Today we have picture postcards and paintings, all beautiful, but first an essay. I write this in the middle of a week where both the sun shone and the clouds hid; what may the days left bring? You will know more than I will.
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The idea of doing something creative is founded on the idea of being unique. But to find a unique voice to say something is often harder than the thing itself. We marvel at those who do. The path to our own then is to just sing and then sing some more. Do we find our right voice then? Perhaps not. But we might feel more confident in the one we have. [^1]
Voice on Film
When Teju Cole writes about the Vierwaldstättersee, the Four Forested-Cantons Lake - a lake I have never seen, I am transported to some place distant and similar. Some strange story, murky in its details bounces in and out like in a dream. All I remember is a lake in the middle, woods around it in four directions. It remains mysterious and I stare dazed at the screen.
In the next line Cole says, ‘In the mountains and towns around all these lakes, days pass by like the hours of a dream’.
Called Far Away From Here, Cole wrote it in 2015, chronicling his experience of spending six months in Switzerland. It is a beautiful essay. 4500 words flow from photography to history to art and travel to the present, with him in there. In them we see how he arrives at the photos he takes.
It is very rare to get a breakdown or an insight into the intangibles of a creative process like this.
A point comes where he says this on shooting the alps -
“I suppose I knew, even then, that those photos would not necessarily play a central role in my project. I considered them, instead, small installments on a debt to beauty, a relief from having to be original.”
That when confronted with a thing of beauty, to make that capture it and make a piece of art was an obligation to it.
Cole’s essay is at its core about him finding his photographic voice; walking through his creative doubts and distractions, to finding himself in his work and thus his voice. In the broad strokes that he makes on this canvas, this little detail was striking, worth a pause.
Voice on Canvas
Josh Clare captures some beautiful landscapes on canvas.
I like his works, there’s a truth that is evident that he is honest to his eye and honest with his hand. The same day that I was reading Cole’s essay, I saw this on my feed -
Artists doing their best to making something beautiful.
I thought about this post by Clare as I read Cole’s segue on taking photos of the mountains as a debt to them.
And I thought, what if Megan meant something else. ( I am aware she is only two!) What if what Megan said was not that she made it beautiful, but what she saw was beautiful? Was it her voice that was beautiful or the song she paints?
Josh Clare’s art is deeply influenced by his faith. His pursuit of realistic plen air work is seeped in both humility and dedication. He considers what is beautiful as what the eyes see, its edges are defined by what god created in nature. His voice is that he must do justice to god given talents by capturing god’s beauty in nature. And to find his, he moved forward in every work, one step closer every time on the far road.
Questions on Beauty
In another essay, more current, yet just as timeless - in praise of the Photobook, Cole says:
A photo, even a good one, tends to simply show you what something looks like. But if you sequence several of them, in a book, say, or in an exhibition, you see not only what something looks like, but how someone looks.
The beauty then, is in the voice.
I think of Ben Shahn and his series of paintings called For the Sake of a Single Verse. He painted 24 lithographs based on lines or sometimes just words from a passage in Rainer Maria Rilke’s novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.
There is something to think about in that.
What did Shahn see to make them beautiful?
We have touched upon the question of beauty before. In that passage on what is beautiful, Umberto Eco’s monk Adso de Melk sets a precondition on beauty that it must not be incomplete. “… for this reason we consider ugly all incomplete things,” he says.
And then you come across Adrian Brandon’s incomplete paintings. His portraits of black people killed by the police. He paints only one minute for every year the victims lived, leaving the works rendered incomplete. I ask Adso, are they not beautiful?
In an email are footnotes endnotes?
Teju Cole speaks of Fernweh, a longing for far away places in that 2015 essay. This year he released a photo book on all the photographs he took in Switzerland. It is called Fernweh. This interview in the context of this book explores his mind as both a writer and a photographer. It explores the idea of voice and style through the prism of his crafts.
Reading this essay after nearly 5 years was refreshing not in the least because it had so little of America. It seems like everywhere I look there only America to read about. And turns out I’m of the only one thinking of it.As a European, I'm getting increasingly tired of American influence, from media, politics, work & lifestyle etc. It is overwhelming how much input is coming from US when it doesn't relate to my experience / life / context day to day. At this moment there is no way to filter it.
TJ Cunningham is another artist who makes beautifu life like landscapes.