My family and I took a quick break in New York City in the first week of 2018 and arrived just in time for a major snowstorm, after driving through hours of snow squalls on our way from Ottawa. (And we didn’t know it then, but we would also drive the eight hours home through yet more snow squalls.)
We had never visited the Whitney Museum of American Art so it provided an ideal activity for a day when the weather was miserable. The collection is housed over several floors in a new building with plenty of space for taking in the work, especially for larger-scale pieces in the ‘mid-career’ survey of work by Laura Owens (born Ohio, 1970). Owens’ work can appear deceptively simple but I found it helpful to view all of her exhibit before making too many judgements. Her paintings and installations do indeed contain simple elements, but they are often layered with text and texture, digitally-manipulated photographs and even other paintings to create more complex and sometimes humorous work.
I left this exhibit with a sense of quiet enjoyment of light, and life and colour.
If Owens’ work showed flashes of humour, “Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World” contained a strong mix of humour, satire and the absurd. Durham (born USA, 1940) worked as a political organizer for the American Indian Movement in the 1970s and his commitments are present throughout his work. He consistently draws attention to the impacts of the colonisation of the USA but probably manages to do it without alienating the people who most need to hear his message. To my mind, Durham use of humour and satire to communicate serious messages make him a trickster of sorts (although some contend that his claims to be Cherokee are false and that he is taking the trickster role too far). Cherokee or not, he draws on found objects to create works that draw on traditions of North American Indigenous art but clearly show their postmodernist and technological origins.
Well, not really. But close.
I took a few days off this week and used a couple of them to visit Prince Edward County in Eastern Ontario. Although the early fall weather wasn't the greatest, the mini-trip gave us some time to see more of this region that is rapidly building a reputation as a wine-producing centre and destination for economic development.
The town of Picton is the largest community in the county and many of its buildings shows their small-town Ontario origins. The Regent Theatre, opened in February 1922, is one such building. Here it is in all its glory on a rainy evening:
I always try to fit in a little photography when I travel and my recent trip to Toronto was no exception. The weather wasn't great, but I've learned that my little Fujifilm X100T will stay fairly dry if I tuck it under my palm as I walk (having the camera on a wrist strap makes this fairly easy). And rainy nights in a city give means lots of mist, reflections and vivid colours.
Here are a few shots in those conditions taken around Toronto's City Hall at Nathan Phillips Square.
What could I say about the Musée du Louvre that hasn't been said often and better by others? The scale of the collection is staggering and it is impossible to take everything in in a single visit. I soon found myself trying to move through rooms too quickly, aware of how much more there was to see. After a short while I realized that I was doing the gallery a disservice by rushing and decided to slow down again. Better to see fewer things well than to consume the art of the centuries like fast food. For the remainder of the four hours of my visit I wandered at a comfortable pace.
And I found that not all the sights were on the gallery walls: I also found it fascinating to keep an eye on my fellow visitors who were there in their thousands. You can learn a lot about human nature from the way people act in crowds—some of it touching, some of it puzzling, some of it comical.
I would have to place people's behaviour around the Mona Lisa in the 'puzzling' category. By the time I had followed the signs to the gallery where da Vinci's famous piece hangs behind protective glass, it was obvious that I was going to visit a celebrity. Few works in the museum have their own signposts so that you can find them from several galleries away. I could have waited my turn in the long line to see the painting from a couple of metres away, but it seemed to me that the crowd itself had become the story. I could not believe how many people, having queued up to see the painting, immediately turned their backs on it so that they could take a selfie.
I understand that people want to document their experiences, but many of them spent no time at all contemplating one of the world’s most famous pieces of art. They were oblivious to the object in front of them, which seemed to have little or no significance of its own. Instead the work was there to validate their importance or experience. It didn't point to anything grander, more beautiful, nobler, more challenging or universal than… me.
Day 2 wore me out. But in a good way. I spent about nine hours walking and standing, starting the day in the famous and overwhelming Musee du Louvre (more on this in another posting) and ending it off with a visit to the Sainte-Chapelle.
Sainte-Chapelle is not one of the bigger churches I have visited, but it is far and away the most memorable. It is extravagantly beautiful. Many of the cathedrals of Europe impress because of their rich histories and associations with the pious and powerful. Some churches, like Reykjavik's Hallgrimskirkja, capture attention because of their unique architecture. Other houses of Christian worship are notable for the purity and simplicity of their vision. But, again, Sainte-Chapelle is extravagantly beautiful.
I expect that many medieval churches were more beautiful in their day, but now we see only their bones with the plaster and decorative painting removed. Even so, how many churches of the period had the stained glass treasures that Sainte-Chapelle still enjoys? So much of the wall space is devoted to glasswork that the ceiling is supported by little more than light and dancing colours.
Built by France's King Louis IX (later canonized as Saint Louis) between 1238 and 1248, the church has now been annexed and partially absorbed by offices of the Palais de Justice de Paris.
But nothing can hold a candle to those windows.
I have taken advantage of the fact that I am between assignments at work to spend a few days in Paris. Although the city has the reputation of being very grey during the month of February, I seem to have lucked out with a forecast that calls for a sunny week with temperatures of 10 - 12C. Just a bit warmer and less snowy than the Ottawa Valley at this time of year.
So here I am with only my Fuji X-E1 and X100T for company in a city that is a photographer's dream. I've got some ideas for a project but the challenge, as always, is to say something visually that hasn't been said in Paris a million times before. I'm here for a break, though, so I may just let the challenge go and enjoy myself. We'll see.
Here are some night shots from my first evening in the city. All were taken handheld at ISO 3200 beside the Canal de la Villette in the city's 19th arrondissement.