Time enough at last

Yo (colour photograph)
Yo (colour photograph) by Paul Politis (2021)

Yo (colour photograph)

The other day, I picked up my copy of Art & Fear and started reading at a random page. It’s one of those books where you can do that. I hadn’t read it in quite a while and reading it again gave me an even deeper appreciation for its insights. I was struck by passages I’d previously underlined and, revealingly, quite a few that I hadn’t. Five years on from first reading it I bring a deeper experience to my understanding, and different perspectives.

“Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward. Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next. Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.”
— David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

“The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential. X-rays of famous paintings reveal that even master artists sometimes made basic mid-course corrections (or deleted really dumb mistakes) by overpainting the still-wet canvas. The point is that you learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many of the pieces you make along the way will never stand out as finished art. The best you can do is make art you care about — and lots of it!”
— David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

“In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.”
— David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

* * * * *

It’s May 2021 and I’m walking leisurely past the shops that line the streets in this part of the city in which I live. It’s a Sunday, and this is a time of another (final?) COVID lockdown, so most of these places — the ones not trading in anything deemed “essential” — are closed by government decree. There are people walking about, but nowhere near as many pre-pandemic. I’ve grown accustomed to wandering these near-deserted streets with my camera over the past fourteen months, I can’t truly recall how bustling they were in normal times, and I’ll miss them when they’re fully past. I remember fantasizing on occasion in pre-COVID times about deserted city streets, like in that old Twilight Zone episode. No distractions to my communion. Fate was cruel and unjust to Henry Bemis in the end, as it sometimes is. He had also been given something, a particular intensity, that was denied to the others. I arrive at no conclusions, only observations.

I’m walking, and I’m in a relaxed mood — a marked contrast to the persistent low-level fight or flight that I generally feel in a city — and I’m simultaneously taking in some of the small details that one would normally walk past without noticing while also registering larger views of the chaotic urban landscape before me. This is the state of mind that I covet; receptive, not anticipating. Just a calm awareness and curiosity, without demands. It’s times like these that I strive for with my camera, the respite of the quieted mind. Attuned to those subtle flickers of interest that spark inside me that are so easily extinguished by anxiety or worry and the relentless monologue. For the moment, I’m free to explore my curiosity and playfulness, to be open to irony and humour and beauty and metaphor. Squalor, too.

I stop to take photos of reflections in the glass of a shop door, playing with the shapes and the text, the reflections of the passers-by and my own reflection. A young couple holding take-out coffee cups walk briskly past, down this very same street, through this very same city, toward their own concerns.

Seconds, minutes, hours — they crawl by on hands and knees for Mr. Henry Bemis, who looks for a spark in the ashes of a dead world.

Henry found that spark and it burned a short time for him.

Smile. You're on Camera (animation) Paul Politis


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