Visit the Sistine Chapel…..

I was in Rome recently and was anxious to revisit the Sistine Chapel. I had a “skip the line” tour (with Context Tours – excellent! I highly recommend them) so the wait was only about 30 minutes. The walk through the Vatican museums was wonderful but once we got even near the Sistine Chapel the mass of people started growing. By the time we entered the Chapel we were in a sea of people – stuffed! Elbow to elbow or in my case their elbow to my head. We could barely move – I am not exaggerating. I was so afraid of losing Patricia that we literally held onto each other. It was that close. Tring to elevate myself above the situation, I began staining my neck to view what I had been anticipating for so long. I was being drawn in to the paintings when a red plastic bag knocked into my face (it was empty so no harm done) but then the loud speaker came on admonishing us for talking because “THIS WAS A SACRED SPACE!” in several different languages, every 15 minutes. The circumstances were too much for me to overcome. I was moved along by the sea until I was out the other end, utterly exhausted and seriously disappointed.

I am not and have never been a fan of the Catholic Church but I found this experience to really show their colors. This chapel is truly a sacred space, with figures sculpted out of paint, the ceiling transformed by paint and most importantly infused with the complex extremes of the human condition – literally ecstasy to agony. But the experience is completely ruined because of greed – packing into the space as many people as could fit (like being crammed into a Japanese subways.) They could have taken a page from the Peruvians who severely limit the number of people that can visit Machu Picchu a day enabling the experience to be full and enriching. Besides which, it cannot be good for the paintings with all this carbon dioxide being pumped in the air by the sea of visitors.

It reminded me of a recent trip to Bejing and the Great Wall where the crowds walking on the wall were so dense you couldn’t see space between the people. The Great Wall, built in the 15th Century, was not designed to have thousands of people a day walking on it and the Sistine Chapel, built in the late 15th century, was not designed to be used as a commercial business.

Perhaps the real miracle of this experience is that, in spite of all this, I actually WAS deeply affected by the Sistine Chapel paintings! I didn’t realize it until I got back to my studio. Looking at my work with the recent experience with Michelangelo, I decided to make a radical change in my approach to shooting in the mirrors. It might be viewed by outsiders as an insignificant one – but to me it is monumental!

Ready for it?

Instead of focusing on the surface of the mirrors I am now starting to focus on the figures!

Mind-blowing!

More on this later….

I do believe that Norway is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  The light is special.  I am writing this from Provincetown – known for its gorgeous and spectacular light that Joel Meyerowitz so beautifully articulated in his book Cape Light.  Norway’s light has a similar luminosity, and a clarity that makes me blink a lot.  Being there a week before the summer solstice and therefor the “midnight sun” gave me almost 24 hours a day to enjoy it.

 

It was a long flight with many magical moments, and a stopover in Oslo gave us time to go to the Munch museum – one of my long time heroes.  Here is an inspiring thought from him:

On to Inderoy and the lovely Nord Photography Workshops. The most spectacular part of the trip was not the light, fjords, and breathtaking landscapes – it was the people.  For the second year I taught a workshop at Nord Photography in Inderoy and had, for the second year in a row, a group of wonderful students with a lovely combination of fun and seriousness.I thought shooting in water on our first day would be too much so Elisabeth, who can do anything, get anything etc, found us an empty pool!

We did advance to a pool with water for the last two days.  Not just a pool, an infinity pool overlooking a fjord.  Breathtaking view and breathtaking freezing cold water and air.  But Norwegians are hardy stock as they express their pride in their Viking heritage. 

Wearing a bag of rocks to keep her from floating, the intrepid Sheila Alnes pushes her vision!

Our goal was to learn to use the camera as a tool to discover new ways of looking at and interpreting the human form. The subject the human form, the nude, is the most popular subject throughout the history of art. I encourage an intuitive visual approach in photographing the body.  This may sound simple but is extremely hard to do but each of my students embraced this notion. While everyone worked extremely hard, they managed to take a playful attitude towards their visual growth and development, photographing as a means to explore and enlighten.

I could not be more proud of the work my students did in this workshop!

As the exhibition at Y:ART approached, press and publicity was building and we seemed to be getting a lot of great media coverage. I was thrilled with so much of the attention we received in print, online, and even on public broadcast through MPT, all of which generated a lot of interest and attendance at the gallery. Perhaps the most thorough feature however came after the show had come off the walls…

When I was approached by Gabriella Souza of Baltimore Magazine, I expected an interview like most others, with all of the usual questions and answers. Gabriella’s approach, however, was anything but typical.

Gabriella was already familiar with my work before coming by for what would turn out to be only the initial studio visit. Her questions were not only in-depth, but had me thinking about my work and articulating my process to her in a way that only happens with people who have a genuine interest in the work and respond to it in very special, personal ways. Our conversations were instantly intriguing for both of us, and I looked forward to every one. Gabriella kept in touch throughout the process of organizing and arranging the exhibition, even visiting the gallery while we sequenced and hung the work. I loved sharing this part of the creative process with her while discussing the creation of the work itself.

I LOVE how the article came out!!!  Gabriella’s writing is wonderful, and I was very impressed with how she managed to weave so many different elements into one piece. I also love the layout- I think it is graphically well done, the font they used for the title is very cool, and I’m very happy with the images they chose to include. I’m also thrilled with the portraits shot specifically for the piece. My longtime assistant, student,  and dear friend Cory Donovan is a frequent contributor to Baltimore Magazine, and it was fitting that they gave him the assignment to photograph me for the article. Cory coordinated with the magazine’s art director Amanda White-Iseli and myself to come up with some very cool ideas for how to approach the shoot, and I think it all paid off in the end. They featured him on the “Contributor Page” (see below) for the piece, with a little blurb about the images:

“I wanted the materials she works with to become visual elements that echoed those of her mirror work”, he says. “She sits in front of the large mirror she photographs into, and you can see various details of the studio surrounding her”.

I can’t say enough about this article- all things considered, I believe it is the best written about me and my work ever. It is thorough, thoughtful, and beautifully produced. Gabriella manages to talk about a lot of deep topics in a way that is accessible, and Cory’s portraits were instantly personal favorites. I’m attaching images of how the article looks in the print version, but I highly recommend heading over to BaltimoreMagazine.net, where you can read it in it’s entirety AND see bonus material from an actual shoot!

 

2016 ended with such a bang, it’s now February and I’m STILL working on a “Year in Review” blog post to try to summarize the immense creative growth, productivity, and excitement that came with it. Everything in the last year has motivated me to keep working, to continue pushing the envelope of the ever-evolving creative process, and to seek new discoveries in my work.

That said, 2017 is off to another fantastic “binge-shooting” start. I have been absolutely captive behind the lens. The new year encouraged me to overhaul and upgrade much of the studio I shoot the mirror work in, including working with lights that allow for increased color variations and great-big-giant-drop-clothes for different textures and backgrounds.  (Don’t worry: we’re still using a pickup truck to break giant mirrors).

Untitled #01-25-17-728
Untitled #01-25-17-728

Embracing the experimental attitude that opened up so many new doors in 2016, I’ve continued with a more hands-on approach in working with the mirrors. I’m still responding to the visceral quality of the mirror shards themselves while incorporating mannequins with real human forms. In some of the latest images, it is being pushed to the extreme- taking a bare minimum of both body forms and blending them together in ways that, although are conceptually nonsensical, work on a visual level that still manages to identify them as “body”. In places, lines and shapes come together in the most elegant way, while in other areas the connection might be more imprecise, jarring, and/or disparate.

Squeezing in multiple shoots every day, I’ve once again found myself wonderfully buried in new images. I’m eager to continue exploring, and I’m excited for feedback on the new work – I would love to hear your thoughts on this image!