Tag Archives | beginnings

The exhibition…

My solo exhibition opened Sunday evening.  It was a joyful relief to have it up an on its way.  I realized that I have been building this portrait project since October 2011 while also working on (and completing) several other portfolios in both photography and painting en route to this destination.  No small feat.  It feels as if this has been an overreaching arc representative of all my labors to date here on Paros.

I have had some interesting comments regarding the 22 photographs.  One on-line viewer remarked that I had created a community.  I can see that too: a small town.  I have a butcher, barber, teachers, students, potters, cafe owners, artists, farmers, families, etc…The portfolio could stand alone as a village almost anywhere.  A visitor to the exhibition last night said that I had captured the souls of these people.  I like to think I only borrowed them for a brief moment.

I was too busy to take any pictures of the opening, but I know others did.  When I have some of those, I’ll share them.

I think I will concentrate on portraiture for a while.  My other photography is good, solid work.  It is like doing push-ups or lifting weights–all preparation and training for the real event.   I will begin a second round of portraits in late September, once the light has shifted a bit and people’s schedules have settled down.

Thank you, once again, to all those who helped make this happen.  You know who you are.  Yes, I did the work, but without the support of the Aegean Center and the people of Paroikia this project would never have seen the gallery lights.



Teaching and craft…

There is less than a week until our student exhibit at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts here on Paros.   It has been a busy three months for most.  Like all previous sessions there is always one or two students who fall away.  This spring has been no different.  One student left and returned home a few weeks ago.  Another has stayed here but has followed a different path from those found on our artistic maps.  So be it.  There is nothing I can do about either case.  I will say, in my own defense, that I was there for both of them in a professional capacity when they needed me and,  in the beginning, helped to guide them through some of our philosophies.  Their individual decisions to take different routes has no bearing on the Center, the teachers or my own labors.

This spring I was given the honor of filling in as Silver Darkroom instructor.  This is not a post I assume to be permanent.  All teachers learn that their own skills, craft and knowledge increase when they pass on what they know to others.  This has been my experience as well.  I have learned more about the art and craft of photography in three months than I thought possible.  It was knowledge that I had already accrued so to give it away freely only strengthened my own foundations.   It was not  review or regurgitation.  I found myself solving problems and asking questions of myself from a new point of view.  One important lesson is to be able to say “I don’t know.  Let’s find the answer together.”  What freedom to not suppose, to not be a fake!

There is an ethos to teaching.  It is not enough to greet the student, spend a few hours or days, and then set them free.  That would be tantamount to showing them a map and telling them to drive to California from New York without first discussing the possible roads west.  As the more experienced traveler it is important to guide these eager minds along the way.  Yes, let them take a wrong turn, experience a sudden detour or two and even run out of fuel, but do not abandon them in the badlands of inexperience.  Let them know that you are there, waiting up ahead at the next marker or traveling alongside.  I have practiced this and it has paid off.  I have gained a level of patience and understanding by remaining available.  I have set up appointments and answered their questions to the best of my abilities, abilities which have grown over the course of three months.  To some this may seem a sacrifice of my own personal time, my own independence.  It is quite the opposite.   I have never felt so free, so happy and, at times, so completely baffled.  At that point I turn to someone more knowledgable than myself.  Such is the nature of education, or it should be.

There is a quote from George Bernhard Shaw: “Those who can, do…those who can’t, teach.”  I must admit that I have found this to be very untrue and can only believe that GBS had his head (beard and all) deeply imbedded in his anus when he thought it up.  The quote should be “Those who can, teach.”    Learning is a cycle:  Practice>Teach>Learn>Practice>Teach>Learn>Practice>Teach>Learn…

Ralph Waldo Emerson had a better idea:

“Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee.”



Greek Easter, Paros, 2013…

There was a time before my time, before the time of my sisters, my parents, my friends…

For some reason this phrase popped in to my head today.  For the past few days I have been helping a friend and mentor and her husband move house.  It has been an emotional and difficult time for them and I have been honored and humbled to help sort through decades of their life here on Paros, and earlier.  We have been separating the wheat from the chaff–a difficult process.

Much of what they wished to save has been in the form of photographs, or more precisely, photographic archives.  That is the only way to think of it.  Negatives of all sizes, black and white, color, contact sheets, prints.  Their time here has been documented and preserved in hard-copy.  There was little  digital imagery.  As I worked I felt something meaningful, truly palpable, while holding a negative up to the light, perusing a contact sheet or carrying an artist’s portfolio bursting with prints.  Compared to the lightweight, back-lit digital medium that takes up little space and weighs all but nothing, these items, this archive, made sense to me.  Maybe those of us in the digital age have become so accustomed to the ease with which we view, and then delete, images, or page through them via myriad viewing software programs that we are beginning to forget the importance of this process.

My point is that memory, that elusive, ever-changing spirit we carry in our soul, is something that should have weight.  It should take up space in our homes.  We should, every once in a while, take a photo album or box of negatives off the shelf, dust them off and hold them up to the light of day.  As we gaze, we smile.  We remember friends long gone or vistas experienced in a way that we cannot when looking at an LED screen or something of that nature.  We smile, or we cry.  We tell a friend, “Look…here…this is when we…” and then hand them the fragile transparency or piece of paper.  We pass on wheatthat experience.

We are all repositories of the past.  This brings me back to the idea that there was once a time before my time, before the time of those who came before me.  I have books as proof, books I can hold.  I have folders full of negatives, unprinted.  I am accumulating weight in the form of artists portfolios stuffed with prints.   I have held them up to the light of day.  I say, “Look…here…This is when I…

Happy Easter!




News from Paros…a journey of small bites…

Lupens blooming along the path to the monastery of Agios Kyriaki

Lupens blooming along the path to the monastery of Agios Kyriaki

The first week of the spring 2013 session at the Aegean Center has all but ended.  As I sit in Pebble’s Jazz Cafe, overlooking the bay of Paroikia, the sun begins a slow descent towards the faint outline of Sifnos to my west.  Since my return at the end of January the sunset has moved slowly north along the ridge of that island, the daylight has increased and the temperature has become warmer.  There have been welcome harbingers of a lovely spring: warm, breezy with high clouds and only sprinklings of rain, barely enough to dampen my laundry hung out to dry, birds singing in the bright morning…

My work for the next few months has been laid out for me, a buffet of grand proportions.  My own large-format portrait work, which I have written about before, takes priority if I wish to have the printing finished by the end of May and the work at the framers by June.  This is the beginning-of-the-end of a long-term project, the seeds of which I planted during  the winter of 2011/2012.  I have two or three more sittings to arrange and then I can begin crossing tasks off the list.

I am also teaching in the darkroom, guiding the bright and eager minds of our small cadre along the meditative paths of silver photography.  I have been impressed in this first week by their enthusiasm, previous experience and general attitude towards the idea of ‘slow photography’.  I can only hope that they, too, feel as if I am an able mentor for their journey.  There are two or three returning students working on the darkroom, which benefits everyone.

The third element is my return to oil painting.  I loved it the first time last spring and this time around seems no different.  Just today I was working on a piece and I was struck by how much I love oils: their malleability and fluidity, the ability to push them around on a properly prepared canvas…

The fourth menu item this session is a fascinating journey into the world of Johannes Vermeer, more precisely his use of the camera obscura in his work.  There are three of us working with Jane Pack and in the next few weeks we will construct a full-scale replica of the master painter’s  camera, discover how he applied it and use it ourselves to draw, and then paint, some still lives.

When I realized a few days ago the scope of the labors set before me, my heart and mind quaked.  I quickly spoke to an advisor which helped.  I know that I can accomplish all of these things, but like a plate of food at the above mentioned buffet, this kind of smorgasbord can seem impossible to consume.  Like any dinner, it starts with the first bite.   Before I know it will be the end of May and I will be ordering coffee and dessert.




Guidance, delineation and communication…

It began with lamp posts in 2005.  There was a quayside in Ermioni, a boat on dry dock and an ornate iron lamp post looking out over the still water at sunset.  Then there were more lamp posts in Bosnia, arcing around the gentle curve of a mountain road, leading to where…?

Now there are stone walls climbing and moving across the landscape of the Kyklades.  They have been accompanied by electrical poles, maybe telephone lines, I am not sure…

I have been photographing them for the past few years, mixed in with all the rest.  Driving back from an area here on Paros the other day I was struck by how these all are indications of the hand of man in an otherwise wild landscape.  I have a choice.  I can bemoan the state of affairs regarding these structures or embrace them as something more, strong vertical and horizontal lines, shadows of human needs.  I have thought of lamp posts as bringers of light in the darkness, guidance along dim roads.  The stone walls define our boundaries, of both self and property, for they are often too insignificant to keep any creature at bay.  The poles signify communication over distances.  Guidance, delineation and communication.  I would post some examples, but I feel that everyone has an idea of what I am speaking of without the illustrations.

It is raining here.  Last night the deluge dropped a hail of roaring ice in Paroikia.  It woke me at 4AM.  It also deposited all the red, sandy dust that has been blowing from the south, out of the deserts of North Africa.  This is the scirocco.  The air was clear this morning and as I drove south to visit some friends for coffee I marveled at the archipelago surrounding me: Sifnos, Serifos, Sikonos, Ios, Kimolos, Syros, Tinos, Andiparos…rugged walls ran through green hills, telephone lines stretched thinly into the blue distance and, even though the sun was bright, my heart was gladdened to see the occasional unlit streetlight along my path.  If I came this way on a dark and stormy night I would not become lost in the tempest.



More New Year’s ramblings…

Leica M8, Voigtlander 75mm lens, f/3.4, 1/125 sec, ISO 320

Leica M8, Voigtlander 75mm lens, f/3.4, 1/125 sec, ISO 320

It is bitter cold outside.  This morning the thermometer read -6F.  The sun is out and the snow is all but blinding as I look out the kitchen window at the frozen pond and the string of suet cages hanging in the still morning air.  The usual suspects are pecking away, probably using as much energy to fly back and forth from their nests as they are in the eating.

I depart America in about 3 weeks.  It has been a good visit so far and I have been reminded by its truncated duration of the decision I made a few months ago: to leave this place.  I am only a visitor now.  Yes, I have an office where I am typing this post, a bedroom where I sleep, a makeshift darkroom where I can develop film and even make prints if need be.  I even have a car.  While sitting at the table this morning, watching the birds and drinking my coffee, the thought went through my head that I had better get packing.  It is time to go.  Time to go home.  Time to go back to Paros and the home I am making for myself.  Everything is as it should be here, whether I like it or not.  I have a few tasks to take care of and my conscience will be clear.   Yet I am still in limbo.

And what is next…?  I really haven’t a clue.  I have some ideas, some concepts of the possibilities, but there is nothing firm, nothing definite in any of them.  Photography, painting, hiking…these aspects are in the mix.  Teaching?  I have no idea nor would I assume.  The Camino del Santiago in the autumn?  Moving to Athens, enrolling in language school…?  Once again, nothing to hang my hat on.  The only thing for sure is that that I have some airline tickets booked on certain dates and I have to be there to board the plane or I miss the flight.  Whatever happens in between is a crapshoot.

The 17th century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, “We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end.”  I’ll write some more about uncertainty and not knowing later.  Hmmm…I just thought of something,  something I have been bitter about for a while.   Last summer I walked in a conversation and the subject was how sad it was that ‘he’ had not achieved self-actualization by the time ‘he’ was 35…I am just paranoid enough to think that those folks were talking about me.  If this is true I can only respond that I find it terribly boring that one would be “actualized” by the time they were 35.   What purpose then further growth?  I think this ‘actualized’ idea is just another post-modern trap perpetrated to help with the easy pigeon-holing of the human spirit.  Kind of like “finding your voice.”



With a little help from my friends….

Ancramdale, New York  December 22, 2012 07:45hrs

Ancramdale, New York December 22, 2012 07:45hrs

I have found through trial (many trials) and error (many errors) that I can accomplish very little in life without the assistance of those around me.  Whether it is the gentle and loving care for my mother, my continuing work at the Aegean Center or any spiritual journey I may undertake, I cannot do it alone, nor do I really want to anymore.  Yes, there are times when we all need a little solitude for reflection and meditation, but overall I long to embrace the company of my fellows, whomever they may be.

I return to Greece in just over a month.  Christmas will come and go and the New Year will ring its bells and I will, I hope, have some work to show for the time I have spent here.  I am opening up my darkroom and am about shooting film (both 35mm and MF) as well as recording some digital images.  Besides my Leica M8 I have resuscitated my old Canon Digital Rebel, the first decent digital SLR I used.  It needed a new battery so I picked one up from Adorama.  I hope to use it as a point-and-shoot while I am here, reserving the Leica for more contemplative images.  The MF film work is up in the air.  Maybe I’ll work on some more short depth-of-field images and bring the negatives back to Paros.  The 35mm film is being used in a really old Canon AE-1 with a 50mm lens.  In both cases I am shooting Kodak Tri-X 400.  If I am industrious I hope to begin developing by the end of this week and printing by 2013.  2013!  Imagine that…A lot of water has flowed under the bridge, over the dam and out to sea since I started this blog.  It seems like a lifetime ago that I switched gears and turned onto this road, a journey that fills me with endless gratitude and wonder.

It snowed early this morning before I awoke.  The weather outside is grey and leaden, a wintry wind is reminding me that all things must pass and, as they do, new opportunities for knowledge and growth appear on the horizon.  In some cases it is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all and I have to believe that there is something better for me down the road.  As a friend and I were remarking this morning…one door closes, another door opens.  Life is a series of hallways and corridors.  Take a risk and turn the knob.

 My never-ending thanks to Kit Latham for all of his wonderful support in the much needed update of this blog space.  You will notice that the old images of the Bosnian Roma are gone, replaced with more current and relevant images from my portfolios.  To have them off the site is a great relief to me.  They represent a time of my life that has passed.  I have also cleaned out much of my gallery site, letting go of a tired and used vision for something a little more current.  In a few days there will be an even larger shift.  Siga-siga, as we say on Paros.



Darkroom work and questions…

In the past few weeks I have begun printing some of the images I made last summer during my island hopping following the spring 2012 session here at the Aegean Center.  For the most part, they are photographs of the stone walls that criss-cross the Kyklades landscapes like so many topographical scratches: property lines, terrace farming, some ancient, some new.  The proofs are working out fine, but I have begun to grow uneasy.  I am still coming to terms with the idea of ‘art’ and my photography.  True, I can compose within the format, be it square or rectangular, but am I an artist or am I simply a skilled documentarian?  The same applies to the portrait pieces I am photographing with my 4×5 and then using the scanner to render them into a digital format.  This is not my discussion alone, but one that has been on the table since photography began.  Is a photograph art?

I was told tonight by someone at a cafe that if a photograph ‘moves him’, creates an emotional response, then it is art.  I’ll buy that.  So what kind of emotional response is my ‘wall photography’ generating?  Nostalgia, loneliness, sadness…The scenes are desolate, full of ruins and, in some cases, the detritus of man.  Overturned ore carts, rotting and rusting in the harsh Aegean climate; volcanic chunks of stone piled two meters high to create the snake-like patterns running over hills one sees from the aft deck of the Blue Star ferry as they sail from Pireaus south.  There are no people in these images.  There are only the bones of ghosts.

The portrait work, on the other hand, is completely different.  I am trying to capture the essence of the person, or people, in their own environment.  Some are in studios, others at home.   In each case I have been able to catch a glimpse of something that reaffirms the great possibility of life.  The terrace farms may collapse due to misuse over the centuries, but these people will live on through the images I am creating.  I am creating.  I can create.  Perhaps that is as close a definition for ‘art’ as I will ever get.  Art is creation, a recognition of beauty and grace despite the ravages of time.  I can be a creator of something.   I can document with a deft hand, be mindful of the alchemical processes and thus reveal something to the world that I find beautiful.   There is a lazy part of me that wants this feeling to go away.  The realist in me understands that questioning is essential.  Without doubt and self-examination, how can I possibly progress?


Serifos, 2012


Andiparos, 2012


Quiet Andiparos…

I am visiting Andiparos for part of our fall break from the Aegean Center.  I have been sleeping in and staying up late reading and watching movies.  Today I drove around for a while and photographed some of the stone wall formations that wind their way across the rugged landscape.  I am disheartened by some of the building I see going on–large luxury estates high up on the sides of the mountains, along the steeply sloping terrain, ruining the views of the sea.  Still, with my Mamiya c330 I can extract the beautiful lines of stone from the uglier new constructions, taking them out of context by cropping out the obvious greed and ego of modern man.   Such is my fantasy.

Throughout the day I have had the song “Wichita Lineman”, written by Jimmy Webb and made famous by Glen Campbell, stuck in my head.   I have always loved the melodic loneliness and deep heart of this song.  A friend, mentor and colleague reminded me recently that country music is just as much ‘soul music’ as the famous hits of Aretha Franklin.   This song is a good example for it is in that broad expansive landscape that one hears the lonely soul of America, forever distanced from its European and Asian roots, forever isolated from the rest of the world.  Webb wrote,

I am a lineman for the county

and I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload

I hear you singin’ in the wire,

I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman

is still on the line

I know I need a small vacation

but it don’t look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south

won’t ever stand the strain

And I need you more than want you,

and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

Campbell has many religious and political views that I do not share but one enduring legacy that I admire him for, however, has been his musical work, his labor.  As a member of the “Wrecking Crew” he was one of the most sought out session players from the 50s through the 60s.  He wasn’t a mainstream star until later.  Last year he announced publicly that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  He is currently on tour with his family, a tour which will be his last.  When I read Webb’s lyrics again, hearing Campbell’s voice, I cannot help but cry.

County Line Road, between Washington and Marshall Counties, Kansas.
Photo courtesy of Robert Crowe, photographer, St. Louis, Missouri.

For more of Robert Crowe’s photography and prose, please go here.