Agnes of God and Abstract Photography

Last night, my husband and I went to the Sumter Little Theatre to see Agnes of God.  It isn’t a “feel good” play or a lighthearted comedy that typically draws a huge crowd.  It is, however, a play well worth seeing.  It is about a young nun that gives birth in a convent.  There are only three characters, the young nun, the Mother Superior, and a psychiatrist.  The young nun has no memory of the conception or the delivery.  She is a naïve, young girl who grew up in a very sheltered, but also abusive, home; the Mother Superior wants desperately to believe in miracles; and the psychiatrist is atheist.  Without giving away too much of the story, I think that I can safely say that the play challenges the beliefs of the audience as the beliefs of the characters in the play are challenged. 

So what does this have to do with abstract photography, you ask.  Well, possibly nothing.  But as I was watching the play and contemplating the rather small crowd in the theater, I was reminded of my personal experience with abstract art.  Before I returned to graduate school, I really didn’t like abstract art.  I had no appreciation for it at all. And then, I ended up spending four years of my life photographing abstract water reflections.  You really can’t do something like that for four years and not enjoy it.  I actually loved every minute of it.  My point is that without exposure to new or different things, we don’t understand them and we consequently don’t like them. 

Plays like Agnes of God are often misunderstood because the potential audience doesn’t know anything about them and therefore decides in advance that they won’t like it.  But they would be wrong.  I don’t think there was a single person in the audience who did not love the play.  It made us think.  It made us consider why we believe or don’t believe what we do or do not believe.  It made us question our demand for scientific explanations for everything rather than believing or hoping for miracles.   It addressed memory and repression as a way of dealing with traumatic events.  Agnes of God is not about Catholicism or the Catholic church.  While two of the three characters are Catholic nuns, the questions of faith, memory, and miracles are questions that we all wrestle with at various times in our lives.

Our lives are enriched when we are exposed to art of all forms.   That includes plays like Agnes of God as well as abstract photography.  There really isn’t a good definition of abstract art.  One of my favorite quotes is from John Suler, PhD, when he attempts to define abstract photography:  "Here’s the acid test: If you look at a photo and there’s a voice inside you that says “What is it?”…. Well, there you go. It’s an abstract photograph."  In Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche, Suler discusses how the abstract photographer reduces perceivable objects to colors, textures and patterns, leaving the original objects no longer discernable.  One leaves the familiar and “enter(s) the more primordial realm of the purely visual.” It is like zooming in so close to an object that what is left is no longer seen as a part of that original thing being photographed.  That part is “abstracted” from the whole.

And so it is with Agnes of God.  It “zooms in” on questions of faith, miracles, memory and sainthood, abstracting those issues from the overall lives of the characters in the play and ultimately in our lives, as well.   And as we experience this abstracted view of the human experience through these characters, our lives are enriched.



Pain, Incapacitation, and Not Being Able to Create

This blog is long past due. I have wanted/not wanted to write for weeks. My husband and I went to Hawaii to celebrate two big events in our lives. When I first met Martin, he was working on a photography project, photographing the fifty state capitols. I was able to join him in his quest for many of the remaining capitols. He saved Honolulu for last. What a great finale! And I completed my Master of Fine Arts in photography from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. My journey was only four and a half years, compared to Martin’s ten-plus years. Both were quite the journey, though, and we shared much of them together. That was, undoubtedly, the best part.

Martin in Front of Honolulu State Capitol

If you follow either of us on Facebook, undoubtedly you know that we squeezed our trip to Hawaii in between school schedules. We left South Carolina the last day of my semester at AAU. We returned the day before we both started teaching in the fall semester, me with the University of South Carolina Palmetto College (USC’s online university program) and the University of South Carolina Sumter’s online accounting program and Martin with Florence Darlington Technical College teaching Developmental English. (I was also to teach another class, as well. See below.) While in Hawaii, we cruised around the islands, visiting, Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, and Kauai. Blog soon to follow on snorkeling with sea turtles!

Shortly after returning to South Carolina, though, I began having excruciating pain, very similar to what I had experienced before my hip replacement surgery last year. Much like last time, the diagnosis was not quick to reveal itself. And that is what this blog is actually about. For a couple of weeks now, I have been unable to walk without a walker. I can’t sleep in (or even get into) the bed. Pills don’t even make a dent in the pain. After taking Vicodin and Percocet to no effect, I ended up in the Emergency Room. Even after IV morphine, the pain still didn’t subside. It has only been two weeks, so far, this time, unlike over three months last time, but it seems like forever. There is little that is more debilitating than constant pain. And little that is more depressing. I seem to exist in the middle of a giant pity party. I so desperately want to be able to get out and photograph, to print, to work on the images I created in Hawaii. Instead, I find myself anchored to a “lift” chair with pillows propped under my leg and butt, a heating pad constantly attached, and ineffective pain meds an arm’s reach away. On my few ventures out of the house (hospital, doctor, and two foolish attempts to teach class in the traditional brick and mortar classroom environment from which I finally had the good sense to resign), I have ended up dizzy and nauseous from the pain.  Dizzy, nauseous, and unable to walk to the board do not make for an effective classroom instructor….

I feel confident that things will improve. I had two injections in my spine yesterday. The docs said it would take three to five days for the injections to take effect. I’m trying to stay positive and look forward to returning to my camera and studio. It’s hard to not wallow in self-pity, even though I know that, compared to what others have to endure, I don’t have it so bad. Back pain is not life threatening. There are treatments. I have a wonderful, supportive husband who takes incredible care of me….

Hopefully, my next blog will examine those amazing sea turtles I snorkeled with on Maui!  Soon….

New Beginnings

Now that I have completed my Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, my daily life will be significantly different… in both good ways and not so good ways. Starting with the not so good, I will seriously miss the camaraderie with like-minded artists that I had in school. There is something really special about having trusted friends critique my work. At first, like most students, I found the critiques painful. “What?! You don’t think my photographs are amazing?!” But once I became accustomed to the idea of peer critiques, I discovered the true benefit and joy of having someone look over my shoulder and point out both the good and the bad. Initially, like most human beings, I liked the “good” much more than I liked the “bad.” It wasn’t long, though, before I discovered the real benefit — having someone help me find ways to improve. During the period when I was experimenting with ways to print my photographs of water reflections on silk, I discovered how amazing it could be to have a whole group of people brainstorming with me. I will miss that.

There were actually times when I received only positive critiques — and I was disappointed! I know that sounds strange. While a pat on the back is always nice, constructive criticism can help us grow as artists (and as individuals, for that matter!) I have joined a private Facebook group of Academy of Art graduate students and graduates. Here we can continue to post our work and ask for critiques from trusted colleagues. Since I was in school with most of these people for over four and a half years, I feel comfortable with them and respect their comments and critiques. I also know that I can post work in progress and be assured that these folks are not going to “steal” my ideas. These are the people that really want to see me succeed — just as they are the people that I want to see as successful artists of the twenty-first century. It isn’t the same as the daily interaction we had in school, but it is as close as I can get at this point. I will miss the daily interaction with my peers. I’ll also miss the “forced” assignments that kept me growing as an artist. Fortunately, I am self-motivated, and I love what I do. I know that I will keep photographing and continuing to experiment with new forms of art.

Undoubtedly, I will return to wildlife photography. Other than times with my family, my most thrilling life experience has been photographing grizzlies in Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park. My sense of danger and safety is, perhaps, somewhat unusual. While I was in Alaska, I was with a small group of photographers. However, when I travelled to Minnesota to photograph black bears, I was alone. Photographing the black bears by myself was not nearly as frightening for me as an assignment in my Contemporary Landscape class where I attempted to photograph the sunrise over a pond, only yards from a well-­‐travelled road. I learned that I am much more frightened by the possibility of a human approaching me in the dark than I ever have been around wild animals!

More than anything else, I will continue to study, explore new techniques, and stretch my creative wings. I will remain a lifelong student. I love learning, and photography has become my passion. I also love teaching. Sharing my knowledge with others has always been exciting for me, and I hope to do that with photography as I have done with other subjects.

Having the time to focus on the types of photography that I am really drawn to will, most definitely, be a plus in my “new life.” However, what I am really looking forward to, though, is time to spend with my family. I am sure that my husband has thought many times that he was more cook and errand runner than husband while I sat glued to my laptop until all hours of the night. He has been incredibly supportive throughout this long endeavor. But I think it’s his turn, now. I’m really looking forward to that.