Reduce, rethink and renew

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I’ve had two blog’s for a few years now. One sort of general (this one) and one more devoted to photography. I’ve ignored them both greatly in the past three or four years but now feel it’s time to change that.
Trying to account for your own weaknesses is never easy. But dividing my attention between two that I had defined somewhat narrowly in my brain hasn’t been working well for me. So I’m rolling them into one. I’m packing my bags and moving over to my other blog. So to any of my friends who are still following me, I’ve tidied up and dusted at Blind Eye Turned. It is my much neglected photo blog. Way back when I had the crazy notion of putting a more professional face on my photography.

I’ll leave this one up as a monument to procrastination, but it’s the other blog I’ll actually make an effort to post to.  It will be more open-season over there than it has been.  I find photographs tend to bring out a story in me and love to post that sort of thing, but there is going to be more than just photography.  I’ll certainly try to do better than a post every two years!



Marathon Writing and the Abhorrent Void


Nature abhors a vacuum. Perhaps that explains why I would sign up for NaNoWriMo. Until I had read the entry life seemed to be in its usual rut of non-writing. But the thought of spending the next month trying to write a 50,000 word novel, was compelling. Perhaps it would be a way to correct the writing imbalance plaguing my blog? Perhaps it would be a way to finally get the story of the Hapless Photographer out of my head!

Is that what drives people to write? The voices in their head? “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?”. Maybe by giving those voices a conduit, a way to escape that inner world and infect others. So if you want to see how I’m doing, check out Coleaus. In case you’re wondering about the username, I mis-spelled Colaeus, who was an ancient Greek explorer. Coleaus, as far as I can tell, was never Greek, or an explorer. He does fit well into the NaNoWriMo mold though of type type type and revise in December!

Maybe the excessive writing exercise will even spill over onto the blog. It couldn’t hurt!

Magnificent Failure


pine burst

October was quite awhile ago. The other side of the solstice. That’s how long it’s been since I last wrote an entry. There are all sorts of things floating through my mind to write about, but sitting down and actually writing hasn’t happened. Finally the voice in my head that keeps me sane said “stop thinking about writing and write something”. So here it is. What am I writing about? It seems I’m writing about not writing…. However, I’ve included a recent photo I was happy with, so I’ll talk about that.

It’s part of what I call my ‘Leica rebellion’. If any lawyers from Leica are reading this (‘get a life!’ springs to mind) it’s meant as a backhanded compliment. Modern lenses are SO good, they leave NOTHING to the imagination. Point-n-shoots compound the problem by automatically setting the exposure and shutter speed, focus, etc.. So I’ve learned a number of ways to ‘trick’ my camera into giving what some might call ‘less than perfect’ results. One great way to isolate a subject is to make everything else out-of-focus. In this case, to make a close-up of the end of a pine-bough, I stuck a magnifying glass in front of the camera and shot through it.

What does this have to do with writing, or not writing? I think comfort must be the antithesis of passion. The more comfortable your existence gets, the easier it is for your passion to become hidden. Layers of soft plush pillows and soothing TV’s all cause it to recede into the distance.

But with time, the mind and body become restless. My restlessness begins to rear its head and I fidget. I get shack-whacky until finally the voice in my head comes to the rescue and says something sarcastic.

“You’ve been sitting there so long you’re growing roots.”

“Are you sure you still know where all the letters on the keyboard are?”

“Stop trying to write and write.”

I keep coming back to that last line, in some variation or another. It’s been a background thread in my thoughts for years. TV society (what we learn from watching sitcoms) wants us to get points for ‘trying’. But trying is a slippery word. It’s like one of those taco dinner mixes that comes with everything you need. It has a built-in excuse, an escape from failure. “Well, I tried.” My sarcastic little internal voice, the one you can’t let out in company, says a try is a practise. Do or don’t do, succeed or fail. There is no try (apologies to Yoda for the paraphrase….).

Thomas Edison said “I know more ways not to do something than any man alive”. That’s part of succeeding or failing. You fail at something, you learn something and move on. Maybe in failing to do something you unexpectedly learn something else. To fail 10 times makes the success that much sweeter. To say “I tried” 10 times just has a trivial sound to it. Maybe it’s because tried can be made to sound like a whine? I failed has a harsh, anglo-saxon sound to it (yeah I know, I looked it up. French from Latin). A lesson was learned. Well, I suppose that’s an assumption. Failure isn’t much of a teacher unless you learn from it.

Ok, the whole failure thing has other angles, especially in the artistic world. There is an inspirational, and somewhat surreal, interview with Malcolm McLaren on This Spartan Life. A lot of people would say he is best known for a string of failures. Or even that once something becomes successful, he shifts gears and goes elsewhere. He sums up his take on things creative by quoting a professor from when he was a student.

“Any kind of benign success was never worth having. Much much better to fail magnificently.”

Now, I’m not a fan of failure for failure’s sake. By being so against something, so passionately, you still believe in it. Otherwise it would be meaningless to you. But the thought of being willing to fail, magnificently, stikes a real chord. Unless you are willing to embrace the prospect of failing, to accept it, until it doesn’t matter one way or the other, then you are free to do, instead of try.

Ok, enough preaching, thanks for listening and I hope all my new friends in the WordPress world have a Merry Christmas!

Plagiarism and the sense of smell

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This started as a comment to bloglily about a memory (malformed as it turned out) of something written that she had enjoyed. It involved smell and was a powerful memory. I responded with this:

Scent is so evocative, it really dredges up memories. The smell of roses always reminds me of my paternal grandmother’s house, lilac’s of my maternal grandma’s.

I remember noticing when I was in California, hiking up the Devil’s Post Pile (I think that’s what it was called) and thinking how ‘alien’ the place smelled. Like someone opened potpouri in the other room. For me home is the smell of salt air and pine.

As for correctly remembering things from books, some of my more creative work has come from getting something I remembered completely and utterly WRONG! It’s like I have a copper-tube memory that ferments everything put in it. Apple juice in, cider out. Vinegar if I’m having a bad day!

It’s such a fine line sometimes between creativity and ‘copying’. I myself have had a few creative moments that were the result of an attempt to copy something but getting it wrong! I suppose I would be in trouble if I had a better memory ;-).

What does plagiarism, the sense of smell and creativity have in common? If you read the last post, you saw me whining about the uber-academic discourse regarding creativity from the wikipedia entry. One thing struck me though, creativity is all about connections, especially “off-side” ones. The connections come from our conscious and sub-conscious ‘muck’ that is the great holographic mish-mash of memory. Smell is such a powerful trigger for memory and connection, but so difficult to quantifiy that I think it is always at work making those off-side connections. You don’t sit at a coffee-bar with your friends and talk about the smell of the library yesterday (“I found the mold a bit off, and the BO was giving it a tart edge”). But the smell of coffee triggers all sorts of connections with me. Especially in the morning. Especially right now.

Something to smell:

geranium 2

PS: I know it looks like a rose, but it’s actually a closeup of a bud from our geranium.



I made the mistake of Googling the word “creativity” just now, my thinking being that the links that come up would encourage the spark that made me choose this subject in the first place.  I clicked the wikipedia definition and encountered a very dry and academic discourse which went on at great lengths to compartmentalise the creative process, from history through to the current research in neurology.

I certainly felt my creativity being sapped just glancing through it.  This is my favourite passage:

Thus, highly-creative individuals may be endowed with brains that are capable of storing extensive specialized knowledge in their temporoparietal cortex, be capable of frontal-mediated divergent thinking, and have a special ability to modulate the frontal lobelocus coeruleus (norepinephrine) system, such that during creative innovation cerebral levels of norepinephrine diminish, leading to the discovery of novel orderly relations.

Here is my contribution to the theory of creativity.




What is it that makes us want to parade our thoughts or images or writing out into the big bad world? I’m not a “people” person, but I’ve got a streak of exhibitionism. I like to put my stuff out and get reactions. I prefer the good ones but even the bad ones mean I’ve engaged someone. Drawn them out of their 9-to-5 world and made them think, or pissed them off, or excited them, or shown them something mysterious that tweaks the imagination.

But why bother? Are we looking for validation from others? Is the malfunctioning social part of the brain still trying to engage in whatever way possible (short of, you know, going out and meeting people)?

Sometimes I question the sanity of spending time each night working on an image and posting it to see the reaction of friends and strangers. I mean, yeah it’s like having your own free focus-group and gives you insight into what people might like if you frame it up and exhibit it. But does it get me any closer to what I want to be as a photographer?

This feels too much like one of those conversations a super-hero has with himself in a comic book, as he’s fighting the bad guy. The bad guy is a distraction to the important work of self-analysis, but who is he? Where’s my bad guy?

Anyway, here’s a picture. One of my favourites from the pond last winter.

old man

What am I doing?



This month is a busy one. I have pieces in four different galleries in our town, so there isn’t a stitch left in the house. Walls covered with little nail heads and thumbtacks!

In the process of trying to put down an artist’s statement so I could drum up some publicity I went from writer’s block to “Run Martha the dams a-breaking!”. So I thought I’d share one excerpt from it with you lot. I’m pretty sure there are other artists out there that sympathise. Drop me a line!

I’ve started a series I’ve variously called “lost worlds” or “dark and blurry” (depending on how I feel about it that day). It is a revolution against the perfection of my camera lens. Not that my lens or camera are particularly advanced. The average photographer has far more sophisticated gear than I do. But the camera companies, in their quest for optical perfection, make gear that, to me, is just too good!

I feel the camera and its lens contributes as much to the image as the light falling on the scene. The interaction of all these parts make the whole, but the camera and lens have become almost ‘transparent’ to the scene. Not that it’s a bad thing. I’m sure there are more people out there who would rather get sharp images than blurry ones, but there can be real magic in those wonky accidents from less-than-perfect gear. The $30 Holga camera is a perfect example. Professional photographers gladly dish out the cost of a good meal to have a badly made film camera that vignette’s the image, leaks light on the film and has poor optical quality, because of the amazing images they can create.

The LensBaby is another great example. A tool for making your photo’s sharp at a spot and blurry everywhere else. But it is a wonderfully creative tool! So if you’re part of ‘the revolution’ then drop a comment and link to your ‘lost worlds’!


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