portrait without also seeing the path my father took in life, or the path that life took my father—a journey that began in the seemingly infinite possibility that is every child’s birthright, and gradually narrowed until ending in a lower Manhattan hospital. Along the way, he became a devoted husband and breadwinner, a caring and supportive father, and engaged citizen. Still, I sense that something deep inside the boy pictured here was lost in the process of taking on these roles he performed so dutifully and well.

I have my suspicions as to what that was but have no idea how he might have felt. It’s a conversation that unfortunately we never had.

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Several years ago, I sent the submission below to the NY Times Metropolitan Diary, a weekly feature I highly recommend (even though my entry was rejected) as an antidote to the near constant drumbeat of depressing and discouraging news. I offer it here in loving homage to my father—this may, after all, be the only place that will ever publish it.

LIVER-Y DRIVER

This happened to my elderly parents, who have since passed on, when they lived in Manhattan’s Southbridge Towers.

One morning, my father drove to a nearby butcher to pick up an order my mother had placed by phone. Unpacking it upon his return, she checked the receipt but couldn’t find the liver she was planning to cook that night. “I probably left it behind at the store,” my father said. Another call to the butcher failed to uncover the liver’s whereabouts, but the shopkeeper was willing to replace it for free as a goodwill gesture.

Fast-forward two months to the end of summer—my parents’ car is parked on a lower level of their building’s garage, exactly where my father left it after the liver run. Unbeknownst to them, it had acquired an occupant—the original pound of liver, which had slipped unnoticed from its bag into a hidden well in the trunk. Decomposing ever since in the garage’s stale, hot, subterranean air, it stank of rotting meat and car exhaust. It’s a wonder the police weren’t called to investigate either a possible bioterrorist attack or corpse in the trunk of Mr. and Mrs. Goldsmith’s Plymouth.

Postscript: Without a gas mask, the car was barely drivable. The only hope for salvaging it, we decided, was to air it out at my house in northwest Connecticut. Parked in the driveway after a good shampooing, doors and windows open 24/7 (no worries about theft obviously), what could be more restorative than weeks of exposure to country air?

Months later, even filling the trunk with freshly mowed grass failed to produce the desired outcome. We put the car up for sale with an ad that acknowledged its malodorous state. An older neighbor who had lost her sense of smell was all too happy to buy it.

JANUARY, 2022 UPDATE

January 1 marked the 10th anniversary of Pixetera, which began in 2012 as a photo/day project and continues to this day, albeit with less frequent posting. In my last update, I referred to 2020 as an awful year; unfortunately, 2021 was every bit as bad on a global scale, if not worse.

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From a creative standpoint, it’s been an eventful 12 months. I self-published my book of mashups, Compositopolis Journey, to mixed reviews—from me! Its general format consists of double page spreads that feature a pair of photographs: on the left, one of several original camera images that led, on the right, to the final composite. While pleased with the reproduction, my printer (a local company that does work for Blurb but charges its own customers half of Blurb’s prices) struggled with getting the trim right: in one proof, too much was cut off the top; in another, an equal amount was sliced off the bottom; in nearly every one, the title on the spine was off-center and/or slanted. The cover photo and text on the last—and final copy—was also misaligned. As a result, I’ve chosen not to make any copies available for sale, nor do another book. The whole experience in fact, including several work-arounds to make up for the printer’s failings, has destroyed any excitement I once had about self-publishing.

 

 

Another major project was an exhibit called “Springfield Then and Now” (STaN) that I conceived as a celebration of both Springfield’s illustrious past and present promise. The original idea was to pair large-scale photos of noteworthy historical figures with current residents who were following in their footsteps, in vacant storefront windows throughout the city. Having parted with my professional equipment ages ago, I invited a photographer friend, whom I thought was a good match for the job, to join me in the project. She in turn connected me with someone who had access to funding. STaN took about six months from start to finish and involved a ton more work than any of us anticipated but on balance I’m pleased with the way it turned out.

On the minus side, I would have preferred that we had a wider demographic mix of contemporary subjects, and multiple locations rather than a single downtown one with almost zero foot traffic. That’s where the money was though. Absent my original collaborators (I’ll spare you the unhappy details), I’m hoping to fix that in 2022 but it’s been a hard slog so far.

At the beginning of 2022, I find myself in a place that I’ve never been photographically. It comes after 40+ years doing commercial work, and a decade of serious personal expression: although I still enjoy taking pictures, I’ve become somewhat bored with the camera output, and pushed to “wring” more out of each image. That’s one reason I’ve gone down the composite path into abstraction. But even that seems to be running its course. I need to find either a wholly new approach to my photography—which may involve finally getting a real camera again to replace my iPhone—or doing something else entirely.

What would it be like to ditch my identity as an artist? Who would I be and what would I do in the new space that opens up afterwards? Intriguing questions to start the year!

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

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Saturday, March 6, 2021

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Monday, November 30, 2020

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Sunday, October 4, 2020: What’s Inside the Box

For the last few days, I’ve been looking at 8mm family home movies from the 1940’s and ’50’s. I haven’t seen most of them in fifty years or more so you can imagine what a trip it’s been: aging grandparents not yet frail, my parents in their prime, uncles and aunts I never knew were so good looking, my sister, cousins, and me at the very start of our lives — not that I can relate at all to the little boy seen below as he attempts a somersault.

And what about those three-inch square, yellow Kodak boxes that required all of nine cents return postage!

I regret that as a family, we watched these films shortly after they were taken, and rarely, if ever, again. I would have liked to see them years later while everyone was still alive, and to hear the older generation talk about themselves when I was too young to care. I wish that my sister and I could have seen the love that existed between us as children, before we became estranged later in life and she passed away. I’m not sure it would have made any difference in our relationship but it never occurred to me to suggest it.

In managing to capture a few frames with my iPhone for this post, I was surprised to discover several stills that actually had some artistic merit—due in no small measure to their lesser photographic quality. Even the dust and hairs in the projector lens make a valuable contribution :)

My guess is that there’s a wealth of fabulous photos hidden in countless 8mm movies being played back at 16 frames/second. A project for the next pandemic lockdown.

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Monday, September 28, 2020

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Thursday, September 10, 2020: Old Photos of an Old Friend

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Monday, September 7, 2020: Labored Day

This may be a stretch in terms of a holiday link, but a good part of my Labor Day weekend was spent revisiting my career as a professional photographer specializing in corporate/industrial editorial assignments. A friend of mine had expressed interest in seeing samples from my commercial portfolio, most of which pre-dates the digital age and exists largely in slide form.

I hadn’t shown that work in more than 25 years, and since then, the presentation had gotten broken up in the course of 3 different house moves and a shift in career focus from business to higher ed. Putting something together for her involved emptying a closet full of cartons, spending hours going through boxes of slides amidst the resulting chaos (see below), and then more hours restoring order.

It all goes to prove that sometimes retirement still involves work!

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Title Slides from an Ancient Career Retrospective:

My first job in photography was painting a white bathroom black for use as a darkroom . . . or was it a black bathroom, white?

I rarely photograph people at work smiling. If work was really enjoyable, it wouldn’t be called work.

A professional photographer is one who makes every mistake in the book — once. After 16 years, I’m still an amateur.

Two of my favorite pieces of photographic equipment: Swiss Army knife (with toothpick); airplane air-sickness bags (good for separating each day’s exposed rolls of film).

Things go wrong so often on assignment, I now take it as a sign that things are going right. If there are no problems during a shoot, then I really begin to worry.

Photographing in cluttered, aging factory environments quickly gives rise to the aesthetic known as the “art of exclusion.”

The question I am most often asked: “Do you photograph women naked?” To which I reply: “I only take my clothes off when I bathe, sleep, or skinny dip.”

 

 

Monday, August 10, 2020

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Pixetera

Photography and art making as play.