Category Archives: Wanderings

Humble Beginnings:

Signs of the South Southeast Museum of Photography,  Juliana Romnes, Photographer

Signs of the South
Southeast Museum of Photography,
Juliana Romnes, Photographer

“Success is not a good teacher, failure makes you humble.”  Shahrukh Khan

As of this writing I am participating in an exhibition at the Southeast Museum of Photography, which is something that I am most proud of. Over the years I have been very fortunate to be able to show my work in some very fine galleries and museums. Talking about the show with my friend and mentor, Bob Lerner, I was reminded of a story about a show that I was in some 25 years ago. I think that it played an important role in some of my attitudes about the vagaries of putting your work in public.

While I was still attending Daytona Sate College, I was asked to participate in an exhibition of photography that was to feature large number local photographers at the Orlando Library. I thought this was a truly important opportunity, which I jumped at. It was for me a validation of my entry to the fine art photography community of Central Florida. Telling one of my teachers about the show, he suggested that I ask the organizers if they would be interested in his work as well, which they were. I turned in my work on time, showing what I thought to be my best offerings and then waited for the opening.

A group of us went to the opening and when we first walked into the door in a very prime place was the teacher’s work that I had suggested. The rest of the show was spread out over the entire library, which is quite large. Looking around, I could not fine my work and was beginning to wonder if they had decided not to hang the work. Then one of my fellow students said that he found where I my work was hanging and we all went to see. It turned out that my photographs was hung in an office, that at the time of the opening was locked and could only be seen in the darkness through the window in the door. I looked at the door and it said that it was where books on tape were kept. Unlike today, books on tape at that time were mostly checked out to the visually impaired, which meant that most of those who came to the office most likely could not see my photographs. I was struck with the irony and to some extent the surreal quality of the how my work was being presented, but rather than get angry, I found it amusing.

I think that almost every artist who shows their work will have one or more stories like this. It value, at least for me, is to remind me that my work is not always going to be placed in what I might think the best and appropriate spot. It keeps one humble and that can be a good thing.

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Community

K&C Auto Cleaning, AK 2013

K&C Auto Cleaning, AK 2013

Almost 30 years ago now I picked up a biography about Alfred Stieglitz by Sue Davidson Lowe. This was an important book for me, and over the years I have read it several times. It was at the beginning of my career and an introduction to a pivotal time in photographic history. Being a pure force of nature, Stieglitz moved photography from the 19th to the 20th Century. However, the idea that I kept coming back to time and time again as I read the book was the photographic and artistic community that Stieglitz surrounded himself with. The group of artists that surrounded him feed off each other and I believe that anyone of them would not be as well known without the association of the others. What I am sure is more important is that there was the opportunity for an exchange of ideas that influenced their work in a positive way. Ansel Adams and Edward Weston had Group 64, and Hemmingway had the ex-patriot writers in Paris, there are many more examples of these types of supporting communities. Nothing is created in a vacuum.

25 years ago I was attracted to Crealde School of Art because I found an artistic community within the school that was giving and supportive of this neophyte that imposed himself on them. It was very important in my development as a photographer to not only have available the Photography Faculty, but also those in all the medias studied at Crealde. I would often show my work to the Creamics Teachers to get their perspective. I owe them all a great deal.

Recently however, I learned that my artistic community is even more important than the role they played in my personal growth as an artist. During a recent trip I became very ill and was just able to make it home before spending about 3 weeks in the hospital. While I knew that a few would come by to see me as I recover,  I was overwhelmed with the responce of many people at the school who brought me several hours of uplifting joy by coming to see me. While in the hospital I felt detached and unconnected with photography, art and in turn life and  frankly it left a hole in my soul. The visits by my artist friends began the process to fill that hole. This is an example of an artistic community at its best and I am most grateful.

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Spring

Tommy Lasorda, 1989, Florida

Tommy Lasorda, 1989, Florida

Spring is always a favorite time of year for me. There is such a sense of renewal at this time of year. The grass is getting green, and the wild flowers on the side of the road are carpeting the landscape in color. Spring is a time where possibilities are abundant. April is the beginning of baseball season, when my favorite team can still go all the way. As a photographer, this is the time of year when the light is best, and along with the prospect of traveling; I look forward to getting out and seeing what there is to see. However, what I like to see most is the beginning of baseball. Each year I look towards my hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and see them making the drive to the World Series. Most years I have been disappointed, but that has never dampened my hopes. Spring fosters hope eternal.

My first memories of the sport of baseball came in 1958, when I was a very small child. The city had not yet built Dodger Stadium, and the team, who had just left the Brooklyn, was playing in the LA Coliseum. They had some great players, though some of them were at the end of their careers. Pee Wee Reese was still playing shortstop, along with Duke Snider, Gill Hodges and they had a great pitching staff, including, a young Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and the vertern, Don Newcombe.  It was Pee Wee Reese however, that caught my four-year old notice. For me at that age, to see someone named Pee Wee cemented my first connection to the sport. Later, after moving to Florida, and after Pee Wee’s playing days I would watch him every Saturday afternoon on the NBC Game of the Week, where he did color commentary along with Hall of Famer, Dizzy Dean. Some years later, I was watching my college team play a game, when I noticed an older gentleman sitting next to me who looked vaguely familiar. I asked him if he was Pee Wee Reese, to which he replied, “Son you’re not old enough to know who I am!” He was not being hard to get along with, but just surprised that some kid in the stands would know who he was and recognized him. I told him that my earliest memories was watching him play that first year that the Dodgers played in LA.

“Guys ask me, don’t I get burned out? How can you get burned out doing something you love? I ask you, have you ever got tired of kissing a pretty girl?”

Tommy LaSorda

Several years later, having just graduated from the Southeast Center for Photographic Studies, I was hired to provide some still photos for public services commercials that Major League Baseball were making here in Orlando in 1989. It was then I had the opportunity to photograph the famed, Dodger manager, Tommy Lasorda. The main photos that I took of him were in a locker-room where they filmed the commercials. While he was very friendly and professional in what he was asked to do, it seemed to me that he did not suffer fools gladly. The director set up a scene where Lasorda was to storm out of the dugout to argue with the umpire. The director was giving Lasorda instructions about how he was to do the scene, when Lasorda stopped him and said, “I know how to argue with an umpire!” With the camera rolling he runs out of the dugout and argues with the actor who had the misfortune of playing the umpire. The director yells cut and Lasorda, turns to the actor and calmly tells the him that he did a great job. I am not sure how much of those comments were heard by the actor, who had not yet recovered from the tirade that Lasorda gave him just a moment before. Lasorda then smiled, patted the actor on the back and returned to the shade of the dugout. I think that Lasorda showed the director that there were some of the acting arts even in baseball.

The truly great thing about photography for me is how my interests in photography is supported by my other interests, whether it be baseball or to see what I can find along the side of the road.

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Under the Boardwalk

Boardwalk, Daytona Beach Florida 2013

Tilt-a-Whirl, The Boardwalk, Daytona Beach Florida, 2012

While I often go back to areas that I have photographed before, the Boardwalk at Daytona Beach is one that I have not been to in a few years. In the mid to late 1980s, when I was studying photography at what is now Daytona State College, I would often come to the Boardwalk to do what I thought of at the time as Garry Winogrand inspired “street photography.” I could count on the Boardwalk to offer a menagerie of people ranging from bikers, to college students, to retires, to homeless people, and to tourist. In the week after Bike Week and the week before Spring Break there would be bikers in the southern, older end of the boardwalk. This was popular with them as the pizza was cheap and the beer flowed freely. As you went north there would be an infusion of college students who, flush with their parents’ money would be staying and playing at the higher end hotels located toward the amphitheatre where there would be an assortment of contests including the ever popular, (at least with the males, but with the willing participation of the females) wet t-shirt contest. Both of these groups took advantage the warmth of spring and the fact that they were far from home.

Over the years the Boardwalk at Daytona Beach had gone through several upgrades. It has long ago, even before I started to go there, lost it’s wood planking, replacing it with colored concrete imprinted with relief sea gulls and pelicans on the walkways that took you from the pier to the south and the amphitheater to the north. Despite these occasional upgrades, there was always a sense of tackiness and history to the place. Over time I photographed unsuccessfully the famous diving woman that was atop the swimsuit shop. There, as it had been for many years the saltwater taffy machine churning, what I can only guess, the same blob of taffy as I saw all those years ago. Many windows would be covered from floor to ceiling with tee shirts printed with sayings that one would not wear in public, except in Daytona Beach. Then there were the arcades with games that were so old they were last popular before the days of video games, offer tests of skill and manliness to those looking for an ice cream, hot dogs and a beer. However, for all its tackiness and questionable cleanliness, there was also a sense of tradition and history to the place. So despite its rather sorted charm, it was a popular location for both grizzly bikers and families with kids.

The boardwalk always seemed somewhat sad to me. Here was a place to be a haven for fun in the sun, but no one seemed that happy. Workers seemed bored, fathers and mothers where short with their children, and teenagers trying to look cool in this somewhat seedy environment by trying to look both hip and aloof. Still it is my guess that they will go home happy with stories of time in the waves and with t-shirts that they cannot nor will not wear when they return home. I too came home feeling happy that I was still able to get some photographs as I did in 1986. In the end, the Daytona Beach Boardwalk was in many ways like my memory of it, some things the same and some of it missing, but still with a sense of what it once had been.

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Ideas:

Old Dixie, Orlando, FL 2013

Old Dixie, Orlando, FL 2013

In his very worthwhile book, View from the Studio Door, Ted Orland wrote, “When it comes to making art, our intuition is often light years ahead of our intellect.” I know personally that when I am photographing I do not fully realize why I find a particular subject is meaningful. Most of the time when I see something that I want to photograph it is more a reaction to the scene rather than some deep thought about meaning. I feel that I make photographs using two levels of my mind. First is the photographer in me, who is thinking about F-Stops and Shutter Speeds, depth of field, and what direction the light is coming from. There is another side of me when I am making a photograph that recognizes something of the importance of what I am photographing. While in the act of making the photograph I do not think about why something is important, I just feel it and I have long go learned to go with those feelings. I may explain the meaning of a photograph later in writing or at a lecture, however the act of making a photograph is somewhat on auto, and I have to trust it. Trust is a good thing when you are an image-maker, because trust is, in many ways, the road to truth. It is the truth of an image what makes it both a personal expression and a universal one.

This past weekend I passed by a place that I had photographed before but wanted to again. The chicken restaurant opened in the early 60s. The name, Dixie Chicken alone might be enough to bring to mind some strong feelings about the dichotomy of a being proud of one’s heritage versus what that heritage means to some people. The chicken is wearing a Civil War era forage hat that has on it’s flat top the stars and bars that again represents a proud heritage to some, and the oppression of a people to others. It is that difference in the symbolism that defines the differences in the culture that I find interesting and why I was attracted to the sign. The symbolism of what signs means is deeper than what the sign says. If there is a connection between the two cultures it is cuisine and maybe that is the universal truth in the sign.

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The Myth of Sisyphos

Tommie Carrol, South FL 2012

Tommie Carrol, South FL 2012

Last night I went to an opening and saw the wife of a friend of mine who had been through what might have been a serious illness and she sat next to me on a bench outside the gallery. Knowing that I fairly recently had my own scare, (I don’t want to sound gloomy, or worse yet, silly, however in my mind the possibility of my premature demise seemed possible at the time) she wanted to know how I was doing.  Glad to say that we are both doing well. Though she said something that I related to when she mentioned that she was worried during her illness because she felt that she was too young to die. Thinking about it now, I am not really sure if that was what she was really saying or that was just what I was hearing, but that thought hit home to me. We are about the same age. When I was in the hospital, I had thought that I too am too young to die. While I am steadfastly tumbling towards 60, I don’t feel that old, even with the aches and pains. Thirty-five years ago, 60 seemed so painfully elderly, but now I feel that I am in the prime of life, even with its occasional pain and uncertainty. But lying in my hospital bed, I was thinking that if it was my fate to die, I could have no complaints about not being given my chance at life. Not that I was ready to die by any means, I just felt that I had no complaints. I have been reading more and more about those of my generation and even younger who have passed on, some of them had done great things and maybe would have done more if they had the time. While now such thoughts seem a little silly and premature, it was not really all that bad to sit back and contemplate. Not to dwell, but OK to contemplate.

When my friend Jon and I went out on that last weekend of 2012, I photographed a headstone in a cemetery in West Palm Beach. The stone was old but the age of the person buried there was young, no more than 20. I think that he or his family had some money as the stone was ornate in its carving and at the time of his death a young banyan tree was planted near his grave. Over the years the tree got bigger and bigger and the trade mark root base of the tree began to envelop the stone to the point that in time the head stone will be in the tree more than beside it. This did not distress me, nor did I feel it to be disrespectful, but thought of it more as nature reclaiming its own. While we might feel that we are above nature, and it is ours to control, the fact is that we are part of nature and the cycle of life and as such we are the ones who serve nature, not the other way around. In time we have to submit, like Sisyphos, to nature’s inevitable control.

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A Lost Weekend and Wandering Thoughts:

Goodrich Sign, Okeechobee, FL 2010

After about a 10-year lapse in belonging to the Society for Photographic Education, I rejoined this year for various reasons, chief among them, I wanted to reconnect to a larger group of photographers. I recently felt out of the loop to photographers in my region and across the country. So I paid my dues again (more expensive) and signed up to go to the Southeast Regional Conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (less expensive). I applied to give a talk on my photography and it was accepted. I was among about a dozen programs given throughout the day on Saturday.

The trip was eventful from the beginning, while still in the predawn dark I ran over something metal which punched a hole in one of my tires and wedged a steel bar to the undercarriage of my car. Due to the good work of AAA I got back on the road again, with a new tire in little more than an hour. This event however, placed a strange veil over the rest of the weekend, where most everything turned out good, but there were some things that made the weekend not as good as it could have been. It should be said that I blame no one for this, as the serendipity of the road is sometime good and sometimes works against you.

I saw about four of the programs, (three were going on at any given time) and they were all interesting. I particularly enjoyed a talk about the photographs made in the Storyville section of New Orleans in the late part of the 19th century. After this excellent presentation it was my term and I attached my computer to the projector and looked at the first image to make sure that it looked good and started my lecture. I am not sure what happened, but the rest of the slides had so much contrast they looked as if they had only two tones, black and white. At this point there was not time to see if the projector could be adjusted and I just went on with the talk, inviting the audience to look at a box of prints that I brought to get a better idea of what the images looked like.

The ones in the audience, who talked with me after, said that they understood about the projector, (it seems that it had been that way almost the whole day) but still found the program interesting because of what I had to say. One young lady, who was a student at Virginia Intermont, said to me later that she knew that I would not knowingly have such awful images, so it had to be the projector.

For the most part it was a good conference as I did see many people who I had known, but not seen in 10 years. I was pleased that they remembered me and seemed glad to see me. I was glad to see them. I also met some new people, a librarian from Kansas, who had an intense interest in photography. Another young man was very interested in my method of traveling for he too was a wanderer. He was doing a project where he would, as he traveled, stop every hour and photograph whatever was there. There is someone who believes in serendipity!

Even with the good reception among my older friends, I will have to attend more conferences to fully recapture my sense of belonging. Like any group, there are cliques. This not a snobby or bad thing, it is just that some of these people only see each other once or twice a year and want time to catch up. I will have to pay some dues. I felt good about the students that I met. So, even with the issues involving tires and projectors I had a pretty good time and the weekend did for me what I wanted it to. Thanks to all those who made me feel welcomed and remembered.

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