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?

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.

 

Can I Get that in X-Large?

borrowed 010_edited-1When I first started thinking about how best to present my photography, my mind always went “small”. The reason for this is simple. One has to squint to peer inside a pea-sized opening in order to see the array of colours within a kaleidoscope chamber. It’s an intimate viewing, seen only by the person holding the scope, and if the objects are in an oil cell, the cell’s precise beauty can never be experienced again because by the time the viewer passes the scope off to the person beside them, the objects have rearranged themselves. So when I first started framing my images, the presentation of my mandala images was with square 4″x 4″ frames. Once I started focusing on the full-frame images from three-mirrored scopes, I wanted to see what would happen if I went larger.

Again, garbage. Why? Because the larger one prints, the clearer the unrefined scope becomes. What is unrefined? Well, for starters, if the mirrors don’t line up perfectly (perfectly), it shows, and one immediately knows they are looking at a mirrored image. Get rid of the lines, and the viewer’s brain questions how the image was created; using a kaleidoscope is never their first guess. Secondly, the air bubbles in the cell look like tiny balloons on an enlarged print. Yes, I have been known to Photoshop them out, but again, I didn’t want to create art that needed editing. (I approach my photos the same way I approach my face in the morning: If it’s going to take more than 2.5 minutes to make it pretty, it’s not worth the effort.) Finally, the objects in the cell have to be special and not just odds and sods that a 5 year old child uses to skewer yarn through during craft time. So out came David Kalish’s scopes. Today, it is with my images of David’s work that I am able to frame photos 30 inches square and larger to hang on our walls as pieces of fine contemporary art.

[The above image of a homemade scope is a perfect example of unaligned mirrors.]

 

Trials and (so many) Errors

Naz pink 1

Looking back on my journey, there’s a risk of diminishing the struggle. And by “struggle”, I mean the day-to-day challenges that required months-long brainstorming to overcome. It wasn’t like I had a go-to group of artists that I could bounce ideas off of. Although I come from a creative family with notable accomplishments in the arts, I was on my own with this one. The only person who would have really appreciated what I was doing with kaleidosocopes was my aunt Betty, but she was dead, and had she not died, I never would have considered whether or not photographing the interior of a kaleidoscope was even possible. So when questions arised, (What camera lens should I use? Is natural light best?  Should I shoot in my studio with artificial lighting? How do I get rid of glare? Why do cameras have to be so bloody heavy?) I was on my own. For all but the last question, trial and error was my answer.

I wasn’t a photographer before kaleidoscopes came into my life. Sure, I took photographs of our children and was told I have an eye for composition, but point-and-shoot was as complicated as I got. Now, I was having to take so many varibles into consideration, and they all had to align to create the perfect shot. So when people see my work and ask me how I do it, I always say the same thing: very carefully.

After I learned how to take a consistent shot using David Kalish’s scopes, I started asking different questions, starting with, “How do I get these photos really big?” In a word, RAW. And so began endless hours of YouTube videos understanding why I should only be photographing in RAW and what that means for developing the image and, most importantly, how I could print off gargantuan prints for our living room walls. I was enjoying sending family and friends note cards that showcased my work, but I wanted something more. I wanted to explore something I had earlier refused to consider, and that was gallery-worthy contemporary art work.

[Above photo taken from one of my scopes. It reminds me of a Jackson Pollock painting.]

 

 

Suspended Indelibility

When my husband suggested that I start making my own kaleidoscopes, I was rather intimidated by the challenge. I never saw myself on the same plane as the creators of the kaleidoscopes in my aunt’s collection (because I’m not; not by a long shot). But after some consideration, I began poring over books on how kaleidoscopes work. In the end, I was relieved to discover that making kaleidoscopes proved easier than taking photographs of them.

Eventually I picked up my camera again and slowly began producing a consistently good shot, but it still wasn’t translating well onto paper. That hurdle was overcome with the purchase of a high-quality printer, generously given to me by my father. He believed in my vision from the beginning, (as a business man, endeavours and entrepreneurial success were a normal part of his everyday existence), and was happy to invest in its fruition. I bought the best photo paper I could afford, and before long, the walls and shelves of our home started displaying framed prints of my kaleidoscope photography. It took several years, but I had finally accomplished what I originally set out to do: preserve the interor images of my aunt’s kaleidoscopes. And to my amazement, the walls had photographs of kaleidoscopes I had made myself, as well. Who would have thought?

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The interior of one of my homemade scopes.

I could have chosen to hand the kaleidoscopes out to my cousins and never think twice about what they looked like inside or out. I could have not taken care to research the artists who created them, or not call the stores where she bought them to ask the owners if they remembered her patronage. (They always did, even several years after Aunt Betty died. I do remember your aunt and when she would come here to visit. She and her friend would come in to look at kaleidoscopes. I remember her as being very sweet and wearing a badanna in her last few visits. She always smiled. She bought alot of Wedding Scopes by David Kalish, probably as wedding gifts. They have a great story to them. A Wedding Scope has two ends, the idea being a couple can each look at the same cell and see different things…) 

But I did. I did do all those things. The answer as to why I did is simple. Kaleidoscopes mattered to my aunt Betty. Aunt Betty mattered to me. Therefore, Aunt Betty’s kaleidoscope collection mattered to me.

Now, for me, it is very rewarding to be able to widen the aperture of my camera to these scopes in order to capture the transient refractions occurring inside. It’s nothing short of suspended indelibility.

Challenge Accepted

Although I develop my images, I do not digitally manipulate them in any way. My commitment to photographic integrity has been the most challenging part of my journey. I needed to learn how to take the perfect shot, and it would require the perfect scope. Enter: David Kalish.

There were 60 scopes in my aunt’s collection that I acquired after her death. I took photos of the interior of many of them. But the most consistent shot has always come from David Kalish’s kaleidoscopes. That is to say that the lighting, glass, length of the chamber, cells, stones in the cells, and the absence of air bubbles in the oil cell (this was a big problem in many of my earlier photos) all lead to no post-development editing. This is important to me because, in a digital age where so much of what we see in magazines and on gallery walls is digitally manipulated or generated, it is my earnest desire to produce work that is true. I was so confident in the consistency of his craftsmanship, I registered for a business licence with the sole purpose of taking photos of the interior of David’s scopes. My business name is Sea Green Photography.

What’s in a name? Well, my first name is Carla. C = Sea. My last name is Groen. Groen is Dutch for the colour green. Thus, Sea Green Photography. As a sailor, sea-green also happens to be one of my favourite colours, so the name seemed like a good fit for me. There is a Sea Green Photography company in the United States. This is not me, however, as I am in Canada, and I don’t take photographs of children, families, and otherwise living, breathing creatures. I take photographs of the interior of kaleidoscopes. Needless to say, it’s a pretty narrow niche, and narrower still because where I live (the most densely populated area of Canada, 40 minutes away from downtown Toronto to the east, and Niagara Falls to the south), no one makes kaleidoscopes. On one occasion I saw one (1) for sale in a specialty shop, but its quality was poor. And when people come to my house and ask about my work hanging on our walls, they have no idea how it’s done, let alone understand why anyone would want to do it. I don’t mind telling you that I think being the only person among 36 million doing what I do is pretty exciting.

seagreen eclipse 2_edited-2