Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Ties That Bind

During an extended break in my recent jury duty in district court I remembered that a Fiber Art exhibition had been showing in the downtown gallery in New Braunfels. I made my way down there and was extremely gratified to find out that it was still on display.

© 2012, Nadia Kahn
photograph © 2012, Bill Brockmeier
Several years ago, the gallery had hosted a similar show and it was one of the most creative displays I had seen at the gallery. I believe this current show has topped that one. The exhuberence and passion these twenty-two artists have for their medium of choice is obvious in the works they have produced.

The range of style, approach and technique shown throughout the show is remarkable. There are small scale but serious works, like seen in the vertical showcase housing an incredible array of birdnest-like baskets. The colors, textures, and details displayed by this collection is wonderful. And then there are large, elegant, and thought-provoking works like the huge, vertically oriented silk design wafting in the breeze of the overhead fans.

While fiber-based works are not at the top of my mind when I think of creative pursuits, whenever I have the opportunity to view some serious examples I am always impressed by the possibilities. It's astounding to realize how this media can cover much of the same ground as painting, sculpture, architecture, and even photography. On top of that, you can even wear some of it!

The Feminine Thread

Though most of the works in the show are abstract creations meant to be displayed by hanging on the wall or standing on a table, there are certainly many that were made to be displayed on the human body. Of these, the great majority were scarves, hats, jackets, and dresses that were clearly intended to compliment the feminine form. And I suppose that is as it should be. Of the twenty two artists showing their work there, every one of them is a woman. Of course, not every single fiber artist in the world is a woman, but there does seem to be some sort of natural bond between the feminine psyche and the "thread."

© 2012, Nadia Kahn
photograph © 2012, Bill Brockmeier
The sculptural qualities of these garments are quite remarkable. Even as static sculptures draped upon abstract manniquins in the show they are very dynamic in their form.  I can only imagine how truly dynamic they would be, draped upon a living, breathing, moving woman of flesh, and sinuously waving in the currents of air as she walks down the street.

The Masculine Scarf

Not every item of apparel in the show was intended for the feminine form. There was a trio of neckties that caught my attention. Even if not worn on the body these ties could be marvelous abstract paintings, worthy of framing and hanging on a wall in a place of prominence.  Their colors were sumptuous and their designs intruiguing. On top of that, they were fabricated from silk, insuring a tactile sensation satisfaction.

I'm a sucker for the feel of certain fabrics. Some of my earliest treasured memories (before I entered school) are times that I accompanied my mother to the various fabric stores she frequented. I loved leaving her behind as she scouted the store for some specific need. I would find my own adventures among the endless aisles of bolts of fabric that towered above my four year old frame. The colors and patterns alone were amazing enough to the sensation-sponge that was my mind, but what really hooked me was the way these fabrics felt to my little fingers and face. I couldn't help but touch them. To this day I can't go into a fabric store and only look.

Like the majority of men these days (at least those born post-mid-twentieth-century) I was not at first a fan of the "noose."  I viewed neckties as not-quite-necessary evils to be endured only once or twice a year, and I would avoid that if at all possible.  But several years ago I began to see them as something else. They seemed to have become such a rarely worn item around a man's neck that they have now transcended what they once were– a required uniform of drudgery– and are now a new freedom, offering a unique and refreshing opportunity for a man to wear art.  A generation or two ago, our culture afforded only women the common luxury of being draped with beautiful designs and creations.  Now men can just as easily (though maybe not as naturally) don the beautiful.  (...and if you need to learn how to tie a necktie, check out these manly videos...)

So, I paid for the two ties whose colors I especially appreciated and told the gallery docents I would be back to pick them up at the close of the show. I am looking forward to wearing these ties at the Texas Hill Country Invitational show in which I will participate the third weekend of October. Come see me there, and I might even let you touch my tie!

By the way— the beautiful neckties I now possess (and illustrated above) were painted by Nadia Kahn, an incredible silk artist whom you can contact at:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another Dimension

In the physical universe there are multiple spatial dimensions: three translational and three rotational, as we have seen. But there is also a single dimension of time. It is this time component that is of paramount concern to the photographer. Once all of the geometric choices have been have been made (the translational "where" and rotational "what") there is still one more dimension of choice to be made– the "when."

© Bill Brockmeier, 2012
Once a specific shot has been completely set up in a geometric sense– the camera is attached to a tripod, then aimed and locked in a specific direction and orientation, and the focal length selected– the specific, unique image is still waiting to be determined. What will actually constitute that image will only be revealed as time unfolds, and at some specific instant a choice is made by the photographer to release the shutter and record the photograph. At that singularity the moment crystallizes and the photograph is born. The image now has creative life. Once having existence only as objects in the physical universe and ideas within the mind of the artist, these two combine in a mysterious transformation and transition from a fleeting existence in the physical realm to a more enduring existence in the photographic universe.

All around us the flow of time streams on, inhibited by nothing. All in the physical universe is moving, changing, living, dying. Nothing remains as it was. A rock, half buried in the surface of the earth, seems to be inert and unchanged by the years. And yet it is part of this globe that spins on its axis at a thousand miles per hour, and revolves around its parent star at sixty times that speed, and through this galaxy at who knows how fast. And given enough time on a geological scale it will erode away by wind and water and chemistry, carried into the planet's oceans, deposited on the sea floor, and possibly carried downward into the hot interior of the earth to be melted once again.
© Bill Brockmeier, 2012

But the photograph lives outside of the physical universe that gave it birth. This extra-physical existence is now outside of time and outside of the movement of time that changes everything. This is an absolutely different kind of existence. Even if the photograph itself, the printed form, degrades, erodes, and fades away, the photograph itself– the crystallized vision of the artist– remains the same. Though derived from material existence and objects, the photograph has a fundamentally different type of existence.

One can have a camera on a tripod, locked in a specific direction, with the focal length fixed, and take a virtually limitless set of different images. As the sun rises in the morning, arcs across the zenith, and settles below the western horizon, this single day alone can provide a wealth of diverse photographic ideas. As the seasons change– fall, winter, spring, summer– what is seen by the camera is continually growing, moving, morphing. And as the decades and centuries and millennia fly by the view continues to change, evolving from what was to what is and ultimately to what will be.

And all the while the photographer is there, waiting. Waiting to grab the moment that will become his art, his image.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

High Yield Crop

Once the location of a photographic shot has been chosen (the center of perspective), and the direction and orientation of the camera has been selected (the center of the perception), there is yet one more significant geometric choice of editing to be made. After choosing the place from which to observe and also the direction to look toward, there is still most of the universe to see. The action of what has come to be called cropping a shot will further limit the scope of the view to the final image (this is another segment of the "what?" editing dimension).

There are actually two components to the crop. The first occurs in the camera. The selection of the lens focal length is actually a cropping action. The longer the focal length (this tends toward telescopic or "telephoto") the narrower the camera's field of view, and thus, the smaller the piece of the universe that the camera can see. As the focal length is shortened, the wider the camera's field of view becomes, and the larger the piece of the universe it can see.

crop A,
© 2012, Bill Brockmeier
crop B,
© 2012, Bill Brockmeier
Once a photograph has been recorded by a camera, there is a final cropping action that can yet take place. Before or during the printing, or otherwise displaying of the final photographic image, the frame can be further cropped. Although the field of view of the image can no longer be made wider it can be made smaller and the orientation even rotated somewhat.

The two photographs I have shown here demonstrate the dramatic difference a slight crop at printing can make in an image. Both images were derived from the same original full panoramic photograph, and both have exactly the same size and aspect ratio (height to width ratio). The first crop (on the left here) reveals more of the immediate objects at hand near the original observer, including the floor on which one would be standing. This gives an immediate connection with what the environment was like in the location, and puts the viewer of the photograph back at the scene.

The second crop (on the right) tends to extract the viewer of the photograph from the original location and brings more of a thoughtful, abstract quality to the image. The overall effect of the image is to cause the viewer to raise their vision upward, from the little light below to the more celestial bluish light that illuminates the upper portion of the image. The objects in the image are now all unconnected to the floor upon which the viewer would be standing and moves the viewer's thoughts from down here below to up above. While the depth of the former image was very much locked within the original location, the depth of the latter image is definitely moved beyond the simple physical reality of the original space. This second crop, although derived from exactly the same image as the first becomes an entirely different photograph.

These cropping edits at both ends of the photographic process cannot alter the geometric relationships between objects within the view, but its main function is to select or limit which features reside in the image. The narrower the image is cropped, the more the image reveals the details and subtleties of the remaining objects. The wider the image's view (the less it is cropped), the more the objects are shown in relationship to their surroundings.

Cropping is also a way of eliminating distracting or irrelevant features from the image. The more that objects are cropped from view, the less the remainder is connected to its environment, and the more abstract it tends to become.  The less that is left in an image, the less distractions there are, and the more opportunity there is for the viewer to think on what remains– and to think on what is not visible to the eye.

Next stop in editing— the Time Zone.