Inspired Photography and Creative Writing by Barry Stein
I wander around with my camera and wish I was in Manhattan or Chicago where gritty drama is found with every step. Block after block one walks deeper and deeper into a dream of one’s own existence. Seeing people who resemble other people and places that remind them of other times.
While I wonder how I’m going to find anything of substance to shoot, I just keep tapping the shutter. Thinking about catching as much as I can in a scene but not needing to catch it all in focus. I think about getting the important things in the light but know this is often out of my control. I just point it and press the button.
Bigger hole, smaller hole, faster shutter, slower shutter, more noise less noise… I just press the button. I know that every time I’m looking at one thing, there’s a dozen things I miss. So I walk and shoot and expect nothing, think nothing and suck up life into my lens with every step I take.
A family of three walks down an affluent downtown Sarasota street and the little boy with them sees a piano on the sidewalk and runs over to it as if he can play. On that same affluent street, a begging man puts down his hat filled with cash and forgets he is working hard to solicit. He takes a moment to show the little boy how to play.
A few blocks away I sneak up behind a woman at a crafts booth trying to take a picture of her tent full of wares. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees me aiming at her from behind. She hits her tablet and reverses the camera’s view on herself. She tilts it slightly to include me behind her.
In that moment we both created art. She with me in hers and I with her in mine. Together we created a picture that goes on for infinity. A moment ago she had no knowledge of me and I had none of her and now we are combined in each other’s art for ever.
On another day, I walk through a boring park filled with beautiful people living picture perfect lives. A handsome man appreciates his young girlfriend on a bench as I pass. I raise my weapon as if to ask permission and they nod to grant it. A split second of old teenage memories during skinnier times with unsuspecting nymphs flood my now.
They shout out at me and request that I email them a copy and I say “will do”. I kept walking and they never stopped me as a moment preserved of them I had, and in 60 years they might wish they had. I turned and walked up to them and offered them my card suggesting that I might forget their email that they never gave me, but they can always email me for copy.
A couple of days later, the man, Christian was his name, emailed me and requested that I send him a copy, so that he could frame it as a gift for his girlfriend that Valentines Day. Happy to be his cupid I sent him the shot. For me seeing his hand interlaced with her’s across her chest, was all the compensation I needed.
I kept walking and found some rusty metal sparkling at me from under the water. Then an old Banyan tree echoed out at me to shoot its roots.
A group of people on a Segue tour take a break under a tree behind a tent. To me it looked like they just dropped out of the tree and were going to go for a roll leaving their hanging cords behind, dangling down from the branch.
Meantime at another end of the park a woman looks out at the infamous St. Petersburg upside down pyramid. She sees not the blight on the boardwalk but rather is taken by the beauty of the water and the extraordinary day that she is gifted with. She reflects upon the abundance in her life and her fortunate philosophy to always go forward no matter what.
On another day a young woman sits at a restaurant with her dog at her side. She can’t imagine ever going anywhere without him. She joins her friends for brunch and Mimosas and secretly wishes she could be home on her couch under a blanket watching old Sopranos episodes.
She’s a bit lost without Sons Of Anarchy and Breaking Bad… and was disappointed with the 50 Shades of Grey movie that was too distant from the buzz she got from the book. She checks her phone to see if anyone surprising texted her and ends up ordering another Mimosa.
Down the street a festival rages. Hot Italians missing the Feast of San Gennaro decide to have their own. A single mom gets dragged to the feast by her obese dad. She is a nutritionist who has devoted her life to revealing the poisons consumed by us without our knowledge.
Disgusted, she watches him order his dose of Italian Sausage with a side of Chips and Chili. All she can think about is how much quicker he will die from this meal. All he can think about is how good it’ll taste.
All around the festival people eat, drink and talk about Little Italy in NY and how this is nothing compared to that. Italian bikers nod to hot cops guarding rest rooms. Young girls stretch out on docks collecting birthday wishes by text, ready to despise the friend who forgets.
As youth is wasted on the young, old street musicians wish they could be young again, and toot their horn for money hoping no one will notice their inability to play.
On the other side of town a jiggly drunk rocket scientist leaves a liquor store as she prepares to board a vessel with the hopes of seeing a Dolphin or two. At her side is her odd-looking nerdy husband wearing crooked dark shades, also drunk and together they would set sail shortly on a sunset cruise.
Her hair is thick and straw-like and her boobs are mashed in place, and lop-sided in her too-tight blouse. They’ve left their 6 kids behind, for a weekend get-away and are completely unable to not complain about every little thing. A smiling pirate’s parrot wishes them a safe voyage.
At the same time another couple in a fancy sports car pulls up along the drunk complainers. They unfold themselves out of the fast low vehicle and prepare for the two-hour tour. The woman unaware of her destination. The man surprising her, makes up for his inadequate Valentines Day effort the week before and has surprised her with her dream of floating on the gulf while the sun sets.
So I read this quote by Albert Einstein. It reminded me of an earlier favorite of his, “Creative spirits are always viciously attacked by mediocre minds.” This old one has always been my favorite quote till this new one read last week. “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
It makes me wonder about how many of us are judged as the genius we are meant to be for demonstrating that which we do best, and how many of us are the misunderstood fish trying to climb the tree.
This past weekend I walked and shot. I suspect that these days the stroll, shoot and write could be seen as my genius. Though my greatest pleasure is observing genius in others. When I’m with little children, I don’t even want to be noticed or seen observing them. I just want to watch and listen to their unaware brilliance.
Authentic without layers of denial, rejection or inability, they might just be bent over by an easel as they paint. Our children are the purest form of genius, for as we know, to them, all fish can of course climb trees if that is what they want them to.
At a public market, in front of a lone musician, a child dances with complete freedom in the street. Mom and Dad are watching with pride and protection as the child spins and smiles. I sit on a curb to watch her genius at her level. I raise my camera and she stops to look at me.
I wonder how much genius can come out once we know we are being observed. Perhaps, like the famous quantum theory, observation affects the reality. Maybe the fish that attempts to climb the tree is indeed genius till it notices it is being watched.
A few blocks away, a security guard patrols the roof on top of an art museum. Completely unaware that he is being observed, he becomes a work of art.
In the park beneath the strolling guard, a baby sleeps in her carriage. Unaware that she is being admired, she dreams of flying like birds, swimming like fish and playing with toys.
On the other end of the street are the most affluent of children playing with the most expensive of toys. They have profited from their genius and their reward is their ability to outwardly behave like children and be the fish that climb trees when ever they damn well please.
A long time ago while attending art school, a professor saw me struggling with a watercolor painting. He was the genius and I was the fish clearly climbing the tree very poorly. The teacher came over and took the brush out of my hand and began mixing paint boldly while he attacked my canvas as he spoke.
“… your scene has no drama, it’s flat and boring and shows no emotion. Put some storm in those clouds, bring the sun down to draw those long shadows, disturb the water and reveal the beauty that’s dying to come out.” Back then I did a few more water colors but was always the fish that couldn’t get off that tree if I tried.
At that time, I could only appear stupid, unaware of what I could not do. But yesterday as I walked among the wealth of genius owned by others, I turned and saw my past return as familiar. There was that actual dramatic storm brewing in the clouds, the sun really did hang low in the sky as it lit up the buildings against the dark sky. The water became disturbed and rippled with memory before me.
Because I was that stupid fish back then, I was able to recognize the genius in this moment and raised my weapon and fired. People will ask what camera I was using to capture such a scene giving credit to the genius of the tool used to freeze time.
But only you will know, had I not been that seemingly misplaced fish back then, I would not have been the well-timed fish now, able to finally climb that tree.
To all those out there who which to be recognized by others for your genius; exceed others’ expectations and do what they know you to be great at.
For those geniuses out there that are compelled to climb trees with your fins… care not how you are seen by others and remember your dreams; your stupidity born one day in your past, might return on another as genius while everyone is watching.
I once read somewhere that we are only capable of seeing ourselves in other people and other things. What we see in another person or how we perceive the world is limited by our own capacity and experience. In other words, if it’s not in us… we can’t recognize it in another or elsewhere.
In simple terms, a person who is pure and honest, is more likely to be deceived because they do not have enough larceny in themselves to recognize it in another. Likewise, a person who is deceptive, will have trouble appreciating truth and honesty, as they will always think that others are performing a masquerade.
This is one of the reasons why I love shooting on the street. It’s my own little narcissistic drama played out right in front of me, reminding me of the places I’ve been and all the characters I’ve met along the way. For instance, I often forget that I’m among the world’s advertising elite and often sell myself short.
As a humble inventor and product designer turned local media salesperson decades ago, I ultimately arrived at various global marketing communications director assignments with some of the worlds largest corporations. And from there, I’ve ascended to maximum humility, permitted the privilege of teaching others, at one of the most prestigious universities on the planet.
But when I take to the streets, I can see myself in various stages of my past. Like take this gentleman on the bench who has lost his pride. He see’s not, cane smudges on his sweat shirt, his overall sloth nor his gluttony resting on his lap. His sin might just be that he’s forgotten who he is meant to be.
Oblivious to how he is perceived, he just wants to impress oncoming pedestrians with his creativity as he converts his cane and baseball cap into a unique invention from which to beg money. Like the mere presentation of something clever is all that’s needed to solicit payment in exchange.
And I watched this guy from across the street. I saw some people pass him by, some disgusted by his crude pitch… while others were impressed and dazzled, rewarding him with their hard-earned cash, dropped into his hat.
Further down the road, a bucket of ice was tossed on the sidewalk, left to change phase from hard frozen rocks to a puddle of dirty drench and eventually evaporate into mist, far from what it was originally meant to be.
I wanted to capture its shiny cool, as it sparkled in the sun, once of value to improve taste and moments later perishable and soon forgotten.
Further down the street a man leans against a pole. As I was just trying to get him in focus, he lifted his hand and unexpectedly had to clear his nostril with a farmers blow or what we affectionately refer to as the snot rocket.
It made me think of all the times that I too may have had to perform a discrete bodily function and just hoped that no one was close enough to tell.
Further down the road, a thin woman reclined with purpose. I watched her for a while and saw that she wasn’t moving, just staring. I couldn’t tell if her haircut and leather jacket made her fashionably paused or was she a street person just taking a load off.
She could have been out all night partying like a rock star, and just now waking up. Or, she could just be a resident of that bench. It made me think about how Steven Jobs got his first job at HP despite him interviewing for the job in his dirty bare feet.
At what point does madness get perceived as genius? And at what point does genius get discarded as unacceptably weird? I guess it all boils down to surrounding oneself with those of like mind who can see and appreciate one’s gifts and who looking to see their value.
Later that day I craved some undeniable beauty. I wanted to go to a place where everyone thought the same as I did. And at that place while I ordered Sushi and the person behind me ordered burgers, we both agreed that the silent breezy and beautiful sun setting view against the deep blue bay was extraordinary.
Just then, without notice, a biker gang on jet skis drove across our view. I stood and shot them as they cruised by at low-speed like I was a bystander on a side-walk watching them roll in formation at Sturgis. It reminded me of my days as a biker.
Back then I visited my advertising clients via motorcycle. My tent and sleeping bag was strapped to the seat behind me and my creative presentations were carried in a messenger bag slung over my shoulder. I would work by day and find someplace beautiful and peaceful to sleep at during the night, out in the open under the stars.
I woke from my SAMCRO memory and returned to the waterside restaurant to find the sun glistening off the spice shakers. Was it just me that thought it to be the ideal black and white photo? Or was it just too obvious an a-salt on unsuspecting viewers? Whatever… I like it… I shot it.
As the sun started to set, I went to do a little holiday shopping at a quaint little village area called Hyde Park. There I found gateways into the great beyond, salt and pepper doggies, smiling kids playing by a fountain and a mysteriously strange and lovely lady walking around.
No matter where I walked, she seemed to be coming at me from the other direction. The first time I saw her, she smiled and said hello to me, then again it happened outside another shop and then again walking down another side street.
Friendly, warm and unguarded she said hello to me each time as if we were familiar. I wondered who she was and if she knew how nice it made me feel to be recognized by her. Was she a student? A wealthy daughter of a Trinidad Doctor, who was home for the holidays? Was she a model or simply a nanny on her day off?
I wondered how she perceived herself and I wondered if anyone else saw what I saw in her.
And as the day finally came to a close, I bought some new dishes at West Elm and sat on a bench in the park, waiting to catch the best drops as they poured off the edge of the silver, purple and green fountain .
In my mind, a lifetime of advertising adventures rolled like an endless movie. To anyone else in the park if they saw me, they wouldn’t know what movie I was watching in my head. They might easily see just another ordinary bum in the park with his possessions in a shopping bag.
Then it occurred to me… if I only had a cane and a baseball cap… I could earn some extra money.
One person will go out of their way to only eat federally certified organic butter, made from the most revered cows, whose big black lips and fleshy pink cud, have only chewed the greenest, pesticide free, fresh grasses.
And that same person will profess their love for deeply dragging on hot cancerous vapor, drawn from slender tubes, that offer themselves unconditionally, in a seductive pack that shouts, “Smoking kills”.
Ironically, that same mouth that carefully guarded and thoughtfully selected nature’s life-sustaining bovine churn… also inhales the removal of life.
Elsewhere in the world, a woman gets dressed up in her warmest arctic wear, to kneel at the foot of a tropical beach, leaving exposed only her face to feel the sun’s warmth.
As that same sun sets, youth splashes in the gulf catching the last drops of the day’s sparkle. On the shore the mature versions of those wet, are now mere dry spectators passively looking back to where they once played.
A smiling bride brushes the grit off her feet, as her attendant presents her pumps. She shows the world her unbeatable smile as the wedding photographers snap a few candids. Yet the moment the photographer walks away, she returns her face to its most natural expression while she satisfies an itch that couldn’t be scratched.
The bar is known for celebrating great events and drowning the sorrows of great despair. One place famous for hosting both the comedy and tragedy of life.
Two men meet during the cocktail reception. Both there to celebrate the new union of their close friend and relative while they bond on common ground swapping war stories fought during each of their respective divorces.
And sometimes there is one without the other. Just the shine without the shadow. The scene that will always only say peaceful rest, relaxation and retreat. A lonely empty hammock begs for someone to smell coconut sun tan lotion, rock back and forth and listen to the gulls scream while the tide crashes.
A woman waits on the beach. Every noise causes her to turn to see if the person she is waiting for has finally arrived.
A bird that normally flies under the sun as a part of a pair, drifts alone in the wind against a dark sky.
Every bright light casts a sharp dark shadow. We live in a world where all things carry the seed of their opposite, where the lack of one thing creates abundance in another… and where life presents all its delightful and cruel duality in controlled chaos.
Somewhere far from where birds fly alone, distant from where women wait anxiously, and in an unspoken language meant just for two… a man and his dog have beers in brown paper bags, knowing the simple joy of just having each other to share time with.
Last weekend I visited my other daughter who now lives in San Francisco. I had been there a few times years ago and had done my tourist time at Alcatraz, and filled my gut at Fisherman’s Wharf with chocolate, beer and seafood. This time it was more of a walk and talk with a beautiful woman who will always be that mischievous fun-loving little girl in my eyes.
A long Friday night flight, led to world-class Sushi for dinner in Sausalito and eventually the drive back to their home and fall into exhausted slumber. The next morning, we went to some park near Haight-Ashbury, that was on the top of a hill that viewed the Golden Gate Bridge, way in the distance.
We warmed up with a dizzying hike and decided to head down the hill, into the heart of hippie-town. But first I had to grab a few shots of fellow hikers wandering around in the same park. When we look at complete strangers in a foreign place, what can we really know about them? When strangers look at us, what do they wonder? What do they see?
Four guys walking through a park could be old friends, escaped convicts, a burglary crew casing a new job or perhaps they are in a band and they just arrived in town and went for an ordinary tourist walk… same as we did. Maybe, they were in Uncle John’s Band?
As we got closer to the heart of 1960s transformation, we had to stop at the legendary Grateful Dead House; the place where the band did acid, lived together and started a movement that even today resonates with curious existential travelers. Strangely, the week before my trip out there, I unknowingly discovered the Grateful Dead channel on Sirius and had been listening to it all week on my commutes into work.
Here’s the one I like the best…it seemed to go on for ever and ever… like their music probably will. Feel free to play it and listen as you read and view the rest of the blog. I swear you’ll feel like you were in Frisco with me.
As we got closer to the corner of Haight and Ashbury… I passed a woman guarding a motorcycle on hill. She nodded hello as I took the shot. I felt like I had entered some weird time machine where children of the 60s and 70s recognize each other and just nod with the same memories of basement parties filled tie dye skirts and tee shirts, indian blankets hanging from the ceiling, lava lamps and the smokey trails of sandalwood incense dancing through the air.
As I kept on truckin’ like the doo-dah man in a typical daydream, I came across a fairy pushing open a garage door. Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me, other times I can barely see. Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Once we got to the Haight, we ran into a number of characters. This one here was obviously a friend of the devil…and a friend of the devil is a friend of mine.
Further down the road I passed a couple of guys who didn’t appreciate me taking their picture. So I yelled out at them, “the trouble with you is the trouble with me. We got two good eyes but we still can’t see.”
Eventually the street ran out and we found ourselves at a park that was loaded with homeless folks. Deep into the park we came across a conservatory that was loaded with flowers. I wondered if they had any Scarlet Begonias, Sugar Magnolias or any blossoms blooming.
We left the Conservatory and the park and I was goin’ down the road and feeling bad. I was tired and hungry and on the way back to my daughter’s home we stopped at this great restaurant where the water tasted like wine. Drunk and exhausted we went home, relaxed and decided to watch some movies.
Here’s a trailer from the one we saw… it was actually kind of fun to watch. We fell off to sleep, speaking to each other in terrible english accents.
The next day we woke and headed over to a Palo Alto landmark called Philz Coffee. They make each cup special for each customer’s taste and preference… and it was glorious. The place was filled with smart people drinking delicious coffee, while working on Apple lap tops, and face-timing with relatives from around the world.
We toured the streets while drinking our coffee and I grabbed a few random shots where ever I could of what ever I could.
Last stop was the Stanford Campus before they took me back to the airport. I collected the requisite archway shot and when I walked out into the square the sun was setting oddly at the precise point above the chapel behind the cross. I smiled to myself and felt extremely Grateful for my beautiful daughter and this wonderful weekend.
I thought this might not be the greatest story ever told, but I had got what I came for and was ready to go.
Long ago in a place far, far away, I would wake from sleep around 3 or 4 am to feed, diaper or care for my daughter as a newborn. Today that daughter has a baby of her own, and is doing the waking to tend to her own new-born, and now when I wake in these early hours it’s not to diaper her but to write about her baby.
Since October 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm, I’ve become a grandfather for the first time. People ask me what it feels like to be one and all I can think of is how it feels similar to getting a promotion. Someone new get’s hired in a starting position which pushes me up a level.
I had a baby that had a baby… who will someday have babies that have babies. In the future when they look back to where they all came from and who begot who, they will locate me somewhere back here. Though future dynasties rest on her shoulders, I still see her simply right now as a precious gift delivered to my daughter, who I’m humbled by and grateful to celebrate.
I’m sure as baby Zoey get’s older I will connect with her more and more, and help to create stories in her future that she will someday remember in her past, and think fondly of her silly grandpa who always had the camera in her face. Please welcome and feast your eyes on a new person who has joined us, and her dog Frankie who is far from being a new pup, and will soon become Zoey’s best friend, especially once she starts dropping food on the ground.
Please take a moment and stop the momentum of your life that has pushed you forward with almost blinding speed, and take a slow pause to imagine your own beginning. Close your eyes and think about the original spark of your own fresh start, think back to the time before all the layers of experience were applied that shifted your course and molded your now.
Go all the way back before all the people and events that may have offended you, way back before your first spectacular joy, way back to the perfect beginning when there was only love, before all the fight to survive, the struggle to win and the reward to gain. Return to the beginning when anything was possible and everything was in your future.
In our tribe, Zoey was born on the holy day when we forgive all, and allow all others to forgive us; the ultimate and eternal clean slate. Through elder’s eyes now, I can see yet another life start out, offer guidance and be reminded by her of what it feels like to be new all over again.
I once went into a Starbucks and approached the counter desperate for a cup of coffee. Simple right. Starbucks. Coffee. I walked up to the counter and asked for “a cup of coffee”. The barista behind the counter proceeded to invite me to try a special kind of coffee in a special size, made with a special blend of coffee beans enhanced with a special flavor.
She continued to hijack my request for a cup of coffee with invitations to pastries and various items for sale around the store. I looked at her with an exhausted shocked expression and said, “can I please have a cup of coffee”. I think about it all the time. We either come at someone or they at us, where we are coming from collides with where they are coming from.
The membrane of our world pierces the membrane of their world and all of a sudden we’re both in it together. Will they give me the cup of coffee I want? Will I buy the everything special they are selling? Why can’t everyone I come in contact with just do as I ask? And most of all, why can’t I surrender too and just do as others ask of me?
Desperate for photos last weekend, I leapt out into the world with my camera, knowing there was nothing to shoot… knowing there is always something to shoot. I parked the Camaro near a ridiculous festival in a hot section of town on a dirty street. I defied my nonsense negative and just grabbed the camera and started to walk.
A human on a bicycle came at me on the sidewalk. I just started shooting. Was I in their way or were they in mine? Did I just enter their world or did they just enter mine? I couldn’t even tell if they were a he or a she… leaning a bit toward the she. I snapped away and it all became mine.
Now I surrender it all to you… and it becomes yours.
At the weird festival… a small amount of people milled about doing festival things… as if it was a big festival, but it was not. Fifteen pop up booths, a stage with a singer on it, a cop by a tree and people walking, sweating and being the festival goers. A single solitary truck was parked, selling Budweiser. Behind it a guy squatted on the tailgate having a smoke.
Ten steps in, ten steps over and eight steps back, and I was almost out of the festival. I man and his dog hid behind a telephone pole hoping no one would see them… hoping no one would enter their world. He quietly played the harmonica, inhaling some notes, exhaling others. No one heard, so no one could tell him if it was good or bad.
Dissatisfied with the day’s activities and shots, I found my way to the most famous haunted hotel in Florida, the Don Cesar. It was so strange to see the timeless monument active in our modern-day and age. As you know, it’s hard to know a ghost when you meet one, so I’m sure I passed a few on the stairs or by the pool and didn’t even know it.
Still hungering for beauty and something to shoot, I drove up the road all the way to Clearwater Beach where I found the Sand Pearl.
This hotel was so magnificent, I had to force myself to plan a vacation just so I could spend a couple of days drinking Pina Coladas on the beach and watching the sun set.
The next day I went down to Tampa to look for shots. I thought it had gotten cooler and I could hike the streets, but I was wrong. Hot hot hot was downtown Tampa on this day and after walking in a few directions and then back again, I decided to trudge my sweaty self back to the car and head home.
On the way back, I found myself watching water shoot out of the side-walk and thought I’d catch a few squirts with my camera. I shot the pearly ribbons of wet, as best I could and rushed home to edit my photos. I cranked through the festival that wasn’t a festival, the haunted hotel without ghosts and the beach palace where I plan to vacation in about a month.
When I came to the shots in the fountain I noticed there were shadows running through the tall crops of water that were not there when I shot the photos. I smiled to myself thinking about how we all collide with each other daily and sometimes there is conflict from the interruption and other times a visitor from another place is a surprise and a delight.
So last weekend I went hunting for shots. The conditions were a little hard to describe. Think oppressively hot, like leaving the comfort of your car’s cool air conditioning to step into a steamy heavy heat that made me nauseous and I didn’t know why. With each step I got sicker and sicker, with each step I kept denying that I was and kept moving forward, as it was such a pretty day.
I began to sweat and feel dizzy and grabbed this guy on the swing. He reminded me of a friend I used to have. He was one of those guys that completed the moment and turned it into an event. He was a creative counterpart and together we saw the world in a very funny way, a very bright and intelligent but funny way.
I guess they call it “having a falling out”, but we went our separate ways after years of friendship. So I saw this guy sitting alone on this bench. I thought about the wife he used to have, who died unexpectedly from cancer. I thought about how this could be my old friend but was too hot and nauseous to approach him and left my past behind me.
Further down the path was a woman struggling with a young child. The baby would drop something and as the woman reached down to pick it up, the woman would drop something. This went on for a while till the woman picked up the baby and walked away in distress.
Sometime in the next few weeks, I expect to be a Grandpa for the first time. It will be good to be carrying a baby around with me again. I don’t think I ever looked or felt distressed when my kids were little. No matter what was going on, I always felt invigorated by the little baby beans that constantly drooled, cried, giggled and slapped my big face with their little baby hands.
After a little while I knew it was too hot and didn’t care why. I rushed back to the car fearing something dreadful would happen to me out in this painful mugginess. Once in the car with the air conditioning blowing on me, I decided to go somewhere, indoors where I could shoot something while remaining in the cool air conditioning.
Off to Marie Selby Gardens I went, filled with great resolve. In the cool lobby, I paid my admission and could barely wait to get out there and shoot a bunch of weird-looking nature. Some how when I was thinking greenhouse… I was thinking like a giant cooler that one would find in a florist that keeps the flowers fresh. Some how I thought that was where I was heading.
But the minute I left the air-conditioned lobby and stepped into the green house where the beauties were budding, I realized that I had paid to enter an environment that was actually hotter than where I was before. The hot-house where the tropical flowers were, was so hot that I knew I had to shoot as many as I could, as quickly as I could before I would surely melt.
There was a woman in the hot-house with me, who worked for the gardens, and she was wandering around occasionally asking if she could help me. Normally I would have asked her all about the flowers I was shooting but I was too rushed, too hot and too excited to get as many as could before the sweat on my brow would pour into my viewfinder eye.
Please enjoy my sweaty snaps.
Sometimes I think I’ve arrived at a place of prowess, experience and notable value… only to later realize I have not even taken the first step in the direction of that journey. I wandered the streets grabbing images of the obvious, odd and bizarre only to come out empty-handed. These past few weeks I looked at everything and saw nothing.
I wandered around St. Petersburg one weekend and the world looked dull and routine. I turned up one street, walked down another and back up yet another without reward. Finally I stumbled upon a house burning down and snapped away desperately searching for the view, the angle, the perspective that would evoke and got nothing.
Finally a fire fighter walked my way after climbing down a ladder from his final douse.
Weeks went by and the world looked like wallpaper patterns or puzzles with no pieces missing. Cars on the road were just cars on the road. Even the awe-inspiring crack and shake of thunderous lighting and explosive storming down pours had become matter of fact. Car crashes on the side of the road and abusive addict mothers yelling at tortured children barely rose my ethos.
In an effort to metaphorically slap myself around I decided to visit my local portal of twisted perception; The Dali Museum.
Ready to burst forth with a fresh eye, I got high-jacked by an odd lady who offered to give me a free architectural tour of the building and grounds. She was obviously quite bright, but watching her flickering eyes looking up as she stood there in her long sleeves and a red sweater vest in 107 degrees of tropical Florida heat, drenched the creative juices right out of me.
Sweating and drained I had lost form, like a limp clock face draped on a tree branch.
She was the most contained person giving mathematical explanations of all things outrageous… all things Dali. Much like the fire that got put out in the first image above, I was quelled by her nerdish slow explanations of 7 and 23 being the diameter and circumference of a circle. She walked, pointed and spoke. My mind wandered off to pretty things in my view.
Just when I thought I couldn’t be more stuck and strapped in, I was presented with a comparable value to put all things in perspective. Here I thought I was the stuck and contained, never to unleash again, only to meet the tour guide representing the epitome of order in her explanations of unrivaled fantasy.
In a way it was appropriate. Dali showing us how his universe was created. The tour guide showing us how she sees things. And of course, it was hard to absorb the genius of Dali when there were so many admirers around showing us how they see things. The exhibit became more about the people who came to see the art than the art itself.
I took a moment to reflect on Salvatore’s most familiar work. In his painting below called “Sleep”… he stirs us with the idea that creativity is unleashed through the unconscious while sleeping; we are held by the crutches of reality if removed we would surely fall. The crutches of reality… hmm… didn’t some zen master once say that sleep is reality and reality is the dream?
In another dream-like vision, Dali once again discredited the world of reality in his piece called “The Persistence of Memory” with his melting clock and swarming ants as commentary on the decay of time. It seemed as if his imagination just ran away with a reasonable continuation of images though ending very differently from how they began.
Imagine telling someone a story. This person has poor short-term memory. As you tell the tale they remember a piece, than forget most, only to hear and remember another piece and forget some more, and by the time you are done with your story, the story they remember hearing with poor memory is very different from what was told.
I remember thinking once that without time there could be no memory. And without memory we have no sense of time.
In “The Crucifixion” Dali floats an athletic unharmed Jesus against cubes above a chess board. A little dream work, a little math and some oil on canvas and viola! Genius in perfect perspective with ideal light and natural cast shadows, all admired by the image of Dali’s wife in the bottom left corner.
You got to love this guy wanting to challenge our realities with his dreams, and doing it with respect to timeless design principles and the science of vision. Got that? Challenging it and depending on it at the same time.
Can you imagine a brain like Salvatore Dali? Sometimes a clown twirling his mustache in his self portraits or philosophizing on the algorithms of Cauliflower growth. Sometimes a painter playing with his gift from Surrealist cartoon to Renaissance realism. Sometimes a draftsman laying out horizon lines, vanishing points and angles of perspective with the precision of a surgeon.
Back to me. I guess being momentarily grounded by reality is just fodder for a whole new kind of creativity waiting to come out. As I left the gallery all charged up and valid to be me, I felt it okay to be occasionally silly, frequently full of expression and passionately driven by the principles of good design.
Descending down the spiral staircase built and based on the equation for Pi, I noticed a woman wearing a shoe on her head as a hat. She, in real life had become a Dali cartoon questioning the location of footwear.
Almost to the bottom of the stairs… a man stares. The sunlight bounces off his table top and casts a misty halo of light. He sat frighteningly still in his chair like a dream, like a story that starts in one place and ends up at a destination inconceivable. I wondered if he had ever been a fireman or perhaps saved by a fireman at one time.
What are you great at? I’m told that I’m one of the most creative people that anyone has ever met, but what does that mean exactly? Does it mean that I truly am in that elite 2% of the population that see’s things with such precision that I can find opportunities for improvement in almost any design or advertising campaign? Or does it mean I really don’t pay attention that well nor do I listen that well so I just hear, see and pick up something completely different from what is being put down.
Maybe what I’m truly good at is not being afraid to share my mind, pitch a creative idea or present a solution that only I can see while all others are focused on other things. Maybe that’s what I’m really good at, taking the risk for reward when all others fear the rejection.
I was at the gate at an airport last week and the security guard checking IDs asked me a question, as she was reviewing my driver’s license and boarding pass. What I heard was, “Are you trying to look like yourself today?” To which I replied smiling with sincere jest, “You have the picture, I don’t even know what I look like sometimes!”
Instead of hearing the rim shot and my audience breaking into canned laughter, all the security guards stopped what they were doing and rallied behind the security guard in front of me, all wearing their most serious and concerned faces, as she asked the question again. Strangely I was terrified by the prospect that I might be carried off into some dark interrogation room at any moment, as she spoke very slowly this time carefully repeating the same question she asked the first time. “Are… you …traveling… by yourself… today sir?”
To which I explained what I heard incorrectly the first time and said three times… “Yes… traveling by myself!!…Yes Yes.” After that explanation, all the guards laughed and sent me on my way. Another close call gifted to the creative.
Sensing things differently is both a gift and curse for us creatives. Sometimes I think we are best suited to having a guide at our side at all times, who could interpret and help us navigate through life’s confusion or at the very least just remind us to pay attention and keep our eyes on the road… much less verify what we hear or see.
When I’m out shooting photos, I’m happy to share my view and always consider the possibility that what I see and hear might actually be quite different from what is being said or shown. Like take these two guys for instance. To me they spend their days and nights combing the beach for lost metal objects. I imagine finding metal has become their life goal for some reason.
The guy on the right looks to me like a veteran who doesn’t walk that great in the first place due to metal chards still in his leg from the war. The guy on the left must have been in a rock band his whole life and has gone from playing heavy metal to finding it. What other explanation could there be for such a past time.
As the sun set, even the least attractive bathers in my view became aesthetic stacks of shapes and form reflecting the end of day glow.
Marching mothers and trotting tots kick up crystal branches of Gulf water while their forms melt into colored roots dripping below the surface.
Elsewhere on the Gulf, tiny black zombies wander in various directions searching for their next meal of living flesh.
On another beach, during another day, also at sunset, a gang of bikers trek out to the end of the sand, strip off their colors and prepare to take a plunge.
Out of the water climbed this young lady with her float. Sometimes it’s really hard to take the picture when I’m so taken with just looking at what I see. Was she a musician? A punk rocker perhaps? A clothing designer? Maybe she worked at a store that sold odd floats and waterproof leggings and was just showing them off. Maybe she is a little girl who never grew up? I think hairdresser…yeah…that’s my best guess.
Elsewhere on the Gulf a man surfs with his dog. I’m guessing wealthy retired owner of a software company specializing in mobile applications. Or perhaps he doesn’t have to work because he is the son of the publisher of Fortune Magazine and he spends his days playing with his pup and his paddle.
From a distance the setting sun flashes a huge shiny reflection off someone’s back obviously related to the Hulk! Though he was just reaching down into the water to splash up some rinse… caught in mid-motion his back arched and arms stretched making him look even more primitive. I imagined passing him on the beach to get a look at the ripped front shot of this monstrous body builder.
I imagined him turning around just as I had my camera aimed on him only to have him run out of the water screaming, “I”m a celebrity, I’m under contract, I’m forbidden to have my picture taken!!!” Then I realized my imagination was getting the better of me because what celebrity screams, “I’m a celebrity, please don’t take my picture” ?
The sun was almost gone and it was time to head back. I passed an ice cream store where all kinds of people were overflowing out the doors and hanging on the porches, licking and slurping like lizards catching melting drips. Inside I wasn’t drawn to the obvious but captivated by the stack of cones piled upon one another. The white light from the heat lamp bleaching out the shapes from above while the shadows formed pitch black tunnels darkening the cones beneath.
I was reminded of one of life’s great analogies, how life is like the ice cream cone. I read somewhere that as the brim at the top of the cone get’s wider and invites more of life’s good to enter it’s ever opening funnel, so does the painful pointy bottom drill proportionately deeper into the dark corners below.
While some of us choose to focus on the opening in the light, others will always only see the narrow, sharp and dark point at the bottom. Ironically both have to exist to form the other.
From delusions at flight to conical insight the creative knows no bounds. And then there is no time or place to be creative especially when a dog is left in the car during tropical heat. Such an odd motivation of dependent devotion, blinding such obvious and extraordinary ignorance. This car was parked outside a grocery store in the heat of the day, and I’m sure the owners went in for something quick, thinking they’d be right back; but they weren’t.
I went into the store and grabbed the store managers and showed them the dog in the car and asked them to page the owners or call the authorities. A lifetime of bravely pitching creative ideas ironically prepared me to be unafraid of rejection and able to stand up, speak out and save a dog’s life.
Maybe this is really what I’m good at.