The downward slide…and onwards we go!

The Dormition of the Virgin has come and gone here on Paros.  In the next few days the ecological disaster that is summer tourism will begin to slowly fade away and by the first week in September the island and its inhabitants will breathe a huge sigh of relief.  What to do about the rise of tourism and its accompanying stress on the people and natural resources?  I have no solutions that would be seen by any as humanistic or even nice but I do know what would not help:

A larger landing strip on the local airport allowing for larger planes from big cities will not help.  More vehicle rental agencies (cars/quads/scooters) will not help.  Building more holiday homes in otherwise pristine areas will not help.  Converting long-term housing into AirBnB rentals, driving up the cost for local residents, etc…this will not help.  These are not solutions.  These are the problems.  That is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

I am growing more and more despondent with the news from America.  TFitWH really wants to be an oligarchical ruler, like his Russian man-crush, like his Hungarian buddy, his North Korean BFF and his new pal in Turkey.  Once again, I have no solutions.  Well, actually, I have hope.  I am not advocating this, by the way.  Just a quick disclaimer!

On a personal front I have decided that I don’t want to smoke cigarettes anymore.  I woke up last Saturday, had a couple of rollies and thought, “Man, these are stupid.”  So I have quit.  I had no health issues.  I don’t get out of breath when exercising; my BP is 122/78 with a resting HR of 64.  This is all good.

So I went to the pharmacy and they put me on ‘the patch’ which is keeping me from losing my mind while the nicotine gets out of my system.  This will be a 3-month process,gradually reducing the nicotine to almost zero.  I’m into it, a day at time.  I want to stop.  That is half the battle.  I will admit I had 7 on Saturday, 3 Sunday and Monday and 1 on Tuesday.  Wednesday morning I woke up, cleaned my flat really well and threw out all my tobacco paraphernalia.  That helped a lot.  So none yesterday or today.  If I want one, I have to go buy the crap.  I have noticed that I suddenly have a lot more free time on my hands.  Also, my apartment is cleaner.  All that ash and smoke created a lot of dust.  I am already feeling better.  I have a lot of energy.   So that’s that.

There we go.

–JDCM

PS:  I haven’t changed the header because I am too lazy to do so.  Hope no one cares.  I don’t.

 

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Following some familial footsteps…

I would like to blog a lot about the terrible political situations that are sweeping the globe, but there is so much of that already from all sides that I have decided not to do so.  I re-Tweet, comment, etc…already.  That’s enough from me.  I would like to tell you a story instead.  I hope that, in some small way, it helps to dispel some of the darkness.

In the late 1890s, at the University of Iowa, there was a writer by the name of George Cram Cook.  From 1896 to 1899 he taught what is considered by many to be the very first creative writing course.  He titled it ‘Verse-Making.’  When he left in 1899, the course was continued by his colleagues and became what is now known as the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  Cook then went to Stanford University and taught a similar course and, in 1915, after marrying his second wife Susan Glaspell, moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts where they founded the Provincetown Players, an avant-garde theatre group.  He produced plays written by Glaspell, some of Eugene O’Neill’s first plays and also those of Edna St. Vincent Millay.  That is just a small sample.  He worked with the group until 1919.  A long-time Hellenophile, he moved to Greece in 1922, settling in Delphi, home of the Oracle.  He died in Delphi 2 years later after contracting glanders from a dog bite.  The Greek government granted him status to be buried there, his grave marked by an ancient stone from the Temple of Apollo.  His daughter Nella was buried alongside him in the town necropolis and there is a memorial to Glaspell, Cook’s mother Ellen Dodge and his first wife Mollie on the wall above.

Jump ahead about 50 years.  My mother, the ever curious historian, began to research the P’town Players, Glaspell, Cook, et al…At that time my family lived in Provincetown as summer residents and were a part of the arts community, largely due to my novelist father.  Mom’s curiosity was such that she planned an excursion to Greece with my grandmother.  Grammaw had lived and worked in Athens and Thessaloniki in the mid-1960s and, as she was more familiar with the lay of the land, joined my mother in a search for Cook’s grave.  I do not remember if they found it, and I sense there was some disappointment to their quest.  I would have been about 7 or 8 years old at the time, so this tale is bathed in the slippery mist of memory.  I am skipping a lot here, especially about Grammaw and her interest.  Another story for a later time.

Jump ahead again to yesterday, 23 June, 2018.  I had a free day in Athens so I signed up for a tour of Delphi.  I had been there in 2006, but the Mom/Grammaw/Cook story had slipped my mind.  I decided to rectify this and follow their footsteps to find the grave.  The tour was pleasant enough and an economical way to get there, see the sacred site, the superb museum, have lunch and be transported back to the hotel later in the afternoon.  My tour mates were mostly American and Australian tourists and were curious about this aspect of my trip.  It was fun.  They enjoyed the tale as well.  I related a more truncated, less rambling version, by the way.

During a free 45 minutes between the site visit and the museum, I scurried up to the modern town and asked a local about the cemetery.  It was easy to find, and when I entered I queried two workmen if they knew of the grave.  “No..no English here…no Americans here…”  Undaunted, I looked around the small cemetery.  Among the cleanly carved headstones and markers, one stood out, up in the northeast corner, beneath a cypress tree–an ancient marble stele.  There it was.  After sweeping off the graves and taking some pictures, I looked at my watch.  I had just enough time to make it back down the hill and join my group for the museum tour.

 

 

–JDCM

 

It’s been a while…

I haven’t blogged in a long time.  I have had so many ideas about what to say, how to say it…it has all become a jumbled mess.  I should have taken notes.  I’ll try to untangle some threads…

News from the world of photography–some of my work has been chosen to be part of the Antiparos International Photography Exhibition in July.  It is a group show of about 14-15 different photographers and I have a feeling I will be a black sheep.  Going by what has been shown in the past, there will be a lot of street photography, travel/editorial work and landscapes.  I have submitted a new portfolio of abstract digital work–more of my Found Horizons.   They are very colourful and somewhat large, so they benefit from being seen from a few meters away.  When I have an e-poster, I’ll post it in a few places for you all to see.  It is a true privilege to be a part of this event.

–I have suspended my gum bichromate work until the autumn when the temperatures and humidity drops to a manageable level.  It has become too hot to work in the darkroom these days.  By that time I hope to have some new, larger digital negatives to work with.

–My work with the Photographic Club of Paros has come to an end for the season.  I had a wonderful time with them all and they printed some good work, some of which can be seen this upcoming weekend here in Paroikia.  I am very excited to see what it all looks like matted, framed and behind glass (ok..plastic).

–After years of waiting, the collection of my mother’s newspaper articles from the little local weekly has finally been collected and made into a book.  I dare to say ‘published’ since there is no ISBN number and it is not for sale.  I have given copies away to family and friends. I am so happy this has come about.  I began the process a few years before she died and I feel it is a fitting memorial for who she was, how she thought, what she believed, how she lived.

–I am hoping to embark upon another artistic path this summer.  That’s all I can and will say about it now.  If I follow through I’ll be sure to share.

–I go through eating phases. For instance, last winter I was eating a larger ratio of quesadillas than normal.  Sometimes for lunch and dinner.  These days it is caesar salads.  I have been making my own caesar salad dressing and have confirmed that this wonderfully garlicky, tangy aoili tastes good on just about anything–except fruit.  This may seem banal, but it is the little joys in life, isn’t it? I do not make them the way the Greeks make them.  For them it is a meal with chicken, corn, bacon…yummy, but I am more of a purest.  I even skip the croutons.  Just the romaine lettuce and the dressing.  Funnily enough, both the quesadilla and the caesar salad are from Mexico.  Hmmmm…

–I am convinced that TFitWH is yearning for the Nobel Peace Prize.  He’ll try to take credit for anything good that happens in Asia or the Middle East.  He’s a corrupt shark and we all know it.  He was corrupt long before he became TFitWH.  What does this say about the moral and ethical state of America?  I know that there is outrage, political movements, protests…and that is healthy and right and I support them all.  But what about the rest?  Have the citizens been gorging themselves so long on bread and circuses that they’ve become complacent cattle led by their collective noses?  I know many who are not.  This gives me hope.

I guess that’s it for now.

–JDCM

 

 

 

A painterly photographic ancestry…

Before digital, before silver (what we know as ‘silver gelatin’) there were ‘alternative processes.’  I find this amusing, since at the time (1840s to the mid-187os) there were no other alternatives. It is only in the digital age that we can approach photography this way.  There were several different types of processes.  You can look them up yourself.  I have chosen gum bichromate printing as my first step into this rich and varied past.

Gum bichromate printing entails mixing a potassium dichromate solution with gum arabic and watercolour pigment.  I have chosen black.   Potassium Dichromate is one of the more dangerous chemicals on the planet.  Needless to say I wear nitrile gloves, a Level 2 filter mask and safety glasses when I handle it.  I am using 4×5 negatives and I hope soon to be printing some larger digital negatives so I can make larger prints.

I made the first test strip a week or so ago.  The result is on the left.  Intervals are 15″, 30″, 45″ and 1 minute exposures under full daylight.

The problem was not the emulsion, or the paper, but me.  I wasn’t patient.  I had not allowed the paper to dry fully between each preparation stage (sizing, gesso, emulsion).  This resulted in flaking emulsion.  A common error and easily rectified.

Three days ago I began the process again.  Using 300 gsm Canson water-colour paper, I sized (soaked) this in 60C water for 30 minutes and left it to hang for 24 hours.  The next step was to make sure my gesso mix was as thin as milk, which is much thinner than one thinks.  The gesso needs to be thin so it can soak into the paper, not create a layer on top, as per a painter’s canvas.  I applied the gesso in the late afternoon and left it to dry under an exhaust fan for several hours.  Two nights ago, around 22:00hrs following the weekly Photo Club meeting, I went back into the darkroom and applied the emulsion coat after the gesso had completely dried.  I used 5ml of potassium dichromate solution to 8ml of gum arabic.  For colour I added about .5 gram of black water-colour paint (Van Gogh).  I mixed this well using a natural bristle brush and painted it onto the paper using a foam paintbrush.

Yesterday morning, after letting the emulsion-coated paper dry overnight under the exhaust fan, with a dehumidifier running and a small heater maintaining 20-21C, my paper was dry to the touch.

I used the same VW Bug 4×5 negative.  The first test strip was better.  Once again, 15″ intervals up to 1’15” under full sun at 10:00.  The result was a huge improvement in detail and resolution, although clearly not enough time.  I was on the right track.

Test strip at 15″ intervals up to 1’15”

I decided to increase the exposure time for the first proof to 1’45”.  After developing the print in three consecutive trays of 20C water for 20 minutes, this is what emerged.

1’45”, full sunlight 10:20, March 8, 2018, Paros.

Much improved!  The next time I print (tomorrow), I will expose the whole piece for the 1’45”, then burn in the top 30% for an additional 30″-45″ so the top of the hillside and the sky behind the car achieve some tone.

–JDCM

Birthday, friends, good food, Lent and photography…

I haven’t written much about photography lately.  Or if I have it has been fleeting.  I am not one to talk about my work a lot, especially work that I have not done or that may in process.  I learned from my father that this is a good way to “talk it out” and I end up not doing it.  This has been my experience.  But I’ll mention some goings-on.

My winter’s work with the Photografiki Omada Parou has been a real joy.  The 20 or so people that signed up in the fall for the 35mm analog project have all been enthusiastic, fun to work with and, without exception, have produced interesting and striking work.  Today I am meeting with one of them to develop their film.  Tomorrow I hand the camera over to another, and Thursday I work in the darkroom printing with a third.    I think I will try to print on Friday too.  This project has kept me busy through the winter but it has been much more.  I have come to know many locals who I had never met, and they I.  During the weekly club meetings (Wednesday, 19:30hrs) I get to hear at least two hours of solid Greek from numerous voices which has helped my Greek language studies which I work on every Friday afternoon with my teacher Stella.  So all around it has been a “win-win” situation.  They do all the work, by the way.  I am just a guide.

My own work?  This week I hope to submit a new portfolio of digital abstract work to the Antiparos International Photography Exhibition for the upcoming summer 2018 show.  This work is finished  so I can talk about the fantasy digital land-sea scapes I have found and photographed.  Very little Photoshopping, as you may guess.  Just a slight curve here or there for contrast and to keep it WYSIWYG.  Cross my fingers…I am also embarking on some alternative work which will open up some new technical and artistic avenues.  I won’t say much more except that if the winter time is for the darkroom, this project will be perfect for the summer and all of our sun.

Oh yes…the anniversary of my 53rd trip around the sun was a few days ago so I celebrated yesterday with some friends at a local taverna–that is was also ‘Katheri Deutera’, or Clean Monday, informed the menu.  The remains of the meal can be seen below.  Lent begins today.  I would like to keep the Lenten diet as much as possible for the next 40 days.  It is a healthy choice here in Greece.  Of course, this ‘diet’ predates any religious function as it was a result of the end of the winter, when the stored foods from the autumn harvest had run low (or out) and the agricultural population waited for the new crops of spring.  So it will be lots of veggies for me, seafood without backbones, no cheese, no meat…thank the gods the Greeks are sensible enough to still allow olives and olive oil…

The collection of my mother’s newspaper articles is all but done.  Last week I submitted the digital files to a printing company in Athens and the book goes to press this week.  Finally!  It has been years since I began this project, a memorial to my mother and a gift to family and friends.  And I like this book company.  They do nice work.  I may put together a book of my own.  A small collection of my photographs.  We’ll see…let’s not talk about it yet.

So thats it for February.  Right now there is a lovely, gentle, soaking rain blanketing the island.  It is supposed to rain all day.  Really great.  I am tired of winter.  I want spring, warmth and green things to see and eat.  I need to swim in the sea and shed some of the layers I have had to wear all winter to stay warm and dry.  The world moves ahead into the light and the alchemy I practice draws its magic from an ancient source.

clams, mussels, bean salad, pickles…

–JDCM

 

Mom’s hours…

I haven’t blogged in a while.  I have been busy–good busy.  Too busy to do this.  I have neglected this ongoing missive.  And, to be honest, this post is made up of excerpts from a post I didn’t publish last August, so be patient.  My mother has been on my mind lately and I have been getting up very early, well before dawn usually.  The unpublished post was to be called “Mom’s hours” so I have pasted that into the title field.   I promise to  blog again with something more current in a couple of weeks.

“It’s just after 6 and I have had my coffee, made my bed, fed the cats and it is still dark…the sun is creeping up in the east, I can just see rosy fingered dawn…Much too early to be awake, yet here I am.”

“After raising three children for consecutive decades, getting them up in the morning, making their breakfasts and getting them all on the bus to school, my mother just stayed in the habit if getting up at 5AM, even when she lived alone.”

“…so many of those mornings long ago were dark and cold, frosty, drizzly.  Terrible mornings in which to thrust one’s children, into the palaeolithic harshness of the American public educational system of the 1960s and 70s…”

“…early mornings, sweet tea and cinnamon toast and daypacks heaved onto small, grumpy, narrow shoulders.”

–JDCM

 

A Christmas tale…

 

 

 

 

 

I have always loved Christmas.  Not necessarily the gift giving, although when one is young getting stuff is always fun, and Santa Claus is real and the magic of the lights on the tree in the family living room enchanted a little boy who stayed up too late…

There is something about it I like.  Something deep.  Thanksgiving is fun, but Christmas has some kind of special, ancient magic.  Maybe it’s the hopeful twinkling lights or that it falls around the Winter Solstice and I am very in tune with the moon and or that here on Paros it so quiet and so cold and today we are expecting glorious rain, rain, rain…the island has become an emerald dotted with oranges and lemons.

The Greeks celebrate Christmas in a traditional way and a modern way, but also in their own way.  They are quick to adopt any celebration that involves staying up late and carousing with friends so they have taken the northern European Christmas to heart in so much as they are playfully opportunistic.  Gift giving is supposed to happen on January 1st, which is St. Basil’s Day in the Orthodox Church.  And then it is only for children.

St. Nikolas (December 6th), the patron saint of sailors, archers, children, brewers, repentant thieves, pawnbrokers and merchants is an historical figure dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.  He worked some miracles, and gave way presents to children, hence the legend of St. Nick, etc…there is more to read here…

The Christmas tree is a northern, Scandinavian thing, dating back to the pagan era when the locals would light big pine trees on fire during the solstice, beckoning the sun to return.  You get it, right?  Trees on fire and drunk Vikings…Ok?   Works for me.

Here it is the tradition of the St. Nikolas boat, which is really the point of this blog.  The Greeks don’t use a tree, not really.  Being a mostly seafaring folk, this makes sense.  They lost this tradition for a while but it is back in vogue as a pleasant and pretty thing to do and I am sure all the gia-gias are ok with it.  I have wanted a St Nikolas boat for a while and this year was determined to find one.  And I did–made from an empty 5L olive oil can, a couple of sticks and some string…perfect!  It was for sale in a booth at the seasonal bazaar.  Ideally, one should display their boat on the 6th of December and take it down after January 6th (Epiphany).  I put mine up a bit late…Sorry Nick.  I’ll keep it up and twinkling until after the 6th.  I bought the lights in Athens. They are LEDs which are really super.  One setting blinked so fast I thought I was going to have a seizure!

Christmas Eve I am having dinner with some Greek friends.  I’ll bring some sweets as a gift.  Christmas Day I am making dinner for some non-Greek friends.  Pork roast with candied apples…something else.  That’s it really.  A quiet Christmas that rolls into the New Year and before you know it…

Well, I wish you all, wherever you are, however you mark the day, a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years!

 

–JDCM

Deep into December…

I wrote the following a few weeks ago as a draft…not all of it applies today but I find it oddly poetic.  So I kept it as is…no new header image yet.  I like the moving train.

I finally got around to making that salad that has been on my list for a week or so.

I have been back and forth from Athens a lot in the past 10 days–fun and business.

Thanksgiving was tasty and I spent it with close friends and some lively students.

I have given up on a darkroom project I began two years ago.  The negatives are unprintable.

Today is sunny and breezy and dry, a perfect day to open all the windows. 

Now I can begin something new and add that to the list where ‘make salad’ used to live.

The reality…it is a blustery, cool and wet morning here on Paros.  A perfect day for indoor activities.  The sun wants to come out.  Right now it is playing hide-and-seek with the clouds.  I am heading back to Athens in about a week to re-photograph a commercial photoshoot, this time with some really nice LED steady lights so I can do away with the glaring overheads of the room.  Better light, more control and a different set of lenses will make all the difference.  I will also pick up a big batch of digital work I have had printed.  One project under the belt!

My ongoing darkroom experiment with the Photo Club is really a blast!  So far there have been some excellent images produced and they love the magic of the darkroom.  An enthusiastic and mature bunch to be sure.  I am thankful for the opportunity.

So…the news…we have all been reading it, right?  I am assuming this is the case.  Our gods are tumbling from their Olympian realms.  Those assuming their positions are as bad as they come.  Is this it?  Is this the crux?  The tipping point?  If the tide is turning, who else will get dragged down by the undertow?  The One Person who deserves it the most seems to be a Teflon Don.  What will 2018 bring?

–JDCM

 

 

Kalo mina!

It’s November 1st and here on Paros the weather is decidedly cold and chilly this morning.  The winter is beginning to set in.  99% of the tourists have left and the few that remain wander around the empty streets, looking in the windows of closed shops, shuttered tavernas…the island has been returned to those who live here.  Thank the gods!

Here are the bullet points…

— I am going to Naxos this weekend for a mountain bike race, my third on that island.  27km around a mountain and through the town of Sangri, high above the port.  The weather predictions are good–high pressure, 14-18C, sunny, breezy.  Perfect for biking.  We have had some rain which will keep the dust down and reduce the amount of loose, gravely ruts.  I’ll go and have fun.

— I am grateful and happy to have joined up with the Photography Club of Paros.  They are a good bunch of photography-loving folks with excellent eyes who love to take pictures.  I will begin a long-term darkroom project with them tonight.  For most of them, it will be a first in this digital-automatic age.  Each week, a member gets a 35mm camera (Pentax K1000/f.2 50mm lens) and roll of 35mm film (Ilford Pan 400) and shoots the roll.  Then we (me and the group member) go into the darkroom, develop the film, print, etc…all in a week.  So far there are about 10 people signed up, but that number, I predict, will jump to 20 quickly.  The project will go until the end of April and then they will look at the assembled portfolio and hang a small show.  For more reasons than I can count, this is a superb thing/event/group/happening with which to be involved.

— My own work is moving along.  The year-long Canon G-11 project is ticking away.  I am ready to print a new portfolio of abstract pieces.  I have to re-shoot or otherwise re-evaluate a b/w still life idea.  I am unhappy with several of the pieces due to their DoF, i.e. focus.

— My gym membership is paying off.  I have been going 2-4 times a week for either Hip/Abs classes or just to burn off calories on the treadmill.  After only a few weeks I can once again fit into my 34″ green Levis.  I will go this morning and push some more limits.  That, plus the biking, is keeping me fit and sane.

— The world?  Well…we all read the news and while it isn’t all bad, it isn’t great.  Leaks in the dam…death and disease, as Polly Jo would have said.

My life is Greece is expanding and growing every day.  I am eternally thankful to the wise woman who advised me over 5 years ago that if were to stay here on Paros, I would need to build a life around me.  And so I have.  Biking and exercise, photography and fellowship, the arts and humanities, connections in the community.  Thank you Liz!

–JDCM

 

Happy Autumn!

I meant to post this yesterday right at the moment of the Autumnal Equinox…oh well…

The summer has ended, autumn has arrived.  Outside it is a brisk 27C (80F) at 22:00 (10PM) and the aroma of wet burning leaves fills my nose…well, no, not really.  But the temperature is correct.   Let’s face it, I do not miss the chilly, damp autumn from whence I came.

I was on the Saronic island of Aegina last week for a get-together with like-minded individuals, many of whom are close friends.  It was a nice 4 days of conversations, coffee and pistachios.  Aegina (Egg-in-a) is famous for the little nuts and, since my friends and I are all a little nuts, a good time was had by most.  It was also the weekend for the annual Pistachio Festival and the paraleia (seafront) was lined with booths and sellers of every permutation of pistachio of which one could imagine.  Skip the obvious food section and go right to body scrub, candles and even, I kid you not, interpretive modern dance.  I brought back a few kilos.  Of nuts, not interpretive modern flammable body scrubs.

Aegina also boasts (and rightly so) the Temple of Aphea.  I lingered for an extra day so I could go see it and it was worth the wait, despite the crushing heat and humidity.  Today’s header image is from that ancient place.

The world is going to hell in a hand basket but you don’t need me to tell you that.  Read the news.  Or not, that is your choice.  Burying one’s head in the sand sometimes seems to be as effective as almost anything else these days.

Here’s a simple hypothesis.  We (the species) have come to another tipping point and like all junctures of import, the voices always seem loudest and the urgency always most dire.  Not that these aspects don’t apply–they do.  The paradigm is turning and the shift is most fearfully felt by those who would seek to stop the wheels.  The conservative, sectarian, reptilian-brained dinosaurs will always cry the most as they are sucked into the tar pits.  They will fight back and struggle in the most violent of ways while the more clever, more evolved beasts watch on with a sense of…I don’t know, a sense of something.  Not satisfaction, but understanding perhaps.  “We are lucky. It could be us in the mucky mire,” they say to themselves.  It could still bite us in the ass, by the way, so keep the wheels turning, push the shift and blossom.  And stay away from the edge of the tar pit and don’t take this chance for granted!  Grab hold of a spoke and give it a heave-ho!

I have joined a photography group here on Paros.  It is group of “amateur” photographers from the local community who get together and talk about their work, have coffee…I like these folks for a few reasons, the most important being that they have few preconceived notions about themselves as “artistes.”  They work, play, take pictures, take their time, practice.  They support each other and have fun.  I like that.  I will always remember something my father said about writing…”Once you are known as a literary writer, your career is finished.”  He was right.  I try to avoid the folks who traipse about with high-priced gear and have little or no sense of the machine, it wide functionality and tell people “I’m a photographer” when really they are just playing at it.  The paradox is that to be an artist, one must have artistic sense.  I am not sure this can be taught, but one can be guided.  Perhaps “artist” is the wrong word.  I would rather be an illustrator of moments, a tracker of time, a collator of instances.  Then nothing else matters.  I can do what I want.  I am free.

–JDCM

“The Wedding Dance”
© John D.C. Masters
2017