at the fair

You know those mornings when you wake up, deal with the cat, and drink your cold brew coffee while you consider the list of things you ought to do, some of which are moderately important, but by the time you empty your mug you’ve decided to skip all those things and go to the state fair instead? That was me yesterday.

Young couple trying to see how many kids they can stuff in the cab of a really big tractor.

I like the state fair. I love the state fairgrounds more than I like the actual fair; I’ve spent a LOT more time noodling around the fairgrounds during the off-season than I have during the fair itself. But the fair is fun too. The noise, the smells, the crowds, the weird tension, the chaos, the confusion — I like all of that.

I like to look at farm technology. Tractors and combines and — okay, I have no idea what most farm tech is called. Or what it does. I confess, I have absolutely NO interest in the purpose of farm tech. But I’m fascinated by 1) how massive some modern farm equipment is, and 2) the fact that there are people who restore or refurbish old tractors. I like to listen to old guys (and it’s always guys) talk about their old tractors, even though I’ve no idea what they’re talking about. I recognize them as nerd-geeks who have a passion I can respect even though it’s entirely foreign to me.

Old guys talking about old tractors.

I also like that things I don’t understand are being judged by standards I also don’t understand. Like horses and sheep. Or cabbages and turnips. Or sewing and crafting. I look at the prize cabbages and I have no idea why one cabbage is superior to the next. I have no idea why this cow is better than that cow, or why the way that horse trots surpasses the way this other horse trots. But there are folks out there who DO know those things, and I find that notion wonderful. (By the way, I don’t need — or want — an explanation for why one horse’s trot is superior; I’m just happy that folks who DO know and care about such things exist.)

Some sort of horse judging thing. Or maybe a riding judging thing. There was definitely judging going on.

I like the people I see at the fair. Not just the folks like me, who show up and eat the deep fried vegan peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and marvel at the size of the biggest boar, but the folks who move to the fair for a week or so and show their animals. Again, I don’t know dick about farming or farm stuff. But I’m always impressed by the people — and especially the kids and younger folks — who spend their fair days washing and drying their cows or goats, or shoveling animal shit out of stalls and laying down hay (if that’s hay — what do I know from hay?). When I was a kid I had to do the usual chores — wash dishes, maybe mow the lawn, that sort of thing. These farm kids? They’re raising livestock and acting like it’s no big deal.

Blow drying a goat.

Kids. A tangent here. As a rule, I don’t photograph kids. I think kids going about their daily kid lives doing kid things are eminently photographable and interesting, but photographing kids these days is just a pain in the ass. It’s not the kids; it’s the parents. I have, in the past, been accosted by parents for shooting photos in the general vicinity of kids. Not photos OF kids, mind you; just photographs of stuff in a park where kids are playing — stuff with zero kids in the frame. Nothing is more embarrassing and frustrating and infuriating than being waylaid by an irate parent and basically accused, in public, of being a pervert. So I just don’t photograph kids anymore.

Except at the fair. I will occasionally shoot a photo of a kid engaged in some farm/fair related activity. Like blow-drying a sheep. I’m not photographing the kid, you understand. I’m photographing the activity. But sometimes there are moments when a kid is being so perfectly a kid that you have to make an exception. So I photographed a kid. I am NOT going to feel guilty about it.

Woke up from a nap, got chores to do.

Actually it turns out it’s almost impossible to shoot a photo at the state fair without including a kid. They’re everywhere. Which is as it should be, since fairs are all about being a kid. Sometimes when you’re taking a photo of a kid, you’re also shooting a photograph of somebody being a good, caring, thoughtful parent.

Cooling mist on a hot fair day.

When I got home I was surprised that almost every photograph I shot had a kid in it. Or an old person. Or a disabled person. Old folks and disabled folks on mobility scooters zipped around the fairgrounds like hornets, like pirates, like…well, kids. They probably shouldn’t have been eating funnel cakes or deep fried Twinkies or bacon-wrapped BBQ ribs, but they were. They probably should have been napping, but they weren’t. They probably should have headed inside when the sky got dark and it began to sprinkle, but they didn’t. They faired (and yeah, I know ‘fair’ isn’t a verb, but there ought to be a term to describe the act of enjoying a fair). Those folks faired like bosses. It was great to see.

Leaving the fair just as it began to sprinkle.

That was the fair. I saw a cabbage bigger than my head. I saw a massive horse with hairy hooves that looked like it ought to be pulling a Russian sleigh and escaping a pack of wolves. I saw farm tech that looked like mooncraft. I saw a sleepy young cowboy who’ll almost certainly look exactly the same in forty years. I ate a deep fried  peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a damned stick. I walked six and a half miles (unless my Fitbit is lying to me).

I faired moderately well.

pointless, sort of stupid, dorky = fun

My brother and I started geocaching last April and let me just start by saying flat out that geocaching is pointless and sort of stupid. But like a lot of pointless and sort of stupid things, it’s also fun.

Okay, so some a lot most of you are probably saying, “Greg, old sock, just what the hell is geocaching?” First, stop calling me ‘old sock’. Second, geocaching is…well, it’s described as an ‘outdoor recreational activity’. Which makes it sound incredibly dorky. (Also, when I said geocaching is pointless and sort of stupid, I should have included dorky, because let’s face it — it’s also fairly dorky.) Basically geocaching involves using a GPS-enabled device to locate a container hidden somewhere in the world.

Yeah, there’s a geocache hidden here.

That’s basically it. You may be wondering why you’d want to use GPS to locate a hidden container, especially if it’s pointless, sort of stupid, and dorky. That’s a perfectly valid question. It has a lot of answers, most of which can be boiled down to what I said earlier: it’s fun to find hidden things. Think of it like a treasure hunt. Only without the treasure. Oh, some cache containers include trinkets or toys or other swag, but most don’t — and really, nobody goes geocaching with the idea of finding anything more valuable than the fun of finding it.

There’s one under this bridge.

So how does it work? You download an app, of course. That’s how everything is done these days. The app shows you the general location of caches and gives you some idea of what to look for — the approximate size of the container (most range in size from an ammo box to a teensy tube no larger than the tip of your finger), the difficulty of the terrain (on a scale of 1-5), the difficulty of finding it (again, 1-5), and maybe a hint. Maybe. The app will usually get you to within 10-15 feet of the cache. Then all you have to do is find it.

Yeah, one hidden here too.

It sounds easy. Sometimes it is. Like the one we found yesterday. The map showed us where it was at. All we had to do was park in the lot of some electrical company, hike a third of a mile over a field to a pair of boulders, nose around a bit, and there it was: a dark metal tube on the ground. Easy peasy lemon breezy.

1) Find it on a map.

2) hike to the location.

3) Find the damned thing. It’s right there in the middle of the photo. Honest.

But sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes the cache is disguised. Sometimes it’s a false electrical plate on an air conditioning unit. Sometimes it’s a hollow chunk of dead wood in the crook of an old tree. Sometimes it’s in an old bird’s nest or in a magnetic box painted the exact same color as the metal girder to which it’s attached. Sometimes it’s a tiny container inside a hole drilled into a bolt screwed into an old section of railroad track.

Seriously.

The thing is, you never know. The cache might be out in the open or it might be cleverly disguised. You let the app get you close, then you just start looking. The only thing you expect to find in a cache is a logbook — which is often just a rolled up piece of paper. You sign the log, date it, put it back in the cache, put the cache back where you found it, and…well, that’s it. That’s the whole enchilada. Oh, except for this: don’t let anybody see you doing it.

Folks not involved in geocaching are referred to as ‘muggles’ — and yeah, the term was snitched from Harry Potter. As in the PotterVerse you’re not supposed to let muggles see you engaged in that thing you’re doing. Partly because muggles will, out of innocent curiosity or malevolent intent, fuck with a cache. They might take it, move it, destroy it, throw it away. Or worse — they might all the police.

And one hidden here behind a flood control barrier, though we never found it.

And who could blame them? If you see somebody sidle up to a light pole in your supermarket parking lot, lift the cover of the base, and remove or insert an object of some sort, you’d probably be suspicious. A couple of guys skulking around the flood control barriers looks dodgy as fuck. They could be hiding drugs or planting an IED or cheerfully murdering homeless folks. So you’d be forgiven for calling the police.

Seriously. It’s happened. In Wetherby, England a waitress saw a man behaving suspiciously outside the restaurant.

He appeared to have a small plastic box in his hand and after fiddling with the container he bent down and hid it under a flower box standing on the pavement. He then walked off, talking to somebody on his phone.

She called the police, the police called the Army, the Army sent in the bomb squad with a robot to conduct a controlled explosion. There have been at least five geocaching bomb scares in the last few years. So yeah, when geocaching in urban/suburban you need to be somewhat discreet.

Okay, this is part of the reason we go geocaching.

But here’s the thing. It’s pointless, sort of stupid, dorky, and sometimes suspicious, but geocaching is fun. The brother and I used to get together and sort of lackadaisically noodle around the countryside, stopping at some point for food and beer. Geocaching allows us to lackadaisically noodle around the countryside, stopping at some point for food and beer, only now with a pointless and sort of stupid dorky purpose. We’ve only found about 40 caches, but we discovered a great BBQ place in the small town of Slater that serves a kick-ass modified Cuban sandwich and serves local craft beers. And a place in the small town of Norwalk that serves kick-ass egg rolls and serves local craft beers. And a place in the small town of Carlisle that serves a kick-ass mac & cheese made with some sort of spicy sausage and serves local craft beers.

Okay, maybe geocaching isn’t entirely pointless.

 

something something photography something

I used to be a camera app junkie. I regularly walked around with half a dozen camera apps on my phone — each of which did one or two things particularly well. I had two apps just for black-and-white work (one in square format, one in 3:2), another app just for awkward lighting situations, one for…well, you get the idea. I regularly downloaded new camera apps just to see what they could do, and discarded them ruthlessly

I’m in camera app recovery now. I only have two apps on my phone — one sophisticated app that gives me a lot of control over exposure, and one app that I’ve simplified in such a way that I can toggle between color and b&w (both in square format). I shoot almost exclusively with the simplified app. All the photographs in this post were shot with the same app.

A few folks have asked me why I bother to shoot in b&w when I could just shoot in color, then process the image as black-and-white. It’s a valid question. After all, a digital image in color contains a more information than a b&w image, and the use of color filters in post processing gives you more control over the final image. It would be smarter to shoot in color.

But I don’t. There has to be some sort of decision-making process that takes place in my head — some sort of algorithm firing in my brain, evaluating the scene and arriving at a decision. But it doesn’t feel like there’s much thought involved at all. I usually know if I’ll be shooting color or b&w when I pull the phone out of my pocket.

I also tend to photograph a lot of stuff that’s not obviously photo-worthy (if there is such a thing as photo-worthy), partly because I often find a photograph of a thing to be more interesting and appealing than the thing itself. Sometimes the entire point of a photo is in the act of photographing, not the thing being photographed. If that makes sense. Sometimes the point of a photo is in the decision of what to include in the frame and what to exclude.

As I wrote that, a thought occurred to me. Over the last several years, I’ve made my living dealing with narratives in one form or another. Now I walk around shooting photos that tend to be narrative-resistant. When you get down to the bone, a photograph isn’t anything but an arrangement of light on a surface. There’s no inherent narrative content. No matter what people say, a single photograph doesn’t tell a story. It can’t tell a story. Any narrative that might emerge comes from the viewer, not the photograph.

I don’t recall who said all photographs are self-portraits. One of those photographers from the 1930s and 40s, I’m sure — the ones who did the grunt work of turning the craft into an art form. It’s a great line, partly because it’s artsy bullshit and partly because it’s got a fuzzy kernel of truth. There’s a decision made behind every photograph. Every single one. And that decision reveals something about who you are.

Maybe you’re the sort of person who photographs kids at a birthday party, maybe you’re the sort of person who is passionate about photographing life on the street, maybe you’re the sort of person who is attracted by the arrangement of weeds growing along a drainage ditch. You might even be all the sort of person who does all three.

I had a point to make when I started writing this. I’ve totally forgotten what that point was. I suppose if the point was important, I’d have remembered it. This is what happens when you think about photography instead of doing photography. You might learn something new; you might also lose the point.

my ongoing relationship with phytoncide

It’s pre-morel mushroom season in my part of the world. Pre-morel season is that brief period before the brief period of actual morel season; it’s that interval when common sense, experience, and science all agree that it’s still too damned early for morels to appear, but you go hunting for them all the same because hey, you never know and why the hell not. Actual morel season probably won’t start until — who knows? Later this week? Ten days? It’s a damned mystery.

But let’s face it, for a lot of us, there’s no meaningful difference between pre-morel season and morel season. We find the same amount of mushrooms in both. In other words, none at all.

I’m okay with that. Finding morels is the other reason for hunting morels. The primary reason, for me at any rate, is to get out into the woods. Deep into the woods. As deep into the woods as possible, because the deeper into the woods you get, the more the world becomes slow and quiet. Not silent — just quiet. Between wind and wildlife, the woods are rarely silent. It’s just that the sounds of the woods are subtle and usually indirect.

If you spot one morel, there are usually others nearby.

Subtle and indirect — that’s how you find morels in the woods. You walk slowly, scanning the ground for small disruptions in the pattern of the dead leaves. You walk for a couple of minutes, you stop and search for a couple of minutes. It doesn’t necessarily matter where you walk. There are dozens of tips suggesting the best conditions for finding morels — near dead/dying elm trees, old creek bottoms, south-facing slopes, areas of mottled sun, areas of bright occasional sun, shady areas — but the difference between spotting a morel and missing one is often just a matter of a few feet in one direction or another. So you sort of meander semi-aimlessly through the woods, guided by 1) the wisdom of your morel-hunting ancestors, 2) the terrain itself, 3) maybe a deer track, and 4) a sizable dose of bullshit folklore.

dead elm in an old creek bottom during actual morel season

Hunting morels is weirdly meditative. That’s why folks who talk about hunting morels sometimes sound like students of Zen. Be aware without concentrating, be focused without any objective point of focus. Morels can be masters of camouflage; you can carefully study a few square feet of woodland for a couple of minutes, suddenly realize there are two or three morels right there in plain sight, look away to tell your friends, and then struggle to find those same morels five seconds later.

But here’s a true thing about hunting morels: you can find them just about anyplace. Abandoned lots in town, roadside ditches, suburban yards, in sand, in mud, along farm fields and pastures. Another true thing: a morel you gather from a rural roadside is just as tasty as a morel you gather from the deep woods. One more true thing: there’s always delight in finding a morel anywhere at all.

Actually on a south-facing slope

Still, most of us hunt them in the woods. The tick-infested, thorn-ridden, spiderwebbed, bramble-thick woods. That’s partly because the odds of finding a morel are somewhat better in the woods. Not a lot better, but better — just like the odds of winning the lottery are only slightly improved by buying a ticket. Still, I think most of us hunt them in the woods because getting deep into the woods is…well, it’s nice, isn’t it. It’s pleasant. It’s deeply relaxing. It’s…I’m going to say it…therapeutic.

I’ve seen lots of online references to ‘forest bathing’ lately. That’s a notion developed in Japan (where it’s called shinrin-yoku) back in the 1980s. Forest bathing sounds silly, but it’s become a rather trendy form of therapy. I recently read that it can increase a person’s “capacity to communicate with the land and its species.” I’ve no idea what that means, but it doesn’t sound any less absurd that some of the medical claims in support of forest bathing. For example, this:

[M]any trees give off organic compounds that support our “NK” (natural killer) cells that are part of our immune system’s way of fighting cancer.

Completely ridiculous, right? Well, actually, no. It turns out trees and plants actually do emit compounds called phytoncides. Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with the violent death of phytons. Phytoncides help prevent trees and plants from rotting or being eaten by some insects and animals. And hey, when you go into the woods, you breathe that shit in. And guess what? It turns out, it’s actually good for you.

This what pre-morel season looks like — nothing but you, some ticks, and an invisible cloud of phytoncides.

Seriously. A few years ago the New York Times acknowledged studies demonstrating that walking in the woods for a couple of hours can actually increase a person’s white corpuscles (those ‘NK’ cells mentioned earlier) for up to a week. There have been a number of highly respected medical researchers writing in highly respected medical journals all highly agreeing that despite its absurd name, forest bathing (and therefore morel hunting) is good for you.

This video is from a couple of years ago, during actual morel season. It may look like a lazy stroll down a deer track. But no! In fact, this is me madly forest bathing and soaking up phytoncides like a damned sponge.

I’m always a tad alarmed to discover that something I enjoy is good for me. I suspect I’ll now be accused of hunting morels for my health, which would take a great deal of the fun out of it. Well, it would — except that, as I said, finding morels is the other reason for hunting them. Sometimes the point of morel hunting is coming home with a sack (mesh, naturally, so the spores can be spread) full of morels. I don’t mind doing something healthy if it delivers the occasional mushroom.

So for the next few weeks — once pre-morel season morphs into morel season — I’ll be out there as often as I can, forest bathing like motherfucker. I don’t care if it’s good for me or not. I’ll be looking for shrooms; my white corpuscles can look out for themselves.

…and took the photo

I took a walk yesterday. I take a walk most days if the weather isn’t completely hostile. Walking on Thursday is usually a bit special, though, because (as I’ve written before, and before that) I belong to Utata — an international group of photographers and other reprobates — and Utata walks on Thursdays.

The group has been doing this for 619 consecutive weeks. That’s very nearly 12 years. We walk and we take a few photos of whatever we see. Not everybody in Utata does this, of course, but there are always a few people out walking with their cameras. This week, for example, we had people walking in Vancouver, in Switzerland, in the U.K., in Indiana, in Austria, in Ontario.

Normally during a walk I’ll shoot maybe half a dozen photos. Well, probably a few more than that now that I’m consciously shooting a Knuckles Dobrovic project. Yesterday I only shot a single photograph. This one:

I’ve been noodling around with cameras for a few decades now, and I’m familiar enough with whatever equipment I have with me to compose and shoot without a lot of conscious thought. I usually know the geometry of the composition I want before I bring the camera (or cellphone) up to shoot the photo. But with this particular photo, a process that normally would take moments ended up taking a few minutes.

I’d actually walked a few feet past that structure before my brain registered that its shape echoed the shape of the shed in the background. So I stopped, walked back, started to take the photo…but there was a distracting bit of playground in the back yard of the house. Couldn’t have that, could I. So I shifted my position a couple of steps to the right…only now the trees were out of balance. So I shifted again…only now a tree partially blocked the shed. So I shifted closer…but the top of the structure no longer aligned with the roof of the house. So I squatted…only now it cut off a corner of the damned house window. So I unsquatted a bit…only now there didn’t seem to be quite enough of the fucking sidewalk. So I shifted back a couple of steps and re-squatted, then re-unsquatted a bit…but some cruel, heartless son-of-a-bitch pulled a goddamned car into the drive of the neighboring house and left its ass-end hanging out just enough to intrude into the fucking frame.

So I said ‘fuck it’ and took the photo.

death of an innocent accidental photo project

The first thing I do every morning is…well, the first thing is I get dressed. But after that, the first thing I do every morning…well, okay, I usually make the bed. Some times I’ll make the bed before I’m entirely dressed. You know what? It turns out there are maybe have a half-dozen picayune things I do first thing every morning, including stretching and putting on socks in the colder months and greeting the cat, who is usually waiting for me. None of those things matter for the purposes of this blog, honest.

August 31, 2014

Here’s what matters. The first thing I do every morning is check the perimeter. When I say ‘check the perimeter’ I basically mean I look out the back door. I don’t know why; it’s a habit. The cat almost always joins me for that. She stands beside me and we look out the door for a long moment. Sometimes I’ll step outside for a better look. The cat may step out with me, or she may not. I’ve no idea what her criteria are for this decision.

February 18, 2015

Once we’re certain the perimeter is secure, we go about our day. Coffee for me, stink food for her, reading the news for me, going back to sleep for her. Every day, we do this. And every so often, I’ll pull out my phone and take a photo of the cat beside me. Again, I don’t know why. It’s basically the same photo, with minor changes, over and over. Most of the time the cat shuffles off before I get the phone out, so a lot of my photos of the cat checking the perimeter end up as photos of nothing except my feet. Sometimes it’s just my feet and a cattish blur. Usually I delete the photo as soon as I’ve taken it. Usually. Not always.

October 8, 2015

It occurred to me yesterday morning that the cat and I have been doing this for three or four years. Every day, me and the cat checking the perimeter. And I realized I might have created a photo project without being aware of it. I’m not terribly fussy about backing things up on my computer, I’m afraid, but I figured Google Photos would likely have saved some of those photos I shot with my phone in the cloud (at least the ones I didn’t delete immediately). And hey, bingo, what do you know, they did.

February 10, 2016

Eighteen photos altogether. My feet, the cat, the door. I’d have guessed there would be more, but as I say, I usually delete the photos immediately — even before Google has a chance to back them up in the cloud (I hate saying ‘the cloud’). I delete them because I’ve shot the same photograph so often. How many photos does a person need of his feet, a cat, and a doorway? Fewer than eighteen, probably.

July 21, 2016

Actually, there were a LOT more than eighteen photos of my feet, the cat, and the door. Google Photos is pretty damned efficient. But there were only eighteen in which the cat wasn’t moving or that didn’t include distracting crap like the edge of a dustpan or the intrusion of the leg of a stool. So let’s just say eighteen ‘acceptable’ photos, shall we?

December 4, 2016

Some of the photos are in color, some in black-and-white. It all depends on which camera app I happen to choose to open on a given morning. I’m the sort of guy who has (okay, I had to stop typing to actually check and count them) six camera apps on his phone. Six. Two of which are dedicated black-and-white apps. Oh, and a video app that I’ve never used. Why so many camera apps? Damned if I know. I’m sure I have a good reason.

January 2, 2018

It turns out there’s a flaw in the whole innocent accidental photo project. The flaw is this: it’s innocently accidental. Which, of course, is also what makes (to me, at any rate) interesting. It’s a flaw, though, because the innocent accidental quality means I didn’t save a single photograph of the cat, my feet, and the doorway in the entire year of 2017. Lots of photos of the cat, of course, and an alarming number of photos that include my feet, plus a few photos that include the doorway, but none of all three together. None. In all of 2017. And yet I already have two this year. Go figure.

January 23, 2018

Knowing I was going to write this, I intended to make another photograph of the cat and I checking the perimeter this morning. I thought it would be fitting to end this post with a photo taken today. The cat, being a cat, didn’t cooperate. Which seems oddly appropriate.

I could try again tomorrow. But I probably won’t. Now that I’m aware of it, the innocent accidental project has lost its innocence and its accidental nature. I’ll almost certainly shoot more photos of my feet, the cat, and the doorway, but when I do I’ll be more conscious of what I’m doing. It’s kind of a shame, isn’t it.

where the light is

I noodled around the Des Moines Art Center with some friends a couple of days ago. It had been a while since I’d visited the art center, and I’d forgotten just how visually engaging its architecture is. I’d brought a camera (a real, actual, no-nonsense camera), thinking I might shoot some photos of the artwork. And I did. I shot three frames with the camera — all of the same Calder mobile. I spent far more time shooting quick black-and-white snaps on my cellphone. And very little of that was of the artwork; almost all of the photos I shot were about the building.

Stairs in the Meier wing

The history of the architecture of the Des Moines Art Center is sort of interesting. Well, it’s interesting to me. The original design was the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. He’d won a competition in 1939 to design the Smithsonian Gallery of Art. But Congress being Congress, they decided to deny funding for the construction. Happily, the folks in charge of creating a new art museum in Des Moines saw Saarinen’s plans for the Smithsonian and said, “Dude, slide on over here and build us a museum.” And he did. He cobbled together a structure that was an esoteric combination of Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles. They finished construction in 1948.

What made it unique, though, was the decision NOT to construct a standard museum gallery. Saarinen’s design also included spaces for practice and instruction, making it both an art gallery and a teaching center. And hey, bingo — we had us an art center. Pretty cool idea.

Sunlight through a curtain (with incidental Giacometti bronze)

In the late 1960s, the art center folks decided to expand the building to include a space large enough to hold an auditorium and display really big sculptures. They got I.M. Pei to design it. It’s hard to do better than Pei. But his design revolved around a sort of massive block building that would tower over the existing structure. It was necessary, of course, but the design would have clashed with the low, ground-hugging Saarinen design. So Pei said, “Dudes, not to worry. I’ll sink the block into the landscape, easy peasy, lemon breezy.”  And hey, bingo — we had us a fine addition to the art center.

I.M. Pei window (with incidental Debora Butterfield painted steel horse)

By the 1980s, the art center needed another new extension — a space to house more contemporary works. This time they landed Richard Meier as the architect. Meier is one of those Pritzker Prize geniuses whose work is fairly idiosyncratic. The guy is totally smitten by structures designed around very white geometric patterns. Nothing at all like the designs of Pei or Saarinen. The advantage of being a Pritzker genius is nobody’s going to force you to adapt your aesthetic to fit in with your predecessors.

Meier’s addition to the art center is basically what he’s known for — white geometric patterns. It sort of looks like it was designed by a member of the Borg Collective who’d gone to an architecture school in Minecraft. That sounds more harsh than I mean it to. It’s really a very smart, clever, and very very clean design. Just different from the rest of the art center. But hey, bingo — we have us a space for contemporary artwork.

It speaks to the design, I think, that the only time I felt the need to shoot a photograph in color was in the Meier wing.

Mobile — Calder, Meier wing.

The fact is, I really didn’t make any thoughtful, considered photographs. I just walked around and took quick, square format, b&w snapshots using an app I’ve configured for black-and-white photography. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at the photos (there were only 18 of them) that I realized most of the photos were of the building itself rather than the art it houses. Art figured into some of the photos, but they were accents incidental to the photo rather than the subject of it. If that makes sense.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the art; I did. I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I’d often put on my glasses and get really close and try to figure out exactly how some of the work was done. I mean, how did George Wesley Bellows manage to paint a human face (it is, I’ve decided, humanly impossible — maybe Bellows was an alien)? I looked at the sculptures and admired the sketches and appreciated the paintings and watched a couple of works of video art. By the way,  some of the video art? Incomprehensible and (is there a polite way to say ‘stupid’? — no, I don’t think there is) stupid. But then there was this piece by Michael Najjar. Sublime.

Spacewalk — Michael Najjar

I looked at just about everything and I enjoyed most of it, but in the end the primary reason I’d shoot a photograph had most to do with the way the building interacted with the light. The way the light and the structure worked together seemed to infuse some sort of extra meaning to both. For example, I was very much taken by a chair (based on an Eames design) partly because I mistakenly thought I was in the Saarinen wing (the Eames brothers were students of Saarinen). I was actually in the Pei wing — irony gone awry.

Unironic Eames chair

Some of these photographs, I know, probably won’t appeal to anybody but me. Like the chair above. It’s just a chair the guards sit in. Or this view out a window to the street. What’s that about? There was something about the geometry that appealed to me, though I couldn’t say what.

Looking out on Grand

I actually spent more time on this stupid photograph than all the others combined. I wanted to get that tree in the right spot, and the reflection of the window’s crossbar just the right angle. Then I probably stood there, trying to be still and hold that view, for a couple of minutes, waiting for the passing cars to line up properly. Silly, I know, but it seemed worth it at the moment. Still does.

It’s a wee bit embarrassing to visit the art center and return home with nothing but a handful of black-and-white photographs. All that amazing art, and here’s me with some photos of curtains and stairways and chairs and random views out of windows.

Some random curtain

But what can you do? That’s where the light was.