My camera is acting up again, and tonight, in an attempt to clean it, I accidentally smudged the CMOS sensor with grease or something. I’m more than a little cranky with myself.
Tomorrow, I will pack it up and send it off to Sydney for another clean. I’d rather not part with it because that little machine has practically been my third hand since I got it for my 44th birthday.
When I opened the gift from my husband that day, I felt a little deflated. A camera? What would I do with this? We had a camera and I used it occasionally but I felt no great connection to photography.
Little did I know the gift would re-open the door to the creative me, that I more or less abandoned over a decade ago. The cobwebs over my years embedded in the art world were very dense.
So this little camera and I got to know each other over the course of many months, and I began taking it with me everywhere. I still do. Lots and lots of landscapes.
Then in August, I captured some images that triggered something familiar and I got very excited. The figures, the timeless composition, gazes and expression it reminded me of my hero, Édouard Manet.
I do not claim to be anything like the man. That has to be said. But I felt a connection to something I loved. I had found it; I saw something. It opened a door. One of those moments that lives on in a person every day.
Never too keen on Monet though his portrait of his wife is pretty special. Gaugin is pretty cool all around, Degas is sublime, but maybe almost too perfect. I walked a whole exhibition of Degas and it felt like exhausting perfection. That guy could draw.
But Manet. He is reserved, the brushstrokes, visceral, the study of figures in a setting freezes a moment shared, person to person. I love the flatness, the softness and the way he so carefully propels and retracts the figures on the canvas. The composition does my head in. It’s terrific stuff.
I love how he captured the reality of life on the street, the style and life of the flâneur perspective, the personal setting of home, and how he balanced his subjects. His spare backgrounds. He was brave.
I love that he had the bold audacity to submit Olympia (1863) to the 1865 Paris Salon and caused an uproar that rocked society in a way we could not understand today with his audacious representation of a classical odalisque with a common prostitute (model Victorine Meurent). He launched the birth of modern art.
The Street Singer from 1862, was the first painting where Manet used the red headed Meurent. It formed the basis of a large installation piece I made in my first of three years in graduate school. It was inspiring. Her cherries and that confronting gaze with her sweeping skirts. How cool is that?
I’m much bolder with my camera. I experiment all the time. I go manual nearly all the time now, snap, and hope. I crop and tweak. I wish I had taken a proper photography class rather than just dabbling. I wish I knew how to use a darkroom. Before, I eschewed taking photos of people. Now, I feel like there is unlimited potential all around me. and the next best picture is elusive. It’s about the chase.
None of these are my best. I’m saving those for something when it appears. But there is a little theme happening in this work, and I have to take my hat off to the masters who shed a bit of light for me.
I have to thank my husband for such a life-changing gift.
See you in a few weeks my little friend. Going to miss the heck out of you.
-That stunner at the top of the page is The Old Musician by Édouard Manet, from 1862.