Creating “Quietly, Quietly”

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I’m influenced by Ansel Adams. Using him as a jumping off place for making art isn’t so bad.  So, if the image “Quietly, Quietly” evokes the “Aspens“, you’re right.

“Quietly, Quietly” was made in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island. While my work isn’t specifically about death, it is a response to my own temporality and relationship with the eternal. Most old cemeteries are beautifully landscaped and thus a great opportunity for creating images. In any case, I was leaving when I saw these birch trees. I liked the contrast against the leaves and the new life that was growing around it. I was also drawn to  the space defined by trees. What can I say, I start my journey through composition

What did I want this image to do? The better question is “What did creating this image do for me?” that answer is simple, it was relaxing. Making art is about getting away from the world as it is and creating a world as I want it to be. I am not a documenter of space. “Quietly, Quietly” is about the stillness existing inside us when the ego is diminished.

The title came as an outside voice. I just looked at the finished image and heard the words “Quietly, Quietly.” Maybe it is a visual pun with music “Piano, Piano” and the black and white contrast is just nature’ music score? I don’t know.

Making meaningful images, for me, needs to be slow. I wish I could get the same experience with a faster method, and lord knows I have tried, but something is missing. In this world of faster everything, the unintended consequence is a paucity of stillness. In fact, such things are shunned as being “unproductive” or grandiose commercial enterprises are built around it (Canyon Ranch). Seeking stillness in your life is necessary in a restless world and you must be able to access it wherever you are.

Another definition of that stillness is God. Granted, the divine in nature is rarely quiet or still. In fact, nature is in constant movement so how can I ascribe something to nature which defies the definition itself? Simple, the stillness I seek really has nothing to do with time or motion. It is a glimpse into the eternal which transcends time. It is appropriate that this image was made in a burial ground and yet was teeming with life.

Every time I look at this image, my mind goes a little blank. I step out of the day and enter a singular moment. For the time I’m engaged in looking, the world dims around me. That means it’s working.

Making “Peace Of The Lord”

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Image from the Leaving Babylon Series by Ron Cowie

“Peace Of The Lord” platinum or archival ink print by Ron Cowie From Leaving Babylon

My favorite part of going to church, besides the coffee, is right after the general prayer of confession when the priest says “May the Peace of The Lord which defies all understanding be with you now.” Then everyone shakes hands and stuff. This photo speaks to that peace. The important part for me is “defies all understanding” God is too transcendent to be fully understood by anyone. For this, I am most grateful.

The image was made with a pinhole camera on a sunny day. I overexposed the negative and had to modify the negative chemically to make a printable image. In other words, I did it all wrong and had to dig myself out of a hole. The image turned out better than I had planned. In a nutshell, this exemplifies my relationship with God.

My best thinking is ego-centric (self-centered). The image I had in mind was clear and well exposed. I wanted people in Watch Hill to buy it. My vision was purely commercial and impersonal. My hope was to make an image of a Watch Hill landmark in a new way and sell it to people. None of that happened but I got to see God work through me in spite of all my best thinking.

“Peace Of The Lord” is a dark print. It isn’t a sharp photo either. The lighthouse is hard to see or clearly define, yet, we know it is there. Your eyes need to adjust to it in order to see it for what it is.

God’s peace is not about getting all the answers, but about sharpening our questions. God’s peace is about charting a course with fixed stars on a partly cloudy night. This image reminds me that peace is a constant element in my daily life. My access is only blocked by what I put between myself and it.

 

Sexy Oysters Printed in Platinum

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Oysters are in season and now is the time to start collecting the prints. This project began a few years ago after a commission by Perry Raso, Owner of the Matunuck Oyster Bar.  I decided to make images of oysters. After a while, I enjoyed the tremendous difference between each oyster. While each oyster is the exact same species, the difference between each is remarkable.

So, I make images and print them in platinum. Each image is numbered and signed by me. I’m offering prints in a variety of sizes from 4×5 to 11×14 inches and start at $45. They are fun and beautiful. They belong in your home and office. Each oyster print collected will create a vortex of joy and incredible pleasure beyond anyone’s wildest fantasies. If you disagree, I pity you.

 

Practice Practicing

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untitled-4
When I was a teenager, my parents indulged me. I wanted to play the drums. I took drum lessons (which involved tapping out patterns on a rubber pad) in front of a very patient teacher. However, I never practiced and most of the lesson was spent trying to not screw up as I had only read the score at that moment. I wasted my parents money, the teacher’s and my time.

I did get a drum kit and I did have some interest in playing. A blind chicken will get something to eat if they keep pecking away. After a while, I stopped that as well. I knew I wasn’t THAT good and practicing the drums is a noisy business. When you’re not that good, you’re just making noise. The truth was, I wanted to play the drums; I didn’t want to learn how to play the drums. I wanted the result without the work.

I’m learning how to play the drums again. It doesn’t involve a huge drum kit with sparklers or anyone else watching. The truth is, you can practice drumming anywhere there is a flat surface. Practicing isn’t about perfection. It is harder to play some rhythms slowly than it is to play them fast. It is not as easy as it sounds.

So, twenty years later, I bought a book on stick control and am practicing basic patterns. The best way to describe it is tounge twisters for your hands. It is tedious and a challenge. I’m improving, slightly but I’m having fun in the process. I have been relieved of the bondage of perfection.

What is it about practice that makes it boring? Practice means I’m not perfect at something- I have flaws. Practice reveals what needs work better than it reinforces what is good: my five stroke rolls are not smooth, one hand is stronger than the other, I keep losing the tempo at slower speeds. I need to improve.

My ego has hijacked the process of discovery and turned it into a negative experience. Why should I feel bad when I find my right hand isn’t as coordinated as the left? Why is my first solution to stop playing and go do something else instead of focusing on what needs work?

I want to have a smoother transition in my drum rolls. That means sitting down and practicing speeding up and slowing down. If I don’t do this, I won’t have the control I want to play the music I like. I will only be able to play the music I can play.

Being able to see problems in life isn’t the issue. A lack of power to change; thats the problem. If I don’t have any ability to do anything about something, I’ll arrange my life to accommodate the problem. This reduces the rich stream of life down to a dripping faucet.

The lack of humility this habit harbors can be fatal. If I only put out what I want to see, I’m not living a genuine life. Allowing mistakes in the process reduces stress. When I’m not stressed, I’m able to sit and practice longer. I’ve created a space where practice (change) can occur.

So, what is the solution to this block? It is all well and good to say “I want to be a better drummer.” but what are the steps to achieving that? In other words, how does change really occur?

An old and trusted friend told me a doctor doesn’t heal someone, they simply create a space where change can occur. His point being that I am not able to make changes in my life, I am only able to create a space where change can occur. If I want a to be a better drummer, I need to learn how to practice and enjoy that learning process.

Learning means working on what needs work. It means becoming teachable. I cannot will self-improvement, I can only disengage from the egocentric voice telling that making mistakes is to be worthless and weak.

If I want to play the drums, I have to learn how to play the drums. I must invest time into finding and focusing on aspects of my technique which need improvement. A teacher can help me discover that faster when I’m teachable.

So, I’m not a master drummer right now and that’s okay. Today, I can practice my stick control on the practice pad. I can be attentive and neutral about what needs work. I can allow myself the chance to enjoy the process of discovery. I can also admire the living masters ability instead of comparing myself to them

Tintype Demonstration at MIT museum

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I want to give a big thank you to Paula Tognarelli from the Griffin Museum, Ulrike Heine, Gary Van Zandt from the MIT Musuem, and all the people who showed up for the event “Collecting Photography“. This was in support of an amazing exhibition of photographs from the collection of William B. Becker.

I played a very small role in a great program focused on collecting photography and antiquarian processes. The show itself is made of daguerreotypes and photographic prints from the mid 19th century. I was asked to demonstrate the wet plate collodion process using tintypes. For those interested in this period, run don’t walk to check it out.

Here are some images made by Tony Sahadeo showing what I love to do: share enthusiasm or historic processes and represent The New England School Of Photography. Enjoy.

Artist Profile: Jefferson Hayman

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Frozen Pond

Frozen Pond unframed

Jefferson Hayman and I were introduced at AIPAD by Isa Leshko, a mutual friend and colleague. I was already a fan of his work and enjoyed the sense of light and air he brought to his subjects so it was fun to finally meet the person behind the work.

Frozen Pond comes from his New York City series. Here is an excerpt from his website: “Hayman captures a New York that is deeply personal. Indeed, at times it appears that he is the only man on the streets. However, in his dreamy city, the street is not the focus. Instead we are directed to the ideas of what New York City was, what it is today and what it will continue to be.”

His prints have smooth tonal transitions and muted hues, which makes the platinum/palladium process is an ideal pairing. Nodding to pictorialism with a modern twist, the Jefferson’s subjects are rooted in history but completely of our times. He creates an intimate world of “meanwhile” for the engaged viewer.

His work has been collected and seen all over the world. He continues to grow a very devoted audience. His work can be found in many private and public collections, most notably The Museum of Modern Art , The New York Public Library, President Bill Clinton , Robert DeNiro, The Boston Athenaeum and Ralph Lauren.

On a personal note, working with artists like Jefferson is a real pleasure. I get to experience images like “Frozen Pond”  as they’re being made. It’s always is an enchanting intimate experience.

Platinum Printing Workshop

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Platinum Printing Workshop

I’m excited to offer a platinum printing weekend workshop at the New England School Of Photography June 28-29th.
No prior photographic experience is needed to take this class. The only requirements are curiosity and an appreciation of craft.
Platinum printing has always been a popular and sought printing process since it’s invention in the 1870’s.

This workshop will  teach the photographer, curator, collector, enthusiast the history, chemistry and techniques of platinum printing in a hands-on, fun environment.
We will begin with a field trip to the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to view a collection of historic platinum prints made by the masters of the late 19th and early 20th century. The history of the process will be discussed in conjunction with this. We will also look at work made by current masters of the process in an informal slide presentation.
The best way to learn a process is by doing it. Most of the workshop will be dedicated to just that: making platinum prints. You will gain an appreciation for the process that, on the surface, seems easy but contains levels of complexity within that both enchant and frustrates you. We will be using a variety of papers, chemistry and exposure techniques.
Sunday will be spent making prints, experimenting with some advanced toning techniques, and students are welcome to bring their own negatives to practice printing. Students get to keep the prints they make.
We will be using vintage glass plate negatives, analog film and digital negatives.

Fee: $395 (includes materials) Late Registration, add $30.

For those traveling to Boston for the weekend:
From Logan Airport:
Take the Silver Line to South Station.
Take the Red Line for two stops: Downtown Crossing and Park Street.
GET OFF AT PARK (Pahk) STREET.
Take any Green Line Trolley (Except the E) to Kenmore Square.
If, upon leaving the underground T station you are facing a Bagel Shop, take a left and walk about 200 yards.
You are on the side of the street that NESOP is located.

Customized Driving directions are best done with your home computer and Google.

Hotels in Kenmore Square NESOP currently has no official relationship with any hotels but there are a variety of places to stay  that fit every budget and expectation.

Building Jerusalem

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WatchHillLighthouse

The New Jerusalem

William Blake


And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my charriot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

 

 

The new body of work, that I’m currently working on is about the constructive power of seeing. The poem, which is also a hymn, and the unofficial anthem of England, was introduced to me by Father Reece after reciting it at a wedding we both attended. I’m drawn to the image of building with divine purpose. I’m going to use my camera to try to understand what this poem is about.

We shall see.

 

#FreeArt

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Flowers

 

When I lived in Boston’s Fort Point Channel, it was kind of a subversive thing to do. All the artists lofts were illegal to live in but we did it anyway. Each fall, the Fort Point Arts Community would have Open Studios. This was a great time for us to visit our friend’s studios and get caught up. I sold Hot Dogs and Fresca as way to get people to walk a little further down the street, climb three flights of stairs and take a look at the art on our floor. The way I advertised this was simple: I plastered the neighborhood with work prints that had little sayings on them. Of course, the bottom always had “327 Summer St.”. What was funny and somewhat unexpected is how my hot dog signs became collectable. People just ripped them off the walls and windows.This was fun because people got something nice and I emptied my print stacks.

You see, I can’t just throw art away. My prints represent an investment of time and money for me. Even my visual “doodles” and work prints are hard to part with. I wish I could be a little more businesslike about it all, but I feel better leaving it out for people to do with it as they might. So, when I cleaned out my studio closet and basement this week, I was confronted with a familiar pile. I know what to do with these prints. I’m going to give them all away.

Each print will be signed but without an edition. I’m not giving away final prints. In a nice turn of events, I now have galleries to represent me. Everything that hits the street is a work print and only valuable visually.

I’ll do my best to photograph where I leave my work with the hashtag #FreeArt. It would be fun to see where the work ends up and who it touches but the purpose of this is to pass on what has moved through me. This is an act of joy and gratitude. I’m also having a little bit of fun with it all. My instagram tags are #FreeArt by #FamousArtist #RonCowie.

I’m reminded of the famous lines made by Wavy Gravy at Woodstock: “It’s a free concert now.”

So, lets have some fun out there. The distribution starts today.

New Work In Process

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I’ve never worked from a place of complete understanding when starting a project. The creative process is an act of deliberate faith. It starts with exploring, making some clichés and, discovering a new way. It is not about confirming old ideas but uncovering new ones. Here is some new work that is very much “in process” which means both good and bad are included in the mix. I’ve also included images of my camera making images. I think the cool kids call that being very “meta”.

The only thing I can say for sure about my work is that it feels good to make it. In many ways, I’m picking up where Leaving Babylon left off in 2008. A lot has happened in six years and I’m a different person than I was. The greatest gift I got from my most recent portfolio reviews was the permission to start something new. So, with that in mind, I present the “sketchbook” and will continue to share the process. I have no idea where I’m being led.

 

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One rule I hold fast to is “All light is good light”.  Weather is something I can’t control and there is plenty of evidence that great work has been made in all types of circumstances. So, unless there is a natural disaster at hand, I just get to work with what is available.

I’m using one camera, one lens and trying to keep the f/stop as close to the middle as possible. By eliminating mechanical variables and work with how the camera uses these constraints it prevents over thinking. I find it easy to get lost in the mechanics of an exposure instead of the subject matter in front of the lens.

The 8×10 camera requires time. I use it to “step out” of time in active meditation. I consider what’s important in the picture I want to make while setting up. I don’t expect an answer by the time an exposure is made. All the final images will be printed in platinum.

If you are interested in seeing more of my work, please visit my website,  Alibi Fine Art or Photoeye Gallery