Friday 24 August 2018

Appreciating Mary Pratt

“I think with my work. Even things that are ordinary are not ordinary. Because I don’t really believe that anything is ordinary – I think everything is complex and worthy of conjecture and worthy of a close look. I really believe that you could imagine the secrets of the universe by looking at a pile of grapes.”

– Mary Pratt, Canadian Artist, 1935-2018

An early blog post this week.

The iconic Canadian artist Mary Pratt died at age 83 on August 21 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Link)

She will be missed.

Her luminous paintings – from tin foil to trussed moose – burst with life, muscularity, and barely concealed rage. Her work used to be dismissed as kitchen gothic. Which, of course, totally misses the point of her paintings. Yes, much of her work revolves around stereotypical themes of ‘women’s things’. But by breaking free of the constraints and expectations placed on her, she explored her power to see the world on her own terms. 

For many years, she was married to the Newfoundland artist Christopher Pratt. 

Lawren Harris Jr. (son of the Group of Seven artist) once told her, “Now, you have to understand in a family of painters, there can only be one painter, and in your family, it’s going to be Christopher. So why don’t you just understand that and look after the house and the children?” 

The world is a better place because she ignored that advice.

Interestingly, it was her husband Christopher who introduced her to the concept of working from slides and photographs. The technique allowed her to capture the telling moment with a camera and then render it later in her studio with exquisite detail. She did not copy; she re-cast, adding her own life force. 

Mary Pratt’s 2014 retrospective at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, was stunning. Bill and I spent hours inhaling its energy. The exhibit poster, which features her 1999 painting “Jelly Shelf”, graces our kitchen. How lovely to enjoy it every day. It reminds me of the energy that Bill brings to our kitchen and my life every day.

Pratt’s use of photographs intrigues me now that I am honing my own photographic eye. Similar to her, I love finding beauty in the ordinary. The insignificant detail magnified into the compelling image. Or at least that is my goal. And the spirit of Mary Pratt helps motivate me.

Thank you, Mary Pratt. Your paintings reflect elements of our nation’s soul. And you have joined my list of mentors.

I hope the following photos evoke, in my small way, the spirit of Mary Pratt. They were all recorded on Long Island, New York, in the last few days. Enjoy.

Sunday 19 August 2018

The Gift of Bafflement

“I’m not an expert on much, but I’m curious, easily confused, even lost, and often in need of finding a way through and out. Writing has been my primary way of puzzling out one bafflement in order to plunge into the next...[W]riting is sometimes a form of prayer for me.”
- Parker J. Palmer,
On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old
(Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Oakland, California, 2018), 
pages 87 and 98.

Today’s blog post is a celebration of the Quaker sage, Parker Palmer. I have just finished his latest book, quoted above. And what a marvel of wisdom, humility, and humanity it is.

I first encountered Parker Palmer in 1998 when I read his seminal book for educators, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (Jossey-Bass Publishers), a book that became a touchstone for my classroom practice. I was privileged to participate in a retreat Palmer led in 1999 in rural Pennsylvania. My autographed copy of The Courage to Teach is a treasured possession.

His new book is an extended meditation on aging. He is now 80 years old. The book not only looks back with candour; it also looks ahead to the challenges of ageing – an integration of past wisdom with future potential. And he finds much to baffle and confuse him. By recasting bafflement and confusion as gifts rather than obstacles, he adds a sense of wonder and humanity to his journey.

It is a marvellous read – nourishment for the soul.

The book speaks to me profoundly as a photographer. At the risk of being presumptuous, let me reword the opening quotation: “Photography has been my primary way of puzzling out one bafflement in order to plunge into the is sometimes a form of prayer for me.”

Indeed, photography is a form of prayer for me. A way to address doubts, confusions, and ambiguities. A way to navigate bafflement and find beauty in unexpected places.

My photography is better because of Parker Palmer.

I hope you enjoy these photos, all recorded in the last two weeks in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties.

If you wish to explore Parker Palmer further, please check out these YouTube links:

The Primacy of the Soul (4 minutes Link )

The Wisdom of the Heart (3 minutes, 11 seconds Link)

Living from the Inside Out (18 minutes, 58 seconds Link)

“Abide” – Carrie Newcomer sings a poem by Parker Palmer (4 minutes, 13 seconds Link)

Sunday 12 August 2018

Danforth Strong

“Violence is what happens when we don’t
know what to do with our suffering.”
- Parker Palmer, On The Brink of Everything:
Grace, Gravity & Getting Old,
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018, page 160

Once again....

At 10 o’clock on the warm Sunday evening of July 22, Toronto was traumatized by another brazen act of mass violence. And – yet again – the perpetrator was a troubled young man.

Why is it always a troubled young man?

29-year-old Faisal Hussain, who had a history of mental challenges, walked calmly among the late evening crowds of Toronto’s popular Greektown neighbourhood, pulled out a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol, and began shooting into restaurants. Within minutes, two young women had died, thirteen people had been injured, and the killer had committed suicide.

Two innocent young people – 18-year-old Resse Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis – died.

So many few answers. It has not been a good summer for Toronto.

Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood stretches along Danforth Avenue – aka, “The Danforth” – between Jones Avenue in the east and Broadview Avenue in the west. I know the area well and love it. My late husband and I lived nearby for twenty years. Its many restaurants, bars, coffee shops, bookstores, and boutiques are a kaleidoscope of humanity, civility, and inclusiveness. As I write this blog post (Thursday, August 9), the area is preparing to host 1.5 million guests to the annual ‘Taste of the Danforth’ celebration. In the manner of strong neighbourhoods everywhere, the people of Toronto are determined to take back their city from the tragedy of three weeks ago and reclaim Greektown’s over-the-top exuberance. I wish them well.

Last week, I felt compelled to reclaim the neighbourhood for myself. I spent last Wednesday in Toronto, wandering along The Danforth, reassuring myself that Greektown was recovering. And indeed, it was. I spent most of my time at the Alexander the Great Parkette on the northeast corner of Danforth and Logan Avenues. It had become an unofficial gathering place for people to come and share their grief. A rain-soaked collection of flowers, stuffed animals, candles, and heart-rending messages surrounded the fountain. Despite the noise of heavy traffic and rumbling subway trains, it was strangely calm and serene. The photographs that follow give you a sense of what the area felt like. The informal shrine has been relocated to the grounds of nearby St. Barnabas on the Danforth Anglican Church.

Finally, I am always perplexed about the young men on our planet who feel the only way to express their anger is through violence. Surely we can do better than simply giving them weapons. Parker Palmer, that wise old Quaker philosopher, offers the alternative: love and a recognition of mutual humanity. Sounds like a good place to start.

I plan to return to Parker Palmer next week. Meanwhile, I hope you will find these photos to be restorative and engaging.

Monday 6 August 2018

Sweet Light!

“Be the light.”
- Riff on Matthew 5:14

My beloved Prince Edward County Photography Club continues to nudge me into being a better photographer. The monthly theme challenges are an excellent propellant for my craft and creativity.

The theme of the July meeting was “Sweet Light”. Working on images for this theme reminded me – as if I needed reminding – of the importance of light in photography. Photographers are in the light business. Light is our oxygen and our tool; it literally illuminates our creative paths and exposes our vision.

The Vietnamese Zen Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh once famously observed, “No mud, no lotus.” His words highlight the powerfully transformative role of suffering in our lives – no suffering, no joy. In a similar vein, without light, there is no photograph. And I don’t say that frivolously. Light can be annoying, unco-operative, disappointing, and capricious. It can be your friend and your nemesis. Working with it and getting to appreciate it is a lifelong journey. It’s the mud from which our photographs emerge.

Each of the images below play beautifully with light. I love them all and thoroughly enjoyed photographing them and curating them. 


Above the main altar, Notre-Dame Basilica, Montréal
May 23, 2018

Votive candles, Notre-Dame Basilica, Montréal
May 23, 2018

Royal Bank ATM, Complexe Desjardins, Montréal
May 23, 2018

Yellow bicycle helmet, Adelaide Street, Toronto
May 8, 2018

Light-infused bowl at my niece’s memorial service,
West Lake, May 5, 2018