I’m an artist, and my life is all about creativity. I am visual. I see a lot. And while I photograph many different subjects, one of my favorite things to do with a camera is abstract work. With abstracts, the need to tell a story relaxes a bit, and the photograph becomes much like a blank greeting card: it provides space for the viewer to create her own story.
I also find abstract photography to be a form of meditation. With abstracts, as with my macro work, I fall down a rabbit hole and enter a whole new world. If I’m not with other people to tether me, I quickly lose all sense of time and place, and begin a journey that is an exploration of light and color, shape and line, texture and pattern. In this mode, I’m not usually looking for anything in particular; I try to let go of looking and wait for something to catch my attention. If I’m really on my game, there will be an aha! moment when the basic elements form a composition that is inviting to look at, and perhaps one that provokes questions. A composition that provides the opportunity for the viewer to write his own story about what he’s seeing.
There are many abstracts in my Etsy shop, and here I welcome you to an exhibit of both new and not-as-new work.
Where were you when you heard that Notre Dame was burning?
Moments like this can come to define an entire generation; I well remember many years of conversations that revolved around answering, “Where were you when you heard that JFK had been shot?” or “Where were you when you heard about 9-11?”
Thus it was that the world watched in horror as Notre Dame burned. Somehow, the magnificent cathedral that had survived more than 800 years of both assaults and neglect was suddenly aflame and in danger of being obliterated.
However, this was an experience much bigger than a building on fire. While the Eiffel Tower may be the most recognizable icon of France, Notre Dame carries the heart of the nation. In sheer physical terms, the solid structure with its magnificent flying buttresses dominates the Île de la Cité in the middle of Paris, and the soaring spire was a landmark for finding one’s way through the streets. Just outside the cathedral’s doors, there is a brass plate marking the center of Paris, the point from which all distances to Paris are measured.
But there’s more to the story. In this nation that carefully recognizes the separation of church and state, and which has seen a steady decline in the daily practice of Catholicism, Notre Dame also stands as a landmark of a different kind: one of spiritual stability and the continuity of a very old nation and its people.
Construction began on this version of the cathedral in 1160; the initial phase was completed around 1260, and the structure has been augmented and altered many times since. The spire that fell so dramatically had been added in the mid-1800s, as were the famous gargoyles.
Throughout the centuries, the fortunes of the great cathedral have risen and fallen many times. Situated in the heart of Paris, this building has witnessed so much. Nearly all French monarchs were crowned at Rheims Cathedral, but in 1431 Notre Dame hosted the coronation of Henry IV of England and France, as well as the 1804 coronation of Napoleon as Emperor of the French. In August 1944, a mass was held to celebrate the liberation of Paris, attended by the Generals Charles de Gaulle and Philippe Leclerc.
Damage came in many forms. Religion itself caused some problems; in 1548, rioting Huguenots damaged some sculptures on the building. Later, during the Revolution, heads of biblical kings, mistakenly thought to be kings of France, were pulled from the building and destroyed. (Some were hidden, but that’s a story for another day.) In addition, parts of the roof and the bells were melted down for ammunition, and the cathedral was de-christianized and rededicated to the Cult of Reason.
Another cause of damage, or at least of change, can be attributed to changing tastes. During the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, Notre Dame was viewed as outdated, and much was torn down or altered. Gutted and empty, the building became a haunted shell.
Napoleon attempted to salvage the cathedral, but it was Victor Hugo who came to the rescue in 1831 by writing The Hunchback of Notre Dame (in French, the title is also the official name of the cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris), which in turn spurred renovation efforts to return the cathedral to its former glory. The work was spearheaded by a young architect named Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who had a fanatic loyalty to all things Gothic; he made dramatic changes and many additions, including that lofty spire.
Wars caused their own damage. During World War I, German shells hit the cathedral, leading to a fire in the roof. In World War II, the cathedral sustained some minor damage during the celebrations after the liberation of Paris. Earlier, assuming the potential for damage or theft, the medieval stained glass windows had been removed and hidden until the end of the war.
Notre Dame is a indeed a fine example of early gothic church-building, but it has also been a stalwart witness to 850 years of French and world history, a beacon of light to those in need, and a welcome place of constancy in a turbulent world.
And if you happened to be in Paris on the day after 9-11, you heard the bells of Notre Dame being rung in honor of the victims of the attacks.
Learning a new language
I saw this great graphic on one of my favorite websites, TwistedSifter. It comes from another site that’s dedicated to helping learners of a new language to navigate the hazards of tricky pronunciation, via a tool called the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA, not a beer). If you’re interested in languages, you might enjoy visiting the folks at Language Base Camp (click on one of the “Learn more” buttons).
One recent Sunday we went to the nearby town of Cruzy for a walk in the hills. Leaving town, we spotted a few of the signs below, created by a homeowner who didn’t let a little frustration get in the way of some fine creativity. The dog photo looks like it’s been copied from a video found online, hence the white triangle “play” button in the middle. Somehow, this only enhances the charm.
2 thoughts on “Feeling abstracted”
Buona sera! Beautiful abstracts, and thanks for summarizing Notre Dame’s history. Talk soon.
Buona sera, amica! Thank you for writing, and sending me the gift of your presence this evening. A presto!