Our morning walks have been particularly good this past week. The Texas spring is still going strong, and it’s not too hot, not yet. I thought I’d make a “joiner” (from my Instagram stories) in the style of Hockney to celebrate.
Here is David Hockney’s Pearblossom Highway, 11-18 April 1986, #2. Several people mentioned that they thought of Hockney when they saw my “Houses for Meg” — a huge compliment to me, as Hockney is one of my favorite artists. His “joiners” are my favorite works of his: huge photo collages made up of hundreds of individual 4×6″ prints.
In this video Hockney talks more about the piece and its origins:
(I had no idea it was originally commissioned by Vanity Fair to illustrate Humbert Humbert’s drive across the southwest in Lolita.)
Here’s a 1988 feature of him returning to the site and showing how he took the shots:
What is it about chalk?
From the NYTimes profile, “Where Theory Meets Chalk, Dust Flies”:
“I am attracted to the timeless beauty and physicality of the mathematicians’ chalkboard, and to their higher aspiration to uncover the truth and solve a problem,” Ms. Wynne said in an email. “Their imagination guides them and they see images first, not words. They see pictures before meaning.”
She added: “I am also fascinated by the process of working on the chalkboard. Despite technological advances, and the creation of computers, this is how the masters choose to work.”
In their love of blackboards and chalk, mathematicians are among the last holdouts. In many fields of science and investigation, blackboards have been replaced with whiteboards or slide show presentations. But chalk is cheaper and biodegradable. It smells better than whiteboard markers and is easier to clean up, mathematicians say. It is also more fun to write with.
Only chalkboards will do:
Wynne says she deliberately shunned whiteboards, or digital boards. “I like the timelessness about blackboards,” she says, adding that they are also intriguing for their capacity to show layer upon layer of working.
There’s something about having the space to think:
The sheer size of blackboards, ranging from single wall affairs to extensive, multi-panel boards, is important. “It is this giant canvas,” says Wynne. “Seeing everything in one large piece, you can jump around on the board and connect pieces and take things away and add things… I haven’t seen any other tool or any other device that matches that experience.”
And there’s something about the chalk itself.
In this video, “Why The World’s Best Mathematicians Are Hoarding Chalk,” mathematicians discuss why they’re so obsessed with Japanese chalk from the brand Hagoromo.
“There’s a real value to this,” one mathematician says, holding up a stick. “But the value is in using it up. Not hoarding it.”
So, yeah: chalkboards, man. I mean, even the erased boards are beautiful…
* * *
Previously on the blog: chalkboard drawings by artists
The story goes that when photographer Gjon Mili visited Picasso’s studio in 1949, he showed the artist these photos he’d taken in 1945 of Carol Lynne skating with flashlights embedded in her boots:
Mili suggested Picasso draw with a flashlight in a darkened room. What happened next, as detailed in LIFE, Jan 30, 1950:
Picasso gave Mili 15 minutes to try one experiment. He was so fascinated by the result… that he posed for five sessions, projecting 30 drawings of centaurs, bulls, Greek profiles and his signature…. Mili took his photographs in a darkened room, using two cameras, one for side view, another for front view…. By leaving the shutters open, he caught the light streaks swirling through space. By setting off a 1/10,000-second strobe light, he caught Picasso’s intense, agile figure as it flailed away at the drawings.
You can see their further experiments, many in color, with Picasso playing with drawing in 3-D, here.
Mili did the light trick with many other kinds of artists:
There are lots of his curiosities in the Mili LIFE archives. Here’s an image of a housewife ironing from a Sept. 9, 1946 article on “Easier Housekeeping”:
Here’s a picture of Mili from the table of contents:
Going through the LIFE archives is a total trip. I feel like somebody could write a whole book based solely on the juxtaposition of these two images and their captions. (“Squatting in the darkness, Picasso draws a distorted spatial centaur.” “Pattern of light streaks shows how an efficient housewife makes a bed.”)
“I only draw the person while I can see them,” Jason said. “The majority of the drawings are done (mostly) while I’m looking at the person, not at the paper.”
If they move or get up from a pose, I cannot cheat at all by filling in a leg that had been folded or an arm pointing. This is why some of the people in the drawings might have an extra arm or leg — it had moved while I was drawing them. I think, hope, this makes the drawings better.
Miho Takeuchi, a traditional sashiko instructor and designer born in Japan and based in the United States, tells me via email that sashiko, which developed in poor communities in Japan’s Edo period, “was born from the necessity of mending and patching garments, beddings and household items. In ancient days, clothing and bedding were made from homespun fabrics woven from native fibrous plants such as wisteria and hemp and necessity demanded that this clothing be recycled for as long as possible.” It was only later, she tells me, that the technique evolved to include the elaborate surface-level designs and intricate patterns popular with visible menders today.
“Whereas mending was once the province of those who could not afford new clothes,” the article notes, “today’s visible mending is the province, primarily, of those who can afford the time and attention it takes to make one’s clothes into a statement.” (See: “The poor can’t afford not to wear nice clothes.”)
Here is another photo by Lange, which seems to be of the same legs, stockings, and shoes, but look closely at both images, and you’ll see different contexts. In the first image, which is cropped closely on the legs coming out of shadows, the shoes are resting on worn wooden planks, and the mends almost look like scars. In the second image, where you can see the rest of her outfit and the smooth floor, the mending on the stockings looks more subtle and elegant.
I did a bunch of digging in Lange’s archives at the Library of Congress, but couldn’t find any more images of these feet. (Lange did a whole series of worn stockings and shoes. It’s interesting to note how much Lange liked photographing legs and feet — her own foot was misshapen by childhood polio and she walked with a limp.) Would love to know more about these images, or if there are any others in the series, if anybody knows.
Nestled amongst hundreds of stunning shots of the aurora borealis taken by Finnish photographer Jani Ylinampa is a series of four photos of Kotisaari, showing the island from a drone’s point of view for each of the four seasons (clockwise from upper left): spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
I came across this image last week and I keep thinking about it. There’s something so magical about seeing the same view in each season. (This is what Thoreau was recording so diligently in his journals.) The Kotisaari photos remind me of Paul Octavious’s Same Hill Different Day:
Of course, this kind of project requires that you live somewhere with actual seasons. Here’s Paul on living in Chicago:
I live near Lake Michigan… it’s like living by an ocean. Also, having all four seasons is inspirational because I can do a photo project and see it evolve throughout the year. Going outside to a hill, or a tree, or taking one subject and revisiting it multiple times inspires me to see how I can photograph it differently each time.
Now I’m reminded of Kurt Vonnegut claiming in Palm Sunday that there are actually six seasons in the Northeast: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Locking, Winter, and Unlocking.
Regardless of how many seasons there are wherever you live, one should heed Thoreau: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
“One cannot open a newspaper without being disgusted by new records of shame…. the house and land we occupy, have lost their best value, and a man looks gloomily at his children, and thinks, ‘What have I done that you should begin life in dishonor?’”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1851
A devastating image by photographer Brook Mitchell in the NYTimes. Nails the stakes of climate change: It is our children who will have to sift through the wreckage.
I was particularly affected by the photo, as I have a towheaded almost-six-year-old who looks a lot like Harry. (“Where have you been my blue-eyed son?” Dylan sings in “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” a song that now destroys me.)
A little googling led me to the original Guardian piece about Australian farm families battling the draught. You can see more photos of Harry and his family there, including this one, of him wearing what he calls his “monster hat”:
That one brings the slightest smile: Children are resilient, and no matter how bad it gets, there will still be moments of humor. Even if it’s gallows humor.
I needed new some new photos, so I asked one of my favorite artists, Clayton Cubitt, if he’d take them. We spent a couple of really pleasant hours last month in his studio in Williamsburg, just chatting about art and life and taking pictures.
Clayton likes to take a polaroid of studio visitors wearing a prop crown — he says he thinks everybody deserves to be royalty for at least a few minutes. (Iggy Pop: “Every stinking bum should wear a crown.”)
Here’s a photo I took of him in action — the tattoo on his right arm, “this too shall pass,” was explained by Abraham Lincoln (a quote I used in the last chapter of Keep Going):
“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, “And this too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”
“Sometimes I worry it’s weird for my subjects to see a giant ‘this too shall pass’ tattoo on my trigger arm,” he says, “But it’s true and it’s why I photograph.”
He gets a new hatchmark on his left arm for each year he makes it around the sun.
You can read more about his life and work in this interview.
Here’s my favorite photo that he took of me:
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