End of the Line

My work, straight ahead.

It’s been a while since I’ve written, but only because I’ve had nothing to say. Three months ago I submitted one of my pieces to a local gallery (re-read my post entitled “The Show” to remind yourselves how my last attempt at that went) and now it’s finally on the walls.

When I made my first visit to see where the curators had placed my work, I had to walk through the entire building until I finally stumbled upon it in the far south-east corner of the second floor, inside the vestibule next to the women’s bathroom. What I felt when I finally saw it was not unlike the pang one gets when they’re the obligatory invite to a cousin’s wedding guaranteeing a seat at the table that’s wedged between the kitchen’s saloon doors and the fire exit.

That was two weeks ago. Today I returned to the gallery and took my time walking around. I made two observations that I had neglected to notice the first time I was there. First, most of the offices in this building (leased by companies not associated with the atrium’s gallery) are on the second floor. That means that almost everyone who works in the building will see my piece on their way to the loo. Secondly, I realized that if my work had been along the hall walls, it would have been easily passed over by those getting to where they need to go. Instead, my photograph is at the end of the hallway, perfectly framed by the surrounding walls leading to the washroom door.

See, Carla? Not so bad after all.

I’m pleased to finally be at a place where I don’t feel the need to hide what I do. I’m relieved, really, that it’s out there, and that others are able to see what I’ve done with my aunt’s kaleidoscopes. In the meantime, I continue to have some fun in Photoshop as I try to present the original image in original (read: new) ways. I’ve come up with some great first drafts, so to speak. I still don’t want to alter the image digitally, so I’ve been toying with putting my hands to work to sketch/colour/paint the image. I’m sure I’ll post some of my preliminary work eventually.

(“Celestial Cluster”, by Carla Groen. 32″x 32″. Kaleidoscope crafted by David Kalish.)

Smokestack & Mirrors

Scope by David Kalish. Photographed by Carla Groen.

Last month I went to Smokestack, the studio owned by Jonathan Groeneweg who gave me ideas as to how I could take my photography of kaleidoscopes into new directions. I really liked his ideas, although I admit I probably won’t pursue most of them. This is a ‘me’ problem, for sure, as I have set up walls which are mortared by self-dialogue that includes: I’m not a fine art photographer, and, This is just a hobby.

The visit wasn’t all for not, however. When I walked into the studio, and again as I walked out, my eye was taken in by a print on the wall by Anna Church, a fine art photographer out of Toronto. The image, I later found out, is called Blurred Lines III, and in my opinion, brilliant. The reason I was drawn to it was that it looked like something out of a kaleidoscope, but upon closer inspection, it is a vase with flowers, mirrored.

Hmmm. Mirrored.

I went home and mulled that word over for a while. What I like about mirroring an image is that I am able to create something new without taking anything away from the original image. I haven’t edited it; I’ve repeated it. I sat down at my computer and started taking my most popular images (which you’ve never seen because I don’t post my best work) and started going through the 12 steps necessary in order to mirror an image in Photoshop. Dreadful. I then went to my folder of “B” images, the ones I’ve never shown even to my own family, but haven’t had the heart to delete altogether. Brilliant. It worked, for sure, and I’m pleased, to say the least. The next step will be for me to print them off here at home and see how well it translates onto paper. If that proves positive, I will send them away to be enlarged for our walls.

But there’s something else about Anna Church’s images which attract me to them, and that is her use of white. I know I can remove or replace the black negative space in Photoshop, but it looks terrible as there are a hundred hues of black and grey in the shadows, and using all the channels, masking, magic wands and pens Photoshop has to offer looks hideous on the screen and even worse on paper. The only way I could even get close to what I want is if I actually cut the image out by hand. But what I really want is to have the image sans black negative space as a relief print. Anna’s images are crisp and clean, and that’s what I wish to learn next. I know how she does it, but my brain has been layering on more bricks as of late, telling me: it’s fussy work and besides, this is just a hobby, remember?

If I’m ever to move forward with my photography in a serious way, I have to tell my inner monologue to shut its mouth and take a sledgehammer to the brick and mortar I’ve allowed it to build up around me.

The question to ask myself now is: How badly do I want this?

Moving Forward

A note written by my Aunt Betty when she gifted my husband and me with a Henry Bergeson scope on the occasion of our wedding 22 years ago.

So, I have a job. All of my education and decades of volunteering has been geared towards chaplaincy and teaching English, but today I, ahem, walk dogs. Not just any dogs, mind you. I walk two beautiful (and very large) Bernese Mountain dogs for two hours every day on their owner’s property which happens to include their home nestled in 200 acres of woods. To say I love my new pastime would be an understatement.

Although I grew up accustomed to cottages, woods and water, I was never really a ‘mountain’ girl, so to speak. Ticks, black flies, mosquitos; Lyme disease? West Nile? No, thank you. We also have our share of bears up here in Canada, even in Southern Ontario, so I’ve never been one to venture into back fortys too often. I really like it that the dogs I walk are huge, one being 150 lbs. I’m 5′ 11″ and when he goes on his back legs, his front paws are on my shoulders and we are eye to eye with each other. The dogs are also very protective of me which is helpful, of course. Hawks, bald eagles, coons, fox, coyotes, white-tailed deer and wild turkeys are all found in the woods where I walk. Thankfully no bears, so far. 

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Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

While hiking through Cheyenne Mountain with my husband a few years ago, I decided that I could easily become a mountain girl. That was new for me as I’ve always insisted that wherever we live, it must be on or overlooking water. But our trip to Colorado had a profound affect on my life in many ways. Hiking along trails surrounded by mountain ranges (a different kind of nature than what’s found on the waterways back home) overwhelmed me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And yet, I knew I’d want more of that in my life moving forward.

Walking dogs (I bring my own dog along too, so there are four of us) on a beautiful wooded estate is nothing I ever expected to do. Far from it, actually. I always thought counselling and teaching, writing and creating would be my life. I suppose it is and always has been, but it’s never been a means to earn a living. I suppose the saying, “never do for money what you would do for love” rings true for me. Regardless, with the money I’m now earning, getting new pieces of art work on our walls could finally be within reach. 

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An image from one of my scopes, deconstructed.

The Problem with Hobbies

22I don’t have a job. I have hobbies. The good news is that I’m always busy. The bad news is that I don’t make money. Take my piano playing, for example. I have played since I was seven years old. Most recently, I was using my love for making music during Communion services in our church. I loved it. We had to leave that church, however, and the church we attend now uses professional musicians, so I just play for my dog at home these days.

And then there’s writing. I love to write. I take every opportunity to write, whether short stories, letters to friends, or blogging. I’ve been published several times (magazines) but nothing really noteworthy. I just like to write. I don’t write to be read. I write to write.

Sailing. I love sailing. But my father, at the age of 82, decided it was time for the boat to go. Buying a boat isn’t in my future (I don’t make money, remember), so my sailing days are most likely over, although I will be able to remain in, on and by the water through other means.

Art. I love art, in almost all its forms. I’ve enjoyed my camera and overcoming the many challenges of fine art photography as it relates to kaleidoscopes, but I’ve hit a bit of a ceiling. It took me some time to be able to master what I do, and now that I can do it, jadedness is setting in and I’m so ready for the next thing. The problem is, it’s just a hobby, and in order to break the ceiling on my work, it’s going to take more time. More patience. More money (I don’t make money, remember).

I’ve taken my work to several galleries in my city over the years. Even though Hamilton is known for being a steel town, there’s been a shift, and the downtown area has become a serious hub for artists. I remember one gallery I handed my portfolio to. I was well acquainted with the owner and curator as I frequented their opening nights. The conversation went like this:

“So?”

“I will never show your work in my gallery.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because your work is shit.”

“I don’t understand. My work is unique. It’s never been done.”

“Someone can shit on a plate and nail it to the wall because it’s never been done before, but that doesn’t make it good art.”

Right.

Needless to say, I’ve had a lot of doors closed on me. The owner of the gallery responsible for framing my work said my photos are “magnificent”, but he’ll never show them because he doesn’t do photography.

Got it.

Two weeks ago I went to a highly respected artist who owns a local printing studio to show him what I do and inquire how he would take the photos to the next level. He strongly encouraged me to leave the negative space behind and work with the subject itself, transforming it into something completely new and different. In other words, when I’m done with it, nothing of what makes it a scope image will remain.

Ok.

I suppose I’m at an impasse. I can continue doing the same old same old but that’s not me. And going in a completely different direction is a huge commitment for someone who only dabbles in photography in her spare time. And in the end, the only person I’m really doing this for is me. My aunt’s still dead. So if I’m going to go through with exploring the next thing in kaleidoscope photography, It’s going to be so I can have original art on the walls in our home.

Time for me to get a job.

Yes.

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“The Green Monster”. Scope by David Kalish.

Bio

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My Smooth-coated Collie, Laddie.
As in, about myself, and not the study of life sciences.
Carla Groen, a 40-something wife and mother from the Great White North. A total misnomer, by the way, the whole Great White North thing. Where I live is on the same latitude as northern California to the west, and Milan, Italy to the east. While it is -35 degrees celcius for several weeks in the winter, it is also 35+ degrees celcius for all of the summer which, if we’re unfortunate enough to skip spring and fall, can last from the end of May until mid-October. And it’s humid. Very, very humid. Hamilton is on the western-most tip of Lake Ontario. It’s a 45 minute drive east to Toronto (pronounced Trona north of the border), a 45 minute drive south to Niagara Falls, and a 2 hour drive westward to the Michigan border at either Port Huron or Detroit. 
There are three things about Hamilton I like: The bay, the steel, and the “mountain”. For those who view the Rockies out their front window, I apologize, as the mountain in Hamilton is actually an escarpment with an elevation of 300 feet. (Can you say, “fault line”?) Really, we just call it a mountain to more easily determine where one is located in the city.

 

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A photo I took from the east Hamilton mountain looking down towards the bay and Stelco Steel.

As the daughter of a Dutchman, living by water and sailing boats of all shapes and sizes is as normal as planting tulips and eating droppies (salted licorice, eaten kilos at a time). I have enjoyed sailing on the bay for the whole of my life. As for the steel, Hamilton is a steel town. My only employment before we started a family was in metal fabrication, so I’ll always have a place in my heart for all things iron and ore. I grew up in the factory, starting on the floor when I was 12, only stopping when I was 5 months pregnant at 23. Needless to say, I had a much different life experience growing up than the kids I went to school with.

Hamilton is the home of famous funny men Martin Short and Eugene Levy, both from west Hamilton (but not the mountain). Justin Bieber’s hometown is an hour away in Mennonite country, for those who care.

After my life of steel came a degree in Psychology, a Certificate of Teaching English as a Second Language, and many (many) years of volunteering in the areas of Palliative care and teaching ESL.

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In front of a real mountain, Pikes Peak, in Colorado Springs.

Everything I’ve laid out about myself in this post means nothing to me when compared to what means everything to me: faith and family. My faith defines who I am (or more accurately, Whose I am). And being a homemaker, surrounded by my husband and children, as well as my parents and siblings throughout the week over koffie en lekkers, fills my heart with so much joy. But every once in a while I find time to slip into my studio and take a hundred photos. (I must say, the digital camera is efficacious in this regard.) It’s all part of a day in the life of me.

 

 

 

The Show

I’ve been putting this post off for as long as possible, but it’s time. Why the hesitancy? Well, it’s just incredibly uncomfortable for me. Alas.

There have been three occasions when I made my photographic work public: Two articles and an art show. The articles were easy enough as I really do enjoy writing. But the show was another matter altogether.

The year was 2010. (Or maybe it wasn’t.) For one thing, it wasn’t my show. It was everyone-who-lives-in-the-Hamilton-vicinity’s show. The venue is large and bright and mostly conducive to artwork, except for the second-storey narrow hallways that don’t always give the viewer the necessary distance to fully appreciate larger pieces. As my entries came somewhere in the middle of my photographic journey, the images were still rather small at 5×7 inches, so those pinched passages weren’t going to be an issue for me.

Another ‘oy vey’ was due to the fact that I don’t do public gatherings very well. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not an agoraphobic (anymore). I’ve had years of practice in the areas of both public speaking and piano playing in front of audiences of several hundred, so there’s little to intimidate me there. But I’m more of a tete-a-tete kinda girl, and I found the whole stand-next-to-my-art-while-people-file-by-giving-it-the-who farted?-look rather uncomfortable. They didn’t know what they were looking at, and at that time, I wasn’t ready to divulge the answer. Hundreds of people pressed their way through the show to take in everyone’s work, but my work always seemed to be a question mark along an otherwise self-explanatory wall of acrylics, encaustics, and snapshots of hawks, dogs, lions and children (not in the same photo, of course). That’s when I began to question my inclination for secrecy. I was still holding on to both the kaleidoscopes and my aunt’s memory inappropriately back then.

Somewhat disenchanted by the night’s unfolding, I was ready to make my way home when an eight year old girl stopped in front of my photos. She studied the photos, looked at me, looked back at the photos and exclaimed, “That’s a kaleidoscope!” At first I wanted to shush her, but honestly, I was just relieved someone finally figured it out. Of course a child would understand. I was delighted.

And then there’s this: I have no desire to sell people on the idea of what I do or how I do it, but I have an ardent desire to invite others to lose themselves in my art work. To me, abstract art is a wonderful platform from which to transcend spiritually and emotionally because, not unlike a Rorschach ink blot, what you see all depends on who you are and what life experience you bring to the canvas (or photograph). The answer will be different for everyone, and that insight has the ability to reveal a lot about one’s self. Trust me, I know. (There’s my Psych degree finally paying it forward). But at that art show, the public’s lack of information became a stumbling block in their personal interpretation of the image before them, and that was unfortunate. I felt sorry, and responsible, really, that there weren’t enough cues to somehow give them the confidence to let their imagination run. Albeit, I was rather pleased that my work looked more like contemporary art and not the interior of a kaleidoscope. Thank you, precise mirror alignment.

I learned a lot from that evening, and after all these years, I’ve decided to submit some images for their consideration once again, only this time the photos will be much larger and will come with an explanation of both the medium and subject. I’ve come to understand that people’s fascination with my images is not necessarily due to the colour and compostition alone, but due to their disbelief that a widened aperture could capture something so grand through an opening so small.

The above kaleidoscopes from left to right: Carla Groen, David Kalish, Carla Groen. I’ll be sure to let you know how the next show goes when the time comes.

 

Let’s Have Some Fun

I made the choice several years ago to keep my photography as “true” as possible and not edit it in any way beyond its development. That doesn’t mean, however, that I haven’t slid my files into Photoshop in order to play around with them from time to time. Every once in a while I come across an image that is well below the standard of what I’m looking for ‘as is’, but giving one command in Photoshop — in this case, replacing the colour black with grey — results in a completely different and incredibly unique image.

I’ve never hung these images on the walls in our home because I see them as counterfeit. They’ve been tampered with, computer generated (even if only in the slightest way), and therefore no longer a true representation of what I saw through my lens. It doesn’t mean that it ceases being art, or even pleasing art. But to me, it’s less photography and more modern pop art.

There was a time when I had a Facebook account (and Instagram, and Twitter, and…) and I would post photos of the edited images and the response was always positive. The public would always tell me what they see, and naturally they all had different interpretations. But when I bring my work to the gallery to be framed, the vote is always unanimous: the original photograph is strongest because the viewer immediately understands it isn’t computer generated, forcing them to wonder how on earth it was possible to produce.

I have a large collection of edited images now. Some of them are pretty surreal. The only thing I’ve changed is the colour of the background and in these examples, added a vignette. I haven’t used my mouse or a computer pen to paint or feather the colours and outline of the image.

I’ve included two of the more boring photos for your judgement. It gives you an idea of the fun I have when I decide not to play by my rules.