Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sweet Light

Oh, for sweet light! People around the world rejoice in and praise it. Light represents hope, sustenance, and illumination.

Into my heart's night

Along a narrow way
I groped; and lo! the light,

An infinite land of day.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, where I live, there is an annual tradition of giving light on Christmas Eve. Paper bags are weighted with a layer of sand and a candle is lit and placed inside, then, scores of these “farolitos” (Spanish for “little lights”) are placed along paths, streets, sidewalks, on walls and even rooftops. Streets are closed to vehicles in an old and historic part of town along Canyon Road, where the art galleries line both sides of the avenue. As night falls, people gather in masses to walk among the farolitos, or gather at luminarios (bonfires) to sing carols and be festive. The tradition lights up the heart and soul, as thousands of people stroll. Amid joyous sounds of Christmas music, the revelry of friends and families greeting each other fills the air.

The lights have their roots in the 1800's. Small bonfires were used to guide people to Christmas Mass. Quite often they were set out during the final night of Las Posadas, the symbolic representation of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem walking from home to home before Jesus was born.
 In later days, children carried small farolitos as they reenacted Las Posadas.

This year as I walked among the darkened masses of people and flickering firelights, Heidi of the Mountains walked by my side. “This is my first time!” she exclaimed with glee.

No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.  ~Terry Pratchett

Your life is something opaque, not transparent, as long as you look at it in an ordinary human way.  But if you hold it up against the light of God's goodness, it shines and turns transparent, radiant and bright.  And then you ask yourself in amazement:  Is this really my own life I see before me?  ~Albert Schweitzer

A couple years ago, during October, I arrived in Varanasi, India, just at the beginning of Devali, "festival of lights"; an important five-day festival in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Mounds of marigold blossoms were heaped in the streets, to be gathered to make garlands. In the evening, a man rowed me on the Ganges River to see fireworks and watch the huge cremation fires on the riverbank. As night fell, little handmade boats were floating everywhere—set upon their voyage carrying flower petals and candle, lit with someone’s hope.

My mind withdrew its thoughts from experience, extracting itself from the contradictory throng of sensuous images, that it might find out what that light was wherein it was bathed... And thus, with the flash of one hurried glance, it attained to the vision of That Which Is.
Saint Augustine

After I left India, by chance I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at the beginning of Loi Krothon, a festival where firelight plays a central role. "Loi" means "to float" and a "krathong" is traditionally made from a section of banana tree trunk. A krathong will be decorated with elaborately folded banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks. A low value coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits.

During the night of the full moon, Thais will float their krathong on a river, canal or a pond lake. The festival is believed to originate in an ancient practice of paying respect to the spirit of the waters. In Chiang Mai, night parades wind through the streets, with many of the costumed participants marching with candles aglow. Also, candles are lit under canopies of paper and as the warm air rises and is trapped, the lit paper bags rise into the air—thousands through the night, glowing all the way. It is quite the sight.

And of all illumination which human reason can give, none is comparable to the discovery of what we are, our nature, our obligations, what happiness we are capable of, and what are the means of attaining it.
Adam Weishaupt

There is not enough darkness in the entire world to put out the light of even one small candle.
  Robert Alden

Sunday, December 19, 2010


There are always two people in every picture:  the photographer and the viewer.  ~Ansel Adams

When I was in Kashmir, India, I went on a trek in the Himalayan Mountains, and during the journey stopped in a tiny hamlet to paint. I set up my easel to get a view of houses with the mountains rising behind. Children were the first to arrive by my side, but before long adults too, came to watch. I was entertaining them. Fortunately, I had my camera, and occasionally turned and snapped pictures of the onlookers. That day was quite memorable, and I came away with a painting, wonderful experiences, and a trove of photographs. Many are favorites from among 30,000 pictures I took in 2008. One in particular is a photo that came when I had finished painting and stood to smile at the young people. I motioned to a group that I wanted to take their picture and without a word, they quickly gathered and focused all their attention to me. In a second I had taken a marvelous photo, and then, a few more in succession. I have printed it as large as 34 by 44 inches and lived with it for many months . . . and never tire looking at it. The children are present, free from confusion and gaze openly with candor. They are dressed nicely in mountain garb, and have chapped skin from the climate. In some of the pictures, the village children show clothes that are stained and faces with dirt . . . and it's understandable since they do not have washrooms or toilets, but live close to nature. In the above photo, I like that they stand shoulder to shoulder as comrades.

I had similar moments of serendipity when in the briefest of seconds an unlikely slice of time is captured forever. For instance when I was outside a mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, and noticed a big congregation of pigeons bustling about. A homely woman turned to me, and in a moment I had taken her picture as she offered me seed to throw to the birds. She is smiling bashfully and missing teeth.

Some photos can be planned. When I was driving on the island of Corfu, in Greece, I came to a place called Ipsos and spotted a rickety dock that jutted into a lake. I stopped and as the gentle waves lapped the shore at my feet, set up a tripod and leisurely snapped photos. The result is a picture that has fullness and emptiness both. I call it Zen Dock. 

Sometimes, I knew a picture was waiting for me, but I would need to make special effort to get it. When I was in Hoi An, Vietnam, I heard of a fish market that was especially lively at dawn, when the fishermen arrived at a dock amid a crowd of clamoring and bartering women. Several mornings I rose with the sun to ride my bicycle to the place. Sure enough, I got great pictures. Among them is this shot of a woman who was squatting on her haunches, smoking a cigar under her straw hat.

Photos can record in a moment a picture worth a thousand words. While in Africa in the Serengeti game preserve, I met a group of Masai boys and could not have made a painting of them. But my camera was with me, and my brief encounter is now more than an isolated memory in my head.

It's weird that photographers spend years or even a whole lifetime, trying to capture moments that added together, doesn’t even amount to a couple of hours.  ~James Lalropui Keivom

Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created.  It is a major force in explaining man to man.  ~Edward Steichen

See more travel pictures:  Artistic photography by Steven Boone
Also my full website for photos: Graphixshoot

Sunday, December 12, 2010

God Within It

 My mother, who lives in Santa Barbara, California, called and left a message on my phone the other day. Her voice was emotional as she spoke slowly and deliberately. “Hi Steven, it’s your mother. Our dog, Sarah, died December 1st. I put a sign out front for the neighbors—to tell them she had died . . . because everyone loved her. And I put on the sign a writing from Baha’u’llah that said, ‘Nothing do I perceive but I perceive God within it, God before it, and God after it.'  I wrote the name of Baha’u’llah on it, along with a picture of Sarah. Then everyone knew she had left us.” Her voice trembled and she cried a little as she spoke. I noticed the crying because my mother never cries.

They had brought Sarah home after a previous dog died. Sarah was already three or four years old. A German Shepherd, she had been abused by someone and was not trusting. Once she became a part of my parent’s household, she barked at anyone else who entered the house. I went to visit them a couple months ago and Sarah always barked at me when I came inside, even though she was deaf and too tired to stand. I noticed that she did the same with my brother who lives near my parents and has visited thousands of times. I had to laugh about that.

Sarah was treated with great kindness and even reverence. When she slowed down and could barely walk, my father cordially walked slowly by her side as she went out to do her duty every day. Both my parents, who are infirm themselves, would help her when she could only climb halfway into the car, and had to have her back legs lifted and then be scooted in. They said kind things to her every day, even after she had gone deaf. When my father noticed she was not eating, he'd get on his hands and knees and feed her. She ate the same food as my parents. I once joked with my mother that I was eating dog food when I noticed she had the same food in the dog dish as on my plate. She said resolutely, “Sarah gets the same food as we do.”

The dog lived much longer than perhaps possible, due to the love she received. My mother liked to say she was “the oldest German Shepherd in Santa Barbara.”

I spoke with mother after she left her message for me. She said many neighbors had seen the sign and come with flowers, or gifts, and to pay their sympathies. Surely, they had noticed a great love and now part of it had gone away.

"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens” ..... Unknown  (Possibly from an early American trial re: the killing of a neighbor's dog)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Tightrope Walker

Being an artist is like being a tightrope walker, trying to keep balanced between creativity and staying in public favor. To lose either is to fall, but losing creativity is death, whereas public favor is capricious, not essential for life. Most artists depend upon public sanction and approval in order to provide for themselves and family. Everyone knows the tragic story of Vincent van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890). He passionately gave his talents to the world, but the public did not receive his gifts. Thus he was impoverished and depended upon the charity of his brother to survive. At the tender age of 37, he killed himself, and then some years later when public taste shifted, his work gained favor. Now, van Gogh is an icon and his work is among the most sought after in the world. And what if he had acknowledged and followed advice? We all would be poorer if he had conformed to the taste required by society and painted academic paintings with subdued tones and little flair or personality. Then, his unique and wondrous gift of authenticity would have been diminished and blighted and his greatest work would not have been achieved.

In contrast, Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973) set the world on fire and after a brief initial struggle getting established, had the public eating out of his hand. Much of his work could not be understood, but perhaps because society was hungry for change and he was the man of the hour and capable of fantastic feats of creativity, his bold advances were met enthusiastically and he became very rich. His art is also among the most sought after in the world.

Common advice for an artist is to create a niche and be identified much as commercial brands are recognized. Then, grow the brand.  Most artists do this.  Norman Rockwell, Andrew Wyeth, or even Jackson Pollock, are painters who settled upon a technique and then harvested results. This practice extends to other art forms, such as poetry and writing, where some are haiku writers or fiction novelists, but not both. Very few are like Leonardo daVinci, a painter, inventor, sculptor, poet and scientist.

I admit that the public sometimes factors into my thoughts when I am in my studio. I have had success as a landscape painter, but other work has met with less enthusiasm. Some of my paintings, like the Hangup series, (faces hanging from clothespins on a line), have met with delight and wonder, but also revulsion and hatred. When I made the first, I was responding to a quirky inner vision, not public taste. I had decided to follow through with an odd momentary vision, and eventually produced thirty-five paintings. At one point I stopped painting, since I felt I was coming unglued, but now count the Hangup paintings as among my most important work. To prove the point, one of them, Van Gogh, All Hung Up is part of the permanent collection of the Foundation Vincent Van Gogh, in Arles, France, among paintings by luminaries of contemporary art.

Writing, photography, painting, drawing, making books, graphic design, public speaking, traveling, meditation, philosophy . . . the main thing is to follow the thread of the heart.

Visit the Steven Boone website.