I do better work when I flow with rather than resist my passions. You are probably the
same. This winter my great passion was skiing.
I needed the exercise, for one. When I get out of shape, I lose my vim. When I lose my vim, I lose everything else. But exercise all by itself is boring, so doing something that is both fun and physically demanding is just the thing. This post asks no important questions. Probably, I should put it on my blog and not here, but I do share some photos for the first time, and I do get to an important theme to all artists at the end.
And yeah, this is a long post. But I’ve been gone. There’s some catching up to do.
Just to fill you in, I’m real old school when it comes to skiing. I learned how to ski on cross country gear: skinny skis, tiny bindings attached only at the toe, and boots so light they were almost slippers. It did not take me long to discover that the really fun part was not gliding along rolling terrain on groomed cross country trails but climbing mountains for the express purpose of skiing down. My joy in that aspect soon made me many friends of a similar persuasion. I became somewhat, more or less, adept at the art of the Telemark. Over time, my gear grew more robust until it began to resemble your standard Alpine setup, but one thing remained and remains true: The boots are not attached at the heels.
One of the names for the type of skiing I do is “free heel.” That’s a blanket term that covers the fact that expert back country skiers do not always Telemark turn but mix in classic Alpine (also called parallel) turns while still having the capability to go up hills or across terrain because our boots are not attached to the skis at the heels.
This winter marked a return to that old passion after a nine year hiatus in which I first worked overseas for the army then worked as a portraitist in Los Angeles. Between the heat of the tropics and the pressure of the Southern California struggle for existence, I had little time to ski. However, while in LA I managed to write a multi volume book, and after a long trip throughout the Western US, I decided to settle down again at a job at a mountain resort in order to do the illustrations I’d always intended.
That is going well, and some month I might even share some of that work, but for now, I’m just going to consciously neglect that aspect of my existence. Those of you who’ve figured me out will know about my iconoclasm, and the more insightful among you will easily see that after my first brush with fame, I’ve been ever indifferent to attention.
And so, this winter I decided to exercise a lot. I did. I lost twenty pounds of fat and put on twenty pounds of muscle. I got my ears pierced and started experimenting with various hair colors. My brunette now has streaks of blond. I got a whole new wardrobe with all kinds of jock stuff. One’s personal appearance is very much a form of self expression in the art of life, after all. I like to see others take pride in this, so why not me too?
I bought a new digital camera, not expensive at all, but much better than previous devices which cost much, much more. It’s a Fuji F30. It has three divine features: excellent low light capability, extreme compactness for it’s class, and related to the previous, a rechargeable battery good for about five hundred shots. Lugging a bunch of gear around never works for me with any art. The Fuji slips in a pocket and goes anywhere. Compact digitals still cannot replicate the quality of Kodachrome, but they’ve long since surpassed print film. That’s good enough. I took a lot of pictures while out skiing, but these pictures are more in the photojournalism genre than they are in fine art.
One game I played all Winter was the game of “First Light.” Wherever I happened to be, I would take the best picture I could see at just the moment I first felt sunshine on my face. The idea with this game is not to set up shots in advance but to take what one can get when the light comes.
A benefit of this is to put one fully in the Now, always tuned to the light. Of course, I would set out before dawn on skis well knowing just where I was likely to be when the sun came up over the Western Divide. I do not consider that quite cheating though because I was still not getting into place and waiting like you should if you want to get really great shots. No waiting. No waiting for the light. When the light comes, wherever you are, look, and find the best shot you see.
One thing I noticed in many of my recent photos is empty foregrounds. I have never cared much for busy compositions, but really, I think I get these kinds of shots a lot simply because I just feel more serene with a lot of space around me. When I feel serene, I tend to pull out my camera, and so: empty foregrounds. But look. They are not really as empty as they might seem. There are subtle patterns and nuances of light as well as intentionally conceived linear perspective indications.
So a lot of the photos here are just that. Not awe inspiring, just simple moments when the light was nice. There are no good action shots for the same reason. I was experiencing action, not trying to capture images of it. A good action shot requires that same thoughtful setup as well as a good athlete to work with. While I had good athletes to work with, I had no patience for any set ups.
Speaking of good athletes, one of my favorite friends from this Winter was Stefán. He was born in Normandy. One day while climbing the very trail you see here, he commented about the rich loamy smell of earth newly exposed from the snow melt.
“Stefán,” I observed, “You have the soul of a Frenchman.”
“Appreciating a smell like that, what others would consider mold or rot… that’s an acquired taste. Very French.”
He liked that.
Stefán and I share a passion for the outdoors as well as many other important understandings like the fact that we all live many lives and so will never escape our karma. That was a belief of the ancient Gauls too. Did you know that? It was Stefán who got me to get all the new ski gear I needed in order to keep up with the better skiers I went out with this Winter. One of the things I kid him about is the I, the American, am so fashion conscious while he, the Frenchman is so indifferent. But then, I’m gay, and he’s straight. I wouldn’t be caught dead in those silly shorts he’s wearing in this shot; no, I have to have my shiny black Adidas basketball shorts and no gaiters. So what if I get snow in my boots? I’ll look cool.
As you can see, by mid March, we’d already lost most of the snow. This is Eric, and under his right arm is a snowboard. We were already hiking to the good skiing them, except snowboarders don’t ski. They “ride.” It used to be that skiers and snowboarders had considerable cultural differences, but over the years the snowboarders learned the ethics of right of way and moreover, got good enough to impress skiers, and so the slopes are peaceful again. Eric is a sick rider. Very strong and stylish. I went out with him a bunch of times since he works at the lodge with me.
There’s something interesting going on this next shot. Right behind Stefán is another fellow, a friend of Stefán named Steve, adjusting his boots, but I posed Stefán in such a way that he disappeared.
And here are the three of them before a run on that very same day. As you can see, we found snow, but we had to crash through brush and hike over a lot of dirt to get to it. We had a great run. It was pretty icy. Eric’s snowboard, being something like a giant sounding board, make wicked jet fighter sounds. I was on my Fischers, and so I was definitely on the fastest boards of the day. A first for me that season.
So those were some of the good times, but I had and am having some bad times. The next youngest in my big family, David, had a series of strokes and ended up in a coma. He was shipped to Oregon State University Hospital(OSUH) in Portland. To the right is a picture of the oldest girl, my regal sister Karta, and the youngest of us, my wise brother Mike. Notice their postures. See the bent necks? These are a couple of upright and proud people. Seeing our beloved brother in the state he was in was hard on us. He got better, coming out of the coma, but he couldn’t speak. Then he got worse. Then he got better. And then he got worse. At this writing, things are looking grim. I’ve been to Oregon a couple times now.
Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been a bit out of sorts lately. Well, there you have it. “Vanity, vanity. All is vanity.” So sayeth The Philosopher.
I have had no patience for much in the way of idle art talk. I still don’t. Too many artists think too much. They should be spending more time in the garden or having sex or making sure that their loved ones know they love them, for life is fleeting. You are shadowed by death every moment of your life. Whining about the unfairness of the art world is a ghastly bad habit. Shed it at once. You are the maker of your own destiny, and the world changes in a moment.
And so, I go with my passions. Now that ski season is over but running, swimming, and biking have not kicked in, I have, once more, a little time to write. My website and email are going to start behaving weirdly for about 48 hours in a few days because I’m changing webhosts. I’m doing some programming. I decided to consider how programs appear and run in Windows to be interesting enough to work on. I’m looking into gallery software, and I’m busy recreating the look and feel of ancient Elusius — a time when springs came forth from the earth, a time when the sacred groves were still respected, a time when even enemy armies would salute the temple, a time before it became the polluted wasteland it is today.
No ideal ever one the day without a hard fight.