From the Air

Photography, Haiku, and the Need for Cleaning the Basement —

A couple of years ago, I had an exhibition of a series of digitally manipulated photographs I had taken on plane flights across Canada. I used a little Canon A700, which is a simple, almost point-and-shoot, almost-pocket camera (depending on the size of your pockets!). If you’ve ever taken pictures from the window of a commercial airplane, you know that the vast, soul-stirring landscape you see rarely translates to a small 4×6 format. The colours are often dulled by atmosphere and the triple-glazed, often foggy plane window itself.

pale are the borders between this earth and water riding fire through air

pale are the borders
between this earth and water
riding fire through air

So I began to experiment in the only photo-editing program I had at the time, iPhoto. I started playing with the histogram (a graphical representation of the distribution of the photo’s data) in order to make them more like what I had actually seen with my eyes. I had some success with this, but while I was fooling with the sliders, I accidentally discovered that I could make the colours go wild! This was particularly effective in photos where there was a strong pattern, of roads, houses, or landscape features, and it quickly became an obsession (luckily I had hundreds of photos to play with!).

hot, cold, fire and ice this city a conundrum riddle the answer

hot, cold, fire and ice
this city a conundrum
riddle the answer

Our games are sketches scratched upon the slate of earth unwitting symbols

Our games are sketches
scratched upon the slate of earth
unwitting symbols

I was quite delighted with the results, and when I decided to do an exhibition, I got to explore the world of fine art printing, in particular the giclee. It turned out that one of our local art supply stores, Opus, had recently started dong digital fine art printing, so I decided to give them a try. The process was very interesting; they sat down with me at a computer and had me advise while they synced my images to their printing software. This was my first practical exposure to CMYK, the colour-space used by printers (as opposed to RGB, the colour-space you are looking at now on your computer). While the colour on a screen is able to produce millions of subtle variations of colour, actual real-world ink is not so flexible, and some colours can’t be exactly reproduced from an RGB photo (you may have noticed that photo prints aren’t as exciting as looking at them onscreen; that’s one of the reasons).

what writing is this like ancient calligraphy words of the unwise

what writing is this
like ancient calligraphy
words of the unwise

night will gather us sweep us into rows and lines to comfort our fears

night will gather us
sweep us into rows and lines
to comfort our fears

A week later, I had beautiful, velvety giclee prints of my photos. I mounted them, using PVA glue (a high-grade white glue), on cradled panels. I hung them at the gallery, and was thrilled with how they looked. The opening was fantastic!

such a gaudy town flashing its charms to the sky looks best from up here

such a gaudy town
flashing its charms to the sky
looks best from up here

infinity's shores are populated thusly: infinity's stores

infinity’s shores
are populated thusly:
infinity’s stores

All in all, it was a great success in most respects; the work looked wonderful, many people came and saw it and were very liberal with their praise, I was pleased with the process and the exhibition. But — I only sold one of them! Now, I’m not complaining, because the goal of an experimental exhibition like this is not primarily to sell art, but to get it out in public.

the need for merging snakes and ladders, snakes again makes the roads a dance

the need for merging
snakes and ladders, snakes again
makes the roads a dance

civilization moving hurrying strutting cutting a wide swath

civilization
moving hurrying strutting
cutting a wide swath

However! When one is prolific in the production of art, the stuff tends to pile up in the basement, and I now have a huge box of these lovelies languishing away where no one can love them.

dangling beads of trade strung, re-strung, sent far away returning in time

dangling beads of trade
strung, re-strung, sent far away
returning in time

boxes suckling at the mother of boxes nourishing cargo

boxes suckling
at the mother of boxes
nourishing cargo

What to do, what to do? Well, I’m going to have a sale. Common thought in the fine art world maintains that you never reduce prices on your art, and I’ve struggled with the possible wisdom of this and the fact that I’m reaching the point where I have nowhere to move in my storage room. I’ve seen artists with work piled in every nook and cranny of their houses, paying for storage lockers, and by golly, I don’t want to go there! Anyway, I declared emancipation from the fine art world with my career change into comics. So this weekend, at the annual open house at my studio cooperative, I’m going to find some homes for these!

you cannot chain me although you may bleed me dry to feed your straight lines

you cannot chain me
although you may bleed me dry
to feed your straight lines

water seduces land yields to her artistry resistance futile

water seduces
land yields to her artistry
resistance futile

I hope you’ve been enjoying the pictures; I’ve been enjoying revisiting them. One more thing (and a few more photos) — here is the artist’s statement I wrote for the show:

During several plane trips over the last few years, I noticed how much of the landscape was affected by human activities. Even over areas I would have called wilderness, I could always see at least a road or a building. From the air, I had a sense of the vastness of the planet that is impossible on the ground, and the scale of human alterations became both more and less comprehensible — more, because I could see how far these alterations extend; less, because this perspective transcended my personal human scale.

Superman flying over grey Metropolis spots a bank robber

Superman flying
over grey Metropolis
spots a bank robber

With the distancing of height and atmosphere, I found the patterns we have imposed upon the earth’s surface visually fascinating, and even attractive. Things I would have found ugly on the ground were cleansed and transformed at 40,000 feet. At the same time, the realization of our transmutation of the natural earth became impossible to ignore. Suburban neighbourhoods, comprehensible and cozy on the ground, glow at sunset like radioactive hieroglyphs from the air. Freeway cloverleafs, annoying to drive through, take on a graceful life of their own. Fields stretch to the curved horizon, carving once unbroken prairie into neat, many-coloured patchworks.

excavation, mine archaeological site I can see your bones

excavation, mine
archaeological site
I can see your bones

This paradox of viewpoint led to two simultaneous judgments: one an appreciation of the beauty of the patterns we have wrought, the other an appalled dismay at the disruption of the patterns that were here before. Rather than allow one judgement to supplant the other, I wanted to create work that reflected both simultaneously. The manipulated photographs emphasize my perception of the patterns of human intervention on the landscape, and in conjunction with the accompanying haiku express the mental conflict, its ironies, and the synthesis of the two opposing views.

The invitation, which I had fun designing.

The invitation, which I had fun designing.

4 responses to “From the Air

  1. Karen – these images are wonderful, what a great idea.
    My favorite is the one that has the “Water seduces haiku”. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  2. I love your art and especially the haiku. I’ve only managed to write one haiku among my many other poems. I wish I lived closer so I could take lessons from you. I am just getting back into art now that I am retired and I have discovered a cousin is also an artist.

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  3. Thank you! Haiku are hard at first, but quickly become addictive — when I am in “haiku mode” I run around counting on my fingers, muttering under my breath, and scribbling on random scraps of paper. I hope you mean art lessons because I don’t even think of myself as a poet!

    Good for you for getting into back into art! I teach many people who are in the same place, recently retired or about to, and putting their energies into what they always wanted to do. The great thing about it is that they bring a whole lifetime’s experience to their art; something that younger folks who may be technically proficient have to wait for. You can always learn how to do technique, but having something to say only comes with living and looking — and learning from those.

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