Ascetics, not aesthetics…

by John on March 13, 2015

“Ascetic” is a Greek word that means “training” or “exercise.”  I have discovered that “work” is all the same.  Whether artist, athlete or bricklayer makes no difference.  I exercise with my mind and body and hone my nature.  I haven’t tried bricklaying.

I practice in the darkroom and out in the world with my camera.  When I do this, my ability and skill increases.  Bicycling is no different.  I put on my kit and ride, either my mountain or road bike.  The more I practice, the better I get.  If I have questions then I find the answers.  In both cases there are people I consult.  Some of these questions seem simple, maybe banal.  To me, however, they are stepping stones to ability and skill.  I search for the beginner’s mind in myself…it’s all about the hills.

I rode the 3rd Annual Paros Mountain Bike Race in Kostas a couple of Sundays ago.  The weather was perfect.  There were 57 riders, almost all of whom were younger and in better shape than I.  Still, after having riden the course 4 times in the previous 2 weeks, I beat my own best time by a solid 5 minutes.  That is all that matters.

I took out the road bike last week and went around the island (64 km), a ride I have taken many times.  I rode it in 2:50:16, which is far too slow for my tastes.  I need more speed, and that is a fact.  The hills are killing my time, and Paros is full of them.  Sometimes I slow down to as little as 9 kph.  My average speed on the whole route was a mere 21 kph.  I would like to up my average to 24 kph. This means training and hills, hills, hills.   More practice, more work, more bricklaying.

There is a song I have been hearing at one of the cafés where I hang out.  It is a lovely, modern Greek love song.  It also helps me to learn some more Greek.  It is here…

Have a listen.

JDCM

 

 

 

 

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The end of February…

by John on February 24, 2015

I am happy that February is almost done.  It is the shortest month and here on Paros it has been very cold, but also quite beautiful with lots of rain, green fields promising spring.  March harkens, change is just around the corner.

I guess this is a bullet-point post…

–I turned 50 a couple of weeks ago.  Some friends took me out to dinner at one of our favorite tavernas and I was truly touched by their generosity and warmth.  Thank you, thank you…50 years on the planet, half a century. Hmmm…there were moments that I didn’t think I was going to make it, probably a couple where I tried not to.  Dark times, indeed, and a lifetime ago.  Rearview mirror stuff.

–I have been printing a lot in the darkroom.  Nothing really specific, just printing, going through negatives from 2006, ’07, etc…current work too…35mm, 120…lots of stuff.  It is for an exhibit I would like to have next fall.  Some wise friends reminded me to not be too concerned with content because it was art schools that put forth the idea that a solo exhibit must have a theme.  There will always be a common thread running through the show.  At the very least, it is all my work.  I can’t help it if people get confused.  I’m not.

— I have been getting ready for a mountain bike race this weekend in the hill-town of Kostos and have already biked the route a few times.  I am eagerly looking forward to it–13 km of ups and downs, rocky, gravely, sandy farm roads, washed out and rutted. There are some short stretches of paved stuff, but thankfully not so much.  I have biked it already three times and my best time so far is 53 minutes, and that is after a 9 km uphill ride to get there.  I hope to catch a ride with some friends, so I’ll be fresh.  The weather this week is rainy off and on.  I am hoping for light winds and sun on the day.  It’s going to be a fun and muddy ride.

–That’s it, really.  Not much else to report.

–JDCM

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In the shadow of Vesuvius…

by John on February 2, 2015

I have just returned from Naples.  I was surprised by many things.  The first was that it is a filthy, rundown, graffiti-stained city unlike any other that I have seen.  True.  In many ways it is a real dump.  Garbage everywhere…rotting, pollution blackened buildings in need of repair and restoration…Spray-painted graffiti on practically every surface you can imagine, including churches.  UNESCO should step in and put a few 100 million Euros into the place.  Or maybe the Camorra could use some of their influence to do something to improve the city at the heart of their criminal organization…Hmmm…

On the other hand, the place is chock-full of photo-ops.  It is an old, old city, dating back to the 2nd millennium B.C.E.  It has withstood the Greeks, Romans, the Bourbons, Napoleon and two world wars.  The most recent left the city all but razed.  Naples was the centerpiece of some of Mussolini’s greatest urban works, his arrogant attempt at a re-invention of the “empire.”  No wonder it looks broken.  It is.  The people, on the other hand seem to be taking it all in stride, as if to say, “we were here first and we will be here when you’re gone…”

Then there is Vesuvius.  Living in the shadow of a constant and active threat does something to a person, let alone a culture.  The volcano is everywhere, looming over Naples, a momento mori :  eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we could all be covered in volcanic ash (Pompeii) or liquified rock (Herculaneum).  I think the Neapolitans are a race all to themselves.  They have an element of piracy about them, an independence romanticized in the buccaneer, the privateer, the mercenary freebooter.  They are a swarthy bunch.

The museums were stunning.  Roman frescoes, mosaics…Caravaggio, Bruegel, et al…Pompeii was amazing.  The food was really superb.  The weather in late January is changeably mediterranean.   There was sun, clouds, rain, wind…Pretty much what one would expect from one of the oldest and busiest seaports in the world.  I will post some images on my Flickr page tomorrow so you can see some stuff that I saw.

Now I am back on Paros and the scirocco will be blowing most of the week.  Warm air out of the Libyan desert, full of yellow dust, microscopic sand in the air like jaundiced fog.  A sandstorm.  I feel terribly out of shape and need to get back on the bike for some serious work.  I have some printing I must address in the darkroom and the digital lab, both neglected commitments that I must fulfill.  In a few weeks, the gods-be-willing, I will have surpassed the half-century mark.  Busy month.

Detail of a Roman fresco.  Note the chiaroscuro...

Detail of a Roman fresco. Note the chiaroscuro..

 

a wood panel detail by Polidoro da Caravaggio

a wood panel detail by Polidoro da Caravaggio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

–JDCM

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Paros Winter…

by John on January 11, 2015

I looked out my window and witnessed the dawn illuminating the rocks, the sea, the white and tan buildings of the little seaside town I call home.  I live in a world of light, and always have.  The light pours into my eyes, through my camera lens, bounces off the walls in my small flat.

I was raised in a home of education and knowledge.  I read, explored and created from an early age.  In some ways I have been ‘home-schooled’ in the art of learning.  I know how to satisfy my curiosity.  Learning was the cure-all for most blues, for it was there that I was able to rise out of whatever poverty (social, physical, etc…) I felt was governing my life.  There were times in my life when all I had were my books, some paper and a pen.  I did better than just survive.  Even at my worst, I saw much of the world for what it could be–a world of light and possibilities.

This is not the truth for many, I know.  I am not naive to the facts of real poverty and starvation.  It is all around me.  It is here, in this town.  It is real.  So how does this change?  Through education, perhaps…but what kind?

As I write this, the starving and lost listen to the rhetoric of hate and violence, nodding their heads as their yearning minds absorb bitter venom.  We know where this leads.  The history books and daily newspapers are full of it.  The real tragedy is that those wielding the knives and guns are not the real demons.  They have been lied to, deceived, conned.  They are pawns, broken wind-up toys set in motion by others, those higher up the food chain who have been educated, have money, and cultural influence. The tin souls of the desperate are twisted and we all suffer.

Is there a way to cure this without leaving our own darkness?  As a frightened animal, my first internal reaction is just that–a reaction.  It is as violent and angry as the news I read every morning.  The initial solution is terrible.  I realize that this is the reaction the toy-winders want.  Next comes something more rational, but that holds a cold, black and silver aura, historically vile…

The truth is that I have no idea what to do.  I have no quick fix, no philosophy with which to stop the clicking mechanisms.  I cannot un-wind the broken toys.  I am afraid that no one can.

I will not end on this bleak note.  I began with the light, and so I will seek the light again.  I look out the window of the small cafe where I type and I see the cyan sky, green hills surrounding the quiet bay, a wine-dark sea.  I have the whole day ahead of me and will use it to create, engage peacefully and show gratitude for these gifts.  Maybe that is the way to stop the toy-winders.

Clear-minded-clear thinking-clear speaking-smiling face.  Keep it light.

A storm moves across Sifnos

A storm moves across Sifnos

–JDCM

 

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The true gifts…

by John on January 1, 2015

–It is New Year’s Day, 2015.  Happy New Year!  May this next year bring us all the best that life has to offer.  I am sure there will be uncertainties, enough for all: jobs, businesses, pursuits of all colors.  The best thing I have found is to be active and know when to let go of something that simply will not budge.  It is better to walk away from the brick wall than to keep banging your head against it.

–Sometimes the best gifts can be those that have been worked on and  constructed by the giver.  I gave some of my family photographs this year.  This past autumn I was lucky enough to be in Paris for a week and photographed the Parc de Bagatelle with my Voigtlander r4M using Rollei 400s film.  The negatives were lovely and I chose three specific images for presents.  I worked carefully on the pieces, choosing specific papers for the right feel, adjusting the developing chemistry to activate the proper tonal scale and contrast.  They are lovely.  I was happy passing them on to good homes where they would be appreciated.

–I return to Greece this week.  If all goes well I will be back on Paros by Tuesday lunchtime.  My name day is January 7th, which is also the birthday of a close friend, mentor and colleague.  I hope to cook her and her husband dinner that night.  Probably pork chops.

–The real gifts are non-material.  I no longer live in an imagined world of fear, where people are out to get me, shaft me, or otherwise take advantage of what I like to think of as my good nature.  I no longer play the victim card.  I no longer need to open up my Bag from the Past to show people what-tough-time-I-have-had-and-if-you-had-my-life-you-would-be-like-this-too!  I am so happy I found a way up and out, have been able to let go of so many bad ideas and open my heart, embracing change as a positive force.   Yes, I have days that are not perfect, but that is OK.  That is the gift of being right-sized: I am a person among people, a worker among workers.  I am emotionally secure among grown-up people.

–I heard a good quote the other day…

“You know what the big problem is in telling fantasy and reality apart? They are both ridiculous!”

Unknown

–JDCM

 

 

 

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Christmas/New Year post…2014

by John on December 22, 2014

-I am back in the USA for the holidays.  If there is anything I have learned this year it is that the varieties of human experience can be summed in a single word: absurd.  Tragic, comic…whatever.  It is all variations of absurd arrogance and tomfoolery.  Disagree if you want, I won’t stop you.  I am no different.

-The ‘Cafe/Kafe’ images are on display in a new gallery on my Sidelit website.  You can access them through the blog or simply click here.  These are scans of the actual b/w photographs, not scans of the negatives.

-I took the train to NYC a few days ago and visited the Metropolitan Museum for the day with a friend.  We looked at a marvelous Cubist exhibit, a private collection of Braque, Picasso, Gris and Leger.  Superb!  Then we gazed in wonder at the Stanford Album, a collection of 18″x 22″ photographs from the 19th century photographer Carlton Watkins, the first to document Yosemite National Park.  Truly amazing!  Then we wandered among the 29 portraits of Madame Hortense Cezanne , painted by her husband over the course of many years.  Lovely!  We could not resist the small but dramatic El Greco exhibit.  Astounding!  With time to spare before our respective trains we ventured into the American Impressionist wing, visiting Sargent’s ‘Madame X’ and looking at Winslow Homer’s wild seascapes.  She returned to New Haven and I headed back north.  A perfect day at the museum.

-I have been going to the health club and walking/jogging my 8 miles on the treadmill with regularity.  I love the knowledge that I can get my heart rate up to 170 bpm and keep it there for 45 minutes without losing my breath.  I will be ready to get back on my bike when I return to Paros in less than two weeks.  I miss it already.  I have some Greek language homework to finish and a couple of emails in Greek that I have promised my teacher.  First things first.

-I have been shooting some Fomapan 400 with my Leica M2 so I will have some non-Greek views to look at when I return and develop the film.  I have to print more portraits before I get too busy in March.  If I cannot complete the printing on my own then I will have to send the negatives to Athens and pay for the work.  This is not an ideal situation, but if I have to do it, then I will.

-Christmas is in a few days and the New Year follows.  Much has occurred in this past year and I am happy I have no regrets.  2015 is already shaping up to be busy.

Winchell-Mtn.-fog

 

 

-JDCM

 

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Paving my own road…

by John on November 30, 2014

–My ‘Cafe/Kafe’ show went very well.  It is such a quiet time here on the island that an event like this was a wonderful way to have a get-together.  It was a community event in a small community.  A good chin-wag with friends on a windy autumnal eve.  Mikro Cafe was packed and the opening lasted for about 3 hours.  I feel it was a great success for us all.  I took down the pictures a few days ago.  On to the the next one.

I have begun printing my second portrait show, which I have slated for October 2015, here on Paros.  I have ideas about the venue, which I will evolve.  The show itself will be a continuation of the first  ‘Paros Portraits’ exhibit, but this time I have relaxed my eye.  The first show was strictly large format 4×5 and printed digitally.  As lovely as the 4×5 is, the process began to feel formal, something I wish to avoid in this next installment.  There are a few 4×5 images in the new portfolio, which I will contact print, but the remainder are 35mm.  I am hoping for about 35 to 40 pieces and they will only be printed in the darkroom.  I want this next show to be more loose, more casual, with an element (just a smidgeon) of the ‘street.’  The prints will also be smaller with most of them falling into the 8×10 category, or thereabouts.  If I can print them all by the end of April then I can shuffle them off to the framer and pick them up at the end of the summer.

The weather here turned distinctly autumnal last week.  It was about 14C before Thursday and the drizzly, dark streets were perfumed with the aroma of burning olive wood.  It was damp, but then the wind is shifted from the south.   For the past two days we have seen sun, balmy breezes and well over 20C.  Lovely.

I must stay busy with my own work, even if it a small casual show like ‘Cafe/Kafe’.  As a friend reminded me tonight at dinner, “you have to pave your own road ahead of you…”

cafe-show-1

cafe-show-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cafe-show-2

–JDCM

 

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cafe/kafe, romanticism and keeping it light…

by John on November 15, 2014

–I was eating my corn flakes and goat’s milk one morning and it occurred to me that I am an incurable romantic.

–I returned from Paris two weeks ago and I am back on Paros, about 2300 km and one vowel distant.  My time in France was lovely.  My heart was filled with warmth even though the weather had chilled by the time I departed.

–I was able to shoot 4 rolls of Rollei Retro 400s while in Paris.  I also gave myself a Christmas present.  I found a very affordable Leica M2 at the local Leica store.   The deal was good and I was there.  I had to get it.  According to the serial number it was manufactured in 1966.  I find it extremely cool that I bought a an old Leica in Paris.  It just feels right. Very romantic.

–While in Athens on Friday, I ran a couple rolls AGFA APX 400 through it.  That made 6 rolls.  When I returned to Paros and checked my ‘to do’ box in the darkroom I found two more rolls of film (Rollei Retro 100) that needed developing.  I spent Sunday afternoon developing of film.  8 rolls from three different places from three different cameras…Here’s the breakdown:

–4 rolls Rollei Retro 400s, Voigtlander r4M w/ Voigtlander 35mm lens, Paris; 2 rolls of AGFA APX 400, Leica M2 w/ the same Voigtländer 35mm lens, Athens; 2 rolls Rollei Retro 100, Balda ‘Super Baldina’ (c. 1956), fixed 40mm lens, Paros.

–While working I listened to The Clash’s ‘London Calling.’  It was released in the UK in 1979.  35 years later it still sounds fresh, complex and vibrant.

–Romanticism…OK.  I don’t wish for days gone by.  Whatever they say, life was not simpler, or easier.  Thomas Hobbes referred to life as ‘…nasty, brutish and short.”   He was right.  I like living on a remote island.  Romantic again.

–The ‘cafe/kafe‘ photographs are matted, framed and behind glass.  I will hang this small exhibit this Friday at Mikro Kafe here in Paroikia.  It is not a grand exhibition, just something light and easy, something small to keep my hand in while I continue the prep for the second, far more involved ‘Portraits‘ exhibit next autumn.  There.  I said it.  Autumn 2015.

 

–JDCM

 

 

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Paris…

by John on November 4, 2014

It’s all bullet points this week…

–I arrived here last Friday evening, in time for a nice dinner with my friend and her mother.  Saturday was sunny and hot, so we strolled around town for a bit.  Checked into the Jardin du Luxembourg (along with almost everyone else in Paris) and saw a lovely impressionist exhibit in the Musée.  Superbe!

–Wifi access in Paris is terrible.  The Greeks are years ahead of the French in this respect.  As a result, I am posting this from the safe, American confines of the Hyatt Regency in the lobby lounge.  I feel like I am in a de facto embassy.  The signal is crisp and brisk, the coffee fine.  In the background a pianist is noodling “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Not my favorite noodle.  Now that tune from “Cats.’  Is that a Lloyd-Webber construct?  May his fingers wither…

–Sunday was cloudy and cool and the Jardin de Bagatelle was all but empty.  Lovely, really lovely.  Shot a roll of film along it’s green anhttp://johndcmasters.com/wp-admin/admin.php?page=thesis-optionsd quiet paths.  Dinner at home that night.

–Monday was the Louvre.  Big place.  Lots of art.  Mobs of people.  Tough to navigate, but we managed to see all the important stuff…almost–skipped the Middle Ages.  Everyone was gathered around the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo…No one upstairs in the 16th-18th century Flanders/Belgium exhibit.  We had the place all but to ourselves.  That precious Vermeer seamstress…Always nice to know there are better works in the museum than La Gioconda and the Venus.  Really, there are.  Many more.  Dinner that night at Le Dôme.  Table side service and bouillabaisse.  Superb!  It was a rainy night in Paris and we had fish soup.  Nothing better.

–Today was Musée d’Orsay and, I must admit, I enjoyed it more than the Louvre.  Smaller, but loads to see.  Dinner tonight was at Bistrot du Parc, down the street from my friend’s house in Neuilly-sur-Seine.

–To be honest, I am saturated right now with art, so tomorrow we will have a day outside.   It is supposed to be sunny…the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, Arc de Triomphe, walking the Champs Elysées…shopping for charcuterie and cheese to “bring back” to Greece.  Mussels, salad and tarte “Grand-mêre” on the menu at home for tomorrow evening.

 

Mona-Lisa

 

–Thursday night I head back to Greece and work–my own as well as the labors of others.

–JDCM

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This week the sun comes and goes. The clouds are low, the skies smell like rain.  It rained last night, the sun is shining, the mornings are cool.  It is all but November and we set our clocks back last week.  I have had some good bike rides.  It is nice weather for riding.

As some of you may know I have suffered from Meniere’s Syndrome for the past 3 years.  I have been diagnosed by several doctors, one of them a specialist.  None of them offered me any real plan for easing my discomfort or alleviating the symptoms of this maddening condition.  I can trace it back to April 2011, when I went swimming in the cool water of Paros.  I think that the combination of a low-grade virus and the cold water in my right ear not draining properly exacerbated an already existing tinnitus due to an exposure to loud volume over many years.  This led to Meniere’s…But really, who knows?  Not the experts…So for years I have experienced hearing loss in my right ear and the occasional vertigo which has negatively effected my quality of life.

Two weeks ago I began experiencing moments of extreme vertigo lasting 15 to 20 seconds.  I became alarmed and scheduled a CT scan to rule out the worst case scenarios.  My local doctor here told me to cancel the appointment and instead has put me on two meds.  The first is an anti-vertigo capsule and the second is betahistine.  Both are working well.  He said that if the meds don’t work after a month or so, then we’ll do an MRI.  As of today the symptoms are all but gone.  No vertigo, very faint tinnitus.  Relief.

I have finished printing the “cafe-Kafe” series.  I have delivered the 12 pieces to the matting/framers here in Paroikia yesterday and they will have them finished by November 12th.  They will also make a poster for me.  I’ll stick to A4.  I don’t need anything larger.  At the beginning the images were merely cups of coffee.  They have evolved into coffee and people.  Such is cafe society.

Tonight I take the night boat to Athens, then tomorrow afternoon I fly to Paris.  I will be there for about a week, staying with a friend.  I am looking forward to this little trip for many reasons.  I am bringing the right clothes.  It was 12C in Paris yesterday.  It is supposed to be grey and cloudy all week.  Much to see and do…

–JDCM

 

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