William Blake and Hollywood…

jacob's ladder

I just saw this William Blake image again, today…

Every time I see one of Blake’s images I think that someday, maybe… I might actually get around to reading one of his illuminated books
That would seem to be the most potent way to get a real taste of his mysticism…
Fat chance of that though…
There’s just enough Gemini in my chart making it nearly impossible to finish any one of the myriad creative projects I’ve got in various stages of in-completion…

Just to complete a thought here…this particular image had always reminded me of Hollywood and Busby Berkeley’s über-elaborate productions…
And then somewhere along the line I saw Vincent Minelli’s An American in Paris…

I guess that Busby Berkeley wasn’t involved in the production…
but somebody in Hollywood musta’ liked and admired Blake…
Hasn’t anybody ever seen the resemblance…?

kristo
rss

subscribe via email

subscribe via email

Courbet’s l’origine du monde…

all of this buzz about Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde just reminds me that cultivated gardens can be delightful…but a nice area of wild growth tends to inspire my deeper passions…
in other words…neat cultivation tends to remind me of a surgical field….
I just don’t understand any man’s fascination with shaving away the mystery of what an Italian might call “la bella selvatica.”
but then again…most american men don’t get the charm and raw beauty of natural underarms, either…

la bella selvatica

Starved Rock, Illinois © kristo

kristo
rss

Street Photography…and my damn Aries Moon

As much as I love taking Sagittarian-type road trips to look for images to photograph, it’s still pretty much a variation on the Mercurial theme of street photography…
Stopping the car, getting out, and pointing a lens at someone or something is a busy, but compelling sort of enterprise that I want to explore here by sharing some of my more successful images…
One of the things road trips can share with street photography is the sense of danger, since it can, and occasionally does, cause unpleasant confrontations…
landscapes only rarely get you into trouble, but leave it to me and my Aries Moon to change THAT…
I suppose I don’t get flustered when a state trooper pulls up behind me on a country road and checks out my ID and plates on his computer because I’m photographing some wheat field…but I DO find it ironic that taking photographs is considered a more suspicious activity than hunting…

Of course walking around town…any town…with a camera around your neck eliminates the business of stopping the car and attracting state troopers, but I find myself getting more and more gun shy as time goes by… And that’s something I want to change…
This image is from 1993, I think… I was pretty cheeky back then, and not so afraid of confrontation, but the people I pissed off never got in my face…even if they glared…
But THAT sure as hell changed!
I don’t consider this a great image, but as far as photographs go, it certainly captures an archetypal moment we’re all familiar with… something to do with Mars in Capricorn or Saturn in Aries, I’d say…

street photography

Chicago: an innocent street photograph c.1993

Despite my Aries Moon, I tend to dislike confrontations, but I know from experience that getting the kinds of images I really want will often provoke them.
This post on Eric Kim’s excellent blog
speaks to the heart of the matter as it addresses the fear of confrontation in street photography.
He offers some useful advice and encouragement, but there’s really no avoiding the fear.
Street photography just requires a hell of a lot of courage…even if the only bad thing that can happen is that you can piss somebody off, or get arrested, or have your equipment stolen, or get beat up…or even knifed…or maybe worst of all: lose your film.

I guess going digital changes that all important last part…
but it doesn’t eliminate the fear.

It also doesn’t change the risk and danger of the absolute worst thing, which is to never take the damn photo at all.
Even if it sucks, it’s still your vision…and you’ve got to keep working on getting that vision in the / a frame so that it doesn’t just not suck…but completely takes your breath away.
Because if you don’t keep trying, you’re just not being yourself.
I only wish I could be myself without all of that Aries business…

kristo

cemetery dreams and road trips…

my cemetery dreams of of the last few days have abated but that image of the grave digger from my last post was the direct result of a much earlier cemetery dream…

the year was 1995…
I was still in practice (gynecology, that is…) and was indulging my passion for road trips along the back roads of the midwest specifically looking for images to photograph…
this particular trip was on the 4th of July weekend and involved criss-crossing the Mississippi on the way down to Memphis…
the destination wasn’t so important… I had decided that it was going to be either Memphis and Graceland or Kansas City and one of only 9 Caravaggios in the USA… Elvis just happened to win out over Caravaggio…

the second night of the trip was spent in some motel in Carbondale, IL where I had a dream of needing to dig things up in a cemetery… whether or not there were bodies involved wasn’t quite clear, but I remember having to use a shovel and thinking that this would be a hell of a lot of work if a shovel was all I had…

the next day, after crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky, I was just passing a cemetery when I saw two men at work digging a grave, but using a backhoe… so I stopped.
not to be a voyeur, but simply to honor the dream and the synchronicity…diggers

they were pretty much finished with the job, and were very friendly while I went about photographing them at work in that very rich and red-looking Kentucky soil…
my favorite image is in color, but I was mostly committed to cross-processing my color film in order to capture the mood, and wasn’t so worried about capturing facts like exact colors…

Digger Color

what happened next is why honoring dreams and synchronicity matter…

A woman left a lone house directly across the road, maybe 500 feet from where this grave had been dug. As she crossed the road, I could tell that she was distraught and ANGRY…
apparently, the grave was for her grandfather, and she was furious that some stranger (me) was walking around taking photographs…
she was so enraged that I really felt that her threat to call in the state troopers was going to turn into something uglier than it had already become… and fortunately, I was able to leave without things escalating further…

The way I see it, this woman was able to vent her anger and grief over the loss of her grandfather by projecting it all on me… after all, I wasn’t disrespecting anything or anyone… but I certainly became a psychological lightning rod for some very intense emotion that she might not otherwise have been able to deal with very easily…

Who knows…
maybe it helped, maybe it hurt…but I tend to trust that synchronicities like this do much more good than harm… and without following them, or following up on them, we lose something of absolutely immense value…to whit, we let our Intuition wither and die…

kristo

cemetery dreams…

grave digger

I’ve had a number of cemetery dreams lately…
At one point in my life, dreams like this would have completely creeped me out, but after doing Jack Miller’s Phoenix Project (in 1994) and visiting Graceland Cemetery in Chicago as a way of honoring all those dreams with their recurring theme, the creep factor had completely disappeared…

Now it seems to have been replaced by a sense of discomfort that I have difficulty placing… The only thing I have to go on is that I can definitively recognize the graves in last night’s dream as being certain computer files… I really have to hand it to Psyche, the comedian, again… Those silly gray file icons on my Mac look close enough to headstones to qualify, but it was the names on them that made identification so easy…
Something about BBEdit, which is the program I use to work on the various revisions of an introduction to my jungian interpretation of Hansel and Gretel…

So…why in the hell am I meant to equate working on this introduction with death and funerals?? I’m not so sure yet, but this introduction is turning into a real monster of a task as I find myself trying to explain (to myself, of course) just what the interpretation of fairy tales is all about…from a jungian perspective, that is…
I do a lot of looking around on the internet for research material on fairy tales, and I’ve recently run across more academic folklorists like this… something about it feels just a little unpleasant, but this still doesn’t explain the visceral sense of difficulty that a dream cemetery seems to conjure up…

Last night, in particular, I saw a small number of men who had apparently spent the night resting under semi-elaborate headstones…it was as if they were homeless men who had found shelter in the cemetery…but the more disturbing thing was that there had been a huge rainstorm in the night, and much of the cemetery grounds were flooded…
There was even a grave-digger who was knocking on the door of the main office, wondering if he was going to be needed at work that day, considering that flooded grounds weren’t quite fit for digging into…
After I woke up I wondered if those homeless men weren’t actually the dead who had been buried… Sounds creepy, but really just indicates a living presence of some sort…

In any case, this introduction I’m writing seems to require me to explain not just why I think art appreciation is important…but what it actually is…
I guess it’s my funeral…one way or another…

kristo

horoscope for Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson’s birthday was on August 15th…
and I decided to do a lunarscope reading based on his place and date of birth…

you’ll notice that I didn’t say time of birth because this reading emphasizes the perinatal period…
i.e. a combination of immediately pre and post-natal influences…

I'm getting the sense that this sort of reading applied to anyone really gets to a facet of character that can’t be accessed by more conventional birthchart readings…

It was interesting for me to see how the 7th and first houses can be so enormous for many people born in Sweden…
makes sense that they’ve had their share of artists and vikings…

You can read Stieg Larsson’s lunarscope on my website, kristo.com…

E. E. Cummings

Some time in the early or mid-70s, when I was home on break from medical school, and my brother was an undergraduate, he showed me a poem he had to interpret as part of an English class assignment.
I don’t remember if he specifically asked for my help; in fact, I don’t remember anything he said, but I DO remember interpreting the poem.
Sometime later, curious as to what had transpired in class, I asked him what his teacher said about the interpretation. I remember him saying that the teacher had thought the interpretation was completely off the mark, and that the poem meant absolutely no such thing in terms of what I had suggested.
At this point, I also remember feeling surprised and making some arrogant remark or other.
Of course, I was disappointed.
I wanted feedback – and strokes – and the abruptness and finality of this dismissal struck me as somewhat narrow-minded, but that was none of my business.

On a fundamental level, I didn’t need to be told that I was right.
As far as I was concerned, the metaphor I had found was apt.
And pardon the simile / cliché, but it fit the poem like a glove.
Well…at least I thought so.
Because I was young and doubted that another metaphor would fit better, you can understand my hubris.
These days, my feeling is that if other metaphors fit and appeal more to other ideological or personal tastes, then so be it.

What strikes me today is that not only was I satisfied with my own interpretation – and in an unusually authoritative way – but that had I found such immense pleasure in the process of interpretation.

At the time, I let all of that pleasure go.
I had a medical career to pursue.

It would be, perhaps, 15 years before I would return to that pleasure and tentatively begin to pursue it.
Now, about 35 years later, I find that the work of interpretation – reading between the lines – is (and always was) my calling.

Here, then, is that poem followed by my line-by-line interpretation.
Before now, I had never written this interpretation down, but it has been with me ever since that one evening with my brother.

[in Just-], by E.E. Cummings

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it’s
spring
and
         the
                  goat-footed
balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee

At some point during the process of thinking about the successive images of spring, and mud, and marbles, it became clear to me that interpreting spring as a metaphor for birth made the most sense.
And, lest you think I was influenced by my eventual profession as ob/gyn, this interpretation came at least 5 years before I even began my training as an obstetrician.
So, with the concept of Birth as the metaphoric theme, what is

in Just-

and why is it on a separate line?
my sense about this says that it’s one word, i.e. “unjust” as well as “in just.
In just implies immediacy as in “just now…”
which is the very moment of birth…
an archetypal paradox of simultaneous hopeful beginnings, and wistful endings i.e. the very moment that ends our prenatal paradise.
And it’s this ending, as experienced in our moments-old post-natal consciousness, that would be felt as unjust.
Why else do we cry…except for that impersonally applied smack on our upside-down butt (and something I’ve never seen done, nor done myself, professionally speaking)?

spring when the world is mud-

spring, of course, is the metaphoric time when Nature is busy with births…
lambing, and so-forth.
mud is an apt metaphor for a nicely rich, moist, and messy environment…
something like an endometrium…or a placenta…
“when” is the world like this?
just before birth, naturally.

luscious the little

this line doesn’t seem to stand on its own, but it bridges the gap between two separate realities…
mud-luscious takes us back to the placenta
and we’re certainly little at that moment…
but little lame leads us into the world of that strange grownup…
a world in which we are almost literally lame ourselves.

lame balloonman

lame, in Latin, is Claudius…
but while Oedipus means swollen foot in Greek, I think the freudian concept has some comic relevance here.
in any case, who is this balloonman?
he seems a bit unsavory, even though he’s just handicapped…
does the balloon business refer to the edematous swelling of his feet…
he’s the adult here, and the poem refers to children later on…
he clearly has something that children want…
but there’s this un-just / injustice business…

if he has something to do with birth, then he’s either father (as a character in our oedipal drama) or obstetrician (as the man who collects children around him) or some deity who’s responsible for the whole shebang.

whistles far and wee

and so, this balloon-selling whistler would have to be the one responsible for calling the children out of paradise and into the cold, cruel world…
something of a pied piper…but not simply that…
in any case, we all come…

and eddieandbill come

twins, perhaps…
pairs of opposites…
but all of us, naturally

running from marbles and

this is one of my favorite images, and perhaps the thing that really did it for me in suggesting Birth…
and that’s because one has to get into a fetal position to play marbles…
enough said…

piracies and its

piracies would mean being out on the high seas…
and floating in amniotic fluid is where we do all of our prenatal playing…

spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

amniotic fluid, again…

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee

now, this lame whistler is queer and old…
most definitely a less savory character than before…
some strange old deity…
not just to us as neonates…
but he remains that way to us even as adults, doesn’t he…?
he has this power to whistle…
and we are powerless to resist…
instead, we even come willingly…
trustingly…
no matter that he’s the apparent cause of this in/un-justice…
the sexual undertones of growing up are impossible to ignore, but he’s not just some sexual predator…
he’s simply elderly in the way we tend to view the aged when we’re very, very young

and bettyandisbel come dancing

the Yin to our Yang…
all of us…
and this time, dancing…
alive and kicking, as it were…

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

hop-scotch being another one of our prenatal activities…
letting everyone (especially mom) know that we’re busy playing…
and of course, that jump-rope is our umbilical cord…

it’s
spring
and
the

           goat-footed
balloonMan whistles

far
and
wee

and now, finally, this lame, queer, old balloonman is also goat-footed…
which would make him Pan…who, according to sources cited in Wikipedia, is connected to fertility and the season of spring.

Birth is a complex, archetypal motif…
and with spring as a metaphor for birth, the poem would then be ascribing to birth (and to Pan) the epithet “Unjust.”
And this darker concept is something more in tune with the philosophy of Silenius, the drunken, old sensualist…who is connected to Pan through various permutations of the Satyrs…
According to another Wikipedia source, Silenius is not only the teacher and faithful companion of Dionysus, but he shared with King Midas a pessimistic philosophy: “That the best thing for a man is not to be born, and if already born, to die as soon as possible.”

But it’s not simply Birth that we’re dealing with, and this is where my experience as an obstetrician can’t help but intrude.
This balloonMan personifies the call to birth.
He’s the mysterious force behind that moment when labor pains begin – the force that tells the uterus to begin the contractions that must irrevocably end our prenatal idyll.
So, as the mysterious force of Nature responsible for ending our nine month paradise, he’s not just physiology.
Not according to the poets, anyway.
But THAT’s why he’s considered unjust.

The poem is written from an adult perspective, and according to the title, it carries a tinge of resentment towards birth and the force of Nature that requires it.
It’s also a nostalgic musing about our lost pre- and peri-natal innocence that, interestingly and of course, Oedipally, ignores the perspective of the mother. She too hears the balloonman’s whistle and probably agrees with the “unjust” sentiment, but certainly for her own painful reasons.

Finally, this Pan character, this personification of the call to birth, is carrying balloons – balloons being almost the exact shape of a pregnant uterus. It’s as if he’s a kind of god (or saint) carrying his attribute – the sign by which he can be identified – making him a sort of natural, albeit comically accoutred, obstetrician.

Of course, according to that Wikipedia source, Pan is also the god of theatrical criticism.
As such, maybe he should be carrying a Playbill or some other attribute to clearly identify himself.
Perhaps, even, that’s what Cummings was thinking when, in the program to his first play, HIM, he provided a warning to the audience:
“Relax and give the play a chance to strut its stuff—relax, stop wondering what it’s all ‘about’—like many strange and familiar things, Life included, this Play isn’t ‘about,’ it simply is. Don’t try to enjoy it, let it try to enjoy you. DON’T TRY TO UNDERSTAND IT, LET IT TRY TO UNDERSTAND YOU.”

I suppose then, that Cummings was also commenting on the odd relationship between one’s literary babies and the necessity of critics…but the poem was published in 1920, and the play first performed in 1928.
Even so…this Pan / Silenius darkness that we’re born into JUST is…
If we can’t understand the pessimism, the physiology, or the poetry we can certainly do our best to relax and let it understand us…
whatever he meant.

kristo

Giotto on the street

So…yesterday was marathon day here in Köln…
and naturally, a great day for street photography…
it’s just that I’m always a little gun-shy when pointing a lens at people without asking…

On the one hand, I feel like it’s the only way to capture the emotional moments I’m drawn to…
but on the other hand, there’s always that risk of pissing people off, and creating a scene I’m not necessarily up for dealing with…

No guts, no glory…of course…

and while this is far from being a remarkable photograph, I’m just enjoying some of the advantages of having gone digital this last year…
one of which being how relatively easy it is to play with cropping…
now I’m a guy who just HATES to crop…
but without cropping (and this handy-dandy super-duper zoom), I couldn’t possibly find the composition I was looking for without being far too obvious and intrusive…

See…not only do I hate to crop…but I also hate the idea of hiding from my subjects…
I’m used to using a 50 mm lens for working up close and personal…and usually head on…
so while this wild 18-200 zoom business gives me an awful lot of leeway…
I was still standing less than 2 meters from this group…

close…
but not a cigar…

At first, I was pretty annoyed with the persistent intrusion of camera-guy there in the middle…
he had posted up on that unfortunately conspicuous spot…
although once I started shooting, he quickly tried to hide himself behind the tree…
(uh…I guess he figured…just like a little kid…that if I couldn’t see his eyes, then he was completely hidden from view…)
and then I was disappointed that there was so much space between the three wise men and the lady…
not to mention the too-strong, dark vertical of that tree separating them the way it does…

But then in the cropping I found that I could nearly disembody the face on the far right…
and that seemed to be just the thing to turn this into a kind of biblical composition…
with camera-guy playing an unexpectedly pivotal role as a kind of sinister presence in the middle…

I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going to find the best art-historical match to illustrate this…
but I was pretty much thinking Giotto…all the way…
and then I found this satisfying little snippet of a fresco from the Arena Chapel in Padova…

Okay…so camera-guy is no longer in the middle…
I guess he…um…got shifted over to the far left in a medieval photoshop maneuver…

But hey!
Giotto even put in a couple of verticals…
gee…
if only my tree had been maybe a birch instead of a locust…huh?
d’ya think?

Christo and Jeanne-Claude

I just heard yesterday that Jeanne-Claude had passed away on Wednesday…
and it got me to revisit a whole lotta feelings that are all wrapped up in my love for their work.

Amazingly enough…I actually found words that come close to describing those feelings…
i.e. they transport me directly into a fairy tale.
…and move me in (those famous) mysterious ways.

On the Christo and Jeanne-Claude FAQ page there is this response to the question:
Why are their works so big? What's the point?
“Christo and Jeanne-Claude's works are entire environments….
The effect is astounding.
To be in the presence of one of these artworks is to have your reality rocked.
You see things you have never seen before….
(It) lasts longer than the actual work of art….
There is no other way to describe the feeling of that effect other than to say it is magical.”

Indeed, it is.