Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The First Noble Truth - Life Is

Good Morning

Waking up, seeing what my phone is bringing me this morning. Continuing the exploration on my laptop. Photoessays at Lensculture, after a Buddhadharma study group last night.


Three articles that leave me raw:
Ana Vallejo: Entre Nubes
Rafael Soldi: Reflecting on Childhood
W. Scott Olsen: A Hard Beauty: A Review of Lynsey Addario’s “Of Love & War”


A ... woman walks through a plume of smoke rising from a massive fire ...
as she searches for her husband © Lynsey Addario
The image is stark. A figure wrapped in fabric. Dark against a dark sky. Wind blowing. Smoke. Debris. A skeleton of a structure ahead. A slanted horizon. Off balance. Two feet on the ground.

Shapes. Light. Shadows. Before the words. Before the context. Lynsey Addario. A woman. Takes a photograph of another woman. A woman searching. Searching for her husband. 

A desolate space. In the frame. In the world. Then. 2003. There. A massive fire. Iraq. Chaos. Inside and outside the frame. 

Chaos. IRL. In Real Life. Death. Destruction. An order created by humans. Destroyed by humans. The same. Different. 

Personal. One person with another. Connections. Torn apart. The fabric of a life. The fabric of two lives. The fabric of a society. Shredded in a series of explosions. In the crossfire of tribes. A global fire sweeping through the life of one person. A life in flames. 

We see no flames. No tears. No wail of anguish. No wounds. No blood. 

The photograph is silent. Still. 

Yet it speaks loudly. Reaching out to me. I to it. Across time and space. 

Of all the images in this review, I chose this one to post. Abstract. One with the least detail. The least connection with a specific human. The caption is edited to remove the limited context that is supplied in the article. It doesn't matter exactly where this is, though of course it does. It doesn't matter exactly when it was, though of course it does. 

My gateway to the potent. Frame it. Dive in. 

The actions, the lives, this photograph speaks to were very particular, were very specific. The things not captured but imaginable. The sounds. The smells. The heat. The threat to the lives of the two people we know for sure were there. The woman in silhouette. The photographer behind the lens. The action surrounding them.

I scroll through the other images in the review. A flood of details. Some crisp in bright light. Some humor in the destruction. A destroyed plane looking like a cartoon bird. An Emergency Exit sign as though that opening would lead to a place of peace and safety. 

Moments of calm beauty. A person in the lush green of woods. Another at the prow of a boat on a still lake. 

Moments of ordinary intimacy. A mother combing her daughter's hair. Another mother feeding her daughter. A sister holding her sister. Children playing. Men carrying a fallen comrade. 

These too are fleeting. Yet captured in a photograph to come back to. To reflect on. 

Captured. Taken out of context. Brought into my life. On my screen. This morning. 

The Truth of Suffering

Last night. A study group. The Four Noble Truths. A meditative understanding of pain, which is life, and suffering, which is what we add. Of our experience. Living our lives. 

Lives with the chaos of ordinary living. Living with our mothers. Our mothers living with us. Living with our pets. Or the memories of pets who have died. Of relationships that have ended. Of the people we touch each day. 

Our desire to be of help. Teachers. Students. 

Healing. Not erasing the past. Not being numb to the pain. Finding a stronger, deeper humanity in how it has moved through us. Where it got stuck. Where we got stuck. Where I got stuck. 

Joy as well. Humor. Sparks of delight.

90 minutes of connection. Of exploration. 

[Join that group. It's on-line. Alternate Tuesday evenings. Come for one or more of the sessions.There is no charge. Hosted by the Chicago Shambhala Meditation Center.]

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Other than the Subject

Some of my images speak to me about form over content. What shifts the image from a representation to something else?

Some thoughts on what might lead to an abstract photograph

  • Out of context (close or far)
  • Out of focus
  • Out of exposure (bright or dark)
  • Out of contrast (low or high)
  • Out of stillness (camera or subject movement)
  • Out of saturation (desaturated/monochrome or supersaturated)
  • Pattern without form
  • Fragmented
  • Reflected
  • Layered
  • Composite

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Dendrobium Peter Shen x Little Atro - Memoria Carol Jean Clark

Morning Page

Each morning, usually early, I write one page in this journal.

It begins with one line at the top. I write the time I start, the day of the week, the date, and where I am in the world. Beyond that, the only other format is that I end the page with the time I stop.

One page. Usually full of handwriting from edge to edge. Typically it's 15 minutes, but I may take much longer. The words come fast or slow. Sometimes I get into a conversation with my husband, or I get lost searching for a reference. I might take quite a while to complete the page. A few times I just stopped. Wrote down the time. Closed the book. Went on with the day.

I purposely have no purpose for writing. It's not necessarily to plan the day, though sometimes that happens. It's not necessarily to record dreams or review some event, though that happens too.

It's an opportunity to wake up each day with myself, to explore where I am, to see what thoughts emerge and flow onto the page. It's a chance to be generative, to see what's bubbling inside before the outside gets cranked up. I used to watch morning talk shows with Eric while we had breakfast together. Now he watches on his phone with earbuds. I write. We're side by side and in our own worlds. It's a safe place for gnarly thoughts to run free.

I like the simple discipline of one page, each day. Sometimes I write every day, day after day. Sometimes not.

I've had journals at various times in my life, starting with some regularity in college, almost fifty years ago. Most of the early ones were the classic sketch book, hard black covers, white unlined pages, 5x8 inches. They were constant companions or occasional friends. The physical form changed over the years, quite a variety of books, but physical books, writing in or drawn in, pen or pencil or crayon in hand.

Much of what I wrote lacks context when I read it now. Some of it is powerfully evocative of the time, place and my state of being. Writing is good for me. Reading it back has recalled some of the journey, depth and nuance added from the perspective of years lived.

This particular journal was started in February 2017. It's 9.5" x 6.75". It was a vendor give-away at the HIMSS Public Policy breakfast (thank you LexisNexis Risk Solutions).

On the first page I wrote:
After dathun
After Courage Labs retreat
After Wisdom 2.0
After HIMSS17

I'm now nearing the end of this journal. It's taken two years. The two years span quite a lot of living. My mother's heart attack and cardiac surgery. My father's death. Many trips for work and family. Celebrations. Deaths. Births. Illness. Recovery. Activities of daily living.

It was a period when I went from freelance policy expert to employed Chief Transformation Officer and now back to freelance.


Now I am exploring how I spend my time, how I earn a living. A few things are clear. Focus on what's important to me: time to deepen my presence, time to explore photography, action to create positive change in the world. Shift my attention from others to what's coming from inside me. Deeper, more potent, more meaningful. Also more playful and joyous. Spontaneous and connected.

I'm continuing to write a page a day. I've started to blog here. No commitment to what or when. We'll see what emerges.

May the divine in me greet the divine in you.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Invoking the Ancestors

I begin my days with sitting meditation, a time to be with myself, my mind, my body. It's a few minutes to be still and experience what arises.

This classic Tibetan Buddhist text asks for blessings from the lineage of humans who have gone before me, recognizing that life is a journey with glimpses of insight along the way, one person helping another. It sets my intention and reminds me to be open to the unknown.

The Four Dharmas of Gampopa 

Tibetan Source

Grant your blessings so that my mind may be one with the dharma.
Grant your blessings so that dharma may progress along the path.
Grant your blessings so that the path may clarify confusion.
Grant your blessings so that confusion my dawn as wisdom.

[Note: "dharma" could be translated as truth, or teachings.]

Friday, January 11, 2019

Student and Teacher Dialog

Shawn Rowe

Tue, Jan 8, 8:06 PM

Hi Shawn -

V arrived today. I'm in the early stages of digesting it. Enjoying what I see.

It reminds me some of Minor White's sequences, leaving a lot for the viewer to experience and puzzle over. Not a specified sequence, but more a feeling of an intimate view of how the photographer sees the world.
I have signed up for your portrait class at Lillstreet starting at the end of February. Do you have any suggestions for getting a jump start in advance of the class?


Jan 9, 2019, 8:46 PM

Hi Larry,

Glad you're enjoying the book!  I'm excited to hear that you will be attending my portrait class next month.  I think you'll really enjoy it.  It sounds like you're already fairly proficient in your photography history.  My only suggestion would be to photograph people as much as you can between now and then.  We'll start the class by bringing in examples of past work as well as examples of other's photographs that you admire.  The more examples you have to start with the easier it will be to zero in on what you're interested in and we can work to develop that.  Looking forward to the class!


Thu, Jan 10, 9:53 PM

Thanks, Shawn, I like your suggestions...

I've been taking some time with V... Looking... Wondering...

Who are these people? How am, the outside viewer, relating to them? What is the experience/intention of the photographer? What is the subject's story? Was there a script before hand? Is this an exploration that unfolded over time? Or was it created after the fact, editing across a body of images, pulled out of their original context? Or???

There seems to be a spiraling narrative that starts up close in black and white, moves through the elements, water, air, connecting, disappearing, loss, remembered touch, ending in a field of fire.

The shiny black surfaces act as a mirror to the facing images. It took a really good printer for that to work. Nice.

I personally relate to the male and male-male presence throughout the story. Echos of a younger self. Or am I seeing what I want to see?

Your note at the end talks about exploring gender.. In that context, I'm taking a fresh look. What assumptions am I making? What is being shown about the subjects, the angles when gender is unknown and a projection of the observer?

There is an intimacy in the images of the solo subjects and between the pairs. Or is that also my projection?

In searching the web for more background on you, I came across this quote from an interview with Kelli Connell:
"By making these photographs, I was able to express the self-questioning that was going on in my real life. I was seduced by the power of the photograph to raise questions, all the while appearing to be a document of truth."
... It's rattling around in my mind... the power... to raise questions... while appearing to be... truth.
Photo: Larry Wolf, January 2019, shot at Gallery19

How does this relate to my own re-connecting with photography? Most of my photographs are an intuitive framing and choosing a moment, sometimes conscious of considering or trying different angles or point of focus or depth or field. Sometimes documenting a moment or looking to please the subject with a "good" likeness. Other times "making art" that catches something from below the surface.

A few months ago, I dusted off an old micro four-thirds camera and started using it again. Real controls. A pair of lenses. Options and choices. Coming off of autopilot. I think the class will move me deeper into this.

I'm looking forward to the class. I bet it shows :-)

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Inner Journey - Looking back at August 2018

Reconnecting - Poetry and Photography

There's a thread running through the books I've been reading, books about being an artist. The word, artist, scares me, invites me, challenges me, to enter into that place of not knowing where art comes from. August 2018 was a turning point month. Looking back from January 2019.

James Baldwin - Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems

At O'Hare, on my way to New York to spend a week visiting my mother in Manhattan, I found this gem in Barbara's Bookstore, itself a gem in the sprawling airport.
Larry Wolf,
O'Hare Blues for Jimmy

James Baldwin was outspoken his whole life. This collection of poems speaks to the multiple tiers of aggression he faced as a black man and as a gay man. The writing is direct and pulls no punches. It is evocative and drew me into his world.

James Baldwin: Staggerlee wonders

Nigger, read this and run!
Now, if you can't read,
Run, anyhow!
That's right.
Up to our ass in niggers
on Death Row
What is it that this people
cannot forget?

Surely, they cannot be so deluded
as to imagine that their crimes
are original?
Then, perhaps they imagine
that their crimes are not crimes?
creation yearns to re-create a time
when we were able to recognize a crime.
Lord, History is weary
of her unspeakable liaison with Time,
for Time and History
have never seen eye to eye:
Time laughs at History
and time and time and time again
Time traps History in a lie.
Ah! Kinsmen, if I could make you see
the crime is not what you have done to me!
It is you who are blind,
you, bowed down with chains,
but, now, 
rejoicing ends, man, a price remains to be pay,
your innocence costs too much
and we can't carry you on our books
or our backs, any longer: baby,
find another Eden, find another apple tree, 
somewhere, if you can,
and find some other natives, somewhere else,
to listen to you bellow
till you come, just like a man, 
but we don't need you,
are sick of being a fantasy to feed you, 
and of being the principal accomplice to your crime:
for, it is your crime, now, the cross to which you cling,
your Alpha and Omega for everything.

James Baldwin: Munich, Winter 1973 (for Y.S.)

In a strange house,
a strange bed
in a strange town,
a very strange me
is waiting for you.


It may, of course, 
be the other way around:
Columbus was discovered
by what he found.

James Baldwin: Confession

Terry, the torn,
wishes he'd never been born
because he was found sucking a cock
in the shadow of a Central Park rock.

James Baldwin: Untitled

   when you send the rain,
   think about it, please,
   a little?

   not get carried away
   by the sound of falling water,
   the marvelous light
   on the falling water.
   am beneath that water.
   It falls with great force
   and the light

   me to the light.

My Thoughts

living life
feeling, loving
feeling the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
the love in men's eyes... and loins
finding connection across divides
one person at a time
one day at a time

David duChemin - Soul of the Camera: the photographer's place in picture making 

This book showed up last August, on that same trip to New York. I was obsessing about buying or not buying a new camera. The book was an Amazon suggestion while I was looking for something else. It was a suggestion which has changed me over the past five months as I explored the themes in the book.

The Soul of the Camera cover image
David duChamin, The Soul of the Camera (2017)

"It is we who put the humanity, the vision, and the poetry into our photographs."

Larry Wolf, Flowers for Maxi (2018)
So begins The Soul of the the Camera. That's it. the whole book in one sentence. The rest is embellishment.

"I want to make art. I want to experience it. ... I ask, Does it have soul? Is it alive? Do I see something of the artist within? Does it move me? Does it make me think? Does it challenge me? Does it enrich my human experience?"

Some photographs we connect with on a deep level.
Deeper More Compelling Photographs.
Successful photographs. Not good. Not bad.

What does it means for an image to be successful?

David duChemin advocates for sketch images. This one, the next one, keep with the moment, see what comes next, keep photographing until it's over, until it's more than over. Then look at what resulted and see how it resonates in the now after the making is over.

Work from our being as artists, birthing process of creativity. This is too important to take seriously.

The craft will always matter... and yet.

"I want work to be authentic."

Not be creative but do creative.

Original relates to origin... authentic... real... a reflection of who I am, what I'm thinking, what I'm exploring

surrender... to creativity itself...

Curiosity is the gateway drug

Photography is a lens I see life through. 

Mastery is the path we take in our art making.