While an artist's style is particularly important in the art world, an artist is bound to grow and change over the course of a lifetime, and the work should reflect that. The world changes, and we change; and like the ocean, life brings us periods of intense, often exciting and fulfilling activity and then quiet lulls in between. Like a surfer, we watch, we wait, and when the moment is right, we go.
Sometimes it looks or feels like nothing is happening during the lulls, but there is a lot of unseen churning below the surface, beneath what looks like inactivity; like a current surging under your surfboard. During this particular period in my life, I have been watching and now am about to go. On the brink of dramatic change, I am about to slide out of the groove and onto the ridges where the future is a canvas, blank except for a few sketchy lines indicating where I might go from here and what my artistic focus might be. At the same time, my thoughts are colored by current events that send my mind bouncing back and forth between now (2013) and then (1970's).
I am eclectic and while I have always been an artist, I am also an anthropologist at heart. In 1970, as an independent study I did a photographic essay about the residents of Isla Vista, the community adjacent to the University of California at Santa Barbara (http://www.blurb.com/b/3262828-isla-vista-1970). Our world back then is something worth remembering.
That was a time of war; a time of anger and protest against the banks and the war; a time of formidable government deceit. Despite all that, we looked forward to a bright future. We were exploring space, and at the same time suffering Vietnam veterans and mental patients were not homeless on our streets. Because of the draft, everyone had some skin in the game, someone to lose. People spoke out, they protested, and our voices were heard.
Studying anthropology, I was captivated by a couple Amazonian tribes, their myths, religion and their lives so unspoiled by the modern world. When I traveled around Brazil in 1976, I wanted to visit some of the Xingu. To do that, I needed permission from the National Indian Foundation (F.U.N.A.I.). They dissuaded me from going and sent me away with some black and white photos. At the time I didn't know if they denied me permission to go because I was a woman traveling alone, I was a foreigner who didn't speak much Portugese or the Xingu language, or if they were simply keeping the indigenous people isolated from outsiders (common colds can wipe them out). I really had no clue what was going on.
Last week I watched a documentary about this era in Brazil. Nixon and the C.I.A. were engaged with the Brazilian government (and other South American governments) in a clandestine project called Operation Condor. While people were being kidnapped, tortured and "disappeared" in modern day Brazil, part of the project in Brazil was to reduce the population of indigenous people. They also taught indigenous people torture techniques to use on their own friends and relatives. These techniques the indians would demonstrate to bleachers of unfeeling, smiling officials. I guess this is a good reason that F.U.N.A.I didn't want me traipsing around the reservation. Now in 2013, the remaining Xingu are a tourist attraction: http://www.pantanal-pocone.net/en/indios/touren/tour_2_xingu.php.
Back in Rio de Janeiro, there was still a lot I wanted to explore in Brazil, so off I went, leaving my friends to travel through Brasilia and Bahia, up the coast, headed to the Amazon and Manaus.
Looking back, I can appreciate what a challenging adventure it was, traveling alone to a place where a woman of any age did not travel or even sit at a table alone (unless you were a nun), where a tropical bug might strike you down at any moment, and where no one knew my name.
Werner Herzog's movie, "Fitzcarraldo," which took place in the Amazon, ending up in Manaus, wasn't released until 1982. When I look at my few photos of Belen, the port city at the mouth of the Amazon, it is like being in the Manaus of the film, standing there surrounded by the colonial architecture, the riverboats, and time that seemed to have stopped more than a century ago.
As it happened, I did become "uncomfortably" ill and did not manage to take a little trading boat upriver to Manaus, as I had dreamed. It's probably just as well -- sharing a seat with os porquinhos might have been the least painful part of the trip. (What was I thinking?)
Since then thousands of acres of the Amazon forest have been destroyed. With the destruction, gone are a good part of the Earth's lungs, hundreds of animal and plant species and the habitat of indigenous people now fighting for survival. But, to end this thought on a high note, fellow artist and photographer extraordinaire Sebastiao Salgado has reversed the process of dying to rebirth. Having replanted the land he inherited from his family with native trees, life has returned. Watch his TED talk about this here: http://www.ted.com/talks/sebastiao_salgado_the_silent_drama_of_photography.html.
Ten years ago I began production on a series of instructional surfing films entitled Learning to Surf with Surfer Joe. The initial character development for the protagonist of the films (Surfer Joe) was a cartoon created in the style of traditional surfing cartoons and pop art of the late 60s and early 70s. Hanging ten, toes curled under under his board, and arms stretched overhead as he surfed down a curling wave, Surfer Joe appeared on business cards, pacakging and a limited edition t-shirt.
The third and last film of the series was completed in 2005. This week I uploaded the Surfer Joe image onto Zazzle for a poster and other products at http://www.zazzle.com/norlynne+gifts*. In addition, a few of the oriental images from my library of images are also there, available as posters and cards.
Function at the junction -- back to the graphic arts studio.
Next door to The Studio was the Stat House. Joe, the owner, made all of our stats for enlarging type, illustrations, halftones, etc., and he actually kept regular business hours. Besides being a camera guy, Joe was an artist.
Joe was several years older than I was, somewhere between my parents' generation and mine. If I remember correctly, he was stationed in Monterey during his stint in the service. I really can't even think of Joe without thinking of Cannery Row. He said he used to sit in his office and stare out the window -- and he painted beautiful, small, meticulous watercolors of what he saw. His images were Steinbeckian in feel and hue. You would look at those little paintings and see a connection between the now days, Joe's days in Monterey, Steinbeck's stories and his days in Monterey when the town was oozing with character and characters. Now that's been cleaned up for tourists.
In a way Joe was Steinbeckian. He could have been a character in one of his books. Creative, smart, funny, quirky and decidedly Mid-Western in his basic values and perspective. As well as being a camera guy and painter, Joe was a master at silk screen printing, which he had taught somewhere. He said it was easy to work on a small scale with a small silk screen. The larger the screen you used, the greater the difficulty: the problems increased exponentially with the increase in the screen size. Anyone who has printed with a scilk screen knows you can't help but make some mess and get at least a little dirty when you print with silk screens.
On the first day of classes, Joe demonstrated silk screen printing. He wore a suit, white shirt and tie to do it -- and he stayed clean. . . Joe chuckled when he told me that.
Yesterday on Blurb, I published a photographic essay I originally did as an independent study when I was a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara. It is mainly portraits of fellow residents of Isla Vista at home with some (few) of their thoughts. There are also shots from around town, park and the beach. This was the year that protesters (or who-knows-who) burned the Bank of America. I was studying/traveling in Mexico at the time and watched that from afar via sparse newspaper coverage. Given the protests, riots and National Guard occupation of Isla Vista that year, it is remarkable that this study is virtually devoid of politics.
Who would have thought I could reformat the study into a book. Ha! If I had known, perhaps I would not have discarded the negatives a few years ago. I printed all the originals in the anthropology photo lab at UCSB in 1970. This year I scanned them all, cleaned them up a bit (it's amazing what you see on a digital scan compared to the photo print) and then created the book.
For a walk back in time to what now seems like nirvana, despite the Viet Nam War, check out the book. Here is the link:
One thing is for sure, Isla Vista was paradise in the summertime, and I'd relive it in a heartbeat.
I was wondering why I was thinking about disappearing and technologies and what that has to do with the creative process. Utlimately, the disappearance of some technologies has resulted in the disappearance of crafts and craftsmanship. The replacement of the technologies and crafts involved with creating printed material with computers and digital technology has also eliminated a lot of the mess. I liked the mess.
When I was young I worked for several years in advertising and graphic arts production. I learned to set type, first counting characters to spec the font size and lead (now called line space), to chose one or two of faces of the four basic font families we had at the studio, and to kern characters by counting backspaces. The type faces were clear characters on a wide, opaque film strip with one size on one side of the strip and its double on the other side. Each face had corresponding "slugs" that were like bricks that went into the machine to control the typeface character spacing. A light photographed the characters onto stabilization paper that rolled up into a cartridge. We set the type blind. One of the first photo typesetting machines, we could see about 20 characters before it was photographed onto the paper that had to be run through a processor when the job was done or the paper cartridge was full.
We worked to detailed layouts, and everything had to be calculated to fit -- the crop and percentage of the reduction or enlargement of photos and images or stats to increase the type size beyond what we had available. It was all pasted up manually with wax or Sprayment; rubylith overlays were cut to make transparent the area where the photos went; and tissue cover sheets gave specific instructions and sketchy, artsy indications of what was what.
It was a beautiful thing to see how adept pasteup artists handled a knife; how some people could so neatly and beautifully spec their type; how guys at large printing companies could so meticulously and quickly cut rubyliths; how the image of the printed page went from the imagination, to a rough to a layout as specific as the blue print for a building; and how the elements were deliberately measured, created and put in place, like 2x4s and windows for a house. Typos in a line of type were cut out with an Exacto knife and straight edge (Don't bleed on the type). Pasteups attempted without a layout were a waste of time.
I loved the mess -- piles or type to trim, photos, stats, triangles and straight edges, Exacto knives and adhesives, waxy press type, blue pencils, felt tip markers, black and red fine line pens, tissue paper and white tape. After days or a week of sticky fingers, scraps of waxed paper, trimming and pasting, and finally outlining and sketching the project on a tissue overlay, it was so satisfying to have a neat, tight package destined for the printer. It felt like order out of chaos, even though it was all to plan.
It wasn't long before the phototypesetting equipment became more sophisticated. That was how I learned about computers that had two disks, one for reading and one for writing: we read copy from the "read" disk and typed copy onto the "write" disk. That way it could be edited. It boggled my mind. Now it's all What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get, and everyone thinks he/she is an expert if they have a program.
We had great times. The creativity in our studio was huge -- advertising geniuses, illustrators, photographers, copywriters. Our clients were so at home and spent so much time with us that we often had to work at night; sometimes all night to get a job done. They might still stop by then; or in the morning they might find one of us asleep on the porch swing waiting for them to pick up their project and we could go home.
Here yesterday, gone today. I loved the creativity, the collaboration and the mess.
Lately memories of what used to be ubquitous parts of our lives have been floating through my head behind my eyes. It's interesting to me how changes in technology have affected my career and life, not to mention those of others.
My dad has been a photographer since he was a very young man. As a youngster, he even worked in a Kodak store and made prints at night. He spent his career working as a photographer and photojournalist, doing recognizance photography in the Navy during WWII, for the Star and Strips in Japan when the war was over, and then as a photojournalist of a daily newspaper for decades. I remember him taking my sister and me down to the paper for a visit. Sometimes we came in through the front door and the marble lobby with the brass elevator door, but we usually entered from the parking lot at the back of the building through the heavy door into the room where the presses churned out the next edition of the newspaper.
As soon as the door opened I could hear the roar of the presses and smell the ink. High counters were covered with page frames on top, boxes of type on shelves under the counter's edge, and typesetters busy quickly pushing the ink stained slugs into place on the page. It was grimy work; and It could get pretty hot down there, especially on summer days back in those days before air conditioning. Imaginary or not, an image of the pressmen in their ink smeared ribbed undershirts sticks in my mind. As we slipped past the presses on the way upstairs, my dad would introduce us to the guys.
Once upstairs, my dad would lead us through the newsroom, where there were lots of desks with reporters and typewriters. We'd say hello to everyone and continue on down the hall to the photolab. Yum: the smell of hypo; negatives, prints and light tables; grease pencils to mark the crops; typed captions taped to the bottom of the photos. It was cool. Eventually the darkroom with trays of developer, stop bath, fix and water for washing were replaced with a machine that processed, fixed and dried negs and prints. But it was still the lab, a world of its own with lots of pictures.
Sometimes we would eat lunch in their cafeteria upstairs. The lady behind the food counter wore a starched pastel uniform with a little hat. She was nice, but I can't remember what we ate.
THis is a little heads up to artists selling work over the internet. Trust your gut! I was almost scammed into sending my Sleeping Buddha off to Belgium. Luckily I called the bank of a weird looking check I'd received in payment. Total fraud. So, peacefully the Buddha sleeps chez mon atelier.
The "Peacock" has been installed in its home in Oakland, California. The horse barely visible on the left of the second photo was originally done for the San Francisco Hilton. It inspired the commission of the Peacock. Colors are more vibrant than shown.