This is one of Charlie’s favorite abstracts, and he often makes up stories to go with them. This story is about Daphne, a naiad associated with freshwater (remember the freshwater part), who was turned into a Laurel tree by her father Peneus at the last second to keep her from being ravished by Apollo.
(Another time, Charlie can tell us the whole story, including how this resulted in Laurel wreaths being used to crown champions.)
Yet here, centuries later, we see Daphne finally emerging from an Arbutus tree, which is a distant cousin of the Laurel. And hopefully, she’s just in time to help save our planet’s freshwater from being as mindlessly ravished as she nearly was.
“But I digress,” as a friend of mine in Moncton often said.
So it’s time now for a few of Charlie’s abstracts, which he talked about in the last chapter.
Before the abstracts, however, let’s check out the one sign that really caught his attention big time when BJ read it to him.
And a sign beside it said that the rattlesnakes, and black widow spiders, and scorpions were all along the Old Man River Valley, as well.
He knew about the rattlesnakes, but he had no idea there were black widow spiders and scorpions in the park, and he was especially disconcerted to learn they were also on the banks of the Old Man River in Lethbridge, most likely lurking alongside the very trails that he and BJ often walked.
Knowing all that, though, didn’t keep him from trying to come up with some interesting abstracts of the rock formations. He’d just have to be a tad more careful.
But later on, he found out that black widows were rare in Lethbridge and the scorpions were mostly wind scorpions and pseudoscorpions, which weren’t any more dangerous than bees and wasps, although he wasn’t a big fan of bees and wasps, either.
For Charlie, abstract photography meant zeroing in on the most interesting parts of a subject, rather than on the subject as a whole. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes people might not even be able to guess what the subject was.
He loved playing with shadows, textures, shapes, and lines, especially lines.
Here are some of his photos. But because these are photographs, most of them are, in fact, semi-abstract. It’s far easier to go fully abstract with a paint brush than with a camera.
But he did try to make some really abstract abstracts.
When he showed them to BJ, however, she hesitated for a moment, then said, “They’re interesting.” He knew about that hesitation, and he knew about her vague, noncommittal comments. And he knew neither was a good sign.
But he wasn’t really surprised. He wasn’t even sure he liked them, himself.
At least she didn’t roll her eyes this time. So maybe there was some hope.
He wondered if they would look better as black-and-whites. And since he was red-green color blind, he thought that might be worth a try. He’d have much better control.
He’d been told a number of times that he couldn’t see some colors or that he would confuse them. He couldn’t see magenta, for example, and he definitely confused darker colors. Sometimes even lighter ones.
He’d worn a light blue Harris Tweed sports jacket for a number of years, with color-matched accessories, until a secretary at work told him one day that the jacket was gray. So immediately, out with the old and in with the blue gray accessories.
But he had no idea how to convert color photos to black and white.
The answer to that? The usual, of course. YouTube. YouTube has the answer to every possible question.
And this is what he came up with on his first try.
He decided not to show them to BJ for a while. He wanted to learn more about the process of conversion.
So far, though, he was not convinced that the effort of going black-and-white was worth the hassle. Maybe b&w was an acquired taste. Or maybe b&w processed properly would be more exciting.
And then, bang on, he remembered that B&H in New York, where he often bought camera stuff, had a whole library of free, first-rate videos.
Yet, no matter how carefully he followed the suggestions in those videos, his new b&w’s didn’t look any better than the ones above, which he thought were iffy, and which reinforced his notion, of course, that converting to b&w might not be worth the hassle.
But this whole process of playing around with black-and-white reminded him of a discussion he and BJ’d had a couple weeks earlier. And that made him feel a lot better.
I’m having a conversation with myself. Right? he thought. And that’s all that really matters. I’m a verb. I’m becoming.
And he smiled.
They’d been on the patio out at the back having their morning coffee and watching a pair of Northern Flickers hunting for things in the grass.
“BJ, new idea. I’m going to stop using the word art. And the word artist, too. The way we use them today, they don’t mean anything. Everybody’s an artist. And everything’s art.
“I’m going to use the word conversation, instead. And I’m going to think in terms of verbs, not nouns.
“I’m going to think of a person, whether he’s photographing, sculpting, painting, composing, or writing, as having a conversation with himself.”
He looked over at her. She was still watching the Flickers.
“See? Verbs. That person is seeking to understand more about himself.
“But to make it simple for now, let’s just talk about someone who’s writing, and even more specifically, writing a novel.
“If he were a noun, a writer, he’d be off to a writing group, and to the library for each new speaker, and to conferences and retreats. And he’d be pandering to the media, and he’d become a writer-in-residence, or a mentor, or both.
“However, my dear, there’s a universe of difference, between I am a writer and I love writing.
“Simply put, if you want to write, stay in your room and write.
“Sit quietly and have a conversation with yourself.
“Seek to know, not to be known.
“Ask yourself: Who am I deep down? Why am I alive? What do I really value? What kinds of goals do I need to pursue if I’m going to have a good life?
“And as you ask those kinds of questions, you will slowly begin to understand more and more about Life, with a capital L.
“And you will slowly begin to realize that the answers are coming to you from within, from your own unconscious mind.
“And that the ideas for your novel are also coming to you from deep within.”
(But rather than repeat myself here, I’ve already talked about how I think this process works in Post 3b, How I Suspect My Writing Takes Care of Itself.)
“Charlie, are you saying that all novels are conversations? Pop and literary? And that they all come from deep within? If you are, I’m not sure I buy it. That would make everyone an artist. And you said you’re trying to avoid that.”
“I am, BJ. A literary novel is written only by someone who seeks to know and who writes down, in story form, the conversation he’s having with himself.
“A pop novel, on the other hand, is a commercial product designed to match marketplace demands and to make money. And it’s especially suited to doctors’ offices and airports. It’s light entertainment.
“But a literary novel is not light. It’s usually hard work. You, too, begin to ask yourself: Who am I deep down? Why am I alive? How can I create a life that is worth living?
“The examined life. Right? Socrates.”
He looked over, and she was fiddling her left earlobe. That meant he had her thinking.
“And what makes reading a literary novel even harder, BJ, is you have to understand the language the seeker-to-know is speaking. This is even more important when he is not a writer, but instead is a painter, or a composer, or a choreographer, or a sculptor, or an architect.
“If you don’t know the language, you have to learn it. And that takes effort. Otherwise, it would be a lot like listening to a lecture on quantum field theory by a Tibetan who is speaking in his mother tongue.
“You can only understand the insights in paintings by a Jackson Pollock or a Picasso, for example, if you know the language of abstract painting.
“And the same’s true of a Philip Glass, or a Twyla Tharp, or an August Rodin, or an I.M. Pei.
“Those people took years to master their language.
“And unless you, too, know that language, their stuff will just be gibberish.”
But for Charlie, this was not a simple case of dropping the words art and artist, and of realizing that he’d have to learn the language of black-and-white.
Over the next few years, he would decide that he was tired of photographing clichés such as sunrises, sunsets, creamy waterfalls, and double rainbows.
And he would no longer photograph people or their property and have to worry about model releases.
And he would even begin to wonder if he’d merely been using his camera as a photocopier. He’d see something, like it, and photocopy it. Simple. And mindless.
But if he stopped photocopying, and if he excluded all those clichéd subjects, what would be left?
And eventually, as he tumbled down this rabbit hole, he would even decide to sell all his lenses, and he had a number of them, including some world-class telephotos.
Instead, he’d only use a 55 mm prime lens, fully manual. He’d also have a 25 mm prime for the wide-angle stuff, again fully manual, but his main lens would be the 55.
Those decisions, of course, would take him into a whole new universe of conversations with himself about himself and about Life.
And in Charlie’s case, about his next Life, as well.
Schoolhouse Earth. Remember? You read about it earlier.
And finally, in 2014, three years after his last hike, Jillian would find him sitting quietly, Zen-like, on a metaphorical log beside a metaphorical pond in Walden, holding that 55.
And he’d be smiling. And she’d sit down beside him.
To enlarge a single photo in a post, click on it. To zoom in for details, click on it a second time.
Click on the first photo in groups of photos to start a slideshow.
Usually I would say, To see one of those group shots at full size, click on it, then scroll down to its bottom right where it says, View full size. You can click on it a second time, if you wish, to zoom in for details.
But in this post, the group photos are cropped really tightly, and they hardly zoom in at all.
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