Artist in Residence
The natural elements in winter stand stark in the dawning of the New Year. The primal beauty of a bare tree against a clear winter sky, revealing shape and texture, takes my breath away with an icy burn that only minus ten degrees can do properly. Lake Michigan, frozen in pancake style, is still too active to freeze solid but the bay has quieted into a solid blanket of ice. The snow that seemed to come nonstop in November and December has accumulated so deep that the terrain has become ever-altering with undulating banks and drifts reshaped daily by the strong northwestern winds.
The transition into New Year never fails to rouse an enormous wave of optimism within. However, this year brings so much more. The promise of change in Washington D.C. is palpable in the air. With a new administration in the office – I still savor the words shared at the inauguration. The presidential address, delivered in a moving somber tone, gave us as a nation many points to contemplate and rejoice.
In these first few month's of the New Year we pay tribute to many past political figures: Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 15th then Presidents Washington and Lincoln on February 16th. February is also Black History month which always brings forth the opportunity to celebrate our African–American leaders and artists, past and present.
American (b. 1954)
Sen. Barack Obama runs up the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
To illustrate the past and clarify the present, I turn to the photographs of yesterday and today. The work by the recently appointed presidential photographer, Pete Souza, has been a window into the private and public life of President Obama. The images are as beautiful as they are powerful. Congratulations to Mr. Souza.
American (1930 – 2008)
Martin Luther King, Jr. series
Circa 1963 – 1964
Gelatin Silver Prints
Benedict J. Fernandez
American (b. 1936)
Dick Gregory with MLK / New Politics Convention, Chicago, Illinois
With an oratorical style that drew directly on the force of the Bible and a serene confidence derived from his nonviolent philosophy, Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated a program of moderation and inclusion. He was the guiding light during the most crucial years in the civil rights struggle. In the upcoming exhibition, Seeing Ourselves, two photographers featured had made many photographs of Rev. King, powerful documentary images by Benedict J. Fernandez and Flip Schulke chronicled the many historic moments. In Dr. King’s own words, “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”
The former senator of Illinois brings to the Oval Office a fresh perspective on President Lincoln. Obama’s passionate approach is directly influenced by the philosophies of Lincoln. In a 2005 essay in Time magazine, Mr. Obama wrote of the humble beginnings that he and Lincoln shared, adding that the 16th president reminded him of “a larger, fundamental element of American life — the enduring belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams.”
Interestingly enough, there are a host of many parallels between these two former Illinois state legislators. Both had short stints in Congress under their belts before coming to national prominence with speeches show-casing their verbal eloquence. Both have portrayed a Zen-like calmness under pressure and embrace the virtues of moderation and balance. And the fact that both relatively new politicians who were initially criticized for their lack of experience while pursuing the presidential seat is quite interesting
In the biography Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan, makes clear, Lincoln, like Mr. Obama, was a lifelong lover of books, indelibly shaped by his reading — most notably, in his case, the Bible and Shakespeare — which honed his poetic sense of language and his philosophical view of the world. Finally, the mantra shared by both: “To begin again!” sets forth our nation into a promising future firmly structured upon our past.
“We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.”
These are lines from the poem by Elizabeth Alexander tilted Praise Song for the Day written for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration. The beauty of listening to a single poem as a nation is a very powerful journey we make together. On her words we weave collectively in and out of each phrase and stanza. President Kennedy, the first to commission a poem to be read at an Inauguration, once said, “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”
Winter Landscape workshop in Door County:
Many brave souls attended this year’s Winter Landscape Workshop. At moments I had glimpses of what Shackleton may have experienced in Antarctica. Even with bone-chilling winds blowing off the waters of Fish Creek at dusk, as a group, we were not deterred. With temperatures hovering just above zero, Door County’s finest vistas proved to be quite photo worthy. The snow cover was idyllic and the ice formations at the shoreline were near perfection. With greatly varying weather conditions a diverse portfolio of images was attainable over this short but fulfilling workshop. With Dan Anderson, this experience invited photographers to step outside their comfort zones and go beyond the ordinary. The fragility and beauty of this polar-like climate is a meditative and creative journey that is a must for every serious photographer.
Connecting with Living American Masters: Hiroshi Watanabe
With all eyes on Washington D.C., I thought it would be interesting to hear from an artist featured in the upcoming exhibition that had made their image in our nation’s capital.
I had contacted Mr. Watanabe by email. Here is his response:
Thank you very much for your email and kind words. I am not sure if I deserve your “praise” but I appreciate your kind thoughts. BTW, your image imbedded at the top of your email is so beautiful and masterful. I think you are the one who deserve the word “master photographer.” I have been printing this week and that is why I did not reply to you sooner. I would like to respond to your questions next week if that is okay with you.
PS Thank you so much for putting the link to George Eastman House podcast. I was not aware of it, and I am very pleased to see it.
I had responded with a quick note saying that it will be lovely to hear from him when he is able.
Later came his very revealing response on his work:
I went back to your original email as I wanted to respond to your question.
You asked, “Possibly share your mind set when you made the photograph, what brought you to travel to Washington, why you decided to choose the memorial as subject matter... And anything else you recall from this experience a decade ago.”
This is a heavy loaded question for me--because I hardly think why I make the photographs when I make them, except to say that I am strongly drawn to it. The same photograph was recently included in another show called “Connections” at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco and I was asked to write up something about 5 images (Vietnam War Memorial was one of them) in the show. Perhaps this will provide some hint.
We all feel like outsiders to other people some times. Immigrants probably feel that way even more so. They learnt the language, studied American history and politics and even became American citizens, but they feel they are still little different, and the others see them little different, don’t they? They are treated like guests some times and like aliens other times. Before they came, they watched American TV shows and listened American music, and dreamed the American life. Now they are here and found America as they imagined, and they feel connections to her. But they sometimes wonder, especially when they cannot agree with some of the things the country does. Yet, they long for her for more connections.
All My best,
Hiroshi Watanabe was born in Sapporo, Japan. He graduated from Department of Photography, College of Art, at Nihon University in 1975. He moved to Los Angeles after graduation and became involved in the production of TV commercials, eventually working as a producer. He later established his own production company and produced numerous commercials. He received an MBA degree from UCLA Business School in 1993. In 1995 his passion for photography rekindled, and since then he has traveled worldwide extensively, photographing what he finds intriguing at that moment and place. In 2000 he closed the production company in order to devote himself entirely to the art and became a full time photographer.
To view Mr. Watanabe's entire collection of photographs please visit his website:
Following please find a select group of books that have guided me through the long winter nights:
Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration
Grey Wolf Press
Black in America
Photography by Eli Reed with an introduction by Gordon Parks
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
He Had a Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement
Photography by Flip Schulke
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
The Rise of Barack Obama
by Photojournalist Pete Souza
Photographs by Hiroshi Watanabe
New favorites we’ve read to our first grader:
Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country: Kids' Letters to President Obama
By Jory John (Editor)
A Drawing in the Sand: A Story of African American Art
by Jerry Butler
Wake Up Our Souls: A Celebration of African American Artists
by Tonya Bolden
As the end of February approaches a rare phenomenon occurred: “thunder snow.”
As I was preparing dinner, out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash. Moments later a deep rumbled rattled our home. My daughter instantly appeared and ran to me for cover. As she asked “What can it be?” another bright flash lit the sky. We both jumped.
In the freshly charged atmosphere, we ate out dinner rather quietly
- we watched with half-delight half-concern the flashes lighting
up the snow covered landscape. Then the moment it stopped snow began
to fall – large languid flakes -- as if someone had taken the globe
and gave it a good shake. Our hope that it wasn’t by Zeus’ hand.