“In the Zone. Winthrop, MA 1972”
When I was a student of photography at Emerson College we were taught the zone system. Made popular by photographers Ansel Adams and Minor White, the idea was through optimizing exposure and negative development you could capture to it’s fullest, all the tonalities availabilities of the black and white negative. Though it was a system based on science and chemistry what it really provided was a methodology between visualization of the photographic subject and producing the optimum final result. To capture all that was in what you could see, was the ultimate goal of the zone system.
Many photographers struggled with it. It wasn’t easy. A slight variation in exposure of your negative or the temperature in the developing bath and you missed it. I think I might of got it right once, with this photo of the woman on the commuter train. But, when you did achieve it, when all the right pieces came into place, you took your photographic skill to a new level. You were…in the zone.
We’ve all used this term before. And I believe we have all lay witness to the experience of someone, or ourselves. being “in the zone”. It’s that singular moment when everything that’s there, that could be there, is there. We see it in sports when the team’s power forward is draining three pointer after three pointer. We see it in music when the members of the band on stage seem to be so locked into each other that the music takes off to a place one can only imagine is reserved for the heavens. But what is most important, I believe, is that we recognize it as human beings. We all know, that down deep inside all of us is a place where it can all come together. Whatever it is, in the end we become locked in with what we believe is how good it can be. How we get there is different for everyone. It takes practice, hard work and great faith. But the beauty of it is, is that you know down deep inside it does exist and you know this to be fact. The zone is always there, it’s up to us to find it.
The Politics of Voice
Musicians and all artists alike have always lent their voice to the political scene. While many of us recall the “protest songs” of the 1960’s, the legacy of musicians speaking out goes far back. In the 1940’s Woody Guthrie, in response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, composed “This Land is Your Land”. Many believed this to be a song of patriotism. It was actually a call to protest that in a country meant to provide equality to all, many Americans were living in poverty and hunger. As Woody traveled across the country he was struck by this and could not remain silent.
What piece of music isn’t a statement, what work of art isn’t an expression? We all carry in us a voice that wants to be heard. The arts provide this path to articulate these thoughts. Find the story behind any painting, sculpture, photo or writing and you will find a story of a voice looking to for expression.
Bruce Springsteen had said he wouldn’t perform during the 2012 presidential campaign. He has changed his mind. He will lend his voice. He will be heard.
“Bruce Springsteen’s values echo what the President and Vice President (Biden) stand for: hard work, fairness, integrity” said Jim Messina, Obama for America’s campaign manager.
What values, beliefs do you hold that echo with those of others? You’ve heard the voice of others. Now listen to your own.
Caffe Trieste, North Beach, San Francisco 1975
When I first moved to San Francisco, a writer friend of mine insisted we make a pilgrimage to the city’s North Beach area. To him, this was hallowed ground. At the Caffe Trieste writers of the Beat movement in the late 50’s and early 60’s would spend their time here. It was the meeting place of choice for Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsburg, Richard Brautigan and Gregory Corso among others. Years later, Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of his screenplay for the Godfather while sitting here. It remains today a popular destination for writers, artists, musicians and actors. Perhaps all wanting to soak in the great expression that had been born here before them.
For me shadows always provide a different frame of reference in a photo. To some they present a challenge to control instead. In portraiture, you seek to control them, in landscapes, you look to calculate the detail in them. I say why fight them. Let them be what they are. Embrace them.
These shadows in the late afternoon at the Trieste conjure up a feeling of pause and quiet. A brief moment of solitude. Maybe holding a place for the another group of great minds waiting to take their seats.
Maybe God likes a good photograph.
Recently I read a post by colleague, and great photographer, Dick Waterman. Besides being responsible for managing and perserving the work of some of the most important blues artists in musical history, Dick’s work photographing and chronicling the early days of the folks and blues revival in the 1960’s has produced many an iconic image. In Dick’s post he commented on how he was at a folk festival, selling works of his, ( images the like of Bob Dylan and others) at a fair market price, when he passed another display of someone’s Instagram photos selling at $15. How could he compete with that he lamented? Well, you can’t. And maybe that’s just OK. Because the truth is, the advent of making the art of photography as simple as a click on the cell phone is really ushering in a new paradigm. We are all citizen artists.
The advent of social media ushered in the term citizen journalists. We all became empowered to instantly contribute to the information feed. And now it has become part of the mainstream. But where all can contribute, in time only the best rises to the forefront. But that fact that we all contribute, is what defines the shift.
And now it applies to the arts. I am a great believer that inside all of us is an artist wanting to emerge. But for so many, the right outlet never presented itself. But perhaps with the exception of photography. While everyone of us might not have ever written a short story, composed a song or painted a landscape, we’ve all taken a photo. And at some point, we sought to take a creative one. Admit it. And now it’s with us everywhere we go, in our cell phone. That’s great. Go ahead, take your photos, embrace your inner artist. Celebrate your desire to be creative.
It’s OK Dick, the more we create, the more we learn to appreciate the great work of others and the more the great work will rise to the top. And perhaps from this a movement of appreciating art is emerging as the arts in schools and in public places seem to struggle to survive. Who knew? Maybe, just maybe, God likes a good photograph.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - MY DEPRESSION
I’ve had my faith shaken
But never hopeless
This is my confession
I need your heart
In this depression
There’s been a lot of words written about Bruce Springsteen. But perhaps the best piece to date is this week’s New Yorker profile by David Remnick. The piece profiles Bruce from his earliest days to the current Wrecking Ball tour. More is revealed in these seventeen pages then any bio to date. We learn about Bruce’s struggles as a teen, his struggles with the loss of Clarence, and yes, with his depression. For some reason the latter is what mainstream media is picking up on. So what? Who hasn’t dealt with depression themselves or known someone who has. I have on both accounts. But the real message in this piece, and in Bruce’s history, is that he is a work in progress, always determined to do his best. His best for his craft, his best for the band and his best for the audience. When he says he feels an obligation every night to deliver to each and every member of his audience a performance that will be invigorating, stimulating, resuscitating and incarnating, he means it. And he wants to make sure you get every dollar’s worth you paid for. Seriously.
When I first encountered Bruce in 1974 I discovered a young man hard at work. At what, I wasn’t sure. But I knew it was mastery in the making. Somewhat diminutive in size he pranced the stage and worked the room like a sorcerer conjuring up a spell. And he did. He laid down a spell on us, a spell that made us feel good. It was a Rock and Roll healing in all it’s glory.
This shot is from a series I did when he came over to the piano and did his solo version of “For You”. Another shot from this series has reached semi-iconic status having appeared in numerous exhibitions, galleries and publications. But a colector from New Jersey saw this shot in my collection and said “that’s the one”. Bruce, his eyes closed, lost in the moment, perhaps for a second feeling the healing himself.
In the New Yorker article Bruce says of the band and his role, “We’re repairmen - repairmen with a toolbox. If I repair a little of myself, I’ll repair a little of you. That’s the job”
That’s the job.
“Jackson Browne, sound check. Boston 1974”