Blog

Musings
  • The creative process can be illusive, unpredictable. Sometimes, though, inspiration may arise from unlikely, unexpected sources.

    Most artists I know tend to draw ideas for their own work from a wide variety of places. Painting, music, photography, poetry, literature, dance, sculpture and theater all are fuel for their dynamic, evolving fires. For them, the quest to create is innate, and the wonder of the new is an important component of their muse.

    I passed this random arrangement of trash bins recently and immediately sensed a convergence of two of my own personal passions. My interest in music well precedes my chosen career, but it's something I've continued to explore in a quiet, personal way for a long time. The pattern of D, D, A, A, C, B struck a chord, and inpired me to try and make a small composition out of the haphazard collection.

    While it's not necessarily the prettiest musical progression in the world, I still felt inclined to spend few moments at the keyboard in an effort to give the temporary assemblage a little life. It's an impromptu, unrefined piece, and one that I may not spend too much more time on, but it does hint at what drives myself, and others, to create - and the interesting, unexpected touchstones that drive the process.

    Select PLAY > above to listen 

  • An Ode to an Inspiration

    An Ode to an Inspiration

    Was reminiscing recently about a battered and worn upright piano that occupied a back corner of our family's garage during my teenage years. It wasn't very pretty - broken ivories, broken keys, broken wood. Still, there were strings - and the potential for music. 

    Occasionally, I would wander over to the tired instrument, hoping to coax a melody or two from the heart inside its fading shell. Untrained, I was relegated to simple, original compositions - haphazard improvisations that were largely exercises in avoiding dissonance. 

    At seventeen, my parents, maybe sensing a little spark, upgraded the piano and enrolled me in lessons with a woman who lived across town named Betty Hansen. A middle-aged widow, she possessed a sparkling personality and a vast love for music that outsized her petite frame. In her cramped front room resided the Steinway. Around it, stacks and stacks of sheet music - Gershwin, The Beatles, show tunes and folk songs - most of them transcribed in her own hand and signed - "Arranged by Betty M. Hansen"

    We progressed slowly, working through primary books, and eventually some of her simple sheets. I was surely one of her least diligent students - though she would never say so. We'd meet for 30 minute sessions every couple of weeks, and there were periods where I might not have played in between. Still, she was patient, always quick to encourage and careful not to criticize. Occasionally, when I'd do something well, she would prop open the top on the grand, offering my tentative hands the chance to fill the room with sound. Her love of music was contagious, and over time, I had learned just enough to carry my interest forward, a gift I appreciate to this day.

    Near the end of our time together, when it was becoming clear that music was going to be just an avocation for me, Mrs. Hansen offered to score one of the small pieces I had composed. As I played, she plotted the notes on paper. Her handwriting was elegant, lyrical. When we finished, she added my name next to the title: "Genesis."

    I read today that Betty May Hansen died two weeks ago. She was 88 years old. One year for each of the keys on her piano.

    When we first met, she had a few octaves yet to play. But midway through her own life's symphony, Betty Hansen struck a more resonant chord than she knew. Because of her, I still play today, decades later. Still can't say I practice much, but I play.. I play.

  • Coming Full-circle with Square Format

    Coming Full-circle with Square Format

    Really pleased to have three images selected for inclusion in the upcoming exhibit “Wisconsin Photography 2016” at the Racine Art Museum’s Wustum Museum of Fine Arts. The show, juried by Karen Irvine, curator and associate director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, will feature the work of 38 fine art photographers from across the state. It’s always an intriguing exhibit, offering a broad array of photographic visions and approaches.

    Inclusion in the show holds a special meaning for me on several levels. Racine is my hometown, the place I was first exposed to photography as an art form, and where I nurtured my early interest in the medium.

    In addition to my career as a working photojournalist, I’ve always tried to maintain a steady interest in non-documentary work as well. The set of images selected for this exhibit are representative of some of the personal art explorations I’ve continued to pursue outside of work.

    The portfolio I submitted for judging was comprised of a set of images all drawn from my interest in square format composition. As a relative newcomer to the Instagram phenomena, I’ve been intrigued by the platform’s 1x1 image ratio preference, and have been composing work with that format in mind for the last year or so.

    What I really like about the approach, though, is how it reminds me of my very first experience with photography as a boy growing up back home. I remember the first camera I ever held was a twin-lens reflex camera which my father let me experiment with. I don’t believe there was even any film in it, but I can recall walking around our home composing imaginary ‘pictures’ while looking through the vintage device’s square-formatted, top-mounted viewfinder.

    In a way, being part of this exhibit, with these images, kind of brings full-circle my passion for photography from my earliest exposures, to present-day pursuits. 

    The show opens August 28th, and continues through November 26, 2016.

    Racine Art Museum's Wisconsin Photography 2016

  • Zen and the Art of Nature's Transcendence

    I've been exploring the iPhone 6's slow-motion video capabilities recently and enjoying the results. The leaves in this short piece were actually fluttering wildly during a strong wind and steady rain. This minute-long segment was the result of only a 15 second-or-so initial capture. The zen-like result left me inclined to slow down a bit myself, and try and appreciate the wonders of nature more often. The audio track was recorded shortly after and features the sounds of the rain and nearby wind chimes.

  • On Firsts - Past and Future

    On Firsts - Past and Future

    Playing with some numbers and dates recently, I happened to discover that I was approaching a milestone event. As it turns out, counting Leap Days, today, February 7, 2015, marks my 20,000th day of Life.

    Now, I know what most of you are thinking, "But, John, you hardly look a day over 15,000!" Well, I fortunately don't feel it either, but the math is what is and the revelation of my biological odometer flipping over has left me thinking about the past - and the future.

    Feeling inclined to visually represent this span of time, I assembled an array of 20,000 points - 50 rows of 400 dots. I found resulting pattern kind of revelatory, if not a little scary. It's represented in the graphic above, although truthfully, to even begin to see each mark clearly (at least with 20,000 day old eyes) it's probably best viewed at letter size or greater.

    I'll forgive myself for not remembering much about the first couple of thousand days or so, but the remaining rows, and points, are the ones that got me thinking.

    I wonder which one represents my first day of kindergarten - the day I took my first, tentative steps toward independence amidst an imposing sea of playground strangers?  Which was the afternoon I got my first really cool bike, which began to broaden my horizons even more? How 'bout that thrilling ride down the concrete toboggan run with my father, which left his knuckles a little bloodied but his demeanor ready for the next trip.

    I remember family trips and school trips and my mother saying "Well, tomorrow's a new day" when things weren't going well. There were first dates, a first kiss, first car and first heartbreak. There was also the first time I saw the woman I'd marry, the beginning of a long run of many remarkable, treasured events. So many memorable moments, so many firsts.

    All of which leads me to consider - what points might represent the days my children each began their evolving journeys? Blank slates ahead, a wonder, a gift. I remember once hearing that life's days go slow, and the years, fast. Yes. While we hope to make each day memorable, the truth is most eventually fade into a hazy, vague memory of faded impressions.

    So, what about my own blank slate? Hopefully, many thousands of days still lie ahead. How will they be filled? What memories will future milestones conjure? Today's figurative turning point offers a unique chance to consider how I'll increase the value of each day to come. It seems a good starting point would be to up the ante on empathy and gratitude - important human attributes that sometimes get diminished in the day to day routine of our hectic lives.

    So, here's to firsts - past and future - and the chance to remember what was, and consider what can be.

  • Winter's Wane

    It's midnight and it will be dark soon. 

    Before long, winter's perpetual evening aura will fade, and the new season's leafy textures will mute our after-hours surroundings.

    We'll leap blindly into the temperate cloak, embracing summer's nighttime ambiguity and aural renaissance.

    Reborn, we'll rejoice, knowing we were meant to wonder, dream and explore - outside our wooden skins.

  • Shadows at Night

    Fairly rare occurrences these are, the convergence a freshly-fallen snow cover, a clear night sky and the presence of a true full moon.

    While winters here are long, it's only occasionally that we're treated to this enchanting evening spectacle.

    Away from the glare of our urban beacons, the Earth's bright celestial neighbor lends an eerie incandescence to normally-cloaked nighttime haunts.

    It's a miracle of reflections - the sun's fiery flares echoing off the barren, pocked surface of the moon, and then back through space toward a frozen ivory canvas which scatters the rays one final time.

    These bright nights are revelatory, allowing us a chance to see with new eyes.

    Beneath tree branches and fence posts, shadows appear under the radiance of the high stone mirror. Short and true, they hold close to their sources, different from the elongated renderings cast by the season's shallower daytime luminary.

    Through it all, the occasional staccato-like hoot of a great horned owl can be heard interrupting the otherworldly scene. Rave on night bird, rave on.

  • Fireworks, Fireflies and Flyovers

    As Independence Day revelers continue their annual punctuation of the evening sky, I'm drawn also to several silent distractions amidst the crackling din.

    Fireflies, on cue, have returned this week. Flitting randomly, often just out of reach, they're typically the stars of my summer evening show. But tonight it's secondary status, unable to compete with the man-made salvos that illuminate the dark curtain above.

    Far in the distance is Antares - the heart of the constellation Scorpius. Its flickering crimson light consistent among the chaos. Each clear summer night, there, low above the southern horizon it appears, just as it has for the last 12 million years.

    Then, as the celebratory ruckus begins to settle, a satellite makes a silent, steady pass overhead. Perhaps it's the International Space Station - its metallic wings mirroring the light of our own star. I wonder what its passengers see as they look back toward us? I'm guessing that from the travelers' vantage 200 miles above, our city lights might even resemble stars - or fireflies - shimmering through the inky shadow of night.