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Friday, August 24, 2012

Not About Beads

Today is my kitty Samantha's 23rd or maybe 25th birthday. She has been with us for so long, we are no longer sure whether we adopted her in 1987 or 1989, when presumably she was about 8 months old.  We counted back and found ourselves approaching the end of August and decided, "Hey, we both have birthdays on 24th days of the month, the cat should have one too."  So we chose it for her.
I want to preserve her story in my blog today, because this summer, she has declined, and I don't know how much longer she will be with me.  She has always been a beautiful cat, and very petite.  At her prime, she weighed just over 8 pounds, and now, I think she has slipped under 5.  See the curled whiskers on her right side?  That is her sleeping side.  She has not groomed herself for years.  I do my best for her, but she does not like her legs or tummy groomed, so those parts get ignored as much as possible.  She does love to have her head rubbed, washed and combed, and her ears cleaned, so those things we do often.

We have gradually adapted her home, as her age has limited her movement.  Her food and litter box used to be in the laundry on the ground level of our split level home, but she has always liked to sleep on our bed, and the stairs got to be too much for her a couple years ago, so the box moved into our bedroom.  The food came up too, but to keep the dog from eating it, we had to build an enclosure that only Sam could enter.
And her sight is failing, so she needs a night light to find the castle door and her food inside.
Last fall, her arthritis made it difficult to get into the litter box, so we put the box on a waterproof bed pad, and began to put puppy training pads around the box for her to use.  Over the course of this summer, that group of pads has become an ocean of pads.  This is my side of the bed, this morning.
So, this is her life.  She demands one brand of cat food (the chicken pate flavor only) 8-10 times each day, by yeowling.  I can hear her from my studio, or anywhere in the house.  Occasionally she leaves the bedroon in quest for food, and sometimes, even manages to negotiate one short flight of stairs to find me, if I do not respond immediately.  The can of food is divided into sixths,
...because no more that a couple tablespoons are eaten at a time, and the rest goes to waste.  The food must be warm to be considered edible, so I soak the dish in hot water before putting the food in.  Then it is smashed with a fork to fully encorporate the stool softener/bulking agent that is her only medication, hopefully to the texture of fluffy mashed potatoes.
YUP.  That is a 101 Dalmations bowl.  The food must be oriented to only 1/2 of the bowl, because she can't reach the far side and I always like the dogs peeking at her when she eats.  She adopted this bowl after my son, who turns 20 this year, out grew it.  SO... she eats, but only as much as she can stand and bend over for, and then, off to the water cup (which she has had longer than the bowl) for a drink, and maybe, if her balance holds, a quick swipe of the paw in an attempt to wash her face.
She might then toddle to the sea of pads, but more often, she is just too tired, and curls up for a nap on the floor, no longer able to jump to the bed.

She is not in pain.  She is not sick.  But today, getting to her feet is a challenge.  I have to demonstrate for the Upper Midwest Beading Society at the MN State Fair this afternoon, and I feel badly leaving her.  But my son will be here with her, and can call me in a emergency, and keep her fed and comfortable.

She has been as faithful a companion as any cat chooses to be, for nearly all of her life.  It's hard for me to imagine how she ended up at the humane society, because she is an easy-going little creature.  If she has a fault, it's that she was only rarely a lap kitty, but many are not, and she has been affectionate with us on her own terms.  I know she has lived a full and long life, and it pleases me that she is still happy to purr when her head and face are groomed and petted.  But I also know she will not be with us much longer.

For my beading friends, yes, this is certainly a departure.  But I was told to use my new camera in preparation for my first photography class next week, and have done so for this post.  Indulge me.

POSTSCRIPT:  Samantha experienced a sort of feline stroke and was unable to swallow without choking.  On Sunday, September 16th, we took her to the emergency vet, where she was euthanized to end her suffering.   

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Foto Skilz

Photography is such an important part of (for want of a better term) Competitive Art!  I like applying to shows and sending images to be considered for publication.  I like competitive events for beaders.  It pushes me to produce my best work.  To dig a little deeper to find a solution to a design problem.  To meet a deadline.  To place my work in the world for others to see.  To see the work of other artists, and to be elevated and inspired by that work.  But none of this is possible, if all you have is your art; in my case, beadwork.  You need a means to send it out to be looked at.  And that means, photography.  Something I fake my way through.  This must stop.  So I have made a committment to buying a new camera, with more than the 4.1 megapixel capability of my obsolete Kodak.  And taking a class (or maybe many classes) to learn how to use it.

But despite my photographic inadequacies, I LOVED working with a skilled model, Jana Merten, to try to capture the essence of "Missing."

I like evocative art.  I want my visual art to take me somewhere.  I want to feel something when I look at it.  I want to be transformed somehow, but I have this idea that my photographic choices are not necessarily the best communicatively, with respect to conveying the beadwork. But maybe creating the right mood and character is equally important.  Hope so!

The series of photos I am showing you, takes me exactly where I want "Missing" to take a viewer. Somewhere "in-between" worlds. Somewhere wistful. Somewhere, lost in a forest. Somewhere not quite precisely here, or exactly there. Somewhere quiet and peaceful, but just a little nebulous. So when we  out shooting at the park, and I spied a patch of dappled sunlight, I thought, THERE! And Jana was willing to wade into the weeds and shrubby growth and make it look amazing.

I realize there are shadows that a professional photographer could and would light differently.  But I like those shadows.  And I like the image above with Jana's face entirely in shadow, because for me, it points to the piece instead of the gorgeous model, while she supports the jewelry magnificently.

 I love this one and the next, below, because "Missing" is actually visible on Jana's face.  Above, there is a reflection on her chin from the Swarovski crystals, and below, on her upper lip.

But. enough with this dappled light mania of mine.  I shot first in direct sunlight, which was awful.  There were dark shadows beneath Jana's chin, and stress on her face from the ridiculously bright light.  SO... we went to the shade, and there was still plenty of sunshine to light both model and "Missing" clearly.  But for me, it was TOO clear, and maybe even a little obvious.  And "Missing" is not obvious.  Most people need to understand the title to understand the work, but hopefully, even for those who do not know the full story, it has a an unmistakable quality of emptiness, maybe a little sadness and perhaps, some mystery.

Let me backup a bit.  This piece is my entry in a facebook event, (brainchild of Steven Weiss) Battle of the Beadsmith. It is a single elimination tournament, with 80 beaders from around the world. Please like us on facebook and watch us battle here!  There are just 20 of us left, and the third round of battle is getting underway as I write this. Each round requires a new photo of the work.  Eek! Thankfully, Jana volunteered to help me. In addition to being a client and a friend, Jana is a pro. Her large and perfect features, great body, hair and makeup skills, and modeling experience were a godsend.  She knows many shots at subtly different angles and with tiny changes of expression are needed to arrive a a few good results.
After shooting in the dappled sun, I wanted to try a more casual look for "Missing," with a print dress, and a more relaxed setting at my fire pit.  Again, Jana indulged me, and I'm pleased with the result.  IF I should be fortunate enough to survive the cut from 20 artists to 10, then maybe, one of these is the next photo, but that's a bridge I will cross only when and if I get to it. 

And then, Jana wanted to see the work on bare skin.  She was right, it's pretty splendid that way too!  But I devised a feather boa cover up for her bareness, and I don't love that.  For me, it's too...  well, feathery!  Maybe a little, Old West Dance Hall Girl.  I experimented with Picasa effect tools to try to play down the presence of the feathers, but...  they are still...  feathers.  Feels entirely wrong to me.  How funny that my print should happen to suggest feathers as well.

Whatever the outcome of the Battle, this blog post is meant both to share with you Jana's amazing work, and to thank her for her time, her patience, her flexibility, and her great kindness to me.  I so appreciate it!  Find Jana's website here, and check out her dancing and makeup tutorial YouTube videos here.