Monday, June 27, 2011

Elephant Drinking, Amboseli 2007. Killed by Poachers, 2009.

If someone has not said it to you yet, welcome to Earth.  Here we have a veritable cornucopia of climates, cultures, geographical marvels, natural colors, and opportunity.  Whether you set foot into a bustling metropolis like New York City, walk through a forest of 1000 year old trees like Redwood National Park, or brave arid, migrating sand dunes like the Sossusvlei Dunes of Southern Namibia, you are sure to experience life and nature in all their majesty.  Yes, Planet Earth is an incredible place to reside and on behalf of all that brings peace, creates awe, and floods the senses with inspiration, intrigue, and hope, I'm delighted to make your acquaintance and pray you will enjoy your stay.

(I felt it was time to take a break from all the negativity and sorrow from all that surrounds us on a daily basis.  For the most part, I think we've all had enough of the partisan bickering, over-hyped media, doom-saying, and selfish demands for attention.  It's about time we take a moment to soak up what makes living on Earth a blessing and an incredible fact to behold.  Pushing aside man-made nonsense, my hope is this particular entry will bring you comfort, a sense of humility, and wonderment.  And to reiterate this notion, please, by all means, share something amazing in the comments below.  I have visitors from all over the globe who come to my page and of all the entries I've completed, this one in particular is meant to garner reaction.  If you would be so kind, take a moment to jot down your thoughts or memories that coincide with how magnificent it is to be an Earthling.)

© 2011 Nick Brandt. All Rights Reserved.

Elephant Drinking, Amboseli 2007.  Killed by Poachers, 2009. by Nick Brandt (1966-) is a sepia toned black and white photo of an African Bush Elephant taking a much needed sip of water.  Snapped along the banks of an unknown water source in the Amboseli National Park in Southern Kenya, the largest land mammal on the planet has been captured in fantastic detail.  Through careful focus and processing, the majesty of this creature is vividly portrayed and gives the viewer a deep sense of awe and singularity.  Despite his many years and imperfections, and though he stands with ears protectively cocked to monitor for danger, he seems to be entranced by the moment and in his ability to freely quench his thirst.

The qualities that make this an award winning photo are relative but here is what I've come to appreciate:  As stated above, the jaw-dropping detail!  Wow!  Brandt clearly has an eye for capturing moments where nature collides into an amalgamation of life and element and at the most poetic moment possible.  It is absolutely appropriate that this photo be toned and processed as it has and despite not being a photographer or photographic genius, I can say that there is nothing left anyone could have done to package up as much emotion and statement as this picture has.  Frankly, I'm a bit ashamed I am unable to describe how amazing this photo is and makes me feel.  Crudely put, though, it has caused me to completely disregard the latest goings on and news that have plagued my internet searches for months.  This photo has pushed me away from repeated distractions of negativity to remembering how lucky I am to live on this planet; how humbling it is to be one of billions of living creatures all unique, expressive, and special in their own way.

When was the last time you marveled at the world around you?  It's a fairly simple process and with so many choices, it's not hard to find a resource that will help you remember how sublime it is to be a resident of Earth.  Just in case you were wondering, and other than taking full advantage of the internet, here are some of the resources I regularly enjoy:  Google Earth (I've lost countless hours zooming in and out on various regions of the planet and absolutely love this free program), documentaries (typically via Netflix, I will watch just about anything but thoroughly enjoy David Attenborough and National Geographic), and Wikipedia (is there no end to what is collaboratively documented on this site!?).  You don't need to use these and as a matter of fact, I would much more prefer if you and I could experience this stuff first hand!  But no matter how you gain perspective on how wonderful life is and can be, I hope you will at least take a moment to now.  And don't forget to share!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mercury Attaching His Wings

Winston Churchill once said,"When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened."

It's not uncommon for most individuals to experience a high amount of stress and concern about their lives.  Whether it's about a relationship or a job, most humans wind themselves up with worry based upon their very nature to be defensive and protective.  I picture the mental conflict as a contrast of visions.  One vision is of a cat being held upside down a few feet off the ground.  If the cat is let go, it will right itself almost immediately gently landing on its paws without injury.  But, in an opposing vision, if that same cat was dropped into water, it would panic and struggle.

But is that cat not already wet?  Much the same, how much of the worry many of us experience is fruitful, yielding any kind of positive result?  For me, over the years my worries have pretty much led to nothing more than a loss in sleep, higher blood pressure, and very blunted reminders I need to chill out.  More often than naught, however, such moments of overwhelming worry can lead to positive change and action.  Moments where once reality sets in and it is discovered worrying hasn't changed a thing, optimism can step in and a plan of approach can be formed.

Mercury Attaching His Wings by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785) is the sculpture of the Roman god preparing to take flight.  With a gentle gaze upwards and a slight smirk on his face from under his winged hat, Mercury begins to fasten his winged sandals to his feet.  There seems to be optimism in his eyes despite the implied impatience with his body and I find myself asking why?  Why did Mercury feel the need to prepare for a hurried flight?  What did he experience just moments before and how did he get to this point?

Pigalle's attention to detail is remarkable and something he became known for.  With this piece, the Romanticism influence is fairly obvious yet, again, I can't help feeling there was a deeper meaning for portraying this mythical being in such fashion.  This was Pigalle's official submission to Académie Royale in Paris and obviously, to make it into the prestigious organization, he would need to set himself apart from the many others attempting to enter.  There is grace in the flow of Mercury's body as he twists to put on his talaria without looking, and the bends of his legs and at that angle seem to suggest he's ready to lift off from that position.  However, with each sculpture like this one, there is a story that leads up to this point, and one that completes it.  I think Pigalle had quite a story leading up to this point.

Mercury was known for being a messenger as well as an entity who was erratic and unstable.  Seeing beyond just the pleasant sculpture of a handsome, Roman god, I see an individual who is captured in a moment just after something important, something alarming, perhaps.  As an example to what Churchill stated, here is someone frozen in time who would not allow worry to dominate his emotions or actions.  Clearly, something had inspired Mercury that he needed to get moving and almost certainly, this "something" could have easily led to stress and frustration.  But he was a man of action and thus, Pigalle has created a statue of a god about to do what he was best known for.

Winston Churchill also once said, "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."  And that's what it comes down to.  If one's attitude is to find the negativity in all things, then one will find himself embroiled in frustration and worry.  But if one is capable to seeing something challenging as an opportunity to take action and make a difference, then one is sure to enjoy that same gentle gaze and subtle smile no matter the circumstances.  All one has to do is don the right attire and maintain focus on what is most important.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Le Bordel d'Avignon

Climate change is happening and if we don't adjust how we live, we're all going to die.  Eating meat is a violation of animal rights.  Bush lied, people died.  Obama is a socialist and hates America.  Abortion is a right for all women.  Smoking leads to cancer and kills children.  Gay couples should have the right to marry.

These are just a handful of examples of modern-day controversies which tend to plague social and professional circles causing polarization and frequent heated debate.  There isn't much a citizen of any free society can do without running into a situation where a decision is made and others are loudly displaying their dissension.  It's all just a part of being human and rooted in personal beliefs, morals, and for many, upbringing.

A utopian society has some appeal because controversial statements like those written above would be non-existent and we could all mindlessly skirt along through life without disruption.  But wait, that doesn't sound all that appealing now, does it?  That's because controversy--ignoring the violence and hate that can come from it--will often times lead to education, patience, and tolerance.  Sure, some folks are more unforgiving in their support for controversial issues but for the most part, society in general embraces the fairly infrequent moments purposefully attempting to express their whys or why nots.

But how does one shape one's belief system?  How should one shape one's belief system?  Is it purely by learning from the opinions and wisdom of others?  Or must one encounter a psychological obstacle in order to learn how to emotionally and logically get beyond it?  Unfortunately, the one thing many folks lack in these rhetorical questions is the wisdom.  Not necessarily their own, but wisdom in general; wisdom that can impartially discern what is taking place, explain it in plain English, and allow the listener to therefore make an educated choice for how to react.  Too often, however, many individuals experience something controversial from a one-sided vantage point and solidify a permanent opinion that is terribly unwavering and ignorant.

Le Bordel d'Avignon (renamed Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in 1916 by art critic André Salmon to lessen its scandalous impact on the public) by Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973) was painted in 1907 and is still considered to be one of the most controversial pieces of art ever created.  Picasso, up until that point in time, was becoming known for his various portraits utilizing specific shades and characters he was familiar with.  Though he was beginning to paint subject matter that could be construed as controversial, he hadn't stepped into the realm of defying public expectations until he released Le Bordel d'Avignon.

Picasso, with the help of artist Georges Braque, began to experiment with a new painting style they created called Cubism.  Finding inspiration from this new style as well as in Iberian pieces of art, Picasso spent many days creating sketches in preparation for this piece which depicts five prostitutes from a brothel in Barcelona.  Each woman is posed differently and contorted in seemingly uncomfortable positions to portray the secret, dirty lives they lived and for many during this time, this was an atrocity to acknowledge let alone depict.

Once completed, only a close circle of friends were granted opportunities to view the piece which Picasso held in his private studio.  But what was merely controversial to some of them was about to become an international controversy on an epic scale.  During this time and known to many, Picasso's artistic influence was tame when compared to rival and fellow artist Henri Matisse who had just completed two pieces titled, Souvenir de Biskra (Blue Nude) and Le bonheur de vivre (The joy of life; sic).  When Matisse was afforded the chance to privately view Le Bordel d'Avignon, he was immediately offended at what he felt was Picasso's attempt to mock the modern movement calling the painting, "hideous whores."

The geometric shapes and poses of each nude woman certainly don't seem all that familiar when compared to Matisse's works but it was enough to launch Picasso into a new strata of influence and fame.  And after being privately held for nine years, the painting was finally put on public display in 1916 where art lovers were first able to see the flamboyantly controversial canvass.  It took several years for art critics and educators to finally surmise just how offensive the painting was and upon looking back, is considered one of the most impacting creations propelling modern art into modern society.

Perhaps in the moment, a controversy can seem overbearing or unnecessary but in time, the opposite has been found to be true.  From the offensive and stunning has come a greater understanding of human nature, what we feel is moral, and lessons about living life.  Matisse mistakenly let his ego get the best of him from Picasso's work and it led to his eventual downfall.  What he sadly missed was an opportunity to excel and to further the modern movement which he felt was important.  By allowing himself to see this controversy from only one side, he ignored the ingenuity and creativity that set forth a new era of artistic expression of which he could have ushered in himself.  In this case, ignorance wasn't all that blissful.

Monday, June 6, 2011


My mind is my worst enemy.  For years I have asserted that for me to get beyond certain obstacles or emotions, I would need to get beyond my own assumptions and fears.  Quite frankly, in the past my mind has pushed me to think and feel in ways that were so detrimental to my existence, at one point I ended up in an emergency room fearing I was experiencing a heart attack.  Blood was drawn, tests were run, my body was passed through loud, nauseating machines, and in the end, the doctor looked me in the eye, proclaimed I was in perfect health, and advised that I needed to quit stressing over life.

At one point and while I was waiting for one of my many tests to be administered, I was able to eek out a quick post to my Facebook account letting my friends and family know where I was.  In a situation such as this and especially if you're alone like I am, it's not easy to handle the emotions that run through your heart and mind.  I suppose my hope was that varying individuals would see it, sympathize, and show their support either with well wishes or prayers.  For a person like me, this type of attention is wholeheartedly appreciated and often times, needed and refreshing.

Six hours after entering the ER, I was sent home in fine condition.  I had left what I felt was a dire sign of my inevitable future only to realize my life wasn't going to be cut short but needed to be lived.  But when I sat down at my desk and loaded up Facebook to post an update and the happy outcome, I noticed I had only received one response.  Just one.  In fact, not even that much of a response as it was merely a "Like" of what I had posted.  A "Like" that I was in the ER, feeling like I was dying, and scared to my very core.

Skrik (Norwegian) or The Scream (more commonly known) by Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was painted in 1893 and depicts a warped individual agonizingly releasing his fear about the world while his two companions carry on behind him.  There are a few theories as to what was the inspiration for this piece but for me, I feel it is just an exhibition of how all of us face moments where life gets to be too much to handle and our emotions explode in response.  As noted in a journal entry in 1892, Munch stated:
I was walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red - I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence - there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city - my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety - and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.
Though many have deliberated over his intent, the point of art and of painting is to express something.  Frankly, I don't think Munch would have cared all that much for the distracting discussion of why he chose to create this piece.  For me, the true quality of his work can only be judged by putting it to use.

According to historians, the setting for this painting is an actual hilltop just outside Oslo, Norway that overlooks the Oslofjord.  Clearly, Munch's painting shows just how maniacal our view of the world around us can become when we allow our emotions to run unchecked.  However, and despite some dissenting opinion, to stop and take a moment to truly feel these emotions is perfectly okay.

Facing a new approach to life and reality, I have emerged with a mindset that I need to stop taking things to heart as much as I used to.  I have readjusted how I react to my professional and social situations.  More importantly, I have stopped worrying as much as I have, stopped stressing out over frivolous things, and have begun to let things slide off my shoulders because no matter how I respond emotionally, it will not change the eventual outcome.  Yet contrary to my attempts to immediately make mental and emotional adjustments that day after my visit to the ER, I was slapped in the face with a view on reality that downright hurt my feelings.  Staring at me on my Facebook page was only one ill-conceived attempt to support me while just 5 minutes after my post, a co-worker of mine had set his status to merely read, "mmmm steak."  He received 12 responses and 4 "Likes" mostly from people who were on my friends list, too.  Ouch.

Looking back, I will never forget that day--I can't forget it!--and I'm thankful it happened.  For me, it illustrates the point that while we may see things in life from our own, singular perspective, it won't always reflect actual reality.  Internal and outside influences will almost assuredly skew what is fact but it is absolutely human to feel.  Munch's character may not fully grasp why nature seems to be screaming and quite honestly, it shouldn't matter.  All he appears to know in his mind and in his heart, is something is wrong and it's worth expressing.  If only the rest of humankind would respect and appreciate their fellow man who may feel like this as much as they do for the painting that expresses it.