Reaching

“Too low they build, who build beneath the stars.”

Edward Young said that. I have no idea who he is or was but his quote resonates with me. It is an attitude that my father has impressed upon me for most of my adult life. I have ample time to reflect on my life and ask myself, Is this as good as it gets? The answer is always no. That’s when I sit down behind my inkwell and begin to draw up a list of where I am, where I desire to be, and what steps I need to take to get there.

In December I had some more note cards printed up. I really like the quality of work my supplier provides, and I especially enjoy seeing my images used in such a practical way. I can’t remember the last time I walked into a Hallmark store.

When I look around our home and see my work displayed, I am grateful for the opportunity to achieve what I have with a camera, albeit humble achievements. If ever I detect a hint of jealousy towards artists who have gone further in their endeavours, I remind myself that I set the ceiling of my photographic ambitions and reached them all. If I wanted more success, I should have set the bar higher.

When I read over journal entries from when I first began to take photographs of kaleidoscopes, I wrote that I want to create cards, but I would never want to have my work in a gallery. Don’t believe me? And I quote: “Now, there have been suggestions of going beyond this. That is, thrusting my images into the scary and subjective world of framed art. What a suggestion! Imagine walking into a gallery and seeing my work on the walls. Kaleidoscopes are intimate creations, and thus, so should they be observed.”

Wow, Carla. Well done, me, for keeping my eye on the prize and not giving up until I crossed the finish line. But just think what I might have achieved had I set my eyes a bit higher. It’s not too late. If not in photography, perhaps in something else. I must learn from this. No regrets, just, dream bigger next time, Carla.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning

A favourite card of mine, cropped from a larger image.
Scope made by David Kalish.

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, so my sailing days are most likely over. I will, however, be able to remain in, on and along the water by 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’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.

green monster
“The Green Monster”. Scope by David Kalish.

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.