Friday, August 26, 2011

Man With A Camera

Image by Glenn Buttkus

Man With a Camera

Words evoke images; images evoke words--there has
always been a visceral and spiritual link between
the two. A great photograph becomes framable art.
Great writing, prose or poetics or this hybrid
“prosetry”, conjures up the theater of the mind,
like radio drama, then when a human being recites
the words we find ourselves attending theater,
enjoying a performance with actors letting our
imaginations be stoked with coal oil as the
storytelling tradition fills the proscenium arch--
then sometimes adding live musicians, and the
experience expands and deepens until movement,
scope, and sweep was added to the stew as cinema
was created.

A movie is nothing short of magic, and a great film
is a cohesive collaboration of all the arts, literature,
poetry, fiction or non-fiction, dance, music soundtracks,
painting, theater, and photography, which whelped
cinematography; now tweaked even further with
computer technology as super surround-sound and CGI
jack up the intensity of our movie experiences.

Yet the beating heart of this foray into aesthetics
are the images themselves, those fantastic photographs
that are created by the eye of some individual, who
scanned the world around them, plumbed the depths of
their own perceptions, began to really “see” , to
appreciate every nuance of their environment; not
only pausing more often to gear down the hectic pace
of the modern world, but to activate the olfactory
responses, to embrace all odors, to hear the avian
music, the birdsong ballads, to enjoy the bustling
concerto of a city, or embrace the tranquility of a
forest, the sea at rest, in order to capture tiny
pieces of all it, life being the most grandiose
jigsaw puzzle of them all, one image at a time.
The sensuous joy of reconnecting to the world
while still in it rivals all the other things we
have cultivated as vocations, interests, hobbies,
and pursuits.

Back in the primordial days of 35 mm film and
slides, and fancy complex reflex cameras, I wanted to
become a photographer, to be able to spend small
fortunes on lenses, filters, and film; not counting
the cost of developing, or setting up a personal dark
room--but I never found the funds to even get started.
So, like so many other grand notions and fantasies in
my life: sailing, golf, archery, deep sea fishing, big
game safaris, mountain climbing, playing polo, owning
race horses, painting brilliantly in oils, publishing
a novel, becoming famous--photography had to be put
onto a back shelf in a deep closet, mired in dust
and darkness. I waited several decades for technology
to create a digital reality, an affordable window of
opportunity to return to it.

During the waiting, my imagination was not fallow,
some corner of me held the concept that I would seize
a time when it would be my turn to capture a few of
the wonders within this plane. I found that throughout
the four decades of retooling my eyes forever roamed,
composing imaginary shots daily, everywhere I found
myself. Many of my friends and family have been
building their own albums of digital images for years,
and this helped me to hang on, believing in the
inevitability of transferring my dreams into
a reality; when my own lens would click like thunder,
and my own images would spill out, be saved and savored.

And I always had movies to cushion my anxiety,
appreciating how cinematography had become a natural
extension of still photography. Over the hump of years,
the weariness of practicality, certain films have done
a lot to keep my interest alive. At ten years old I sat
peering over the shoulder of wheelchair bound
photographer Jimmy Stewart in REAR WINDOW (1954);
loving to watch Charles Bronson as free lance
photographer Mike Kovacs in the TV series MAN WITH A
CAMERA (1959); fascinated by the fashion photographer
David Hemmings in BLOW-UP (1966); enjoying Faye
Dunaway squatting low in mini-shirts in front of
Tommy Lee Jones in EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978); being
drawn to the lure of photojournalism with Nick Nolte
and Ed Harris in UNDER FIRE (1983), with James Woods
and John Savage in SALVADOR (1986), with Roy Schieder
recently Colin Farrell in TRIAGE (2009).

Four months ago I leaped off the cliff of my fantasies,
constructing my wings on the way down, and rapidly
those old storied memories, those composed images,
began to present themselves like nubile maidens to my
voracious lens, and I found myself soaring aware that
my appetite seemed insatiable. My own cyber albums
began to build up as thousands of images danced across
my 20” computer screen. I am a bridegroom on an
extended honeymoon, showered with torrents of joy
here to fore unattainable, almost unimaginable;
as even in dreamland I continue to click and catalog,
rising early and retiring late, anxiously to satiate
myself with shooting adventures--and hey folks,
it all has just begun.

In the past I had collected many thousand jpg images
off the search engines, and used them to illustrate my
poetry, other’s poetry, essays, my personal blog, the
Tacoma Film Club blog, and now my Facebook page. I must
say that searching through and then saving countless
images, even though they were snapped by others,
is an education in itself, reinforcing notions of
balance, composition, framing, color, and subject.

I realized recently that now it is completely my turn
to create certain themes, categories, and cyber folders
as my lens clicks; even though I found out the
other day that the “sound” of the shutter is not real,
but rather a programmed noise to comfort the novice
with a point and shoot camera; works for me.

The Geometry of the Environment: I used to help my
legally blind students, the partially sighted ones,
to orient themselves to their their travel, and to
locate their desired targets by using the natural
geometry of the environment--how lines intersect,
overlap, compliment or are in conflict with each
other. When you take notice, geometry presents
itself organically as curbs, sidewalks,
paper-box legs, phone poles, cracks and decay in
concrete, splits in blacktop, corners, gratings,
rooftops, power lines, cables; all are physical
manifestations of Paul Klee paintings.

Street Art: Our world is dotted, tattooed with body
jewelry; storm drains, manhole covers, water and
natural gas caps, industrial sprinkler heads, fire
hydrants, fire boxes, and colorful inorganic clutter
decorating the tarmac, accessorizing the concrete,
giving access or sanctuary for rain and runoff.

Reflections: In mirrors, hand-held or attached to
car doors and truck shoulders, hanging off some
buildings so that fork lifts can negotiate blind
corners, in windows in houses or buildings, street
level or forty stories over your head; in car windows
and windshields, in standing water, in mud puddles,
in chrome grills, bumpers and hub caps, in stainless
steel, in polished curves of truck tankers, in smooth
plastic, in waxed paint surfaces--bending, twisting,
distorting images like fun house mirrors.

Shadow Play: The playful personal imp that is attached
to your heels, when great cathedral bell towers toss
shadows across quiet lawns and streets, whereby
statues, crucifixes, boulders, bushes, trees, signs,
railings, fences, screens, all shapes of buildings,
mail boxes, parked vehicles, other people, animals, and
your self block direct sunlight, creating intricate
abstract patterns of non-light.

Rust: On metal and iron surfaces surrounding us, on
automobiles, fifty gallon barrels, chains, locks, door
knobs, cables, hooks, tractors, farm equipment,
window bars, old machines, railroad tracks, metal gates,
electrical boxes, boat hulls, flag poles, abandoned
bicycles, metal toys, cap pistols, clamps, door hinges
and handles--deep ochre patina, the sheer brutal beauty of
naked oxidation.

Cemeteries: Tombstones, headstones, wooden and stone
crosses, broken winged angels, statuary of all kinds,
marble, white or variegated, concrete slabs or vaults,
dates stalled in time--b. 1978, d. 1905, lost names, over-
grown graves, sculpted scrolls, angels perching, standing,
squatting, alone or in pairs, lambs, eagles, bibles, dead
flowers, plastic floral arrangements, children’s fans and
toys, sun-bleached snapshots, stone-cut names,
platitudes, verses, jokes, faded etchings, and multi-colored
moss clinging to, and partially mantling identities.

Railroading; Military tanks and colorful Kias strapped
to flat cars, parallel tracks, metal plates, tool sheds,
lanterns, five-cell flashlights, overgrown side tracks,
rotting timbers, shredding cross beams, shiny freshly used
rails, rusted bolts, creosote-soaked timbers and planks,
massive hooded signals, train yards, diesel smoke, tar and
pitch smell, round houses and the trains themselves;
streamliners with electric, diesel, coal locomotives, hot
smoke stacks, side ladders, big shouldered couplings, air
lines snaking around everything beneath, the headlight,
the great wheels, the windows in coach, company logos,
boxcars-- a few of the older wooden ones, some boards
broken like the taped ribs of a pug, the newer metal
ones garnished with graffiti; cabooses painted bright red,
green and yellow, control towers, poles of blinking lights,
steam rising off the boilers of senior engines, smoke
spiraling off newer ones, bells and whistles, lines of
track stretching to the horizon, cutting through mountains,
disappearing in tunnels.

Fences: Stainless steel, aluminum, iron, twisted into
squares, triangles, hexagons, and checkered for sheep,
fowl, horses, goats, llamas, available rock, bricks,
with some railings split and ancient, mossy, half-petrified,
flat planks laced with wood grain art; all kinds of fences
whelping shadows, texture, and snappy compositions.

Brick: Castles, ruins, armories, granges, cathedrals,
churches, warehouses, row after row rutting like stream
bound salmon, pioneer buildings, homes, fire pits, fence
posts, roads, lined up red and raw, or painted, crumbling,
smearing neighbors with brick dust, rushing down walls
like crushed stone mascara dripping down cheeks, splashes
of color creating abstract art.

Maritime: Ships, boats, floats, anchor chains, and
dangling anchors, ropes, docks abandoned or active, cables,
lichen, barnacles, moss, kelp, timbered layers, steel
stanchions, nets, flags, names on the bow and the stern,
on the ocean, rivers, lakes, at marinas, sailboats, rigging,
gears, fancy sailor’s knots, fire boats, fishing boats,
hydroplanes, sharks, crabs, shells, colorful pebbles, towers
of driftwood, sea gulls, freighters, ships of war, aircraft
carriers, cruise ships, granaries, houseboats, deep sea
trophies, and strings of rainbow trout, buckets of catfish
and crawdads.

Classic Cars: From 1915 to 1980, grills, bumpers, trunks,
continental kits, running boards, air horns, rear view
mirrors, spotlights, headlights, louvres, brand and model
insignias, profiles, long or stubby hoods, fancy wheels,
weeds growing up engulfing the parked and abandoned
ones, windshields, wing windows, whip antennas, door
handles, fenders, wheels, hubcaps, taillights, chrome
exhaust pipes, engines, and those hulks left in fields,
wrecking yards, driveways, car ports, festooned with rust,
grease, and mold.

Churches: Old storefronts, old movie theaters, cathedrals,
temples, masques, palaces, stained glass, murals, golden
candle sticks and minorvas, ceiling art, statuary,
tapestries, velvet curtains and ruffles, rows of candles,
organs, pews, pulpits, benches, bell towers, cornices,
roof lines, tall windows, massive wooden doors, building
plaques, missions, stone work, adobe walls, quiet
cemeteries, intricate brick and tile designs, sanctuaries,
scrolls, iconography, bones of martyrs.

Bridges: Tiny planks over creeks, towering suspension types
anchored into harbors, raised bridges with metal plates
for roadways, control towers, concrete puzzle grinding apart
then back together, pontoon bridges, great arched ones that
allow huge ships to slip beneath them, bridges across deep
canyons, and long bodies of water, steel bridges that shake
and flex with the local traffic, railroad bridges, overpasses,
timbered, covered bridges, concrete ones, lacing the skyline
with geometric poetry, huge corner stones, cap stones,
railings, wooden walkways, shots through slots of rivers,
bays, lakes, harbors, creeks, freeways, and canyons, some
abandoned, most busy and dangerous for pedestrians,
raw steel beams overlapping, prickly, busy.

Texture Shots: Wood, bark, metal, rivets, concrete,
blacktop, dew drops, rusted surfaces, chrome sheen,
rock edges, iron, steel, peeling paint, broken
splintered siding, broken bricks, moss encrusted on
faces, leather shirts, coats, belts, holsters, hats,
book covers, belt buckles, wood grain fully
exposed, naked or stained, polished or faded, bright
with lacquer, wild grass, thistles, weeds, thorns,
dead leaves, driftwood, bore holes.

Nature: Garden produce in buckets and wooden boxes or
burlap bags, mountains and foothills, cliffs, crags, meadows
choked with wild flowers and clover, creeks cutting through
fields, flash floods, rivers rising, tornados, hurricanes,
plowed fields, fallow fields, flowers of every color, every
type, pistil and stamen shots, clusters, bouquets, full
vases, tomato plants with morning dew on the blossoms,
wild berries, tree leaves, fallen logs, trees, and forests.

Animals, Birds, Reptiles: Dogs, cats, parakeets, pythons,
zoo inmates, wild foxes, raccoons, mongoose, badgers,
rattlesnakes, garter snakes, alligators, hawks, buzzards,
eagles, ospreys, owls, roosters, bear, deer, coyotes, elk,
bison, llamas, burros, cattle, bulls, stallions, racing
breeds, crows, sea gulls, robins, hummingbirds.

Industrial: Machinery, turbines, ship’s lathes, gears,
factories, containers, punch clocks, guarded gates,
equipment, plumbing, much of it abandoned, hard to
recognize, mystery rust, towers, cables, hooks, latches,
hinges, vats, shut-off valves.

Buildings: From sheds and garages to Victorian mansions,
turn-of-the-century buildings juxtaposed to skyscrapers,
abandoned houses, partially torn down demolition projects,
cranes, bulldozers, pioneer false fronts, bricked up
windows, warehouses, bric-a-brac, sculpted edges,
balconies, wrought iron, fire escapes, water towers,
pillars, gargoyles, coats of arms, chimneys,
overlapping roof lines, corners, porches, dank basement
entrances, sky bridges, and gutters.

Flags: Private, state, and federal, maritime, decorations,
banners, mostly our ensign, the American flag, pristine
or tattered, rumpled or unfurled, elusive, alive with wind,
hanging on car antennas and porches, eaves, walls, and
flag poles.

Padlocks: Singles, pairs, trios, locked onto gates,
bicycles, doors, windows, bars, lockers, and electrical
and tool boxes.

Signs: Some clever, significant, humorous, warnings,
informative, directions, rural to urban, from the side
of barns to gas pumps, from street designations to
restrooms, from fast food joints to garages.

Not a bad beginning. I will leave the family snapshots to
my wife with our old Canon for now. I am too busy filling
in the blanks of decades of planning, creating coffee
table books sporting my images, glossy reproductions that
will never be done.

Glenn Buttkus

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