First Time in Paris


Pret a Manger, Rue Marbeuf, Paris

It was my first time ever in Paris. A week shy of my 59th birthday, we arrived at the hotel feeling tired, hungry, and in desperate need of a shower. Our room was not ready so in lieu of a nap, we asked where we could find a good cup of coffee.

“Mais oui,” said the woman at the front desk, “Pret a Manger is just a few blocks away.”

It was a damp and cool day for a late May Monday. As we approached the suggested spot, the signs of welcome and warmth showed that we were in for a treat. The signs promised “handmade, fresh, and natural food.” As we opened the door to the shop, the heavenly scent of baking bread and coffee wafted under our nostrils and pulled us in.

The glass case displayed an orgy of flaky pastries, filled with fruit and spice, and dusted with sugar. We stood a few moments, marvelling at the selection. I hadn’t eaten bread or sugar for several months, but this was my first day in Paris. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass by.

“Café crème et brioche, s’il vous plaît,” I said, stretching the limits of my knowledge of the French language.

We sat outside with our coats on, facing the street, savouring the sweet taste of the bread, with our steaming coffees providing warmth. We listened to honking horns and people speaking a language we didn’t understand. We watched fashionable people walking by. Our spirits slowly revived. We were in Paris!

This post was inspired by Tanya Taylor Rubinstein and her daily free writing prompts. This was day 23.

Make a list of five sensual images from your own life, that are not as focused on narrative, as they are an evocative set on images, sensations, smells, feelings and sights. Take it moment by moment as you write out one of your sensual images into a paragraph or two. Let your reader be there with you. Take her into this moment with you, image by image, sensation by sensation.


Why not try it yourself?


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Making the Familiar Unfamiliar

Puddle Blues

Puddle Blues

Often, the way to get unstuck isn’t to change whatever it is you’re looking at—but instead to change how you’re looking at it. ~ You Don’t Need New Ideas, You Need a New Perspective by Oliver Burkeman via 99U

The 99U article played on Marcel Proust’s famous quote about seeing the familiar with new eyes. And, introduced a term that was new to me, “vuja dé,” coined by comedian George Carlin. It means “a strange sense of unfamiliarity in the familiar, thereby revealing opportunities or solutions you hadn’t previously noticed.”

How do we see the unfamiliar in the familiar?

The article suggests a couple of ways – putting physical distance between you and the problem – take a break and do something different – or write about it to see what emerges from the unconscious mind. Betty Edwards, in her classic book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, suggests upside down drawing which helps eliminate the labels we tend to put on everything.

I like to take walks for a change of perspective. So far this winter, however, I haven’t been feeling very creative or inspired, even on my walks. I haven’t taken many photographs either.

Last weekend, my husband and I went to Ottawa to visit family. The week before, they’d had snow and below freezing temperatures. On this day, the temperature was above freezing and the snow and ice were beginning to thaw, leaving a slushy mess. I went out for a walk in a neighbourhood that was unfamiliar to me and the change of scenery was just what I needed.

I first noticed the puddles on the road and the ice in the field and the way the blue of the sky was reflected in it all. Being on unfamiliar roads helped me to see this familiar sight in a brand new way.

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour. ~ William Blake

This sparked my imagination and, like William Blake’s grain of sand, I began to see the whole world reflected in those puddles. I saw the “Puddle Blues.” Next, I noticed the texture and rhythm and flow in the ice. It could have been the surface of the moon or snow-capped mountains.
I saw a world of layers and reflections at the side of the road, like I was witnessing below the surface of the earth.
I came back to where I was staying renewed, refreshed, and inspired.

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The Art Spirit (Part 2): What Makes a Good Photograph?


“Look for the spirit line that runs through everything.” ~ Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

A month ago, I shared some quotes from the book, The Art Spirit by Robert Henri (1865 – 1929), a collection of writings, letters, and critiques about the nature and purpose of art. The subject was the importance of knowing yourself.

Here in Part 2, we’ll explore his writings in terms of what makes a good photograph. While Henri was a painter and teacher, his writings are applicable to photography. He believed that the purpose of art wasn’t necessarily the art itself, but to be in the state that makes art inevitable.

To some degree every human being is an artist, dependent on the quality of his growth. Art need not be intended. It comes inevitably as the tree from the root, the branch from the trunk, the blossom from the twig. Because it is engaged in the full play of its own existence, because it is full in its own growth, its fruit is inevitable.

All art springs from a particular state of mind, where the inner spirit is revealed. To my mind, this means that we should not go out looking for “good photographs,” rather we should adopt that frame of mind where photographs that are alive will emerge.
1. Show what’s interesting to you and the photograph will show that interest.

Don’t try to paint good landscapes. Try to paint canvases that will show how interesting landscape looks to you – your pleasure in the thing. (14)

2. Don’t underestimate the value of play.

The artist is teaching the world the idea of life. The artist teaches that the object of a man’s life should be to play as a little child plays. Only it is the play of maturity – the play of one’s mental faculties. Therefore, we have art and invention. (115)

3. Keep it simple.

The soul of man may reveal its mysteries through direct expression, simple speech, simple gesture, simple painting, just as the soul of the brook is expressed in full simplicity and economy. One of the curses of art is “Art.” This filling up of things with “decoration,” with by-play, to make the “beautiful.” When art has attained its place, surfaces will be infinitely less broken. There will then be millions less of things, less words, less gesture, less of everything. But each word and each gesture and everything will count in a fuller value. (203)

4. Be open to new subjects, new techniques, and new perspectives.

Real students go out of beaten paths, whether beaten by themselves or by others, and have adventure with the unknown. There are few students in the schools. They are rare anywhere. And yet it is only the student who dares to take a chance, who has a real good time in life. (211)

5. Approach nature with wonder and respect.

Art is the noting of existence of order throughout the world. Order stirs imagination and inspires one to reproduce this beautiful relationship existing in the universe, as best one can. The moment order in nature if understood and freely shown, the result is nobility. This orderliness must exist or the world could not hold together, and it is a vision of orderliness that enables the artist to capture and present through his imagination the wonder that stimulates life. (142)

6. Always ask yourself “Why this subject?”

When a student comes before his model his first question should be: “What is my highest pleasure in this?” and then, “Why?” With all the great masters, this highest pleasure has grown until with their great imaginations they have come to something like a just appreciation of the most important element of their subject, having eliminated its lesser qualities. (81)

7. Focus on your state of being, not the outcome.

The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture – however unreasonable this may sound. The picture, if a picture results, is a by-product and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past. The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. (157)

This is a sampling of what Robert Henri has to say on the subject of creating art. Our best photographs will emerge naturally from our approach and mindset.

What makes a good photograph for you?


p.s. Want to become more in tune with what your inner state is begging you to photograph? Join me and Sally Drew for a 12-week visual journaling workshop, Once Upon a Time: Photographs have Stories to Tell. It starts next Monday, February 1st, 2016, and there are 7 spots left! Learn more and register here.

Related Reading
The Art Spirit (Part 1): Know Yourself

Find the Magic by David duChemin

The Expressive Photograph by Guy Tal


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