Dudley’s Bookstore writers group at Ahonu’s house – March 27, 2017
I came to this morning’s meeting with these words roaming my mind: “Truth isn’t dead yet, but it is moribund.”
Our writer’s group random prompt was created in the moment by one person calling out a page number and another a line number from another person’s randomly selected book. It turned out to be page 10 line 6 from Inspired Heart by Jerry Wennstrom.
“I knew I was being criticized for my strange behavior, first for destroying my art, and now for this business of not talking.”
Ahonu called out, “Alexa set the reminder for forty-five minutes.”
Officially I am an artist. I can say that because I have a Master of Fine Arts degree from San Francisco State University in California, and I have had my work displayed in public art museums. But more important for me was that I was accepted into the circle of famous Bay Area artist-photographers in the 1960s.
My favorite artist photographer was Wynn Bullock. He had a lead photograph in the most successful photo exhibit of all time back in 1955. It was called “The Family of Man.” His image was a photo of a naked girl lying face down in a lush undergrowth in a dark forest. Very disturbing!!
There is still the gallery book available called the Family of Man in used bookstores. That whole art project was super successful, and I worked with a picture in that book. It was on an inside cover facing Wynn’s photo. It was of the nebula in the Orion star galaxy. That picture was completely independent of my art works because it was taken with the telescope at Lick Observatory where I was working at the time, and I only made prints of it. But it makes me feel good that the picture I worked on from the original negative is pressed against Wynn’s famous picture of his daughter, whom I was acquainted with in the 60s.
Yes, I also knew Ansel Adams, but our relationship was not very friendly. I remember having a heated argument with him about color photography becoming the more important medium, and the coming wave of visual art. That argument took place in his fabulous castle of a house perched on a cliff over the Big Sur beach on the Pacific Ocean. He is now considered by the public as the pre-eminent black and white photographer ever, but I didn’t think so then, nor do I now. He was too formulaic for my tastes in his thinking and in his pictures. I much preferred Bullock’s work and more exotic world view.
There were other art photographers of that time and place that I knew. Bret and Cole Weston, for example. I was with them on the one-year anniversary of their more famous father’s death, and we had a few beers to his memory. It was in Cole’s cabin up a canyon only a few miles from Ansel’s home. Their father Edward Weston was so famous that he had a one-man show in New York in 1938 with the greatest attendance of all time.
My point is that I was accepted by these famous artist photographers as one of them. Then a few events happened which turned me off to human society, yet again. I had a few large color photos that toured the world in American embassies. That was wonderful, but I never got the photos back. For a starving artist, and I was not quite starving but I had very little money, making big color photos for the exhibit took nearly all I had. All I have to show for those pictures is a letter from Estes Kefauver‘s secretary telling me what a wonderful opportunity that exhibit was for me.
Another event, actually there were at least ten that I can remember, happened at the Oakland Art Museum. I had given them about ten color photos for their consideration for a one-man show. They were to give them back in a month, but when I went to pick them up they had them displayed on the walls of their offices and asked if they might keep them for a while. I felt honored that they thought highly enough of them to hang them in their offices, if not in their gallery, and of course said they could keep them. But, when I went back a month later to get the pictures they were gone. They claimed one of the curators had taken them to New York and would be back in a while. I never saw those pictures again. They had vanished.
My experience at that time was that my several years of work kept consistently vanishing. These were unpleasant events for me. People valued my work highly enough to steal it, but not enough to reward me for it in some way.
Then a couple of kids playing with fire unknowingly burned down the garage where my negatives were stored. I took it as a sign from the vindictive gods, and I stopped talking, that is, creating work for the public’s consumption. That was forty-seven years ago. Strangely I am still pursued by those vindictive gods and have been carrying on like the Greek martyr Sisyphus, who just keeps pushing his rock up his mountain.
I do what I do, and even though others willfully destroy it, I just keep doing what I do, and take it as my destiny that all I do will soon be destroyed, as will the destroyers. I have grown comfortable with the knowledge that all we do will soon evaporate into the vastness of eternity.
Back to the prompt: “I knew I was being criticized for my strange behavior, first for destroying my art, and now for this business for not talking.”
I write a blog instead.
We each then read aloud our productions and they were amazingly different. The other writer’s line that caught my attention was, “I discovered that my art had destroyed my former life.” That was my experience too. Another weird coincidence was that another story reminded me of The Adventure of the Hanging Baskets.