An Afternoon With Monet

In the writings of the Baha’i Faith we read: “I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paint brush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple.” (‘Abdu’l-Baha)

How often have you seen a contemporary soft-focused photograph that was designated as “impressionist” by the photographer or a magazine editor? So-called impressionist photography is a recurring theme in mass market magazines. Does blurring a photograph by using a diffusion or fog effects filter make it impressionist or is it just kitsch?
kitsch n. “Sentimentality or vulgar, often pretentious bad taste, especially in the arts.”

From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressionism comes a definition we can work with plus a bit of history. Renoir, Degas, and Monet did not use soft focus filters. Degas was an avid photographer.

The rise of the impressionist movement can be seen in part as a reaction by artists to the newly established medium of photography. The taking of fixed or still images challenged painters by providing a new medium with which to capture reality. Initially photography’s presence seemed to undermine the artist’s depiction of nature and their ability to mirror reality. Both portrait and landscape paintings were deemed somewhat deficient and lacking in truth as photography “produced lifelike images much more efficiently and reliably”. (wikipedia)

In spite of this, photography – actually inspired artists to pursue other means of artistic expression, and rather than competing with photography to emulate reality, artists focused “on the one thing they could inevitably do better than the photograph – by further developing into an art form its very subjectivity in the conception of the image, the very subjectivity that photography eliminated”. The Impressionists sought to express their perceptions of nature, rather than create exacting reflections or mirror images of the world. This allowed artists to subjectively depict what they saw with their “tacit imperatives of taste and conscience”. Photography encouraged painters to exploit aspects of the painting medium, like colour, which photography then lacked; “the Impressionists were the first to consciously offer a subjective alternative to the photograph”. (wikipedia)

The main influences on my art are Monet and Kandinsky. That may seem difficult to reconcile but it works for me. For an example see “Near the Edge of the Kingdom.” and “Flowers On The Sun.”

A sunrise by Claude Monet, 1872
Soleil Levant 1872

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impression%2C_Sunrise

“My only desire is an intimate infusion with nature, and the only fate I wish is to have worked and lived in harmony with her laws.” – Claude Monet

A greatly enlarged detail from one of my photographs. This image was not manipulated in Photoshop in any way except to selectively modify large areas of color. This is the texture of the original 35 mm slide after some darkroom manipulations during development.

Greatly enlarged detail

Greatly enlarged detail

These images are part of a series I made called Afternoon With Monet In My Head. Like most of my images the sun was directly behind the birds which accounts for their luminosity.
Image (C)Copyright by Cary Enoch Reinstein

Image (C)Copyright by Cary Enoch Reinstein

Art distills sensations and embodies it with enhanced meaning. — Jacques Barzun

Here are a few quotations about art and artists from the Baha’i writings:
arts-compilation-on-the-arts

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After the Flood

A flood destroyed the great majority of artwork and photography that I made from the 1970s to the mid-1980s. My ex-wife belittled my photography as a waste of time and space. She put nearly everything I had done in the damp basement of our rented house in Albany, Oregon. I was unaware that she had moved my numerous boxes of slides. A sudden torrential Oregon rain caused the water table to rise about five feet filling the basement with sewage and destroying all but a few boxes of my images that sat on a high shelf. I waded through chest-high mud to retrieve them. I was so discouraged and upset by the loss that I abandoned photography for almost 19 years. I continued to take snapshots of my children.

Wading through the flood was a grossly disgusting experience. I saved about 400 slides, three-fourths of which are now on my website. About 50 of them were pictures of my first child, David, who passed away from a brain tumor when he was three years old. Only about a dozen slides from my pilgrimage were salvageable. The rest numbering about 1500 were buried in mud and lost. Following the flood, I was preoccupied with my high-pressure jobs at Intel and Microsoft for a period of 15 years. I barely had time for anything else besides work and my two children. I was their sole custodial parent beginning when they were ages eight and ten respectively.

Nine years ago, I acquired a pro-level film scanner. The scanner had built-in capability to remove small defects and scratches from film transparencies. It took anywhere between ten to 40 hours per image to restore what survived from that period. That represented about 400 images out of many thousands. The scanner can’t do anything about large gunk stuck to a slide or negative. I learned how to restore and retouch images mostly by trial and error. The effort took almost a year.I was self-taught in both photography and computers. I never took any classes in either one preferring to learn from books and simple explorations of the medium itself. When it became a necessity to learn how to restore damaged film I obtained the software and hardware tools and read books on how to use them. I scanned and rescanned many slides repeatedly until my skill level improved and I was able to make better quality scans.

I had to let go of hurt and grief in order to move forward. I began to think of every image as if it was a completely new creation. I was using new tools and no longer relying on a camera, slide copier, or darkroom. I disdain computerized effects and don’t use them. They’re too easy and look fake. When I paint digitally, I use a pressure sensitive pen tablet as nearly all artists who work with computers also do. You can make it work exactly like a real pen or brush so it feels very natural.

Because of a personal tragedy, I acquired certain skills that enabled me to perform a service. These pages are examples of what I’ve done recently: Pilgrimage to the House of the Báb, a faded and restored filmstrip, and Views of Akká, a website that presents a book of historical interest. Those web pages get 1000s of visitors.


The prizes of our society are reserved for outer, not inner, achievements. Scant are the trophies given for reconciling all the forces that compete to direct our development, although working toward such a reconciliation hour by demanding hour, day by triumphant day, year by exciting year is what underlies all growth of the personality. The proper artistic response to digital technology is to embrace it as a new window on everything that’s eternally human, and to use it with passion, wisdom, fearlessness and joy. – Ralph Lombreglia, in Atlantic Unbound

Bestow upon me a heart which, like unto glass, may be illumined with the light of Thy love, and confer upon me thoughts which may change this world into a rose garden through the outpourings of heavenly grace.
Compilation: Baha’i Prayers, p. 71

Visionary Park

Anaconda_roller_Coaster-fromwikicommons

In Whispers we read: “Where do the others live, the ones who sent us here? The ones who exiled us to the earth?”

One restless night, I dreamed about a dystopian planet where all the poets, writers, artists, and seers had been banished. Eventually they all died out and nobody grew up to replace them.

After a very short time, that world with the ironic name of Harmony withered and almost died.

It took a very long time but Harmony’s dominant species finally realized their terrible error so they tried to nurture new artists and poets. But nobody could find any books on “How to Make an Artist” or “How to Make a Poet” and definitely not “How to Make a Prophet.” They flew from Harmony out to the stars but found no thinkers that they could understand. Too long ago they had exiled their visionaries to alien worlds that were now long forgotten and out of their reach.

They built effigies and habitats. They made studio replicas. They put desks covered with pens and notebook computers in a place of memory and reverence. It was a theme park complete with carousels and a roller coaster.

They named it Visionary Park.

People thronged to see the effigies of the long-gone creative souls. Sadly all they saw were wax statues. The walls were bare. There was no art, no poetry, no books. Nobody remembered what was in them. Nobody knew how to make new ones any more.

So it was too late. And not long thereafter everyone was gone. The planet became a desert. It was dead.

The End


bloggershandbook Is this poetry or is it history? Remember the Stalinist Purges, the Maoist Cultural Revolution, the Cambodian Killing Fields, the Nazi book burnings, the persecution of the Iranian Baha’is, or farther back to the Christian Inquisition, and oh so many more on a smaller scale, all in the name of maintaining social harmony.

“Art at its most significant is a distant early warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen.”
– Marshall McLuhan

The Family of Man

The writings of the Baha’i Faith extol the oneness of humanity. What does it take for a child to understand this fundamental truth? For me, it was an exhibition of photographs.

Click to listen. To be a Baha’i

“Bahá’u’lláh taught the Oneness of humanity; that is to say, all the children of men are under the mercy of the Great God. They are the sons of one God; they are trained by God. He has placed the crown of humanity on the head of every one of the servants of God. Therefore all nations and peoples must consider themselves brethren. They are all descendants from Adam. They are the branches, leaves, flowers and fruits of One Tree. They are pearls from one shell. But the children of men are in need of education and civilization, and they require to be polished, till they become bright and shining. Man and woman both should be educated equally and equally regarded.”
‘Abdu’l-Baha, ‘Abdu’l-Baha in London

I went to the Museum of Modern Art at least once a week and sometimes more often for a period of about three years. I began visiting the museum when I was 14 and had just finished reading a life changing book that the Museum published. It was called The Family of Man.

“Hailed as the most successful exhibition of photography ever assembled, The Family of Man opened at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in January 1955. This book, the permanent embodiment of Edward Steichen’s monumental exhibition, reproduces all of the 503 images that Steichen described as ‘a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world. Photographs made in all parts of the world, of the gamut of life from birth to death.’ A classic and inspiring work, The Family of Man has been in print for more than forty years. The New York Times once wrote that it ‘symbolizes the universality of human emotions.'”

You can see even from the brief synopsis above that discovering that book put me on an inevitable path toward the Baha’i faith. My days at the Museum represented not just inspiration and beauty; they were an escape from the emotional abuse inflicted by my parents. My ambition changed. From that point on all I wanted to be was an artist. From minutes after I opened the book onwards, I believed in the transcendent human soul.

family-of-man

That was what I loved about New York. Besides the Museum of Modern Art, the only other things I loved about the city were classical concerts at Carnegie Hall, Shakespeare in Central Park, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I was 15 years old, I watched Shakespeare in Central Park. Just as the Macbeth witches came on stage and began their act, someone shouted out that there was a shooting star overhead. Thousands of people all looked towards the clear night sky and cheered wildly. You cannot duplicate or emulate an experience like that and you never forget it.

A Wedding Gift

The writings of the Baha’i Faith contain a vast number or revealed prayers. Of course, we can say prayers in our own words but the revealed prayers are so beautiful that they help us to focus our energies and refine our purposes. Some prayers were revealed for special occasions such as marriage.

I have been creating a lot of new art recently and rediscovering some of my oldest work. I created the typography for this prayer by hand using a long obsolete method of press-on lettering. You can download a high resolution copy of it for personal use or printing (see below). Please remember that this work is copyrighted and do not post it on a website without asking for permission first. You may post a link to it instead.

marriageprayer

Image detail:

mpfragment

Download a printable copy of this prayer. If you upload it to an Internet photo printing site like Shutterfly and order a standard 11 by 14-inch print, this image will fill the entire page. The print itself will contain instructions on how and where to trim it for framing.

Through a Scanner Brightly – Part 4

The Writings of the Baha’i faith say: “Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified. –Bahá’u’lláh

One of the images I scanned during the past four weeks was processed in a special way. I took the photograph through a deep magenta filter. Although it was 35 mm slide film I developed the film as if it were a negative. The photographer’s term for that is cross processing. Insofar as visible light is concerned magenta and green are opposites. This is a detail of the image as it looked in the preview scan.

scs19RawScan1

Similar to most of my other older images, this slide also had considerable damage in addition to fading and color degradation. The hexagons are an effect of lens flare which comes from pointing toward the light source without using a lens shade to reduce flare (it was deliberate). I configured the Vuescan program to restore fading and colors. The end result revealed colors that I had only imagined but didn’t really exist in the original photograph. This shows the first glimmerings of sunrise near Crystal Springs Lake 15 miles south of San Francisco.

Say: O friends! Drink your fill from this crystal stream that floweth through the heavenly grace of Him Who is the Lord of Names.
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

SCS19Scan-080619-M5

This detailed section shows what looks very similar to a painter’s brush strokes. It is, in fact, an unchanged and unretouched part of the original photograph. I developed a technique for doing this in the camera, the darkroom, and sometimes with the aid of an optical slide copier that I built out of spare parts. It was in the mid-1970’s when digital image processing did not even exist.

scs19ScanDetail

O thou dear one! Impoverish thyself, that thou mayest enter the high court of riches; and humble thy body, that thou mayest drink from the river of glory, and attain to the full meaning of the poems whereof thou hadst asked.

Thus it hath been made clear that these stages depend on the vision of the wayfarer. In every city he will behold a world, in every Valley reach a spring, in every meadow hear a song. But the falcon of the mystic heaven hath many a wondrous carol of the spirit in His breast, and the Persian bird keepeth in His soul many a sweet Arab melody; yet these are hidden, and hidden shall remain.
Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys

This image felt dull to me so I had almost discarded it. Its title is Angels on a Ladder of Light.

SLB09AngelOnLadderOfLight

I rescanned it last week to restore its original colors. It still needs a little work but now it’s a little closer to what I wanted to convey.

SLB09AngelOnLadderOfLight-M5

By pure serendipity I often come home with photographs that have exactly nine things in them, birds, flowers, trees or people. It’s actually just a fortuitous accident when it happens. Here is a recent photograph I took of nine birds.

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Say: Through the ascendancy of God, the All-Knowing, the Incomparable, the Luminary of divine understanding hath, in this day, risen from behind the veil of the spirit, and the birds of every meadow are intoxicated with the wine of knowledge and exhilarated with the remembrance of the Friend. Well is it with them that discover and hasten unto Him!
Bahá’u’lláh, Tabernacle of Unity

Through a Scanner Brightly – Part 3

The Baha’i Writings say of this day:

“By the righteousness of Mine own Self! Great, immeasurably great is this Cause! Mighty, inconceivably mighty is this Day! Blessed indeed is the man that hath forsaken all things, and fastened his eyes upon Him Whose face hath shed illumination upon all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth.”
— Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah

pat14sunrise-sancarlos-m5-3

Someone wrote me just yesterday: “The use of light in your pictures of birds makes me feel that I have stepped into the Abha Kingdom.”

The translation of the word Abha is The Most Glorious, or more simply the metaphysical world, the world of the soul, what many people refer to conventionally as “heaven.”

I was deeply moved and grateful for their reaction to my photographs. The entire purpose of my bird images is precisely what they stated, namely a feeling, however inadequate, of holiness that words cannot convey. The photography process itself is a meditative act for me. I often achieve a semi-detached mental state when I’m using Photoshop. The process is very abstracted because much of the time I’m only looking at a tiny portion of an image. Thus all I see at that moment are a microcosm of subtle shades and tones that are essentially formless. It’s a contemplative process that paradoxically requires both concentration and a release of concentration to whatever flows naturally and easily. That is the meditative aspect of image processing for me. Because I use a pressure sensitive cordless pen instead of a conventional mouse, my movements and actions are very natural and easy.

As an example I might be looking at something like this:

SLB48Scan-080704-M5Top-Left

Here’s the entire image (greatly reduced):

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Although conventional wisdom tells us to have the sun over our shoulders when we take pictures I do just the opposite of that. I let sunlight pour through the birds and aim right for the light source. Technically that’s called transillumination or more prosaically just backlighting.

It’s the song that is really important here much more than any of the images. Beauty comes from the music written and sung by Susan Lewis Wright.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU4eUEidG8A

Of course, my signature line sums my purpose up very succinctly. It sums up the purpose every Baha’i has when they create music, images, poetry or other writing, and arts or crafts:

“Behind all these manifestations is the one radiance, which shines through all things. The function of art is to reveal this radiance through the created object.”
— Joseph Campbell

“Blessed are those who have fixed their gaze on the realm of glory and have followed the commandments of the Lord of Names. Blessed is he who in the days of God will engage in handicrafts. This is a bounty from God, for in this Most Great Dispensation it is acceptable in the sight of God for man to occupy himself in a trade which relieveth him of depending upon charity. The craft of every craftsman is regarded as worship.”
— Bahá’u’lláh, from a Tablet – translated from the Persian

“O thou servant of the One true God! In this universal dispensation man’s wondrous craftsmanship is reckoned as worship of the Resplendent Beauty. Consider what a bounty and blessing it is that craftsmanship is regarded as worship. In former times, it was believed that such skills were tantamount to ignorance, if not a misfortune, hindering man from drawing nigh unto God. Now consider how His infinite bestowals and abundant favours have changed hell-fire into blissful paradise, and a heap of dark dust into a luminous garden.

“It behoveth the craftsmen of the world at each moment to offer a thousand tokens of gratitude at the Sacred Threshold, and to exert their highest endeavour and diligently pursue their professions so that their efforts may produce that which will manifest the greatest beauty and perfection before the eyes of all men.”
Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá

This is part three of a series of four articles. Click to read part 1 or 2.