Monthly Archives: January 2015

Analog: It Carries the Story


Pinhole Photography by Nancy Spencer at New Mexico Museum of History in Santa Fe

Recently, due to events too complicated to go into here, my son has been relegated to a sans internet, sans texting, and sans phone call lifestyle. At 18 years old, he is at a complete loss.
“How will I look up words in the thesaurus?” “Use the book.” “I don’t know how.”

This is the same son who explained passing notes in class like this: “It’s like texting Mom, except you write on paper.”

Getting him off screens has been a blessing for our connection. He is somehow more accessible, more available to meet my eyes. The energy flow is much different.

I’m the kind of girl that prefers stoves to microwaves, books to kindles, letters to emails, pencils to keyboards, and even (theoretically) typewriters to computers. I prefer mechanical clocks to binary clocks. I keep a journal. I have records and I think that hand-made gifts are the best.

I think the thing I love the most about artwork is when I can sense and see that it was hand-crafted. I remember standing in front of a Frida Kahlo painting at a special exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum in the late 90s. They have some of her pieces in their permanent collection, and I saw them this weekend. I could very clearly imagine and see Frida painting it, her body placed exactly where mine was. I followed her tiny brush strokes and had a kind of psychic thrill and celebrity connection with her. In general, I always know when someone else’s hands touched the piece before my eyes witnessed it, or my curator-hands touched it. I know that someone with soul interpreted their vision into an art piece. And it’s imperfect. It has room and space for hidden meanings, for interpretation, pockets for dreams to hide in. The best pieces of artwork, in my opinion, are like humans walking through a field. The seeds, pods, and brambles get caught on the piece as if it were a cotton pant leg, inviting them to journey along. The artwork becomes a carrier for grains of experience and emotion to fall in new places.


A tree made out of newspapers at SITE Santa Fe.

I’m sure we have all heard this kind of art or experience referred to as “analog”. But when looking up the word, it is mostly defined as “something having analogy (or features, similarities of two things, on which a comparison may be based) with something else.” I think this means that “analogue” artwork is closest to the human experience; it is flawed, mysterious and imperfectly perfect just like humans. The process isn’t controllable and sometimes wonderful, unexpected things are carried through the human process of creation.

Pinhole photography seems to be the most analog of photography. You work with a simple box and a mechanical shutter–you have to develop the film. Focusing, adjusting, manipulating are not parts of the process. There is much room for error, for imperfections. Nancy Spencer understands this. She writes, in the Pinhole Photography exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of History in Santa Fe, “Pinhole photography is the closest medium I know to record both “things seen” and “things unseen.” Sometimes the “things unseen” are intuitively known. The knowledge that “things seen” and “things unseen” might be recorded on film maintains my interest in this type of image making.” (1985)


Donald Judd’s piece at Phoenix Art Museum.

Analog leaves room for the “unseen.” It is not Pure Science with a direct hypothesis; it is not black and white. There is room for interpretation, for the holistic zeitgeist of the experience, for touch and intuition to shine forth. I like this world. It makes my feel like I am surrounded by things that are analogous to me and my imperfect human experience. It seems that the effort of a handwritten poem will carry the reader past the ambiguity of words or turns of phrase. In the case of my son, I feel like I know him a little bit better, as he communicates with his eyes, gestures and words. All of this simple technology leaves more room for the human touch.

Because we understand the analogy of each others human creation process, we can go deeper. Analog picks up these magic pebbles and seedpods and carries our stories further.


Scottsdale, AZ.

Nature of seeing


Santa Fe rosary tree

“After nearly five decades of picture-making, of gazing into the world with no camera at all, I still wonder what I have been looking for. What is the practice of seeing? How is it done and why? These are very large questions, wrapped in mystery and, I suspect, wrapped specially for each of us to find afresh from within our own solitude.” Michael Mideke, photographer, 2004

In a recent lecture, my friend, artist Bruce Aiken sat next to his peers Ed Mell and Shonto Begay and said (to paraphrase) “I don’t know why I can see things that other people can’t see. I don’t know if they could see them if they just tried.”

It’s a question I’ve been grappling with, in various forms, ever since college. I have longed for most passionately to be in the present moment, to really see things. Many people agree that being in the moment involves being ultra aware of our senses and our surroundings. I love being in the moment at the beautiful art exhibits and museums that I visit. But sometimes I’m disappointed with my attention span, and realize that I didn’t concentrate on something and couldn’t recall the picture at all.


Weaving, and getting lost in ribbons of color

“How is seeing done and why?” asks Mideke. Some people focus on the lights, the shapes and textures, or even the figures to be able to “see.” They have extensive color theory knowledge and can differentiate the hues and identify the saturation. I love color fields, and can get lost in them. But ultimately, for me seeing is really and truly activated when my other body systems are contributing to the process.

A great example of this happened over Christmas vacation when I saw “Our Lady of Sorrows” at the New Mexico History Museum. I had walked into the room of the exhibit “Painting the Divine”, and hadn’t noticed her, until I turned around and suddenly she was there. I gasped. My pupils dilated, blood rushed to my face.  She caught me by surprise. Her wig was made from

Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows, 18th Century Mexico, unidentified artist. Polychromed wood, wig with human hair.

real human hair, her face had real sorrow etched into the circles under her eyes. She made my head pound. I was so struck by her that I was a little intimidated and had to force myself to breathe slowly. I also had the urge, as I do sometimes, to touch the museum piece (which I would never do, what a faux pas!) and I could feel the textures in my imagination, as I rubbed her various components between my finger pads.

Perhaps you can see why I was so activated from the picture here on the left.

When I’m really looking, actually seeing something in a museum, as I did with Our Lady of Sorrows, I start to notice my heart-beat. I feel my body, notice how I’m inhabiting it. I gesture in a similar way as the figure, or as the movement of the art piece. Sometimes, if the piece is also emotionally moving, I feel a shiver down my back, or as if someone is gently pulling individual hair strands.

Whereas externally looking at art or beauty in the natural world inspires me to go inward, reading (an internal activity) inspires me to look outward. I’ll stop between fantastic sentences and I’ll look around at my scenery. When Jane Eyre said “I had heard it–where or whence, for ever impossible to know! And it was the voice of a human being–a known, loved, well-remember voice–that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spIMG_7035oke in pain and woe wildly, eerily, urgently,” I had to physically look around my present surroundings for the voice. I remember Colorado mountains and plains that accented these words and their strange metaphysical meanings. Jane Eyre’s words needed my landscape to be heard by me. The inner needed the outer to be seen.

When we see something, by reading words on a page, or by witnessing beauty in paintings, nature, or through humans, we want to integrate our images. We don’t want to look without registering. We want their meanings to sink in. We need comparison, a contrast of the body’s reactions, or the outer world to become the analogy to the stories we have just read. We need a connection to something tangible. The known, whether it is corporal or contextual, helps us to recognize the unknown. My physical world helps bring meaning to what I see. When I am paying attention to myself or my surroundings, I am able to listen to words and see meaning in pictures.

As for why I want to see, it’s only because I want to be as alive as possible.