Saturday, November 28, 2009

Staging Life

Whenever I run across it, I pick up an issue of Artful Blogging, a relatively new (and, as far as I can tell, irregular) Somerset Studios publication. It’s a fun magazine, with excerpts of beautiful blogs and good blogging inspiration – something for which I have dire need (as you might have noticed from the sparse entries lately).

So, I dive into the magazine and the first article is all about photo staging. The point of the article, I guess, is to help folks create photos to convey the imagery they want to feature on their blogs. Wait, I thought, people “create” those vignettes? You mean those aren’t photographic glimpses of what their real lives look like?

This reminds me of the sheepish shock I felt years ago while taking a black and white photography course (in the “before digital” days of darkrooms and film winding and all.) We were all novices, trying to get artistic composition and good black and white tones and the right exposure, all at the same time. One woman in the class printed out a lovely picture of a sweet household scene – a weathered cane chair, a small pair of rainboots leaning drunkenly to one side, a casual bouquet of daffodils wrapped in paper and resting on the chair. Silly, naive me – I looked at the shot and thought “Wow, she took that great picture AND she has that great scene in her house.” In my mind, I imagined the wonderful, cozy, picture-book life she must have with daffodils just lying about with such casual whimsy. I could just smell the cookies baking and sense the gingham curtains that surely must have decorated the charming life that went along with that picture.

And then, of course, the woman started talking about how she arranged the shot and posed everything Just So to get the right lighting and shadows, and how she moved the chair from another room, and found the rainboots at a local thrift store for use as a photo prop. Boy, were my illusions shattered. It never occurred to me that you (I mean, I) could do that! Isn’t that, um, cheating?

Here it is years later, and I’ve taken a lot of photographs. But I’ve never mastered the art of staging a photo to get a picture that looks real and spontaneous ... truthfully, it still feels vaguely like cheating so I never really try. And as I’ve pondered this idea over the years, I realize that it undoes what it is I like about photography – the frozen moment of reality, the wonderful discovery of some real moment in time, the discovery of beauty or happiness in some small detail. It’s using the camera to find something artful that appeals to me – as opposed to creating something artful and using the camera to document the creation.

This means, of course, that when I see those great shots of people sitting on victorian sofas in the middle of wheat fields, yes, I do like thinking that somewhere, there’s a couch in the middle of a field because it just IS there. I don’t want to think about it being hauled out there, just to be a prop. I want life to have sofas in fields, I guess. It gives me hope about the magical, unanticipated gifts just waiting out there for us.

The picture above, by the way, is a scene from real life -- not exactly a sofa in a field, but close enough for me.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone --

Our holiday feels a bit upside-down this year. Roger has traveled to Southern California to visit his mom, and I am home with a flu bug and missing a lovely holiday dinner with my folks and siblings. Caroline has stayed with me to keep me company and has been a good nursemaid while I've napped and watched the Macy's parade.

But even though we've not spent the day with friends and family, I know that I am surrounded, every day, every minute, by the love and warmth of wonderful family and good friends near and far.

So where ever you have spent the day, know that I am thankful for your friendship and support.

And, just so you know, I'm looking forward to a big piece of pumpkin pie when I feel better!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

For your entertainment?

I have been thinking about Adam Lambert's now-notorious performance at the American Music Awards the other night. I happened to tune in at the end of the show, just in time to see his performance. (If you didn't catch it, you can watch it on Youtube, here.)

I'll confess, I was surprised -- not shocked, not morally outraged, but disappointed and somewhat appalled that THAT was how someone as talented as Lambert opted to present himself to the music industry as a whole and the music fans who watch the music awards. He was making a statement, no question about it -- and that's what struck me. The statement he chose to make seemed trite and tasteless, in an "in your face" sort of way. I expected something far better from him.

There's no question that Lambert was making a statement, trying to define himself as an artist to the widest possible audience. And that's no surprise, either -- having come to mainstream recognition in the family-oriented American Idol context, maybe Lambert felt that he'd been forced to tone down his personal musical style and aim for a softer, gentler middle ground to appeal to the Idol audience. Maybe it's the same compulsion that would make an actress choose to play a drug-addicted prostitute role after gaining recognition for playing a goodie-two-shoes nanny. The shock value of the contrast is a conscious choice, designed to counteract the nicey-nice image. I get it.

Still, his performance disappointed me on so many different levels. The performance was more about shock value than it was about musicality, to my mind, and that in and of itself was disappointing. I thought Lambert's singing and tone was off, so that his usually soaring high notes seemed screechy and out of control. I've read that he didn't perform some of the more graphic or potentially offensive moves during rehearsal, so the show producers were unpleasantly surprised themselves. That seems professionally stupid, frankly, for someone who has been touted as having so much musical performing experience. Is Lambert trying to get the reputation as a risky, unreliable performer? Maybe , in fact, he is. Now he's saying that he had no clue that his performance might be offensive to some. You've got to be kidding.

As for Lambert's response that female performers such as Madonna and Britney Spears and Janet Jackson have aggressively used sexually suggestive moves in their acts without controversy, it seems to me that Lambert is missing a few rather significant points. First, Madonna and Spears and Jackson DID get a lot of controversy for the moves they've made. They didn't pass without comment. It's hard to imagine that Lambert wasn't aiming for exactly the controversy he's now gotten. Second, women have traditionally been viewed as victims or recipients of sexual aggression. The portrayal of women as sexually domineering or flagrant about their sexuality is a very different statement than one that shows men as sexually aggressive. Part of what has made Madonna and Spears and even Janet Jackson so noteworthy is not just the shock value alone -- its that the sexual aspect of their performances has said something bold and new about women and sexuality. There's an aspect of empowerment, a declaration of sexual independence in a way, in what they've done.

So when Lambert says that the controversy he's getting now is due to his being a gay man, I don't buy it. The basest stereotype of homosexuality, probably, is of "weird" men acting out in a sexually promiscuous and "perverted" way. And Lambert's performance, dog collar and leash, crotch thrusts, mimicked oral sex, tongue gyrations, and all, just played into that crude stereotype. Was that his intent? An "if this is what you think gay men are, I'll shove it right back at you" sort of message? If Lambert's point is that it doesn't matter whether he's gay -- which, I suspect, truly doesn't matter to most people -- then why did his performance throw his sexuality out there in such a tacky way?

I don't have a problem with Lambert choosing his musical identity and going with it, full out. It's clear he has a strong sense of himself, which is admirable. As a music fan, and as someone who appreciates his amazing talent, I'm disappointed that the direction he's choosing is one I don't happen to like (I'm not a Gene Simmons and Britney Spears fan, either). But I'd respect him more if the was up front about what he was doing. If he's going to choose to make a strong sexual statement with his music, fine -- but admit it and don't act surprised at the result. Maybe, after appearing to be an experienced professional, what Lambert is showing most clearly is professional immaturity.

I guess a lot of people will be watching to see what he does next, which was probably part of his intention too. I'm not sure I'll be one of them, though.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Review: Quilting Art

I recently received this new book by Spike Gillespie, called "Quilting Art," and I have been saving it as my reward for when I finished a massive work project. The day after I finished my project, I made myself a cup of tea, settled myself down on the couch, and dove in to this beautiful book.

This book immediately struck me as something different from what we quilters usually see. For one thing, the author is not a quilter -- she's a writer, first and foremost, who stumbled onto quilting as an art form while in the process of writing another book, and then decided to take a close look at artists who use fabric as their medium. So, the book is an examination of twenty contemporary quilt artists and their work.

Gillespie asked each artist how they felt about being known as "quilters" versus "artists," and the explorations on that all-too-tricky line of discussion are interesting and varied. I really enjoyed reading about these twenty women. The artists covered in this book are: Deidre Adams, Pam RuBert, Lisa Call, Mary Beth Bellah, Sarah Williams, Angela Moll, Joan Dreyer, Loretta Bennett, Jane Burch Cochran, Dominie Nash, Malka Dubrawsky, Susan Else, Boo Davis, Karen Kamenetzky, Ai Kijima, Mary Louise Butters, Margot Lovinger, Joanie San Chirico, Robbie Joy Eklow, and Jeanne Williamson.

Some of the artists were ones I was very familiar with -- others I'd not known, and was delighted for the introduction. In each profile, Gillespie explores how each artist got involved with quilting, what processes she uses, her views about quilting in the art world, and more. I found each profile interesting and inspirational.

Works from each artist are featured, in beautiful photographs. I thought there were enough representative photos from each artists to give you a good sense of what her work is like, with great detail shots and even studio shots. (Seeing the workspace is so revealing, isn't it?)

I'm very happy to add this book to my library, and I know I'll be look back at it often. I've already gone to explore other works by some of the artists in here because I was so fascinated by what I'd seen. This would make a great addition to your holiday gift list if someone asks you what you want, or if you have a an art quilter to shop for!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Happiness in Fabric

I must apologize for this rather dreadful photo -- but please look past the weird angle and awkward shadow to look at this absolutely wonderful quilt! When Helen came to visit, she surprised me with this lovely gift. I was overwhelmed and touched and delighted beyond words.

Helen knows that I adore Kaffe Fassett fabrics, that I like bright colors and pink, and that I'm a big fan of Freddy Moran. So, thoughfully, Helen combined my favorite things into this charming quilt. It's such a happy quilt, and it makes me all the happier because I remember Helen and Dennis's fun (but all too short) visit.

It is now hanging in the upstairs hallway where I can see it frequently during the day. It makes me smile every time I see it!

Gemma was, as usual, underfoot while I was hanging this so I thought I'd get her in the shot for Dennis. (And just so you know, because of the doorways and stairs across from the wall, there's no straight shot of the wall to get the quilt head-on which partly explains the bad photo.)

Exciting News!

The Twelve by Twelve artists are excited twelve times over to announce that:
(drum roll, please.... )
Sterling Publications/Lark Books will be publishing a book on our Twelve by Twelve Collaborative Art Quilt project!
We are thrilled beyond words to have this wonderful opportunity, and so happy that our art endeavors and friendships are turning us into authors, too. We know that Lark was impressed by the loyal folks who follow our blogs and website, so thanks to all of you friends-of-Twelves for your encouraging words through our explorations!
We'll keep you posted as we know publication dates.
We are lifting a virtual glass of champagne to each other and to all of you for your support!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Moving Slowly

We have been moving slowly around here today. At about 2am this morning, I emailed off the very last, absolutely final, everything-is-ready-to-go-to-the-printer version of the appellate brief I've been working on in recent weeks. That moment when it is out of my hands and DONE is delicious, even if it does come in the wee hours of the morning. My plan was to sleep in late (one of the nice perks of the distance ed program Caroline is in) and do a whole lot of "not much" today.

Unfortunately, the phone rang at 7:30am with some last minute questions about the brief, stuff someone wanted to add, etc. But by 8:30 I was sitting in the family room with a full mug of coffee and the day stretching ahead of me. I got to linger with my novel ("The Godchildren" by Nicholas Coleridge, for those who need to know that sort of thing) and it felt very nice.

Unfortunately for Caroline, it was a migraine day for her... she took her meds and conked, which is usually what works. So that meant I had a VERY quiet hunk of time in the middle of the day. I pulled out my notebooks and have planned by next 12x12 "pink" quilt ... I washed and folded laundry... I cleaned my desk and even cleaned out two dresser drawers in the bedroom... bought tickets for C and I to see the King Tut exhibit at the DeYoung Museum this weekend with her Lit & History teacher and some of her classmates...

Not the most productive of days, but very pleasant.

Who knows what I'll do tomorrow?

* I took the picture above in Maine this past summer, when construction work was going on all around our friends' house. The guy just standing there with the SLOW sign just amused me. I think it's his energetic pose.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

What's 4 x 12? Wonderful Fun!

I have had the BEST two days! There is nothing like sharing quilting with wonderful friends and I am still smiling and feeling inspired and happy.

The excitement started on Thursday, when I drove over to Berkeley and found our lovely Helen and her husband Dennis, who are on the first leg of an around-the-world adventure. How lucky for me they started in San Francisco! Helen -- organized planner that she is -- had found a music shop/book shop/cafe for us to meet in, and we had lunch and stumbled over the first funny awkwardness of meeting for the first time while feeling that we know each other so well from our blogs and 12x12 challenge exploits together! We had a lovely lunch (roasted eggplant, red peppers, and melty cheese on focaccia, if you must know) and then Helen and I left Dennis to putter among the books and CDs and we headed off for a quilt shop tour.

Our first stop was Stone Mountain and Daughter, right in the heart of Berkeley. I'd not been there for ages and was happy to see that they had more quilting fabric than the last time I'd been in. We immediately found fabric that called out to us. Helen disclosed her plan to purchase fabric while in the US for a souvenir quilt, so she hunted for her focus fabric and we kept giggling over how often one of us would pull out a bolt and the other would say "I just pulled that very one out!" or how often Helen would choose a fabric and I'd say, "I bought a piece of that recently!" Helen managed to find several small (ahem) pieces for the beginning of her California Collection, I'm glad to report.

From there we went to New Pieces, and had no problem whatsoever finding more for her collection (and yes, I do believe I found three half-yards I couldn't resist...) Then, I treated Helen to a real, live experience in California Rush Hour Freeway Traffic as we crossed over the hill to Lafayette to visit The Cotton Patch* (*as seen on Ricky Tims' and Alex Anderson's The Quilt Show, to Helen's delight). Isn't it funny, when you have out of town friends visiting and encounter traffic? I felt personally responsible and kept apologizing (I did sort of forget about the likely timing of our excursion, in all of my excitement to plan a personal shop hop) and Helen kept laughing and said it felt just like home.

From there (after purchasing just a TINY big more fabric), we returned to Berkeley, retrieved Dennis who'd been sitting and chatting with a local fellow talking American politics, and headed off to dinner at a restaurant at the Berkeley marina, which gave us beautiful views across the bay to the San Francisco skyline.

Dinner was relaxing and delicious, and then we headed back to my house where we all went straight to our beds to dream of fabrics and quilts. (I'm sure Dennis was dreaming of them too, as we kept talking about them and he just couldn't escape...)

With Helen's advance permission, for Friday I'd planned a quilty lunch with a wonderful bunch of friends. Helen and Dennis accompanied me into town while I picked up the last lunch supplies (enjoying an American supermarket, good ol' Safeway.... Helen said, "You have more quilting magazines in your grocery store than we have in our quilt shops!"). Unbeknownst to Helen, a big surprise was in store -- she knew that friends would be coming, but she did NOT know that two intrepid traveling 12x12 compatriots had arranged to come and surprise her at the lunch! The first guest to arrive was Karen, all the way from Southern California. I was so happy to see Karen, and I was rather pleased to see how teary-eyed and happy Helen was to meet her.

Next thing you know, the room was full of laughing, smiling women ... and then the doorbell rang and Surprise Guest #2 arrived, Gerrie, having driven from Portland with her husband for a wine country weekend! I saw Helen gasp and get teary-eyed all over again when she spotted Gerrie at the door. So I felt like a devious but successful hostess.

We had a wonderful afternoon. My buddies have followed the 12x12 exploits and many read Helen's blog regularly, so there was a lot to talk about and Helen mixed in beautifully. We talked, and laughed, and ate, and talked, and laughed, then had a grand "show and tell" mid afternoon. That was total fun and pure inspiration. A highlight of the afternoon was that the four of us "Twelves" showed our collection of challenge quilts together, and it was SO wonderful to see them in person and to have a batch of them together. And cupcakes from the local bakery were the perfect reward after show and tell!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Pat M, Janet, Pam, Sandy, Rita, Eleanor, Pat D, Maureen, Delaine, Ancella, Gerrie, and Karen for coming and bringing show and tell and giving such a warm and friendly welcome to Helen. I could gush and gush about how lucky I feel to count you all among my friends.

After all of that excitement and inspiration, when everyone had gone and the house was quiet, Helen remarked that we still had time to get to my local fabric shop, Fabrications ... so off we went! We popped into two bookshops (for Dennis, ostensibly, but we enjoyed it too) and in Fabrications Helen was enticed by several locally dyed pieces of fabric art.

We got home in time to enjoy guacamole, chips, comforting beverages, and a steak dinner which Roger, wonderful husband, prepared.

A totally perfect day.

Today, Helen, Dennis and I met up with Gerrie and her husband Steve for a quick breakfast before Helen and Dennis headed off to their next adventure (with fabric shops along the way, I'm sure.)

So now it is back to real life in our house, and I am missing Helen and Dennis -- as is our lab Gemma who became instantly smitten with Dennis and has done a bit of pacing around the house looking for him this afternoon.

Okay... dinner and early bed for me -- all that fun was tiring!